The word “birthmother” triggers shame, sadness, regret and loss in me. It is not a moniker I like. It is the word in our vernacular for mothers who have lost their children to adoption. I have surrendered to its use but experience its usage as a painful burr that continues to rub my wound. It’s implication is demeaning and implies a breeding animal, not a mother. Still, it’s the word people seem to understand without further explanation, so I use it.
In our last post, the words in my title, “A Birthmother’s Perspective,” provoked a response from social researcher, Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh, whose research, education and inquiry into the period of American history known as the “Baby Scoop Era” (1945-1972) is extensive. My daughter, Cathy, was born in 1971.
I answered Karen’s response to my use of “birthmother” to ask what term she would use. This (in part) was her reply…
“Adoption literature always referred to mothers as natural mothers. Of course back then we were also “unwed” mothers so they still tried to oppress us most mostly in public writings. In academic publications they used “natural” because that is who and what we are. We are mothers by Nature.
Then Pearl S. Buck coined the term “birth” for mothers. I found this reference by her in a magazine in 1955 and then she used it again in 1956. She adopted. She and Marietta Spencer, a well known adoption worker were friends so it is assumed that Spencer took that term and ran with it. Now the Indu$try uses it to further oppress and marginalize mothers who create life but who aren’t given their civil and natural rights to keep and raise their own children but who instead are coerced into surrendering them.
The birth prefix is offensive and demeaning. It is labeling. It is used to keep vulnerable mothers “in their place” by those with more money and power.
We, who were robbed of keeping our babies, are now reclaiming our MOTHERhood. We are MOTHERS. Those who should have a prefix are stepmothers, Godmothers and adoptive ones.
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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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.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
Below is Part 4 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen. Last week in “Going Dark – Deepening,” we shared an excerpt that described the challenges as we navigated our inexperienced reunited relationship and grappled with the distance that grew between us.
The alienation in our struggle comes to a peak in “Going Dark – Dusk,” and forces us to face what we fear most. Below is my excerpt from the Going Dark chapter of the memoir, titled “Dusk” (then read Cathy’s Dusk excerpt at ReunionEyes).
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The weather was fickle in more ways than one. The mood that had lightened between Cathy and me resumed its drift into dark and unknown territory. Days would go by, and then weeks without any word from her.
She had moved to the apartment upstairs, and only lived fifteen steps from me. I had imagined us borrowing sugar from each other, sharing meals, and the offering of a confidence here and there.
I had hoped for a closeness between us – a mother and daughter kind of understanding – that would follow after the drama or tension that so often comes in the teen years of rebellion. She was older than that now, but her resistance felt similar to the antics of an emancipating teenager. I hadn’t parented a teenager before. I had just shared as much as I could of who I was and some of what I knew.
I thought my heart had already paid the cost of relinquishing my daughter with all the sadness, guilt and isolation I had lived with for the past twenty-two years.
In place of the sadness, I had hoped for a piece of common ground that Cathy and I could plant and tend together as harmony grew between us. I was a dreamer. That was not what was happening. Before long, it became clear to me that Cathy was not only ignoring me, she was avoiding me.
One night , I encountered Cathy coming into the entrance to the front foyer as I was locking up for the night. I said hello and asked how she was doing. Her tone was cold and short. I felt her intolerance as she went up the stairs and shut the door.
What had I done that had turned her so far away from me? Was it just that her focus was now on her lover , so she didn’t need me or want me in the picture? Was it territorial? Was it me? Had I done something particularly disappointing?
Had I failed the test of the mother she was hoping to find? Was I doomed to my fate as a mother who committed an unnatural act and had rejected her perfectly good child? Was my child rejecting me to pay me back? Did she need to dismiss me to regain self-respect?
I told myself that it wasn’t her job to make me happy, but feelings of guilt taunted me and I wondered if she would always want to hurt me in return. I could feel the line she had drawn.
I wondered. Do I sacrifice myself again, only this time, to allow her to hurt and reject me? What should I do? My head hurt. My heart ached. I couldn’t breathe.
