Tag Archives: first mother

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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Exposure

exposureWhen I see myself in home movies as a child, I can see my gregarious side. I was in love with life and responded to my surroundings, my many siblings, and the turning wheel of events with a zest filled with positive charge.

In my childhood memories of being sad or blue, it was my quiet side that took over – a contemplative, more pensive self – and my reflective nature developed in the privacy of my thoughts.

If I dug deep enough, the answer to my distress was usually waiting there beneath the restless confusion that puzzled me. Once claimed and digested, my emotional balance and sense of understanding increased, along with my ability to either take in more deeply, or let something go that no longer rang true. When I felt caught in between, I cogitated – and pushed at layers that covered the truth like a dog dug for a bone until the answer began to reveal itself. I was a young philosopher.

If my parents sensed that I was stuck on something, quieter and more perplexed than usual, one of them would casually ask how I was doing. More often than not, I would gush my questions and tell them what worried me. They each had a gentle side to their strength. Sometimes my reception to that deeper query into my interior life was better coming from my father, or my mother, depending on the phase I was in.

Looking back now, I appreciate the strategies they must have conspired to keep up with the wild imagination of their daughter as they tried to support my quest to understand life and how I fit in as I found my way.

Talking about it, whether in my thoughts or out loud, was one way I worked it out. The edge of what troubled me eventually found its way and reabsorbed back into my system, like a ruptured disc back into the spine, and I maintained my balance with some discomfort but found myself able to sustain it and move on. I compensated for the dissatisfaction of unanswered questions with thoughts like “it’s just the way it is” or “it’s more than I can understand right now”. As I got older, the margin of things I couldn’t grasp lost gravity or gained weight depending on its importance and wisdom anchored in truth grew in the middle of the person I turned out to be.

When Cathy and I decided to write Cathleen~Kathleen, we knew we were exposing ourselves and writing at great personal risk. We wrote an entire ten years of chapters without sharing a word with each other to answer to the questions that our situation begged in each other, and in the world of adoption and reunion. The privacy of not sharing our chapters with each other was the key that would allow us to replace fear with complete and uninhibited honesty. The unshared chapters are still a largely a secret between us that other people, mostly unknown to us, have read in our blogs and a couple of isolated public readings.

It’s those readers and listeners who have hints of the collective truth of our tale, while we wait until the final edits by our editor to engage and fully share our sides with each other, and in some ways, deliver the truth to each other.

In the negative light of being a birthmother who relinquished her first child, I gave my reunited daughter my unconditional and unedited permission to expose her view of me and all she experienced – complete with my failures, vulnerabilities and weaknesses – to the entire world.

Why on earth would anyone do that?

In our case, it was the only way to uncover the experience of long-term reunion that would allow others to learn the truth of adoption and reunion in its authentic form. It was also a way for me to love her in an unconditional act as her mother, no matter what the world thinks of me.

Is it worth it?

We’ll find out.

If it isn’t, my daughter will still have the inside-out guts of my story of us to digest, and wisdom anchored in truth will grow in the middle of the person she turns out to be.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Photo: themindblowing.com

Strength & Weakness

leaf in crackThe characters portrayed in adoption triads are strong. The birthmother is seen as strong because she has made the counterintuitive decision to go to term and then release ownership of her child to other people. The child is automatically perceived as strong because she is perceived as adaptable from her original family to another, and can co-exist as being “different” from the other members of her new family. The adoptive parents are strong people because they have made a socially admired decision to take care of someone else’s child as if she were their own. The birth family members are also strong because they hold the façade together of continuity in the family when the pre-born has been reassigned to live outside of the family because “it’s better that way.” Strength is confusing.

Strength is an inherent characteristic of each member of the adoption triad. The social cast is so strong in the adoption culture that signs of vulnerability, loss and tragic sadness are avoided, overlooked and often perceived as weakness or brokenness.

When an aunt, uncle or grandparent steps in after the of a loss of a parent, the child is regarded as the child of their natural parent and the substitute parent, while greatly respected for their loving care, doesn’t usually reassign the child’s identity to an unrelated one. We are known by and associated with the families we come from. When a child is reassigned outside their family of origin, the original, natural connection is rendered null and void. To bring it up weakens the carefully built illusion that everything is normal. The birthmother and the child disown their mutual history and although it is part of their story, ignoring it is part of their survival. The original link between mother and child is legally unbound but the natural ties live and exist inside us. The ones most affected are quiet because to question it is considered weak, unfair, and irreversible. So we adapt to be accepted. We carry on as though nothing is out of order and the more normal we appear, the more we are accepted as we are. Birthparent, adopted child, adoptive parent.

