Tag Archives: adoption

Who is the Mother?

CathyKate_7-4-89The word “birthmother” triggers shame, sadness, regret and loss in me. It is not a moniker I like. It is the word in our vernacular for mothers who have lost their children to adoption. I have surrendered to its use but experience its usage as a painful burr that continues to rub my wound. It’s implication is demeaning and implies a breeding animal, not a mother. Still, it’s the word people seem to understand without further explanation, so I use it.

In our last post, the words in my title, “A Birthmother’s Perspective,” provoked a response from social researcher, Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh, whose research, education and inquiry into the period of American history known as the “Baby Scoop Era” (1945-1972) is extensive. My daughter, Cathy, was born in 1971.

Ms. Wilson-Buterbaugh wrote a paper that helps us understand the etymology of adoption language called “Whitewashing Adoption: A Critique of “Respectful Adoption Language.”

I answered Karen’s response to my use of “birthmother” to ask what term she would use. This (in part) was her reply…

“Adoption literature always referred to mothers as natural mothers. Of course back then we were also “unwed” mothers so they still tried to oppress us most mostly in public writings. In academic publications they used “natural” because that is who and what we are. We are mothers by Nature.

Then Pearl S. Buck coined the term “birth” for mothers. I found this reference by her in a magazine in 1955 and then she used it again in 1956. She adopted. She and Marietta Spencer, a well known adoption worker were friends so it is assumed that Spencer took that term and ran with it. Now the Indu$try uses it to further oppress and marginalize mothers who create life but who aren’t given their civil and natural rights to keep and raise their own children but who instead are coerced into surrendering them.

The birth prefix is offensive and demeaning. It is labeling. It is used to keep vulnerable mothers “in their place” by those with more money and power.

We, who were robbed of keeping our babies, are now reclaiming our MOTHERhood. We are MOTHERS. Those who should have a prefix are stepmothers, Godmothers and adoptive ones.

www.babyscoopera.com

What’s in a word? Everything.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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A Birthmother’s Perspective on Rosie O’Donnell and Chelsea

2015-09-02 09.44.46Cathy and I wrote letters for fours years after we met in 1989, while she was in college. One of her first written requests was for permission to ask me anything, and that I answer her with honesty and not hold back. She really wanted to know what I could tell her and the circumstances that would fill in the blanks in her past to form the true story of her family of origin.

Highlights in our correspondence became the “Letters” chapter in our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen, and documented our mutual exploration during those first few years in reunion. We savored the letters that arrived in each other’s hand and took our time to soak in every word, and then respond.

In closed adoptions like ours, relinquishment forbids first mothers from contact with their child or their family. Although this rule of detachment is seen as self-imposed, trespass into the adoptive family and one’s child is forbidden and illegal.

This is a hard place for both mother and child to be in.

One of the last letters Cathy wrote when she graduated from college expressed her insecurity about what she should do next. My response was to invite her to come to Portland, Oregon that summer “to rub elbows with her genes” for a few weeks to take advantage of the freedom she now had to decide for herself.

My next letter back from Cathy had a big “YES!” handwritten on it. She began to make her plans to visit.

She never went back.

So when Chelsea, Rosie O’Donnell’s adopted daughter, turned eighteen and opted to live with her birthmother, it struck me as natural. I don’t watch television or know anything about them, really, but at eighteen her decision to live with her birthmother and “rub elbows with her genes” was normal and predictable.

The only reason Chelsea’s story was portrayed as news is because her adoptive mother is a highly visible celebrity and ready fodder for footage in the public eye. The news boasted Rosie’s anger with captions of cutting Chelsea’s financial support off in dramatic “all or nothing” style. True or not, it was a media spin clammering over an adoptee who had come of age and simply wanted to experience her roots.

There were no television cameras when Cathy left New Jersey at twenty-two on the Green Tortoise bus for Portland after college. Her adoptive parents understood that their daughter needed something more than they could provide her with – she needed to know and understand more about her lineage, heritage and family of origin. They got it, and responded lovingly. Although I’m certain they worried, they supported her decision with confidence and didn’t interfere with her pilgrimage.

My job was to fill in the blanks.

In his Book of Forgiving, written with his daughter Rev. Mpho Tutu on transformative healing, Desmond Tutu described the long-term effects of trauma from a study that followed war-affected children to measure their stability and mental health following the genocidal events in their homes and villages in South Africa.

