The phone rang on a rainy Thursday morning, January 15, 2004. I was working the City Desk, as my desk was affectionately called, in the upstairs office of our musical instrument shop. Artichoke Music was the folk musician’s hub in Portland, Oregon. My desk overlooked the main floor where I could see my husband, Steve, as he encountered customers of all shapes and sizes passing through our doors. He was responsible for the bounty of beautiful instruments hanging by their proud necks and waiting to be lifted, played and taken home from the blonde maple walls that held them on display. Steve was a zookeeper of sorts. He loved the instruments, knew their history, all of their idiosyncracies. He played the go-between and facilitated matching the stringed woody creatures with the people who came itching to play them. I loved watching him work with the people. He was a trustworthy guide with experience, humor and grace. Our customers loved him and so did I.
The caller on the phone surprised me. It was Sharon, a therapist my eldest daughter and I had seen years before. Dr. Phil’s show had called her because of her groundbreaking reputation as a social worker in the forefront of adoption and reunion therapy. She was also a birthmother in a longstanding reunion with her daughter. She and her daughter had led therapy groups for birthmothers and adoptees in reunion, respectively. Cathy introduced me to the idea after she started in the adoptee group and, taking her lead, I began attending the group for birthmothers. The experience helped us during a time when this kind of therapeutic support was unheard of and we pioneered the world of reunion under the compassionate wings of these two remarkable women.
The Dr. Phil show was looking for a “veteran pair” in reunion for a show they were planning. They needed a mother and child in a reunion that had come to maturity. The production assistant got the directive to call Sharon for a lead. Sharon was calling me because Cathy and I were the first ones to come to mind. Would we want to do the show?
Before giving the network our contact information, she was checking to see if we would be interested in telling our story on Dr. Phil’s show. They would fly us down to Los Angeles the following Tuesday, tape the show Wednesday morning and run it nationally that afternoon. Maybe Cathy and I could take an extra day in L.A. and make a holiday of it.
I called Cathy on her direct line at Nike, told her what was going on and asked her, “What do you think? Do you want to do it?” She said, “Sure. I need a haircut before we go but sure, let’s do it.”
I called Sharon back and gave her the news. She passed it on to Dr. Phil’s production assistant who would call me later with details.
Cathy and I have always been “out” with our story and circumstances. I don’t have a television but I knew who Dr. Phil was. It was my mother’s favorite show. The tabloids were always full of him duking it out with Oprah. Were we ready for something like this?
I waited for the call at the shop. The phone rang and the producer’s assistant interviewed me for a half an hour. She peppered my answers with exclamations, “That’s amazing!” and “Wow, that’s fantastic!”, “Good story!”
I hung up feeling like I’d just been plucked out of my usual routine and dropped off at the starting line for a race I’d never imagined entering. More like a dream than awake, I nervously wondered if I was about to become cannon fodder for some bizarre media setting to blaze our tender story in front of millions of viewers around the country one day, left to ashes the next.
Dr. Phil’s assistant told me she’d get back to me the next day with details for the show. The call came in as scheduled on Friday afternoon. Thanking me for my time and willingness to share our story, she told me that Dr. Phil would not be using us for the show after all. Frankly, she said, our story didn’t leave Dr. Phil with anything to work with.
I called Cathy at work and asked her if she’d gotten her hair cut.
“Yep”, she said.
“Dang! I hate to tell you this but it’s not going to happen; they don’t want us because our story is too far along and we have good results in our life and relationship and there’s nothing left for him to do to help us on his show.”
“What! But I had all the people picked out to play our parts in the movie!” she belly-laughed.
We hung up and went back to work; me selling strings at the counter at Artichoke Music and she from her desk in the design department at Nike headquarters ten miles away.
Ten minutes later my phone rang.
I heard the tickle in her voice as Cathy said, “You know what, Kate? The heck with Dr. Phil! You know that book of our story we’ve been talking about writing for the last ten years? Let’s do it. Let’s write it. We’ll shop the story to Oprah. Oprah loves happy endings. Her whole show is dedicated to inspiring people to follow their dreams and succeed. We’re perfect!”
And that was the beginning of our book, Kathleen~Cathleen.
Two weeks later we began to meet. We made an outline and laid out the chapters based on the turning points in our relationship. We would write the same chapters from our unique perspectives; me in my role as the birthmother and she as relinquished daughter in-reunion. In the first chapter, “At 18” – me pregnant in labor and delivery and her side eighteen years later contemplating reunion.
To tell the true story, we would write independently. We made a pact not to share our writing with each other until we were finished. We would meet regularly, sort out any mutual thoughts about the structure of the story and write, laptops touching, our separate sides, views and experiences of the same chapters. Then, when we were ready we would read it to each other, together. We didn’t know how long it would take. We wanted to deliver the honest story from both sides. From there we would find an editor and a way to share it with the world.
It has taken courage for us to tell our story. We have included our real names and experiences as birthmother and relinquished daughter who have come into reunion as adults and found our way into each other lives from that moment on.
We know this is not simply a story about birth, relinquishment and reclamation. It’s a story of hope, identity and humanity. It is a story of the invisible tie between two lives sustained in different worlds and coming of age apart from each other.
We bear similar fruit, like grafted trees. She, my branch removed and grafted to another host tree, left my wound to recover and scar up over time while she matured into a healthy, unique tree apart from me in a different stand of roots.
When the season was ripe, miraculously, beyond logic and the odds, we found one another. Between the sweet and bitter truth of our story, we found a stretch of road upon which we now travel back and forth to one another. We are not the only ones. This is the road we have charted together, mother to daughter and daughter to mother. We are a pair. This book is our invisible map and how it came to light.
Today marks almost seven and a half years since we began our book. It’s almost done. Our manuscripts are thick. We still have not shared a word of our chapters – that will come when we’re sure we’re finished. It won’t be long now before we fully share our sides with each other.
Our friend, Barbara, has been the recipient, editor and holding station for our chapters.She has helped us refine it to pitch to publishers and make it ready to share with the world. It was she who hand-delivered it in New York City to its first reader this Mother’s Day. This reader is the first one to integrate the truth of our chapters, even before we do. This is a faith walk, a labor of love and an act of trust between my daughter and me. When the reader knows more than the author does, something revolutionary is happening.
Our original concept was caught in a zeitgeist when my daughter called me early on Mother’s Day morning to announce that a book much like ours was reviewed in the Parade magazine of the Sunday paper. She was frightened that our work had been for nothing. I was sure it was a sign that we were on the right path. Even if we weren’t the first out of the gate with our book, we were in the race to dispel the myths that have rendered adoptees and birthmothers invisible, not only to each other but to the world and communities they live in.
Perhaps the time has come for all of us to tell the story, each in our own way, of the oldest secret in history – the true story of relinquishment, adoption, reunion and reconciliation. We are not alone.
To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.