Paraphrased from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh: “I love you in a way that will always make you feel free.”
Saint Valentines Day is upon us & being the romantic that I am, I took a stroll through the stores, marvelled at the exquisite pink and red merchandise, cute teddy bears, boxes of chocolates and revelled in the art deco store decorations. I am a big fan of love and the holiday highlights for me the celebration of all the many manifestations and especially those we take for granted. The simple beauty that is all around us.
Lately my thoughts have been centred around pursuing peace with myself and those I care about. I have learned that much of what we stress about, in all honesty, is really not important. I have come to the realization that I have very little control over what happens and that my best intentions are often folly. The Buddhist teacher has it right. I need to try to live my life on a more basic and simple truth. To be more positive & loving each day and sometimes on a bad day, to at least do no harm.
Buddha also says, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” I am reminded that having genuine compassion for oneself, is not the same as feeling sorry for yourself. The support and understanding I would give freely to anyone else, I have struggled with giving it to myself. I am my own worst critic, that I often forget to celebrate my journey and the many positive & courageous steps I’ve taken.
So in honour of V day this year, I wish you the love that makes you feel free. Whatever your relationship status, where ever you are, you are worthy of this love and it is available to you. I decided to create a valentine and give it to myself. Because not only do I love to give, I am open and ready to also receive.
You can create your own Valentine for yourself or someone you love http://www.tagxedo.com/app.html
I‘ve been carrying and lugging around this old beat up, brown leather bag. My emotional backpack. It’s filled with hateful & harsh words, discrimination and pain. I’ve had it for as long as I’ve been alive. I’ve kicked it, thrown it, ignored it and held on to it. It isn’t just the hurt that is caused to us by others. It’s that over time, you sign up to hurt yourself.
I thank the Great Spirit for those troubled times. My passions would not exist, had I had a trouble free life. I am open to putting down this heavy bag, its ugliness and setting myself free. What other people think of me is none of my business. Speaking the truth will always invite criticism. There’s a brand new conversation and dialogue that I am pursuing. As I bring my secrets to light, I can begin to breathe fresh air once again. I can be, free.
The very concept of my blog, Finding Erykah, is about letting go of the labels, separating what I’ve endured with who I really am. The bag has grown so heavy, that I need to empty its contents and finally, throw it away. This tattered and worn leather rucksack is no longer a symbol of any failure, it reminds me that I am not my past. I am not unworthy of the sun. I am, brave.
The film, Philomena, is a true story and a testament, to one of history’s dark eras. It is about a young mother, forced to live in a Catholic convent in Ireland, shamed for several years and ultimately had her son stolen from her and given away to American strangers. Her real life story, to search for her son, after keeping the secret for decades, made it onto film, and echoed the experiences of millions of mothers during the baby scoop era.
During the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s, mothers who became pregnant out of wedlock, were often shamed by their families, churches & communities and sent away to church run maternity homes. They performed menial tasks and intensive labour, without ever being compensated. On a daily basis, mothers endured coercion. Told they had sinned against God, their families and society, the only thing to be done was to give away their baby to a family that needed it.
These young mothers were never told what their options were, never offered any assistance like child support, welfare or foodstamps. They were lied to about every aspect of their situation and their motherhood. When labour started, powerful drugs were administered to not only coerce mothers but to stop lactation. If a mother dared ask to see her child, refuse to sign the papers or otherwise object, she received any number of threats to ensure the secret was kept and silence obtained. Millions of mothers across Europe and North America went through this harrowing experience. Told to get over it and move on.
Philomena’s story, is sadly so many mother’s stories. It has opened the floodgates and created a dialogue for those whose children were stolen from them. It is a part of the dark history of adoption and challenges the win-win scenario often presented. It highlights the abuse, corruption and trafficking of babies. Babies who grew up longing to know their heritage and family history, grown adults, refused basic access to their original birth certificates.
I honestly didn’t expect the film to really affect me. I didn’t think it would be triggering for me as a first mother. I believed that coming from a newer era of adoption, that Philomena wouldn’t represent first mothers like me. I was wrong. Certainly in modern times, single parenting has become more and more acceptable. We aren’t locked away in maternity homes and ousted from our communities. But many themes in the movie are very much alive today.
