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No way around it. This post contains a dramatic piece of personal news. Instead of spending three paragraphs building up to the big reveal, I’m just going to tell you right here and now.  I’ve been absent from this blog because this past fall I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, which, honestly, is the single most surprising thing that has ever happened to me (I had literally no idea it ran in my family).  I could not leave that to tell you for the second paragraph

 

I have never been one to play games in my blog. I have spent these past months groping for the words, trying to find what I want to say about this.  I am still stumbling around trying to pull myself together. I’ve decided not to wait any longer for the words to come elegantly together.  There is nothing elegant about this experience!  It has completely exploded my life and my identity.  I wake up shocked every single day that “someone like me” (fit,  active, mother of four young kids) has cancer.  It has thrown into a million pieces in the air the person I thought I was. And I am still up here, in some sort of crazy & tortuous slow motion dance, waiting to land in a new solid place.  Waiting to figure out what it all means.

 

Obviously, breast cancer is an issue that all adoptive moms and women who have gone through fertility treatments need to pay particular attention to.  But that’s for another post.

 

Now I  need your full attention. Because there’s actually something even stranger than  cancer going on here. And this is the part that could make or break the outcome of your adoption and your journey as an adoptive mother or any kind of mother for that matter.  It’s something I only vaguely sensed during my four adoptions. But now its crystal clear.

 

When big challenges of any sort arise, when something or everything is on the line (it  strangely doesn’t seem to matter whether its infertility, adoption,  a perplexcing developmental challenge with a child, or illness)  what most people do is panic. Then fall into some version of victim mode:  “Why me? Why not her?  What did I do wrong? Why is my life so hard? What if it doesn’t work out?”  Hopelessness, despair, freaking out, temper tantrums, getting mad at your spouse, etc…  Believe me, I’ve done them all and then some.

 

During my four adoptions, I was way too busy stressing out and worrying that I’d never become a mother to notice: When you’ve had your fill of panic and despair, when you’ve completely moaned and screamed yourself out, when you’re so bored with your sad story you can’t listen to it one more time.  That’s when, if you’re lucky,  it slowly starts to dawn on you that there may in fact be something way bigger going on here. You start to glimpse this kind of ass backwards, elephant-in-the living room opportunity sitting there quietly waiting for you to notice it in the midst of the gooey mess of your life.  I’ve interviewed and worked with hundreds of women who adopt and I’m here to tell you, most women who adopt never get beyond panic mode.

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But if you’re reading this then you are probably not the average mom or mom-to-be.  And you may or may not have already started to figure it out for yourself:  No woman comes fully prepared to be the mother her children need her to be.  We are made or broken in crisis. Its not the easy times or the smooth times that set the course of our lives. We are defined and shaped by uncertain times.    The kind of life we are going to have.  The kind of mothers and women we are going to be for the children we may or may  not even have met yet.  People talk a lot about the pain of childbirth.  But becoming the mother you were meant to be happens on so many other deeper levels.  And it isn’t always pretty.

 

Its funny because there was a time when the fact that I have been absent from this blog for so long would be something I felt compelled to explain. Instead, ironically, this is the  lesson I want to share with you from my journey to the uncharted wild lands of radical & rapid personal transformation that some people like to call cancer.

 

Here are my three steps to handle setbacks and challenges with authenticity and presence instead of panic and victimhood:

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1.  Do it Differently. When challenges arise, ask yourself what most  people would be doing in your situation.  Then do it differently. If you want an extraordinary life, then don’t follow the pack.  Give yourself permission to put yourself first, take the time to tune in,  and screw what it looks like from the outside.

 

If you want to bring home your child by the end of 2014, in the current climate of adoption,  you’re going to need to make some fierce & creative choices.    The pack mentality will never help you in adoption. If you haven’t noticed, the women who adopt successfully and quickly often seem to be the exception to the rule.   Just breathing and giving yourself permission to do it your way is something 99 percent of women who adopt don’t ever think of doing.

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2. This is Your Moment. Recognize through the tears and the frustration:  This is your moment.  Everything in your life has been leading up to your facing down this challenge.  It sounds so simple, but just noticing ‘whoa! I’m having a big life defining moment here!’ can pull you out of panic and victim mode and give you the awareness to turn fear into power.

