Tag Archives: kathleen~cathleen

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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Our Reading

KC_FiorDItalia_BCathy and I had checked into the hotel and got ready to read for the public. Cathy was worried that nobody would show up – there were six workshops at the same time and this was Thursday, the first day of the conference. I told her not to worry.

“Even if there’s only one person, you can sit on one side and I’ll sit on the other and we’ll just present to that one person as though they were a room full. Whoever is there will be enough. People will come, don’t worry.”

She wasn’t so sure. And then it was time. We opened the doors and walked in to a large room buzzing with people in their seats who waited there for us to share our story. Half the room were adoptees. Half were birthmothers. All stages of reunion were present, from new up to 25 years plus. There was a lot of history in the room.

Sister Mary, birth-aunt and witness, set off to the side to listen and to be present as our support team of one. Cathy and I approached the podium and side by side, read our alternating excerpts from The Invitation, Honeymoon, Going Dark, Therapy, and Integration chapters. It was vulnerable, and it was stunning.

We had never done this before and we stood on each other’s side as we took turns to read. When my eyes came up from the page, the expressions on the people were glued to the words we were sharing. One glance mid-read caught everyone in tears – we were all feeling the story together and there was an incredible bond – between Cathy and me – and amongst all of us in the room as the pangs of truth pierced the heart of what bound us and had brought us together in that moment.

It was scary and good. The response at the end was powerful and one of the conference leads needed to end the Q&A to clear the room for the next presenter. We did it! We did a good job. We were a little unpracticed but it was good practice and now our story was out the gate. People approached us for future interviews, radio and to sign up to hear more about the book. They all wanted more. It worked.

I’m thankful for my daughter’s courage, and for her love that returns to me in spite of my insecurity. She’s beautiful with a great heart and I am so proud of her. We have begun a new beginning together and I will cherish the memory of this first time forever.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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First Read – The Truth

Kate 12_24_70_1_smallWhen I left work for the train station to pick up my daughter, Cathy, in Seattle, I didn’t know what to expect. My husband was in New York City and I was on my own for the week. Cathy and I were getting together at my apartment for the weekend to prepare for our upcoming presentation at the AAC conference in San Francisco. For the first time since we started our collective memoir ten years ago – Kathleen~Cathleen – we were going to read some of what we had written to each other.

We chose pieces from four chapters that would represent turning points in our relationship – Honeymoon, Going Dark, Therapy, Integration – chapters that each describe the emotional weather of a birthmother and a relinquished adoptee post-reunion and further down the road to a long-term relationship.

We had shared a couple of brief excerpts for our feature article, “Being the Secret” in the Spring 2014 edition of the Adoption Constellation magazine for Adoption Mosaic. That share made us eager to hear more from each other’s writing.

What follows is the aftermath of what I learned from that first share between us.

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There is no substitute for being somebody’s mother. There is nobody else who can be that. Having a baby means being somebody’s mother. When mother is not present after baby is born, baby knows , and wonders where you are. No matter how good the substitute is, there is no substitute. The baby knows its mother and feels the loss of her when she is gone.

This is the truth of what my daughter told me tonight. Tonight we read previously unshared chapters aloud, and to each other. We are preparing for a conference where we will read our excerpts to a roomful of strangers. It was time to uncover our secret writing to each other.

Listening from where we sat on my living room couch in Seattle, I heard her younger self reacting to the me she met on that exploratory summer in 1993. I also read back to her from the same place in time and we surprised each other with our synchronism. Our take on each other, and the confusion that chased our courage was vivid and honest. To listen and experience her written take on me was painful, sometimes brutal, and made me bark with laughter and quietly weep. Nothing surprised me , but it was still a shock to hear her descriptions filled with snapshots that rang true. It was wild to hear her read aloud what she had written in secret. I felt intimately included and exposed at the same time, trapped in the words of a twenty-two year old witness as to the person she found in me.

We listened to each other read on the couch as we sipped the champagne we had poured to celebrate this turning point. We had waited 10 full years to share these few selected parts of what we had written about each other. The words both shocked and soothed me. The excerpts we chose for the conference came from the Honeymoon, Going Dark, Therapy, and Integration chapters. As we read to each other, we find that we have unwittingly written about many of the same exact moments in our remembered history. The conversation that followed what we read went deep into the night through gullies of tears, gulps of surprise and connection, laughter and horror that stirred us to more questions. Our thoughts chased each other aloud, and whipped eddies around the rock embedded in the riverbottom of our story as we stepped from stone to stone.

