Tag Archives: unwed mother

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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First Read – The Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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Kathleen~Cathleen Present in San Francisco

kc_bookmark_backThe American Adoption Congress has asked us to present a workshop at their upcoming national conference, themed “Building Bridges for Change” in San Franciso in April.

Our presentation will be, “The Birthmother Experience vs. The Adoptee Experience in Long-Term Reunion”. A birthmother and her relinquished daughter who have been in reunion for 25 years recount their reunion in a memoir where they have kept their individual experiences private from each other. The workshop will involve readings from their memoir, exposing their individual experiences in reunion and
revealing universal themes in long-term reunion that happen simultaneously for the birthmother and adoptee, followed by Q&A.

Cathy and I will prepare by selecting excerpts from our memoir “Kathleen~Cathleen” to reflect mutual turning points in our relationship as a mother and daughter in long-term reunion. Except for our first share for this month’s Adoption Constellation magazine article, this will be the beginning of our impending exchange of finished chapters.

We are thankful for your comments and support as we approach the volcanic rim of ten years of writing together, apart, with you.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit http://www.reunioneyes.blogspot.com
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Our First Magazine Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perspectives

In the last few days, Cathy has come back into view. I listen for what her heart tells me. Her few words have been honest and tender. I am making preparations to leave for my father’s ninetieth birthday in Florida, and she has just returned from her father’s funeral there. Peter John was eighty years old when he died. He’ll be missed. He was a lovely man with kind blue eyes reminiscent of my own father – the Irish brows. Our fathers are ten years apart. I can only imagine her loss. Her biological father is much younger, but the father who raised her is the one who counts.

Cathy and I were in the midst of an unusual Open Adoption Interview Project this past November to raise awareness by pairing interviewers from all participating perspectives – when events intervened and delayed posting. Cathy and her interview partner, a birthmother, have just posted the interviews on their blogs. They are interesting and frank.

Cathy invited me to read. I get to hear her heart out loud when I read Cathy’s writing, so I was glad for the invitation. I went to the first link to read and then the other. A flurry of unpremeditated email responses followed and today we decided to share them with you for our take on this week’s topic.

Remember, I don’t read Cathy’s blog, so please excuse any redundance on my part. I wrote Cathy’s song, “Mercy High, Mercy Low” at another moment much like this one years ago and so, bears repeating with the theme.

Comments are welcome. Please like kathleencathleen on facebook, if you like. Thanks for reading.
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(Cathy’s email to Kate)

Kate,

You can go to Lost Daughters
http://www.thelostdaughters.com/

and the Great Wide Open
http://thegreatwideopen-openadoption.blogspot.com/2012/11/2012-interview-project-reunion-eyes.html

– if you want to read the interview that I did for the Open Adoption Interview Project.

I’ll be curious to know whether you think she’s just fooling herself (about being fine with relinquishing the child) or if open adoption just made it okay for her. Because, really, although you say now you wish you kept me, it’s true too (and okay) that you didn’t want to be a mother at 19. So, you had your options. I wonder if open adoption would have made it different for you or if you think, knowing what you know now, you still think you would have kept me?
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(Kate’s response)

Darling girl,

There is no doubt in any nook, cranny or cell of my being that I would have wanted to do anything but keep you near me, with me, all the way, through thick and thin, no matter what. Nineteen was young and I wasn’t prepared but I would have figured it out given half a chance.

Open adoption, for me, may have been harder than full relinquishment because I don’t think I could have succeeded emotionally in a setting of monitored access to you. It’s one thing to feel the loss and feel like a freak without anybody else really being aware of what I was going through. Stepping into the role of birthmother with visitation rights would have been excruciating. At least that’s how I perceive it. In those shoes, I probably would have had constant feelings of deprivation of my child and fantasies about kidnapping you rather than relinquishing you over and over and over again. No thanks.

If I had it to do over, I would have accepted it and kept you right there in my arms and never, ever let you go. Ever. At least until you were old enough to look both ways before you crossed the street and then I would be watching you like a mother hawk.

I’ll read your post after my workout and write you a long one this afternoon to catch up. I’m so happy to hear from you and look forward to writing you back in a little while.

