Our hearts melted into one another’s in instant recognition during that first hug. Two bodies reunited after 36 years…two spirits that had never been separated. The gap of time was instantly filled during that one moment of reunion. The bond of mother and daughter can never be broken. Only shame, guilt and remorse fed the fire of apparent separation. Only forgiveness would dowse the flames and complete the circle of love.
Thirty-six years before, I had given birth to my first daughter and then released her for adoption. Suffering from a heart broken by the decision to honor my parents’ wishes that I not marry my first love, I emerged from being an “unwed mother” with emotional scars so great that my only defense was to bury them deeply, pick up my life as though nothing had happened, and go on. So successful was my denial of the gaping hole in my heart that, as the years passed, I could not even remember my child’s birth date.
How was it possible then, some 30 years, four children and two marriages later, that I could find myself in a class of spiritual counseling students that had six other women who shared the same closely held past that I did? We were all birth mothers. Our secret became our magnet, and we began to meet and vision a ministry at our church that could prayerfully support all people who are affected by adoption: adoptees, birthparents and adoptive parents. It was a noble idea, and one that would require that we do our own healing work in order to be available to others.
And so we began the excruciating journey of dredging up our pain. We individually faced our own demons — guilt, shame, blame, anger and self-recrimination — at whatever pace we felt capable of moving, and collectively we prayed for one another and all those whose pain we share. We created the Adoption Triad Ministry at The Agape Center of Truth in Los Angeles and invited people touched by adoption to come and tell their stories and join in prayer each month. We opened the way to allow each member of the triad — adoptee, adoptive parent and birth parent — to dialog with the other, seeking an understanding of the unique emotional issues that each carries. And some of us searched to find our child and/or parent. My decision to try to find my daughter opened up my personal Pandora’s box.
It was in that atmosphere of prayer and spiritual guidance that I felt safe enough to face my own walls of defense and denial and try to bring them down. The process was agonizing. Not only was I delving into the shame and pain I had caused my parents and siblings by becoming a pregnant teenager, I was allowing to surface the hatred I held for myself for not having fought for what I wanted…my mate and my baby. What I was inviting into conscious awareness – and ultimately acceptance – were the shame and guilt of having sinned, according to the church of my childhood as well as the mores of society in 1961. I was admitting that I was filled with rage at my parents for interrupting my fantasy to have the perfect family, and at my boyfriend for not having fought harder to save me from this torturous sentence of a banished offender. During the search for my daughter, I was required on numerous occasions to recall those difficult circumstances surrounding her birth, and it was all I could do to keep from passing out. As I unleashed one tidal wave after another of suppressed feelings, I was constantly on the verge of emotional overwhelm. What kept me going was my deep, deep desire to find my daughter, to tell her how much I loved her, to share with her that she was conceived in love, and to complete the circle that began with her birth.
And so I searched…and I prayed…and I began to forgive. As I progressed through the classes in spirituality that were preparing me to be a spiritual counselor and prayer practitioner, I came to realize that without forgiveness I would be unable to free myself from the maze of negative self-judgment which I had allowed to tarnish the beauty of the birth of my daughter. I understood that if I were to welcome her with true open arms now, I had to find the good in my being her birth mother. I knew that the healing miracle I so dearly sought was possible only when I released my guilt, shame and blame about the circumstances surrounding her coming into this world.
“Seventy times seven.” Jesus admonishes us that this is how often we need to forgive in order to be free — in other words, as often as it takes. I was well on my way to completing my forgiveness of the other actors in my drama — my parents, my first love, my church, my society. Now it was time to forgive myself. I had held myself on the cross of self-blame and shame for so long that I wasn’t sure how to let myself off.
I began by feeling great compassion for the teenager I was who was so in love and so passionate about life, and who only wanted to experience and express that love in any way she knew how. I listened to that 19-year-old’s pain of profound loss and of feeling that she did not belong. That pain had been so severe that she had essentially shut herself off from trusting her own beautiful heart. I listened to her, consoled her, told her how much I loved her and that I would not let that kind of pain happen to her again. The I AM of me (my God Self) forgave her for any belief she held about being a “bad girl,” a “sinner,” an “undesirable good-for-nothing,” and a “cause of pain to others.”
The months — and yes, years — that I have spent forgiving the layers of self-recrimination and loathing I felt for myself have truly unburdened me. Freeing myself from the shackles of that seemingly unforgivable and unforgiving past has truly given me a new life. The attitude I now hold toward myself, my family, my first love and my pregnancy is only gratitude, gratitude for one of the greatest growth experiences of my life. By coming to terms with my past, the gift of compassion was ignited in me — a gift I can and do readily share with all those I teach and counsel. The miracle experienced from my commitment to forgiveness is the profound love I share with my first-born daughter, a love activated the moment we hugged that has continued to enrich my life ever since.