Her little girl was turning a year old soon.
August 1, 2001
That night Tara was on top of the world and she didn’t know why. But she felt this tremendous surge of energy and happiness unlike she’d known in her life, she was pretty sure.
Maybe it was just the full moon, which always affected her. But she felt actually thrilled about the adoption. She put up new pix of MacKenzie and her apartment looked great. She could actually watch a show about adoption and be unemotional.
She wrote a poem for MacKenzie and sent it to her for her 1st birthday with a card:
they just ache to hear
your skin like silk
a baby’s breath.
Your smile a whisper
to our hearts
to your sweet spirit.
Each day a grand
Your birthday wishes
wrapped in pink
I visited the playground today
and smiling, remembered
our time together.
The way your tiny arms
my arms against yours,
the sun’s bright hue.
Not long ago you were
growing inside me
waiting to sprout.
And now you crawl,
you stand, you play,
each day’s your own
For the first time in a long time, Tara didn’t want to go to bed because of happiness and an excitement she couldn’t name. This time it wasn’t because of insomnia or fear of nightmares. She just wanted to play all night.
It was as if MacKenzie’s spirit was right there. And it was, really.
It didn’t matter at that moment that Tara and Chelsea couldn’t agree on Tara not continuing to send Chelsea emails from her APs.
For this moment Tara was at peace no matter how long it lasted.
August 2, 2001
Tara was up at 6:00 a.m., an hour and a half early. She went and emailed the scanned new pix of MacKenzie to friends and family. She always got great responses.
Tara’s old boss and the birth mom, who had lived at Gladney with her, posted her story on the online birth mom support group:
“I picked my APs as her parents and because I had private health insurance was able to call most of the shots in regard to how I wanted the adoption to go,” she wrote. “Ellen (my daughter) was never placed in Transitional Care and left the hospital with her parents two days after I gave birth to her. I signed my final paperwork exactly 48 hours after she was born. Her birthday is June 10, 2000. Like Tara, I had a face-to-face (visit) in December. It was the most incredible experience. Honestly, I was terrified before I did it. My daughter was so beautiful and it was a wonderful chance to see how my APs are growing as parents.
I would definitely recommend having the six months face-to-face to every birth mother that’s given the opportunity. For Ellen’s first birthday I planted a tree for her instead of sending her a “present.” I wanted it to be in a special place where when and if we’re reunited we can visit it together. I plan on returning to visit each year as I celebrate my daughter’s birthday and thank God for the life that He has blessed both of us with!”
Tara got an email from her online support buddy for her addiction:
“That’s a really good point about when you were true to your feelings that you didn’t act out!” she wrote. “I’ve found the same thing.
Sometimes I even find the opposite to be true – when I don’t act out I find a lot more feelings come up that I am pushing away when I do act out. Does that make sense? About your grandmother, I think it’s only natural to feel some guilt when someone we love dies. I don’t know why that is but it seems to be human response. For months after my boyfriend was killed I felt horribly guilty over something that had happened before he died and I was convinced if I had done things differently that he would still be alive. I’m sure that even though you didn’t get to visit your grandmother often or go to her funeral that she knew how much you cared for her.”
Tara was in a good mood at work, though tired, until lunch when a co-worker brought her newborn baby girl in to work for the first time.
She was still on maternity leave until October.
Walking down the hallway at work, Tara spotted the baby car seat sitting in the hall and a couple of her co-workers gathered around it,
ooohhing and ahhhing. Tara looked at the baby out of the corner of her eye and said, “Excuse me” more than once before anyone noticed her as she tried to wedge her way past the women in the doorway back to her desk.
As sudden as a dark cloud, she got emotional and though she didn’t display it, she was overcome with sudden sadness and loss.
Then she got angry with herself. She thought she was doing so well.
Luckily it was time for her to go to lunch and it helped to get away. As she drove to pick up her paycheck she cursed at the situation and herself for her response. It wasn’t the first or last time she’d see a baby since MacKenzie’s birth.
But this emotion came out of nowhere after the great night she’d had the night before.
Busying herself with errands, the emotion left her and by the time she got back to work, she was back to “normal.” She noticed it didn’t last as long as it would’ve a month ago or even longer than that.
This was progress.
She and Chelsea made up more or less over email and Tara still planned to visit. She knew she would always have to take care of Chelsea’s feelings but she loved her too much to do anything less.
August 6, 2001
Tara dreamed about her grandma the night before who had just died but didn’t remember much about it, only that she was sick. In the same dream Tara was having an asthma attack and no one would listen to her or help her.
