Category Archives: mother and child

Part 2 – Another Side of Mother’s Day

Kathleen~Cathleen

Kathleen~Cathleen

They say that if you smile you’re brain thinks your happy. I love to quote that when I’m working with a group of nervous adults trying play ukulele and sing together for the first time. It sounds like a joke, and it is a playful comment, but there is something underneath those words that resonates for me. I smile often naturally and consider myself a happy person but I do think it also works the other way around. Laughter Yoga blazes neural trails to stimulate laughter on the premise that where there is laughter, there is joy. Alternately, where there is joy, smiles come easily.

When I was getting ready to write my last post in honor of Mother’s Day and the third anniversary of the parallel blogs of Kathleen (aka mothertone), Cathleen (reunioneyes) with my daughter, my original thought was going to write about the lighter side of being Cathy’s original mother.

That angle was deferred when Cathy asked if we could go into “the gritty side” of Mother’s Day instead. Her writing was taking her into that arena and she wanted to follow its thread from her side. I didn’t tell her that I had been thinking about the opposite approach, “the lighter side of” – to gently poke some fun at the irony of being human in reunion.

I like to follow her direction whenever she takes the lead. It’s part of our dance. I wait for a sign or a word that gives me the high sign as to where we might wander next. Sometimes I come up with an idea for a turn here or there, but most of the time, as far as I can, I wait and defer to her whim. It makes me happy to discover how she’s thinking and what she wants. If it’s something I can do for her, it makes me glad to do it. It was her idea to write the book, Kathleen~Cathleen, and I agreed to the idea to please her. It gave us something unique to do together. It was our personal project.

Ten years later, I find I’ve turned a floodlight onto the raw compost of my past and exposed subdural contents of my psyche and our relationship that even some of those closest to me haven’t seen or known about, and it’s out there in front of whomever comes across our blogs to read. That is outside behavior for me, and way outside of my normal container that has kept my privacy private, my secrets secret and my insecurities secure.

Nevertheless, it’s an exercise in trust between us. Hopefully, it will have the power to strengthen my daughter’s dubious faith in my commitment to her. Even though she hasn’t read what I’ve written yet, the act of writing it opens it up, and by stepping beyond the boundaries of the unknown, sets me on a mythic journey to become completely vulnerable on her behalf. It is the stuff of fairy tales.

The irony is that she knows my words are written and out there but hasn’t read them. My confessions will have weathered under the eyes of many before she reads it for the first time – and that’s the way she wanted it. This was the device we used to spit it all out untethered. So the truth is hanging on the clotheslines from her backyard in Portland and mine in Seattle. The neighbors can see our faded garments that remain hanging in our imagination. It won’t be long now before we are folding each other’s laundry – the way family members do – and that our worn pieces will be in each other’s hands to see for ourselves what they are made of and be real.

Meanwhile, the lighter side of the pair of us being who we are is what makes this all possible. The fact that we do connect – on the phone, in emails – and when we do, we feel quite at home. Even though every layer of our connection is out of synch with the social norms of our culture, there is a very nice place where we come together now, a place we have built on our own, and when we connect there we are engaged. We smile, we laugh, we quizzically explore the thoughts and impulses that herd our conversations. We are warm. We get each other. We are still careful but at home. Our connection holds promise.

Maybe someday our connection will be as deep as our disconnection has been. All or nothing, all and nothing – we are both. Closing the distance between the two, we continue to hike up and down every trail and cross the vast terrain between us as mother and daughter. Every step brings us closer. When we meet, we are together. When we smile, we are happy.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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The Many Sides of Mother’s Day

Kate1956Mother’s Day is confusing for me. When my mother-in-law was alive, I focused my good wishes on her and felt the warmth of her radiant smile over the phone right to the root through the layers of chilly damp dirt that covered my heart.

