I haven't written, spoke or thought of the pain of my adoption process in months. Not because I hurt, or it's too much to handle but because I've taken time and steps to heal.
Four days from now marks my daughters first birthday. It marks a year of life passing by since I let go. A year since I signed legally binding documents stating I was giving up my rights to parent her. I was giving up my place as her mom, her support, her cheerleader. I was giving that role to someone else.
With every initial, every signature on those documents I denied the right to be there for her first step, her first word. She will grow and learn and become a beautiful little girl with dreams and goals and I won't be there. She will crush on her first boy and experience disappointments and heartbreaks and I won't be there to brush her hair and tell her she is beautiful. She will win the spelling bee and score a run in T ball and look to her awesome parents for their proud smiles. Life will go on as it has for the past year and she will know someone else as mom. She will know someone else as her comforter and hero.
As hard as all of that is. It's okay. I'm okay.
When I left the hospital after such a huge life changing experience I promised myself a year from that day I would be the woman I wasn't. I would be the mom I wasn't and I would change myself and my life into what I wished I had had for that baby girl. I foresaw me going back to school, starting my own business and possibly buying a place of my own.
Well here we are and I have done none of those things. I am no more fit to parent than I was a year ago. I have no more of a savings or education than I had a year ago and I have every reason to feel discouraged and disappointed. I could feel like this huge event really changed nothing. I could look at the lack of change and be angry with myself. But I don't.
Instead, I am proud of myself. I took the last year and made no big changes. I took opportunities and knew to wait. Even if I wanted to go for something I would normally just jump into, I grounded myself and I took time. There is a healing that comes with stability. I had never given myself that time before and I believe that was a contributing factor to the behavior that got me there in the first place.
Knowing your limits will make the difference between healing completely and a temporary bandaid. I may not have become a changed, 180° version of myself but the last year has made the difference in me moving forward. It has helped me feel okay that my little girl is a perfect one year old with her family. I am blessed to get to see her thriving and be able to work on thriving myself.
No, every day is not rainbows but I feel what I need to feel and allow myself time and grace to work through it.
If I were to offer healing advice to fellow birth mothers I would say three simple words a good friend of mine tells me. Give yourself Grace.
Nothing comes overnight and if you are working your butt off to become the woman your baby can be proud of, don't get discouraged by the amount of time it takes to be okay. You did one of the hardest, bravest things you could have possibly done. Now surround yourself with people and things you love and grace will do the rest! Life is long and the time to conquer your fears and weaknesses will come and you will be better equipped to do so if you have taken the steps to heal.
Whether you are an open or closed adoption, you deserve to grieve and process in your own way. Allow yourself to do that! Find resources if you hit a wall. Remind yourself why you made that selfless decision and fight for yourself in the same way.
My heart is with you and I admire your sacrifice. Each mother heals in their own way and like we should give ourselves, give all people grace.
I am sitting here on my bed tonight, next to my peacefully sleeping 3 year old and my mind is returning to all the nights she has laid beside me, all the kicking, the cooing, the drooling on my arm as I hold her little body. Those moments are surreal now. Time has a funny and unfair way of stealing feelings and memories from us, but not those ones. Those moments never leave you.
My second baby girl is never going to be snuggled next to me in my bed. I will never get to wake up to her coos and movements. The days of her waking me up in the middle of the night ended the day she was born.
The months leading up to her birth time couldn’t go fast enough. I was over being fat. I was over wearing the reminder of the lowest point in my life. I was tired of the anxiety anticipating what was coming. It was exhausting throwing that optimistic smile on day after day, month after month but it had to be done.
Through that time, as left right and sideways as the emotions were, I felt pretty peaceful in my decision and as the relationship with Christian and Chelsey developed that resolve only grew stronger. So by delivery day I was ready! I kept in together for the labor, delivery and surprisingly the relinquishment.
And then the light.
Turning that light off killed me.
It may sound strange but I loved that whole experience in the hospital! I adored the people there and the special event that took place. I got to bring the most perfect baby girl into the world to join her beautiful family. I watched it all happen and I never wanted to leave that feeling, that room.
Tears are dropping on my keyboard with each word I remember about that night. In 3 months, this is the first time I have cried about this.
The sun was going down on October 6th 2017 and after the papers were signed I started to panic inside that it was over. All of it was over. My fears started to sink in about the life after “the hospital.” I worried that this was the part where I fade out and became just a name in a story.