Tara’s old boss heard from a resident who had been with them at Gladney and who was now there again but didn’t know what to say to her. It was clear she didn’t want help or see the need for it.
Another co-worker brought in her newborn baby only this time Tara didn’t get upset about it.
Go figure. And it was a girl.
Tara had been feeling the need to hang out at the playground where she placed MacKenzie. She knew it was because her birthday was coming up on the 15th. Her friend had gone into a coma on that same day and her uncle died that day, too.
Tara had a session with her counselor and vented some feelings about her anger and general feeling of being fed up with everyone seeing her as pathetic. She fought self-destructing all weekend.
She slept her bad mood away after dinner and didn’t want to get up but forced herself to.
The “Creating Futures” Gladney birth mom newsletter came out. The cover story called “To Tell or Not to Tell” regarding adoption was pretty good. It stressed the importance of a confident attitude when discussing adoption with others.
Not feeling safe in telling one’s story makes for a hard road. Roadblocks like Chelsea not wanting any more emails from the APs
can occur. Negative responses shouldn’t be taken personally but that was hard, too. Birth moms are in control of the situation, according to
the article. But it’s important to make a decision one way or the other as to if a birth mom is going to disclose her adoption story or not.
That day Tara left a message regarding an ad for egg donors because she was desperate for money. It also called for surrogate moms but not only was that illegal in Tara’s state, but she couldn’t go through placing another child again.
The only thing about egg donation was that if she ever got back with Mark, her ex-husband, he wanted kids and that would rule that out.
Still, she desperately needed money and $1,000 to $2,000 would really help.
One of the requirements to be a donor included passing a psych test, which Tara knew she wouldn’t pass. She’d faked her way through a few but she doubted she’d get by. Still, she left the message anyway.
August 7, 2001
Tara got an email from Veronica:
“I asked Ben what he wants to get MacKenzie and his dad for their birthdays,” she wrote. “He thought and thought and just knows his dad would like a really big kite to ï¿½fly with me.’ And MacKenzie gets a ï¿½really soft teddy bear.’ Not bad ideas! Thus far we got her a baby doll and some dishes to go with the kitchen she got a few weeks ago. We also got her a playhouse which Ben says is his.”
August 8, 2001
James was supposed to call but she forgot to wait by the phone after she went to the ER with chest pains. She didn’t rush home like she usually did when remembering his call.
That was progress that she no longer put her health in jeopardy for a guy.
August 8, 2001
Tara submitted her testimony for the new visitor’s center built as part of the new Gladney building:
“Adoption enabled me to break the chain of abuse in my family by giving my daughter a new family tree with fresh roots,” she wrote. “It had made a difference in my life by allowing me to see her happy and thriving, something she wouldn’t be if I had raised her. I thank God every day that she has non-abusive parents, a two-parent home, a big brother who thinks she’s ï¿½his baby,’ and a loving, safe, stable household. In her I see my own childhood spirit and I have hope for the future. She gives me reason to live and to keep moving.”
She sent the entry to Veronica who responded:
“Wow, what a powerful message in just a few short sentences,” she wrote. “You are such a fabulous writer. I hope they pick your entry. We love you.”
August 9, 2001
Tara had stayed out of work that day after her trip to the ER the night before.
She thought of a name for her journal – “MacKenzie’s Hope” – a play on MacKenzie’s first and middle name.
After running around doing errands, Tara laid back down, realizing she had overdone it. On the news they told everyone with respiratory problems like Tara to stay inside, but someone had to pay the bills. Tara had thought about her ex-husband, Mark all that day.
She forced herself to exercise even though she didn’t feel like it and probably shouldn’t have. She hadn’t been pushing herself enough but she hadn’t been taking care of herself either.
That night she dreamed about Mark, that they were getting remarried; only someone ruined the wedding. She was back at their apartment in Florida and as she walked around the place, she cried, realizing what she had lost. She knew he was out there somewhere but couldn’t reach him, kind of like reality. In the dream another wedding took place of someone else’s instead of her own.
In the dream she told someone “He told me I’d keep pushing him away until he was gone.”
Then in another scene she saw herself walking down the aisle and he had a big smile on his face.
When she woke up, she was sad.
She still didn’t know what all these dreams meant. Was she supposed to mail those letters she’d been hanging on to or was all this just coincidence because she’d been thinking about him?
She remembered in the dream asking herself, “Can I be faithful now? Do I want to be?”