A few weeks later I asked Cathy for a ride to the nearby Clinton Street Theater to hear one of my favorite folksingers in concert. I asked Cathy if she’d like to join me. She was not at all interested in the show but she offered to give me a ride. She was quiet as she drove me there. I hesitated and then asked her out loud, “Are we okay?”
Her expression was surprised and confused. I could tell this wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She pressed her lips and leaned into the steering wheel as though doubling her concentration on the road ahead. I pointed to the theater on the left and she pulled into a parking space across the street.
I leaned over to hug her. She held herself back as hard as a mannequin in resistance. She was stone cold in a place that I was not allowed to enter. I looked at her and blinked. I knew the pain on my face was plain and uncovered. I mumbled thanks for the ride and told her I’d get a ride home.
My heart burned a hole in my chest as I left the car. There was no more doubt. She hates me. She really does. I blew it. Our relationship was derailed. Her disdain soaked the skin off my heart like acid and everything hurt. The disconnect between Cathy and me was glaring and she wasn’t pretending otherwise.
She had opted out.
If we were going to save anything between us, it was time to talk.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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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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.
When Cathy came to Portland in 1993, I couldn’t wait to show her around. I had been in love with the place since I moved there at twenty-five in 1977 – she would have been six years old. My heart warmed to the task of sharing my adopted northwestern home and the wonderful people in it with my daughter from New Jersey. She was twenty-two when she arrived twenty years ago now.
Home base was in southeast Portland and the neighborhoods that radiated off of Hawthorne Boulevard. My apartment was in a Victorian house near Belmont. It was an easy neighborhood to walk to nearby shops with breaks in the city parks. We both worked in the neighborhood off and on over time. Laurelhurst Park had a nice walk around the duck pond with benches that invited walkers to rest a while.
The list of places that became stops for us on our adventures in Portland began with eateries and bars – The East Avenue Tavern on Burnside, the Barleycorn – the first McMenamin’s, the historic Vat & Tonsure, Huber’s, and a favorite for us – Cassidy’s downtown. Artichoke Music was in the conversation from the beginning as my stop for picks and strings. Treks to the Portland Saturday Market opened up the vast wealth of creative craft talent and local food and markets; hikes up to the Audubon and the trail to the Pittock Mansion that brought us into view of Portland and the valley west of Mt. Hood and the mouth of the Columbia Gorge. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place. Watching Cathy take to the land, the city, the people and lifestyle of Portland was a joy to behold – even when she wasn’t so sure about me, she was very sure about Portland.
The beauty of the area doubled the pleasure of my daughter’s exploration. Portland became the anchor for our mutual adventure – for me who had let go of my ties to New Jersey and had grown a deeply rooted life in the surroundings and community; and she who had come to explore her first mother in The New Land and had chosen to adopt it for her own. It’s the place where our life was normal, healthy and happy. Portland became the bedrock of our relationship – the centerpiece of our struggle and understanding, our point of reference, and the place we both came to identify with and cherish as home.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
The 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.
In the last few days, Cathy has come back into view. I listen for what her heart tells me. Her few words have been honest and tender. I am making preparations to leave for my father’s ninetieth birthday in Florida, and she has just returned from her father’s funeral there. Peter John was eighty years old when he died. He’ll be missed. He was a lovely man with kind blue eyes reminiscent of my own father – the Irish brows. Our fathers are ten years apart. I can only imagine her loss. Her biological father is much younger, but the father who raised her is the one who counts.
Cathy and I were in the midst of an unusual Open Adoption Interview Project this past November to raise awareness by pairing interviewers from all participating perspectives – when events intervened and delayed posting. Cathy and her interview partner, a birthmother, have just posted the interviews on their blogs. They are interesting and frank.
Cathy invited me to read. I get to hear her heart out loud when I read Cathy’s writing, so I was glad for the invitation. I went to the first link to read and then the other. A flurry of unpremeditated email responses followed and today we decided to share them with you for our take on this week’s topic.