The night was gaining the essence of finality as the nurse went through the steps to check me out and I remember wishing they told me I had to stay. Unfortunately I was in great shape to go home. Everyone there was checking up on my emotions and I remained calm and kept repeating myself, “No I am good! I need to get home to Haven anyway.” Which yes, I wanted to hold my sweet Haven but I wasn’t sure I was ready to be reminded there was a life outside and I was all the sudden alone in my body with an emotional mystery ahead of me.
My dad was there to drive me home and so I put a bag on each shoulder and stood staring at the room that held my whole heart. That moment of scanning the room, wishing I could stay forever with that precious baby girl who was no longer physically or legally mine, broke me. I turned, held my hand on the switch for what felt like minutes and finally I turned off the light.
I don’t know how to describe everything that happened after that. My mind was foggy. My sweet dad was so cute walking my limp body out to the car. I watched Christian load the car seat into the car next to ours and my heart ached. We arrived at my quiet house to Haven playing with her toys and her aunt Rachel on the floor. I wanted to be alone so I kept trying to shoo everyone out, especially my dad as I knew he would get me talking when I didn’t want to. Luckily, he knew to hover because as much as I couldn't admit it then, I needed him that night.
I still don’t have a time frame from the time I left the hospital to the time I passed out asleep from sobbing. I talked it all out with my dad for literally hours and then slept really hard! It was way into the night before my dad felt okay to leave.
I can’t say that the reality even hit me until I woke up in my room, no belly, no baby and no freaking idea what to do with myself. In spite of the glazed-over state of mind, I just got up and took my first steps into the first day of the rest of my life.
What in the world do I do now?
" I shannell Stewart, hereby voluntarily and irrevocably relinquish, permanently and completely, all of my parental rights and interests in the guardianship, custody, care and control of the female child born to me on October 5, 2017 at 4:40pm."
This is the part of the story that hurts my heart a little bit to tell.
There is no easy or quick way to explain that experience in the hospital. Twenty four hours to the minute after bringing my sweet baby girl into the world I was going to do the physical act of placing her with her parents. This part is the one you cannot prepare for or know what to expect and even though people say that, I thought I knew what to expect from myself. Let me tell you, my reaction even shocked me.
After giving birth at 4:40pm I just wanted to be alone so I asked everyone to leave for a while so I could sleep. I still hadn't really tuned in to everything. I mean yeah, I just had a baby and I was well aware of that but I just felt outside myself. I felt almost too calm, too much of a lack of emotion. I hadn't even cried yet except that short moment when my doctor embraced me.
So as the night went on, even though I wanted to be alone, I had no plans of thinking. At all! I continued to block out the reality of what I was about to do. I avoided thinking about any of the joys that motherhood brings. I forced myself to ignore the natural desires to hold her and snuggle her. As horrible as it sounds I don't think I even let myself feel the amount of love I had for her. I mentioned in my last post that I didn't want to hold her and I still hadn't yet. I knew I needed to gain more confidence in my tough outer shell before holding her. I almost wanted to be sedated until I could sign at 24 hours. I never once questioned if I would go through with it but it was a way to self medicate. It was me choosing to minimize the agony between now and the point of what was resolve for me.
Chelsey and Christian had a room down the hall where they had taken Juniper, which was how I wanted it. I knew I would not be changing my mind so why not let them have every second with her. I just put myself in the frame of mind that she was their baby, she should be with them.
Now I just had to wait.
Wait to sign my name on the line.
Wait to feel the unpredictable whatevers.
I longed for the moment I could just breathe knowing it was over.
I fell asleep intentionally numb minded.
I woke up multiple time in the night and just tossed and turned mindlessly hoping 4:40 pm would just come before I went crazy. Once morning came I couldn't believe how I was in the very center of this whole experience and still hadn't really pulled a classic "Shannell," which, if you ask my family, is an emotional wreck over a half bare Christmas tree and how that tree must feel knowing no one wants an asymmetrical Christmas tree. This was a baby! How was I not hysterical over a baby!?
I felt my wall built up high and strong around mid morning and when Chelsey asked if I wanted time with her I finally said yes. In my mind I was doing my due diligence. It almost seemed irresponsible not to spend time with her before the relinquishment. I was merely going to appear to have a heart for the sake of the masses. I was more worried that everyone would worry about me if I didn't, so I pumped my mental/emotional muscles up for some heavy lifting.
I watched from my hospital bed as Chelsey rolled this tiny little girl into the room wrapped in pink.
The wall came down. Hard.
As she was placed in my arms every ounce of emotion came rushing in. An array of sadness, happiness, contentment, jealousy, confusion. The works! I remained calm but inside lost my composure. She was absolutely beautiful and precious and perfect and I didn't get to take her home. I had to ramp up the logic. My mind was going into overdrive remembering why I was doing this, why I couldn't keep her and how my circumstances had not changed from the first day I decided on adoption.
