copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2009
From Hole in My Heart, an as yet unfinished memoir, a chapter called Two Mothers:
(For those new to the blog, Jane is my daughter who I relinquished for adoption and reunited with when she was fifteen; Ann is her adoptive mother, Gary her adoptive father, Tony is my husband who is not Jane's biological father. The time frame is the early Eighties. Tony and I are living on the eastern end of Long Island, as we still do today. The Schmidts, Jane's adoptive parents, live in Madison, Wisconsin.)
Life seemed to be going on relatively smoothly two years after I found Jane. We’d had a few lengthy visits, and the initial intensity had worn off.
I was always thrilled when she was coming, emotionally fraught and fragile when she was here, and exhausted when she left. I tried to act as if I were absorbing everything, no sweat, but I guess I was not doing such a great job for Tony always noticed how internally fried I was, especially as she left. It was as if I were holding all the emotions inside and was only able to breathe once she got on the plane back to Wisconsin. Even if we did much the same things as I did when I visited my mother—lunches, shopping, movies—the emotional quotient was vastly different.
Be that as it may, Jane and I were settling into the relationship we would have over the next quarter of a century. We started out before email. We wrote infrequent letters, especially at the beginning. She was a teenager with severe epilepsy, and frankly, I did not know what to write about my life to her. Telling her what I was doing on a day to day basis seemed silly.
So I phoned now and then, but not too often, she was living with her parents, calling often would have been too intrusive. I kept it to holidays, and just now and then. It was awkward to call, and I never picked up the phone except on a holiday without second guessing myself. Should I? Is it okay to call today? How long has it been since I phoned? Don't get me wrong, everyone was always friendly, and if she were not home, she always called back within a day. Yet I felt like an intruder. Say I called when Jane and her mom were having an argument. “Jane, your birth mother is on the phone,” would not be a welcome interruption. In any case, all of us together—Jane, Ann and me—stumbled along without any major problems for several years.
Gary and Ann had come out to visit us without Jane for a few days, and that went smoothly—as smoothly as one could expect for two couples who did not have much more in common other than a daughter. It is unlikely we would have been more than nodding acquaintances had we had lived in the same town. We showed the Schmidts the beach and the lighthouse at Montauk—Jane and her mom both collected lighthouse memorabilia—and we cooked in, we ate out, we watched television, we talked about Jane. As I’ve said, they are salt-of-the-earth types, and they sincerely hoped that my becoming a part of Jane’s life would give her ego a much-needed boost. It was clear to everyone that her self-esteem hovered ten points below zero.
Perhaps for that reason, Ann, who is a private person, agreed to be a part of joint memoir that would include her side of the story. As Birthmark ends before I was reunited with Jane, I tentatively thought of calling the new book Happy Ending. But we always ran into some roadblock. Such as some new crisis from Jane, not a particularly “happy” one. Besides, I was of two minds about the project. A part of me wanted to finish the story; another part wanted to move on once whatever good might come out of the reunion in regards to adoption reform was over and done. I wanted to be more than the crazy lady who was always dragging around a soapbox with Adoption Reform written on it.
Yet while Ann was willing to let me be a part of Jane’s life, her defensive distrust of me could not quite be hidden behind surface friendliness. It wasn't just me, as Jane’s other mother, it was what I represented: a New York City career woman. And to top that, a writer—not something more understandable, more normal, more like her or Jane's father, an insurance adjuster. If only I’d been something else, I could feel her thinking, a teacher, a nurse, a dental assistant—even a dentist. Her attitude was not conveyed in words, at least not to me; it was a pursed lip here, a flinty look there. We were—arty East Coast types. Our politics might be the same, but we were likely to have a suspect moral code—and besides, Look what I had done. The unthinkable. Given away a child. Gotten pregnant outside of marriage in the first place.
They would call to make arrangements regarding Jane, and we might be entertaining friends with dinner, and the background merriment did not make a good impression. Though I tried—Don’t answer the phone now!—Tony simply could not be broken of the habit of answering the phone no matter when it rang. Obviously, we were party people one could barely trust, while they were good sober citizens who didn’t entertain debauching drunken friends in their home Saturday nights. Twice they had called when we had people over! All this was disdainfully reported to Jane, who reported it to us. We could never forget that she, Ann, held the morally superior position.
I anxiously wanted the Schmidts to approve of me and not see me as the enemy. But like Jane, I always felt as if I were walking on a fence and with any wrong step I would topple off. And of course, they had all the power. Not only were they her legal parents, they were Mom and Dad, and while Jane was a minor, their disapproval could cut off all contact with her. To counter Ann’s opprobrium, I emphasized my Midwestern working-class roots, dropping Michigan into the conversation whenever possible. I didn’t go as far as going to Sunday Mass with them when they visited, but I considered it. Tony, a lukewarm Methodist by birth, a Buddhist at heart, never would have gone. We stayed home when they went to church.