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.
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.
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.