I asked Cathy pick the blog topic these last couple of times, partially to see what themes are on her mind (since I can’t read it) and to give her the lead for this installment of our autonomous, mutual blogs.
I didn’t expect the header “Expectations” to come back. That’s a big word that leads us up and down the map of our relationship and juxtaposes our position and balance in each other lives.
When I was pregnant with Cathy in 1970, the expectation was that I would disappear long enough for her to be born, give her up for adoption and then return to life “as I knew it.” I relinquished her with the expectation that Cathy would be adopted by nice people who were mature compared to me at eighteen years old, stable in every way and in a good position to add a beautiful new baby to their household. I expected that they would love her. I expected that, with luck, we would be given the gift to meet one day. I also had a core understanding, based on the papers I’d signed at the attorney’s office and the rules of closed adoption in 1971, to expect nothing.
Every season that passed through Mother’s Day, birthdays and holidays, a quiet sadness marked my internal calendar. I kept a positive face on my history and did what I could to live in the present. I didn’t expect my daughter in my life.
Then we met in a way I never expected. It was serendipitous, even miraculous.
I had been conditioned through almost two decades to dismiss my feelings of attachment to my first daughter. Breaking the rules by going into reunion brought me into an unexpected realm of freedom that birthmothers do not experience. It’s taken me many years since we met in 1989 for me to adapt to Cathy’s way of allowing me a place in her life. I didn’t expect to feel so close to her after being so removed. It’s a closeness that I protect now even when I don’t realize it.
That feeling of closeness also houses some unexpected pressure from both sides of my heart. On the one hand, I expect myself to be patient because no matter what happens, I am a participant in Cathy’s life now; she affects me and I affect her and that alone – our ongoing relationship – is more than I ever expected.
My feelings are different from straight maternal feelings. My feelings as her birthmother (I still hate that word) are woman to woman, not quite sisters or aunt and niece, not quite mother since I signed off my right to claim that role, but somewhere in between – I am like an invisible mother incognito who follows her daughter by heart. She is my child even though I was not the one who raised her. That sentence is a paradox that causes a thousand streams of possibilities between us to sing “what if’s.”
Sometimes uncomfortable questions arise on the other side of my patience that cause me to wonder. Am I being tolerated more than included? Am I fooling myself with wishes and expectations that go nowhere? I do get to participate in her family as grandmother to her children and (yet another) mother-in-law to her husband. But often the reality is that the gifts I give are left unacknowledged, earrings still in the gift box on the windowsill in the kitchen months later, a gift certificate fussed over at a local gift shop in time for her husband’s birthday only to be left unpicked up. Invitations arrive last minute, if at all, as an afterthought.
This happens so frequently that I wonder if it’s just their own personal culture to receive gifts as though they are beside the point and don’t warrant or expect to respond? Is it a generation thing – manners forfeited as unimportant? The amount of care or money that goes into those gifts lies mute instead of striking the happy chords they were intended for – gifts to express love between loved ones.
The disconnect of no response begs a question – how are we connected and who am I to take it to task now when I gave her up back in the beginning, the biggest gift of all, to a family of strangers? Who do I take myself for? Does it matter? Maybe not. Is it my fault? Maybe.
Expectation riding anticipation flattens into disappointment and eventually shame, lack of self-worth and default birthmother sadness take over. I hum and busy myself about other things enough to quash the noise in the corner of my heart that’s yelling “What the heck? Am I talking to the wall?” Yes.
The happy feeling of love expressed is replaced with slowed down communication, detachment and practical conversation about any and everything else – certainly not neglected gifts. I reestablish my voice in the loving, caring tone of a mother-person with infallible, unconditional love for her found daughter no matter how hard she pushes me away. Like Sisyphus, I come to realize the absurdity of my situation and attempt to reach a state of contented acceptance. Not an easy trick for a human, much less a mythical god.
Relinquishment rejects the child. No matter what the reason behind it – youth being mine – it is the most primal rejection possible for a newborn baby. Could it be that her offhanded rejection of my gifts now plays out the deeper story of a gift refused as she cried in the arms of her adoptive mother all those years ago?
If that’s the case, then I expect to hold her in the arms of my heart with love and understanding – even at a distance – until my love becomes real and sinks in. Perhaps she can grow to expect my love more than the gifts and loving words that pale next to expectations to be with me when she was born. Maybe she doesn’t even know why she feels this way and I do – as is sometimes the case with mothers and daughters.
Maybe I’m off track here but maybe not. It makes a weird kind of sense that we are still on tender ground when it comes to gifts we wish to give to and receive from each other. The original gift of life has been received. The gift of each other is still in delivery.
If we are as honest underneath as we attempt be in writing, perhaps someday we will get to exchange gifts of all kinds with the joy, love and delight that embodies them. I expect is that love will answer what questions remain in our hearts in time. My deepest expectation is that that will be the best gift of all.
To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.