Our words, wet with memories, stirred the ingredients that were suddenly unsettled beneath the lives we led and now shared. The original question kept beckoning in the call and response of our story as we read.

For Cathy, there was no excuse that I chose to leave her and she felt that my absence had inflicted irreversible damage. Even sitting in front of her after all these years in reunion, I could not give her what she wanted, what would have been her birthright – those early years with me as her mother. The mother sitting here beside her now was not the one she had needed – the one that would’ve held and comforted her in the beginning when she was new. We cried as she told me that my youth and lack of experience didn’t excuse me from what she was forced to endure without me. She wanted me to have changed my mind, to have done what I didn’t think at the time I could do and raise her beside me – not leave her alone, parted forever from me and the beginning she might have had in my company. She told me that she felt certain that I would have given her everything she had needed, and nothing would have been too big to overcome. We would have made it. I could have done it. She knew me well enough now to know it. And now, so did I. It could have worked out differently.

She may have been given the best situation possible given our circumstances, and she was loved as kin by her adoptive parents, but that didn’t make it easy or okay that she was put there. She was made to become the child of strangers, and she had an innate sense from the beginning that she had lost her way. She came to learn that it was just the way it was.

What my daughter told me translated into the opposite of what I had believed for all these years – that I was giving her to a better life than she would have had with me. From her perspective, that wasn’t true. Just because I didn’t have the confidence to raise her as a teenaged single mother in 1971 didn’t mean that it wouldn’t have worked out for us to be together. In her eyes, she thought I should have tried. In her eyes, if I loved her, I would have tried. Her secret wish all these years was that I would have tried, and now – looking back with honest and older, if not wiser eyes, I know that it probably would have worked out, one way or the other. Everything does. I thought at the time that I was doing the responsible thing. I learned that night that she thought that I abdicated my responsibiiity and that it was inexcusable, irreversible and, yes, she was very angry. By the time we finished talking, I didn’t even think she liked me and now I see, for the first time really, that the upset is still so fresh , and it’s because she couldn’t be with me, be mine, from the start – to finish.

I told Cathy that I didn’t have thoughts of raising children when I was a child – that I longed for a more interesting world than the one I saw my mother living in. I had wished I had been a boy when I saw my brothers go on a fruit boat to Panama with our grandfather, while I stayed home with my mother and younger siblings “because I was a girl”. I wanted to be independent and to do whatever I wanted about anything and everything. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of my childish dreams.

Cathy looked surprised, and maybe even relieved, and said, “That’s important! That needs to be in the book” as though it explained the confounded truth. Maybe she was able to see that my errant decision to live without her didn’t have anything to do with her or who she was. I wondered if she really thought that I had given her up because I didn’t like her – that I had thought there was something wrong with her? I always felt love for her and had never thought there was anything wrong with her; from the very beginning moments of her life, she was perfect. I knew she was perfect. I may not have developed my maternal instincts yet and being a mother would be something I would have to later choose to become.

When I asked Cathy, as we faced each other on the couch, what she thought I should have done, she looked me in the eye and said, “Termination.”

I lost my breath and quietly let out the words that hollered in my head as I asked her. “But what about the fact that you are living? Doesn’t that have value? Doesn’t it matter to you? Don’t you want to be alive? What if you make a difference, for you or for others or for your children, that couldn’t have happened without you?”

These unanswerable questions held no weight in her answer, nor any conviction in her eyes. She wasn’t sure that any of that really mattered. Her look made me feel foolish and naive. I held on to her gaze and she looked back quietly as though it was just a fact… As though the fact of her living self was irrelevant. How can that be? She was important enough to come this far. The irony of the blessing and the curse didn’t escape me.

“I’m sorry” I said as we held each other, crying.

Now we are left to trust that what’s done is done. We can only make the best of what we have, where we are, who we are with. I am grateful for what we have together. My sorrow is real, but so is my joy. I sense that this kind of conversation has to happen between two people who really care about each other, as well as the truth these conversations uncover. Maybe it doesn’t matter if the answers aren’t clear. Our mindful relationship outweighs what we could say about it. The fact that my mother and I don’t talk as openly as my daughter and I do reassures me that we are on the right path.

I may never be able to fill the gap she feels anymore than my mother can fill mine. Feelings of disconnection are part of the human condition and persistant, consistent, and steady unconditional love is what heals the gap.

I reach to understand – on an intellectual level – why her perspective that termination would have been easier for her; is it because then there would have been no “her without us?” to concern herself with? That has such an empty ring to it when life is so full.