I had about an hour alone to just stare at her and in that time I went through the hills and valleys of it all. I went back to the way my life was when I found out I was pregnant and all the events that brought me to this moment. The being that was just a reminder of my mistakes and a trial I had to overcome was now here in her angelic grace as so much more than that! She was now the precious blessing that gave me the strength to be able to do the right thing for her. She carried the power of angels that gave me the ability to love her so much and yet still hand her to her mom and dad.
After that time with her I got up and I faced the rest of the day.
We gave Juniper her first bath together later in the day and as Chelsey and I stood over her itty bitty body I felt such a bond as mothers of this sweet little girl. I am grateful she shared that experience with me and I am glad I let myself risk the heavy feelings to share that experience with her.
4:00pm was here and it was almost time. My case worker came and we all settled in for the reading of the legalities. My wonderful dad was there to be with me for this very unpredictable challenge. I was holding Juniper when Christian and Chelsey left her in my arms and hugged me before leaving the room. Legally they could not be present for the signing.
This is the part I'm not quite sure how to put into words.
I was sitting at the end of the bed, light streaming in from the window, looking down at white papers covered in black words, all eyes in the room on me. I was hearing every word, every legal definition, restriction and explanation to what I was about to sign but all I really saw or understood was that this was it. I am here. The moment that makes all of this real.
My support system was strong with my dad there, my case worker, my nurse, the witness, my sweet Haven and oddly enough my ex husband's mother who had become a huge support as she adopted all four of her kids.
It felt like days before I put that pen to paper. It was such a slow motion experience that I know couldn't have been more than 10 minutes but felt like an eternity.
"I fully understand the legal significance of the Relinquishment of my Parental Rights. I understand that this Relinquishment of Parental Rights and, Consent to Adoption and Consent to Termination of Parental Rights will be effective upon signing this instrument and may not be revoked and that I cannot change my mind about surrendering my parental rights at any time."
I read and reread that paragraph. In response to the natural anxiety that would be building I just said once in my head, "This isn't about you Shannell. You know this is right for her and that is all you need to know. Now sign the paper."
And I did.
I just signed it and didn't look back. I lifted my head from signing and dating to six sets of eyes, six stoic faces ready to cradle me in their arms while I finally broke down.
Yet again, nothing.
I smiled for the pictures, I laughed at the light hearted jokes and I kissed that perfect girl on the cheek before she went home with her mom and dad. Then I packed my bag, my gifts, my copy of the relinquishment and I walked to the edge of the hospital room knowing it was done, and I turned off the light.
October 5, 2017
We were one for nine months and now we were about to become two.
There is so much to say about the day I brought my second precious baby into the world. I get overwhelmed when I remember all the emotion! All the fear, the pain, the peace and the uncertainty seems to bring a haze to the details of the labor and delivery. I knew with my first step into the hospital that I was leaving there empty handed. I knew with that first step that there was something bigger than all of us at play. I knew that there was no knowing how I would feel or how things would go but I had no choice but to keep taking those steps. It felt like it was over for me, it was time to welcome the experience ahead whether I was ready or not.
I had taken the months from March to October to get ready for this day. There were millions of times I thought about every possible scenario, every thing that could go wrong or right or change everything. Truth is, you can never prepare for something like this. It was truly a unique experience.
It was October 4th, a typical Wednesday. I worked a regular day at my 9-5 job and as I walked, more like waddled, out of the office I just felt unexpectedly calm that I would be back to my desk a week and a half later as if nothing had happened. I wish I could say this was a "high action, my water broke, everything in the world revolved around me," type of story but it's just practical. I scheduled my induction for midnight and so when I got home from work I showered, packed my bag and waited at my front room window for time to pass. My mental self discipline was working overtime to avoid any deep thinking.
My adoptive couple, Christian and Chelsey, pulled in at 11:00 pm so we could ride to the hospital together. It was moments like this one that kept me unusually calm. I just knew they were family to me and would be the most amazing parents-- and that was even before we stopped to get hospital snacks! ;) We had a long night ahead of us and they knew how to do a sleepover!
We arrived to the hospital in the silence of the night and as we walked through the main doors to the labor and delivery wing my dad and step mom were waiting there for us. I can't tell you how incredible it felt to see familiar, loving faces there to support me in this delicate time. I checked in and they showed us to the room where this amazing event would happen. I felt a little on display and my natural response to that kind of attention is an attempt at humor. The uncomfortable moments were followed by some awkward joking and a prayer that someone, anyone would change the subject! As I got settled in my older sister and her husband came in with big smiles and looked like they were ready to camp out all night with the rest of us. The bigger part of me was so happy to have so many supporters but I had a small corner of myself that wanted to just be alone. I chose to ignore that corner and enjoy the thankful feelings that so many amazing people were in my life to be there for me.