They found that the group of children who had heard the true stories from their relatives about what had happened to their kin – in every grisly detail – proved to be well adjusted and exhibited stable emotional health, and were found able to handle conflict, decisions and crisis to a far better degree than the children from the same circumstances who had been protected from the truth of what had happened to their family.

Tutu says, “We are all in a relationship with one another, and when that relationship breaks, we all have the responsibility to roll up our sleeves and get to the hard work of repair” and summons us to “listen to what the heart hears.”

“We cannot begin again
We cannot make a new start as though the past has not passed
But we can plant something new
In the burnt ground
In time we will harvest a new story of who we are
We will
Build a relationship that is tempered by the fire of our history
I am a person who could hurt you
And knowing those truths we choose to make something new
Forgiveness is my back bent to clear away the dead tangle of hurt and recrimination
And make a space, a field fit for planting
When I stand to survey this place I can choose to invite
you in to sow seeds for a different harvest
Or I can choose to let you go
And let the field lie fallow.”

To withhold the truth – or a mother and child from each other – is a deliberate decision, not an act of love. For better or worse, it’s an act of power. Once the child grows into adulthood, the journey becomes theirs alone to explore. Loving parents, adoptive and biological, who find ways to “listen to what the heart hears,” will aim to support the health of their child by helping them to explore from the heart to determine what is true and meaningful for them, and leave the façades behind. Love nourished multiplies.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Integration: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 6

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Below is Part 6, the final installment in this series of our blog – a series to share excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen as read for the American Adoption Congress Conference in San Francisco in 2014.

Last week’s excerpt from the  “Therapy” chapter of Kathleen~Cathleen, we shared discoveries that shed light and gave us a new perspective on the core of our reunion experience. It also validated our experience which made us stronger, and fueled our desire to continue.

Below is my excerpt from the Integration chapter of the memoir (then read Cathy’s Integration excerpt at ReunionEyes).
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Kate’s Reading…

Cathy established herself in Portland and created a life of her own that also allowed us to remain connected. I had fallen in love with the owner of a little musical instrument shop, Artichoke Music, and my youngest daughter and I moved into a shared household with he and his two sons.

In what would become our blended family, Cathy was treated as an emancipated eldest sibling and she was considered a member of the family from the beginning.

At this point in time, Cathy helped me part-time in my office at the music store. We had become more comfortable with each other and I relished her participation in our life in Portland.

In 1995, Cathy joined an adoptee-in-reunion group that was facilitated by a therapist who was also a birthmother, with her reunited relinquished daughter.

At Cathy’s suggestion, I decided to go to the counter-group for birthparents led by the same therapist. She introduced herself as Sharon, and led me into the room where the group meets.

People were seated in all but one of the circle of chairs, and I took it.  Sharon sat in her tall, rolling, tweed office chair next to her small desk . She ( and ) began by asking us to introduce ourselves by our first names and to briefly share our reunion status with our birth child.

I was suddenly aware that I had never knowingly been in a room with another birthmother, much less a roomful of them.  As stigmatic birthmothers, we were there to talk about the very thing that made us the invisible character in the triad.  None of us had ever talked about ourselves in this role within a peer group. Birthmothers were invisible. Talking about it was a rare confidence with a friend or family member but never like this, in an open room filled with others who had  come here to talk about reunion and reconciliation with the children.

Each woman had her story.  Some were local Portlanders whose history remained within the proximity of the region.  Others, like me, were from other places and now living in Oregon.  Each person was in a different phase of reunion.  The emotional makeup of each story revealed common threads between us.

Characteristics in common included independent, middle-aged women with a matter-of-fact and serious tone about the past as the stories unfolded one by one around the room.  Strong women, accomplished women. Knowing that the our group leader and facilitator, Sharon, was a birthmother in reunion with her own daughter helped me feel safe.

As the women shared their experiences, I related to their feelings based on my own times and reflections with Cathy.  The highs and lows that I had felt as a birthmother, before and in reunion, existed in each woman’s tale. As we focused on each story, and both the dilemmas and connections arising from our reunions, our stories pointed to the place we shared outside of the social norms .

These were places where we had been quiet and invisible until now. I moved this following bit to Therapy chapter with Deborah…20140621kp To tell my story was an act of making my secret known.  To say it outloud made the act of relinquishment, and all that followed, real. Once said, it existed outside of that protected place inside of me where it had been lived so quietly for so long.

