Five letters. One syllable.
Definition — disgrace, embarrassment.
Synonyms — dishonor, humiliation, degradation.
Antonyms — honor, pride, respect.
When the word is heard, shoulders slouch and heads are lowered. When the word is felt, it is a much worse consequence.
The word is SHAME
Oh how this word brings about feelings of emptiness, self-hatred, and for lack of a better term … black hole.
For me, there were two forms of shame while pregnant and considering adoption.
The first and most upfront, the shame that came from others. I was a waitress when pregnant with my daughter. I had a wonderful older couple who came in every Saturday evening and they would request to sit in my section. I grew to look forward to their date nights as I was quite fond of their commitment to each other. They held hands and he ordered for her, chivalry at it’s finest I wanted so much to be them someday. They watched as my belly grew and soon their weekly date nights were more about how I was doing and how the baby was growing.
When I was 7 months pregnant and after serving their post dinner coffee she finally asked me, “What are you going to name her?” I smiled and responded, “Oh, I will not name her. I have decided to place her for adoption and I am going to leave that up to them. I call her baby girl.” When I looked up from my belly, I thought she was going to throw up. Her husband asked, “Did you say that you are going to give up your baby? To someone you do not know?” I explained my situation and how I had been getting to know the family that would be raising my daughter. It was quiet. She still looked sick and would not look anywhere near my direction. I sensed something was not right, that perhaps I had offended them for some reason. He told me that they did not need anything else, but the check would be appreciated. They left while I was in the back of the restaurant. I never waited on them again. One time I stopped by their table to say hello, and they asked that I not speak to them anymore.
It was eye opening to say the least. I was hurt. I was confused. I was unable to give more explanation to them. I felt ashamed. The core of that word is shame. No respect. No nothing. I had not hurt them, or belittled them in anyway. Yet one word offended them so much they never spoke to me again. That is what I was dealing with back in the late 80′s, that ignorance and shame that so many associated with adoption in those days. Oh sure, it does not seem like that long ago but in all reality, it is a lifetime away from today’s world, believe me!
The words my ears endured were unwarranted and often nauseated me. So there is the outside force, shame from others that was put upon me to satisfy their right to tell a stranger what a despicable person they are for no other reason than one decision which by the way, had nothing to do with their life what so ever.
Ashamed of myself. That was how I often felt while pregnant. I grew up in a religious family. I was a Girl Scout who learned morals and duty to God and Country. I understood the risks and did what I thought was best to avoid any sticky situations. I took birth control and to be honest I was not promiscuous, quite the contrary. But in the end I knew that babies meant family, and that I could not provide. I knew I was in need of help, and the more I researched adoption and the ramifications of it the more I felt that gnawing feeling of being ashamed of myself. Ashamed of the situation I was in. Ashamed that I was caught having sex out of marriage. The shame I spat upon myself, privately, was a weight heavier than any someone could put upon me. I beat myself up. I knew that I would live forever with the question …”What if?”
What if it were all different? What if it was five years later, I was married, in love, wanting a family to raise? Not necessarily forced into something I knew I was not ready for? Then I would wrestle with my inner self saying, why are you ashamed? You should be proud that you are mature enough to know what it is that you can handle. You should take solace in the support system you have around you, the acceptance of the person that you are and not the actions you have taken. You should not feel shame for asking for help, but instead be grateful for the knowledge that you have given yourself so far. (My inner self is a pretty level headed gal who can make sense of a jumbled mess!)
Although I knew the morals, the rights, the wrongs, the expectations of a young adult it was that upbringing that I felt was sometimes my downfall. It would have been much easier to just not care, be selfish and only think of myself. But alas that is not the mold that I come from. That mold was a strong woman who taught me there is no situation that God will give you that you cannot handle. My sense of self was strong, despite resistance from hidden demons set forth to derail me.
One of those demons was that feeling of shame. It was hard to face, and even harder to work through. And work through it is what I did. Learning to love myself, and accept myself was a huge lift to my soul. Mind you, this was a process that lasted 20 years and I cannot tell you how it ends because as I live and breathe it is still a process to this day. Not ever present and first on my mind, but there are times when it creeps up and bites me. As if to say, hey now! Nothing is ever figured out completely when it comes to the heart so just sit back and let knowledge give you wisdom to move through more … love yourself more.
In retrospect this is something we all feel at some point or another. And whether it is self-inflicted or comes from those who don’t walk in our shoes, this word that carries so much for some is not easily overcome.
Instead it is an opportunity to continue our discovery of ourselves.