Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine's Day Message: I'm sorry without caveats

Hello...this is blogger Linda's cute house, decked out for Valentine's Day, Saturday.

While mostly we write about what is tearing our hearts out, I want to share today and through the weekend the wonderful heart-warming card that I received from my daughter Jane in 1984, when she was seventeen.

This is really huge card--by huge I mean it's 20 inches by 12.5 inches--and the picture on the front is of a little guy in red outfit, a "Ziggy" character who is surrounded by a sea of people, doctors, nurses, tennis players, firemen, ladies in hats, cops, students, a Frenchman in a beret, a guy with a cello, hippies, a witch, a woman with a briefcase, a hobo, a waiter, a maid, and so forth...and the message above Ziggy's head says:

JUST THINK, VALENTINE! ONCE WE WERE PERFECT STRANGERS, BUT THEN FATE STEPPED IN, AND THROUGH SOME MIRACLE, OUT OF ALL THE MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, OUR PATHS CROSSED!

Inside the card says: NOW WHAT?

Jane had written a note inside that said: I just wanted to say I love you (underlined several times) in a very special way, to a very special person, on a very special day. Love, Jane.

She added and a smiley face.

So now you understand that though we mostly write about the troubles of a relationship with our children, there were some very warm/loving/happy times...which I need to remind myself because I also remember this:

I hadn't seen her for a while and she was not speaking to me, when I was asked by her parents to come to Wisconsin to take care of our granddaughter while they were away. I jumped at the chance. Jane was married and living with her husband in a one-bedroom cabin in the woods, but granddaughter Kim, who had moved in with the grandparents when she was six, was still living with them. Jane was probably working full time at that point, and anyway, her ability to manage a job and Kim was questionable. I know it's confusing, but so was Jane's life. Her epilepsy made her life unstable.

The adoptive family returned, and we went to Mass Sunday, the day before I was to leave. I had not seen Jane the entire two weeks I was there. Jane and her husband were expected to be at Mass, as the Catholic church in their small town in Wisconsin has only one service on Sunday. I was standing at the end of a pew. Jane came in as the Mass was starting and said hello to what seemed like half the people in the church, continuing to nod to this one and that one even after she slipped in next to me. I felt like an absolute idiot, as half of the people she was saying hello to knew who I was (the dreaded birth mother!) because I had been there several times, knew the priest, et cetera. After what seemed like an interminable amount of time, Jane at last turned to me and said, Hello.

If there was ever an way to show me how angry she was with being adopted that was it. We--her adoptive parents, granddaughter, Jane and her husband--went out to brunch afterward, but again she barely acknowledged my existence. Her parents tried to normalize the situation without much success. After brunch, I did speak to Jane and her husband without anyone else around outside the restaurant. I do not remember what was said. The next day I flew back to New York. I still had absolutely no idea what I had done to cause her to reject me. We had not had an argument. She never gave a reason, she had just drifted away. I felt terrible, I cried a lot. Linda talked me through Jane's birthday one year.

In the middle of this separation and silence, I was on a panel at a CUB (Concerned United Birthparents) retreat. There I was talking about how to normalize our feelings and heartache, trying to help other mothers learn from my experience, when my own daughter wasn't speaking to me. At an imaging workshop given by Carol Schaefer, author of The Other Mother, I ended up in tears as I visualized Jane walking across a bridge with a present for me, a small package wrapped in rich pink tissue paper. Who knows what that was except my fondest hopes....
I heard Nancy Verrier, author of The Primal Wound, say that we mothers should once say to our surrendered daughters and sons: I'm sorry. I'm sorry you were adopted. That's it. No adding, It was the times, you don't know the pressure I was under, my parents made me do it--just a simple, I'm sorry I let it happen. I'm sorry.

I called Jane a few weeks later on a Saturday afternoon, and, with pounding heart and a flush of sweat (yes, I was anxious), did just that. Said I was sorry, plain and simple. She said she didn't know what to say, but we spoke for over an hour. It was a good conversation. She did not call back the following week or month. More time passed.