But underneath?

Underneath a quiet roar of insecurity, loss and separation is felt and re-absorbed over and over, day after night. This is true for all the members of the triad. To express this discomfort makes one appear weak and wanting, and supplants the apparent confidence in ourselves with doubt that exposes a deep fear of being wrong, or even being a mistake. Nobody wants to be a mistake.

But maybe being a mistake is what we all are – conception is a surprise, the creation of a new person where there once was none; each person unique and complete. The disconnection in adoption lies in pretense. If the adoptee is recognized for who they really are; and the birthmother, the extended family, and the adoptive parents share a mutual focus on the true wellbeing and honest heritage of the child as she is, there may be less room for confusion inside the adoptee as she grows into her identity. She would spend less time compensating for being who she’s been told she is now, and more time being herself, unique and complete.

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

St. Francis Park

stfrancispark_waterWe pulled up to park the car under sunny blue sky in Portland, got out and hitched our instruments over our shoulders to walk across the street where volunteers were running back and forth to set up for the neighborhood party. Portland weather was at its most glorious and a gentle breeze ran free and full of itself in fragrant wisps to tease the varietal mix of adults who greeted one another as their kids splashed around in the shade of the steel river-fountain play structure and waited for the festivities to begin.

Steve and I were there to open the party with music under the tent to celebrate the last summer on the block as St. Francis Park. The Catholic Church owned the city block that housed the church and long defunct brick school. The park in the corner of the property had been developed forty-five years earlier by the neighboring community, but had grown sketchy in recent years as an adjunct to St. Francis Dining Hall where the hungry and homeless came for meals. The land was bought by Catholic Charities, and now they had plans to build affordable housing in its place.

This gathering would be our last stop before heading home to Seattle. We had made the decision to move back home to Portland and this had been a trip to scout for a place to live. We had hiked with Cathy and the boys earlier in the week on a trail we had taken with Cathy twenty years before. She had surprised me with a text that she and the family were coming to St. Francis Park so the kids could hear us play before we left. We were so happy to see them all once again before the long ride back.

During the sound check I saw them file in with the crowd and sit at a table near the cubist water sculpture. Even Cathy’s mother, Dottie, came with them. Looking out from under tent, I saw Cathy sit next to her mom, and Dane took his stance by them with muscled arms across his chest to watch his sons, Quinn and Reed, as they chased each other to the water and back. I couldn’t tell if the tension in Cathy, Dottie and Dane’s faces was from the strong afternoon sun, or if they were anxious as they took in the odd mix of characters settling in around them; shirtless street people with skin burnt umber who sat next to families of all generations joining the party from their houses in the neighborhood. They had walked in to a diverse crowd.

Steve and I broke into “You Are My Sunshine” for the sound check and people starting to sing along. Dottie looked introspectively in another direction from where she sat at the table. Cathy’s forehead was scrunched tight in an expression that looked like she was holding her breath. I wondered if this was fun or hard for them? The kids were playing as normal and Quinn and Reed came up to give us a big hug and to say hello before we began to sing. Seeing them there was the sweetest gift. Grateful, I said a little prayer that this would be a nice experience for all of them – without burden. We were all together but separated by our roles in this odd setting. They were in the audience and Steve and I stood in front to deliver a performance of songs for whoever showed up. It was a little disconcerting and I began to focus on getting my instrument in tune.

Sound check over, we were introduced by the emcee and sang a string of songs on ukes and guitars while my banjo waited patiently in its open case. Without monitors our ears could only guess how it sounded coming out of the speakers. People seemed to listen attentively and mentally I crossed my fingers that it was going over well.

Announcements spontaneously interrupted a couple of times between songs and we were given the “one more” sign early, so we skipped to our chosen finale with regrets for the fun banjo song and “Well May the World Go” lost its place in line to the hurried-up ending of our set. “Shucks, the kids would have liked that one” I thought to myself. Live performance has a life of its own and always teaches me something. This time it was: do the fun songs first because you never know how long you’ve got!

