After all my bluster about being an emotional mountain climber, sadly I am writing to tell you that our experiment in living together as a family is not working out. We decided this past week that we need to live in separate homes. We’ve been in a pattern of avoidance for awhile, then Mama Jen and I had our second falling out last week. We’ve come to acknowledge that there is just too much pain and intensity around our individual and collective processes – some of which have to do with the adoption and some that don’t – to be able to manage life joyfully under the same roof. We are all hurting for our individual reasons and we are trying to take responsibility for each other’s feelings by avoiding conflict and the vulnerability of sharing our personal struggles.
I learned that Mama Jen is feeling more and more guilty about being happy with Lake because of my heartache, which is not ok. I need for my son’s Mommy to feel free to be happy with him. That’s the point of my giving her this gift, so that she can know the joys of motherhood. Unfortunately what she didn’t know, because I haven’t been talking about my process with her, is that I feel compersion and joy when I see and hear them happy together. I love when I hear him giggling when they play, or witnessing her teach and him learn. I devour the pictures and videos on the Facebook group. It’s only aspects of his behavior in wanting/choosing/calling her – and rejecting me – that get to me. Nothing about her behavior as a mother hurts me. She is an incredible mother. Far better than she gives herself credit for. Even with my extremely high standards for parenting, I couldn’t have wished for better. All I’ve wanted since I knew it was her child in my belly is for her to be happy in her motherhood.
We need to choose the most loving and kind way to move forward as a family and separating seems to be it. We agree on the reasons for separation – that there is too much pain right now and there are some irreconcilable difference in how we live in a home. No shame and no blame, at least not toward one another. There is already a sense of relief and a new lightness in our interactions because of this decision. We are still a family choosing love and generosity every day.
Chris and I are planning to find an apartment and cash out a small 401K account he had in Humboldt that will make moving easeful, as well as help Jen and Gaius so that everyone’s needs are met in the transition. They are hoping the landlords will allow them to find a new roommate situation so they can stay in this great house. We’ll come up with some arrangement for continued time as a family, as well as time for Chris and I to have Lake for sleepovers and other adventures.
For myself, I had the insight that an unconscious reason I made this choice is because it felt safer to continue being a mother and a woman overcoming adversity – two foundational pieces of my identity – than to start a happy new life with Chris in an empty nest without big emotional challenges to navigate daily. I healed the identity neurosis of Borderline Personality Disorder in my early 20’s by building my foundation on being a mother who puts my children first and being a survivor-artist who turns my suffering into meaning and beauty. Moving in with Lake continued to fulfill both of those identities for me in some ways. I’m not sure who I am beyond those identities and I need to figure it out for my own well being. I need both physical and emotional quiet in which to recover and heal from a life of continual emotional stress before I can bring both my best self and my best work into the world. I need to let go of being a mama and learn to be an Amma. I need to evolve into an writer-artist who turns suffering in the world into meaning and beauty rather than focusing on my own pain. I now see crafting a prescriptive memoir as a bridge between who I’ve been and who I’m becoming, discovering the parts of myself beyond mother and survivor, as well as establishing my “expertise” in self directed psycho-spiritual development so that I can support others in recovery from emotional and mental illness.
I have to admit I am struggling with feeling like a failure and fraud as a community builder, something I’ve been researching and talking about all year. I am not accustomed to failure. I wonder if I could have done better and if it would have made a difference. And I’m worried that I’m letting everyone down by being unable to make this work – Lake, his adoptive parents, the journalist who invested her time and art in us, Yahoo News that invested money in our story, and all the people who’ve been touched and inspired by us.
On the other hand I know that we are all deeply courageous, generous, and loving for having tried to do something most people imagine to be impossible. I pushed the edges as a birth mother allowed to have any relationship I desire with my child and I learned there is a limit to the intimacy I can manage with him and his adoptive parents without suffering too much pain over what I’ve lost. That isn’t a failure, it’s just my humanness.
Writing my memoir, crafting the Radical Mystic project, and transitioning into the identity of writer-artist-community-builder that I’ve been craving for as long as I can remember is going to take some time. I have healing and self work to do before I can focus on my work in the world. I need to build a new foundation of identity based on something other than motherhood and surviving trauma. While I will continue to write here regularly, I am going to stop being concerned about writing the right things in the right way to draw an audience, or platform building, or getting the memoir done as quickly as I can. I will make my art with the simple goals of understanding and expressing myself in this process of transition for now. If I touch others in the process, that’s an extra blessing.
I gave the first half of my adult life to being the center of emotional safety and belonging for my children. As a dear friend reflected to me, now I need to take this time and emotional freedom to give birth to and mother myself. I am in the middle of a life changing process of healing and redefinition. I am evolving as a woman, as a mother, and as an artist and now I am creating the circumstances in which I can thrive as all of these things. I need to know who I am becoming and find my new belonging before I can build community and nurture belonging for others.
I am relieved and heartbroken. I am excited and scared. And I am ever so grateful that I have a family who loves me and will hold me through this transition, no matter where we live.
*Image is an artist trading card I made several years ago – I am the First Work of My Heart. I’ll finally be living fully living into this truth.