Her pragmatism and anger makes me sad as I ponder the consequence of my relinquishment, an act that was based on my teenaged, Catholic-raised perception of love.

I love my daughter. The ironies in our lives have conspired to synchronize over and over again because we are connected – even when we’re not.

I want to believe that my child’s capacity to feel loved will open up wide and fill to the brim with answers to her heart’s desires so that she may get to live her life – heart, body and soul – to the fullest, with or without her mother, and that our bond will rebuild the trust that was interrupted at birth, creating ties that weave us freely and inextricably together.

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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 Quest of Kathleen~Cathleen

Quest - Theodor_Kittelsen,_Soria_MoriaIn April of 1997, Joni Mitchell revealed that she had found and reunited with her relinquished daughter, for whom she had written “Little Green” on her “Blue” album.
On that same weekend seventeen years ago, Cathy and I were attending the American Adoption Congress Conference together in Vancouver, WA. There was a special announcement at the conference as the news broke and told the story worldwide that Joni Mitchell, the famous musician, had reunited with the baby whom she had given up at age nineteen. Joni and I had both been female musicians facing a turning point decision at the same age. The fact that she had let the world in on this most personal event rendered new courage for me to be open about my experience, and to share the truth about me and Cathy.

When we got to the conference, Cathy and I found that there weren’t very many attendees who had been in reunion for more than a few years. Being in reunion was still a new concept. We were among the few who had come as a reunited pair to explore what was there for us.

The featured presenter, Betty Jean Lifton, had inspired us to overcome some of the challenges we had faced in our relationship with her book, The Journey of the Adopted Self. Now after eight years in reunion, we were in a new phase without a map. When we asked Betty Jean if she could write something on long-term reunion, she said that we were the ones who should write that story.

So we did.

We drew up our outline ten years ago and decided to write our chapters without sharing with each other until we were done so the reader could integrate our experience as a whole and come to their own conclusions. As we approach the final draft of the final chapters, we also begin to prepare ourselves to share its pages with each other, with you and with the world.

Now, Cathy and I return to the American Adoption Congress conference – themed “Building Bridges for Changes” – as presentors to read from our book, Kathleen~Cathleen, and describe the experience of the birthmother and the relinquished adoptee in long-term reunion. This is the beginning, the first time that we share our story with each other, and with the world.

In light of the new birth record access laws in Oregon that affect not only adoptees, but for the first time in the nation, first mothers, we are encouraged to be brave and deliver our efforts in the hope of deepening understanding. We appreciate your support, your comments and your heartfelt thoughts as we open the book on Kathleen~Cathleen.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Our First Magazine Article

AdoptionConstellation1The Adoption Constellation magazine, an outcropping of Adoption Mosaic, will publish our article, “Being the Secret” in the March 2014 issue. This piece will be the first printed publication from excerpts of our book, Kathleen~Cathleen.

For the first time in the ten years we’ve been working to co-author our story, Cathy and I shared excerpts of our writing with each other.

We chose four pieces, two from each side of our story, to reflect the theme. The editor also asked for a photos for the article. In a moment of blessed synchronicity, I found three faded photographs that were taken of me in on the very day I first wrote about.

In all this time, there is little doubt that we should continue what we have started. It is our intention to finish and share Kathleen~Cathleen in the next couple of months, in the hope of deepening understanding for those separated by issues of identity and social standards. This article in March edition of the Adoption Constellation magazine will be the first share from our book, both with each other and with the world.

Thank you for sharing our journey with us as we begin the climb to the finish line.

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

I told her what I had told almost no one. It was important to me that she knew the truth. I revealed myself in that first conversation with my story of reunion and reconciliation. Continue reading

Letters – Mother’s Day

portland-oregon-signJanuary 17, 1993

Dearest Cathy,

Your letter was so potent, honest and welcome. I’ve been thinking about you so much. You’ve worked so hard and long and now on the home stretch to finishing your college life … you find yourself itching to scratch your right brain for balancing the academics with the rest of your self. The plateau is a restless springboard to new chapters, phases, and directions – mastering fears of the unknown and risking the familiar to learn about the new.

Our capacity for new experiences is flexed by our need to move forward… We have to take care of ourselves on so many levels – like a garden; mulching here, pruning there, building up the soil, transplanting so the roots can spread out, moving to deep places as we grow.

