Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The First Mother Club: A Sisterhood of Sadness and Grief
I was married, working at a Madison Avenue PR agency in Manhattan, keeping the secret of the daughter I gave up for adoption from the world at large. I don't think my mother, back in Michigan, even knew I'd had a baby. There was another woman at the firm whom I couldn't stop watching. She was six feet tall, glamorous, a dark beauty. She was way hipper, way cooler than me, somewhat mysterious and had a wardrobe to die for. Could we be friends, I wondered.
She and I did not work on any accounts together so our contact was limited, and she seemed remote, but about six months after I started at the agency we agreed to have lunch. And at that lunch, god knows what came over me, none of my other friends in Manhattan knew, maybe it was the Bloody Mary I was drinking--I took a deep breath and told her I had had a baby and had given her up for adoption.
Oh my god, she said, me too.
Needless to say, we're still friends. She was my "best woman" at my wedding 28 years ago; she gave me a publishing party when Birthmark came out in 1979. We've shared our lives in so many ways. She became a successful novelist and lives in Hawaii now, where she retreated after she dropped out of college when she was pregnant, to live with relatives and finish college there. She is half Hawaiian by birth. Though we live a continent and half an ocean apart now, though we've had our arguments, we've made up, and we'll always be friends, cheering each other on, holding each other's hands when times are bad. We've cried, we've laughed, and we will keep on doing the same.
Shortly after I hired The Searcher and he found my daughter, she did the same and found her daughter. Both of us reunited in short order. Though they live far apart, they have had a rather remarkable relationship, perhaps made easier by the fact that not only did the girl's adoptive mother welcome the contact, she died a few years later. I hate to add that caveat, but I don't know of any terrific relationships between adoptive mothers and first mothers. My own was friendly on the surface, and friendly for several years...but there was always an undercurrent of hostility simmering under daughter Jane's other mother's surface. Maybe there are great relationships between birth and adoptive mother--the pleasant picnic and barbecue mentioned in the last post would indicate there are--in the new world of open adoption where some adoptive parents are truly welcoming, but those stories are not burbling up to me yet. I'm hearing the other kind.
Back to my friend. What did I recognize in her that allowed me to blurt out my story? I don't know, but there it was. I'm thinking of the line in Mick Jagger's song: Sometimes you don't get what you want, you get what you need.
I needed to have a friend who understood, truly understood, what it was like to have a child and feel she had to be given away. And there she was, my sister in sadness and grief. Knowing her, and the other birth/first mothers, especially Linda and Jane, who have come into my life, have enriched it tremendously, and I thank all of you.
And by the way, when any of us get together, it's not all just sorrow and grief. We have good times too.
I'm telling this story now by way of saying that an informal group of women who surrendered children called Heart 2 Heart is having their seventh weekend retreat near Boston, September 11-13. Most of the women who attend are members of other groups that offer ongoing support for issues surrounding the loss of a child to adoption. Some people arrive on Thursday evening, there is an informal get-together on Friday evening, and the dinner on Saturday evening, September 12, at which I'll be speaking. It is my understanding that the weekend is very loosely structured--no one giving papers, no social workers, no adoptees or adoptive parents in attendance, no reason to hold your tongue or feel uncomfortable when you speak what is in your heart--and sight-seeing with new and old friends is part of the plan. Some people just stay at the hotel (there is a swimming pool, naturellment) and talk. Sounds good to me. Anyone interested in attending this year should contact Ronnie McEntee, the organizer, ASAP at firstname.lastname@example.org.