Love you,
Kate
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(Kate’s response to Cathy after reading the interviews)

Wow. I just finished reading the two sides – Lost Daughters and The Great Wide Open. What a good bunch of hard, honest questions and remarkable answers.

I think she has a disconnect that is securely fastened to her intellect. But I also think that sometimes we need to forge ahead with positive energy or we will die from the sorrow that lies under the optimism in our hearts.

I would never give you away again. I don’t care how nice people are, I feel like you do and would keep my right to be your parent.

I think your side was so eloquent and brave. You are beautiful and I’m so proud of your honesty. I love you, Cathy.

I’ll write more soon. The sun is out and I need to go for a walk and visit the elephants and gorillas at the zoo.

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(Cathy to Kate)

Oh, good. That’s what I was hoping you’d say : )

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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The Narrative

Excerpts from Kate (Chapter Two: Backstory)
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Eighteen. St. Louis was supposed to be “what I did on my summer vacation,” not this. I called my parents and told them things weren’t working out and I wanted to come home. My car had stopped running and I didn’t have the money to replace it. They sent me money for a plane ticket and I packed my bags. My friend, Joan was sad and worried about me as we drove to the airport.

“Whatever happens, tell Woz the opposite of what happens, okay?” I said as we hugged goodbye. If I’m pregnant I don’t want him getting in the middle of it, I’ll deal with it by myself. Promise me.”

“Okay, I promise.” Joan looked like she was going to cry. We hugged hard.

“Don’t worry, it’ll all work out” she said as I turned to board the plane.

Our eyes met. “I hope so” I said and walked away.
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On the face of it, my parents teamed up and said they would support whatever I decided. They set up a time for me to talk with the pastor. Fr. Bill Sullivan had eaten many dinners at our house over the years and he was at home with our family.

My pregnancy was an awkward topic but I was open to some practical input. Fr. Sullivan told me about adoption services. He didn’t tell me not to have an abortion but he gave me the alternatives that he was familiar with and told me he knew people who longed for a child more than anything and couldn’t have one except through adoption.

As my dad drove me back to my apartment, I admitted that I didn’t want to be a mother from being with a man I barely knew, didn’t love or planned to ever see again. To begin a family from a beginning like this seemed stupid and disastrous. I didn’t want to have a child. Abortion seemed like the only way to deal with it.

“It’s really up to you, honey.”

It had always been easy for me to talk freely with my dad. He brought me home record albums of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Weavers and Ian & Sylvia. He showed me how to play music, drove me to auditions and bought me my first guitar in New York City. He was interested in what I thought and didn’t pressure me to be anything but myself.

Life to me was magic. With my surname, I was teased with nicknames of “flower power” who wrote songs of internal struggles with happy endings. Love was my code. I’d been to Woodstock. Was this a call to love a complete unknown? How far do I go with this? It’s in my body, not my head. What do I do with it? I was eighteen years old.

In a gentle voice, my father began to tell me what it was like for him when my mother became pregnant for the tenth time. Each of us was special in our own way but my mother’s news of one more pregnancy put my dad into a crisis. He didn’t know if he could love one more child. He had worked hard and loved us all but he felt like his plate was full. There wasn’t any more room in his heart for one more.

As my mother grew with my baby sister, my father’s anxiety grew, unconvinced. Then Gina was born, a cheerful baby girl with the face of an angel, bright and spirited. We all vied to take care of her because she was the littlest one, named for the Blessed Mother – Regina Maria or Queen Mary. Our littlest sister became the apple of our father’s eye. He loved this little one so much.

“Now,” he said, “I can’t imagine what it would have been like without her. She was the last piece in the puzzle of our family. If I had turned away from my last child being born, life would have been different in a way I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.”

His eyes crinkled into a half-grin made me half-think he believed that I could do this – that it would be hard and not what I had planned for – but it might turn out better than I ever expected and I’d never know unless I tried … and that’s life, isn’t it?

I took in a breath and let it out. I guess I knew what I was going to do.

“Okay.”

I announced my decision to come to term and give up my baby for adoption. My parents accepted my decision and made plans with Sister Alice Faherty at Catholic Charities. Sister Alice was a pink-cheeked radical, peace-activist, post-Vatican II Sister of Mercy. She had handled five hundred adoptions and cared about every person she worked with.