Underneath my smiles and nods afterwards, I fretted whether it had been good enough as we walked into the crowd. Did we sing the right songs? Were they being polite? Did it sound okay? Was Dottie alright? Was Cathy okay with Dottie? Dane was unflappable at being in charge as he anchored the kids, one in each hand, and we all hugged and said goodbye.

As the next act took the stage, my eyes rested on the Portland friends, neighbors and my daughter’s side of the family. I felt so much love for every one of them – and Cathy was so beautiful. She had brought her mother, husband and children with her to be with us, to take us in with our music. Her courage and intention humbled and grounded me and I felt the whispers of self-doubt back down. We each have a part in what has become our family. There is room for all of us. Having stepped from behind the veil of old secrets, we see each other in the light and find ourselves welcome at the table. Whether the performance itself was worth the trip didn’t matter so much; hopefully, the songs did their work. Cathy’s brood came with her because they wanted to be with us as family and that was worth singing about all the way home.

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

The Many Sides of Mother’s Day

Kate1956Mother’s Day is confusing for me. When my mother-in-law was alive, I focused my good wishes on her and felt the warmth of her radiant smile over the phone right to the root through the layers of chilly damp dirt that covered my heart.

I had come to her late but when I married her son our two hearts snapped together like Legos. As artists, me with my music and she with her theater, we played our parts for each other in perfect counterpoint. As mother and daughter we filled an unexpected place in each other’s puzzle and there was no question that we adored one another. We shared our secrets and were confidantes. I was her Irish daughter and she was my Jewish mother and we were a perfect pair of hearts. “You are not my daughter-in-law, you are my daughter”, she declared as she sat for the last time on her bed before she died.

There were no tentacles of regret, sadness, or grief to dement our relationship. We had a pure and a happy run and I am grateful to have had the gift of her love in my life. She was intuitive always knew how I really was before I ever admitted it, the way a mother does. She never missed the mark and I felt like she knew me better than anyone. I miss her.

Now she’s gone and I’m back to my confusion. I have loved my natural mother all my life but a limiter seemed to set her heart on low, maybe from losing her first son before I was born. It felt like I wasn’t the child she wanted. Out of the nine of us, I’m not sure if any of us were what she wanted but she made the best of it and fed and kept us until we could feed and keep ourselves. She is alive in a quiet life with my father on the other side of the country in Floridian assisted living, nearly ninety now. She is pleasant on the phone with me the way an old acquaintance is pleasant.

“How’s life in Seattle? Oh, that’s good” she says. It’s not clear if she can hear me, she hates her hearing aid and refuses to wear it, so I yell about the weather and say “I love you, Mom” and without exception she says, “Let me give you back to your father.” As I wait for her to hand him the phone, a dead tone in my ear tells me we’re back to the sound of nothing and the call has been dropped. This has been going on for years now. It’s not her fault. She does her best and I love her no matter what. I just can’t seem to reach her.

I’ve sent her flowers that should have arrived by now and hope they make her feel happy and loved. I wrote her a card this week full of my news, as though we were sitting at the kitchen table over the Lipton’s tea I remember her drinking fifty years ago. I send cards because she loves to get mail, not because Mother’s Day was looming. I just missed her and wanted her to know that I think of her. She doesn’t write me back but that’s okay. She doesn’t have to. I’m okay. I accept the way she is.

My Mother’s Day heart changes direction to see my children. I wet my heart to feel the weather like a finger in the wind. The waves in my heart loosen to rise and fall in the magnetic hold between push and pull and moonlight shines on the surface of my soul. When I close my eyes I can feel the love for my children rise up and fill a thick shell of regret and the brittle sadness softens in the lining under my skin. I stop to relish them in my mind’s eye, the small details they can’t feel me watch and take in. I see their beauty and fears and whisper a silent prayer to protect and nourish them.

I have an insatiable appetite to connect with my daughters. Most of the time, it’s invisible because they look past me to the ones they’ve come to rely on. But my hunger to love them as their mother is there and it has always been there – since the beginning. I learned to contain it when I gave up my first child as a teenager. By the time I gave up my second child ten years later to divorce, I was pretty sure that anyone was better than me to be a mother.

