Category Archives: Birthmother

American Adoption Congress 2015

24 Esther Anne PowerCathy_AAC2015Cathy spoke as one of the Lost Daughters panel at the American Adoption Congress 2015 in Cambridge, Massachusetts this past weekend in the full-fledged voice of the adoptee speaking out. I see relatives and ancestors instantly recognizable in her face, her work, her bearing and her articulate mind.

Bravo, daughter! You are a champion.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Back in Portland

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The move from Seattle was a lot of work and tightly timed. The movers marched back and forth to fill the big truck with my concert upright piano and all of our things, schlepped in full circle from Portland to Olympia to Seattle and back home again to Portland in almost five years. “This is our last move!” was our mantra as we wrapped, packed, loaded, unloaded and now, finally, nested. The boxes and bins have been emptied and put away. Our house, lovingly restored by the next-door neighbor, saw the last stroke of paint brushed on my studio window trim yesterday. All that’s left to do is live.

From the first hello on the streets of Portland, we knew we were home. Strangers greet us here like old friends. Friends greet us like family. It’s a native phenomenon. Since my arrival in 1977, my experience of Portland has been a place where people practice love and community as a way of life. Of all the places we’ve traveled and lived, I am most at home here. Isolation from our travels quickly evaporates and we are back among friends who are joyful that we have returned. We soak in their embrace, thankfully renewed.

I wonder if Cathy will call. My phone is quiet. Antsy, I wait a bit and then send a text that we have arrived. “Welcome back” comes in. We arrange for Cathy and her husband, Dane and the kids, Quinn and Reed, to come over with pizza in a couple of days to see the place. When they visit, Dane is as talkative as Cathy is quiet. She doesn’t seem to look me in the eye and is more at ease conversing with Steve. I can’t tell who is more nervous, Cathy or me.

A week later I text her in the morning to wish her a good day and she invites me to meet her for coffee at Starbucks before she goes to work. I rush to meet her, happy at the invitation. A tattoo on her right upper arm surprises me; a blue-winged swallow surrounded by wild Oregon roses. It’s new and she tells me its just beginning to peel. I admire its colorful beauty and asked her if it hurt. It did. I don’t say it but wonder if it’s coincidence that both of my daughters have tattoos of a blue swallow permanently inked on their skin. The irony sits with me quietly as we talk about the kids, her work and touch only briefly on Christmas.

I’m so glad and nervous to be with her, just talking, that I don’t want to get heavy or tell her how hurt I was when she asked me not to come by her house at Christmas. After all these years, I’ve only begun to realize that even after the reunion, the therapy, the reconciliation of the past twenty-five years, that I exist outside of her core family, not as a participant. Her emotional range of vision in daily life does not include me. It’s likely that it never will.

This truth reverberates against my grain. I had never lost sight of her as my child – but in truth, our moment of separation dislodged her from me irretrievably. The decision of my eighteen year-old self haunts and taunts me and I search for ways to accept Cathy’s truth.

For all these years I was trying to find ways to bring us together. Portland is the kind of place that accepts us as we are, and I took it to heart that we could integrate all of our family here. It worked up to a point, but now a fierce critical boundary has surfaced. My lesson and task now is to acknowledge that which divides us and to learn how to move into a new place of acceptance that doesn’t include Cathy. Emotionally, this is counterintuitive and will take practice. It is a painful practice.

When I ask her what she’d like to see happen now that we are back in town, she says that she wants me and Steve to be full-fledged grandparents to the boys “because they don’t have any of the baggage.” I wonder if grandparenting will thrive within my relationship with her, or in spite of it? It feels compartmentalized, a reassignment, but it is the only avenue she opens to me and I take it. “Of course.”

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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“The M Word”

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Sometimes, one little word can change everything.

Language has always been tricky for Cathy and I to find the right words to describe what we are experiencing and who we are to each other. Others box us into words that don’t fit very well and the daunting truth remains quietly in flux with our paradox, unattended by the right words. The love that anchors us is stingy with words but we are grounded at the core even without them.

They’re just words. Words to describe us are often are contradictory, bordering on the ironic and suggest complexity bigger than our connection. Mother-daughter. Relinquishment-reunion. Adoption-birthright. Lost-found.

We’ve tried to respond to each other with honesty even when we’re at a loss for words. The people we were when we were younger remind us of where we’ve been as we look for ways to talk about where we are now with others like us and around us. We both go through this, it’s two sides of the experience we share.