The demand for babies has never decreased, creating an Adoption Industry that operates locally, provincially and internationally and earning billions in profits annually. Chase Bank boast adoption loans to help create a family and Kay Jewelers promotes the celebration of adoption by buying their jewellery. The maternity homes aren’t gone but the tactics have changed. The industry today is not run by churches but of corporations that call themselves non profits. Made up of lawyers, consultants and social workers who work to ‘match’ a birth mother with a would be family.
The shame tactics have been replaced with subterfuge. Young mothers are counselled into believing they can’t be the best mother to their own baby. They are often promised open adoptions, (which can be the primary reason many women sign) because the thought of never seeing their own children again is unbearable. But what they are not told and do not know, is that these agreements are not enforceable by law and adopters often close within a year of an adoption. There isn’t any legal recourse, when coercion and fraud is in play. Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Many mothers realize months and years after, they indeed could have raised their babies, and fell prey to a predatory, capitalist system.
Foster care and adoption is also another issue that related to the film. Having spent years in state care myself, I have had a first hand view of what Philomena might have felt, growing up and being at the mercy of a powerful institution. The film also made me think about today’s mothers experiencing a crisis in their lives and not be given the support they need to pull through. Young, single mothers asking for help but getting adoption as the forced answer. We give simple, basic respect and honour to every mother and child, except for the mothers and children we deem unworthy. Usually because of lower social and economical status, those in fact who have very little power.
Many adoptees are sharing their personal stories in an effort to educate society on how adoption is truly affecting them across their life time. I didn’t think Philomena would strike me in the way it has. I have censored some of my reading of the coverage, in an effort to be kind to myself. But what I realized is that we are Philomena and that even now in 2014, there are many Philomenas walking amongst us. The last moment I shared with my lost daughter, was hearing her cries, as the car sped away with her inside. This too, is Philomena’s last memory of seeing her son. Times change, trends die out and are reinvented, but the dark side to adoption, tragically still remains.
My journey into mental illness did not start with a chemical imbalance or not enough omegas in my diet. For many years, it was something I never once gave a serious thought to. Depression felt normal to me, as did anxiety and though I felt profoundly different from my peers, that was life as I had always knew it. It wasn’t until a hospital stay three years ago, did doctors start using the label PTSD. My life had consistently been stressful on some level, being a single mother, striving to raise my daughter and giving my best effort to lift us out of poverty. I fell down and got back up, many, many times, never realizing the toll it was talking on my mind & body.
I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse & endured many traumas up until my 25th birthday. It was like carrying a heavy load that virtually no one else wanted to assist me with or help me carry. I stuffed it all down and chalked it all up to misfortune & bad luck. I could see clearly that merely talking about abuse made others uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be a victim and the last thing I wanted was for people to feel sorry for me. I didn’t want to be repelled and rejected by something I had no control over.
Now that I am in recovery, I have realized that I am not alone. I have looked around me and found that my story is not unique. It is truly sad that women and girls across this country face enormous challenges and barriers to living free from discrimination and violence. Making the decision to break the cycle in my own life, has cost me dearly. Speaking out and standing up for myself meant broken relationships and experiencing a culture of denial. It also meant learning to cope in unhealthy ways because of a fundamental lack of therapy and long term services that women and children need to heal and become well again.
There are many women caught up in the mental health system, women like me whose issues crossed over to psychiatric, because of systemic problems. While the medications may help in the short term, they cannot provide the support and healing that is required for healthy living. My world was all about power and control and the mental health system is no different than any other system. Doctors admit they do not know how to best treat trauma survivors and see no value in patients telling their stories. In fact as a female, going through this experience added a new level of fear and anxiety.
Quality services for women and girls who have experienced trauma are few and far between. You learn to suck it up and in the process you can become increasingly unhealthy, as you sit on long waiting lists or get 15 minutes with a psychiatrist every three months (if you are lucky). It took becoming mentally ill, to really take stock of my life and realize my incredible strength and resilience. Taking care of our minds is no different than taking care of the rest of the body.