August 10, 2001
Tara got a long email from Veronica after asking if MacKenzie had any new feats:
“Working aggressively with Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) on eating,” she wrote. “She is still liking peaches. She’s trying to get another tooth and is chewing on everything – including some dog food she got her hands into. She loves the dogs’ food. Kinda gross, huh? I guess as its little pellets that she can grasp in her hands. She sees it and makes a beeline for it and crawling she’s very very fast. Anyway, she doesn’t actually get it into her mouth, just likes the way it feels in her hands. And the look on her face if she ï¿½beats’ us to it is gleeful! She’s still trying to walk – will hold on to the couch, coffee table; etc. to get around or ï¿½cruise.’ She also will walk holding onto our hands and is very proud of herself.
We want to send you something on the 15th (her birthday). I’m looking for the time and energy to go get MacKenzie’s pic taken for you. My
sister and brother-in-law are reconfirming their wedding vows on Saturday on their anniversary. I think that’s so sweet. She’s doing really well with her pregnancy – 22 weeks now and it’s another boy. He’ll be called Chase.”
August 13, 2001
Tara’s old boss invited her over for dinner for the 15th, MacKenzie’s first birthday. Tara planned on working during the day then maybe taking off early.
Tara met with her counselor that night and they talked about her recent dreams about Mark, her ex-husband and what they could mean. Her counselor thought she should pursue him but Tara just thought she was just being obsessive.
Tara and Chelsea were trying to plan her trip to see her and her mom. Though Tara couldn’t even pay her rent or bills, she knew her mom needed her.
She didn’t know what to do.
August 14, 2001
Tara finally figured out a way to celebrate MacKenzie’s birthday. She planned on going to the park where Placement had been held and releasing a balloon. Every year she would increase the amount of balloons depending on MacKenzie’s age.
She was in a deep depression that day, just thinking about MacKenzie’s birthday, which she knew was normal. She just wanted to escape her grief.
The resident who had been at Gladney emailed that she was going crazy there for the third time.
August 15, 2001
Tara got a slew of emails on MacKenzie’s birthday:
“Hope your balloon releasing holds special comfort for you,” Chelsea wrote. “I’m sending MacKenzie birthday energy and love and prayers for a happy, healthy life.”
“Happy Birthday to your daughter!” another birth mom posted. “Remember to take time for yourself today to grieve your loss and enjoy your memories with her! You will be in my thoughts and prayers.”
August 16, 2001
When Tara got home there was a box with a blue teddy bear, letter and poem from Veronica waiting for her. Veronica didn’t know that the specific bear was one she’d been eyeing for months but couldn’t afford to buy. And it was her favorite color – blue.
“I remembered this (poem) being in one of the books you prepared for MacKenzie,” Veronica wrote. “Eventually I’ll type it on nice paper with a border and frame for her room but I just scanned this in. I’m shedding a few tears today (the 15th) – tears of thankfulness for an unselfish mother who placed her precious infant daughter in our arms. We are always so thankful to you but especially on this first birthday.
Wanted to send you flowers but afraid the delivery person would miss you so we went shopping and MacKenzie literally reached out and grabbed this Teddy. So it’s straight from her arms to yours. I know you can squeeze and squeeze him and still feel empty arms but please know what loving thoughts are with you today and every day. We love you.”
With the package was a copy of the “A Birthday Poem,” something Tara had put in MacKenzie’s scrapbook when she was making it.
Veronica had highlighted these words at the end:
“I have a prayer: Oh God, that I may never forget that “someone” who suffered so much to give life to my child. That she loved my child so very much that she gave him the right to Live. May I never forget for a moment and especially now, today, to offer a prayer of thanks for that “someone” and that you, dear God, will always be there beside her, to help her through the pain she will have when she stops to think that “Today is my child’s birthday.”
Tara wrote Veronica and Frank:
“You have the biggest hearts,” she said. “When I got home yesterday and opened my package, finding that bear I always wanted along with the amazing letter and poem, it made my day. I am the luckiest birth mom in the world and I know it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’m so glad MacKenzie is so well taken care of and happy. I’m very glad I made the decision I did and will never regret it.
My other teddy bear I’d had for ten years and my dog wanted to play with it! Thank you as always for your prayers. They mean a lot to me.
There’s another birth mom who was with me at Gladney and had her baby August 18th last year. This is her third trip and none of us know what to say to her. She was drunk and got raped this time.
Anyway, I also met a birth mom who’s due in two weeks and living at Gladney from Colorado. She’ll return there a few days after the birth.
I feel like I can help other birth moms now and that is a blessing. I gave her lots of encouragement and we exchanged emails, etc.
