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