The many statistics are more than just numbers, they are echoes of the unheard voices and untold stories of survivors across our nation and the world. Mothers & daughters are paying the price for our collective ignorance and our human need to avoid looking at our gaping wounds. I am making it through as best I can, but so many more will not.
We are vital to our communities and to our children and families. To not invest in our healing and our potential leaves us all in a deficit. I urge all citizens to think about the future of our daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, mothers and grandmothers, who are bridging the gaps and carrying these heavy burdens each and every single day. Women who are sacrificing their very lives because society is uncomfortable with the truth. Talking about our experiences & raising awareness should not be taboo. I don’t want to wear a label or carry these heavy burdens any longer. I want my daughter to know a world that protects and values her. I want what every woman and girl wants. A life that is free from oppression and the opportunity to simply feel safe, something so basic, human and universal to all.
I am probably the last person you would expect to attend any kind of a group, but the group I have been going to for the past several weeks has been amazing. It’s a wonderful, diverse group of women, who are at all different ages & stages of life, coming together to share and support one another. It’s called Evolution and I think it quite accurately describes our remarkable recovery journeys. We are learning from each other and it has been a privilege to be a part of. This is a just a small tid bit of the things we have been learning and was worth sharing on my blog. I’m all about self care these days, it really is the basis for authenticity & good health.
Today I will respect myself and nurture myself. I am of value. I give myself permission to be kind to myself. I am loved and protected. It takes courage to take care of myself first. I have that courage. I am worth it.
Taking care of myself will allow me to show up for others. Taking care of myself will allow the feelings of anger, resentment and hurt melt away. After my feelings melt away, I am left with my true self. My true self requires attention and care. I have the ability to give myself what I need.
And today, I need kindness. Being kind to myself flows into good mental and physical health. Good mental and physical health is available to me now. I am deserving of good mental and physical health. I make a commitment to be well. I feel the benefits of being well.
Please don’t call me “Birth Mother” If you are adopted and prefer the term to differentiate between your two mothers, I understand. If you are an adoptive parent, then those are the words the Industry created and you may or may not understand why it is wrong.
When someone uses the term or calls me that, it haunts me to my core. Though another person is raising my child, I did not stop being a mother. I am not a nine month incubator, void of any maternal bonds. Papers were signed, custody was exchanged, but deep down she is and will always be my daughter. My entire real experience of motherhood is denied to me with just a single word, taken away from me upon surrender. Calling me a birth mother is like calling me a reproductive slave. As if the only role I played was to placate someone else’s need to be a mother. As if my motherhood ended at giving birth.
I have been involved in the adoption reform movement for more than 10 years now. With the internet and social media, more and more mothers are braving the controversy and finding their voice. Some use the term, some don’t, but for the first time in adoption’s 100 year history, our side, our experiences are being brought to light. Our stories are visceral, powerful and often heartbreaking. We lose our sisters to suicide, we constantly have other people’s opinions forced on us but we are growing and we are supporting each other and standing proud.
I’ve been called disgruntled, bitter and a few more choice words, when I dare to go to the other side and promote positive adoption language. Adopters and adoptees alike become incensed with anger and immediately go on the defensive and attack. It’s as if they need to express quite forcefully that real family is not always by blood. I have never disputed that. I’m not sure why my view is so offensive. I suspect it is precisely because mothers who have surrendered to adoption are not normally a part of the narrative or main stream conversation. I could pen another article on how first mothers are portrayed in the media. Juno, would be one prime example of kool aid feel good adoption, just like Pretty Woman is about prostitution.
I fell in love, got pregnant, and chose to keep my baby. I experienced 9 months of pregnancy, 8 hours of labour and raised her all on my own. I made the ultimate sacrifice. The most painful and gut wrenching decision of my life. To put her best interests and needs above my own and place her with what I hoped would be a stable loving family. Is this not what a real mother does? Promises were made, and promises were broken. But I never stopped being a mother. I did not suddenly become a birth parent. She did not get a “better life”. Only a different one. She does not have two parents but four. All love her deeply. (I hope).
