Honeymoon: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 1

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KATE’S READING excerpt with Cathy from the “Honeymoon” Chapter of Kathleen~Cathleen at American Adoption Congress Conference, San Francisco 2014

As we work on finishing our draft of Kathleen~Cathleen, we wanted to do something new on the blog. For the first time on the blog, we are sharing excerpts from the memoir’s original manuscript with you, our readers. We hope to hear your thoughts, impressions and questions.

The intent of our memoir is to share the true story of reunion in all its complexities; the heights of its joys, the depths of its sorrows and the perseverance it takes to journey through the thrill of the initial meeting to get to the grips of a real relationship. There are many stories that share the experience of separation and reunion. Our book explains what happens next.

As we do with the blog, we have written from the unique and contrasting experiences of both the birthmother and the adoptee through our individual viewpoints. The excerpts we are posting here are the only parts of the book that we have shared with each other. While we have an outline that we created together, we have not yet read each other’s chapters. We want to keep the purity of our personal recollections and impressions uninfluenced by the other’s point of view.

The result is that it is you, the reader, who brings the stories together, creating something new, something greater than the sum of its parts.

Over the next few weeks we will share sections from the memoir that highlight crucial turning points in our relationship: Honeymoon, Going Dark, Therapy and Integration.

The excerpt below is taken from Kate’s side of the “Honeymoon” chapter from Kathleen~Cathleen, and Cathy’s first morning in the kitchen after her arrival in Portland (then read Cathy’s Honeymoon excerpt at ReunionEyes.
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“Oh, you’re up!” I said as Cathy shuffled into the kitchen.

“Good morning” she said sleepily, eyeing the bathroom door.

“Make yourself at home, Cathy. Coffee will be ready soon. The bathroom’s free if you want it.”

“Thanks. I might take a bath,” she said as she went in and closed the door.

Before long , she was back in the kitchen, now refreshed. She pulled a chair up to the table by the window and told me that Heather had left early that morning to go for a hike with a friend they had met on the Green Tortoise bus.

I filled the kettle with water from the tap, put it on the burner and lit the stove. The paper filter was filled with fragrant, fresh ground coffee. I poured hot water from the kettle and watched it transform into its dark brew. I could feel the motherly urge to nourish Cathy imbue my offering as I gripped the mug carefully and set it on the table in front of her.

She poured a long stream of cream into the mug and I watched it turn from dark brown to nearly white. She stirred several teaspoons of sugar into the milky mix with her spoon.

“I see you like a little coffee with your milk!” I chuckled as she pressed her lips into a smile. I wondered what to say next as we sat at the kitchen table.

“How did you sleep?” I asked.

“Good” she said.

Anxiety and delight shuttled back and forth inside me. We had only clocked in a few hours together. So far, so good.

Today would mark the first full day in this new chapter together. We had no script. I felt exhilarated, terrified – and game.

Cathy’s eyes watched me as she sipped her creamy brew. She had accepted my invitation to come to Portland to try me on for size. I could feel her check me out as I waited for her to speak. My mind was reeling fast, spinning with thoughts that held tight on my tongue, waiting to give her time to answer.

Her thick, collar-length hair was a lush coppery mix of browns and bronze. I asked her about the long skinny braid with a bead at the end; it hung a foot longer than the rest.

“I keep this one strand growing to remind me of where I’ve been,” she replied, and picked up the end to twirl the blue bead between her fingers and her thumb.

I soaked her in as we sipped. My eyes followed the pretty curves of her face like  a magnet, coming to rest on the aquamarine glint in her eyes that looked back at me with a frank expression. I couldn’t resist looking at her face. I tried to be subtle, but smiled when I knew she’d caught me gazing – as new mothers do.

She had eyes the color of ocean waves catching light, the same aqua light that is in my younger daughter, Abigail’s eyes – my sister, Mary’s, too.

I returned Cathy’s gaze with my own plain, slate-blue eyes inherited from my mother’s mother on the Scottish side. I shyly reached to touch Cathy’s hair with my fingers.

“Your hair is beautiful,” I whispered.

