Tag Archives: reunion

Who is the Mother?

CathyKate_7-4-89The 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.

Ms. Wilson-Buterbaugh wrote a paper that helps us understand the etymology of adoption language called “Whitewashing Adoption: A Critique of “Respectful Adoption Language.”

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.

www.babyscoopera.com

What’s in a word? Everything.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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A Birthmother’s Perspective on Rosie O’Donnell and Chelsea

2015-09-02 09.44.46Cathy and I wrote letters for fours years after we met in 1989, while she was in college. One of her first written requests was for permission to ask me anything, and that I answer her with honesty and not hold back. She really wanted to know what I could tell her and the circumstances that would fill in the blanks in her past to form the true story of her family of origin.

Highlights in our correspondence became the “Letters” chapter in our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen, and documented our mutual exploration during those first few years in reunion. We savored the letters that arrived in each other’s hand and took our time to soak in every word, and then respond.

In closed adoptions like ours, relinquishment forbids first mothers from contact with their child or their family. Although this rule of detachment is seen as self-imposed, trespass into the adoptive family and one’s child is forbidden and illegal.

This is a hard place for both mother and child to be in.

One of the last letters Cathy wrote when she graduated from college expressed her insecurity about what she should do next. My response was to invite her to come to Portland, Oregon that summer “to rub elbows with her genes” for a few weeks to take advantage of the freedom she now had to decide for herself.

My next letter back from Cathy had a big “YES!” handwritten on it. She began to make her plans to visit.

She never went back.

So when Chelsea, Rosie O’Donnell’s adopted daughter, turned eighteen and opted to live with her birthmother, it struck me as natural. I don’t watch television or know anything about them, really, but at eighteen her decision to live with her birthmother and “rub elbows with her genes” was normal and predictable.

The only reason Chelsea’s story was portrayed as news is because her adoptive mother is a highly visible celebrity and ready fodder for footage in the public eye. The news boasted Rosie’s anger with captions of cutting Chelsea’s financial support off in dramatic “all or nothing” style. True or not, it was a media spin clammering over an adoptee who had come of age and simply wanted to experience her roots.

There were no television cameras when Cathy left New Jersey at twenty-two on the Green Tortoise bus for Portland after college. Her adoptive parents understood that their daughter needed something more than they could provide her with – she needed to know and understand more about her lineage, heritage and family of origin. They got it, and responded lovingly. Although I’m certain they worried, they supported her decision with confidence and didn’t interfere with her pilgrimage.

My job was to fill in the blanks.

In his Book of Forgiving, written with his daughter Rev. Mpho Tutu on transformative healing, Desmond Tutu described the long-term effects of trauma from a study that followed war-affected children to measure their stability and mental health following the genocidal events in their homes and villages in South Africa.

They found that the group of children who had heard the true stories from their relatives about what had happened to their kin – in every grisly detail – proved to be well adjusted and exhibited stable emotional health, and were found able to handle conflict, decisions and crisis to a far better degree than the children from the same circumstances who had been protected from the truth of what had happened to their family.

Tutu says, “We are all in a relationship with one another, and when that relationship breaks, we all have the responsibility to roll up our sleeves and get to the hard work of repair” and summons us to “listen to what the heart hears.”

“We cannot begin again
We cannot make a new start as though the past has not passed
But we can plant something new
In the burnt ground
In time we will harvest a new story of who we are
We will
Build a relationship that is tempered by the fire of our history
I am a person who could hurt you
And knowing those truths we choose to make something new
Forgiveness is my back bent to clear away the dead tangle of hurt and recrimination
And make a space, a field fit for planting
When I stand to survey this place I can choose to invite
you in to sow seeds for a different harvest
Or I can choose to let you go
And let the field lie fallow.”

To withhold the truth – or a mother and child from each other – is a deliberate decision, not an act of love. For better or worse, it’s an act of power. Once the child grows into adulthood, the journey becomes theirs alone to explore. Loving parents, adoptive and biological, who find ways to “listen to what the heart hears,” will aim to support the health of their child by helping them to explore from the heart to determine what is true and meaningful for them, and leave the façades behind. Love nourished multiplies.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Integration: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 6

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Below is Part 6, the final installment in this series of our blog – a series to share excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen as read for the American Adoption Congress Conference in San Francisco in 2014.

Last week’s excerpt from the  “Therapy” chapter of Kathleen~Cathleen, we shared discoveries that shed light and gave us a new perspective on the core of our reunion experience. It also validated our experience which made us stronger, and fueled our desire to continue.