I had come to her late but when I married her son our two hearts snapped together like Legos. As artists, me with my music and she with her theater, we played our parts for each other in perfect counterpoint. As mother and daughter we filled an unexpected place in each other’s puzzle and there was no question that we adored one another. We shared our secrets and were confidantes. I was her Irish daughter and she was my Jewish mother and we were a perfect pair of hearts. “You are not my daughter-in-law, you are my daughter”, she declared as she sat for the last time on her bed before she died.

There were no tentacles of regret, sadness, or grief to dement our relationship. We had a pure and a happy run and I am grateful to have had the gift of her love in my life. She was intuitive always knew how I really was before I ever admitted it, the way a mother does. She never missed the mark and I felt like she knew me better than anyone. I miss her.

Now she’s gone and I’m back to my confusion. I have loved my natural mother all my life but a limiter seemed to set her heart on low, maybe from losing her first son before I was born. It felt like I wasn’t the child she wanted. Out of the nine of us, I’m not sure if any of us were what she wanted but she made the best of it and fed and kept us until we could feed and keep ourselves. She is alive in a quiet life with my father on the other side of the country in Floridian assisted living, nearly ninety now. She is pleasant on the phone with me the way an old acquaintance is pleasant.

“How’s life in Seattle? Oh, that’s good” she says. It’s not clear if she can hear me, she hates her hearing aid and refuses to wear it, so I yell about the weather and say “I love you, Mom” and without exception she says, “Let me give you back to your father.” As I wait for her to hand him the phone, a dead tone in my ear tells me we’re back to the sound of nothing and the call has been dropped. This has been going on for years now. It’s not her fault. She does her best and I love her no matter what. I just can’t seem to reach her.

I’ve sent her flowers that should have arrived by now and hope they make her feel happy and loved. I wrote her a card this week full of my news, as though we were sitting at the kitchen table over the Lipton’s tea I remember her drinking fifty years ago. I send cards because she loves to get mail, not because Mother’s Day was looming. I just missed her and wanted her to know that I think of her. She doesn’t write me back but that’s okay. She doesn’t have to. I’m okay. I accept the way she is.

My Mother’s Day heart changes direction to see my children. I wet my heart to feel the weather like a finger in the wind. The waves in my heart loosen to rise and fall in the magnetic hold between push and pull and moonlight shines on the surface of my soul. When I close my eyes I can feel the love for my children rise up and fill a thick shell of regret and the brittle sadness softens in the lining under my skin. I stop to relish them in my mind’s eye, the small details they can’t feel me watch and take in. I see their beauty and fears and whisper a silent prayer to protect and nourish them.

I have an insatiable appetite to connect with my daughters. Most of the time, it’s invisible because they look past me to the ones they’ve come to rely on. But my hunger to love them as their mother is there and it has always been there – since the beginning. I learned to contain it when I gave up my first child as a teenager. By the time I gave up my second child ten years later to divorce, I was pretty sure that anyone was better than me to be a mother.

I met my first daughter when I was thirty-seven years old. I had been in reunion with my second daughter for a short time when Cathy came back into my life. A tsunami of conflicting forces stirs between both of my daughters. I can feel the storm brewing to break over the storm wall that holds them back from telling me the truth, like banshees in the wind, and wish me into their lives as the mother they needed and wanted then, not the mother who left them to forage on their own. The mother they have now can’t be the mother they lost. They are two different mothers and I am both of them.

The cruelty of regret is that we are not allowed to return and replay our parts and catch up from there. No matter how good it gets, the damage is done and nothing I can do now will kiss and make it better. The mother I am yearns to tend and heal the cuts of broken trust while the mother I was hides ashamed and sad in a deep well where she will never, ever be found to bother anyone again. She is still in exile underneath my rewoven life. I repeat my vow to be here now and come back to the surface, take a deep breath and rededicate my heart to each of my children, no matter what, to be here for them as long as life is in me.

