Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Grieving for my daughter's adoptive mother

But if all unhappy families are the same, every adoption is quite different. Consider this one between first mother Alison Ward and her daughter's other mother, Sandra. Last week Alison, who now resides in Fort Myers, Florida, wrote to me after her daughter's adoptive mother died. Alison and I both searched for minor children (she ahead of me) in the early Eighties, when most of the adoption reform movement disapproved of that. Alison spent several years on the board of Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), was a co-founder of Origins in New Jersey, and was involved with the defense of Mary Beth Whitehead in the Baby M case (which resulted in a surrogacy ban in NJ). Alison and I, and our daughters, Holly and Jane, were featured in a New York Times story, "Mothers Find the Children They Gave Up," by Judy Klemesrud on August, 29, 1983. (Yes, we do go back.) We were also in the Jill Krementz book How It Feels To Be Adopted. Holly's adoptive family is also pictured there.

by Alison Ward


When we all searched so long ago to reunite with our children, I don't think we ever gave much thought back then to anything but the early years, the ones following the loss, and the present. We were so much younger than the adoptive parents. Now, all our children are grown, the ones we lost and any whom we raised. We are all grandmothers now, although sometimes are not recognized as "real" ones.


My daughter, Holly, had adoptive parents who raised her and loved her. They invited me for a weekend at their home several months after I made that first phone call to a 14-year-old. They asked me to stay with Holly when they went away to horse show when she was 15, which was when Jill Krementz came to tiny Dacula, Georgia to interview Holly, Sandra, and me. Sandra allowed the picture of the three of us to be in People magazine way back when, and we were later all on Oprah Winfrey's show in Baltimore
(before Oprah went to Chicago) with the late Bill Pierce of the National Council for Adoption and a sworn opponent of openness in adoption. I doubt if Sandra and Holly's adoptive father, Allan, received much support from their friends when they allowed Holly to spend Christmas breaks and summer vacations with me when she was a teenager.

Certainly it was difficult for Sandra and Allen when Holly lived with me and my second child, Daniel, whom I had when I was 36 and was raising as a single mother in New Jersey. Holly was going to college in nearby, and t
hings seemed to be going well when one day she simply walked out and left. She was 24 at the time; we had known each other for nearly a decade. Letters went unanswered and the years rolled by.

After Holly withdrew from our relationship, any letter or package I sent her went c/o Allan and Sandra. Although I never received any response from Holly, Sandra reassured me that she gave everything to
Holly and I believed her.

I did not hear from Holly for 17 years. Four years ago when Holly was 41, she wrote me, told me about her life and her son, Matthew, enclosed a picture, and asked for medical information. I responded and sent a baby gift, but did not hear from her again for a couple of years. Then, in 2007, she mailed me a wonderful album full of photos of Matthew, in kind of time lapse photography fashion. It was then that I knew we would meet again. Matthew is Holly's only child. He was born when she was 36, the same age I was when I had Daniel.

Sandra and Allen knew that Holly met me again on Sanibel over a year ago. She knew I met Matthew, who was four at the time, and her husband, Phil. Last October, when Holly told me that Sandra's health was rapidly declining, I wrote Sandra a note to wish her well and to thank her for all she had done for Holly and for me. She wasn't a perfect mother and, God knows, I'm far from it.

I'm not exactly sure why I have been affected so much by Sandra's death, but we were connected for the last 42 years (even the first 14 when we didn't know each other). While Sandra's obituary won't mention me, she leaves me behind as well as her family. I know that, while she could never replace me, I can never replace her.



5 comments:

Mairaine said...

Hi Alison,

I am sorry to hear of Holly's Mom's death, but glad that Holly has come around again and that you got to meet your grandson. That's great! Condolences to Holly on her loss.

Not all of us are grandmas yet, not me anyhow, but I keep hoping:-)

timex said...

Alison,

You sound like a wonderful lady with a very big heart. Thank you for sharing your story.

Lorraine,

I first read Birthmark in the early 1980s; was delighted to learn that you had found your daughter when I read "How it Feels to Be Adopted" several years later; and grieved for you when I found this blog last month and started reading through the posts. I also remember Alison's story very well.

I've often wondered what became of the other children profiled in "How it Feels." Are you still in touch with any of the families, and if so would there be any chance of your providing updates?

Kippa said...

I'm so sorry to hear of your daughter's adoptive mother's death, Alison. My condolences to Holly in her loss.

My reunited son's adoptive father died a few years ago, and although, unlike yourself and Sandra, we never met, I was acutely aware of the closeness of our connection on the human web.

I'm very pleased to hear that you and Holly are in touch :-)

Lorraine said...

Hi timex...I was wondering about the other kids in How If Feels myself when I looked at the book the other day...I have stayed in touch with Jill over the years, but I did not know any of the other families so I have no connection to them today.

Mairaine said...

I still hear from Carol Gustavson, Sue Gustavson's mother. Sue was one of the kids in Jill Krementz' book.

Sue is fine, works in the health care field. I do not think she has been in touch with her birthmother for many years.

Carol and Russ are retired, no longer involved in adoption reform, but keep in touch with some old friends.