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 verniemac@hotmail.com.

19 comments :

  1. I wonder, as apparently one of the middle generation mothers - not BSE nor the newer open adoption group - how to approach finding a group for me. I have tried a couple, but in the end I am outspoken, a bit abrassive and quite frankly don't care what people think of me. Sounds weird, I guess, that I never hid my daughters existance, but then to me, it is odd to hear others say they were hiding the existance of their children.

    How very strange.

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  3. My husband just pointed out to me that some of my closest friends are other women I've met on the internet, women like me. I was discussing this with just such a friend last night, and she simply said, "We love each other automatically.....we share something that other people will never understand". And it is having an understanding ear when you disclose something so painful and close to your heart that means so much. And as you said, it's not all sadness and grief...we share laughter as well.
    I am so grateful for the internet! Without it I am sure I would have gone crazy with my emotions when my then 19 year old son found me two years ago.

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  4. Lo - Thanks for letting us know about the Boston event - I will see you there - hopefully for some laughter! I too immediately found a coworker who had also surrendered a child - I immediately talked about my child's existence with people I felt were compassionate and one of my best friends is a woman I met at CUB in 1984 - we are celebrating our 25th anniversary this year!

    and yes, Bonnie "we share something that other people will never understand".

    Lori - what is BSE?

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  5. The internet has certainly made it easier for people to connect, and since the relationship I have with my son is email only at this point, I am very grateful for the advances in technology that made this possible.

    Many of us did connect by phone and in person before the days of the internet, and there is something special about in-person meetings that can't be replicates any other way. I have heard that the Heart 2Heart meetings are pleasant and rewarding and also fun.

    "Sisterhood of Sadness and Grief" does sound like an especially morose order of nuns though, like "Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother", a real order, of "Our Lady of Perpetual Misery"!:-)

    CUB is also having a retreat at Virginia Beach, VA October 23-25.
    http://www.cubirthparents.org/retreat09/

    Any of these meetings are a great experience if you can make it, especially if you have never attended a "live" birthmother gathering before.

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  6. Lorraine,

    see comments section of your sept 17, 2008 post:

    Brooks Hansen

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  7. Before the Internet, my parents convinced me that I was some kind of evil freak of nature for having a child out of wedlock.

    Now, thanks to the internet and blogs like this one, I know it isn't true.

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  8. I went to the Heart2Heart retreat last year in Denver and it was well worth it. Here's my post about the event.

    http://www.firstmotherforum.com/2008/10/heart-to-heart.html

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  9. The world is so small. Lorraine, I was just the opposite of your friend. I went to high school in Hawaii and went back after one year of college. Got pregnant and was shipped to California to deliver and surrender. I've never lived there since, just visited.

    Lori, I was reunited before the Internet was in full swing, and I SOOOOO benefitted from in-person support groups. You may not want to say where you live, but if you are in Northern California, I can suggest bmother groups you might check out.

    Deborah, BSE stands for Baby Scoop Era. When it was so sinful to be an unwed mother that there was no real choice but to avoid the shame by giving away our babies. Not sure what the official time line is, but I think fifties and sixties and early seventies (any time before Roe v. Wade).

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  10. As an adoptive parent I have to say that we had a wonderful close relationship with the birth mother of our son. I knew every day what a difficult decision it was for her and I thanked God for her everyday as without this special person we would never have had the time we did with our son. This blog makes it seem that the adoptive parents are "evil" in our quest. We are not and in a thankless society we may forget to say it, but thank you to the first mothers who chose life, so that we can complete our lives!

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  11. Oh, Amy. While I'm sure your sentiments are heartfelt, I suspect more than a few comments will be generated about your gratitude to us lifegivers. It would be reassuring to hear from your birthmother, i.e., that she, too, feels you had a wonderful close relationship...but why the past tense?