Remember, I don’t read Cathy’s blog, so please excuse any redundance on my part. I wrote Cathy’s song, “Mercy High, Mercy Low” at another moment much like this one years ago and so, bears repeating with the theme.
Comments are welcome. Please like kathleencathleen on facebook, if you like. Thanks for reading.
(Cathy’s email to Kate)
– if you want to read the interview that I did for the Open Adoption Interview Project.
I’ll be curious to know whether you think she’s just fooling herself (about being fine with relinquishing the child) or if open adoption just made it okay for her. Because, really, although you say now you wish you kept me, it’s true too (and okay) that you didn’t want to be a mother at 19. So, you had your options. I wonder if open adoption would have made it different for you or if you think, knowing what you know now, you still think you would have kept me?
There is no doubt in any nook, cranny or cell of my being that I would have wanted to do anything but keep you near me, with me, all the way, through thick and thin, no matter what. Nineteen was young and I wasn’t prepared but I would have figured it out given half a chance.
Open adoption, for me, may have been harder than full relinquishment because I don’t think I could have succeeded emotionally in a setting of monitored access to you. It’s one thing to feel the loss and feel like a freak without anybody else really being aware of what I was going through. Stepping into the role of birthmother with visitation rights would have been excruciating. At least that’s how I perceive it. In those shoes, I probably would have had constant feelings of deprivation of my child and fantasies about kidnapping you rather than relinquishing you over and over and over again. No thanks.
If I had it to do over, I would have accepted it and kept you right there in my arms and never, ever let you go. Ever. At least until you were old enough to look both ways before you crossed the street and then I would be watching you like a mother hawk.
I’ll read your post after my workout and write you a long one this afternoon to catch up. I’m so happy to hear from you and look forward to writing you back in a little while.
(Kate’s response to Cathy after reading the interviews)
Wow. I just finished reading the two sides – Lost Daughters and The Great Wide Open. What a good bunch of hard, honest questions and remarkable answers.
I think she has a disconnect that is securely fastened to her intellect. But I also think that sometimes we need to forge ahead with positive energy or we will die from the sorrow that lies under the optimism in our hearts.
I would never give you away again. I don’t care how nice people are, I feel like you do and would keep my right to be your parent.
I think your side was so eloquent and brave. You are beautiful and I’m so proud of your honesty. I love you, Cathy.
I’ll write more soon. The sun is out and I need to go for a walk and visit the elephants and gorillas at the zoo.
(Cathy to Kate)
Oh, good. That’s what I was hoping you’d say : )
To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
Under the calm of my face, a small wave of anxiety falls and rises to slap the sides of my boat, still on course from last night’s dreams. My body rolls down into a spinal curl, down and up again. My mind steps from the dream boat onto sand. My body adjusts to the weight of the motion and lands. My toes find the back of the mat and I roll to the floor, my hands splayed below my shoulders to push off into pushups. My breath calibrates to the movement and galvanizes my mind in sync to the rhythm. I can measure my strength by sets. I’m stronger than I was a year ago. Residual scenarios spin free from the open can of my dreams that beckoned new beginnings from old places filled with family, friends and new strangers and spill into the awakening consciousness of my morning mind. I let my body begin its work to strive toward the day ahead as the evidence of dreams roll into the corners of my room.
The face of Red-Spider Woman, Grandmother Margaret Behan, one of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, comes into focus. Her wizened face beamed to hear my Sandhill Cranes song; Father Sky, Mother Earth, Sister River and Brother Trees. It spoke to her and her face was alight with love, I felt its warmth. I watched her hear the song with her heart. Her grandfather had sung a song for her conception. Song brought her to life and she is tied to its music. She understands deeply, as grandmothers do, and responded to my earlier questions of attachment to loved ones who no longer ask for me and told me to let it go.
“They have already let you go,” she says with a gentle expression as befits her beautiful grandmotherly face. Her words ring true and tears drop bittersweet as they swell under my skin, over my heart and through eyes of the child in me who still begs to be loved.