She let me touch her hair the way a child would, quiet and waiting. My thumb gently rubbed the long tendril across my curled finger, poised to hold the strand of her burnished hair in my hand. Since the first dark fluff on the day she was born, I hadn’t touched her hair. It had been bleached with dark roots when we had first met. She’d been eighteen. Now, her thick mane of nut-brown hair touched her shoulders.

I let go, smiling. She smiled back.

We both have dramatic natural hair. It was a basic trait that was evidence of the truth of her identity. We saw things that we recognized in each other as we sat across the table. I had savored that brief touch of her hair. I hadn’t guessed what her hair would feel like. It was even thicker than mine. I felt akin to her and tears welled under my eyelids. We were related, after all.

It was an odd feeling not to have to hide or pretend anymore. Cathy had freely made her choice to come to me.

I let my arm reach up to touch her hair again. She smiled as I drew in the sensation of its auburn threads with my fingertips, to let my senses take in the essence of this daughter. It reminded me of honeysuckle in bloom – so sweet and never enough to fill the appetite. I let go.

“It’s nice to touch your hair, thank you”.  I smiled and looked down at my coffee.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Pandora” painting by John William Waterhouse 1896

All Rights Reserved ©2015

The Wish List

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When I first invited Cathy to join me in Portland during the summer of 1993, it was to give us both the chance ‘to rub elbows with our genes’ for a few weeks and to allow her a chance to expand her perspective about where she came from. I thought it might be helpful for her to take the time to discover what being my daughter meant for her deep down inside.

It also meant that I would get the chance to find out who she had become without me. I wanted to know my daughter. To bring Cathy into my life was risky and, although I didn’t know if it was really a good idea or not, my desire to take the opportunity to know Cathy was stronger than my fear.

She said yes.

We took an open approach. Unsure of who she really was, I tried to make her comfortable and to give her the freedom to express her thoughts and personality honestly. I was also eager to introduce her to the elements of Portland life that had nurtured me, and to reveal myself to her as the person I truly was within the life I lived.

She stayed.

My move away five years ago was a big adjustment in our relationship. This past winter when I announced that I was ready to return to Portland, Cathy hit a wall that she didn’t know was there. Neither did I. We had come a long distance since we met in 1989 but suddenly I couldn’t be retrofitted back into her life.

I had left her back in the beginning of her life, and now all these years later, I left again and for Cathy, I had broken trust. By the time I returned, my orbit might as well have been around the moon because the connection I had come to expect with Cathy was nowhere to be found.

But nothing lasts forever.

Last night, Cathy and my laptops were back-to-back once again at the Barleymill. My heart was happy to be back to writing with her again. My excitement stayed mostly under wraps as I focused my eyes on the screen and wrote for a while. In truth, I knew deep down that I would do whatever it took to win my daughter’s trust and strengthen our bond back to its healthy self.

Our past few blogs on mothertone and reunioneyes had been about the impact of my return to Portland, and the barriers that arose for my daughter. She still wrestles with emotions that my return unleashed in her, but we are starting to talk about it now. I think I understand the conflict my presence brings to Cathy’s peace of mind. It’s just part of the nature of our situation.

Now we’re under a deadline. Tasks often take our minds off of our feelings and I was grateful for the work ahead.  Kathleen~Cathleen’s latest draft is scheduled to be finished by the end of August. We are both in the thick of our mutual chapters and we are on track.

Our “Return to Portland” blogs had been parsed into parts to reflect our current experience. This fourth part, delayed up until now, was to post a wish list; hers and mine, to remember what’s possible, and for both of us to share the personal goals we harbor, the goals that loom large within the complexity of our twenty-six years in reunion and motivate us to persevere. Here are a few of mine.

KATHLEEN’S WISH LIST

I wish our relationship to become normalized beyond our traumatic separation.

That the trauma for us – and for future generations – be reduced by the commitment we have made to each other, and the work we share in the book we are writing.

Whatever words are chosen to name my role in her family or her role in mine, that we know and accept that we ARE family to each other, no matter how many ways we have been separated. As branches of the same tree – that we grow true to our core connection, both biological and environmental – from our own perspectives, and come away with knowledge and respect that comes from the truth, we are related.

