A recent Open Adoption Roundtable topic was Adoption and Therapy. So, here goes…
She was a tall, blond, beautiful woman in her mid 50s who wore little makeup and simple clothing. Her hair landed softly on her shoulders or was sometimes piled loosely on her head in a bun. She smiled often. In fact, her cheeks seemed to be permanently flushed with joy. I loved the lilt of her Welsh brogue as she greeted me warmly and invited me into her office, which was peaceful as an oasis. It was filled with sunlight and tropical plants; windows cracked open despite the Orlando humidity. And a ceiling fan with huge bamboo paddles whirred a soft comforting breeze. I enjoyed meeting with her. And what I’ve come to realize is that Pat was a light for me during a very dark time.
It was 15 years after I had placed my son for adoption. I was married and my husband and I were planning to move from Orlando to Massachusetts, specifically to live with my parents while my husband got settled in his new job in the northeast. My subconscious processed all of this way ahead of any logic I could muster. While my son was fine and the open adoption relationship was healthy and strong among the birthfamilies and his family, I was still struggling with paralyzing guilt, shame and extremely low self-confidence and self-esteem. Moving in with my parents – and knowing that my husband and I planned to start a family soon – was giving me severe anxiety.
It was during the third week of therapy that I finally mentioned I had placed a son for adoption. I remember Pat turning a fresh page in her notebook and saying in her delightful accent, “Well! Now we’re getting to the good stuff…”
She walked me through every memory I had of discovering I was pregnant. The emotions I felt. Shame, guilt, fear, confusion. She helped me reconcile the naive belief I had that this type of thing didn’t happen to “smart” girls like me. I was a straight-A student who had only dated one other boy. But this one was different. We dated for nearly a year and we knew and liked each other’s families. Neither of us was promiscuous, but one night we made a choice that neither of us was ready for. We were both extremely young for our age (17) and incredibly naive about the possible consequences.
She walked me through my coerced travel to the other side of the country to deliver my son. I had been nearly six months pregnant at my high school graduation, but I hid it well. No one knew. It was my grandmother who noticed and mentioned something to my parents. I panicked, called my boyfriend and the rest was a blur. Until Pat calmly had me walk through every step. Driving to his house. My parents coming shortly after. All of us in the living room. My boyfriend and I on a small sofa while the “adults” discussed what would happen, as if we weren’t there. The humiliation was unlike anything I’d ever felt before or since. But Pat walked me through it.
We discussed my time in California. With relatives I knew and loved but who weren’t really family. We discussed the feelings of abandonment and loneliness and uncertainty. All of which plagued me for the entire time I was there and for years beyond – but were never discussed. Never resolved.
We discussed how it was to return to the East Coast without my son and to go on living my life pretending it had never happened. No therapy. Just making sure “the dining room table was always set” – an analogy for making sure everything looks picture perfect on the outside.
She performed a treatment on me called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming, or EMDR. This psycho-therapy technique is used to treat people who have experienced traumatic events. It basically relies on the patient’s own rapid eye movements to help reprogram the effects of negative memories inflicted by trauma. Sounds pretty heavy, but it was really kind of cool. I definitely felt more calm as I walked through my own traumatic remembrances and then, with Pat’s direction, deliberately switched to a more positive memory.
Finally, we discussed how it might be to bring another child into the world that I would not be relinquishing (oh how I detest that word) and instead would be parenting with my husband. This took a lot of work, but when we left Orlando I felt ready for the challenge.
She was a wonderful therapist. I miss talking with her.
We moved in July and our daughter was born the following May. What I didn’t expect was that all of the feelings I had suppressed with the birth of my son would soon resurface. It was overwhelming. I didn’t know how to handle it. And the therapist I had grown to really like was a thousand miles away.
I suffered with postpartum depression which lingered for many years.
Overall, I think therapy is a good thing. I found another therapist in the town we were living in with our daughter in upstate New York. She helped me a bit. But she wasn’t as intuitive as Pat. My depression affected my marriage and during a very dark time, I’m pleased to say that I took the lessons I learned from Pat and together with my husband, we turned our marriage around for the better.
I’d love to thank Pat for her words and her kindness and her professional skill. Every time I return to Orlando – my home for 12 years – I think of Pat.
Beautiful Lake Eola in downtown Orlando – not far from Pat’s office.