Even my boys, my two handsome stepsons, know me as a complicated mother. It’s not as hard for them because their mother is in the middle of their lives and I’m more simply an extra, an understudy, an afterthought, who came to love them in her borrowed mother guise when their dad fell for me twenty years ago. I feel gratitude for the love they show me. I don’t nag them with expectations and our attachment is different from what they have with their mother. I adore them and give them plenty of room. If they need me, they know I’m here and I’ve got their backs 24/7. We’re close in a way that works for each of them. I’m lucky to have them in my life. They allow me to love them as sons to a second mother and for me, that is a great and precious gift.

With my daughters it’s different. So far it doesn’t seem to matter how much I try to connect with them and to be present, day by day, year by year – the visits, the voice mails, the texts, the cards, the gifts – or how much I express my love in the words I say (or contain) to prove it. The hunger, sadness and anxiety is there and it’s never satisfied. Our attempts to be close are distracted by pain. Is this the same disconnect between me and my mother? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe I’ll never know and it’s just the way it is. Even in my prayers and dreams, I am left to trust and hope in silence that my true mother love will find her way to slip in and sink deeply into the tender hearts of my beautiful girls, and soak them in warm comfort that no longer feels the chilly void of my absence but instead keeps them swaddled close to my bosom and nourished in lasting mother love; this mother, here mother, first mother, me mother, real, true and connected-by-heart-body-and-soul mother, as the mother they missed most becomes the mother who croons to her babes in their sleep as they slumber softly and safely in her arms at last.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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The Men in Reunion

ImageReunion in adoption isn’t gender specific but there seem to be more women in the limelight than men. The truth is that it is a topic that affects all of us and that everyone, women and men alike, have a story or some personal history related to adoption. As a firstmother in reunion, the men in my life took a role much greater than as simple spectators. As I approached seeking, meeting and getting to know my daughter, Cathy, the men in my life played roles that both challenged and supported me in my quest to connect with my child.

Before my ten year-old youngest daughter came to me for the summer, her father trumped my disclosure and revealed to her that my first child, a daughter, had been relinquished for adoption eight years before she was born. When I had shared with him that I was approaching reunion with my firstborn, he broke trust and shared that information without my permission. In my heart, I felt violated by the unexpected breach to the terms we had agreed upon – and that I would be the one to tell my young daughter first. In retrospect, it was likely committed as a compassionate act but at the time I felt betrayed.

The door to the true heart of a birthmother and the relinquished child opens and closes on trust. Without trust, the door is set firmly in place to protect the unspeakable wound of loss. I am grateful for the men in my life who, by their love for me, have taught me to love myself and pass it on.

During the recovery of my relationship with my firstborn child, the support of the men who have loved me gave me strength to stand my ground, own my walk, and feel my worth in spite of the shame that dragged behind my optimism. Acceptance and encouragement has been a constant source of courage from my husband, my two stepsons and, most recently, my oldest brother.

My husband was with me through every step since the day he first met Cathy at the Cup and Saucer soon after her move to Portland in 1993. His love for both of my daughters holds no contrary elements to confuse it – it is authentic and freely given and received. Nothing muddies the water of their flow back and forth. I envy the genuine ease of their movements. Maybe someday it will be like that for me too. He has been my anchor – there is no question of his commitment. When the weather’s up, his hand is there to steady me through the many various storms of the heart. He can sense when it’s brewing. “Be true. Be strong. Be who you are. ” he said to me over the phone on one of his many trips home to helping his aging parents in NYC. From the wireless phone I could feel his conviction for my capability to love as a mother, and to love well. His confidence galvanized my hope and trust on contact and the fears that corroded my forward motion faded and fell to the side. The power of love is a strong and wondrous remedy for all that blocks our way in the world.

When Cathy and I finished writing our book proposal under the tutelage of our first editor, we were encouraged to share it with some trusted readers for feedback. It contains a number of chapters of Kathleen~Cathleen from both Cathy’s and my sides, and although Cathy and I hadn’t shared our writing with each other yet, we needed to know that it was cohesive and that what we were doing made sense to the reader.