But one day, Jane called out of the blue, and we went on as if the disconnect had never occurred.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry you were adopted. If it's possible, every adoptee needs to hear those words once. Maybe the occasion of Valentine's Day--an ancient holiday with roots in the pagan culture--is the time to do it. Adoption leaves a lot of broken hearts in its wake. If it's possible to help a healing, and mend a sorry heart filled with hurt, maybe this is one way.--lorraine

PS:
In the bizarre-news category: Kristen Chenowith, whom we previously blogged about as she said in her memoir that she was not interested in searching for her mother, says that she believes her natural mother may have congratulated her at a beauty pageant before disappearing in a crowd. Could be true, I suppose, as some of the stories in the National Enquirer are. And having heard a million strange stories about mother/child relationships, this just might be true.

16 comments :

  1. Linda, you are so right. When a reunion takes a bad turn, we forget to appreciate the times when it was good. And that things might well turn back around when we least expect it. As for the apology, I believe it is very important and I have told my son I am sorry many times. In his case, it was never enough.

    (((HUGS)))

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  2. Yes, the "I'm sorry" with no "big buts" helped in my situation as well. My son called me on always making excuses that someone else made me do everything, and I realized I had better take responsibility for my part in the surrender. Then later Nancy Verrier said the same thing as a general principle, and a good one.

    I think what we as mothers have to be sorry for is surrendering, not that they were adopted. Some guy at AAC once gave a talk about surrender and adoption being separate things often evoking different emotions in adoptees; one can be sad or mad or otherwise unhappy with the fact that they were surrendered, but glad that they were adopted, if they fit in pretty well in a loving adoptive family. That made sense to me.
    Even when the adoptive family was not great or abusive, the two things are still separate.

    Given that, while I am sorry I did not raise my son (endlessly, profoundly sorry) I am not sorry he was adopted, rather than spending his life in foster care. I know mothers who thought their kids were adopted and they were not, spent their lives in institutions or foster care due to medical issues or, especially years ago, to race. And no, once you signed a surrender, you were NOT notified of this, or if the adoption fell through and the child went back into state care.

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  3. Totally agree with all said here, especially what Marianne said about surrender.
    It's funny. I don't understand why someone wouldn't apologize, regardless of the circumstances that surrounded the relinquishment.
    I would have thought it was just instinctual.

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  4. Actually, this suggestion of saying that one is sorry for an event of which there is an extreme likelihood was influenced by coercion is something that I disagree with. A coerced decision is not a decision at all, and study after study has shown that the majority of us were coerced. Coercive practices are even rampant today in the "open adoption" era.

    I asked him son what his response would have been if I had ever apologized to him, and he said it would have been totally crazy and stupid of me, as I had no choice.

    If we really did not want or love our babies, and thus freely surrendered them for adoption without misgivings, then yes I definitely think an apology is in order. But I don't believe it is necessary to take responsibility for an act that was perpetrated against us. For example, I can pinpoint exactly the legal violations and coercive acts that were perpetrated against me and which gave me no choice: the specific hospital and the Ministry of Social Service of the BC Government are the ones who violated my rights and took my son. At age 17, strapped down prone to a flat delivery table and drugged to the gills, I had just as little power as he did. He understands this entirely.

    The adoption industry puts the blame on us and tells us that it was "our fault" and "our choice" when in fact our choices were manipulated, rights were violated, and information on how to keep our children was withheld from us if we were "white enough" for our babies to be in demand.

    Guilt and shame for the loss of our children can cripple many mothers if they blame themselves or take responsibility for the act. I believe Verrier is wrong.

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  5. Right Kippa,

    It never hurts to say "I'm sorry."
    Once, and mean it.

    But in those cases like Denise's and other mothers I know, when sorry is "never enough" at some point that becomes the adoptee's hangup, not the mother's. I know a few mothers who found very needy, disturbed adoptees for whom nothing is ever enough, who blame everything on adoption, and demand endless apologies to torment their mother. They are a black hole of need that nothing can fill.

    On the other side, some mothers keep apologizing when once was enough, which can make the adoptee uncomfortable and the mother a broken record to listen to. Ditto for the mistake I made, blaming everyone else but myself, the apology with the "Big BUT" attached. Either one sounds sniveling and unpleasant after a while.

    Best case scenario; say it once, accept it once, and both move on to other aspects of relationship.

