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.