Below is my excerpt from the Integration chapter of the memoir (then read Cathy’s Integration excerpt at ReunionEyes).
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Kate’s Reading…

Cathy established herself in Portland and created a life of her own that also allowed us to remain connected. I had fallen in love with the owner of a little musical instrument shop, Artichoke Music, and my youngest daughter and I moved into a shared household with he and his two sons.

In what would become our blended family, Cathy was treated as an emancipated eldest sibling and she was considered a member of the family from the beginning.

At this point in time, Cathy helped me part-time in my office at the music store. We had become more comfortable with each other and I relished her participation in our life in Portland.

In 1995, Cathy joined an adoptee-in-reunion group that was facilitated by a therapist who was also a birthmother, with her reunited relinquished daughter.

At Cathy’s suggestion, I decided to go to the counter-group for birthparents led by the same therapist. She introduced herself as Sharon, and led me into the room where the group meets.

People were seated in all but one of the circle of chairs, and I took it.  Sharon sat in her tall, rolling, tweed office chair next to her small desk . She ( and ) began by asking us to introduce ourselves by our first names and to briefly share our reunion status with our birth child.

I was suddenly aware that I had never knowingly been in a room with another birthmother, much less a roomful of them.  As stigmatic birthmothers, we were there to talk about the very thing that made us the invisible character in the triad.  None of us had ever talked about ourselves in this role within a peer group. Birthmothers were invisible. Talking about it was a rare confidence with a friend or family member but never like this, in an open room filled with others who had  come here to talk about reunion and reconciliation with the children.

Each woman had her story.  Some were local Portlanders whose history remained within the proximity of the region.  Others, like me, were from other places and now living in Oregon.  Each person was in a different phase of reunion.  The emotional makeup of each story revealed common threads between us.

Characteristics in common included independent, middle-aged women with a matter-of-fact and serious tone about the past as the stories unfolded one by one around the room.  Strong women, accomplished women. Knowing that the our group leader and facilitator, Sharon, was a birthmother in reunion with her own daughter helped me feel safe.

As the women shared their experiences, I related to their feelings based on my own times and reflections with Cathy.  The highs and lows that I had felt as a birthmother, before and in reunion, existed in each woman’s tale. As we focused on each story, and both the dilemmas and connections arising from our reunions, our stories pointed to the place we shared outside of the social norms .

These were places where we had been quiet and invisible until now. I moved this following bit to Therapy chapter with Deborah…20140621kp To tell my story was an act of making my secret known.  To say it outloud made the act of relinquishment, and all that followed, real. Once said, it existed outside of that protected place inside of me where it had been lived so quietly for so long.

Being the carrier of this long secret inside my identity, I was fascinated to hear people’s stories.  They were so honest.  No matter how the story went, the taboo behind our roles as birthparents bonded us. We were saboteurs subverting the dominant paradigm by sharing the truth about our lives since we had let go of our children.

Words for what we described weren’t built into the idioms of our social vocabulary, nor did they exist in the dictionary.  New words like “birthmother”, “relinquishment”, “in reunion”, “triad” were added to the few phrases we had.  The phrase “Giving up the baby” was loaded with shame as a conviction of abandonment for the birthmother who had let go of her child.  As taboo as murder, it was an unspoken act.

As difficult as the topic was, the end of each weekly group left me with a significant feeling of relief.  Just knowing there were other women out there facing a similar set of feelings was comforting.  The feelings remained but I was able to recognize them.  I was part of a collective of birthmothers and no longer strived for answers in isolation, completely alone.

Cathy and I had started our therapeutic assignment to find a neutral place to meet once a week. Cassidy’s Restaurant became our weekly rendezvous.  It had been a favorite haunt of mine since the early 80’s. With its mahogany bar, oak floors and low lights, it’s a perfect place to talk and Cathy liked it there as much as I did.

After going to the birthmothers group, I was able to tell Cathy about the experience of that night and some of the impressions it left me with.  I loved those times together.  We confided in each other and I left feeling connected with her on a deep level. Like for Cathy, the group gave me some perspective on how far she and I had come in the life of our relationship next to the struggles in the stories the others shared in that room.

Cathy and I were new veterans on a horizon that had narrow access for exploration.  We felt like a pair of pioneers in uncharted territory.  Our exploration had been conscious and vocal since the beginning with an openness that was natural to our personalities, a trait we shared. We continued to track our feelings as we unfolded in new ways, and revealed deeper versions of ourselves with each other.