 

3. Surrender to the Wisdom of Uncertainty. There is nothing scarier than uncertainty. We women don’t like to feel out of control.  We like to feel competent.  But sometimes, like when you’re doing something crazy difficult like adoption,  you have to admit you don’t have all the answers.    But if you can  kind of be okay with the fact that yes, your life is never going to be the same. You are never going to be the same. And maybe it will work out the way you want and maybe it won’t.  And maybe this is not what you planned..  When you stop holding so tight to your dreams & desires.  You actually allow yourself to become bigger than you were before.  Because your past no longer defines you.  You open to new possibilities. That’s when cool things start to happen.

 

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And so I found myself at breakfast recently discussing shaving my head with my four children.  My hair has always slightly defined me.  I have no idea what life is like without long & flowing hair on my head.  And now I have four sweet children looking at me over the breakfast table and I have  a bald patch in the back of my head that showed up that morning and they are asking about and it can’t be put off any longer.  It is time to have the talk with them.

 

I’m nervous.  I pray for the courage to find the right words.  I pray not to bullshit my children.  I pray to be a braver woman than I am.  I pray, ‘Let me say something that will give these children their own brand of courage someday.’  To try to make something amazing out of even the craziest, scariest situations.

 

My voice is shaking as I start my planned speech: “Something really interesting is going to happen and I want you guys to pay attention so you don’t miss it. Because you probably won’t see Mommy like this again and its going to be very interesting.” I stumble on my words. I can’t do this. And at just that moment, my husband comes out and, without telling me, he has shaved his head!  And he makes a funny face and the kids all start laughing and the tension breaks.  Then my kids fill in the words that I cannot find.  “So you are going to shave it off because…it’s itchy Mommy?!”  Yeah, I’m going to shave it off.

 

 

Strangely we have stuck with our plan to homeschool despite getting this diagnosis in late August.  We are working on a language arts block called Saints and Heroes and we are starting the story of Saint Francis that week and unbelievably, two days before I read the following passage:  ‘Francis shaved his head so he could here the voice (of God) come through more clearly when he preached to the animals.’  I leave it simple, I don’t say I am shaving my head to hear the voice of God.  I just say, so this week we’ll be learning about someone else who shaved his head.  And like a miracle my oldest daughter says “That is so cool!  You are so cool Mom!”

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And that’s when I know:  bravery doesn’t come to us by ourselves, we have our angels, our guiding hands to pull us forward when we are lacking.  I also know it is in these moments that you start to see the sleeping giant, the better person that you always knew you could be if only…

 

…it turns out you don’t become a bigger person until something happens that requires giant faith or giant presence.  Until then, the giant inside you remains remains asleep.

 

So don’t be afraid to embrace the whole crazy uncertain adoption journey. Be creative, be different, be bold, be brave. You can do it! There are all sorts of forces out there to help you.  You do not have to have all the answers.  You do not have to be sure you will make a good mother. Just give yourself permission to listen to your intuition, and go for it.

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How to Survive the Holidays When Your Heart is Breaking

by elizabeth hunter on December 20, 2012


Just the smell of sugar cookies and cinnamon candles made my stomach tighten into a nervous fist. Hearing a christmas carol piped out of a tinny department store sound system (in the U.S. this starts in November :() made me break a cold clammy sweat. Twinkling holiday lights against a cold & starless night sky sent me running away in terror.

During the years when I was single (and longing for a partner), then when I was childless (and longing for children), the holidays just  freaked me out.

I’d spend the month of December in a frenzied, overscheduled  battle to avoid–what?  Not the holidays exactly (I adore every little heartwarming, sentimental, over-the-top spiritual bit of holiday cheer). No, it was this vague aching feeling, an unnamed pain about the state of my life (and the world) that all this ho ho ho-ing brought to the surface.

My holiday avoidance/survival  ‘strategy’ worked brilliantly!  By keep myself over scheduled, worrying about what everyone in my life (except me) thought/wanted/needed, creating complicated to do lists, taking really crappy care of myself, and just generally building myself into a state of perpetual Martha Stewartistic overdrive, by around December 5th  I would be…  totally NUMB. Unable to feel anything at all-joy or pain. Which was of course the point.