After Cathy’s firstborn arrived years ago, she announced to me over brunch that she didn’t want me to use “the M word” anymore in relation to her. In a soft voice she listed the reasons with a firm but practical tone. She was a new mother and now she knew the difference. I hadn’t done any of those things with her. Her mothering came from her adoptive mother and that word belonged only to her. I took in what she said and nodded without argument. “It’s only a word” I said to myself. I asked her if it was okay to continue to call her my daughter. She nodded yes, and said that was fine. I was relieved. She was all that mattered to me in that conversation.

I was careful not to use “the M word” after that day. Nothing closer than the more acceptable (there’s that paradox again) assignations of “birthmother” or “first mother” came from me. I don’t like those names but it didn’t matter. It didn’t change who I was or what I felt. I didn’t care what she called me. I dropped the qualifier and referred to her adoptive mother as her mother from then on, and took my place in the language of our relationship. In my heart I knew what I knew – that we were more – and I didn’t need a name. She would know me by who I was – by my voice, by my laughter, by all we shared – not by a moniker that only reminded her of someone else and who I hadn’t been to her when she needed me most. It made me sad and I understood.

The surprise came on my birthday in late October. I arrived home from work to a lady on my wet doorstep holding a delivery in the rain of an outrageous bouquet of flowers tied up in brown paper from the exotic florist on the corner. Birthdays and holidays were often a source of discomfort for Cathy and I had learned not to expect anything. Mystified, I thanked the woman and carried them into the kitchen and turned on the light. When I saw the card I started to cry.

“Happy birthday, Mama! Love, Cathy” was written with a flourish in a confident hand.

Stunned, I looked again to be sure I was seeing it right. “The florist must have gotten it wrong” I said aloud. It even looked like her handwriting, though I knew it couldn’t be. “Maybe Cathy had a drink and felt mushier than usual and dared to say this because she knew I’d like it?” I knew that wasn’t like her but scratched my head. “Is it a joke? Did she mean to do that?” “Is this real?” I put the flowers in a vase from the cupboard and loosened the arrangement. “Should I call her and thank her, or wait to see if she meant to do this?” “Will she be embarrassed if I love this?” “Did she really say this?””Is this her? Are these her words?” The flowers were incredibly beautiful but my eyes were glued to the card. I went from exhilaration to confusion to doubt and looked again. Yet there it was. The M word.

I didn’t know what to do so I took a picture of it with my phone. My heart lilted as a swift of joy winged up from some secret tunnel deep down under the skin of my heart. Even though I was still uncertain, it’s magic began to sink in. It didn’t matter. What’s in a word, right? Even if this was a mistake or some kind of hoax, something unlocked in that moment. The truth was that the gift had been given. Her acknowledgement was embedded in an armful of flowers on my birthday. It was intentional. She had given me a name. There it was, a boldly written word that had never been uttered before. Mama. I am mama. I’m her mama. She called me mama. Call me Mama. That’s who I am.

One little word can change everything.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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What It Means to #FliptheScript

Peace Sign People 1968I was a full-blown flower child and came of age in the counterculture of the 1960’s. I questioned authority, sang folksongs, wrote a few, marched for peace, and learned truth telling and non-violent resistance from mentors like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Joni and Gandhi. I felt music synchronize my heart with a half a million others at Woodstock and the power of love became the anchor of my faith. Yogananda, Edgar Cayce, the Tao, Rudolf Steiner, macrobiotics, herbalism and the counter-ego teachings of Jesus and Buddha stirred my worldview into a lively New Age stew from the Boston Catholic mix I had started out with.

When I became pregnant at 18, it became a personal act of radical love for me to decide to come to term and relinquish undercover in my hometown. The truth and consequences of my ‘free love’ passed from my bloodstream into my healthy unborn daughter to wrangle and reconcile with in her post-embryonic journey without me. Her life as a reassigned child made her truth unspeakable. While I was marching against war and injustice, she was growing up a banished child with the myth of her first mother’s surrender under the nobless oblige of adoption. Guesses at the truth were uneasy and elusive for the many years that followed. Questions discouraged, I had been sworn not to ask or seek. My daughter was fated to harbor innate questions whose unrequited answers would taunt her truth at heart. We followed the script for eighteen years.

I left my childhood when I left her behind without a clue of what ‘a better life’ looked like. I was too young to know. Now I know I should have taken her with me. I didn’t know the most important part at the time – that it all works out. Now that I’m old, I know that it’s true, pretty much down to my bones. It all works out when there is love.

If somebody had flipped the script back in 1970 and said, “It’ll all work out, go for it” I think I could have believed it. I think it would have worked out. The flower child in me knows now what she always knew then – the truth when she hears it, and that the truth sets you free.