I asked my father and mother-in-law if they would read it and provide us with some feedback. They were well-read and deeply seasoned in their life in the arts. I had been twice blessed to be called “daughter” by my father and mother-in-law. In my heart I always knew that they were the Jewish, New York parents this Boston Irish-Catholic girl had always needed, and we filled a reciprocal place in each other’s hearts for more than twenty years. They have just passed away – but not before bequeathing me with the magnificent gift of their unconditional love. “Love is something when you give it away” sings Malvina Reynolds in my mind’s ear. Anne had been blind for more than fifty years and, with Marvin as her eyes, they walked hand in hand, ready to engage with the world every day with their true hearts.

Anne and Marv accepted our sealed draft in confidence and kept their role as our readers a secret from their other children. When they were by themselves, Marv would take out the sheaf of pages from the manila envelope and begin to read our alternating chapters from where they had left off the day before. When they had read as much as they could, they would put it back in the envelope and hide it under a blanket in the chest at the foot of their bed where it wouldn’t be discovered by uninvited eyes.

I pictured Marvin reading our chapters in his dramatic actor’s voice to dear Anne as she listened with her head down to take in every word  – words from two open hearts, mother and daughter, who hadn’t yet shared these very words with one another. Marvin and Anne  took in our undressed hearts and felt our sadness and loss, as well as the miraculous moments of reclamation and redemption as we wound our way to a sustaining relationship after the glow of reunion had faded.

“It’s so personal” my mother-in-law said. “You are brave to do this, both of you.” Marvin held my gaze and smiled. He didn’t need to say anything. His heart was in his eyes – I could always find it there – and he loved me. He had taken the responsibility to read our story with gravitas and his wife and he treated it with great care for a precious object. Kathleen~Cathleen was the fruit of two hearts they loved as family. They encouraged us to continue and finish what we had begun. “It’s good” he said. He believed in love more than anything. There endorsement warmed me like a blanket from chilly fear and insecurity. I had been the lucky one to marry his first son – the one who looked so much like him and came from the seed of that most bountiful and compassionate loving man. Marv’s acceptance of me, my story, and my craft was strong and sure. I felt safer now, and stronger than before with the knowledge that he thought this offering was worthwhile – and important – in the world.

The strength of these generations of men in my life has helped to secure my footing along this wild path Cathy and I travel to finish the work of sharing our walk in reunion. I’m grateful that these men have loved me through the real story as Kathleen~Cathleen rises to visibility and to a place where we can share its meaning with love.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Our Reading

KC_FiorDItalia_BCathy and I had checked into the hotel and got ready to read for the public. Cathy was worried that nobody would show up – there were six workshops at the same time and this was Thursday, the first day of the conference. I told her not to worry.

“Even if there’s only one person, you can sit on one side and I’ll sit on the other and we’ll just present to that one person as though they were a room full. Whoever is there will be enough. People will come, don’t worry.”

She wasn’t so sure. And then it was time. We opened the doors and walked in to a large room buzzing with people in their seats who waited there for us to share our story. Half the room were adoptees. Half were birthmothers. All stages of reunion were present, from new up to 25 years plus. There was a lot of history in the room.

Sister Mary, birth-aunt and witness, set off to the side to listen and to be present as our support team of one. Cathy and I approached the podium and side by side, read our alternating excerpts from The Invitation, Honeymoon, Going Dark, Therapy, and Integration chapters. It was vulnerable, and it was stunning.

We had never done this before and we stood on each other’s side as we took turns to read. When my eyes came up from the page, the expressions on the people were glued to the words we were sharing. One glance mid-read caught everyone in tears – we were all feeling the story together and there was an incredible bond – between Cathy and me – and amongst all of us in the room as the pangs of truth pierced the heart of what bound us and had brought us together in that moment.

It was scary and good. The response at the end was powerful and one of the conference leads needed to end the Q&A to clear the room for the next presenter. We did it! We did a good job. We were a little unpracticed but it was good practice and now our story was out the gate. People approached us for future interviews, radio and to sign up to hear more about the book. They all wanted more. It worked.