I am afraid to let go. The feeling is so strong, the need to let my loved ones know that I love them, that I have not forgotten them. Years ago, in my strike for independence as a youth, I neglected them to emancipate. Then I remembered who I was, who they were and the place where I came from and scrambled back to the ledge, looking for the path that leads up the sides of the crooked, rocky mountain back to the love that gave me to the world. I search in dreams. I have forgotten the way, or they have forgotten the weight of the love they felt and I have floated away, out of sight and mind, back into the ether of beyond memory where everything without body or heart attached to it is nothing – gone.
I feel lonely in this thought and my mind scurries to the beautiful smile I remember on my mother’s face when she was a young woman and delighted to see me, her baby. I laugh at myself. I am a grandmother three times over now. I am still such a baby. I try to be kind to myself and breathe again to keep the rhythm of my motion centered so I don’t hurt myself as I roll, feet overhead and back again. Breathe.
I remember the sumptuous summer that Cathy and I wrote together in the basement studio of my Portland house. It was a delicious time for us. We were under protected time with the door closed to the outside world as we wrote for hours several days a week all summer long. I still feel warmth from the gift of that time. We had such purpose in our autonomous co-venture. We are the irony we write of and we have come to love each other in new ways in the work we continue to do to provide the world with our story.
A poignant moment that summer happened as we debriefed the work we had just finished for the day. As Cathy talked about our next practical steps, I had a sudden rush of fear and sadness that chased her words out of my ears as they hammered and pounded with the pulse of urgent dismay and my eyes filled with tears.
“What’s the matter, Kate?” Cathy asked, her face suddenly concerned.
I could feel my eyes stretch wide in an attempt to contain the feelings overwhelming me. My mouth opened and I cried out in a small, high voice as tears broke free.
“What if we finish all this and we finally get to read each other’s sides and I find out in the end that I am a roaring disappointment. What if you don’t even like me? What if you really can’t stand me and I didn’t even know it. What if I was too stupid to see the truth. What if all this work to tell ‘our truth’ just turns out to be everything I ever feared? What if I’m just a loser in your eyes. What if I’m the jerk I think I am? What if I’m not anything you had hoped for and in the end I lose you again, only this time it’s because you know better and you just choose to let me go? What if I’m just not good for you after all?”
My voice choked on the last words as my heart broke in my words and I just cried. Embarrassed, my eyes lifted to find hers looking back at me with tenderness.
“But Kate, I love you. We’ve been through it all. We know what our story is. I love you. It’s going to be all right. You don’t need to worry. I’m here. I love you.”
I looked back at her, “Really?”
“I love you, Cathy.”
“I love you, too.”
The chanting voices of Tibetan nuns fade with the memory as the timer beeps. My body has done its work, recalibrated and aligned with the ground beneath me. My mind is awake with daybreak. I thank God for another day, for feet that walk and hands that play. I am ready.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
The story and lyrics to…
The story, gathering and journey of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, combined with sandhill cranes in migration at the mesa up in Paonia in the Colorado Rockies, inspired this song. There was just enough battery for this take, set up in a small sea cave in Otis, Oregon last Saturday, September 22, 2012. My husband and I faced each other and with just enough room for our hands to play our ukuleles, I sang into the tiny recorder. You can hear the ocean outside the cave in the quiet in the beginning and at the end.
“Sandhill Cranes” is dedicated to The Global Grandmothers in thanks for their courage & loving prayers.
Sandhill cranes gather in the field;
Lift in the wind, turn and reel.
I can tell the sound by the way it feels;
It fills me with wonder and delight,
It fills me with wonder and delight
Hey, heya, heya-ho,
Grandmother show me what I need to know.
Hey, heya, heya-ho,
Grandfather show me where I need to go.
Hey hey heya heya
Father Sky, watch me from on high
Hey hey heya heya
Mother Earth, carry me below
Hey hey heya heya
Sister River, run beside my side
Hey hey heya heya
Brother Trees, reach and rise.
Sing in antiphon! Fill up the air,
One starts to go and they follow him everywhere.
I would go with them if I wasn’t planted here
With my feet on the ground I walk and go;
With my feet on the ground I walk and go.