The stories from #FliptheScript give me new hope and I believe that the truth telling about adoption – from the adoptees and the birthmothers will deepen understanding and with it –  make way to a better life for the children it affects the most.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Thanksgiving Thoughts #flipthescript

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I am thankful …

That my first daughter is present and in my life;

That when holidays come she already knows my wish to connect will trigger my insecurities and she reassures me;

That even in her anger and loss, she is grounded in love;

That when her mother comes to stay with her, their time together makes me happy;

That many of the feelings that pester me about the lack of communication with my first daughter are normal for most parents – and not so different from my other children;

That even as a first mother in reunion, I am accepted more as family than as an outlier;

That my daughter is a beautiful mother and reflects love fully with her children;

That my grandchildren love me and I get to love them back;

That their birth-grandfather gets to experience that love too;

That my husband is “Uncle-Grandpa” and that is the best thing ever;

That all of my children, daughters and stepsons, are freely in relationship as siblings and bring love to the connective tissue that makes our family one;

That my daughter has the courage to be open and honest about her journey as she writes her chapters for Kathleen~Cathleen and Lost Daughters, as an adoptee with the motivation to open the doors for others;

That my daughter’s reunioneyes blog has received more than 10,000 ‘views’ – evidence that speaks for the many she represents;

That I write for the first mothers in mothertone; and with less than half of my daughter’s views have evidence that mine is one small voice in the silence for those I represent, especially those who live quietly behind relinquishment;

That I’m here and so is she.

That the potential for beauty, connection and love in life continues to expand in unexpected ways. No matter how limited life may feel, there is always a place to grow – and we do.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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National Adoption Month #flipthescript

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November has been deemed National Adoption Month. For a birthmother-in-reunion like me, this title emotes something different from its intended purpose, and come in a synonymous stream with National Lost Child Month, National Relinquishment Month, National Abandonment Month, National Lost Mother Month, National Lost Daughter Month, National Lost Sister Month, National Lost Son Month, National Lost Brother Month, National Lost Father Month, National Lost Grandparent Month, National Family Secret Month, National Birthmother Month, National Child Acquisition Month, National Next-Best-Thing Month, National Orphan Month, National No-Birth-Records-For-You Month, National Lost Family-of-Origin Month. Most of the time these aspects of adoption are quietly, closely held at deep expense. The irony of National Adoption Month is not lost on my daughter, nor me. There is a glimmer of relief in sharing the truth. We know it’s only the beginning.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Exposure

exposureWhen I see myself in home movies as a child, I can see my gregarious side. I was in love with life and responded to my surroundings, my many siblings, and the turning wheel of events with a zest filled with positive charge.

In my childhood memories of being sad or blue, it was my quiet side that took over – a contemplative, more pensive self – and my reflective nature developed in the privacy of my thoughts.

If I dug deep enough, the answer to my distress was usually waiting there beneath the restless confusion that puzzled me. Once claimed and digested, my emotional balance and sense of understanding increased, along with my ability to either take in more deeply, or let something go that no longer rang true. When I felt caught in between, I cogitated – and pushed at layers that covered the truth like a dog dug for a bone until the answer began to reveal itself. I was a young philosopher.

If my parents sensed that I was stuck on something, quieter and more perplexed than usual, one of them would casually ask how I was doing. More often than not, I would gush my questions and tell them what worried me. They each had a gentle side to their strength. Sometimes my reception to that deeper query into my interior life was better coming from my father, or my mother, depending on the phase I was in.

Looking back now, I appreciate the strategies they must have conspired to keep up with the wild imagination of their daughter as they tried to support my quest to understand life and how I fit in as I found my way.

Talking about it, whether in my thoughts or out loud, was one way I worked it out. The edge of what troubled me eventually found its way and reabsorbed back into my system, like a ruptured disc back into the spine, and I maintained my balance with some discomfort but found myself able to sustain it and move on. I compensated for the dissatisfaction of unanswered questions with thoughts like “it’s just the way it is” or “it’s more than I can understand right now”. As I got older, the margin of things I couldn’t grasp lost gravity or gained weight depending on its importance and wisdom anchored in truth grew in the middle of the person I turned out to be.

When Cathy and I decided to write Cathleen~Kathleen, we knew we were exposing ourselves and writing at great personal risk. We wrote an entire ten years of chapters without sharing a word with each other to answer to the questions that our situation begged in each other, and in the world of adoption and reunion. The privacy of not sharing our chapters with each other was the key that would allow us to replace fear with complete and uninhibited honesty. The unshared chapters are still a largely a secret between us that other people, mostly unknown to us, have read in our blogs and a couple of isolated public readings.