I met my first daughter when I was thirty-seven years old. I had been in reunion with my second daughter for a short time when Cathy came back into my life. A tsunami of conflicting forces stirs between both of my daughters. I can feel the storm brewing to break over the storm wall that holds them back from telling me the truth, like banshees in the wind, and wish me into their lives as the mother they needed and wanted then, not the mother who left them to forage on their own. The mother they have now can’t be the mother they lost. They are two different mothers and I am both of them.

The cruelty of regret is that we are not allowed to return and replay our parts and catch up from there. No matter how good it gets, the damage is done and nothing I can do now will kiss and make it better. The mother I am yearns to tend and heal the cuts of broken trust while the mother I was hides ashamed and sad in a deep well where she will never, ever be found to bother anyone again. She is still in exile underneath my rewoven life. I repeat my vow to be here now and come back to the surface, take a deep breath and rededicate my heart to each of my children, no matter what, to be here for them as long as life is in me.

Even my boys, my two handsome stepsons, know me as a complicated mother. It’s not as hard for them because their mother is in the middle of their lives and I’m more simply an extra, an understudy, an afterthought, who came to love them in her borrowed mother guise when their dad fell for me twenty years ago. I feel gratitude for the love they show me. I don’t nag them with expectations and our attachment is different from what they have with their mother. I adore them and give them plenty of room. If they need me, they know I’m here and I’ve got their backs 24/7. We’re close in a way that works for each of them. I’m lucky to have them in my life. They allow me to love them as sons to a second mother and for me, that is a great and precious gift.

With my daughters it’s different. So far it doesn’t seem to matter how much I try to connect with them and to be present, day by day, year by year – the visits, the voice mails, the texts, the cards, the gifts – or how much I express my love in the words I say (or contain) to prove it. The hunger, sadness and anxiety is there and it’s never satisfied. Our attempts to be close are distracted by pain. Is this the same disconnect between me and my mother? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe I’ll never know and it’s just the way it is. Even in my prayers and dreams, I am left to trust and hope in silence that my true mother love will find her way to slip in and sink deeply into the tender hearts of my beautiful girls, and soak them in warm comfort that no longer feels the chilly void of my absence but instead keeps them swaddled close to my bosom and nourished in lasting mother love; this mother, here mother, first mother, me mother, real, true and connected-by-heart-body-and-soul mother, as the mother they missed most becomes the mother who croons to her babes in their sleep as they slumber softly and safely in her arms at last.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Kathleen~Cathleen Present in San Francisco

kc_bookmark_backThe American Adoption Congress has asked us to present a workshop at their upcoming national conference, themed “Building Bridges for Change” in San Franciso in April.

Our presentation will be, “The Birthmother Experience vs. The Adoptee Experience in Long-Term Reunion”. A birthmother and her relinquished daughter who have been in reunion for 25 years recount their reunion in a memoir where they have kept their individual experiences private from each other. The workshop will involve readings from their memoir, exposing their individual experiences in reunion and
revealing universal themes in long-term reunion that happen simultaneously for the birthmother and adoptee, followed by Q&A.

Cathy and I will prepare by selecting excerpts from our memoir “Kathleen~Cathleen” to reflect mutual turning points in our relationship as a mother and daughter in long-term reunion. Except for our first share for this month’s Adoption Constellation magazine article, this will be the beginning of our impending exchange of finished chapters.

We are thankful for your comments and support as we approach the volcanic rim of ten years of writing together, apart, with you.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit http://www.reunioneyes.blogspot.com
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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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The Narrative

Excerpts from Kate (Chapter Two: Backstory)
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Eighteen. St. Louis was supposed to be “what I did on my summer vacation,” not this. I called my parents and told them things weren’t working out and I wanted to come home. My car had stopped running and I didn’t have the money to replace it. They sent me money for a plane ticket and I packed my bags. My friend, Joan was sad and worried about me as we drove to the airport.

“Whatever happens, tell Woz the opposite of what happens, okay?” I said as we hugged goodbye. If I’m pregnant I don’t want him getting in the middle of it, I’ll deal with it by myself. Promise me.”

“Okay, I promise.” Joan looked like she was going to cry. We hugged hard.

“Don’t worry, it’ll all work out” she said as I turned to board the plane.

Our eyes met. “I hope so” I said and walked away.
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On the face of it, my parents teamed up and said they would support whatever I decided. They set up a time for me to talk with the pastor. Fr. Bill Sullivan had eaten many dinners at our house over the years and he was at home with our family.

