Tag Archives: adoptive choice

Back in Portland – Part 3

CathyKate_June 2014_Portland
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

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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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National Adoption Month #flipthescript

MaryTwoVoices_KCinSF2014
November has been deemed National Adoption Month. For a birthmother-in-reunion like me, this title emotes something different from its intended purpose, and come in a synonymous stream with National Lost Child Month, National Relinquishment Month, National Abandonment Month, National Lost Mother Month, National Lost Daughter Month, National Lost Sister Month, National Lost Son Month, National Lost Brother Month, National Lost Father Month, National Lost Grandparent Month, National Family Secret Month, National Birthmother Month, National Child Acquisition Month, National Next-Best-Thing Month, National Orphan Month, National No-Birth-Records-For-You Month, National Lost Family-of-Origin Month. Most of the time these aspects of adoption are quietly, closely held at deep expense. The irony of National Adoption Month is not lost on my daughter, nor me. There is a glimmer of relief in sharing the truth. We know it’s only the beginning.
kindness
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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The Adoptee’s Right to Search

rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace Sign People 1968
The decision to come to term and relinquish my first child in 1970 was excruciating and, except for my confidantes through the years, it was a secret I held close for decades. Most of the people who knew me didn’t know this.

I made my choice in 1970. Forty-three years later, the truth of my decision is permanently etched in my heart. I examine the markings like a fossil, deep reminders of how the course of my life shifted from the moment I broke trail with my life as a happy, songwriting flower-child and brought me here; a grandmother caught by surprise by the offer of a young man’s seat on the bus.

I take his seat and smile. I was on the same bus the day before on an adventure to the zoo with my daughter and two grandsons. If not for the brief affair that brought her into life, my yesterdays would have been filled with other people. Until we met twenty-four years ago, her presence was like an invisible friend; a figment of my past I tried to reconfigure into the child I could wish into seeing beyond my mind’s eye. I am grateful her sweet face has come to light; the sight of her fills my heart every time. She and her children are treasures. I get to love them now and their smiles glow on my soul like precious golden sunlight.

It was hard to let my daughter go. I paid the passage to be with her this way now. We will always be catching up but our love is grounded and alive. I have traded my secrets and regret for connection and can feel the layers of my heart heal under and around the scars. I’m not afraid of who I am anymore, of what I did or what it took to get here. My choices brought me here and I choose to be present in our relationship.

I can only embrace my choices – right or wrong – they have defined me, flaws and all. When I decided to have Cathy and relinquish her for adoption, I accepted that it was complicated and focused on the joy of her possibility, not the sorrow that lay in my loss ahead. Grappling with that came later. I believed that her life was more important than my comfort-zone for a while. My optimism got me through it and, inherently perhaps, gave her a sense of the young, happy mother she sprang from, out and into the world.

If I could do it all over again, I would have made another choice. The fruit of our history and love for each other is bittersweet for the years we didn’t share. My love for her was alive all along and would have existed in nebulous longing if we had never met.

The gift of reunion – another choice – is that my love for her gets to shine and grow every time I see her, think of her and hear her voice. There is comfort I can give her that can only come from me, my voice, my eyes, my arms. It may be small by comparison in the landscape of her life but it has its power and grace. This is the gift of my reunited first daughter; one whom I cherish with a love that I know in my heart will always burn bright and never, ever fade.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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