Friday, June 19, 2009
FirstMother Husbands: How they handle the news of an earlier child
Photo by Ken Robbins
How do the husbands of first/birth mothers handle the news of learning their lovers and wives have relinquished a child for adoption? What, if any role, do they play in whatever relationship occurs with the "lost" child of the birth mother they are married to? Should first mothers tell their husbands about the child? Here are the experiences of we three FirstMothers:
LINDA: I met my husband, Ken, when my daughter was 21 months old, and I told him about her very early in our relationship. He wasn't freaked out, it never bothered him, and he accepted my status fully, except when her birthday arrived every fall and everything stopped for my "national day of mourning." He always said it had nothing to do with him, so he'd just step aside and let me deal with it.
Ken answered the phone the day the adoption agency contacted me; he knew exactly what it was about, thanked God the phone call finally arrived, and was thrilled for me. He also admitted just last night that he was thankful that we would finally come together on something that separated us...he always felt like an outsider, excluded, whenever my sisters and I would talk about my daughter in hushed tones.
My daughter and I exchanged letters and photos immediately; when her letter arrived I asked Ken to open it, look at the photos, and tell me what he thought. "Oh, she's definitely your daughter," he reported. When he met her for the first time at her home in the South, about four months into our reunion, he confirmed she had my temperament, and loved her very much. He still does. Throughout our reunion ups and downs he would have preferred I hadn't been so hard-nosed, but he understood why I was--there was more to deal with than just my daughter; he never said anything because it wasn't his affair.
Ken told me he could see the troubled relationship coming. He described me as out of control, as though I was on speed, trying to cram 23 years into two; "everyone" but me knew it was overwhelming. He wanted to be the knight in shining armor, wished things were different, that things would turn around.
I asked him what was the best part of the five years my daughter was in our life and he replied having her in our home, having her here. She came to us, it meant a lot to him. The worst part is now, not having her in our life, but he knows it's something he can't control, and he won't voice an opinion. He knows he could call her today and they'd have a great conversation, but he won't because of how it would affect me. As we were discussing this last night he kept saying, "She is your daughter. I love her. It's the not knowing that tears you apart. When I met her I thought, how could you make me miss this for so many years?"
Ken and my daughter's parents are about the same age, i.e., a decade or so older than me. When I told him there are many husbands and significant others who aren't as open minded as he is when it comes to their wives' past, he just couldn't comprehend men rejecting their wives' children because another man is their father. Ken confessed, "If it ever bothered me, I got over it once I became a part of things, I embraced it, welcomed it. It was a joyous occasion. The black cloud left, and then the sun came out, and then the sun went away [the past four years without contact from my daughter]. But today, seeing the pictures [coincidentally, my daughter emailed us photos of my grandsons the same day I interviewed him for this article], I see a rainbow."
JANE: My husband, Jay, and I began dating when I was in my first year of law school, the year after Megan was born and surrendered. Jay went into the Army at the beginning of my second year. He had leave over Christmas and we went to Reno to visit his sister and her family. He asked me to marry him and we were married in Virginia City, Nevada on December 31, 1968. The evening before our wedding I told him about Megan. Other than a few people who knew me when I was pregnant I had not told and did not tell anyone else about her other than my obstetrician until our reunion in 1997. One reason --I have to admit--that I told Jay was that I read in Ann Landers (please don't laugh) women should always tell husbands about previous childbirths.
A week later he returned to his Army base in El Paso, Texas and I returned to law school in Eugene, Oregon. We did not talk about Megan for many years. He did try to bring her up several times but I did not want to talk about her to him or anybody else.
Several weeks after Megan contacted me in November, 1997, I told Jay we had connected and he was very pleased. He has been welcoming to her, her children, and her husband.
Although I've heard of women who were afraid to tell their husbands about their lost child, I have never met any birthmothers whose husband rejected them. Au contraire, every birthmother I've known who has married has had a supportive husband. Interestingly, about 20 percent of birthmothers marry the birthfather. I really think the outraged husband who rejects his wife when he finds out about her sin, a la Angel Claire of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Ubervilles, is a myth.
LORRAINE: I've been married twice (the first one within two years of relinquishing my daughter) and both husbands have been entirely supportive. I told Husband Number One when he asked me to marry him. No problem; we did not, however, share this with his parents. When I met Husband Number Two, Tony, it was a little more than a year after my memoir, Birthmark, was published and when he asked what my book was about...the truth was out. When he barely reacted, I was naturally surprised. Later I found out he (who had one daughter in college, a son in high school from his previous marriage) had only been meeting and dating women my age (35 and up) who were desperate to have a child and his first reaction was: Great, she's already had a child, she won't be having baby hunger, worrying about her biological clock, I wonder if she will go on a date with me.
Tony and I have been together since then--1981--and he had a lot to do with my decision to search for my daughter when she was fifteen. He saw no reason why it was sacrosanct that I wait until she was older. After I found her, she lived with us off and on for several months at a time beginning when she was in high school, he became a kind of step parent to her. Jane liked and respected him. Though I have not been active in the adoption reform movement for long periods of time, Tony has always been supportive whenever I have. He understands this is so much a part of me that to stop it would be like trying to turn me into someone else.
Our advice from FirstMotherForum (and reaffirming advice columnist advice): If you have not yet told your partner, and if you have a loving relationship, it is unlikely to be harmed by letting go of this secret. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to tell, because then it will seem as if you have been lying by omission, something Late Discovery Adoptees know about. And once the truth is out, your relationship is likely to strengthen because now you are sharing this very deep part of you. And there will not be any difficult moments with your partner and other children, should the phone ring one day and someone says: I was born in City X on such-and-such a date...."