Being the carrier of this long secret inside my identity, I was fascinated to hear people’s stories.  They were so honest.  No matter how the story went, the taboo behind our roles as birthparents bonded us. We were saboteurs subverting the dominant paradigm by sharing the truth about our lives since we had let go of our children.

Words for what we described weren’t built into the idioms of our social vocabulary, nor did they exist in the dictionary.  New words like “birthmother”, “relinquishment”, “in reunion”, “triad” were added to the few phrases we had.  The phrase “Giving up the baby” was loaded with shame as a conviction of abandonment for the birthmother who had let go of her child.  As taboo as murder, it was an unspoken act.

As difficult as the topic was, the end of each weekly group left me with a significant feeling of relief.  Just knowing there were other women out there facing a similar set of feelings was comforting.  The feelings remained but I was able to recognize them.  I was part of a collective of birthmothers and no longer strived for answers in isolation, completely alone.

Cathy and I had started our therapeutic assignment to find a neutral place to meet once a week. Cassidy’s Restaurant became our weekly rendezvous.  It had been a favorite haunt of mine since the early 80’s. With its mahogany bar, oak floors and low lights, it’s a perfect place to talk and Cathy liked it there as much as I did.

After going to the birthmothers group, I was able to tell Cathy about the experience of that night and some of the impressions it left me with.  I loved those times together.  We confided in each other and I left feeling connected with her on a deep level. Like for Cathy, the group gave me some perspective on how far she and I had come in the life of our relationship next to the struggles in the stories the others shared in that room.

Cathy and I were new veterans on a horizon that had narrow access for exploration.  We felt like a pair of pioneers in uncharted territory.  Our exploration had been conscious and vocal since the beginning with an openness that was natural to our personalities, a trait we shared. We continued to track our feelings as we unfolded in new ways, and revealed deeper versions of ourselves with each other.

My pride in Cathy, who she was and the woman she was becoming, was strong.  I could feel maternal responses and it felt wonderful to express it.  The undercurrents in my emotions rose more quickly to the surface as my ability to claim my daughter grew more real.  She gave me permission to love her and I began to feel the maternal feelings I had for her without its guilty partner, shame.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Therapy: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 5

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Below is Part 5 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen. Last week in “Going Dark – Dusk,” we shared an excerpt that described a dichotomy that challenged us, divided us and polarized our ability to experience peaceful union in our reunion. Below is my excerpt from the Therapy chapter of the memoir (then read Cathy’s Therapy excerpt at ReunionEyes).
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KATE Reading…

Cathy revealed something in therapy that changed everything. She told me that explanations didn’t matter. She didn’t need me to have the answers. She didn’t need me to be brave. She needed to see me feeling pain.

In order for her to believe that she meant anything beneath the surface, she needed to see my tears. She needed to see me cry. She needed to see me in a state of pain over her. For her, my tears made it real. If she was to believe that losing her was my loss, she needed to hear the pain behind the talk.

For her to have lost me at her birth had left a mysterious question mark that haunted her. She needed to feel my haunted heart, the distress of her absence in my life. Every rational reason for the decision behind our separation – my young age and lack of experience, none of it meant anything next to seeing me cry over it.

Witnessing my tears told her far more than my words. She didn’t just want to know why I felt something, she wanted to see me feel it and to know that everything that happened between us really meant something, that it – all of it – really hurt; that she has always meant something to me and that she has always been important to me… even from the beginning… and that she will always matter, no matter what.

We began to talk about ways to reclaim each other. For the first time, I was encouraged by the therapist to take Cathy as my daughter. For the first time, I’d  become aware that this was something that Cathy wanted me to do.

For the first time, I was enabled to BE her mother and she was enabled to BE my child.

We imagined how it could have been. I was allowed to feel my regret. I was allowed to remove the honorable mantle of my noble sacrifice, and to replace it with a shawl of grief for my lost baby.

One of my the assignments our therapist, Deborah, gave us encouraged me to write a new contract to replace the one I had signed in the attorney’s office. I rewrote it in reverse.

Instead of taking myself out of the picture and forfeiting my rights, I put myself into the role of possessive mother and reclaimed my child in legal language. Instead of relinquishing my rights to my child, I committed myself to taking the power of responsibility for her. I swore my loyalty, my heart, soul and body back to my daughter. I was hers to have now. I would never abandon her again. My promise was a doorway into the next leg of our relationship.

