Sunday, June 14, 2009

Navigating between Two Mothers: Biological and Adoptive, Part 2




Photo by Ken Robbins

The previous post begins a chapter about my daughter, whom I relinquished at birth in 1966, and her relationships with two mothers, me, her biological, birth, first original mother; and Ann, her adoptive mother; as well my relationship with the adoptive family, which always was a little dicey. To briefly recap: I found my daughter, and was reunited with her, when she was fifteen in 1981, when reunions were just beginning to make news, and open adoption was pretty much unheard of. My daughter's family were salt-of-the-earth types (her father was an insurance adjuster; her mother, a nurse) lived in the Midwest; both my husband and I are writers. All of us came from working/middle class backgrounds.

To continue from Hole in My Heart, an unfinished memoir:

Copyright, Lorraine Dusky 2009
Yet despite any doubts about me, Ann would refer to Jane as, “our daughter,” a pronoun which rang like a bell the first time she said it, and for which I have always been appreciative. Tales of other adoptive parents that I heard from other first mothers were not nearly as encouraging as the relationship I was forging with the Schmidts, and they were doing it at a time when reunions of this sort were indeed rare. Other first mothers were told to never contact the children in question; that the police would be called otherwise. Adoptees who had the audacity to search, or, what’s worse, find and meet, were cut out of wills, and told by their parents they were now dead to them, and that included the grandchildren. The common solution? The adopted person would keep any relationship with his first family secret from his adoptive family.

I hoped my daughter would feel the same indelible connection with me that I did with her. However, that did not mean I wanted her bonds with the Schmidts to loosen, for their enduring relationship would be proof that the adoption had gone well, and that would at least assuage my conscience. But navigating between the two mothers would always prove hazardous. As Jane would describe in an email one day many years later: “I feel like a magnet torn between two sides that are pulling at me. To move towards one, you have to pull away from the other.”

Yet Jane maintained she would not have had it otherwise: “You took such a great stress out of my life by finding me,” she said when we recorded the conversation. “I was very lucky to not have to be forced to search….It was a given as I was growing up that I would search. The attitude was, you get through high school first, and then we’ll deal with this. But you coming along made my life a lot less—so many questions I didn’t have to wonder about anymore. Especially when I went through depression—this wasn’t one of the issues.”

Over the years, Jane would sometimes point out that it would have been extremely difficult for me, as a single woman with an erratic income, to cope with raising her, especially because of her epilepsy. Hell, it would have been hard to raise her as a single parent back then, with or without the epilepsy. With Ann and Gary, in Madison, Wisconsin, in a stable family with good health insurance, Jane had the best medical care known at the time, and the control of epilepsy has not advanced all that much since then. I might have been a perfectly acceptable mother—I was a sought-after baby-sitter as a teenager—but I recognized all along how overwhelming raising her alone would have been. I never have thought I would have been a great mother—I always did want a career, I was ambitious, I was raised at a time and in a family where a career and motherhood were not compatible, when being a single mother with an out-of-wedlock baby was a disgrace, and my family had no cushion of money that might have eased the way. Jane understood all this, and when she said, I don't know how you would have done it, Lorraine, I did not argue.

My relationship with her father, Gary, was far less problematic than the one I had with Ann. He was far more accepting of me, and unquestionably smoothed my incursion into their lives. He would have preferred I was someone who went to Sunday mass, but he showed no overt disdain towards me, or us. But then, I was Jane’s mother—not her father—and that other man was nowhere in sight. Gary had no competitor. True, when Jane visited, Tony took on a role not unlike that of a step-parent, but he was not her father.

Tangible evidence of Jane’s difficult see-saw relationship with her two mothers is a picture snapped by Gary one sunny day many years after we all knew each other. We—Gary, Ann and I—imagined it might be a swell record of our rather remarkable relationship. Because despite my sense of being the moral underdog in the eyes of the Schmidts, all of us--Ann, Gary, and I--were managing to work through the uncharted waters of this adoption and reunion with a modicum of turmoil, and we all knew it. Jane is sitting between us. Ann and I are staring straight into the camera, both of us smiling the way you do in pictures, both of us looking comfortable in our roles. However, Jane is pensive, not a glimmer of a smile. She is looking away from the camera, looking as if she did not belong there, looking uncomfortable sitting between her two mothers.

