Friday, February 26, 2010

Attending your daughter's wedding when you are the First/Birth Mother

Dear Birth Mother/First Mother Forum:

The daughter I gave up for adoption and I were reunited a year ago. She is getting married and wants me to attend. I'd like to, and am pleased she wants me there, but I'm freaking out over what to wear, the correct protocol, where I'm going to sit, and with whom, how I'm going to be introduced, will there be a receiving line and where do I fit into that--you name it, I'm freaking out. Some members of her family know I'll be there, but I'm sure some won't know who I am. How can I put on my best behavior and not feel horrible at the same time?
--Adrift in Adoption Land

Dear Adrift:

Oh, this day is probably going to be hard. Acknowledge that, grit your teeth, and move forward, and focus on not adding to the drama of the bride, and being an "issue" of your own. We at FMF dealt with this exact same cause for high anxiety some years ago, and the situation itself was clouded by the fact that my daughter's adoptive mother, aka Other Mother, at that very moment, and I, first/birth mother, were having an argument that I admit, was festered by our daughter. I told my daughter something she wanted to hear, she repeated it to Other Mother as a way of expressing that opinion herself, but said, Lorraine thinks...and it was NOT what Other Mother wanted to hear, and that resulted in my receiving a very angry letter, an upset bride-to-be who was now freaking out herself, and phone conversations with me that went on and on and on.... This was mere days before the wedding. More about this contretemps later.

I assume, dear Adrift, that the wedding is in the home territory of the adoptive family, and that they are picking up the check. Cavil all you might want to about details, that means you are their guest and need to act like a guest. Focus on the fact that your child wants you to be present. However, do control your freak outs, or have them at home privately, with your own friends and family, before the rehearsal dinner, which you may be asked to attend. Or not.

UNLESS ASKED, DO NOT TRY TO HARD 
Unless asked, you do not buy a dress that looks as if you are part of the wedding party; unless asked, you are not part of the receiving line (yes, I know, ouch); and you do not complain about where you are sitting. And I am hoping that your daughter/son will be sensitive and not seat you at the same table with Uncle Horace and Aunt Beatrice who think you should not be there at all!

The best of all possible worlds is that your daughter/son has met other members of your family and they were also invited and are present to a) offer moral support simply by being there; and b) will make up your table. That way, when everyone who knows Who You Are looks you over to see what you look like, they will see that not only does the bride/groom--your offspring--resemble you, but also your other children, or siblings, who are First-Aunt Sally, or First-Uncle Tom. Look, she has the same kind of hair as her mother. Look, they really do look like...mother and daughter. Trust me, that will be going through more than a few minds, and that will give the guests something to put in their personal portmanteau to ponder anon, as well as the people present who are, at that very moment, considering adopting.

So, yes, dear Adrift, just as you imagine, you will be on view. Other Mother will also know that and be none too happy, try as she might be to ignore you. She is quite likely dealing with a certain frisson over the fact that you are there at all. She is likely going to be privately upset over how much you do resemble "her" daughter--whom she has taken care of when you were not there for every scraped knee, every emergency ride to the hospital, every glass of split milk and dental bill. She is likely to be dealing with her own personal demons that day, and the more you resemble the bride/groom, the steeper her mountain of hard lumps to climb. Your very presence forces the adoptive family to confront that indeed, there was life before adoption. "Their" daughter has another family. Who looks a lot like "their" daughter.

NO NEED TO BE TREATED LIKE A NOBODY
But that does not mean you have to be treated like No One, a Nobody. You are the reason the bride/groom is having a wedding, after all! But we can imagine various scenarios: that you are asked to pretend you are simply a friend, and not her mother. You may be seated as far away from the wedding party. You may be not acknowledged during the event. You will probably not be dancing when they ask for the parents of the bride to take the floor. And given all that, attending may be more than you feel like putting yourself through. If that is your choice, explain to the bride that although you love her and wish her every happiness, you will feel more comfortable having a private celebration with her and her intended. You might take them out to dinner with whomever you wish, or no one else.

