I posted this on my own blog yesterday, but Coley asked me to share it here as well, so if you follow my blog, I apologize for the repeat!
Nearly two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Charlotte, NC, at the BirthMom Buds retreat. This is an annual event, and in my opinion, well worth any suffering endured to get there. If you're a birth mom reading this, I would strongly encourage you to make every effort to go next year! The retreat will be held the weekend before Mother's Day weekend, and I believe the general location, Charlotte, will be the same.
Before I have only vague recollections of the weekend's festivities, I wanted to give a short recap for those who might be interested in reading about what went on. Every year, our fearless leaders (Coley Strickland and Leilani Wood) pick a theme for the retreat. Last year was Fiesta! and the year before was Breakfast at Tiffany's. I haven't gone to any more retreats than that as I didn't attend my first one until my daughter was over a year old. But BirthMom Buds has been hosting retreats every year for nearly as long as they've been in existence! BirthMom Buds was created in 2002, and this coming year will be the 10-year anniversary for the retreats.
This year's exciting theme was superheroes. I have to say of the retreats that I've attended, this was my favorite theme. The slogan was "Super Birthmoms Unite!" Perhaps this year's theme appealed to my longing of the fun dress-up days of childhood more than the other themes have. Whatever the reason, it was a fabulous execution of the theme.
The "main event" was Saturday and Friday night was the mixer. My favorite part of Friday night was the ability that I had to dress up in costume. The idea for the mixer was that people should come dressed up as their favorite superhero, but I made up my own. I was "Scarlet Shimmer Girl", sort of a take-off of Glitter Girl, who was supposed to attend the retreat but had a last minute conflict. Glitter Girl was definitely missed and will be expected to attend next year's 10-year anniversary bash, as are the rest of you that may have attended retreats in past years.
As an aside, there are many birth moms, me being one of them, that dislike being called heroes for the choice we made for our children. However, Lani, in one of the breakout sessions on Saturday, made a great point that I'd like to reiterate now. She said that people who choose to be policemen, firemen, and the like are often called heroes. She doesn't mean to say that they're not doing a wonderful and amazingly admirable thing. But they're also just doing their job when they put their own lives on the line to rescue us when we have need. I've often seen firemen or policemen being interviewed after a rescue and I can't remember any one of them saying much other than the fact that they were just doing their jobs. I know that when I say I don't like being called a hero that I want to take the focus off of me and the choice I made. I usually respond with a comment that I was just doing what I felt was best for my daughter as her parent and that many parents make choices every day that may hurt them but they feel it's best for their children. Of course usually the people calling birth moms heroes are people who view the recipients of our heroism as not our children, but our child's parents. However I suppose when viewed through the eyes of the definition of hero as it applies to our "everyday heroes" (policemen and firemen), being called a "hero" isn't quite so bad.
After a quick grab of breakfast foods in the hotel on Saturday morning, the main event got underway. The morning was spent in various breakout sessions. Melanie Mosberg led a session on letting go of a broken adoption and Lani led one on finding hero qualities in ourselves and others around us. We had a short break and then there were more breakout sessions to attend. Britney Parcher led a session on tools for dealing with our grief, and Michelle Thorne, author of her own published story on becoming a birth mother, led a session on each of us telling our own stories. I attended Michelle's session and Lani's session. I think that of the two I was able to attend, Michelle's session was inspiring because at least a couple of the people that attended are now being more vocal about being birth mothers and their own stories. Michelle and I both pointed out during the session that there is a lot of shame surrounding birth mothers and the decision to relinquish a child, both societal and self-imposed. Owning one's own story has the amazing ability to release some of the self-imposed and societal shame attached to being a birth mother. Though I did not start my own blog to accomplish that, it has had exactly that effect. I personally enjoyed Lani's session as well because it really helped me focus on the good in people in my own life, and the qualities that I want to emulate.
After lunch, the balloon release, and the taking of group pictures, we had the chance to hear a few speakers: Annie Lewis, an adoptee, Dr. Carmen Teague, an adoptive mom, and Terri Gake, a birth mom, published author and blogger for the BirthMom Buds blog. Though I enjoyed every speaker, and in fact hearing Dr. Teague talk about the moment her son was relinquished to her brought tears to my eyes, I got the most out of listening to Annie. I do plan to interview her on my blog, so stay tuned for that. Due to the fact that my daughter is an adoptee, I crave knowledge about the experiences and feelings she may have so that I can give her parents tools to deal with any issues that may arise. It is my fervent hope that she never has any issues directly related to being an adoptee. But if she does, then it is my job to understand those issues so that Nick and I, along with her parents, can help her process them.
Once the speakers finished, we segued right into the slideshow and then a candle lighting ceremony. For me as well as many other birth moms in attendance, these are the most emotional parts of the day. During the candle lighting ceremony, we start with one lit candle in a darkened room. Then the first person lights a candle and says a few words about their child and passes the light along to the next person who does the same thing. By the time everyone around the room has a lit candle, the room has gone from dark to nearly light. I like the significance of that, because although we light the candles for the children we relinquished, the fact that we light our own candles off the candle of another passes along a shared love and a shared support of one another. We as birth moms all deal with pain and loss due to our decision, no matter the shape of our relationship (or not) with those children. Acknowledging the pain of one another and sharing it helps lighten our own loads much as the room gets lighter as we pass the candle flame. The candle lighting ceremony officially ended the retreat though we had the opportunity to have dinner together that night and breakfast in the hotel the following morning to say our goodbyes.
It was an exhausting weekend, both physically and emotionally. But I wouldn't dare miss it. The love and support, and the renewing of lifetime friendships formed through our shared pains and joys as birth moms make this yearly tradition one I know I will continue as long as I am able.