The start of a new school year brings both old and new friends back into our lives, and children’s activities commence with a bang. My daughter is now in Kindergarten and has joined the Daisy Scouts, which, for the record, is adorable. At their first Troop Meeting the mothers milled around and got to know each other briefly while the girls made colorful name tags and practiced the Girl Scout Pledge. At the adult table, conversation turned to our younger children, and who had how many kids, etc. This is the point at which I usually insert a reference to my Birth Son, Devin, and the fact that I’m a Birthmother, but on that occasion it was another Mom who changed the tone of the conversation when she began speaking about her 2-year-old son and his genetic heart defect. Having been born with only half the heart he needs to survive, her child has already endured many life-saving surgical procedures in his short time here on earth, but ultimately he will need a heart transplant for any long-term prognosis to be positive. I mention this conversation mostly because it struck a chord with me when I perceived her bravery at being able to talk about such a personal subject, which obviously encompasses so much raw fear and emotion. I commend her for being able to share her experiences with a group of strangers, and it got me thinking about the many ways that FEAR drives people, both personally and culturally.
It’s terrible but true that I can’t remember this other Mom’s name, but I realized while listening to her talk that some people (including myself) were having a similar reaction to her story as to what I have witnessed in my own random conversations with strangers regarding my adoption experience. At first, people are noticeably surprised to hear topics like adoption, abortion, and childhood illness being discussed candidly. It seems almost like profanity, or a subject that should be discussed only in whispered tones, and certainly not appropriate for all settings. As they continue to listen, however, shock is usually replaced by compassion, and most people either express condolences or offer encouragement, depending on the circumstances. Ultimately, these first two stages of ‘surprise’ and ‘compassion’ are just as normal and valid as the third stage I often witness: FEAR. As you progress towards ‘acceptance,’ it’s a natural human tendency to try and mentally put yourself in the other person’s shoes, a challenge which can sometimes prove overwhelming to our delicate imaginations. Even dreams can only extend as far as the subconscious fabrications are willing to stretch. It’s the reason why people often tell me how much they respect my decision, but that they could never do it, themselves. I think what they’re really saying is: ‘I can’t imagine myself in that situation, and I don’t know how I would handle it if I was.’ To these people I say: you just need a properly motivating fear factor, and it’s pretty amazing what you can be capable of.
If the suggestion of fear as a motivating factor seems strange to you, then here’s an explanation in layman’s terms, from me to you. If you’re generally uninterested in the science portion, then don’t worry – these are just the basics. Fear is categorized as a chemical response that occurs in the brain when hormones are released into the blood stream by glands located throughout your body. We’ve all seen or heard stories of people who performed seemingly impossible feats of strength or bravery when faced with a life threatening situation, so I think we can easily accept the fact that these hormones have the ability to force a reaction even from the most sedentary individual. Thrill seeking has also become a huge industry because many people enjoy and desire the rush associated with the release of hormones, especially adrenaline. Haunted houses at Halloween time, scary movies in a dark theatre, and activities like Bunge Jumping are all designed to give the participant their desired sensation of – FEAR. But beyond the biological aspect, there is a deep-seeded component of fear underlining all human societies, because without the basic fear of retribution for law breaking, there would be anarchy. Fear of persecution is the motivating factor that keeps many people in line, from a sociological perspective. That’s not to mention the individual fears and pressures that are forced on us by our cultures and religions, as well as fears we place on ourselves not to fail in our own personal goals. Of course, there are also people who knowingly put themselves in harm’s way every single day for the sake of protecting their families, countries or beliefs, and for them thrill seeking has nothing to do with it. Take a moment to think of all the ways that fear has motivated your own actions or decisions, and I think it becomes glaringly obvious what a prevalent emotion it is in our lives.
The bottom line is: FEAR is real. It drives us in ways we are not even aware of each and every day. But that old clichéd statement about “conquering your fears” is just about as healthy an approach to fear management as fad diets are for losing weight (NOT at all). Fears exist, and it seems much more rational to acknowledge the fears that you know you have, and then make a conscious choice not to let those fears stand in your way of achieving goals and doing what you feel is right. Instead, channel the energy into will power. It’s an active lifestyle choice, and coming from me, a self-proclaimed ‘control freak,’ that’s not easy to admit. So how, you might ask, was I able to relinquish all parental rights and give up control of the beautiful baby boy I had spent 9 months nurturing while he grew inside of me? It was a decision not made without fear… I’m human, after all. I feared my family’s reactions to my adoption choice, limited social acceptance among peers, my ability to cope with the emotional and physical loss of relinquishing a child, and yet somehow I still managed to put all my trust in the family I chose, that they would uphold their end of the bargain by allowing me to be a part of my Birthson’s life. I made a clear and conscious choice to put my faith in them, and in the decisions I had made leading up to the day when I watched as they took him home from the hospital. I had already laid the foundation, and at that point all I could do was to keep moving forward and not let my fear dictate the course of events. The same statement can be made to the parents of any ailing child, when limited medical options are available, and hope is the only thing that keeps fear from halting their positive momentum.
How did I cope with my loss at first? It’s a question I seldom get asked, though everyone’s curious to know the answer, and I don’t blame them. ‘Ups and downs’ is a phrase that comes to mind, but I’ve never stopped moving forward in my desire to improve the relationship I have with my Birthson. If there is a man or woman who can see the future and thereby avoid unexpected events, then more power to them. For the rest of us it’s a daily process of decision making and faith in the unknown. I tell my kids all the time that our choices have the power to propel us in whichever direction we desire, but you’ll never really know what you’re capable of until you make the all-important choice NOT to let FEAR stand in your way. To the mother at our Daisy Scouts meeting (sorry I don’t know your name), thanks for exhibiting the courage to openly share your story of strength in the face of fear, and for reminding us that sometimes all we can do is just keep moving forward.