It's been on my mind today. I spent yesterday at the rather grand birthday party of a woman whose five children, eight or nine grandchildren, plus two nieces who came from a far to celebrate her 79th birthday. The luncheon for 75 was at a rather fancy restaurant, and later my husband and I spent the evening with my friend's close family--so many people, so much family. Today I realized that the high intensity of the evening hit a sore spot. I have no daughter anymore, my granddaughter is distant, both physically and emotionally. I was thinking once again today of adoption as the pain that goes on giving....
So I argued with my husband, started crying, stopped crying, drove to a nursery with him, bought a flat of soft yellow violas, came back home and planted them as it's finally not freezing out here on Long Island where we live not far from the Atlantic. But even their saucy sprightly look could not lift my spirits. I had been planning to post this section of the memoir I'm writing about my daughter, the one I gave up for adoption, to follow Linda's post the other day, and today it seems ever more poignant.
When I sat down at the computer a half hour ago and looked at my home page, I realized that today would have been my daughter's 43rd birthday. I also realized that the my mood went South and the tears came just at the same time of day as my daughter was born, around one-thirty in the p.m. My "birth" daughter, if you will, to make this post clear for first-timer readers...my daughter Jane who took her life in 2007.
This is from my work-in-progress, A Hole in My Heart. I am discussing a visit we had soon after we were reunited in 1981. This would have been about two years later, when she was my granddaughter's age, 17. She had epilepsy.
Copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2009
Was it that same visit when I took her to a stable in Amagansett for riding lessons? Her seizures were largely controlled by Depakane ®, and she was eager to learn how to handle a horse, and I love to ride. I’d taken lessons from the old Claremont Riding Academy that used to be on West 89th Street, when I lived in Manhattan. If she took a couple of lessons, I figured, we could share this pastime, and she was eager to do so.
Her lesson had gone fine, she obviously had a great time. This was something normal teenagers did, the girl in the hockey helmet seemed long gone. Just as the hour was up, I walked over to her while she was still in the saddle, and stroked her horse on the neck. He turned his head and reached toward my hand, ready to sink in his teeth. I pulled back just in time. “I wouldn’t care if he bit you,” she said sourly, in front of the instructor, making the remark not only hurtful, but also embarrassing. The comment had came out of nowhere and hung in the air. I shot her a look before I abruptly walked back to the car.
We drove home in silence. Once parked in the driveway, I asked if she wanted to go back to Wisconsin early, if that’s how she felt about me, well ahead of the two-week visit scheduled.
She did not.
But she did not apologize.
Nor did I demand it.
Jane referred to the incident when we spoke on the tapes one night: “I was pushing you to see how far I could push you, to see what would happen. I wanted to see how bad I could be before you walked away again.
“But I always assumed that if you went to all this trouble to find me, you weren’t going anywhere. All the stuff that I did—like at Evita too—was a matter of finding my footing in our relationship. And I felt guilty for having such a good time. What I said did not necessarily reflect on how I might have felt. But, yeah, there was a part of me that did not want you to have a good time. A part of me wanted to just find out what I needed to know…and then not be interested.”
So she could walk away at any time. That would show me know how it felt to be relinquished for adoption. Given up. Given away. To be a child that grows up—without any obvious evidence to the contrary, for as far as I can tell, the Schmidts gave her none—as someone can be returned. Adoptee memoirs are full of this fuck-you attitude, whether the writers acknowledge it or not, and mostly, they don’t. I read some of them and want to throw them against the wall. The anger these memoirists reveal remains palpable, simmering on the surface, the continuing desire to punish their birth mothers--usually it's only their birth mothers--pops up again and again. All the platitudes about adoption being the best solution for young and unmarried teenagers who have babies, about adoption being the way to provide a stable middle-class home for your child when you can not diminish against the insecurities and hurt one finds in these memoirs.
Yes, a permanent guardianship, and the loving bonds that would lead to, is sometimes necessary. But I no longer think adoption, as it is currently constructed in the world, is the best solution for anyone. For adoption with sealed records, or open arrangements that do not have the force of law, is always based on a false premise, and that premise is that one’s roots do not matter, or matter little. If they did not matter there would be no adoptee-search movement; no push to open sealed records, no adoptee memoirs full of anguish, no adoptee/birth mother plot lines all over television. There would be none of that.
And Jane and me? Fissures in our relationship would occur unexpectedly over the entire time we knew each other, and that was twenty-six years. Everything would have been going along swimmingly for a while; sometimes I even felt smug about how great we got along, as compared to stories I heard about other birth mothers and daughters. Oh, we might exchange a few sharp words, I might point out that something she was telling me did not seem plausible, but certainly nothing was said that was out of the ordinary for a mother and daughter. And sometimes there was absolutely nothing; one phone call would end on a friendly note, and then poof! she’d be gone like a genie in a bottle. Once it was because her other mother said one of her biological children was her favorite. Jane withdrew for nearly two years that time, and it took me longer than that to piece together what had happened. If that son was Mom's favorite, Jane was going to do everything she could to show that she was deserving of her adoptive mother's love--and that meant, showing her that she could--and did--walk away from me. I was only her birth mother.
It was as if I was standing on a mountain ledge when out of nowhere would come a humongous boulder that pushed me off the cliff. I never saw it coming. It was as if Jane herself had signed surrender papers and walked away. Just as she imagined I had. When we would get back together—on her schedule and her schedule alone—Jane would never acknowledge that anything out of the ordinary occurred. To her mind, I deserved whatever she had to dish out. After what I’d done, what could I expect?
In those lonely interstices between the times when we were on good terms, there was some peace in knowing that she was alive and probably living in Wisconsin, I suppose; but that knowledge did not feel like comfort. Each time, her rejection felt like being assigned once again to some heretofore undiscovered special level of hell reserved for women who give away their children. Rationalizing her behavior as typical—as I said, adoptee memoirs are full of this kind of behavior—provided no peace. I would think of Alison, the other birth mother in the story in The New York Times, whose daughter had simply walked away one day and not returned, as decades ticked by. I would think of Linda, whose daughter invited her to her wedding, and then cut Linda out of her life, yet maintained a relationship with Linda’s sisters and niece. I would think of the woman who had cut off her mother after she had the audacity to send a Hallmark card to mark her daughter’s birthday.
In time I came to accept that I could not be forgiven, not really, no matter what she said, or what I did. Her hurt was buried so deep no mere words could touch it. Her hurt was buried so deep it could never be fixed. And nothing I could ever do would change the equation of our relationship.--lorraine
Happy Birthday Baby, wherever you are.