To kick off National Adoption Awareness Month, we are so grateful to author Hope Baker, who sat down with us to answer a few questions about her book, Finding Hope: A Birthmother's Journey into the Light, which explores her journey as a birth mom, and provides strong lessons about how to build confidence and resilience, and how to find the light inside of you and let it shine into the world.
Writing a book is a huge endeavor. So what was the catalyst for that and who did you envision reading it?
You know how everybody always tells you, "you should write a book," when you go through an experience that feels unique to somebody on the outside, or it feels powerful to them. People always say that, and it's interesting, because as you read in the book, I had a different type of adoption experience – like a different type of expectant mother experience. You know, my son’s mom and I had talked about actually writing a book together, and I had this desire inside of me because I felt, being an expectant mom and then becoming a birth mother, I never felt like anybody ever understood me. I could be in a room full of people - and I always used to say this - but I feel so alone – because nobody ‘got it’, and nobody knew what to say, and I didn't feel like I had anybody I could call who could help me, and I lived through this alone.
I just remember thinking all the time that, first, I don't want to feel this way, and second, I don't want anybody else to feel this way, so I started a blog – 20 something birth mother – and I used to get messages all the time in comments; people saying, “this is what I need,” or, “I didn't know that there were other women out there, birthmothers who felt this way,” and "I feel less alone”, and even women who chose to parent [were] messaging me and just so thankful for it. I just kept thinking – I have to share my story, and I kept thinking, if I don't tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, it's not the authentic story and it's not really the whole picture. I can't just show the good and not show the really ugly, or the really vulnerable moments, because that's the whole story, and I knew what I wanted to do – to help other birthmothers, other adoptees, adoptive parents, understand a birthmother’s view, but also help them find their light as well.
You hid the fact that you were pregnant for a long time – taking careful social media photos, carefully cropped – not letting the people in your life know what was happening. What did you think would happen if your friends knew?
At the time, I felt so much shame, and embarrassment, and guilt, and just a whole slew of negative feelings about myself – about the situation, about the choice I was making – and I decided, with my family, that we were going to keep it a secret. I bar-tended that summer, up until 4th of July, and oh, God, that was one of the worst days throughout my entire pregnancy, working a 12 hour shift, on my feet, being pregnant. So I wore baggy T shirts – I wore zip-up sweaters in the heat outside, to hide – but I was pregnant, and when it got to the point where I knew I couldn't hide it anymore, I was very clearly showing, I decided that the best thing to do was to move. And I still to this day – I guess I could ask my son’s mom – but I still to this day can’t remember why the suggestion came up to go live with her, or, where that came from, but that's what I did – I went and lived with her – and, I felt so free, because I could be pregnant and it was fine.
I didn't know anybody; I didn't have to hide in a baggy sweatshirt. I went out in cute clothes, and I walked with my head held high – nobody knew the choice that I was making, or my situation – I was just this cute pregnant lady walking around, getting a pedicure, things like that. It was just such a different experience from being in Minnesota, and hiding everything from my grandma, my aunts and uncles, my friends – even in my friends who I bar-tended with did not know I was pregnant. I was constantly making up excuses for why I couldn't go out or why I wasn't going stay late, you know, it was just this web of lies that I was living in, but those felt worth it to me, because I felt so much shame, and I remember being in LA and the shame, it wasn't there, but all the time I was putting pictures on Instagram, and cropping it from like, [the collarbones up], putting on this whole facade that I was in LA for an internship. You know, there's a picture of me by the beach, and it was actually from right outside of my attorney at the time, her office. I was having these big moments, and yet sharing with the world that I am just living in LA as a 20 something – a normal 20 something. To be honest with you, I'm glad that I hid it like I did, because the shame that I felt in Minnesota, the embarrassment of, “what if people find out?’ When I moved to LA, I got to live without the judgment other people.
Something in your book that keeps coming up and up again, are these moments when you are in a hard situation, but instead of taking care of yourself, you are managing other people’s emotions and other people's stress. Even during your birth, you were taking care of everyone else in a moment where they should have been more focused on you. When you wrote your book, did you ever have moments where you thought, “ I wish I had handled it another way, I wish I had done it differently, instead?”