It’s those readers and listeners who have hints of the collective truth of our tale, while we wait until the final edits by our editor to engage and fully share our sides with each other, and in some ways, deliver the truth to each other.

In the negative light of being a birthmother who relinquished her first child, I gave my reunited daughter my unconditional and unedited permission to expose her view of me and all she experienced – complete with my failures, vulnerabilities and weaknesses – to the entire world.

Why on earth would anyone do that?

In our case, it was the only way to uncover the experience of long-term reunion that would allow others to learn the truth of adoption and reunion in its authentic form. It was also a way for me to love her in an unconditional act as her mother, no matter what the world thinks of me.

Is it worth it?

We’ll find out.

If it isn’t, my daughter will still have the inside-out guts of my story of us to digest, and wisdom anchored in truth will grow in the middle of the person she turns out to be.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Photo: themindblowing.com

Moving Home to Portland

One of the only times I ever heard my oldest daughter cry was on the telephone when I told her I was leaving Portland to move north a few years ago. I can still hear her voice tremble on the phone, “But it will mean that I won’t see you and losing you when I was a child just makes it really hard now. I want my kids to know you.” I heard her words and felt the pain inside of me roar back up my spine as I responded from a parking lot hundreds of miles away in my RV parked after a gig in Wallowa County in far eastern Oregon.. “I know. I will miss you, too” and the dull ache of the all too familiar loss took its seat back in my gut. Family needs compelled us to break away from the familiarity of home to try a smaller place near my youngest daughter who was putting herself through college with our granddaughter who was turning six.

We made the move and when we weren’t traveling with work as musicians, we were nearby to help and to be close with our daughter and granddaughter in Olympia. It was a special time for us, exploring life outside of the home we had known for thirty-five years in Portland. Then a back injury took me off the road and I took a job offer in Seattle. We moved further north and over the next eighteen months we traveled frequently between west and east coasts to tend to my husband’s parents in declining health. Along with their passing, our motivation to maintain the life we lived in Seattle lost its luster and we yearned for our home, our original home with family and friends in Portland. Our Olympia girls rooted for our return to Portland; they preferred it to Seattle. Our sons in San Francisco and New York City encouraged us. Our adult children strengthened our confidence that we were on the right track.

I had told Cathy on the phone that we were looking to come back to Portland and my ears felt around for her response. Her voice seemed surprised but was a little reserved about it. In the weeks that followed, she didn’t ask about our hunt for a place in Portland. She was quiet. I imagined she was holding her breath to see what I was going to do next. After being born to relinquishment, how could trust be expected to be her first response? I began to worry. What if she likes it better without me there? Will my return feel complicated? Is life simpler without me within reach? Our visits since we moved away had been warm and happy times with Cathy – and with her husband and our two young grandsons. We missed them, and seeing them on the fly from down the street when we were neighbors in Portland had been one of the great joys of being in the same town. Time passes so swiftly; children grow so fast. She was quiet from week to week.

Our old friends were looking out for us and we heard about an apartment through the grapevine. Pete texted me on my phone that it had just opened up for rent. On the way back from teaching on the Oregon coast on the equinox weekend, we stopped in Portland to see the place and fell in love with what would become our new home in the heart of our old neighborhood where many of friends live within walking distance. Cathy’s house is a straight shot up the hill, just a few blocks further from where we used to live. The 1906 wood frame house painted barn red reminded me of my in-laws’ place where we gathered over summers past in Sag Harbor. Divine Intervention seemed to come into play and our destination in Portland was realized. I couldn’t wait to tell Cathy!

I called her to let her know as soon as I got home. She was quiet at first and sounded like she didn’t quite know what to say. “That’s great!” she said but I wasn’t sure I could hear the exclamation point in her voice. Maybe it’ll take a while to sink in that Steve and I will be right down the street before long.

After I handed the phone to Steve, she told him that she had had a dream the night before about his parents. Our beloved Anne and Marvin were in the middle of the dream and all of the family was gathered in a house that held shades of the houses we had gathered in with them over the years: Sag Harbor, Woodstock, Manhattan. Every member of the family came together and it was a great celebration.

Cathy had dreamed the truth before I could tell her, and I felt the blessing of that dream that includes all of us, draw us close to heart and hearth as it shimmered inside to spread its love across all boundaries, visible and invisible, to the core of our beautiful family.

I am so thankful.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.