I’m thankful for my daughter’s courage, and for her love that returns to me in spite of my insecurity. She’s beautiful with a great heart and I am so proud of her. We have begun a new beginning together and I will cherish the memory of this first time forever.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Kathleen~Cathleen Present in San Francisco

kc_bookmark_backThe American Adoption Congress has asked us to present a workshop at their upcoming national conference, themed “Building Bridges for Change” in San Franciso in April.

Our presentation will be, “The Birthmother Experience vs. The Adoptee Experience in Long-Term Reunion”. A birthmother and her relinquished daughter who have been in reunion for 25 years recount their reunion in a memoir where they have kept their individual experiences private from each other. The workshop will involve readings from their memoir, exposing their individual experiences in reunion and
revealing universal themes in long-term reunion that happen simultaneously for the birthmother and adoptee, followed by Q&A.

Cathy and I will prepare by selecting excerpts from our memoir “Kathleen~Cathleen” to reflect mutual turning points in our relationship as a mother and daughter in long-term reunion. Except for our first share for this month’s Adoption Constellation magazine article, this will be the beginning of our impending exchange of finished chapters.

We are thankful for your comments and support as we approach the volcanic rim of ten years of writing together, apart, with you.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit http://www.reunioneyes.blogspot.com
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The Quest of Kathleen~Cathleen

Quest - Theodor_Kittelsen,_Soria_MoriaIn April of 1997, Joni Mitchell revealed that she had found and reunited with her relinquished daughter, for whom she had written “Little Green” on her “Blue” album.
On that same weekend seventeen years ago, Cathy and I were attending the American Adoption Congress Conference together in Vancouver, WA. There was a special announcement at the conference as the news broke and told the story worldwide that Joni Mitchell, the famous musician, had reunited with the baby whom she had given up at age nineteen. Joni and I had both been female musicians facing a turning point decision at the same age. The fact that she had let the world in on this most personal event rendered new courage for me to be open about my experience, and to share the truth about me and Cathy.

When we got to the conference, Cathy and I found that there weren’t very many attendees who had been in reunion for more than a few years. Being in reunion was still a new concept. We were among the few who had come as a reunited pair to explore what was there for us.

The featured presenter, Betty Jean Lifton, had inspired us to overcome some of the challenges we had faced in our relationship with her book, The Journey of the Adopted Self. Now after eight years in reunion, we were in a new phase without a map. When we asked Betty Jean if she could write something on long-term reunion, she said that we were the ones who should write that story.

So we did.

We drew up our outline ten years ago and decided to write our chapters without sharing with each other until we were done so the reader could integrate our experience as a whole and come to their own conclusions. As we approach the final draft of the final chapters, we also begin to prepare ourselves to share its pages with each other, with you and with the world.

Now, Cathy and I return to the American Adoption Congress conference – themed “Building Bridges for Changes” – as presentors to read from our book, Kathleen~Cathleen, and describe the experience of the birthmother and the relinquished adoptee in long-term reunion. This is the beginning, the first time that we share our story with each other, and with the world.

In light of the new birth record access laws in Oregon that affect not only adoptees, but for the first time in the nation, first mothers, we are encouraged to be brave and deliver our efforts in the hope of deepening understanding. We appreciate your support, your comments and your heartfelt thoughts as we open the book on Kathleen~Cathleen.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Our First Magazine Article

AdoptionConstellation1The Adoption Constellation magazine, an outcropping of Adoption Mosaic, will publish our article, “Being the Secret” in the March 2014 issue. This piece will be the first printed publication from excerpts of our book, Kathleen~Cathleen.

For the first time in the ten years we’ve been working to co-author our story, Cathy and I shared excerpts of our writing with each other.

We chose four pieces, two from each side of our story, to reflect the theme. The editor also asked for a photos for the article. In a moment of blessed synchronicity, I found three faded photographs that were taken of me in on the very day I first wrote about.

