Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Birth Mother's Lament: Giving up my baby was like dying

Copyright Lorraine Dusky (c) 2009

When I tried keeping a journal what came out was either a daily dose of woe-is-me or perfunctory notes about the books I was reading. Instead I wrote a long letter to my baby, typing it out at my small wooden desk. It was a real antique I’d picked up cheap in Saginaw and moved cross country. Now it sat beneath a western window where the sun went down through fragments of colored glass hanging there.

…You kick me, you cause hard bulges in my stomach, you do not let me sleep for more than a few hours at a time. Sometimes I think you are standing on your hands kicking your feet against the wall of my stomach….Now that you have announced your presence, I cannot help but love you, because you are me and you are him….You’ll look around sometimes and you’ll see that other lives seem easier, a little gentler on the mind: Why am I adopted? You’ll ask. Try to think only that you have got to learn more than others because you have more to do passing through. Don’t ask why. Such things just are.

But I have to admit that being philosophical doesn’t help much when you’re hurting. I guess I am trying to say that since we can not do anything about the pain, we might as well try to make some good of it.

Our separation is not going to be easy on either of us. I have to give you away and you have to be given away. Oh, baby I wish it didn’t have to be that way. Afterward, both of us will always be different from most of the rest. There will be a mark deep inside that only you and I know about. Only you and I will know how it feels. I know you didn’t ask to be born a bastard, and if I could have chosen, I wouldn’t have been born female. All we can do is make do.

…there is so much I want to tell you, so much love I want to encircle you with, so much I can not do for you, so much that must go unsaid. I tried to kill you, but do not hate me. I love you. I love you. I love you.


I did not dwell anymore about wishing I had been born a man; those thoughts fled as my body and mind were flooded by female hormones overwhelming all earlier considerations. Nonetheless, yin/yang conversations played in my head.

The part of me that leaned male, XY: Someday, when this is over, you’ll see, you’ll have your career back. It’s the only way. The only way.

XX: But will that be worth it? I will have lost my baby. I want my baby. I want to be with Brian and our baby.

XY: Grow up. You got yourself into this mess. If that’s what you thought, that you wanted a baby to keep, your timing is off. By the way, why didn’t you use some kind of contraception, sweetie?

XX: That’s a long story, and you don’t have to be condescending, hon. Brian—he was impotent at first, and then he wasn’t—

XY: So?

XX: So that’s how it happened. Come on, don’t you have any pity—

XY: I am not interested in that anymore. That’s done. Now you must buck up and give away this baby. Tomorrow is another day.

XX: But my baby, don't you see, my baby, not someone else’s. I want to keep him, nurse him, watch him grow up, be his mother….

XY: Too effin’ bad. You made your bed, now lie in it.

Every three weeks or so, I went to see the social worker at Northaven Terrace, the adoption agency. Mrs. Mura, who had become a confident, friend, therapist. Until the day everything changed.

“But we’ll be able to—find each other when he’s eighteen, right—or twenty-one?” I said matter-of-factly one afternoon. It’s half a statement, half a question. She is already looking at me with a kind of shock on her face. “Right?” I add. “Right?”

“NO.” Mrs. Mura shakes her head back and forth slowly.

“What do you mean?” Surely she does not mean what I already know she must mean. Yet she can not mean that. That is unbearable, cruel and unusual, nobody would make that kind of law, nobody with a heart…. A quick hot layer of sweat swept over me.

“But that’s inhumane—that can’t be right, that we never—” I could not even raise my voice, I did not have the strength to do that. She was The Man. She was in charge. I was—nothing. A baby bearer, the woman shamed, someone without rights. Of any sort.

“Lorraine, I thought you knew, once you sign the papers it’s over. I mean, for good. The records are sealed. For good. You can’t find him and he—”

“That is the most horrible thing I ever heard of, what would be the harm? I mean when—when he’s older. Surely that’s what this secrecy is about—why I can’t meet the parents—so that I don't interfere when he’s growing up.” My voice has taken on a plaintive whining tone, tears are welling up.

But she did not send any mitigating signal. She is trying to be kind, I can tell that, but that’s like offering me a smoke on the way to the gallows. Yet I could not give up.

“Can’t we do this another way? Can’t we have an agreement that when he is older, that at least he can find out, and me too? There has to be another way, there must be some parents who….”