My pride in Cathy, who she was and the woman she was becoming, was strong.  I could feel maternal responses and it felt wonderful to express it.  The undercurrents in my emotions rose more quickly to the surface as my ability to claim my daughter grew more real.  She gave me permission to love her and I began to feel the maternal feelings I had for her without its guilty partner, shame.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Therapy: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 5

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Below is Part 5 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen. Last week in “Going Dark – Dusk,” we shared an excerpt that described a dichotomy that challenged us, divided us and polarized our ability to experience peaceful union in our reunion. Below is my excerpt from the Therapy chapter of the memoir (then read Cathy’s Therapy excerpt at ReunionEyes).
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KATE Reading…

Cathy revealed something in therapy that changed everything. She told me that explanations didn’t matter. She didn’t need me to have the answers. She didn’t need me to be brave. She needed to see me feeling pain.

In order for her to believe that she meant anything beneath the surface, she needed to see my tears. She needed to see me cry. She needed to see me in a state of pain over her. For her, my tears made it real. If she was to believe that losing her was my loss, she needed to hear the pain behind the talk.

For her to have lost me at her birth had left a mysterious question mark that haunted her. She needed to feel my haunted heart, the distress of her absence in my life. Every rational reason for the decision behind our separation – my young age and lack of experience, none of it meant anything next to seeing me cry over it.

Witnessing my tears told her far more than my words. She didn’t just want to know why I felt something, she wanted to see me feel it and to know that everything that happened between us really meant something, that it – all of it – really hurt; that she has always meant something to me and that she has always been important to me… even from the beginning… and that she will always matter, no matter what.

We began to talk about ways to reclaim each other. For the first time, I was encouraged by the therapist to take Cathy as my daughter. For the first time, I’d  become aware that this was something that Cathy wanted me to do.

For the first time, I was enabled to BE her mother and she was enabled to BE my child.

We imagined how it could have been. I was allowed to feel my regret. I was allowed to remove the honorable mantle of my noble sacrifice, and to replace it with a shawl of grief for my lost baby.

One of my the assignments our therapist, Deborah, gave us encouraged me to write a new contract to replace the one I had signed in the attorney’s office. I rewrote it in reverse.

Instead of taking myself out of the picture and forfeiting my rights, I put myself into the role of possessive mother and reclaimed my child in legal language. Instead of relinquishing my rights to my child, I committed myself to taking the power of responsibility for her. I swore my loyalty, my heart, soul and body back to my daughter. I was hers to have now. I would never abandon her again. My promise was a doorway into the next leg of our relationship.

Those Tuesday hours that year with Deborah brought us through many places and I noticed new things were happening inside me. Driving home from work, or on an elevator between floors on the job, I would start to cry for no apparent reason. Pieces that had been sealed in place for so many years broke apart, and the feelings underneath them rose with the tears that fell.

I began to understand that hiding behind my strength had been an excuse for resisting the pain. This numbness began to lose its grip in my heart. My bravery had been an excuse for paralysis. I started to feel more. At first that alarmed me. Then I started to allow myself to feel even more. I began to cry, not only from buried sorrow, but also from recently found joy and gratitude. I felt myself more alive in new and unexpected ways.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Going Dark – Dusk: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 4

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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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KATE Reading….

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.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Going Dark – Deepening: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wish List

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When I first invited Cathy to join me in Portland during the summer of 1993, it was to give us both the chance ‘to rub elbows with our genes’ for a few weeks and to allow her a chance to expand her perspective about where she came from. I thought it might be helpful for her to take the time to discover what being my daughter meant for her deep down inside.

It also meant that I would get the chance to find out who she had become without me. I wanted to know my daughter. To bring Cathy into my life was risky and, although I didn’t know if it was really a good idea or not, my desire to take the opportunity to know Cathy was stronger than my fear.

She said yes.

We took an open approach. Unsure of who she really was, I tried to make her comfortable and to give her the freedom to express her thoughts and personality honestly. I was also eager to introduce her to the elements of Portland life that had nurtured me, and to reveal myself to her as the person I truly was within the life I lived.

She stayed.

My move away five years ago was a big adjustment in our relationship. This past winter when I announced that I was ready to return to Portland, Cathy hit a wall that she didn’t know was there. Neither did I. We had come a long distance since we met in 1989 but suddenly I couldn’t be retrofitted back into her life.

