Tag Archives: reunioneyes

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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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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Honeymoon: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 1

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KATE’S READING excerpt with Cathy from the “Honeymoon” Chapter of Kathleen~Cathleen at American Adoption Congress Conference, San Francisco 2014

As we work on finishing our draft of Kathleen~Cathleen, we wanted to do something new on the blog. For the first time on the blog, we are sharing excerpts from the memoir’s original manuscript with you, our readers. We hope to hear your thoughts, impressions and questions.

The intent of our memoir is to share the true story of reunion in all its complexities; the heights of its joys, the depths of its sorrows and the perseverance it takes to journey through the thrill of the initial meeting to get to the grips of a real relationship. There are many stories that share the experience of separation and reunion. Our book explains what happens next.

As we do with the blog, we have written from the unique and contrasting experiences of both the birthmother and the adoptee through our individual viewpoints. The excerpts we are posting here are the only parts of the book that we have shared with each other. While we have an outline that we created together, we have not yet read each other’s chapters. We want to keep the purity of our personal recollections and impressions uninfluenced by the other’s point of view.

The result is that it is you, the reader, who brings the stories together, creating something new, something greater than the sum of its parts.

Over the next few weeks we will share sections from the memoir that highlight crucial turning points in our relationship: Honeymoon, Going Dark, Therapy and Integration.

The excerpt below is taken from Kate’s side of the “Honeymoon” chapter from Kathleen~Cathleen, and Cathy’s first morning in the kitchen after her arrival in Portland (then read Cathy’s Honeymoon excerpt at ReunionEyes.
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“Oh, you’re up!” I said as Cathy shuffled into the kitchen.

“Good morning” she said sleepily, eyeing the bathroom door.

“Make yourself at home, Cathy. Coffee will be ready soon. The bathroom’s free if you want it.”

“Thanks. I might take a bath,” she said as she went in and closed the door.

Before long , she was back in the kitchen, now refreshed. She pulled a chair up to the table by the window and told me that Heather had left early that morning to go for a hike with a friend they had met on the Green Tortoise bus.

I filled the kettle with water from the tap, put it on the burner and lit the stove. The paper filter was filled with fragrant, fresh ground coffee. I poured hot water from the kettle and watched it transform into its dark brew. I could feel the motherly urge to nourish Cathy imbue my offering as I gripped the mug carefully and set it on the table in front of her.

She poured a long stream of cream into the mug and I watched it turn from dark brown to nearly white. She stirred several teaspoons of sugar into the milky mix with her spoon.

“I see you like a little coffee with your milk!” I chuckled as she pressed her lips into a smile. I wondered what to say next as we sat at the kitchen table.

“How did you sleep?” I asked.

“Good” she said.

Anxiety and delight shuttled back and forth inside me. We had only clocked in a few hours together. So far, so good.

Today would mark the first full day in this new chapter together. We had no script. I felt exhilarated, terrified – and game.

Cathy’s eyes watched me as she sipped her creamy brew. She had accepted my invitation to come to Portland to try me on for size. I could feel her check me out as I waited for her to speak. My mind was reeling fast, spinning with thoughts that held tight on my tongue, waiting to give her time to answer.

Her thick, collar-length hair was a lush coppery mix of browns and bronze. I asked her about the long skinny braid with a bead at the end; it hung a foot longer than the rest.

“I keep this one strand growing to remind me of where I’ve been,” she replied, and picked up the end to twirl the blue bead between her fingers and her thumb.

I soaked her in as we sipped. My eyes followed the pretty curves of her face like  a magnet, coming to rest on the aquamarine glint in her eyes that looked back at me with a frank expression. I couldn’t resist looking at her face. I tried to be subtle, but smiled when I knew she’d caught me gazing – as new mothers do.

She had eyes the color of ocean waves catching light, the same aqua light that is in my younger daughter, Abigail’s eyes – my sister, Mary’s, too.

I returned Cathy’s gaze with my own plain, slate-blue eyes inherited from my mother’s mother on the Scottish side. I shyly reached to touch Cathy’s hair with my fingers.

“Your hair is beautiful,” I whispered.

She let me touch her hair the way a child would, quiet and waiting. My thumb gently rubbed the long tendril across my curled finger, poised to hold the strand of her burnished hair in my hand. Since the first dark fluff on the day she was born, I hadn’t touched her hair. It had been bleached with dark roots when we had first met. She’d been eighteen. Now, her thick mane of nut-brown hair touched her shoulders.

I let go, smiling. She smiled back.

We both have dramatic natural hair. It was a basic trait that was evidence of the truth of her identity. We saw things that we recognized in each other as we sat across the table. I had savored that brief touch of her hair. I hadn’t guessed what her hair would feel like. It was even thicker than mine. I felt akin to her and tears welled under my eyelids. We were related, after all.

It was an odd feeling not to have to hide or pretend anymore. Cathy had freely made her choice to come to me.

I let my arm reach up to touch her hair again. She smiled as I drew in the sensation of its auburn threads with my fingertips, to let my senses take in the essence of this daughter. It reminded me of honeysuckle in bloom – so sweet and never enough to fill the appetite. I let go.

“It’s nice to touch your hair, thank you”.  I smiled and looked down at my coffee.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Pandora” painting by John William Waterhouse 1896

All Rights Reserved ©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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American Adoption Congress 2015

24 Esther Anne PowerCathy_AAC2015Cathy spoke as one of the Lost Daughters panel at the American Adoption Congress 2015 in Cambridge, Massachusetts this past weekend in the full-fledged voice of the adoptee speaking out. I see relatives and ancestors instantly recognizable in her face, her work, her bearing and her articulate mind.

Bravo, daughter! You are a champion.

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

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.

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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