That our growth be felt as non-threatening, and free us to develop positive relationships with all the members of our family – biological and adoptive, and our community.

I wish that the dichotomy between “core” family, “adoptive” family, and “birth” family disappear, and instead make us one family – a manifest of connection, respect and relationship.

As acceptance and forgiveness grows, that our relationship be anchored in a love that is stronger than the loss we have suffered – and becomes sustainable and fearless.

That as our relationship becomes stronger, we grow confident and more relaxed together, and have more fun and less sadness.

That we share our writing in ways that engender hope and healing for others.

That the bruise of our unbearable feelings of loss fade as we grow healthy new skin made of the relationship we have built, know and trust.

That Cathy experiences me and the love between as something that is healthy with room to grow without competing with her love for her adoptive family.

That the concept of receiving more than one mother is one that opens her heart, not closes it.

That we will both be healed.

That Cathy learns to love my side of the family she springs from, and come to place where she can embrace and claim us for her own, free of resentment, distress and fear, and celebrate her birthright without compromising her adoptive family connection.

That Cathy will learn to love and accept me as I am.

That we laugh more, cry less.

That our “normal” will be enough.

That when I am old and on my way home to God, my daughter will know me and my love for her beyond doubt, and love me in return.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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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 – Part 3

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Steve and I will hit the six-week mark back in Portland when we throw our housewarming potluck. We opened the barn doors for this one and invited everyone we could think of to come celebrate our homecoming, Steve’s birthday and to kick off St. Patrick’s week together.

A red flag went up when I heard from that my California sister that she had invited Cathy to our housewarming on facebook before I had sent any invitations out, and then another when Cathy visited my brother on the coast with her family – but didn’t volunteer to share her plan to do that until I asked her if she would be stopping by his house. She is cagey about sharing with me – even when she is making my own kin part of her world.

I find myself outside of yet another ring from the circle of Cathy’s life – this time with two of my closest siblings. I walk outside a roundhouse with no doors or windows that open to my track – no access. Am I glad that she wants to spend time with them? Of course! But right now in combination with her alienating behavior, it feels unfair and tricky. I am the last one to hold anyone back from having an open relationship, but for her to take her prerogative to engage with my family while holds me at arms length as non-family? I’m not sure where to put my feelings about that.

Now they are all making plans to come to our house – along with a zillion others.

Another red flag was raised when, after telling me months ago that she looked forward to our return to Portland so we could teach music to her children and be “full-fledged grandparents” she turned down my offer to arrange and pay for piano lessons with her musical youngest in my studio because she didn’t want to get a keyboard in her house and that she herself had “hated her piano lessons as a child.” Her theory that our relationship with her children would be wide open because “they don’t have any of the baggage of the adoption” doesn’t work now.

After my Christmas dis-invitation, I asked Cathy if we could go into therapy to talk it through. She refused, disinterested, and continues to hold that line. The bricks in the wall she is building are getting bigger. She calls them boundaries. I call them walls. I tried to talk with her about it on the phone last week but the only thing that was clear was that we were having two different conversations, hers and mine – and then my phone died in the middle of the conversation. If we could agree to talk I think we would get somewhere. I hate computers right now.

We text each other about this blog (have you posted? mine is ready), as though we are just doing the work we have chosen. The blog, the book – they are intentional expressions of our experience. We work on it consciously but apart, and present it to the public instead of each other. It’s so obvious that we need to talk but “the experiment” of the blog seems to feel safer for her right now. There was a lot of hope in our combined effort to allow our experience out to be helpful to others, but my deeper goal has always been for us to come to understand each other better – and with that understanding, trust.

The experience I’m having right now is conflicted and confusing. The relationship we’ve worked so hard to have will need to hold strong to  sustain the current shifting gap. I will do what I am most practiced at with this untethered daughter – back off and give her the space she requires. Perhaps if I am not in the landscape of her life, she will feel safe again. My relatives can fill the void while she figures out what she wants, or doesn’t want, from me. My myopic heart may need a corrective lens to restore its longer view and regain a balanced perspective. Sometimes in our situation, the closer we look, the harder it is to accept because it’s too much to balance what happened, and what could have happened, and know how to accept that.