I had left her back in the beginning of her life, and now all these years later, I left again and for Cathy, I had broken trust. By the time I returned, my orbit might as well have been around the moon because the connection I had come to expect with Cathy was nowhere to be found.

But nothing lasts forever.

Last night, Cathy and my laptops were back-to-back once again at the Barleymill. My heart was happy to be back to writing with her again. My excitement stayed mostly under wraps as I focused my eyes on the screen and wrote for a while. In truth, I knew deep down that I would do whatever it took to win my daughter’s trust and strengthen our bond back to its healthy self.

Our past few blogs on mothertone and reunioneyes had been about the impact of my return to Portland, and the barriers that arose for my daughter. She still wrestles with emotions that my return unleashed in her, but we are starting to talk about it now. I think I understand the conflict my presence brings to Cathy’s peace of mind. It’s just part of the nature of our situation.

Now we’re under a deadline. Tasks often take our minds off of our feelings and I was grateful for the work ahead.  Kathleen~Cathleen’s latest draft is scheduled to be finished by the end of August. We are both in the thick of our mutual chapters and we are on track.

Our “Return to Portland” blogs had been parsed into parts to reflect our current experience. This fourth part, delayed up until now, was to post a wish list; hers and mine, to remember what’s possible, and for both of us to share the personal goals we harbor, the goals that loom large within the complexity of our twenty-six years in reunion and motivate us to persevere. Here are a few of mine.

KATHLEEN’S WISH LIST

I wish our relationship to become normalized beyond our traumatic separation.

That the trauma for us – and for future generations – be reduced by the commitment we have made to each other, and the work we share in the book we are writing.

Whatever words are chosen to name my role in her family or her role in mine, that we know and accept that we ARE family to each other, no matter how many ways we have been separated. As branches of the same tree – that we grow true to our core connection, both biological and environmental – from our own perspectives, and come away with knowledge and respect that comes from the truth, we are related.

That our growth be felt as non-threatening, and free us to develop positive relationships with all the members of our family – biological and adoptive, and our community.

I wish that the dichotomy between “core” family, “adoptive” family, and “birth” family disappear, and instead make us one family – a manifest of connection, respect and relationship.

As acceptance and forgiveness grows, that our relationship be anchored in a love that is stronger than the loss we have suffered – and becomes sustainable and fearless.

That as our relationship becomes stronger, we grow confident and more relaxed together, and have more fun and less sadness.

That we share our writing in ways that engender hope and healing for others.

That the bruise of our unbearable feelings of loss fade as we grow healthy new skin made of the relationship we have built, know and trust.

That Cathy experiences me and the love between as something that is healthy with room to grow without competing with her love for her adoptive family.

That the concept of receiving more than one mother is one that opens her heart, not closes it.

That we will both be healed.

That Cathy learns to love my side of the family she springs from, and come to place where she can embrace and claim us for her own, free of resentment, distress and fear, and celebrate her birthright without compromising her adoptive family connection.

That Cathy will learn to love and accept me as I am.

That we laugh more, cry less.

That our “normal” will be enough.

That when I am old and on my way home to God, my daughter will know me and my love for her beyond doubt, and love me in return.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Back in Portland – Part 3

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Steve and I will hit the six-week mark back in Portland when we throw our housewarming potluck. We opened the barn doors for this one and invited everyone we could think of to come celebrate our homecoming, Steve’s birthday and to kick off St. Patrick’s week together.

A red flag went up when I heard from that my California sister that she had invited Cathy to our housewarming on facebook before I had sent any invitations out, and then another when Cathy visited my brother on the coast with her family – but didn’t volunteer to share her plan to do that until I asked her if she would be stopping by his house. She is cagey about sharing with me – even when she is making my own kin part of her world.

I find myself outside of yet another ring from the circle of Cathy’s life – this time with two of my closest siblings. I walk outside a roundhouse with no doors or windows that open to my track – no access. Am I glad that she wants to spend time with them? Of course! But right now in combination with her alienating behavior, it feels unfair and tricky. I am the last one to hold anyone back from having an open relationship, but for her to take her prerogative to engage with my family while holds me at arms length as non-family? I’m not sure where to put my feelings about that.

Now they are all making plans to come to our house – along with a zillion others.

Another red flag was raised when, after telling me months ago that she looked forward to our return to Portland so we could teach music to her children and be “full-fledged grandparents” she turned down my offer to arrange and pay for piano lessons with her musical youngest in my studio because she didn’t want to get a keyboard in her house and that she herself had “hated her piano lessons as a child.” Her theory that our relationship with her children would be wide open because “they don’t have any of the baggage of the adoption” doesn’t work now.