About a 1000 times, yes! I saw this therapist who specializes in adoption at one point, and she said something to me that has always stuck with me – you made the best decision you could, with the information that you had; you were a woman in crisis, you made the best decision – and I've tried to apply that to all my decisions that were made, whether it was the relinquishment, signing papers, or whether it was trying to keep my mom and my son’s mom from fighting and things erupting, or trying to please my son’s mom while I was still pregnant (so she wasn't his mom yet), but all of these decisions, I have to look back with the lens I was doing the best I could with the information I had at the time, and I think I've always been a person who tries to please people – separate from adoption, but that's just how I've always been, trying to be a people pleas-er – so when I look back at my birth, it's emotional to think about.
Writing [the book] was one of the hardest things I think I've ever had to do, but, when I reread it, I'm like how did I do that? How was I able to physically, emotionally, and mentally try to create a cohesiveness in the room while doing something like giving birth? Giving birth is challenging as it is without adoption and all of that. I think one of my big takeaways from this is, use your voice. I wish I would have spoken up and said, “Get out. Honestly, if you can't be here for me and only me, and put your stuff aside, then get out –please get out." I think even when I was literally pushing him out of me, I felt like I had to control myself, and stop myself from feeling things, because I didn't want to upset anybody. I don't like to have regrets about it, and I can't change it, but that is one of my biggest regrets, and the thing that haunts me is that I was trying so hard to protect his adopted mom’s feelings that I didn't give myself what I needed. I didn't hold him as much as I would have wanted to, I didn't talk to him, I didn't do all these things, and I was trying to be protective of her and of my mom and I just I didn't want to mess things up.
That’s just a huge part of the adoption journey that just eats at me, like, I wanted – I deserved – more time, and I deserved alone time and I deserved those things, and unfortunately, I felt like I couldn’t do those things. And you know, it’s not just me. I talk to birth mothers all the time, and they have similar feelings: it’s not encouraged to take time with your baby, and I can’t go back now, but in the future I would hope that hopeful adoptive parents, and social workers, and people in adoption will tell expectant mothers to take that time that you need with the baby, and if you can’t have supportive people in the room, have the power to say get out. I can’t bond with my baby if his hopeful adoptive parents are in the room, and that's a learning experience for me – I thought what we were doing was beautiful – but I didn't get to bond with him because of it, and that it's not her fault – it is just like this – it is what it is.
Self-advocacy is hard at any age, let's be honest. It feels like you are better now about advocating for yourself - you seem very confident - and I think writing the book is a form of self-advocacy. If you could give advice to women facing difficult choices, what advice would you give them?
You know, in the last seven years, even before I was a birth mom, I wish somebody would have spoken to me sooner –or maybe they said it, but it didn't get through – that at the end of the day, our inner voice knows what is best. We are women, and I swear, we’re wired different. That inner voice knows what's best, and I just wish that in the past, and I hope in the future, that I will listen to that inner voice [that says ]when there is a red flag or something doesn't feel right, it's not right. That’s not you or me thinking we are crazy. Something’s not right. And I think if we listen to that inner voice and our gut feeling telling us this isn’t right and having the strength, and [bravery] to just say this isn’t right, I have to walk away, or I have to speak up for myself, or I have to demand that this is taken into consideration, I think we would all be a lot better off.
My advice to women anywhere out there is to listen to your inner voice, and step outside the situation, regardless of what it is, and really try to embrace that inner voice and work through it. Figure out what it's telling you, and why, and have the strength and courage to make the decision to walk away, or speak up, demand change. That’s my advice. And remember, if you demand change, and change doesn’t happen, you’ve got to step away. I think that at times, even in friendships. Somebody told me this once: your actions are speaking so loud I can't hear anything you're saying. So just be conscious of that.
A lot about the book is about my partner and my ex fiancé, who I thought I was going to spend my life with, and have a baby with, and do all these things with, and something wasn't right, and although there was so much love, something wasn't right, and I suppressed that inner voice for so long, and I just wish I would've said, OK wait, my gut is telling me something is not right, why am I not listening to that inner voice? Why am I not trying to step out of this situation to actually see why is something inside of me is telling me this isn't right? And I did do that - I stepped away and I looked from an outside lens -- and realized, this is why you listen to your inner voice. I was right, but I needed to be removed from the situation to really get a good grasp on it
People come in and out [of your life] and that's normal. I still love him I with my whole entire heart, and I always will, but there was something that didn't feel right so I had to stand up for myself with that, but he showed me – because unfortunately I couldn't find it myself – to see myself through his eyes, and who he saw was someone who was brave, and strong, and confident like you said, and could handle anything, and make lemonade out of lemons, so I'm always going to be thankful for him, because he helped me find my light. Sometimes, you have to take a step back and see yourself through other people's eyes, and that can really open up a world full of possibilities. I think he showed me the power of a support system, and being open with how you're feeling, and in your past, so, although we're not together, I wouldn't change the word I wrote in the book, because he really did help transform my life.