So maybe you’re not in the extreme position I was right now.  Or maybe you are.  I started writing this piece to help all the women who are aching for a child to get through this holiday season.  Something about the holidays seems to shine a glaring light on all the empty spaces in our lives, doesn’t it? For women who worry they may never become mothers, this can be almost too much to bear.

But now, after the unspeakable pain that has been unleashed from the events in Connecticut last week–all I can think about is the women who are standing on the opposite side of the river from us– those mothers who have loved and lost a child. Even writing those words is almost too much to bear.  I sit here and wonder: how will these mothers ever carry this pain without falling down? How can we help them?

I don’t know.  But I do know this.  There are very few people whose hearts have not been broken open in scary, uncomfortable & unfamiliar ways by this tragedy.  There are very few of us going into this holiday season with our hearts intact.

So I offer up this overflowing holiday gift basket of nourishment and comfort to you.  Here is what I know–every little tool & technique–to help you find comfort, hope, love, connection, transformation, and, yes, joy, this holiday season.

(note: As with all gift baskets, don’t overdo or you could get a stomach ache. Be selective. Pick and choose to find your favorite. Enjoy. )

In Peace & With Tremendous Love. xo elizabeth

How to Survive the Holidays When Your Heart is Breaking (A Seasonal Gift Basket)


1.Be aware of numbing behaviors.

The line between happy social whir and negative overscheduling can sometimes be hard to see this time of year. A little less sleep or a few extra cookies might be a good thing for you.  Or not.  Everyone is different. Here’s a great way to tell  if you are pushing and overextending yourself.

Before you go to bed, take a moment to mentally review your day.  Count up how many moments of ‘exhale’ you had today– moments of gratitude, stillness, pure joy,  laughter, presence,  deep connection, or even pain that feels weirdly like beauty?

if you are going through day after day with fewer than  6  of these, this is a sign you are running on empty and possibly running from something.

2. Take the ass backwards approach to holiday time management.

if you think you may be numbing out, but feel like you just don’t have the time to  deal with it till January, hold up.Here’s why acknowledging feelings will actually save you time.

When you are in pain,your wise inner self knows it even if you don’t.  Avoiding it  just makes the wisest part of you work harder to get your attention.  You may feel incredible resistance to getting things done.  Or a general tiredness that is not of the body. Taking a quick read on what the problem is can free up stuck energy and help you get more things done faster. Simply ask yourself, ‘what is my ‘hot spot’ right now? (fear that adoption won’t work, for example). Hint: it almost never has to do with what someone else is doing wrong.  Breathe into it.  Then let it go.  Get on with your day.

3. Get still.

Create a mini ritual that helps you guarantee a few moments of stillness each day to honor what is sacred in your life.  Don’t stress out over the word ‘ritual.’ A ritual is just a beautiful way to help you remember something that is important to you. A ritual uses physical cues–tea, candlelight, a brisk walk, bubble bath, the feeling of cold winter air on your face–to calm you down. And you do it at about the same time each day. There is no wrong. It can take less than one minute. You know you’re getting the hang of it when you look forward to it. My current favorite ritual this holiday?  Waking up to candlelight, not electric lights.  Then I wake up my daughter by candlelight and we have tea as the sun comes up.

4. Get back in your body.

Keep it simple.  During a moment of quiet, take a breathe and ask your wisest self for one thing you could to reconnect with your body.  Just go with the first thing. Not what you ‘should’ do but what would feel good to your body. Like, “I just want to spend an hour in the woods.”  Or “I need to dance!”  Make a mental note of any good feelings after doing this.

5. Practice finding the ‘Body Yes!’

This is a perfect time of year to begin to practice the skill called finding the ‘Body Yes!’ or the ‘hell yes!’ When faced with a decision or choice, pick a moment in the day–maybe after stillness ritual above, or any time you accidentally find yourslef feeling good and relaxed. Let the answer to your question bubble up and zing you from your body, not your mind or your overdrive slightly manic self.  See if you can feel what this feels like when your body is truly onboard. Martha Beck calls it”Shackles Off.”   Notice how  your body tells you it wants to do something  There’s a resonance or a centeredness when something is Yes from the body and while you can still be totally excited by it, it doesn’t have that manic edge to it. This gets easier with practice.