After my Christmas dis-invitation, I asked Cathy if we could go into therapy to talk it through. She refused, disinterested, and continues to hold that line. The bricks in the wall she is building are getting bigger. She calls them boundaries. I call them walls. I tried to talk with her about it on the phone last week but the only thing that was clear was that we were having two different conversations, hers and mine – and then my phone died in the middle of the conversation. If we could agree to talk I think we would get somewhere. I hate computers right now.

We text each other about this blog (have you posted? mine is ready), as though we are just doing the work we have chosen. The blog, the book – they are intentional expressions of our experience. We work on it consciously but apart, and present it to the public instead of each other. It’s so obvious that we need to talk but “the experiment” of the blog seems to feel safer for her right now. There was a lot of hope in our combined effort to allow our experience out to be helpful to others, but my deeper goal has always been for us to come to understand each other better – and with that understanding, trust.

The experience I’m having right now is conflicted and confusing. The relationship we’ve worked so hard to have will need to hold strong to  sustain the current shifting gap. I will do what I am most practiced at with this untethered daughter – back off and give her the space she requires. Perhaps if I am not in the landscape of her life, she will feel safe again. My relatives can fill the void while she figures out what she wants, or doesn’t want, from me. My myopic heart may need a corrective lens to restore its longer view and regain a balanced perspective. Sometimes in our situation, the closer we look, the harder it is to accept because it’s too much to balance what happened, and what could have happened, and know how to accept that.

She says in a recent email that she is calmly trying to establish boundaries and that I am hearing that as anger. What’s true is that this experience makes me feel like an invader, a bug freshly pinned against the wall while she protects herself from me. I don’t like being a bug. There is nothing else I can do here but squirm. We choose to build a loving, authentic relationship that is inclusive and positive – or not.

My gut informs me that my best option in this moment is to wriggle the pin from my chest, remain open to what’s next, find my wings and move into larger space, free from the landmines, traps and triggers. We will talk when she’s ready. She is in my heart where I love her without limitations, and she has the freedom to come and go as she pleases. There is no lock on the door.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit Reunioneyes.
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Next up: Back to Portland – The Wish List – Part 4

Moving Home to Portland

One of the only times I ever heard my oldest daughter cry was on the telephone when I told her I was leaving Portland to move north a few years ago. I can still hear her voice tremble on the phone, “But it will mean that I won’t see you and losing you when I was a child just makes it really hard now. I want my kids to know you.” I heard her words and felt the pain inside of me roar back up my spine as I responded from a parking lot hundreds of miles away in my RV parked after a gig in Wallowa County in far eastern Oregon.. “I know. I will miss you, too” and the dull ache of the all too familiar loss took its seat back in my gut. Family needs compelled us to break away from the familiarity of home to try a smaller place near my youngest daughter who was putting herself through college with our granddaughter who was turning six.

We made the move and when we weren’t traveling with work as musicians, we were nearby to help and to be close with our daughter and granddaughter in Olympia. It was a special time for us, exploring life outside of the home we had known for thirty-five years in Portland. Then a back injury took me off the road and I took a job offer in Seattle. We moved further north and over the next eighteen months we traveled frequently between west and east coasts to tend to my husband’s parents in declining health. Along with their passing, our motivation to maintain the life we lived in Seattle lost its luster and we yearned for our home, our original home with family and friends in Portland. Our Olympia girls rooted for our return to Portland; they preferred it to Seattle. Our sons in San Francisco and New York City encouraged us. Our adult children strengthened our confidence that we were on the right track.

I had told Cathy on the phone that we were looking to come back to Portland and my ears felt around for her response. Her voice seemed surprised but was a little reserved about it. In the weeks that followed, she didn’t ask about our hunt for a place in Portland. She was quiet. I imagined she was holding her breath to see what I was going to do next. After being born to relinquishment, how could trust be expected to be her first response? I began to worry. What if she likes it better without me there? Will my return feel complicated? Is life simpler without me within reach? Our visits since we moved away had been warm and happy times with Cathy – and with her husband and our two young grandsons. We missed them, and seeing them on the fly from down the street when we were neighbors in Portland had been one of the great joys of being in the same town. Time passes so swiftly; children grow so fast. She was quiet from week to week.