In all this time, there is little doubt that we should continue what we have started. It is our intention to finish and share Kathleen~Cathleen in the next couple of months, in the hope of deepening understanding for those separated by issues of identity and social standards. This article in March edition of the Adoption Constellation magazine will be the first share from our book, both with each other and with the world.

Thank you for sharing our journey with us as we begin the climb to the finish line.

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

I told her what I had told almost no one. It was important to me that she knew the truth. I revealed myself in that first conversation with my story of reunion and reconciliation. Continue reading

Letters – Mother’s Day

portland-oregon-signJanuary 17, 1993

Dearest Cathy,

Your letter was so potent, honest and welcome. I’ve been thinking about you so much. You’ve worked so hard and long and now on the home stretch to finishing your college life … you find yourself itching to scratch your right brain for balancing the academics with the rest of your self. The plateau is a restless springboard to new chapters, phases, and directions – mastering fears of the unknown and risking the familiar to learn about the new.

Our capacity for new experiences is flexed by our need to move forward… We have to take care of ourselves on so many levels – like a garden; mulching here, pruning there, building up the soil, transplanting so the roots can spread out, moving to deep places as we grow.

I can’t help empathizing to your resonant feelings for similar thoughts have worked their ways through me over the years. If you don’t mind, Cathy, I’d like to speak openly about my impressions of your dilemma and a few thoughts and ideas that came to me as I read your words.

Number one – your self-esteem is shot. You feel like a scramble of accomplishments and what you want to accomplish. You’ve been in a long stretch of educating yourself toward a defined line of work through which you can participate and contribute to the society you live in, while at the same time realizing that on many levels you are as yet untapped in the ways that really bring you out and express your gifts.

How to be who you are when you’re not really sure who that is? Sometimes this catalyzes rubbing against experience, chosen or not, that help us define aspects of ourselves in ways that put old insecurities to rest and generate new ones. The trick is how to make the best of it. One way is to choose things that reflect your dreams and don’t wait for someone else to let you do it (i.e. parents, husbands, boyfriends, bosses, ideas that start with should instead of could).

The reason I say this is that life often puts us in a place that makes us wait, puts us on hold from the things we want to be learning about by experiencing them. Instead we’re somewhere else very busy, hopefully productive and making our way through the day-to-day.

Much of life is spent in what I call a gathering time; gathering money to live, things to get by, neighbors, friends and community, living environs, nesting routines. The quality of the lifestyle is going to depend on how you think about what you want – deciding what’s okay, what’s in and what’s not. What constitutes fun vs. someone else’s fun? This was a long and difficult dilemma in my marriage and relationships.

It took an awful long time to realize that if I did what I thought about I would have more respect, not less, from the people who mattered to me. I may disappoint by someone’s measure of what they expected but heck, their expectations are attached to their dreams and pasts and experiences and though we learn from everybody (no exceptions) we have to live our lives ourselves as true to the bone as you can get it. When you’re driven by personal direction/choices, life has integrity and its meaning ever deepens in small and vast ways.

You don’t need to know everything or even what’s coming next. What you need is the flexibility to enjoy your choices and take the options that enrich and enhance your life. Sometimes this means making a choice upfront and then making (and letting) it happen. These are often the more dramatic choices because they’re cased by faith, declaring the idea, giving it tangibility by speaking it and the dominoes begin.

Much of life we spend reacting to what comes our way. If I’d had the foresight evident in hindsight, I would have been less afraid to follow my real instincts and believe in the good about myself. I’d have said yes to the unexpected and no to the mundane. The best decisions I ever made to date were like that (like you!).

The color in the tapestry before us is produced by the richness of spirit of the piece. You are from a high-spirited clan and I imagine life has many very special and significant crossroads for you to be blessed by. There’s one around every corner for travelers as we.