6. Set an intention for the holidays that is yours alone.

‘Shoulds’ really don’t work for God either (as in, I ‘should get closer to God’ this season).  Get real. What is  important to you right now?  maybe it’s an overwhelming desire to rest, or connect.  Maybe you need to travel and get away from it all. Find a word that expresses how you want to feel this season and make that your mantra.

7. See beauty in pain.

This may seem like some mad science experiment at first glance,  but it helps to give you perspective.  If you do feel in a lot of pain, revel in it. It can be strangely soothing to hear a beautiful song that speaks directly to your pain and even intensifies it, or  watch a play or  experience a painting  that actually puts words or colors or melodies to your darkness. The holidays provide so many creative possibilities for this.

8. Find the reason for the season.

I’m not referring to any of the  religious elements of the season here.  I mean back in the day, the ancient ancient day, before organized religion of any kind, when it was all about nature and the flow of the seasons. In the Northern hemisphere, this is the darkest time of the year.  So go with it.  Turn out the lights. Revel in the mystery that is the darkness. Imagine what it was like when there were no floodlights on the world.  Feel it in your body.  Welcome the darkness of the season and ask it to show you something you desperately need to see.

9. Create something.

Take your pain and transform it into something tangible.  Then find a way to put it out into the world.  Take some beautiful photos and make a little album to give to friends, bake some cookies and decorate them in your own unique style and share, make some sketches and turn them into holiday cards , go caroling at a local hospital and  really get into the lyrics. Make some really kicking punch for the office party. Whatever you do, do it with your own style and with the intention releasing and transforming your pain. Let it help you connect to life again. And let it go.

10. Disassemble holiday.

Pretend the holidays are a deck of cards and play 52 card pickup: throw all the cards up in the air and see where they land. Look at all the things you normally do, are committed or scheduled to do, are thinking about doing, have plans to do.  Then think about your holiday word or intention. Does each activity fit this? If not, be ruthless: this is kind of scrooge-ey, but edit your schedule drastically. try to tone down the voice of other people’s demands. Think about January and how you want to feel when all is said & done. If you can’t quite walk away from something that doesn’t feel good, see if you can tweak it or change it somehow so it feels more aligned with your intention.  Every little move in this direction adds up quickly!

11. Reassemble holiday.

Now that you’ve created a little space by discarding one or two things that really are a drain, start shaping your holidays in an active way to make them yours alone and unlike anyone elses. .Think of each of the things you love or have ever loved about the holidays or have dreamed of doing for the holidays. What worked and how did it make you feel and what can you do to create more of this feeling?.  Feel free to Take pieces of things if the whole doesn’t work (inspired by the candelight midnight mass on Christmas Eve  but let go of some  of the other church holiday obligations, for example) Think of unconventional things that could become your own seasonal new rituals (Before we had children, my husband and I went to a local performance of Tuba Christmas, a national event of Christmas carols played on tubas. We had so much fun, we have come back every year since as our familiy has grown and now we take all four kids

12. Reach out to people who  make you feel good.

You know who I’m talking about. The people who always leaving you feeling energized & inspired after talking to them.  Make time for them.

13. Make it real.

If you are longing for a child, write a letter to him/her from your heart. Get some intention/prayer beads (they even make some for women adopting) and feel the beads in your hands while you connect with your meant to be child.  Use the heightened, mystical energy of the holidays to ground your dreams into the physical world in some way.

14. Stress presence not presents.

It is a great & rare gift to everyone around you to show up & be truly present and not stressed out! A survey  found almost nobody remembered the presents they received as a child. Rather, “rituals, relationships and feelings.” were what remained as the years passed. Have the courage & humility to make your gift giving, card sending, cookie making humble and meaningful and personal or skip it entirely if that feels right and necessary.  It takes a lot of self esteem and stillness not to try to “match” what you think other people will give or do.

15. Reclaim your right to be ‘ spiritual.’

Even if you’re not religious. Or in fact just the opposite. Especially if you live in a world where people will look at you funny if you just say the world ‘spiritual.’ The truth is we are all deeply ‘spiritual.’ it’s really just a matter of loosening up and expanding your definition of what ‘spiritual’ means.  Everything is spiritual that involves the following feelings:  reveling in beauty of any kind, love of nature,  art, a child, the joy of creativity, experiencing something new, gratitude, appreciation, love, any generous or kind impulse, deep connections (to people, a red cardinal on a sparkling icicle branch, the way your body opens up to even the faintest sunlight this time of year.)  Forget everything you know. Go to a place that just feels holy.  Sacredness and reverence is bubbling up from inside you. It makes life sweeter.  This is a wonderful time of year to begin again.

