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.