To spare the medical details, I was not close to ready for induction yet and so the night looked as if it would drag on for weeks! My entourage put up a good fight but the survivors were Chelsey, my older sister and her 4 month old. It was warming to look over and see the mother of this baby I was about to have sitting patiently and attentively. I had the sincerest feelings of resolve that this little spirit was coming down to her and not me. I think in a time of great unknowing, adoption gets double, maybe even triple duty on the angels.
The night passed with good snacks and even better conversations as my family got to know the couple I would be placing my baby with. I know that time meant so much to all of us. I am grateful now looking back that I wasn't ready right away.
Fast forward to 8am and I was finally ready for the pitocin and the real labor to begin. Over the next 6 hours family was in and out, nurses were in and out and I was surprised to feel enjoyment in the whole experience. I am no hero so I did get the epidural as the labor progressed. I remember the anxiety I felt leaning over to get that large needle put in my back and Chelsey holding my hand as I tried not to move one centimeter. There wasn't one time I felt alone or unsupported. I know I am very blessed as that is not always the case in these situations.
The sweet experience continued when my sweet Haven, my 3 year old daughter, came to see me. I remember being in and out of sleep when she walked up to me and kissed my cheek. My heart melted to know she was there and was in the good hands of my family and the family of my adoptive couple.
It was FINALLY time!! I was having similar feelings as I had leading up to Havens birth. I buzzed the nurse in and she confirmed it was time! At that point everyone was scattered getting lunch and stretching their legs after a long 16 hours of waiting.
My brother-in-law took Haven and the room was cleared out while the doctor came in to check up on my progress. I can't even put into words the feelings I was having. Somewhere in my overly poised appearance was a girl screaming in anxiety and fear. By some miracle I remained very calm and just repeated in my head that this is what was meant to happen.
With all the frantic preparation I reminded the nurses and the doctor of what I wanted to happen. I wanted both parents in the room and she go directly to her parents when she was ready. I promised myself I was not going to hold her for a while. I just felt that I am entrusting this couple with my baby and they deserve to experience each second of her life.
I am blessed with easy deliveries so after only 3-4 pushed Juniper Renae entered the world at 4:40 pm weighing 6 pounds 15 ounces and 20 inches long. She was perfection. Christian cut the umbilical cord and the nurses took her. I knew Chelsey and Christian felt torn about whether to stay by my side or follow their new baby girl. I looked them in the eyes and let them know it was okay. I wanted them to be there for her. Chelsey's mom stayed with me and kept me calm. I just felt very stoic and observant as all that followed unfolded like a movie before my eyes. Once Juniper was ready to be held Chelsey held her in her arms for the first time. I just watched as tears of joy rolled down both their cheeks. I felt a strength in place of jealousy. I felt contentment in place of heartbreak.
Everything had gone just how I pictured and wanted it to. Chelsey was so sweet to ask if I wanted to hold her. I turned her down. I think she was inspired to keep asking and with each time I denied.
That was when I finally broke down, I knew I didn't want to hold her yet and I was okay with it but I also felt guilty that I was so okay with it. My sweet doctor embraced me in that moment as he saw the calm unravel.
I did finally hold Juniper the next day and I am so grateful I did! I cherish that time I had with her and I am grateful Chelsey felt the prompting to let me know it was okay to have some time with her. The rest of the day was just surreal. I was surrounded by so many but felt so empty. This tiny spirit that changed my life grew and became someone within me and now she was gone.
I asked to be alone for a while so I could commence staring at the wall in disbelief. I was proud of myself and how I held it together but now needed to rejuvenate as the next 24 hours would hold a whole new set of challenges. Legally I could not relinquish my rights until 4:40 the next day so I knew I needed to stay in the right frame of mind until then. After that I knew I could lose my mind. I wish I could share more but I have already made this unreadably long. So much happened in a short amount of time and I feel very blessed to be able to share and receive the love and support I have so far. I plan to share the relinquishment story soon! It is one of great significance and I look forward to putting it into words.
To wrap up this first section I just want to say how incredible October 5, 2017 was. It will forever hold a tender place in my heart as I watched my baby be welcomed and immediately adored by her parents. The parents I know God intended for her. I am grateful for the way my needs and wants were honored that made it a healthy transition for me. My sister took photos and I wanted to show a few that touched me from that day so I made a GALLERY tab with just a few photos from the journey that I want to add to as my open adoption blooms which it so beautifully has.