Recorded 9/22/12 , Sea Cave, Otis, Oregon
Kate & Steve
kate power/voice, six-string tenor uke
steve einhorn, uke
At my invitation, Cathy arrived in Portland, from the home of her upbringing in New Jersey, on the 4th of July, 1993. My arrival to Portland had been sixteen years earlier to the day, July 4, 1977. We were both Jersey girls who had come of age in “metropolitan New York” and sought the new world in the Pacific Northwest – me, to find the last of the new frontier to plant my roots and grow my family; she, to rub elbows with her birth genes and to see who this first mother of hers truly was.
To this twenty-two year-old college graduate fresh from home, Portland was an exotic difference. Being my adopted hometown, Portland was a multi-faceted jewel for me to introduce her to. It was a gift to guide her to the people and pieces I loved most about Portland life. My daughter and I were almost strangers then. She came to find me out.
Now, almost twenty years later Cathy has created deep roots in her Portland home ten blocks from where I used to live. She has a house, a husband and two beautiful sons, six and four years old. I am a proud grandmother and my husband cherishes his grandsons in his role as “Uncle Grandpa”. I have lived north in Olympia for the past two years now and accepted a new job last week that will move me to Seattle.
Cathy and I have gone from the bare beginnings of our mother-daughter reunion into a deeper kinship than either of us ever imagined. We struggled to find this peaceful place between us. The urgency of our parallel youth has ripened and mellowed with age. We are close now and it is natural for us to talk about anything. We risked everything to have this and it was worth it. For that, I am grateful.
Looking back on the youngster who came out on the Green Tortoise to check me out, I now find a mature woman with a strong sense of self and her place in the world. It makes me proud to watch her navigate through the challenges, even though I know I am one of them. Her take on life is different from mine and I cherish that too.
After all these years we now find comfort in our time together. We have come to terms with the deficits of relinquishment and we have accepted our journey our way. She loves her life in Portland and I love that she has claimed Portland and me for her own.
When I forget how remarkable that is, I recall how vast the gap between us was in those first years. Portland was a beautiful place for our relationship to grow. The kindnesses that my Portland community extended to both of us made it possible for us to proceed as though we were normal and gave us room to breathe through the barriers and harsher realities of our loss and reclamation of each other.
Cathy came to town looking for answers. I did the best I knew how and I know that there were times when that wasn’t enough. Still, we made it through all the days, weeks, months and years. Now we are familiar enough with each other to lean on one another in ways that weren’t possible before we knew who we were reckoning with. Cathy is a stunning human being. Her differences from me are as interesting as the similarities. She’s as strong as I am, maybe stronger. I love who she is. She is unique. I suppose I am too.
I feel her love for me grow from a place of suspicion and distrust to one of acceptance and understanding. Even though she knows that I’m not what she expected, she has accepted the mother I am and the mother I am not. We have created a place together that is current, honest, warm and open. Our relationship is real. The fantasies of who she might be in my mind or what I might have done differently in hers have faded as our true faces turn to greet each other by heart.
We delineated the journey in this book we’ve been co-writing these past eight years. We haven’t shared our sides yet but I’m not afraid – no matter what her truth is. To share our truth with the world is an offertory of trust. Her arrival to Portland was a turning point and we never looked back. There are no regrets for coming together. I have watched her evolve from an innocent, immature young adult into a seasoned woman who knows her mind and whose compassion has grown with every corner we’ve broached together.
I’m proud of my first daughter’s courage to say yes and come to the place of discovery and her first mother in Portland. Now it’s she who is the Portlander and I, her first mother, recognizable without disguise, who lives in her orbit – a satellite in her world and easily found. She has only to reach to find me there.
The bonds of this love belong to us in its unique color, depth and texture, and springs from a life force that grew from my heart to hers when she was conceived and, given the space and connection it craved continues to grow from the roots in her heart to mine and back again. This is the natural course of love, as it ever was and always will be, in all its flaws and perfection between this mother and child.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
Here we are at Starbuck’s writing together, laptops touching, our coffees on the side, her sneakers tap in secret code out of the corner of my eye. The sun is shining as skinny green tips point from the ground in a dress rehearsal for the real thing and false spring charms us into forgetting the dump of snow just weeks ago.