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  12. Amy, a-parent here as well and avid reader of FMF. Perhaps one of the greatest things about this place is that it reminds one constantly that there are no pat endings in adoption, rarely a happy one for one family without suffering for another. Since all three writers on this blog lived the BSE (baby scoop era), they often speak to the platitudes around it and show how their lived experiences were entirely different. A lot of this garbage is cooked up by the agencies anyway. Take the simple question: do parents relinquish out of love? If you dig beneath the mythology, you'll get much closer to the truth.

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  13. I relinquished in 1976, post Roe v. Wade, so I'm not a BSE birthmom.

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  14. Ok this may not be popular, but, as I said, I am who I am. The idea that a woman gives up a child out of love is about the worst of the "lies" that are told to adoptive parents. None of us, no matter what era, actually gave up our babies out of love.

    Also, no offense to Amy, but it is not your quest that is offensive or evil, it is just misguided. I believe that if you are meant to have a child, whether through adoption or birth, the child will find you. Then, no matter what, the child is going to be a part of you in a way that is not possible when you "shop" around.

    Searching for a child is the act of desperation and does not prove to yourself or anyone else that you are ready or able to parent.

    Believe me when I say this "parenting is something that you grow with"....I have never seen an adoption that is all peaches and cream, but whose home life was ever total happy happy?

    A parent is the one that realizes that the child is an individual. Not an extension of self, but a whole and complete being themselves. A parent is the one that automatically reaches to catch them before they fall, who knows when it is time to say "we need to talk..." and most of all, who loves them enough to say "ok, if that is what you really want" without regret or fear for the future.

    Searching for a child means to me that the searcher has not come to terms with their infertility, or in some cases age, or even just being a family without children. Those issues should be faced, dealt with and acknowledged.

    I would bet if the searcher stopped searching and did all that, the child they want so much will come to them, as they are supposed to.

    I hope I did not offend.

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  15. Amy,

    So you knew the "B" mother of your son before she had given birth? Do you have any idea of the coerciveness of your relationship that seemed so wonderful? And why do you say "had"? Don't you still have a wonderful relationship now? And as Linda said, it'd be interesting to know how your son's mother defines your relationship with her.

    I am not a BSE mother either. But I did not understand, as I painfully do now, that married infertile people did NOT deserve to be parent more than I did of my own child. I did not know the grief that would cripple my life. And though you claim to know what a difficult decision it was for her, don't think for a second that you know what it feels like. It is like living in a horror movie, and you can't know what it is like until you become a mother through giving birth and then try to be a childless mother.
    And I would not even be out of the adoption fog if it weren't for my then 19 year old son finding me because he had a longing to know me his whole life. My perceived "sacrifice" was for naught.
    I hope I didn't offend you, but I cannot stand hearing a condescending "thank you" for my pain so you could satisfy your need for a child.

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  16. Amy - but why is it our job, or any mom's job to complete your life. Do you think for a minute, if us firstmoms had been given the support and help we needed, we would not have found amazing and great completion in keeping and raising our own children? Do you see the enormous amount of loss and grief your child's first mom, and your child as well, suffered, to "complete" your life?


    I am not a mother from the BSE era. But for over twenty years now, I have struggled, fought, survived, and lived with the very real affect adoption has had on me and my son. And I am sorry, but that pain, to me, will never be worth it because I may have "completed" another woman's life.

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  17. [We are not and in a thankless society we may forget to say it, but thank you to the first mothers who chose life, so that we can complete our lives!]

    This makes it sound as though EVERY mother (who relinquished) would have automatically chosen abortion before adoption, or that somehow abortion must *obviously* have been considered since the child ended up being adopted.

    That's not fair to us adoptees.

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  18. I also need to add that there was no "choice" for me between abortion or adoption. I could have easily had an abortion; it was expected of me to do so. Several of my peers had already had abortions.
    Again, I did not choose between abortion and adoption, so please don't think that all relinquished babies had the fate of being aborted.
    *My son was wanted the minute I knew I was pregnant with him*.
    Believing that there are only two choices for an unplanned pregnancy is a mistake.

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