I walked to the duck pond at the bottom of the hill in Morristown to meet her over deli sandwiches she brought with her. We sat in her car and as I unwrapped the white wax paper around my tuna sandwich, we began to get to know each other. Then she told me what I could expect.

A room would be reserved for me at the “Home for Unwed Mothers” in a small community north of my family’s town. I would pick an alias (to protect my given name) and within weeks of labor, I would go the home to wait to deliver. Everything else would be taken care of.

“Twenty years from now” she said, “a child may be able to see their records – and you can update the agency with your whereabouts if you want to be found. I think the laws will have changed by then.”

That could be good, I thought to myself. Twenty years was more than I had been alive. It seemed like a long time. Still, my baby could have a good home to grow up in. Maybe by some miracle we would come back together when the time was right. I would be mature and have my life together. If I did this for the sake of love and made the sacrifice for God, anything could happen. If the baby was born, everything was possible.

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My mother had conceded to a short visit on Christmas day so I could drop off gifts I had made for my brothers and sisters for Christmas. “Keep your coat on” she whispered, as my brothers and sisters followed her into the foyer to greet me.

My nine year-old youngest sister, Gina, stepped right up and stood in front of me and with an inquisitive expression said “What’s this?” She boldly ran her index finger down the front zipper of my cape from the neck to my waist.

I grabbed her hands with urgency and held them in mine as I smiled into her eyes, “This is my new cape my friend made me for Christmas? Isn’t it beautiful?”

She looked confused, unconvinced and dropped her hands.

“That’s nice” she said.

“I’ve missed you, Gina. Come on, let’s do presents!”

I took her hand and asked her to come sit with me in the living room and we’d hand out the gifts I had brought in my bag.

My mother paced nervously between the living room and the kitchen with tea and Christmas cookies and watched with a protective eye for her charges while I took out each present and handed it out; hand-crocheted hats, macramé beaded plant hangers, homemade jams and toys for the younger ones. A layer of worry underlined her motherly smile as she nodded to my siblings who showed her what they got. The gravity in her face told me to hurry.

Thirty minutes after my arrival I announced that I needed to deliver the rest of my Christmas presents and had better go. My cape draped around me as I stood with my empty canvas bag rolled up in my hands in front. After quick kisses goodbye, I backed out the driveway in my car. Tears broke hold as I shifted gears and pulled onto the road home where I would be a welcome sight, no matter what.

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Author’s comment:

After Cathy’s birth, I shared my story with those closest to me – mainly to ensure that if she ever came looking for me, my confidants would be able to tell her that I had been there and she would have a trail to follow. Little did I know that we would find each other the way we did!

The truth became public when we found each other. People were surprised by my openness but accepted it as part of my story – and some had stories of their own. Shared or not, this was part of who I was. It had always been easier for me to tell the truth than to hide it. My privacy and reputation had been protected for the sake of my family and my future. Reunion has forged a live reconciliation that continues to be ongoing, authentic and a source of love and strength for all of us, young and old, in the extended family we have become. ~ Kate

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

Sandhill Cranes (kate power ©2012)…story & lyrics at end of blog…My eyes fall on the Buddist Chant CD lying in front of the boombox on the kitchen counter. A cache of vitamins, Wellness formula and a small bottle of Elm Bach Remedy drops “to restore optimism when overwhelmed by effects of responsibility and change” are lined up in a row on the shelf. I squeeze a dropper of the Elm into a tall glass of filtered water, slip the CD in to play at a comfortable volume and set the timer on the oven for forty minutes. If I exercise early, my mind will calm down so I can navigate from a grounded perspective. I prepare the lifeboat of my body to travel into the plans and the inevitable unexpected turns of the day before me.

Under the calm of my face, a small wave of anxiety falls and rises to slap the sides of my boat, still on course from last night’s dreams. My body rolls down into a spinal curl, down and up again. My mind steps from the dream boat onto sand. My body adjusts to the weight of the motion and lands. My toes find the back of the mat and I roll to the floor, my hands splayed below my shoulders to push off into pushups. My breath calibrates to the movement and galvanizes my mind in sync to the rhythm. I can measure my strength by sets. I’m stronger than I was a year ago. Residual scenarios spin free from the open can of my dreams that beckoned new beginnings from old places filled with family, friends and new strangers and spill into the awakening consciousness of my morning mind. I let my body begin its work to strive toward the day ahead as the evidence of dreams roll into the corners of my room.