There is just so much pain in this book and then there's this pivot, that, as a reader, is so beautiful to see, where you end up at such a hopeful and happy place. So many people struggling are not there yet; stuck still somewhere in the pain and not seeing their light. What advice do you have for people trying to get there?
It’s hard, and it's a winding, bumpy road, and there are still some days where I can't find my light – I don't know where it is – maybe something happens or a trigger, and I lose it, and so I take a couple steps back and figure out, OK how do I work through whatever is blocking this right now, and how do I get back on track? As you read in the book, I had a couple of really scary moments. I decided – not decided – I mean I think it just all evolved, where addiction became very prevalent in my life, and I was using ‘party’ drugs to numb myself, because, you know, the shame, all of that guilt, didn't go away after I gave birth and my stomach went back to normal; that didn't go away. I lived with that internally, so eventually, it just ate away at me.
I went on a path of destruction, and you know, it was interesting, because I was still doing great at work and I was still this happy, smiley person, and had friends, and did all the things, but on the inside, I felt like I was slowly dying, and I felt like I was probably going to kill myself with the decisions I was making. Not, you know, go and attempt suicide, but I was slowly – that's what it felt like – I was slowly killing myself with the things I was doing, in the choices I was making. I had a night where I partied all weekend, 2-3 days straight, didn’t sleep very much, and I ended up on the floor, and I was shaking, and I was in the fetal position, and I just remember thinking, this cannot be the end of my story – this cannot be how Hope Baker ends - it just can't be. This cannot be what my life is supposed to be, and how will my son feel about this, and how is somebody going to explain to him that this is what happened to his mom, and I made this choice – I just played this over and over again in my head – I made this choice to place him so he could have a better life, and so I could make a life – make something of myself – and I just remember being in that fetal position, thinking how can I how can I do this to him and to myself? how can I be this person, and disappoint him, and not be the mom he deserves?
And then, you know, all of these little moments added up. I met a couple of women at a networking event and they inspired me, in just the way they spoke and their confidence in their career path. I just thought that fetal position Hope doesn't have to be me. I can be this person, I could be that person I can change my life, and I think it took those rock-bottom moments to realize that I did have the power; I could change my life, and I think when I started to have those feelings, I started to talk to my friends about it and I came out to my friends that I was an addict, and that when they went to bed at night, when they weren’t with me on Monday and Tuesday night, I was using drugs, and I was lucky to have a support system in place that had those little interventions with me, and you know a group of people sitting me down in our apartments, and not just one or two people, a crew of 10 people, saying something's gotta give; you're not OK.
You know, people think that for happy positive people, [life] must be easier for them. or it must not be as challenging or that it is hard to be happy – when you have gone through pain, it's hard to be happy – and I think that once you once you get to that happy place, and you feel how good it feels to be there – to switch negative situations to positive – it's not hard anymore. When I'm happy – when I'm living in my light – life is so much easier. It's so much easier, and I think it takes going through those hard moments and really taking a look at your life to say, is this what I want my story to be, is this how I want people to remember me or do I want to look in the mirror at this person every day and sometimes just having those honest and open conversations with yourself – I talk to myself in the mirror almost every day – I do!
People, if they saw it, might think I’m crazy, but that's how I remind myself every day that happiness is a choice, as hard as it may be, and now I choose every day to be happy, and to take the actions I need that day to be happy. Some days I can't talk about adoption. If I want to be happy, and I'm triggered, that might mean if I have a conversation with you scheduled, and I know that this is is going to emotionally break me, now I know that it’s OK to put your happiness and your emotional well-being in front of other things – that's OK to do – if something isn't going to make you happy, and it's going to push you down, it's OK to walk away, or say no, or postpone, and that is something that I really learned throughout this journey that has helped me stay in this happy place.
To learn more about Hope and her journey, you can find her on Instagram, Twitter, and her web site, as well as on You Tube, hosting the Triad Table, a fantastic and frank series about adoption. Her book, Finding Hope, A Birthmother's Journey into the Light is available on Amazon, or can be ordered through your favorite independent bookstore.