Mushiness

KateHalloween1958The affection factor in the large family I grew up in was strong. We were a physical family of ten and as siblings we hugged, held hands, and sweet smiles wove us together in eye-to-eye moments that conveyed understanding and acceptance. We also tussled with each other in the inevitable pecking order of so many kids. It was part of our body language and we were expressive and comfortable with each other. There were times when the family was young when we slept head-to-foot just to fit all of us in the available beds on family outings to visit relatives – and we knew each other as well as a litter of pups making our way between giggles and wriggles into whatever space held us as children growing up together.

In between the countless tasks at my mother’s hand was a sweet woman who did her best to kiss our scratched knees and soothe our bumpy insecurities, and she patiently held us close when we just cried without any reason at all until we were cried out, and then let us go back to what we were doing more confident than before for the love we were given.

Our dad traveled in his work but when he was home he opened the door into new levels of fun and adventure awaiting us in the bigger world. He opened our minds with introductions to odd flavors of ice-cream he brought home for dessert, souvenir chocolate covered ants from a business trip in Japan, mental telepathy games at the dinner table to guess what number he was thinking of, and occasionally he’d fish our minds with existential questions just to hear what we would say. Our personalities were clearly marked in our answers and he and my mother both enjoyed our differences and taught us to appreciate the unexpected in each other in these first lessons in diversity.

After our mother held us in the water with her forearms under our bellies to teach us how to swim, we’d graduate to holding onto my father’s feet as he floated on his back and we’d follow him around kicking like propellers in the water.

Laughter and wit erupted from the core of our family and we manifested affection easily. The older kids took care of the younger ones. We were paired off in our bedrooms with the sibling closest in age. We were a family of huggers. When times got hard, we learned to hold back more and the distance between hugs became a measure of our family distress. When things were good, we were close and we knew how to show it. Learning to be reserved became a discipline that came with maturity but we had started out open and accessible to each other and each of us were part of the whole. It was a good place to be most of the time.

All these decades later, we are still affectionate people. Sometimes our hugs and lovelit eyes surprise the people we are with as much as the times when it doesn’t happen. There is a delicate balance between what we can share from inside with the people outside our skins, but given half a chance, we are most at home when we can let it out naturally because that’s how we learned to be in the beginning. We shared ourselves with each other and a hug spoke a hundred words in one embrace.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.

Strength & Weakness

leaf in crackThe characters portrayed in adoption triads are strong. The birthmother is seen as strong because she has made the counterintuitive decision to go to term and then release ownership of her child to other people. The child is automatically perceived as strong because she is perceived as adaptable from her original family to another, and can co-exist as being “different” from the other members of her new family. The adoptive parents are strong people because they have made a socially admired decision to take care of someone else’s child as if she were their own. The birth family members are also strong because they hold the façade together of continuity in the family when the pre-born has been reassigned to live outside of the family because “it’s better that way.” Strength is confusing.

Strength is an inherent characteristic of each member of the adoption triad. The social cast is so strong in the adoption culture that signs of vulnerability, loss and tragic sadness are avoided, overlooked and often perceived as weakness or brokenness.

When an aunt, uncle or grandparent steps in after the of a loss of a parent, the child is regarded as the child of their natural parent and the substitute parent, while greatly respected for their loving care, doesn’t usually reassign the child’s identity to an unrelated one. We are known by and associated with the families we come from. When a child is reassigned outside their family of origin, the original, natural connection is rendered null and void. To bring it up weakens the carefully built illusion that everything is normal. The birthmother and the child disown their mutual history and although it is part of their story, ignoring it is part of their survival. The original link between mother and child is legally unbound but the natural ties live and exist inside us. The ones most affected are quiet because to question it is considered weak, unfair, and irreversible. So we adapt to be accepted. We carry on as though nothing is out of order and the more normal we appear, the more we are accepted as we are. Birthparent, adopted child, adoptive parent.

But underneath?

Underneath a quiet roar of insecurity, loss and separation is felt and re-absorbed over and over, day after night. This is true for all the members of the triad. To express this discomfort makes one appear weak and wanting, and supplants the apparent confidence in ourselves with doubt that exposes a deep fear of being wrong, or even being a mistake. Nobody wants to be a mistake.

But maybe being a mistake is what we all are – conception is a surprise, the creation of a new person where there once was none; each person unique and complete. The disconnection in adoption lies in pretense. If the adoptee is recognized for who they really are; and the birthmother, the extended family, and the adoptive parents share a mutual focus on the true wellbeing and honest heritage of the child as she is, there may be less room for confusion inside the adoptee as she grows into her identity. She would spend less time compensating for being who she’s been told she is now, and more time being herself, unique and complete.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.