A few days ago, my daughter turned six months old. That’s quite a special age for her, since it marks the end of her parents’ trial period. Even though I had no doubt that they were the perfect family for her, the adoption agency does not sign over her guardianship until they have observed the parents in action for six months. Until then, the agency remains the legal guardians of the child, while the parents are technically fostering. This means that she has a “gotcha day” just like a child would if adopted when older. I was stuck at sea and unable to celebrate with them in person, but her parents sent me photos of them taking their oath (even her four-year-old brother has his right hand raised) in the same court room where exactly six months before I had signed away my parental rights.
One might expect a rather emotional response to such a momentous event or –perhaps you could say – the reminder of my loss. I might burst into tears over something random in two weeks, but for now, I felt only joy that they are, at last, legally a family.
Have you ever felt pressured to experience, or at least present, a certain emotion? As though the situation requires a specific response from you, and if you don’t provide it, people may question your, I don’t know, sanity or humanity? As someone whose emotional journey resembles a drive through the hilly countryside rather than an epic roller coaster, I’ve struggled with this my whole life. I have that automatic copycat-crier syndrome (you know, where someone near you starts crying, and even though you have nothing to do with the situation, your own eyes immediately spill over with tears), which has gotten a bit more under control as I’ve gotten older yet never explained its reasoning to me. Because of that, there are many times where I’ve appeared distraught – like several instances following my mother’s death – but actually lacked the true emotion behind my tears. My body just reacted in rhythm with those around me.
In other instances though, I’ve ended up surprising or even shocking people by my nonchalant take on certain experiences. My birth mother status is one of these things. People tend to assume that talking about my daughter will make me sad or uncomfortable, and while that may (for very good reasons) be true of other birth moms, it simply isn’t true for me. I find myself falling into the trap of demanding emotion from myself that doesn’t exist, of falsifying an emotional response in order to fit more clearly into other people’s expectations. And I have to stop.
We all throw around that phrase, “There are many different ways to grieve,” but here’s a thought: maybe something that causes one person to grieve brings another person joy. Is it possible for one scenario to garner such wildly different reactions? Hey, why not? We are all unique individuals with unique personalities.
Perhaps later in life, my choice not to raise my daughter will bring me more sadness. I’ve never dreamed of having babies, but it could be that when she is older, I will begin to feel the ache of missing out on certain experiences. Right now, I can only be glad that she exists in the safety and love of another’s arms. I do not feel loss, and I do not grieve. Why should I try to force those emotions upon myself? I would never tell a birth mother who was grieving to force herself to be happy instead, so why should I try to change my natural response to my situation?
I remember reading the book Ella Enchanted when I was young: a take on Cinderella, where the main character is forced to obey any command given to her due to a curse placed on her by a well-meaning but ditzy fairy. At one point, the fairy commands her to be happy about her curse, and of course, the result is a magically forced joy in her constant obedience. When another character realizes what has happened, she tells Ella, “Don’t be happy about your curse. Feel however you want to feel.” How often do we find ourselves forced into expressions of sadness or joy simply because it is expected of us? We may even be able to fake an emotion so well that we convince ourselves we are really feeling it. But it’s unnecessary. We don’t have to be happy or sad or angry or anything. We can feel however we want to feel.
Don’t ever let yourself be pressured into feeling or expressing a certain emotion, whether by a family member or friend, others in a similar situation, or society as a whole. Whatever response you have is the right response for you. You have the right to feel however you want. Grieve. Rejoice. Feel nothing if you want – it’s okay to feel nothing! Hold your head up high and own your emotions, whatever they may be. They are what make you wholly and irreplaceably you.