P.S. A birth mom who went with me to release the balloon the other day (who was with me at Gladney/my old boss) told me that after her little girl turned one in June she felt like a big burden had been lifted and she could have closure; that the pain was gone. Not the burden of the child, but the burden of the grief.”
Veronica wrote back:
“I’m so glad you liked the Teddy Bear,” she said. “That poem was in your scrapbook for MacKenzie and has always meant a lot to me. Frank had a great birthday. I surprised him with a massage, which was his favorite present. We have another party tomorrow for him,
MacKenzie and my nice Ariel at my mom’s. I took pics of all “our kids” – youth as well as toddlers and infants in the pool. It gave me a really warm feeling to see all the kids MacKenzie and Ben will grow up with.
I know your trip is just around the corner. I hope you get to visit with your sister and your mother also.”
August 19, 2001
Tara slept the rest of the day away till about 5 when she forced herself to get up. She was at the end of her rope financially again. She had no money, no gas, no money to do laundry, and no food in the house. Luckily her neighbor let her use her washer and dryer which was a lifesaver.
A male friend was going to take her home later but he seemed pre-occupied with a hot chick in the corner so Tara asked someone else, a female friend.
She used to be the hot young thing in the corner but those days were gone.
Tara forced herself to go to bed later and had nightmares about her Dad abusing her. In the dream he was marrying his second wife, who in reality, he was divorced from.
Tara lay in bed motionless and grew sad that when all was said and done she was just a 35-year-old former foster child who didn’t have a clue as to how to live.
The only thing she had done right was giving her daughter a new chance.
August 20, 2001
Tara went to a job interview and decided she wasn’t qualified for the job then picked up some more food and things another friend had for her who had already called earlier.
She hugged her and they went their separate ways – her friend home to a verbally abusive husband and Tara back to her job.
August 21, 2001
Tara was in a bad mood most of the day and was completely unmotivated. She was right where she was two years ago – bouncing checks, unable to pay her rent and bills, and living in fear. She didn’t know how she got here, just that she had.
A birth mom, who placed her son a year ago, posted a distraught message on the board of the birth mom support group. Her APs recently told her they decided to cease contact now that her son was a year old:
“I talked to my adoptive family yesterday and I’m not doing so well today,” she wrote. “I know that I should be happy for them, for my son but I am so torn. I have to smile while talking to them or I will feel like screaming. They want to disconnect the 800 number. Why do I feel so betrayed by that? I don’t want to feel like that? Help!”
Tara tossed and turned that night and had a nightmare about her dad. She wondered why she was having so many lately and when they would end.
She wound up talking to her neighbor outside at midnight when taking her dog out to the bathroom since she couldn’t sleep. Her neighbor was upset that her daughter, who just turned 18, had been drinking a lot and taking anti-depressants on top of it. Over the weekend her daughter had gotten in a wreck and had bruises all over her.
“I’m exhausted,” the neighbor said.
August 22, 2001
In a week Tara would be in Florida, basking in the sun, meditating on the beach, relaxing, and really unwinding for the first time in probably a year.
The pet sitter was going to cost a small fortune but her friend offered to let her throw some things into a garage sale she was having that weekend to turn a small profit.
She could use all the help she could get.
Tara was very grateful that she didn’t have to deal with dorm life now.
That night Tara ran into a friend of hers who was talking to some friends of Tara’s about how she forgave her mom after years of hating her
Tara asked her about Tara’s dad and how she could get past her pain with him.
“Just because you forgive him doesn’t mean you let him back in your life,” she told Tara.
That night Tara had more dreams about her dad and woke up fatigued, like she’d been in a coma.
August 23, 2001
A co-worker asked Tara where her little girl lived that day.
“She’s an hour and a half away,” Tara said, nonchalantly. “That’s all I’m allowed to know because of confidentiality.”
“I don’t think that’s fair,” the co-worker said. “The mom should know. You’re the mom.”
“Yeah, but they have to do it because of some birth moms who try to kidnap the kid and get them back, so I understand. It’s cool,” Tara said and meant it.
“Still, I don’t think it’s fair,” the co-worker said and Tara went back to her desk, unaffected.
One of the birth moms from the online support group sent everyone a link to read a birth parent grief poem and an article on birth parent grief:
The article stated that losing a child to adoption is one of the most significant losses that birthparents will ever have to face and that today open adoption is often presented to birthparents as a way to lessen the grief of losing a child to adoption. The article said that one of the first steps in dealing with any loss is knowing how grief may manifest itself.