Those Tuesday hours that year with Deborah brought us through many places and I noticed new things were happening inside me. Driving home from work, or on an elevator between floors on the job, I would start to cry for no apparent reason. Pieces that had been sealed in place for so many years broke apart, and the feelings underneath them rose with the tears that fell.

I began to understand that hiding behind my strength had been an excuse for resisting the pain. This numbness began to lose its grip in my heart. My bravery had been an excuse for paralysis. I started to feel more. At first that alarmed me. Then I started to allow myself to feel even more. I began to cry, not only from buried sorrow, but also from recently found joy and gratitude. I felt myself more alive in new and unexpected ways.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Going Dark – Dusk: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 4

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Below is Part 4 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen. Last week in “Going Dark – Deepening,” we shared an excerpt that described the challenges as we navigated our inexperienced reunited relationship and grappled with the distance that grew between us.

The alienation in our struggle comes to a peak in “Going Dark – Dusk,” and forces us to face what we fear most. Below is my excerpt from the Going Dark chapter of the memoir, titled “Dusk” (then read Cathy’s Dusk excerpt at ReunionEyes).
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KATE Reading….

The weather was fickle in more ways than one. The mood that had lightened between Cathy and me resumed its drift into dark and unknown territory. Days would go by, and then weeks without any word from her.

She had moved to the apartment upstairs, and only lived fifteen steps from me. I had imagined us borrowing sugar from each other, sharing meals, and the offering of a confidence here and there.

I had hoped for  a closeness between us – a mother and daughter kind of understanding – that would follow after the drama or tension that so often comes in the teen years of rebellion. She was older than that now, but her resistance felt similar to the antics of an emancipating teenager. I hadn’t parented a teenager before. I had just shared as much as I could of who I was and some of what I knew.

I thought my heart had already paid the cost of relinquishing my daughter with all the sadness, guilt and isolation I had lived with for the past twenty-two years.

In place of the sadness, I had hoped for a piece of common ground that Cathy and I could plant and tend together as harmony grew between us. I was a dreamer. That was not what was happening. Before long, it became clear to me that Cathy was not only ignoring me, she was avoiding me.

One night , I encountered Cathy coming into the entrance to the front foyer as I was locking up for the night. I said hello and asked how she was doing. Her tone was cold and short. I felt her intolerance as she went up the stairs and shut the door.

What had I done that had turned her so far away from me? Was it just that her focus was now on her lover , so  she didn’t need me or want me in the picture? Was it territorial? Was it me?  Had I done something particularly disappointing?

Had I failed the test of the mother she was hoping to find? Was I doomed to my fate as a mother who committed an unnatural act and had rejected her perfectly good child?  Was my child rejecting me to pay me back? Did she need to dismiss me to regain self-respect?

I told myself that it wasn’t her job to make me happy, but feelings of guilt taunted me and I wondered if she would always want to hurt me in return. I could feel the line she had drawn.

I wondered. Do I sacrifice myself again, only this time, to allow her to hurt and reject me?  What should I do?  My head hurt. My heart ached. I couldn’t breathe.

A few weeks later I asked Cathy for a ride to the nearby Clinton Street Theater to hear one of my favorite folksingers in concert. I asked Cathy if she’d like to join me. She was not at all interested in the show but she offered to give me a ride. She was quiet as she drove me there. I hesitated and then asked her out loud, “Are we okay?”

Her expression was surprised and confused. I could tell this wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She pressed her lips and leaned into the steering wheel as though doubling her concentration on the road ahead. I pointed to the theater on the left and she pulled into a parking space across the street.

I leaned over to hug her. She held herself back as hard as a mannequin in resistance. She was stone cold in a place that I was not allowed to enter. I looked at her and blinked. I knew the pain on my face was plain and uncovered. I mumbled thanks for the ride and told her I’d get a ride home.

My heart burned a hole in my chest as I left the car. There was no more doubt. She hates me. She really does. I blew it. Our relationship was derailed. Her disdain soaked the skin off my heart like acid and everything hurt. The disconnect between Cathy and me was glaring and she wasn’t pretending otherwise.

She had opted out.

If we were going to save anything between us, it was time to talk.

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