‪Okay. Here’s what I think. I think you should come out here for the summer. I think you should rub elbows with your genes.‬

‪You could stay in my flat. It’s small, but easily could be done. If you wanted a summer job you could do a variety of things, but the one that comes to mind is the Hawthorne Street Café. It’s a humming neighborhood café within walking distance of here, with good food, good tips and lots of interesting folks. This is not a career opportunity but a people-watching summer job. There are several other places where I know the merchants well there on Hawthorne Boulevard. Or downtown for that matter. Or in social services as well. Depending on what you wanted, I could help with this.‬ ‪

Meanwhile, basics covered, you could explore. Portland’s a beautiful city, my personal favorite, with a great deal to offer. I could take you to all the little places in my life. We could while away many an hour at the beach, on the island, heading to the mountain, hashing out the finer points of any given topic and discovering new and old ties.

You could meet my friends and they you. Your name comes up as one of the family here. You’d be so welcome.‬ ‪We could have dinner at the Vat & Tonsure, drink Rioja to the opera in the background and talk about any and everything. Or down to the East Ave Tav, the Irish community pub where the best music’s happened in the wee hours of the past dozen years. Or to the ceili on 3rd Fridays.‬ ‪Sauvie Island on a July weekday, warm water, Columbia River tugboats pulling logs, ships going by. Surreal in the landscape, Mt. St. Helen’s straight across on a clear day; salmon grilled.

A million pictures come to mind but what I want to emphasize is that I think it would be really good for you, and the time would be full and fast-flying as summers are inclined to go. But you would have afforded yourself a chapter that might help a ways towards knowing yourself better. Through a different frame of reference we grow aware of what we didn’t see before.‬ ‪The light is beautiful in Portland, much like Paris I’m told.

Please just think about it, Cathy. It’d be natural as pie—and a great contrast to life in New Jersey. Believe me, I know. That’s where I left. Come for the summer, C’mon!‬

With love,
‪Kate
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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The Adoptee’s Right to Search

rose

The four sisters sat at a sidewalk café to take in the Floridian breeze over drinks and dinner. Even with the contrast in our looks, anybody walking by would have known we were sisters and our laughter broadcasted our comfortable repoire. We had converged from the west and east coast for the weekend near Fort Myers to celebrate our father’s 90th birthday. The day had been spent with our parents in their assisted-living facility and now we relaxed under the setting sun and soaked each other in, hungry for the chance to commune and confide.

We are different from each other but close. No matter what, our truest selves come out when we are together, for better or worse. We cherish time together as sisters.

I am the oldest sister after three sons. Mary came after me, between the next two brothers; Deborah followed and finally, the baby of the family, Gina.

Mary and I shared a room growing up and Deborah and Gina were roommates. Our family moved several times over the years and our memories are highly contrasted by timing and context. While I have fond memories of my grandmother’s aromatic cooking and cheerful Yankee humor, my youngest sisters remember a scary alcoholic with burnt food in the kitchen and mounds of cigarette butts in ashtrays by the roaring television.

Our memories and points of view are tightly rooted in the timing and evolution of our growing family. My parents waxed into their prime during my youth while my youngest siblings felt their stamina wane at the tail end of the large family we inhabited.  As a teenager, I was grounded regularly for coming home late after midnight. When the younger siblings came in after curfew, it was barely noticed. We lived in different chapters in the family story.

When the status of Kathleen~Cathleen, the working title of the book my first daughter and I have been writing for the past eight years, came up in the conversation, I told them about the “Lost Daughters” blog that my daughter had participated in recently that had resulted in a controversial dialogue that was still under debate weeks later.

The nature of the debate started with the pros and cons of open adoption and evolved into the adoptee’s right to search and access their original birth certificate and information that would reveal the identity of the original mother and birth family.

One of my younger sisters smacked her lips and without hesitation said that the records should remain closed; the birthmother had no right to intrude on the privacy of the child they had given up nor the adoptive family and the information could be harmful to the child. The other youngest sister defended the right of the child to be protected from the birth mother’s identity and possibly unseemly circumstances. “What if she was a prostitute or worse?” “Why should the innocent child suffer information that would just make them feel bad about themselves or their situation if they knew the truth?” and “What about the woman’s right to privacy when she has signed a legal agreement stating that she doesn’t want to be discovered by the child?” “The woman should be protected, too.”