The phases of grief include shock and denial, the former of which is often confounded by the miracle of birth, which Tara could recognize, especially since she was heavily medicated before and after. Tara knew from past experiences with loss that shock was the first reaction to the impact of loss. As the shock wears off and more intense feelings of sadness and pain begin, many will enter a period of denial, according to the article. Other birthparents may deny the loss by directly avoiding it, as evidenced by some birth moms Tara had known.
Although painful, shock and denial are two very normal coping mechanisms, the article explained.
But denial that goes on too long can be a form of repressing emotions; something Tara had done all her life.
Sorrow and depression was another phase of grief. This happens usually when the shock wears off and the birthparent begins to understand the extent of their loss. For some birthparents, sorrow over the actual physical separation may be expressed in tangible sensations of loss like when Tara kept hearing a baby cry after going back to the dorm following MacKenzie’s birth.
Depression is often accompanied by physical symptoms as well, as Tara recognized. Some of the emotional aspects of depression can be as debilitating as the physical symptoms (Tara’s manic-depression, depression, suicidal thoughts, isolation, and rebellion).
Anger is another phase and is a natural part of the grieving experience, according to the author of the article. Unexpressed or expressed anger often festers, as Tara’s did.
Acceptance is supposed to be the final stage of grief. While things may never be the same again, Tara could come out the other side.
Acceptance was said to bring renewed energy and strength. Tara hadn’t felt the energy yet but did feel the strength.
Tara knew, as the article stated, that one of the most important factors affecting the way a birthparent grieved the loss of their child through adoption would depend on the support and assistance they get from those around them. Fully experiencing grief is hard work, as Tara could attest.
Sometimes people get stuck in one phase of grieving, which for Tara had always seems to be the “if onlys.” The article’s author went on to say that occasionally it’s a matter of finding the support in a professional that the birthparent’s family and friends are unable or unwilling to give.
Birthfathers often grieve the loss differently than birth moms, although Tara just thought Alex didn’t care.
The article concluded by saying that grieving is often a process of two steps forward, one step back, which was bad news to Tara, who wanted this “hell” year to be over with.
That night Tara bought Chelsea’s birthday presents to be given to her the next week when she visited. She got her Mad Libs, a game that used to play when they were kids and a Winnie the Pooh cookie cutter set since she loved Pooh.
She wanted to buy something for MacKenzie to commemorate tomorrow’s one-year anniversary of Placement Day.
Then she decided to write her and her family a letter instead.
She was reflecting back on a year ago when she and another birth mom had cried together the eve before Placement and how gut wrenching it was.
She was so grateful she wasn’t back there now. She remembered she dreamed she was at Gladney six months before she was ever pregnant and how weird that was that she would wind up there. It wasn’t the first time she’d had dreams that later came true. She often wondered if she had psychic abilities or had lived in another time although she didn’t really believe this.
That night she dreamed about MacKenzie but couldn’t remember what it was about. She woke up again feeling fatigued and stumbled out of bed to get ready early.
August 24, 2001
Placement Day 1st Anniversary
Tara told herself she didn’t feel sad this day. It wasn’t as hard as MacKenzie’s birthday and she didn’t want to use it as an excuse to leave work early again like she had that day.
She had gotten things ready for a garage sale with her friend in hopes she could make enough to pay the rent or at least some bills. She still didn’t have rent money but her old boss who she’d done some freelance writing for before, emailed her and told her he had some part-time temporary work for her so that made her day.
Good, she thought, maybe things were turning around.
Tara talked to the young birth mom from the other night that was still sick and had two more weeks to go before her baby was due.
Tara told her that today was her Placement Day anniversary of one year.
“How are you feeling today?” the young birth mom asked her.
“I’m okay, just tired,” Tara said, although she did feel sad, it wasn’t unbearable.
They didn’t talk long and Tara gave her some hope, she prayed.
Tara figured this young birth mom would be a lot better off than she would, namely because she was going home to her family not long after delivery and they would support her emotionally. Tara knew that made all the difference.
Tara feared today that she wouldn’t hear from Veronica and Frank for a long time. Their agreement only required them to send information every six months now until MacKenzie was 18 but Tara hoped and thought that Veronica would continue sending her info sooner. And Veronica had told her that she’d send her a birthday tape.
When Tara got back to her desk at work that day she heard that a co-worker had had her baby at 11:50 the night before, a girl.
But in MacKenzie she now had hope; saw the light in her own daughter’s eyes reflecting her light back to her.
And Tara was finally at peace.