“I know you can’t see it now, but you will make another life for yourself. The pain will lessen in time.”

I stared at her blankly, so this is how this will end, my life in an abyss of not knowing. Who dreamt up this vile law? Who was the monster?

“You’ll see, you will make a new life for yourself,” she repeated.

I looked out the window, it is high up and all I can see is the sky—the better to keep away prying eyes from the parking lot—it was a sunny day and a patch of clear bright blue filled the window. How can it be sunny today? How can today be a sunny day? I want to scream and rail against this injustice, I want to roll on the floor and moan in misery.

“What about if we—ask the adoptive parents? Or can’t we find a couple who—”

“Lorraine, if you won’t agree to this, we can’t help you. There is no other way.”

We can’t help you. There is no other way.

“This is the law. Once you sign the papers, you have to walk away. You will never forget her, but there is no going back. The records are sealed for good. It’s best for everyone this way. For you, for her…. ”

Are you out of your mind? Best for me? This will never be best for me. I want to grab my purse and run. To where? I can not go home to my family. Brian hasn’t made a move.

And I have no Plan B.

I slunk down into my chair, inspected the tiled floor, the pale green of vomit. This is so much worse than I thought it would be. This is going to be a living death. I have no say so about how this happens. I am a woman without rights. Of any sort. They think I am garbage, to be disposed of, once I hand over the baby.

This is not right. This is wrong. Every part of my being is screaming: this is wrong.

I remembered what the Chinese palmist said the time she read my hand: You have one child but something is wrong. Like he's adopted.

I did not know what she meant at the time. Yet I may have been already pregnant. I just did not know it. --lorraine


9 comments :

  1. Lorraine,

    You're more honest than I. As I talked to the social worker, I secretly planned to find my baby when she was 18 but I did not let on lest she send the baby to China or somewhere to be sure I could not find her. I tried to say everything I thought I was supposed to say so she wouldn't discover my plan. Perhaps my plan was just a rationalization allowing me to give up my baby by telling myself I would find her and we would take up where we left off.

    My body too screamed this is wrong. "No, no" it kept saying. "Do not go gentle into that good night." Then my mind would say "You're protesting too much. This matters to no one but you." I imagined my daughter all grown screaming at me "Why didn't you give me up for adoption so I could have had a perfect mother instead of you." At other times I imagined her saying why did you give me up and my answer was "you were perfect and I was not."

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  2. Did you really write that to your baby when pregnant? And kept it? Amazing.

    I had no concept at all of any future, did not care if I lived or died and could not think five minutes ahead let alone 18 years. My thoughts were mostly wordless and confused, pictures, not rational ideas, a grey inarticulate haze of hopelessness and pain.

    It did not even occur to me that an adopted person would ever want to know about their birth mother until I heard Florence Fisher and Jean Paton years later. I did not know adoption records were sealed.I did not know I had "confidentiality" and never wanted it, but that was a moot point as I thought adopted people were all happy and content. Of course I would love to see my son again, but why would he ever want to see me, as he was going to a "better world?"

    I felt I was saving my son from me by surrendering. He deserved better. I am very sorry he did not get it.

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  3. I wrote a huge letter to my baby when I was pregnant--what I'm including here is only part of it. Most of it was in Birthmark, and yes, I really did write then at the time. I could not imagine that "he" (which is what I imagined I was having) would not want to know his origins. It seemed like the most normal thing one could imagine. Not knowing always seemed like a state of perpetual ennui,and who would want that?

    I was not a good candidate for giving up a child. But then, who is?

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  4. "But then, who is?"

    I'm hoping that's a purely rhetorical question.
    Otherwise, wow!

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  5. I can't help but wonder what your daughter's reaction was to reading that letter.

    I think receiving it would have made me really angry.

    I mean the whole, "you have to be given away thing" just no.

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  6. Sometimes it it better to say less than more, especially to our surrendered kids. In general lengthy explanations of why we surrendered do not go over well, more like we are trying to justify what can't be justified. My son called me on it, that I was always blaming other people for talking me into things, rather than taking responsibility for what I myself did. That woke me up real fast!

    I think Nancy Verrier had a good point with her "just say you are sorry", no qualifiers. And go on from there. The lengthy explanations are for ourselves, to try to sort it out in our own minds, not necessarily for our kids to have to read or hear.