The face of Red-Spider Woman, Grandmother Margaret Behan, one of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, comes into focus. Her wizened face beamed to hear my Sandhill Cranes song; Father Sky, Mother Earth, Sister River and Brother Trees. It spoke to her and her face was alight with love, I felt its warmth. I watched her hear the song with her heart. Her grandfather had sung a song for her conception. Song brought her to life and she is tied to its music. She understands deeply, as grandmothers do, and responded to my earlier questions of attachment to loved ones who no longer ask for me and told me to let it go.

“They have already let you go,” she says with a gentle expression as befits her beautiful grandmotherly face. Her words ring true and tears drop bittersweet as they swell under my skin, over my heart and through eyes of the child in me who still begs to be loved.

I am afraid to let go. The feeling is so strong, the need to let my loved ones know that I love them, that I have not forgotten them. Years ago, in my strike for independence as a youth, I neglected them to emancipate. Then I remembered who I was, who they were and the place where I came from and scrambled back to the ledge, looking for the path that leads up the sides of the crooked, rocky mountain back to the love that gave me to the world. I search in dreams. I have forgotten the way, or they have forgotten the weight of the love they felt and I have floated away, out of sight and mind, back into the ether of beyond memory where everything without body or heart attached to it is nothing – gone.

I feel lonely in this thought and my mind scurries to the beautiful smile I remember on my mother’s face when she was a young woman and delighted to see me, her baby. I laugh at myself. I am a grandmother three times over now. I am still such a baby. I try to be kind to myself and breathe again to keep the rhythm of my motion centered so I don’t hurt myself as I roll, feet overhead and back again. Breathe.

I remember the sumptuous summer that Cathy and I wrote together in the basement studio of my Portland house. It was a delicious time for us. We were under protected time with the door closed to the outside world as we wrote for hours several days a week all summer long. I still feel warmth from the gift of that time. We had such purpose in our autonomous co-venture. We are the irony we write of and we have come to love each other in new ways in the work we continue to do to provide the world with our story.

A poignant moment that summer happened as we debriefed the work we had just finished for the day. As Cathy talked about our next practical steps, I had a sudden rush of fear and sadness that chased her words out of my ears as they hammered and pounded with the pulse of urgent dismay and my eyes filled with tears.

“What’s the matter, Kate?” Cathy asked, her face suddenly concerned.

I could feel my eyes stretch wide in an attempt to contain the feelings overwhelming me. My mouth opened and I cried out in a small, high voice as tears broke free.

“What if we finish all this and we finally get to read each other’s sides and I find out in the end that I am a roaring disappointment. What if you don’t even like me? What if you really can’t stand me and I didn’t even know it. What if I was too stupid to see the truth. What if all this work to tell ‘our truth’ just turns out to be everything I ever feared? What if I’m just a loser in your eyes. What if I’m the jerk I think I am? What if I’m not anything you had hoped for and in the end I lose you again, only this time it’s because you know better and you just choose to let me go? What if I’m just not good for you after all?”

My voice choked on the last words as my heart broke in my words and I just cried. Embarrassed, my eyes lifted to find hers looking back at me with tenderness.

“But Kate, I love you. We’ve been through it all. We know what our story is. I love you. It’s going to be all right. You don’t need to worry. I’m here. I love you.”

I looked back at her, “Really?”

“Really.”

“I love you, Cathy.”
“I love you, too.”

The chanting voices of Tibetan nuns fade with the memory as the timer beeps. My body has done its work, recalibrated and aligned with the ground beneath me. My mind is awake with daybreak. I thank God for another day, for feet that walk and hands that play. I am ready.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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The story and lyrics to…

Sandhill Cranes
Kate Power©2012

The story, gathering and journey of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, combined with sandhill cranes in migration at the mesa up in Paonia in the Colorado Rockies, inspired this song. There was just enough battery for this take, set up in a small sea cave in Otis, Oregon last Saturday, September 22, 2012. My husband and I faced each other and with just enough room for our hands to play our ukuleles, I sang into the tiny recorder. You can hear the ocean outside the cave in the quiet in the beginning and at the end.