My daughter is so unpretentiously pretty in her warm pink thermal top and jeans as purple-colored locks fake out her otherwise reddish brown hair and dance like freestyling loosestrife on the perimeter of her heart-shaped face. With the uncanny beauty of wild roses, she is so lovely without trying – zero makeup and no time to primp with her two young sons tugging at her from either side. After delivery of a cup of juice to the three year-old and a sketchbook for the five year-old, they are left in the open arms of “Uncle Grandpa” (Steve’s beloved moniker) and we dashed out the front door to steal up the street on foot for an hour of writing together in the closest coffee shop with wi-fi.
It’s Sunday – a gorgeous day that makes me homesick for my thirty-five year-old hometown here where I used to live just ten blocks from Cathy’s house. Now its a hundred miles to get to this familiar spot. That I get to be with her this way is no small thing for me and I am happy, thankful to be here.
Steve and I played the Winterfolk Concert last night at the Aladdin Theater amongst a stellar lineup of musician friends. Our songs transcended the oldest of bonds and grew a few new ones, both in the audience and backstage. Musical memory took me all the way back from 1981 and the Irish sessions in the East Avenue Tavern to last night thirty-years later. We joined once again over music and raised money to feed the hungry and inspire community on one of the city’s most historic stages. The folk element of Portland came out; the connection was strong, the music was alive and it was one fine night.
My daughter was amused this morning by the role reversal at play as it was we who arrived home to her house at 2am while she and her family slept a full night’s sleep on a Saturday night.
I was a thirty year-old playing those sessions back in 1981. Cathy was ten and growing under another family’s roof in New Jersey. Thirty years have passed since then and we have become closer with time.
At almost forty-one, my first daughter sits across from me, pounding out her thoughts in her own words while I face her and search for mine. Being together this way thrills me. We have been given one precious hour alone together. After that she will return to Sunday with her family and Steve and I will head north on I-5 and home in Olympia.
I take it all in from behind my sunglasses. People swing through the door just beyond Cathy’s left shoulder. They come and go like crows sweeping in to feed and settle inside and out with caffeinated cups held carefully in their clutches as they perch to sip and talk.
To passersby, we look like two women involved in what has become an ordinary act of writing on computers together at a little round table in the window with only the sun connecting them in the light of afternoon sunshine. Our postures suggest a routine between two women who bear a resemblance to one another and seem otherwise disengaged, synchronized, non-attached.
I peek at her behind my sunglasses and cherish the furrow deepening in her brow. Her eyes dart back and forth across her computer screen, scanning the map she has choreographed from her tapping fingertips.
I love that my eyes are invisible to her just now. She is unaware of my eyes holding her as she freely watches her thoughts tumble into words on screen and reflects on whatever she might be saying about me, us and this. I’m not curious. I just want to be here.
My heart blooms in the ingredients of this moment. Doing what we are doing together, is something that, no matter what direction it takes, belongs to us and only us. It is so delicious. My eyes smile through dark lenses on my poker face as I take hers in. I want to draw it, paint it, frame it, hold it, kiss it, keep it. I wish it was a sketchpad instead of my computer under my fingertips but I don’t mind. It’s good to be here, doing this work we’ve made up together.
I feel all this and she doesn’t even know. Like a baby whose mother croons and kisses her child’s temples and cheeks, I sit and watch her serious expression shift in and out as her thoughts dance and recede with the furrow on her brow. Baby’s have furrowed brows sometimes, even middle-aged ones.
It would be so easy to list why this simple act is so freaking wild. Instead I hold my head in my hand and act as though this is just another routine on just another day in just another town with just another daughter – and all along my heart beats, bare-assed and yelping on the roller coaster ride inside my skin.
My daughter sits on the other side of the table and doesn’t hear my holler echo, “I love you, Cathy!”
To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.