Not a day has gone by when I haven’t wondered how my child is doing, who she is growing up to be and how she has been affected by my decision to alter her life. We are forever and inextricably connected. The grief of surrender does not dissipate with time as the adoption industry would like everyone to believe. It is life long and has many faces over time. There are times when it colours you deeply, there are times when you need to be numb just so you can survive. Imagine feeling so bonded and close for 9 months and then spend a life time losing that connection, every day and every month and every year that passes. Living with the knowledge you are mother and child but can never have a relationship because the power lies in someone else’s hands. It’s unnatural at a primal, instinctive level.
I have had mothers who have lost their babies tell me I’m lucky, at least my child is alive. I’ve been called a saint by nurses and gynaecologists and by the same token been accused of being a crack smoking, welfare whore.I’ve had my raised daughter ask if I was going to give her away. I could not fully put into words or express to you how profound adoption loss is. To be relegated to a perfunctory courtesy, to be cast back into the shadows, told to be grateful, is more than I can bear. With that one word, birth mother, I am placed into darkness. There is no grave for me to weep, there is no social setting or conversation where speaking about our lost children is acceptable. No, I am just a birth mother. STFU.
Whether the adoption was a fully informed choice, coerced or in between, to call someone a breeder is wrong. To say that there is a triad, where for millions of first mothers this doesn’t exist is wrong. To buy ‘your birth mother’ a piece of jewellery as some sort of thank you bonding gift, is sick. Yes, every situation is different, but there are commonalities through each. I raised one daughter and did not parent my second daughter. I am mother to both. This strong need for designation is about how adoptive parents and some adopted people feel about their own adoption experience. Birth mother says she didn’t raise me. But that will never change the fact she IS your mother.
Adoption is both political, personal and even economical. There are so many facets involved. If there is ever to be a triad, if we ever hope to end things like child poverty, we must begin by respecting the very experiences that are at the basis of this transaction. The powerful have created these social terms and it is the powerful who benefit. The creation of family via adoption is built on another families loss. I’m not an ex mother, birth mother, biological mother or natural mother. You may call me a first mother or if you truly understand, simply mother. I refuse to sit on the sidelines and let the stakeholders speak on my behalf. Honest and ethical adoption begins with challenging the billion dollar industry that is rife with fraud and rewarded handsomely for procuring babies. The Industry has already benefitted from our losses. I’ll be damned if I will let the happy customers call me a birth mother.
DEAR INMATE #620
I’d like to talk to you about your liberation. I’m here to discuss the terms of your release. No more of this “he said”.”she said” game. I want to speak directly to you.
You are created to be FREE.
And yet the chains around your feet have a familiar look to them. The orange jumpsuit you are wearing seems to fall heavy on your shoulders. I’d like to help you unlock those chains. I’d like to offer you a new wardrobe.
Do you want to be FREE?
It’s going to feel strange at first… walking without the weight of your slavery. It’s going to feel vulnerable in the beginning..but I promise it’s what you are created for. I want to invite you into a world where your every action is determined on the merit of the beauty you create. No more being trapped in a cycle of reactions or flinching from the past.
It’s a NEW DAY.
A day where you walk into the sunlight without fear. Unheld by the forces of obligation. Unrestrained by the the domination of addiction.
YOU ARE FREE
Your every moment is one of peace and beauty. Your every challenge is faced with optimism. Your every breath is an act of liberation to those around you.
Your very presence is an act of defiance to those who seek to control.
You will not be commanded. You will not be controlled. Your emancipated life will be a beacon to those too afraid to walk in freedom.
They will see you basking in freedom and whisper to themselves “She is free” they will know.AND YOUR LIFE WILL GIVE THEM COURAGE TO BE FREE
You will find the freedom your soul is longing for.
Take this first step. Walk on the journey to be free.
IT STARTS NOW. Before you close this letter..whisper out LOUD:
To read the original version – Erwin Raphael McManus http://mosaic.org
It’s nearing that time of year again, back to school, but this year it’s not only my kidlet but me too! I am embarking on my academic journey & starting a media arts program at my local college. They have an amazing media, broadcasting & animation department & I’m looking to get my feet wet in this area.