My pregnancy was an awkward topic but I was open to some practical input. Fr. Sullivan told me about adoption services. He didn’t tell me not to have an abortion but he gave me the alternatives that he was familiar with and told me he knew people who longed for a child more than anything and couldn’t have one except through adoption.

As my dad drove me back to my apartment, I admitted that I didn’t want to be a mother from being with a man I barely knew, didn’t love or planned to ever see again. To begin a family from a beginning like this seemed stupid and disastrous. I didn’t want to have a child. Abortion seemed like the only way to deal with it.

“It’s really up to you, honey.”

It had always been easy for me to talk freely with my dad. He brought me home record albums of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Weavers and Ian & Sylvia. He showed me how to play music, drove me to auditions and bought me my first guitar in New York City. He was interested in what I thought and didn’t pressure me to be anything but myself.

Life to me was magic. With my surname, I was teased with nicknames of “flower power” who wrote songs of internal struggles with happy endings. Love was my code. I’d been to Woodstock. Was this a call to love a complete unknown? How far do I go with this? It’s in my body, not my head. What do I do with it? I was eighteen years old.

In a gentle voice, my father began to tell me what it was like for him when my mother became pregnant for the tenth time. Each of us was special in our own way but my mother’s news of one more pregnancy put my dad into a crisis. He didn’t know if he could love one more child. He had worked hard and loved us all but he felt like his plate was full. There wasn’t any more room in his heart for one more.

As my mother grew with my baby sister, my father’s anxiety grew, unconvinced. Then Gina was born, a cheerful baby girl with the face of an angel, bright and spirited. We all vied to take care of her because she was the littlest one, named for the Blessed Mother – Regina Maria or Queen Mary. Our littlest sister became the apple of our father’s eye. He loved this little one so much.

“Now,” he said, “I can’t imagine what it would have been like without her. She was the last piece in the puzzle of our family. If I had turned away from my last child being born, life would have been different in a way I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.”

His eyes crinkled into a half-grin made me half-think he believed that I could do this – that it would be hard and not what I had planned for – but it might turn out better than I ever expected and I’d never know unless I tried … and that’s life, isn’t it?

I took in a breath and let it out. I guess I knew what I was going to do.

“Okay.”

I announced my decision to come to term and give up my baby for adoption. My parents accepted my decision and made plans with Sister Alice Faherty at Catholic Charities. Sister Alice was a pink-cheeked radical, peace-activist, post-Vatican II Sister of Mercy. She had handled five hundred adoptions and cared about every person she worked with.

I walked to the duck pond at the bottom of the hill in Morristown to meet her over deli sandwiches she brought with her. We sat in her car and as I unwrapped the white wax paper around my tuna sandwich, we began to get to know each other. Then she told me what I could expect.

A room would be reserved for me at the “Home for Unwed Mothers” in a small community north of my family’s town. I would pick an alias (to protect my given name) and within weeks of labor, I would go the home to wait to deliver. Everything else would be taken care of.

“Twenty years from now” she said, “a child may be able to see their records – and you can update the agency with your whereabouts if you want to be found. I think the laws will have changed by then.”

That could be good, I thought to myself. Twenty years was more than I had been alive. It seemed like a long time. Still, my baby could have a good home to grow up in. Maybe by some miracle we would come back together when the time was right. I would be mature and have my life together. If I did this for the sake of love and made the sacrifice for God, anything could happen. If the baby was born, everything was possible.

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My mother had conceded to a short visit on Christmas day so I could drop off gifts I had made for my brothers and sisters for Christmas. “Keep your coat on” she whispered, as my brothers and sisters followed her into the foyer to greet me.

My nine year-old youngest sister, Gina, stepped right up and stood in front of me and with an inquisitive expression said “What’s this?” She boldly ran her index finger down the front zipper of my cape from the neck to my waist.

I grabbed her hands with urgency and held them in mine as I smiled into her eyes, “This is my new cape my friend made me for Christmas? Isn’t it beautiful?”

She looked confused, unconvinced and dropped her hands.

“That’s nice” she said.

“I’ve missed you, Gina. Come on, let’s do presents!”

I took her hand and asked her to come sit with me in the living room and we’d hand out the gifts I had brought in my bag.