She says in a recent email that she is calmly trying to establish boundaries and that I am hearing that as anger. What’s true is that this experience makes me feel like an invader, a bug freshly pinned against the wall while she protects herself from me. I don’t like being a bug. There is nothing else I can do here but squirm. We choose to build a loving, authentic relationship that is inclusive and positive – or not.

My gut informs me that my best option in this moment is to wriggle the pin from my chest, remain open to what’s next, find my wings and move into larger space, free from the landmines, traps and triggers. We will talk when she’s ready. She is in my heart where I love her without limitations, and she has the freedom to come and go as she pleases. There is no lock on the door.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit Reunioneyes.
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Next up: Back to Portland – The Wish List – Part 4

Back in Portland – Part 2

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There was no guarantee from Cathy, nor in my gut that, when I came back to Portland my connection with Cathy would deepen, but I didn’t expect it to flatline altogether. My mind marches all the way back to the core moment in 1970 when I made my decision to bring her to term and relinquish her for adoption. Why was that a good decision if it causes her to suffer? Why is it worthwhile if forty-four years later I am so easily triggered with post-traumatic responses that steal my breath away and spin me with anxiety, pounding potholes in my self-esteem and leaves me flat at the bottom of a deep well in a drying season, fed by dwindling springs of hope?

The irony is almost too much to look at. The adoption was intended to be a noble result of a situation that was considered out of bounds at the time, doing what was best “for the child.” The secrecy around it was supposed to protect us both from social shame and stigma and provide happy endings for two lives in a difficult reality.

Although we’ve built a special closeness in the past twenty-five years since our reunion, there has also been a quiet tension in Cathy that I had accepted as part of her nature. She is more reserved and quiet where I am not. Now at almost forty-five, I can feel something brewing in her that feels like a storm about to break. Somewhere inside I instinctively prepare for a tsunami to hit the shoreline and sense it building from her direction and look for higher ground so it won’t swallow me whole.

There have been a lot of triggers in the past few months. National Adoption Month spurring #flipthescript, a truth-telling campaign in November, followed by Thanksgiving, the sad anniversary of her father’s still recent death, and Christmas with her aging widowed mother for whom Cathy has assumed full filial responsibility. Then I moved from Seattle to live within walking distance from her house. Tinderpoint.

Even in the heat and confusion we both feel, being in one another’s presence is still a curious salve. Perhaps the deeper truth is that we are connected even if the framework of our lives doesn’t always include the space and furniture to hold us in it comfortably together. What we share is still there. DNA does not exclude soul-connection. We are innately bound together. If souls pick their next incarnation, then Cathy picked a doozy when she came to life in me. Maybe God has a sense of humor after all.

Conflict is a game of hearts and time a great teacher. I aim for love but rejection also has its lessons. The truth is the truth and whatever Cathy decides about me will be the best she can do. Love is a transcendental choice.

Sometimes when I feel Cathy’s angst, I wish I could just hold her close and rock her, and not let her go until she settles in my embrace, and finally feels safe enough to rest easy. Instead she fights me off in the reflux of relinquishment and its distress remains to rub her colicky heart.

I imagine that if words could hug, I would never stop talking.
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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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What We Share

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I should have known when I saw the word, “Mama” on the birthday flowers that it was a trick of the heart. When I read it the feeling of a dangerous game in play rose in my chest. Cathy had tried the word on for size for my birthday and once she threw it out there it ripped on contact. It made her afraid and I returned to my nameless state, one dropped hot potato.

Seven weeks later it’s the week before Christmas. I’m in her neighborhood to find things for the new house we bought nearby. She writes that she needs a break from adoption stuff and doesn’t want to talk to me. Her plans don’t include me, and she can’t handle the thought of dealing with anything more on her plate. Mixing us with her family and mother is more than she can do. It feels too complicated. I hadn’t been able to make direct plans with her but Steve and I had driven to town with presents for her, her mother and our grandsons. Now the hope and excitement of seeing this part of our family will sit wrapped in suspended bright colors in the back of the car until we can box them up in brown paper and send them from a post office hundreds of miles away back in Seattle. The gifts will be late for Christmas now.

