Monday, August 17, 2009

Two Mothers, Continued


Continuing the theme of relationships with our first children's adoptive mothers, I'm going to post over the next three days some of what I've written about my relationship with Ann, Jane's other mother, and a bit about her adoptive father, Gary, that continued over several years. Unlike Linda, we had a relationship that spanned decades. For those new to First Mother Forum, I found my daughter when she was fifteen, and reunited with her a few weeks later at an airport with her adoptive father looking on. Yes, it was a tad uncomfortable--for both of us, as she would later relate--but we got through it unscathed.


Two Mothers

copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2009

Life seemed to be going on relatively smoothly two years after I found Jane. We’d had several lengthy visits, and the initial intensity had worn off.

Some.

I was always thrilled when she was coming, emotionally fraught and fragile when she was here, and exhausted when she left. I tried to act as if I were on top of everything, including my emotions, but I must have not been doing such a great job for my husband, Tony always noticed how fried I was by the time she left. Even if we did much the same things as I did when I visited my mother—lunches, shopping, movies—the emotional quotient was vastly different, especially in the beginning.

Be that as it may, Jane and I were settling into the relationship we would have over the next quarter of a century. We started out before email. We wrote infrequent letters, especially at the beginning. She was a teenager with severe epilepsy, taking strong medication, and frankly, I did not know what to write her. Telling her what I was doing on a day to day basis seemed ridiculous; telling her about my family seemed absurd—she barely knew these people.

So I phoned now and then, but not too often; she was living with her parents, calling often would have been too intrusive. I kept it to holidays, and just now and then. It was awkward to call, and I never picked up the phone except on a holiday without second guessing myself. Should I? Is it okay to call today? How long has it been since I phoned? Don't get me wrong, everyone was always friendly, and if she were not home, she always called back within a day. Yet I felt like an intruder. Say I called when Jane and her mom were having an argument. “Jane, your birth mother is on the phone,” would not be a welcome interruption. In any case, all of us together—Jane, Ann and me—stumbled along without any major problems for several years.

Gary and Ann had come out to visit us without Jane for a few days, and that went smoothly—as smoothly as one could expect for two couples who did not have much more in common other than a daughter. It is unlikely we would have been more than nodding acquaintances had we had lived in the same town. We showed the Schmidts the beach and the lighthouse at Montauk—Jane and her mom both collected lighthouse memorabilia—and we cooked in, we ate out, we watched television, we talked about Jane. As I’ve said, they are salt-of-the-earth types, and they sincerely hoped that my becoming a part of Jane’s life would give her ego a much-needed boost. It was clear to everyone that her self-esteem hovered ten points below zero.

Perhaps for that reason, Ann, who is a private person, agreed to be a part of joint memoir that would include her side of the story. As Birthmark ends before I was reunited with Jane, I tentatively thought of calling the new book Happy Ending. But we always ran into some roadblock. Such as some new crisis from Jane, not a particularly “happy” one. And the story did not seem to have more than a magazine article's worth of words, which is what I ended up doing for the now-defunct McCall's magazine.

Besides, I was of two minds about the project. A part of me wanted to finish the story; another part wanted to move on once whatever good might come out of the reunion in regards to adoption reform was over and done. I wanted to be more than the crazy lady who was always dragging around a soapbox with the words "Adoption Reform!" written on it.

Yet while Ann was willing to let me be a part of Jane’s life, her defensive distrust of me could not quite be hidden behind surface friendliness. It wasn't just me, as Jane’s other mother, it was what I represented: I could never live down my image as a New York City career woman. And to top that, a writer—not something more understandable, more normal, more like her or Jane's father, an insurance adjuster. If only I’d been something else, I could feel her thinking, a teacher, a nurse, a dental assistant, even for god's sake, a dentist. Her attitude was not conveyed in words, at least not to me; it was a pursed lip here, a flinty look there. We were—arty East Coast types. Our politics might be the same, but we were likely to have a suspect moral code—and besides, and this is a pretty big besides, Look what I had done. The unthinkable. Given away a child. Gotten pregnant outside of marriage in the first place. Perhaps it would not have made a difference if I'd been a nurse, just like her. After she met my sister-in-law, a pharmacist, Jane got quite a earful about how great my sister-in-law was. But then, she wasn't the other mother. She was just a bystander, not related by blood. She was a good person. Somehow I got the message: why couldn't I be more like her? Well, uh, she's Chinese.

The Schmidts would call--and often on a Saturday evening--to make arrangements regarding Jane's next visit, and we might be entertaining friends at dinner. Though I tried—Don’t answer the phone now!(because it might be them)—Tony simply could not be broken of the habit of picking up no matter when the phone rang. Obviously, we were party people one could barely trust, while they were good sober citizens who didn’t entertain debauching drunken friends in their home Saturday nights. Twice they had called when we had people over! You could hear all this laughter and noise in the background! (said with a look). All this was disdainfully reported to Jane, who, many years later, let it come out. But I had known all along we were barely trustworthy types.

We could never forget that she, Ann, held the morally superior position.

7 comments:

Angelle said...

"Look what I had done. The unthinkable. Given away a child. Gotten pregnant outside of marriage in the first place."

Doesn't this just say it all? I am sure this is the way my son's adoptive mom thinks about me. How dare I - a woman of such low moral character - intrude in her world?

She is making our shared child suffer and that is just not acceptable.

etropic said...