My mother paced nervously between the living room and the kitchen with tea and Christmas cookies and watched with a protective eye for her charges while I took out each present and handed it out; hand-crocheted hats, macramé beaded plant hangers, homemade jams and toys for the younger ones. A layer of worry underlined her motherly smile as she nodded to my siblings who showed her what they got. The gravity in her face told me to hurry.

Thirty minutes after my arrival I announced that I needed to deliver the rest of my Christmas presents and had better go. My cape draped around me as I stood with my empty canvas bag rolled up in my hands in front. After quick kisses goodbye, I backed out the driveway in my car. Tears broke hold as I shifted gears and pulled onto the road home where I would be a welcome sight, no matter what.

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Author’s comment:

After Cathy’s birth, I shared my story with those closest to me – mainly to ensure that if she ever came looking for me, my confidants would be able to tell her that I had been there and she would have a trail to follow. Little did I know that we would find each other the way we did!

The truth became public when we found each other. People were surprised by my openness but accepted it as part of my story – and some had stories of their own. Shared or not, this was part of who I was. It had always been easier for me to tell the truth than to hide it. My privacy and reputation had been protected for the sake of my family and my future. Reunion has forged a live reconciliation that continues to be ongoing, authentic and a source of love and strength for all of us, young and old, in the extended family we have become. ~ Kate

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

“Castle of Dromore” (performed by Kate Power & Steve Einhorn)

I’m sitting on the sixth floor on West 79th Street in Manhattan. My in-laws are sound asleep in the next room. My husband is playing gently on his ukulele in ours. I’m considering the chapter I’ve been working on from where I sit at the dining room table and close my book of notes; I have finished for tonight.

In little more than an hour, the clock will strike midnight and it will be my birthday. I took a call from my eldest daughter an hour ago. Her voice was cheerful as she asked me what my birthday plans were. Our phone conversation was lined with the sounds of my young grandsons in the background and the normalcy of all this made my heart ripple and sing.

It’s never been like this for me before. “Normal” is more unusual for me and I notice when it happens. The edges that used to protect my feelings of loss have softened with time since Cathy and I reunited. I used to hold myself tightly inside at the sight of a baby on my birthday (or hers), on Mother’s Day, holidays, schoolyards filled with children at play. Our relationship has seasoned and mellowed over the twenty-three years since we met. The portal of my daughter’s love has opened a place that allows my joy to snap like happy fingers to the sound of children now. I embrace this time and cherish my role as mother and grandmother. I savor each second and each of them. In my eyes, they are the most beautiful beings on earth. Something in me believes says that angels hang close by the children of the earth. Children are the closest to God in innocence and purity, and only one step removed from the divine as new inhabitants to their human form. Innocence awes me.

As my dearly departed friend, Hazel, used to say, “If you live long enough, all is forgiven!” She may have something there. I chuckle to remember the warm gravel of her voice under shining eyes in her wizened old face, etched deeply with loveliness and time. If anybody knew the truth about life, it was Hazel. Perhaps aging is a gift after all.

Our phone call was interrupted as Cathy’s cell phone dropped the call. I held my mute phone and laughed out loud to no one in particular, “I was just telling her the best part!” and let it go. We emailed back and forth where we left off and both went back to our writing. Even three thousand miles away, there are things we do together when we are apart: the book and our blogs.

We’re working on chapters ten and eleven. Ten is the “Honeymoon” chapter and filled with mutual exploration four years after we met. She went to college, graduated and then decided to take me up on an invitation to visit me in Portland for the summer. Chapter eleven is “Going Dark” and the turning point from the bliss of innocence in reunion to the bleak depths of disappointment, anger and anguish that followed. The two chapters describe two sides that are markedly different and indelibly bound in the middle with the truth – two sides of a coin that paid our passage into discovery, delivery and ownership of our truth and our place in one another. I don’t know yet what my daughter has written in her side of these chapters but it doesn’t matter. Underneath whatever comes, I am a lucky mother, a proud first mother and a grateful birthmother.

I’ll be sixty-one in less than an hour. I was eighteen when I conceived Cathy and eighteen years later, at thirty-seven, we met again. I have been twenty-four years in reunion and connection in real-time with my daughter. It’s had its ups and downs, easy flow and rough patches – just like normal mothers and daughters – and she just called to wish me a happy birthday.

That’s just about the best birthday gift I can think of.

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