My relinquished daughter and I have been in reunion for almost twenty-four years. I was eighteen when I became pregnant with her in 1970Abortion was barely legal and was still considered a crime. My siblings were still children themselves back then and had no idea that I was “in trouble.”

Then Cathy and I came together in 1989 and my siblings were included in the revelation and celebration that unfolded with the truth. Cathy was welcomed into the family by my most  and the anomalies of her previously invisible existence became part of the family story. My siblings seemed happy that Cathy was part of the family now. As Cathy and I learned how to be together and grew closer, my family seemed supportive and open. In retrospect, my idealism and optimism may have been hard at work. Suddenly I wasn’t sure of anything.

The same sister who welcomed Cathy into her first family gathering at her house pursed her lips tightly and was indignant at the suggestion that an adoptee might have a inalienable right to search and access their birth records. Not only did she reject the idea of the right of an adoptee to search for their birth mother but, in her view, chances were high that the child was better off not knowing. If a mother could give her child away, then there was a reason for it. That woman had made her decision and it may be that this mother should not be allowed access to the child. That child now belonged to other people and they deserved better consideration.

I froze and curled my toes into my sandals as I grappled for words. We had been having such a nice time and then, all of sudden, I was a birthmother trapped in the worst of stereotypes, an unworthy mother with all the scars left by feeling judged as “bad”. Even as witnesses to my own experience, I didn’t hear any compassion in the tone. The adoptee was a commodity, up for grabs in their eyes and the birthmother was just out of luck. I felt sick.

My closest sister watched silently from across the table and didn’t speak as the youngest sisters tossed their argument back and forth. I told them that a legal agreement signed by a young mother does not mean that she doesn’t think of her child every day and might wish to change her mind and be allowed the chance to meet and know her child in an appropriate way. If that child wants to know where they come from and the mother agrees to it, why should anyone interfere or refuse them their right to reunite?

“What if the adoptee wants to establish themselves as an heir entitled to inheritance from their birth parent?” Now the adoptee was presented as a threat to the biological family assets.  “What if the family prohibits the mother from acknowledging the child because of the shame of the circumstances and the culture of the family?”

It’s complicated and it only gets more complicated: in-vitro births, surrogates, alien children from other countries and cultures. What is the answer when there are so many questions?

Underneath I pondered the real question. If a birthmother feels safe because of the privacy veil, it may give her the strength to follow through with the birth. If the child’s birth means a vulnerable future of exposure and shame, that child might not have a chance of birth at all. How much can a woman be expected to bear at a young age before it becomes too much to handle. Confusion in an unwanted pregnancy is a binding dilemma, whatever the answer is. Whether it’s abortion or relinquishmet, you can’t take it back.

But the child born from that decision bears the cost of her heritage. A parent’s decision to relinquish responsibility for the child is a decision of the parent, not the child. Should the child be punished and withheld the right to know? Does an adoptee have the right to their past, positive or negative? I believe people are defined by the generations who came before them, and that generations ahead of them experience the impact of the life they live. More than environment and circumstance, they are defined by their actions and the actions that brought them to bear. To disallow anyone the right to know their origins is to cast them as second-class citizens by the default of adoption. Is that right? If there is hope that the child may seek when they come of age, is there more chance that the child will not be born at all?

There may be harder decisions but I don’t know what they are. Circumventing access to birth records denies a basic human right for that information. There are many reasons for adoption after birth, but in my mind, none of them preclude the child’s right, when they are ready, to know who they are and where they came from. Even if its uncomfortable, there is no substitute for the truth. Hidden or revealed, the truth remains. To impact the true identity of a human being by untying all that connects them to the past condemns them to illusion. I believe that all human beings deserve to know their truth. It may be hard but it’s right. What happens then can go anywhere. That is the moment when the child becomes the author of her story.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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