    As to the question of who is a good candidate to give up a child; someone who really does not want to raise that child, or really can't without massive amounts of help.

    Of course there should be more openness than we experienced, and real informed choice, but there are still situations where surrender is the lesser evil and better choice. Neither the circumstances that lead to surrender nor the aspirations and abilities of surrendering mothers are uniform. There is not one "right choice" for all, neither surrender nor raising the child.

    Lorraine, from reading all you have written, were you at that point really a good candidate to raise a child? Your career was and is very important to you. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with choosing a career over motherhood, although in the 60s we were made to feel there was. Looking at your own situation honestly, wouldn't keeping your child have caused you different but serious problems as well? Especially a child born with a serious medical condition.

    Hindsight is great, but nobody really knows what choosing the other path would have meant for us or our kids. Some of us always wanted kids, others did not. Neither way is better or worse or makes anyone a better person, it is so individual and complex.

    It was wrong that many of us did not have a real choice. But that does not mean the outcome was wrong for everyone.

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  7. I agree with Mairaine, there comes a point when explaining things to children becomes counter-productive and destructive, the whole, "I tried to kill you but do not hate me" line just wow.

    Incredibly insensitive and yet cloying.

    Also, justifying the unjustifiable, I was talking to my father recently and he started in about why my relinquishment happened. Which I thought was ridiculous----I mean yes I know a 1000 times have I been told.

    It has been such a part of my life that it usually has no charge at all for me now, not that reunion is problem free but the problems are much more of the current variety for me. Anyway my dad is going on about how embarrassed my maternal grandparents would have been at church had my mother kept me.

    It just brings into sharp relief how bizarre the situation was. You don't toss out a child into the world without protection because of embarrassment at church.

    Adoption was held out as a false solution, or at least for me, it seemed to have worked for them.

    My raised son was not conceived in ideal circumstances, he is savvy enough to put two and two together, but there are certain things that he will never hear coming out of my mouth.

    It seems from talking to other adoptees and my own experiences many mothers don't filter themselves for us, I guess it is part of the taking away of protection thing.

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  8. I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy I named Logan Philip, and when I was discharged the next day, I left him at the hopsital. I put him up for adoption. The adoptive parents I picked out for him were there and took him home the next day.

    In 6 days, I go to the courthouse in Oshkosh to sign away my parental rights forever and truly send Logan on his way to his new future.

    I don't regret my choice for a second, I am terribly sad about it and my heart breaks not having him in my arms, but I want him to have more than what I can give him right now. I can't support him financially, emotionally, or in any way really. I could love him with all my heart, but I think I would eventually have come to resent him, and I didn't want that to happen. He deserves better.

    I do love him with all my heart, and I wanted him to have a chance at a great life. One where he has opportunities, not constant hardships. Sure, we could have 'gotten by,' but just getting by is not how I want it to be for my baby. I love the idea that his life is going to be better now, now that I made a choice based on his needs, not on what I wanted.

    My heart dies a little bit every day, but I can only hope that I will keep encouraging myself and someday I will heal. When my grieving is over, I can be encouraged that I did make the right decision, because for my future babies, I will be ready for them. I will actually be financially stable, I will be emotionally stable, I will be at a point in my life where I actualyl have something to offer them in life.

    Down the road, I am encouraged by the thought that he might want to find me. I will have my information available, so if he ever decides that he wants to meet me, I will greet him with open arms. I love the idea of inviting him to my home and meeting his younger siblings.

    His birth father and I will most liekyl end up together. It was a collaborative decision to give Logan a better chance at success and happiness. It wasn't easy at all, but I am so grateful that I had the support of the dad. It helped so much.

    I can't say that I will heal quickly, or that it will take forever. All I know is that when I get to my lowest points, just thinking about how much I affected not only Logan's future, but the adoptive parents as well.

    Lynn and Nigel (the adoptive parents) were so amazingly supportive and involved through the pregnancy. Lynn supported me and was there for me more than my mother. I wish I could convey to her how much I appreciate her being there for me as much as she was, but I have a feeling she knows. I know that she and Nigel are going to and already do love him more than they could possibly say.

    I secretly wish that I could have been in a better place in life right now so that I could have kept him. I wish I didn't work 4 jobs and still end up barely making ends meet. I wish that I was any more confident that I could even be a good mom. Now, or in the future.

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