Tag Archives: adoption memoir

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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Therapy: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 5

KateCathy_MasonPDX_BW2

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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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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