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  6. IMHO; Sometimes, "I am sorry" is offerred in empathy, as in, " am sorry for your loss" or in this case, "I am sorry for OUR loss". And it does not always mean culpability, not, "I am sorry that I did this to you", but perhaps, "I am sorry that this time/these events have come between us".

    To not say that one is sorry for the loss might loudly exclaim that it was in fact the best for everyone, and the reunion is simply coming full circle, which also might be painfully true. Pick your message and sometimes "pick your poison" carefully. Maybe "mea culpa" and "no mea culpa" are not mutually exclusive, and not the real point. Our children need to know that we feel the loss, too.

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  7. Great refining of the message, Holly.

    In my case just a simple I'm sorry...seemed right on target.

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  8. No one message or strategy works for all. Cedartrees, if your son is satisfied with what you said, then that works for you and there is no problem. For some of us, the apology helped. Others don't need it.

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  9. This has been a very revealing and helpful topic for me, and it has prompted a brief note to my son. I hope that it will be well received, but the outcome is beyond my control. Thank you, everyone, for your posts.

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  10. Nice one, Holly.
    That's it exactly :-)

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  11. Cedar, I too was coerced, threatened and confined to two maternity homes in succession for five months before and six weeks after the birth of my son in 1962.
    When I told him I was sorry, it was because I really was sorry I hadn't been able to be there for him as I'd wanted to be. He never asked for an apology. He knew the circumstances.
    But I think he appreciated it anyway.

    P.S
    I'd never heard of Nancy Verrier at the time.

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  12. Yes, Mairaine, you are right. There are some cases, where, like you say, "Sorry" is never enough.
    That must be hard to bear.

    Fingers crossed for you, Holly.

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  13. Thanks, Kippa. That note was tough to write. I just tried to keep it real and short. However, sadly, I do not expect a response from my son for at least a few days, because he often waits up to a week to return my emails. It is tough, but I know that all must go slow. I want 38 years to melt away in a moment. He will probably not refer to my note except in passing.

    Btw, I too was confined, in my parents' home, and the details are still raw after nearly 4 decades. But losing my son was in no way HIS fault, and he will one day know what happened, when I can tell it without spewing deadly venom and recrimination, as he fears injuring his adoptive mother. He will never know my parents, my tormentors along with the rest of my family, who thought they were doing the best for me, and also their precious reputations. What of my precious tiny family of 2?

    His adoptive father has "moved on" of sorts, not a perfect "dad" having married a few more times, and very rarey mentioned. My son's birth father had never, ever been in the "birth plan", and I cannot imagine finding that fellow, but my son may want to one day. I shall remain open to anything to help my son. We have come too far.

    I found my son a mere 3 months ago, but we are beginning to talk in more concrete terms about meeting in person, a mere 1.5 hours away for each of us (central location). We feel like we're a world apart right now.

    But to bring this topic full circle, my indication that I am sorry for his/our loss might help him to understand that I have always loved him, truly since before he was born. My behavior needs to prove that, or it was foolhearty and self-serving to find then contact him.

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  14. Lorraine,

    The card is beautiful and I know how special they are to we moms.

    I have every card my son every gave me, I read them carefully, and keep them forever.

    I also do this with my raised kids cards, they have meaning I can't throw them away.

    One day my kids will clean my place after I die and realize,how much, I loved the cards, and them.

    Gale

    ps Cedar I AGREE 100% like asking a rape victim to apologize for being raped. wtf!!!

    pss I WON'T apologize for the adoption as I had no choice, and was forced into it.

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  15. How exciting to be in a new reunion, Holly! It sounds like a promising start. Take it slow, let your son call the shots on when and where to meet, and it may happen sooner than you think!

    You seem to be a sympathetic and thoughtful mother, able to empathize with your son's feelings. Best wishes for a continued relationship and wonderful reunion!

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  16. just a thought on this one (over a year after it was written LOL)...
    maybe the "I'm sorry" will be/could be the key to everything. Though some may say I am a Bitch (and proud of it - and they'd be right), I am also a big push over and if someone I was truly upset with came up one day (years after the fact) and simply said, "I'm sorry." If they were somebody I love?? that would be all it took to win me over or at least start melding my heart of ice LOL
    hugz to all of you! Cully

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