I can’t help empathizing to your resonant feelings for similar thoughts have worked their ways through me over the years. If you don’t mind, Cathy, I’d like to speak openly about my impressions of your dilemma and a few thoughts and ideas that came to me as I read your words.

Number one – your self-esteem is shot. You feel like a scramble of accomplishments and what you want to accomplish. You’ve been in a long stretch of educating yourself toward a defined line of work through which you can participate and contribute to the society you live in, while at the same time realizing that on many levels you are as yet untapped in the ways that really bring you out and express your gifts.

How to be who you are when you’re not really sure who that is? Sometimes this catalyzes rubbing against experience, chosen or not, that help us define aspects of ourselves in ways that put old insecurities to rest and generate new ones. The trick is how to make the best of it. One way is to choose things that reflect your dreams and don’t wait for someone else to let you do it (i.e. parents, husbands, boyfriends, bosses, ideas that start with should instead of could).

The reason I say this is that life often puts us in a place that makes us wait, puts us on hold from the things we want to be learning about by experiencing them. Instead we’re somewhere else very busy, hopefully productive and making our way through the day-to-day.

Much of life is spent in what I call a gathering time; gathering money to live, things to get by, neighbors, friends and community, living environs, nesting routines. The quality of the lifestyle is going to depend on how you think about what you want – deciding what’s okay, what’s in and what’s not. What constitutes fun vs. someone else’s fun? This was a long and difficult dilemma in my marriage and relationships.

It took an awful long time to realize that if I did what I thought about I would have more respect, not less, from the people who mattered to me. I may disappoint by someone’s measure of what they expected but heck, their expectations are attached to their dreams and pasts and experiences and though we learn from everybody (no exceptions) we have to live our lives ourselves as true to the bone as you can get it. When you’re driven by personal direction/choices, life has integrity and its meaning ever deepens in small and vast ways.

You don’t need to know everything or even what’s coming next. What you need is the flexibility to enjoy your choices and take the options that enrich and enhance your life. Sometimes this means making a choice upfront and then making (and letting) it happen. These are often the more dramatic choices because they’re cased by faith, declaring the idea, giving it tangibility by speaking it and the dominoes begin.

Much of life we spend reacting to what comes our way. If I’d had the foresight evident in hindsight, I would have been less afraid to follow my real instincts and believe in the good about myself. I’d have said yes to the unexpected and no to the mundane. The best decisions I ever made to date were like that (like you!).

The color in the tapestry before us is produced by the richness of spirit of the piece. You are from a high-spirited clan and I imagine life has many very special and significant crossroads for you to be blessed by. There’s one around every corner for travelers as we.

‪Okay. Here’s what I think. I think you should come out here for the summer. I think you should rub elbows with your genes.‬

‪You could stay in my flat. It’s small, but easily could be done. If you wanted a summer job you could do a variety of things, but the one that comes to mind is the Hawthorne Street Café. It’s a humming neighborhood café within walking distance of here, with good food, good tips and lots of interesting folks. This is not a career opportunity but a people-watching summer job. There are several other places where I know the merchants well there on Hawthorne Boulevard. Or downtown for that matter. Or in social services as well. Depending on what you wanted, I could help with this.‬ ‪

Meanwhile, basics covered, you could explore. Portland’s a beautiful city, my personal favorite, with a great deal to offer. I could take you to all the little places in my life. We could while away many an hour at the beach, on the island, heading to the mountain, hashing out the finer points of any given topic and discovering new and old ties.

You could meet my friends and they you. Your name comes up as one of the family here. You’d be so welcome.‬ ‪We could have dinner at the Vat & Tonsure, drink Rioja to the opera in the background and talk about any and everything. Or down to the East Ave Tav, the Irish community pub where the best music’s happened in the wee hours of the past dozen years. Or to the ceili on 3rd Fridays.‬ ‪Sauvie Island on a July weekday, warm water, Columbia River tugboats pulling logs, ships going by. Surreal in the landscape, Mt. St. Helen’s straight across on a clear day; salmon grilled.

A million pictures come to mind but what I want to emphasize is that I think it would be really good for you, and the time would be full and fast-flying as summers are inclined to go. But you would have afforded yourself a chapter that might help a ways towards knowing yourself better. Through a different frame of reference we grow aware of what we didn’t see before.‬ ‪The light is beautiful in Portland, much like Paris I’m told.

Please just think about it, Cathy. It’d be natural as pie—and a great contrast to life in New Jersey. Believe me, I know. That’s where I left. Come for the summer, C’mon!‬

With love,
‪Kate
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, 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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