Tag Archives: biological family

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 – Deepening: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 3

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Below is Part 3 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen. Last week we shared an excerpt from when we were first transitioning from Honeymoon into a harder time in “Going Dark – Sundown.” Here we go deeper, darker and realize there’s more to reunion than meeting and going our separate ways.

Below is my excerpt from the Going Dark chapter of the memoir, titled “Deepening” (then read Cathy’s Deepening excerpt at ReunionEyes.
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KATE Reading….

It was hard for me to tell sometimes whether she was enjoying what we were doing or just going through the moves. In my mind, I knew that it must have been tricky for her to decide how she wanted to be around me. I was a different kind of bird than what she was used to.

I also found myself unsure of how much of a guiding force I was supposed to be for this grown young woman I had taken in as my daughter, twenty-two with a mind of her own. We were using words like “mother” and “daughter” but the truth was clear: we were intimate strangers.

The fresh feeling of Cathy’s arrival faded with daily life, and our celebratory feeling began to gain some weight. Between my work schedule on weekdays and the lack of personal time and money, I began to feel frustrated.

I wasn’t in a position to just slip her the money she needed to help her explore her next steps, the way a parent would for a child who is entering the world on their own. I wanted to give Cathy more than I had to give, and it was frustrating not to be able to provide her with things and treat her to special gifts.

Not only that, but I couldn’t afford to carry another person on my hourly wages. For the past year I had been paying off high phone bills and debt from my ex-husband’s easy spending habits, and lived from paycheck to paycheck without any savings to fall back on.

Guilty feelings started to rise inside me. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do – whether to act like a mother of a grown daughter or the gracious host of a B&B.

I opted to be the host most times because it was the safest and least complex. Underneath my steady composure, feelings of inadequacy kicked into gear and started to erode my confidence.

I wanted my original portrait as a pregnant teenager with no options to evaporate and be replaced by a mature woman with resources and experience and money to lavish on her daughter.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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All Rights Reserved
KathleenCathleen©2015

Going Dark – Sundown: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 2

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Below is Part 2 of our blog series using previously unshared excerpts from the American Adoption Congress Conference in San Francisco in 2014, where we read alternating excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen.

Last week we shared an excerpt from “Honeymoon,” which gave a glimpse into the joy of coming together. However, all honeymoons come to an end. In “Going Dark – Sundown,” we take the first steps into the darkness and confusion that are an inevitable part of reunion. My excerpt below is from the Going Dark chapter of the memoir, titled “Sundown” (then read Cathy’s “Sundown” excerpt.)
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KATE Reading…

The discovery that being accepted into a relationship with Cathy was purely optional on her part was disconcerting for me. Since our reunion, I had assumed that she would make room for me, and the kin who came with me, in her life. I began to see that Cathy’s choice to become involved with me, her sister Abby, my parents, my siblings and circle of friends, was selective on her part.  It was conditional and existed at her whim. Just because she knew who we were was no guarantee that a relationship would be forged.

I felt the opposite about my role with her.  I had been responsible for relinquishing her to being adopted and now she had come back to me. She wanted to find out more about who I was and why I had let her go.

Just being together in my apartment was proof that we were both on a quest. I looked for ways to put her at ease and tried to make her feel at home. I wanted to understand who she was. Her quiet nature begged questions. She didn’t think outloud like me.

I felt in my soul that it was her birthright and my moral duty to give her genuine access to who I was, and I wanted to offer her what I could without pretense. We had come from secrets and lies; in this new relationship we could be true and honest. Conversely, she had a right to be herself and to decide what she was interested in – or not – about me.

As hard as it had been, I had “deselected” my role to mother her as a baby, and I had put her in the hands of others to raise and care for her.  Now she was an adult and she had unspoken rules that did not allow unchecked interference from anyone, including me – maybe especially me. She would decide what role she wanted to take for herself. I wanted to be closer but she held me at arm’s length.

Unlike families you are born into and stuck with no matter what, Cathy’s re-entry into my family seemed to be more as a spectator than a participant. The fact that she chose to connect with me was her prerogative, and that she had the option to engage or not, remained her advantage. The “select” button wasn’t going to be pushed just because we were all related by blood and we stood there in front of her.

I began to discover that she appeared indifferent to whatever feelings arose, whether from me or Abigail. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, we were just “outside” of who she officially needed to care about. We roamed “outside” of the boundaries that contained her “real” family members. We were extras in her movie, and she was under no obligation to employ us in her plans.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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All Rights Reserved
KathleenCathleen©2015
Circe Invidiosa (1892) painting by John William Waterhouse

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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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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