I knew I was ready for a new opportunity because I have found myself growing quite bored at home. I’m managing mind, body, soul, parenting with greater ease these days and being erykah is no longer a full time job. I had an aha moment as I walking down the street a few weeks ago. It hit me that I am actually doing quite a lot with my life. You dont have to wait for things to get better, you can BE better with each step of the way.
It’s like I’m having my 20′s in my 30′s and as a single mum. It’s very cool. I’m excited to be learning new skills, trying new things and expanding my world a little bit. I have some reservation, as I have been living in captivity for some time. It’s as if I kept putting my toes in the water for a quick feel but now I am ready to make that all important dive. I imagine it will be quite similar, it will be shockingly cold on those 8am classes but with a little practice i’ll be swimming along just fine.
I’ve reached a new chapter in my life and I’m looking forward to meeting new characters and new challenges. And as for the single mum gig, it looks like we two will be studying together. Wish me luck!
I am nearing the end of my 10 week training program. I began this volunteer work with the goal of befriending the elderly & visiting those who were house bound. What transpired was totally out of the blue, a divine coincidence perhaps, and my work shifted into dealing with clients who had life threatening health issues. The hospice & pallative care orientation program has opened my eyes to so many things.
Not only am I learning some valuable life skills, I am learning to become more comfortable with death & grieving. I have grown to look forward to my class and will be sad when it is over. I cannot blog about my patient work as it is confidential, but I will say that being surrounded by death, has made me appreciate life. It’s something most of us are afraid of, dont want to talk about but it is a natural process we all will go through and be touched by. The work can be depressing but the value in these experiences are changing me for the better. Think back to any number of your worst traumatic moments. If you were fortunate, you had someone to support you or be there for you. But if you are like me, going through it alone was probably worse than the trauma itself.
I’m not sure if I’m truly helping those I am supposed to serve. I cant bring a cure, I cant fix anything that is happening for them. I can do little things to try to help, but even then it falls short. What I bring is my presence. What I bring is my prayers & faith. I commit to simply being there, to listening, & sometimes I am called to be their voice. The following is an excerpt from my training manual, which I felt important enough to share on my blog. It isnt just losing someone or a death that affects people, there are so many situations we experience that color us. There is something deeply meaningful, in learning to let go. I hope it will resonate with you, as it has with me.
- to “let go” does not mean to stop caring, it means I can’t do it for someone else.
- to “let go” is not to cut myself off, it’s the realization I cant control another
- to “let go” is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.
- to “let go” is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.
- to “let go” is not to try to change or blame another, it’s to make the most of myself.
- to “let go” is not to care for but to care about
- to “let go” is not to fix but be supportive
- to “let go” is not to judge but allow another to be a human being.
- to “let go” is not to be in the middle arranging all of the outcomes but to allow others to affect their destines.
- to “let go” is not to be protective, it’s to permit another to face reality.
- to “let go is not to deny, but accept.
- to “let go” is not to nag, scold or argue but instead to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.
- to “let go” is not to adjust everything to my desires but to take each day as it comes, and cherish myself in it.
- to “let go” is not to criticize or regulate anybody but try to become what I dream I can be.
- to “let go” is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.
- to “let go” is to fear less and love more.
Like most women, I am far too hard on myself. I tend to see my mistakes in full view but my milestones hardly at all. It’s difficult to pursue writing as your life path. It is like baring your soul for all to see, sort of like those bad dreams where you find yourself naked in class. There is also a perfectionist inside of me, that wants every sentence and passage to be beautiful. I’m not sure if I really am an author. I feel more like a storyteller. Writing something of value is an art form and a gift. My counsellor called my work, ‘biblio – therapy’. I would say my first novel certainly was. But this time, although it does take me back and make me consider certain issues, my goals are more based on a creative story that has a very powerful message.
Another big chunk of my life is still focused on self care. It centers around the idea of learning to cope in healthy ways, that even when there is a rain storm, I can still find some positive feelings and moments in spite of this. Raising a teen has it challenges, parenting is an on going learning curve for me. I’m just really lucky and grateful for the support I have in my life. I’m always reminding myself, that life isnt perfect and neatly packaged. That even in the midst of everything we are going through, there is still time to have fun, love yourself and be kind to others.