“Sandhill Cranes” is dedicated to The Global Grandmothers in thanks for their courage & loving prayers.

Sandhill cranes gather in the field;
Lift in the wind, turn and reel.
I can tell the sound by the way it feels;
It fills me with wonder and delight,
Light, light.
It fills me with wonder and delight

Hey, heya, heya-ho,
Grandmother show me what I need to know.
Hey, heya, heya-ho,
Grandfather show me where I need to go.
Hey hey heya heya
Father Sky, watch me from on high
Hey hey heya heya
Mother Earth, carry me below
Hey hey heya heya
Sister River, run beside my side
Hey hey heya heya
Brother Trees, reach and rise.

Sing in antiphon! Fill up the air,
One starts to go and they follow him everywhere.
I would go with them if I wasn’t planted here
With my feet on the ground I walk and go;
Go, go.
With my feet on the ground I walk and go.

Recorded 9/22/12 , Sea Cave, Otis, Oregon
Kate & Steve
kate power/voice, six-string tenor uke
steve einhorn, uke

Cathy’s Portland

Destiny by John Waterhouse

    At my invitation, Cathy arrived in Portland, from the home of her upbringing in New Jersey, on the 4th of July, 1993. My arrival to Portland had been sixteen years earlier to the day, July 4, 1977. We were both Jersey girls who had come of age in “metropolitan New York” and sought the new world in the Pacific Northwest – me, to find the last of the new frontier to plant my roots and grow my family; she, to rub elbows with her birth genes and to see who this first mother of hers truly was.

    To this twenty-two year-old college graduate fresh from home, Portland was an exotic difference. Being my adopted hometown, Portland was a multi-faceted jewel for me to introduce her to. It was a gift to guide her to the people and pieces I loved most about Portland life. My daughter and I were almost strangers then. She came to find me out.

    Now, almost twenty years later Cathy has created deep roots in her Portland home ten blocks from where I used to live. She has a house, a husband and two beautiful sons, six and four years old. I am a proud grandmother and my husband cherishes his grandsons in his role as “Uncle Grandpa”. I have lived north in Olympia for the past two years now and accepted a new job last week that will move me to Seattle.

    Cathy and I have gone from the bare beginnings of our mother-daughter reunion into a deeper kinship than either of us ever imagined. We struggled to find this peaceful place between us. The urgency of our parallel youth has ripened and mellowed with age. We are close now and it is natural for us to talk about anything. We risked everything to have this and it was worth it. For that, I am grateful.

    Looking back on the youngster who came out on the Green Tortoise to check me out, I now find a mature woman with a strong sense of self and her place in the world. It makes me proud to watch her navigate through the challenges, even though I know I am one of them. Her take on life is different from mine and I cherish that too.

    After all these years we now find comfort in our time together. We have come to terms with the deficits of relinquishment and we have accepted our journey our way. She loves her life in Portland and I love that she has claimed Portland and me for her own.

    When I forget how remarkable that is, I recall how vast the gap between us was in those first years. Portland was a beautiful place for our relationship to grow. The kindnesses that my Portland community extended to both of us made it possible for us to proceed as though we were normal and gave us room to breathe through the barriers and harsher realities of our loss and reclamation of each other.

    Cathy came to town looking for answers. I did the best I knew how and I know that there were times when that wasn’t enough. Still, we made it through all the days, weeks, months and years. Now we are familiar enough with each other to lean on one another in ways that weren’t possible before we knew who we were reckoning with. Cathy is a stunning human being. Her differences from me are as interesting as the similarities. She’s as strong as I am, maybe stronger. I love who she is. She is unique. I suppose I am too.

    I feel her love for me grow from a place of suspicion and distrust to one of acceptance and understanding. Even though she knows that I’m not what she expected, she has accepted the mother I am and the mother I am not. We have created a place together that is current, honest, warm and open. Our relationship is real. The fantasies of who she might be in my mind or what I might have done differently in hers have faded as our true faces turn to greet each other by heart.