Some might say that life would have been less complicated for Jane if I had not contacted her when she was a teenager, and people openly admit that they adopt from Siberia and China and India not only because it’s easier to get an infant there, but because the likelihood of a child’s original mother coming back is pretty much nil. No competition, no complications. But prima facie that ignores what the adopted individual might want—in fact, it gives the individual no choice. Adoption then becomes not an arrangement to fulfill the needs of a child who needs a home; it becomes a deal that satisfies the desires of someone who wants a child at any cost—and that child’s need to have and hold his connection to the tree of life be damned.

Jane would not be caught in that trap.

7 comments :

  1. Lorraine's descrption of the photo of Jane and her two mothers reminds me of a photo I had my niece take of me, my daughter, and her mother at the infamous wedding, which I tucked away in a Godiva box and placed on a closet shelf until just now (and I'm smriking at the irony that every tangible thing I have from my daughter fits into a one pound chocolate box).

    There are two photos of the three of us. In the first one, her mother is stunning in her midnight blue mother of the bride gown. Pearls adorn her earlobes and throat; she's holding a wine glass in her right hand. I'm shorter and wider than both of them in a coral silk gown accented with fuscia sequinned flowers. Our daughter is between us; she's leaning toward her mother, but these's a space of about six inches between them, while she and I are joined together like Siamese twins. My daughter and I are smiling; her mother clearly is not...one of those "If a picture's worth a thousand words moments."

    In the second photo, it must have been right after my daughter shrieked, "My two Moms!," because we're embracing even more; in fact, I'm at a 45 degree angle, leaning right into her, our faces cheek to cheek. Her mother is smiling, but looking down at the floor.

    After reading so many of the adoptees' comments here on fmf, their longing for connection to their first mothers, I took a leap of faith and sent my daughter a handwritten note. I simply stated I was thinking of her recently, said I understand, and that I was sorry our reunion became so overwhelming and unwieldy, and wish her the usual...that her healthscare is long behind her, her husband and children continue to be a great source of joy. I just needed to let her know I haven't forgotten her, won't forget her, that she has been and always will be a part of my life. I don't expect a reply, but if there was one...

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  2. Lorraine,

    I also think those that haven't reunited don't have any clue as to what they will encounter upon reunion.

    so I feel until that happens most have no idea about reunion except to imagine, dream or think how they will act, or react.

    When reunion does happen most mothers hold back not wanting to "interfere" but in truth who is it that interfered, first?

    As far as the "tales" from mothers, I am sure there are plenty of tales from those who adopt. After, all we aren't supposed to reunite with sealed, closed adoptions. lol

    Sandy Musser went to jail for trying to help mothers and grown adults reunite.

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  3. Nicely written Linda! What a shame your daughter is missing out on a relationship with you, particularly since she has children.

    Good for you for taking that leap and writing to your daughter. Let us know if she responds.

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  4. Linda, good luck.

    Lorraine, another great installment. The police being called--me oh my. What an era.

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  5. Oh....thanks everybody for the encouragement. I have a lot of photos of Jane and myself, and they are priceless for what they reveal. I keep a changing number of them on my desk as I am writing this memoir about my 26-year relationship with the daughter I gave up for adoption.

    And Linda, no matter how your daughter reacts to your letter--she probably will get it today--you know you did the right thing. I still hope and pray she has the courage to call you one day.

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  6. I just wanted to share that when I returned from lunch, I checked my email and I was shocked to see my daughter's name. It was less than 100 words; she just thanked me for my note, was glad to know my husband and I were well. She included two recent photos of her sons, the first I've ever received, she wrote, "You have two beautiful grandsons, they are absolutely the best things that have ever happened to me and I feel tremendously fortunate to be their mom."

    For now, that's more than enough.

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  7. Thank you for sharing this touching and powerfully written journey. It means the world to me to see some of my deepest thoughts in someone else...

    I am afraid to meet my daughter. She will be 18 in a couple years... we have a semi open adoption, but I have not seen her since the day I said good-bye. If there is a "perfect age" what is it? Is 18 okay? Would you wait? How on earth do I navigate this meeing-- this new life with her? Meeting her is all I ever dreamed of... but I want to run so far from that dream?

    Thank you for sharing!!! I look forward to more.

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