We are preparing to move to Cathy’s neighborhood in little more than a month. As of yesterday she has asked that we not to come to her house nor attempt to mix “this time.” Her birthfather will visit her this weekend. My heart sighs. It’s her perogative. There’s nothing I can say.

Our experiences have conditioned us for the better part of fifty years to be disconnected. Our loss has been reinforced from the start. Since the beginning we have come to expect the grief of loss over the gain of our connection. Her resentment, anger and sadness seems to be growing. My presence only makes it worse. Cathy lives outside the ring of my life and I live outside of hers. That’s the way she needs it to be.

If Cathy is phone-reluctant, tongue-tied or unresponsive, it may be because she learned it from me. If she is nowhere to be found, neither was I. So what’s the difference? It’s the way it is.

The absence of the sound of her voice rings loudly in my mind’s ear day after day, week after week, year after year. In a twisted way, I’ve grown more used to missing her than almost anything else about our relationship. We’re different but we also get each other on a gut level that feels like blood. I’ve loved those moments and hold them close in my heart. She knows me in her way. I know her in mine.

Mothers carry a treacherous role with daughters, no matter where they come from. It’s natural and there is a time when it comes to a head before it blows into the next layer of being in an adult relationship. It’s part of the maturation between generations. For a mother who relinquished, I fear this tension may never end. Acceptance is not resolution.

In our forties and sixties twenty-five years into our reunion, we still struggle. For me, there will always be a rush to see, feel, hear, or in any manner connect with my daughter. The surge of my gladness is genetically irrepressible. My feelings of recognition leave the loss that’s steeped in my bones and rise in surprise to take form in a song, story, or drawing.

For her, there is a sense of hesitation and suspension that never lets go of the large hooks our connection rests on. Sharing family news is alienating so she never asks – and doesn’t want to know. She doesn’t share anything with me in a day-to-day way about her family or her children. My place in her family is not one of belonging. Her family watches me guardedly as a thief in the room.

Coming together hasn’t been easy for us. We both have worked to lift and lay every step we’ve taken. When it starts to feel easy and good, the picture of what we missed becomes vivid enough to feel and the sadness returns. My wish is that she will enjoy knowing me. My fear is that she never will.

So she avoids me, her sibling, her aunts and uncles, grandparents, my husband – most anybody related to me but mostly me. We parlay our relationship as best we can around it all.

It has always made me cringe to exclude Cathy from holidays and life events but I’ve learned to hold back out of respect for her need for boundaries, balance and her own family needs and expectations. I am careful about what I choose to share with her and when to invite her inside a personal family event. I know that there is no welcome mat at her house for me to go knock on her door. Relinquishment is never over. I must wait for her to invite me in.

It sounds peculiar, doesn’t it? It is.

It’s also part of how we’ve acclimated to each other. Truth be known, she doesn’t seem to have room for me in her life. Perhaps she just wants to know that I’m there. That may not seem very different from my other children, but the charge in Cathy’s disconnection feels volatile in new ways. My fingers cross that it’s a sign of healing that she is letting her feelings become known. I quietly hope I won’t be asked to leave forever.

Even after twenty-five years in reunion, the consequences of relinquishment rise again and again. There is no place to air complaints about my discomfort from the excision between us. My hurt feelings watch from the distance in a vacuum of powerlessness. There is no space that breathes freely in her heart for me. In the void, I’m left to guess what she feels. My guess is that I am frozen in her heart as the teenager who turned her premature call to motherhood into relinquishment, unready to make a lifetime commitment to raise her as my child. My daughter finds that inexcusable. I don’t blame her.

Somewhere, empathy waits.

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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.
BirthdayFlowers_Mama2014
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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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National Adoption Month #flipthescript

Kathleen~Cathleen – memoir, blog, fb and website – by Kate Power and Cathy Heslin in Portland, Oregon speaks from two generations affected by relinquishment, adoption and reunion and tells it like it is from the perspective of one adoptee and her first mother. Flip the script. Go to the source. Tell the truth for National Adoption Month. ‪#‎flipthescript‬