Our old friends were looking out for us and we heard about an apartment through the grapevine. Pete texted me on my phone that it had just opened up for rent. On the way back from teaching on the Oregon coast on the equinox weekend, we stopped in Portland to see the place and fell in love with what would become our new home in the heart of our old neighborhood where many of friends live within walking distance. Cathy’s house is a straight shot up the hill, just a few blocks further from where we used to live. The 1906 wood frame house painted barn red reminded me of my in-laws’ place where we gathered over summers past in Sag Harbor. Divine Intervention seemed to come into play and our destination in Portland was realized. I couldn’t wait to tell Cathy!

I called her to let her know as soon as I got home. She was quiet at first and sounded like she didn’t quite know what to say. “That’s great!” she said but I wasn’t sure I could hear the exclamation point in her voice. Maybe it’ll take a while to sink in that Steve and I will be right down the street before long.

After I handed the phone to Steve, she told him that she had had a dream the night before about his parents. Our beloved Anne and Marvin were in the middle of the dream and all of the family was gathered in a house that held shades of the houses we had gathered in with them over the years: Sag Harbor, Woodstock, Manhattan. Every member of the family came together and it was a great celebration.

Cathy had dreamed the truth before I could tell her, and I felt the blessing of that dream that includes all of us, draw us close to heart and hearth as it shimmered inside to spread its love across all boundaries, visible and invisible, to the core of our beautiful family.

I am so thankful.

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

Old Family Photos

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After I had relinquished Cathy, I received three small photographs of Cathy as a little girl. Sr. Alice, my liaison in the adoption, had become the surrogate grandmother in Cathy’s adoptive family. Sr. Alice and I had been close during my pregnancy and she was the one who prophetically told me that “twenty years from now, the laws will have changed” and cued me to let the agency know where I was if I wanted my daughter to be able to find me when she turned eighteen. This became a turning point in the reunion story what would become our shared book, Kathleen~Cathleen.

Meanwhile, three small greeting cards surprised me in the mail over the first ten years following Cathy’s birth with a snapshot in each one that gave me a hint of my daughter’s face. I preserved them in such a good hiding place, that at one point they became lost to me until my husband uncovered them while putting our things away after a move a few years ago. Those three little pictures of Cathy were my touchstones during the years of our separation and proof that told me she was alive and growing – and hopefully thriving. I pondered deeply who she was under the face of the little girl in the pictures.

Ten years ago, Cathy and her husband and parents, Dottie and Pete, came to our house for Christmas dinner in Portland. Cathy had bought a house down the street with room for her parents, and they were still in the chaotic mix of moving in. Her parents were on their traditional visit for Christmas, and her mother had brought a handful of pictures of Cathy while she was growing up. Dottie and I sat with our heads close together on the couch and she described each photo as she handed it to me from the top of the pile in her hands. I tried to hide the swoon I felt in my gut as snapshots of Cathy’s past were delivered hand-to-hand from her mom to me. My eyes scanned each scene like a pair strong magnets to find signs of happiness and sadness in the face of the girl we both loved.

I was moved by Dottie’s generosity. I had asked her on a prior visit to Cathy’s if she might bring a few pictures to show me someday. She not only kept her promise and brought them, but she passed them on for me to keep.

When we finished with the last photo, she handed them to me and said, “These are for you.” I slowly folded them back into the plastic bag she had brought them in and held it with both hands on my lap like a delicate and sacred artifact. I looked at Dottie and thanked her for the gift of the photos and got up to put them away upstairs where they would be safe.

I opened the top drawer of my dresser and slipped them under my folded clothes like a hidden treasure and felt my face heating up in a threat of tears. My stomach clenched and chest tightened like a balloon filling to burst. Laughter rang out from downstairs over the holiday music playing in the background. I looked in the mirror on top of the dresser and my face looked back in sad distress. A few tears splashed on the cherry dresser top and I wiped the wet runners that raced down my cheeks. Crying always made me mad. I pulled for air deep into my lungs and said to myself, “Stop. It’s okay. She’s okay now. She’s here in my house now. We’re celebrating. She’s happy. We’re here, all together. It’s okay now.”

I dabbed my face, ashamed at the stab of deprivation and jealousy that screamed to explode into a tantrum between my ribs. Not now. This was not the time to let feral feelings run wild. I locked eyes in the mirror and wiped the smeared mascara underneath my eyes and slowly exhaled. Checking the mirror again to see if the redness in my face had subsided, I practiced a smile to reset my face back into a festive expression, and then turned to walk back down the stairs and rejoin my family drinking toddies by the crackling fire. There was much to be grateful for. There was so much to be grateful for.

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