I read a comment on another blog by someone named "The Improper Adoptee". It reads:
"as much as AP's cut you Real Moms down, everybody knows full well that most of them got laid before they got married, but being barren, there would be no physical evidence. This is another way a lot of AP's are hypocrites, and they concentrate on the, “oh you had sex before marriage point because they are JEALOUS they cannot conceive. Yet just another deception with them."

I couldn't agree more. Again, it's another, damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. Women are ostracized no matter which way we turn in the event of an unplanned/accidental pregnancy. (continued)

etropic said...

(Continued from previous post)

First, we are STILL labeled "sluts" for even having sex out of marriage. (Odd since it takes 2 people to make a baby) Once a woman can get passed that ignorance, there is more waiting for her along the way, whichever “route” she chooses; parenting as a single mother, abortion, adoption, or marriage.

Although I feel society is has become more lenient towards single parents, I still see that residual judgment today. Heaven forbid you are a pregnant teenager; the younger the woman, the harsher the judgment.

I had an experience right out of high school that I will never forget. An old friend, a former classmate of ours & I had all went out for lunch. Our classmate brought along her 6 month old baby. Immediately, I couldn't help but notice all the stares & out right rude comment uttered. The passerby's on the street were making assumptions based on what age we were. No one bothered to look at the enormous wedding ring that adorned our classmates left ring finger. No one could tell by looking at her, that she & her husband had been together for 4 years prior to her getting married & having a baby. No one bothered to ask her how happily married she was.(and still is today) None of that mattered. She was just a young mother who was too young to be a parent. PERIOD! What could a woman, an ADULT woman (As she was 18) possibly know about parenting? I can only imagine the ignorance our classmate would endure if she were in fact a single mom.

I happened to catch an episode of “Cold Case” late one night. It was the episode entitled “The Goodbye Room”. In an effort to get to the point of my post, here is link describing the episode: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0939999/ Seeing what the protagonist endured, just so she wouldn’t “disgrace” the family name, made me physically sick. How anyone can sit here today, in THIS day & age & still subscribe to that exact same ignorance, is beyond me. No woman should be shamed & degraded all for being human & having sex.

etropic said...

So, then you have abortion. When or if, a woman considers abortion, she is evil for even thinking of ending a life. Yet, isn’t it being “responsible” by considering abortion? It IS an option for this generation regardless of any moral debate of the issue. When making any kind of life changing decision, most people I know, contemplate EVERY available option. Process of elimination is used to reach a final decision. Call me crazy, but that sounds rather logical to me! I still see women who won’t talk about having had an abortion because of the stigma attached to that as well. Some days I feel like I have been sucked back into a time warp where nothing has changed in the area of reproductive health for women. It truly is sad to me.

Finally, we come to adoption. Women are told all the stereotypical stuff that is supposed to ease their minds about making such a difficult decision.(I won’t list them as we all know what they are) Yet once relinquishment occurs, it becomes a whole new ballgame; the "power shift" occurs. Slowly the birth parent(s)become the “problem”. (Even if there really IS no “problem”.)The fact that we are that child’s birth parent(s) is enough to rationalize that unfounded fear. It’s the innuendo; that hint of it in the air which looms like a dark cloud. The proverbial “Gorilla in the room” that no one wants to talk about. Somehow we allow for the forever possibility we ARE going to damage that child. Is this not the same child that we “loved enough to give a better life to” by choosing adoption as we have been told oh so many times? Our mere existence is threatening & is a reminder of all the adoptive parents wanted to be but couldn’t. They come to resent us plain & simple. We are then vilified, picked apart & suddenly become the punching bag; the scapegoat for any & all problems that have occurred in the adoption. We are no longer adored, revered, or “sainted”, for “doing the right thing”, “giving us the most precious gift anyone could give us”, etc. The pedestal starts to crack, crumble & eventually gets knocked out from underneath, leaving one oh so ever more confused. (This has been MY experience thus far.)The rules change midway through, with no notice given. Yet we are still expected to know, respect & abide by these unspoken “edited rules”, period, no questions asked. Any inquiry is perceived as a personal attack; a disrespectful challenge to the adoptive parent’s authority. It truly becomes a game; one that no one really wins at.

More often than not, I find myself wondering: if pregnant women considering adoption HONESTLY knew(for fact) what we know, went through, & understood EVERYTHING that adoption entails,(the good, the bad, & the ugly)would they consider it a viable option?

Lorraine Dusky said...

No.

Or only a very few.

etropic said...

I agree. I guess that would explain the decline in women placing for adoption that I have personally seen. Couple that with IVF which was not available 30-40 years ago.

Kathymom said...

We were—arty East Coast types.

I've had this experience, too, with my daughter and her adopters. In my case, my daughter was adopted by extremely country folk (dare I say hillbillies? Well.....That's probably an exageration.) I live in a metropolitan city. For a very long time, (we've been in reunion 11 years), I felt like I was from "outer space" from my daughter. I seemed to do EVERYTHING differently than she did. I seemed to believe very different things than she did. My house looked NOTHING like hers (mine was neat and clean, hers wasn't). Although she looked like me, talked like me, did the same hobbies as I did (sewing, playing the piano) and even chose a similar career as I did (I am a nurse-midwife, she is a veterinarian who raises Arabians), we were NOT the same.
I've only met her adoptive parents 4 times in 11 years, since we live 800 miles apart. At my daughter's first wedding, at her 2nd wedding, and at the births of both of her children. Each time the AP's acted differently. One time the mom was nice, the next time, a little catty. Same with the adad. So many times they looked at me with the expression, "I can't believe you are here" or "You just must be from outer space."
It is so odd to see my daughter, so like my other children, but not like them at all. Very naive, very country, very conservative. No, not like me at all.