Sunday, June 1

Listening

Several years ago, I worked at an adoption agency where I counseled both adoptive families who were experiencing the pain of infertility and birthparents struggling to decide whether to parent their children or relinquish them for adoption. As a counselor, I believed myself well-equipped after reading numerous books on adoption and completing classes on managing grief and loss. What I didn't realize was how much I needed to learn about the power of listening.

When people told me their heart-wrenching stories, I was always quick to offer my best advice. Yet looking back, I realize I spent too much time focused on finding the right answers to “fix” their situation. I forgot to really listen to them, to create a space where they felt safe to speak, to have someone really hear their pain.

Working with adoptive families afforded me a window into the frustrations they faced. Women in grief over losing the privilege to carry a child of their own; couples pained at being unable to pass their genes down to future generations. Women who had already adopted a child, struggled with acceptance in their new role as mothers, bearing the weight of unwittingly hurtful questions from others about where the child's “real” mother was, or if this was their“real” baby. Such careless statements added intense grief to what these people were already feeling by not being able to conceive children biologically.

On the other side of the spectrum were birthparents agonizing over the painful decision to either parent or place their child for adoption. I saw them blessed with the beautiful gift of a child, yet struggling with poor timing or strained situations that made raising a child too difficult for them. Many times they faced shame and embarrassment from their peers as well as alienation from their families. And regardless of their choice, their lives would never be the same.

Since that time, my husband I have undergone our own struggle with infertility and have started the journey towards adoption. Living the experience on this side of the fence has helped me to appreciate the true value of people willing to just listen. I cherish those in my life who have sat, patiently and quietly, allowing me to talk about the losses that come with childlessness without imposing their judgments or opinions. In fact, I've read that when experiencing loss, some people need to talk about their situation fifty to a hundred times, and for those of us who really like to process things over and over, discussing the same thing up to two hundred times isn't uncommon.

There is something about the very nature of grieving losses that longs to be heard. I think everyone can relate to the desire to have a safe place to speak authentically. In his book Compassion, Henri Nouwen emphasizes the poignant impact of having a good listener, and how healing such an experience can be. “When someone listens to us with real concentration and expresses sincere care for our struggles and our pain, we feel that something very deep is happening to us. Slowly, fears melt away, tensions dissolve, and we discover that we carry within us something we can trust and offer as a gift to others. The simple experience of being valuable and important to someone else has a tremendous power.”

Similarly, in being a good listener, one can also experience a transformation. In the past I filled my listening with ideas and solutions rather than simply creating space for others. I now realize that true listening, the most healing kind, as Nouwen states, “requires a form of moving away from the center of attention and inviting others into that space.”

1 comment:

Beth said...

Darlene, I like what you said about the nature of grief needing to be heard. Everyone needs to tell their story, and often we don't know what the story really is until we've started telling it. That's part of the value of having a good listener--that they encourage you to talk about and find your story... but I think part of the value of writing is that it gives you a way of finding your story regardless of whether anyone's listening. In the creative writing program I work for, we say that as a writer, your first reader is God. And yourself.

Maui

Maui
flower

Memories

Italy trip

I have been going through my pictures, and have enjoyed looking at this album of Italy. I was able to go over last year to attend a conference. This was the first time I have been back in twenty years. The pictures are made up mostly of places we lived as a family. My brother and I were able to go together, and we were graciously hosted by some friends of ours from language school in Perugia. I feel such a sense of nostalgia when I look at these pictures. I miss Italy so much. It was strange to go back as a tourist knowing I would be returning to the US after such a short time. Tonight I made cookies with Nutella in them, and I remembered how much I enjoyed the simple pleasures. Fortunately, you can find it here! Saturday, we are going up to my brother's house to celebrate a late Thanksgiving, only we will be making homemade tortellini instead of turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!