Rockefeller Center, 2008
In my local weekly newspaper, the Sag Harbor Express, the Inquiring Photographer asked the question: What would you like for Christmas this year?
One woman wanted her children to be with her; a man wanted good news on the wars in the Middle East and the situation in Africa...and the third person, a woman--smiling broadly--says: "I already have what I want...I adopted a beautiful child two days ago, and what else could I ask for?"
Who is the child, where is he or she from, where is the mother, I wondered. This will not be her happiest Christmas. She is having the worst Christmas of all.
Ah Christmas...the cruelest season, the saddest time, the loneliest day for those separated by adoption. My life seems to have been separated into three kinds of Christmases: those before I had my daughter and surrendered her; the fifteen years when I did not know where she was; and those after I found her. Actually, there is a subset there because there were a couple of Christmases when we were not in touch, when she had pulled back for one reason or another. Some of those, for reasons I can not discern, were worse than others.
But although we never actually spent Christmas Day together (often she would fly to New York the day after Christmas) once I knew where she was, and how she was, my peace of mind was enormous. I could listen to the tremulous notes of "Silent Night" without the lump in my chest feeling as if it were going to explode, right then and there in church. Now I get merely get tears in my eyes. This year I'm getting cards and emails from people referring obliquely to the one-year anniversary of my daughter's suicide and adding that this must be a difficult time for me. How to say this: Yes, it's hard, but not as hard as the Christmases when I did not know where she was: when we were separated by adoption.
Strike you as odd? Unfeeling? Adoption is always in the present in the mind of the mother. There is no past, no getting over the hard part and moving on, because somewhere there is a child with your DNA and all you feel is the loss.
In the present.
Oh, perhaps the second year after surrender is not as bad as the first, but I'm not even sure about that. All I know is that while I miss Jane terribly--I miss emailing her, talking about what we were going to make for dinner, discussing politics, what we were doing that evening, next week, where we were going, how our respective work was coming along, how she was doing in school herself, how my granddaughter was, the million little details that make up a life--this pain I feel this year, a year after her death, is nowhere as searing as when I did not know where she was.
I always said that death would have been easier than giving her up for adoption. Now I know the feelings of both, and I was right. Death has finality; adoption stays with a mother in her present. The only past tense in the mother's heart refers to the days of birth and surrender.
I have no words of solace or comfort for those separated by adoption at this time--whether you know where the other is or do not-- except to tell you what I told myself in my darkest moments: This day will pass. Tomorrow will be another time. This is life. Some days, some times are good; some times are sad, some times are happy. We have to remember the good times, and know that the darkest days will move away from us. Enjoy the family and friends that you do have, and put the sadness in a small chest in your mind, one that you won't visit for now. Go watch "Law and Order," put on your favorite Christmas music, call your niece, enjoy the loved ones you have close.
To all mothers in secret reunion without the adoptive parents' knowledge, I say, be glad for what is. The alternative is not knowing and nothing will ever be as horrible, as wretched, as soul-killing as not knowing. Yes, you would like everything to be out in the open, you would like to be able to coo over the grandchild in the hospital the same day the adoptive parents do. But instead of only bemoaning what is missing, accept that the adoptive parents must have made the subject of her or his origins such a forbidden subject that she or he can not be open and honest with them. Transfer you irritation to the adoptive parents, not your child. Celebrate the person for what you do share, not what you do not, and do not make yourself sick with frustration that your reunion is not all that you wish it would be.
Enjoy to the fullest what you have.
The Privileged and Their Children... Oh, you do want to read this if Alex Kuczynski's story of her travels with a hired surrogate mother interested you. The Public Editor of the Times weighed in with comments--about the photos, the reaction, and the surrogate mother saying that she did not really do it for the money, it just covered her costs of not working. The link will take you there.
And Sunday's (12/21/08) Times had another letter saying that the money issue should have been explored more. I mean, come on--even though surrogate-mom Cathy Hilling denied it, I have a hard time believing that if she were wealthier she would be renting out her body. How many wealthy women feel so generously inclined? Cathy is completely deluding herself.
JOYCE LESLIE of
"Why didn’t Alex Kuczynski, who wrote the article in The Times Magazine, acknowledge that this is at least a hard question to answer? Why didn’t she probe Cathy Hilling’s statement that she didn’t become a surrogate mother for the money? And why wasn’t there any follow-up on the interesting fact that Ms. Hilling’s daughter sold her eggs to pay for college tuition? This seems like a family economic strategy in hard times."