    We delineated the journey in this book we’ve been co-writing these past eight years. We haven’t shared our sides yet but I’m not afraid – no matter what her truth is. To share our truth with the world is an offertory of trust. Her arrival to Portland was a turning point and we never looked back. There are no regrets for coming together. I have watched her evolve from an innocent, immature young adult into a seasoned woman who knows her mind and whose compassion has grown with every corner we’ve broached together.

    I’m proud of my first daughter’s courage to say yes and come to the place of discovery and her first mother in Portland. Now it’s she who is the Portlander and I, her first mother, recognizable without disguise, who lives in her orbit – a satellite in her world and easily found. She has only to reach to find me there.

    The bonds of this love belong to us in its unique color, depth and texture, and springs from a life force that grew from my heart to hers when she was conceived and, given the space and connection it craved continues to grow from the roots in her heart to mine and back again. This is the natural course of love, as it ever was and always will be, in all its flaws and perfection between this mother and child.

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

Indigenous

The Lady of Shallot by John WaterhouseDaybreak lashes and flashes, wet and stormy this morning on Spray Beach. I woke at five o’clock and slipped out of bed to tiptoe down to the kitchen and coffee. Fifteen members of my husband’s tribe (and mine by marriage these eighteen years) are spread asleep in every room and nook but this. I pull up to a small round table tucked under a porthole on the third floor as lightning cracks every few seconds and thunder thrums the wooden floor under my bare feet. The only other sound is the cast of rain against the house and the soft snores of dreamers who remind me that I’m not alone, just awake.

My family used to gather this way in beach houses every summer. The family tradition grew into the ten of us, stuffed into the station wagon to drive to our summer destination of sand, saltwater and sun. My Boston parents were both raised by the ocean and we could feel the pull of their excitement as they returned with their brood to their salty origins. We saw the secret smile they shared in their eyes, like silkies itchy to shed skin that held them back and swim free.

Our father would join us on weekends and our mother ran the house in between breaks of quiet with a book on the beach as we ran wild. We chased briny adventures to the rush and ebb of the tides and only stopped for meals, sunburnt under Noxema in our damp suits and bare feet. Dinners were served on long tables cobbled together that often accommodated relatives dropping off cousins who stayed for days and sometimes even weeks, and we happily absorbed them into the dance of our family at play. Platters of spaghetti, lobster, clams, mussels and the catch of the day still get my juices flowing as the memory floods me with the childhood happiness I felt to feast with my family this way.

A relative newcomer to my husband’s family tradition, I am grateful for the retreat amongst family. I come as an in-law and know the difference between blood and marriage. My heart goes out to one of my stepsons who has joined us from his new job teaching in China. He has never experienced being an outsider; a minority cast in another race, language and country; he is stared at on the street for being different and the lonely role of his new solitude has dislodged his sense of connection. He soaks his family in, even me, and absorbs us with the reverence of communion as he watches and feels us surround him and bring him into the cluster of kin he craves, home from his isolation overseas. I am grateful to be part of his solace and understand what it means to be outside. He knows.

I am reminded of my first daughter’s bravery when she came to my mother’s 80th birthday and family reunion eight summers ago. My daughter had been raised with one older brother, also adopted (and who had since died) and no relatives in her generation from her adoptive family line. For her to enter any family scenario of mine was high contrast to her life experience. I am one of a family of ten. All of my Boston-Irish relatives had large families and most of my siblings have produced children and a substantial thicket of cousins. It’s easier for a large family, raised on the organic network of bloodline, to absorb one more without a second thought – than it is for a solitary person to walk into a large clan by blood and feel like one of them.

I was proud as I watched my daughter’s grace under fire but didn’t quite understand until later just how hard that day was for her. Her life had been so different from mine and bloodline without connection didn’t cross the gap. She had to hold her own inside her skin and take in the culture of my family as though one of them, while for her it was as foreign as China to be immersed in. She looked like us but inside she was someone else. My family couldn’t and didn’t see the difference. Her points of reference were from other places. She had come from other people and none of them were us. They were another family and she belonged to them as much as they belonged to her.

Our ancestors and heredity travel in the blood we share alongside her birthfather’s side. Where they deliver her remains to be seen but when she comes to my door, wherever that is, she will be welcomed home.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes. Reunhref=”http://reunioneyes.blogspot.com/2012/08/indigeny.html” target=”_blank”>ReunionEyes.