16. Lower the bar.

this one should be tatood on my sorry forehead. and this is the offense for which Martha Stewart and others like her truly should be put into jail–for tormenting all the rest of us by setting the bar so high that we forget the joy of doing something badly.  Go for memorable experiences not perfect products.

17. Be a respectful observer.

if you do find you are engulfed in sad or negative feelings and you’ve tried other things, stop trying. Cultivate the attitude of a non judgmental but interested and compassionate observer.  Give yourself space to breathe and stop berating yourself.

18. Find & prolong small moments of joy.

If you are just not feeling it this season, don’t fight it. Be where you are.  But when a moment of beauty, joy or sincere gratitude does find you, prolong it as long as you can  See if you can challenge yourself to sit with it for 10 seconds more, for a minute more, for five minutes more.  Don’t jump to the next thing and plan on feeling it later, because it may be a while (this one thanks to my friend Sara).

19. Sip the holidays like a French woman.

Did you ever watch a french woman sit at a cafe drinking coffee?  It could take her an hour.  She take the tiniest sips. And waits forever in between each sip. Staring at the people passing by. As if each sip is an entire experience in itself, not a task to be completed.  Remember: it’s the holidays not The Holidays. Enjoy small sips. Slow down. Don’t gulp trying to cram it all in. Try not to make a big fat deal of it all.  Try not to have too definite a picture of what it should be like.  Try to let it find you.

20. High five yourself.

What did you actually do right this year?  what’s going right in your life? what miracles have happened? We are so wired to focus on the Next Big Thing or the Thing That is Wrong. The things that have come our can seem  small and trivial looking back.  Because you have them now. They didn’t look so small when you didn’t have them!

21. Forgive.

Finally…Forgive yourself for every thing you came up short on this year.  Don’t just mouth the words.  Let your heart soften a little bit towards yourself.  Then forgive this messy infuriating world and all the people in it.  Not because they deserve it.  But because feeling any other way will give you high blood pressure.

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How NOT To Drop The ‘A Bomb’ (The 3 Minute Adoption Etiquette Guide)

November 20, 2012

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August 1, 2012

Theo has tree climbing madness. Wherever we go this summer, he hops out of the car before the rest of us have even unbuckled our seat belts, scans the landscape for the best climbing tree, and scampers to the top (or the highest reachable branch). Then he sits. Silent and uncharacteristically still. And waits. Mostly […]

A Mother’s Day Love Letter to Women Waiting to Adopt

May 11, 2012

A little Irish tea room opened in my town the year of our first adoption. I am kind of nuts about tea rooms. I remember one day sitting alone at a table with my rooibos Early Grey tea & scone, writing in my journal.  Mother’s day 2005 was just around the corner. During my childless […]

How to Find the Birth Mother Who is Looking For You: The Win-Win-Win Adoption Triad

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“He is mine in a way that he will never be hers.                                                                          He is hers in a way that […]

What’s your worst adoption fear? Harnessing the power of the things that keep us up at night

March 27, 2012

“The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.  But Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye.”– Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak All five of us cram onto the squooshy love seat–elbows poking tummies. each child jockeying […]

Five Ways Not to Go Insane While Adopting (or writing this blog post)

February 21, 2012

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Feel Left Out of the Mommy Club? Easing the Pain of RTS*

January 14, 2012

(*Red Tent Syndrome) Have you ever felt like every woman in the world–except you–is pregnant? That as an adoptive mother-to-be you are kind of…invisible? Does it seem like people make a big fuss over pregnant women, but they get this sort of glazed look in their eyes and a plastered smile on their face when […]

Things I Learned From My Four Year Old About Finding Your Way In The Darkness

December 21, 2011

“Let me learn to love the night as I know and love the day.  Let me learn to trust its darkness and to seek its subtle blessings.  Let me learn the night’s way of seeing.”– J Phillip Newell, Celtic benediction The Lantern Walk (12/11) We park the car on an angle on the grassy edge of […]