As for my own daughter's wedding, yes, the Other Mother and I were in a terrible state because Other Mother was sooooo very angry at me. Understand, I had been a part of their lives since I reunited with my daughter when she was fifteen, and now it was 18 years later. To even the tables somewhat, I sent my daughter $500 days before the wedding to pay part of the expenses (it was a simple country wedding at a VFW hall in a small town in Wisconsin farm country). My two brothers, their wives, and two of their children, aged 8 and 10, would be attending. And after Other Mother declined--as Jane knew she would--daughter Jane had asked me to read a part of the ceremony from a lectern. Talk about being on view! Talk about freaking out over what to wear!

I live in a resort community, and all the local stores were full of late summer resorty casual clothes, and nothing was right. At a trendy vintage clothing store in town, I toyed with buying a striking lime green Norma Kamali number that would have announced in spades: New York City Career Woman. Fortunately, I got a hold of myself and shopped on. I considered going into Manhattan, but I was not up to it. Finally, one Sunday about two weeks before the wedding, my dear husband took me in hand, drove us to a mall about 50 miles away (Manhattan is a hundred), and so I shopped. Macy's, etc., but still I came up with nothing. This one was too dressy, this one too blah, this one, I dunno, but it was not right. Finally, as we were leaving, I noticed a huge building with a Lord & Taylor sign. Let's try that, I said.

I FIND THE PERFECT OUTFIT--AT LAST 
It was there, right inside the door, in this enormous warehouse under weak fluorescent lights: a pale yellow cotton sateen suit with short sleeves, pearl buttons and simple tailoring. It seemed a little boring at first (considering the Kamali number dancing in my head) but I tried it on, told the woman managing the communal dressing room what this was for--the wedding of the daughter I gave up for adoption, imagine her surprise!--and dear reader, it was perfect. Original price, $379; here at the last-resort mall outlet: $79. Sold.

Handy style guide 
As everyone had arrived a day early for the festivities (my brothers came from Michigan, me and my husband from Long Island, New York), I had arranged to take my daughter, her fiance, my brothers and their kids out to lunch the day before, and that went fine. We all went bowling afterward. My husband, Tony, is not Jane's biological father, but has been in her life as a father-figure since she and I reunited. At the church rehearsal the night before, the Other Mother and I did not speak. She would not even look at me and walked away quickly. There was no rehearsal dinner, a huge boon. I treated my daughter, and her daughter from a first wedding, to the beauty parlor (not something Other Mother would have done, just different styles) the morning of the wedding. At the church, Jane had matching corsages for both of us. Other Mother and I sat next to each other during the ceremony, and she had softened by then, and we spoke in friendly tones. There was no receiving line at the wedding reception--very casual does have many blessings for first/birth mothers.

The day went by without incident. We shared a dance with her adoptive parents. Without assigned seating, my family made up its own table of eight on the side. We did not try to be "near" anybody. In this situation, a lot can be said for the casualness of the affair. Some of Jane's family knew me, and said Hello, a cousin came up and introduced herself, said she had read Birthmark, most of the other guests and family just went on about their business. In truth, I was glad our table was off to the side. I introduced myself to the groom's mother in the ladies room; she was cool, very. I think she's always: cool.

And the day was over. It was just one weekend. I recognize that my situation is unusual, and I was indeed fortunate at how it turned out. I would not have missed the wedding for anything. But everyone, every first mother and daughter, and every situation, every wedding, is different. If you truly feel attending will be more than you can bear, say so and stay home. We owe our children love, but we do not need to demean ourselves to show that love.
________________

PS: One occasion that I did avoid was my daughter's high school graduation. It was a few years after we met, I would have been at the graduation and party afterward alone, amidst all her other relatives, and I could not deal with being the "other" woman, alone. Though my daughter wanted me to attend, and her Other Mother did too because Jane wanted it, I knew I could not handle that kind of situation and after totally freaking out for weeks, told my daughter I simply could not come. She understood.--lorraine
_____________________

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18 comments :

  1. Oh I have suggestions as someone who has been on the other side of the fence, with this.

    I would try to find out as much information as possible before hand, be supportive, and say something like, " I am very glad to come to your wedding, but I do want some time to talk about it with you before hand.

    You are not going to be used to the way her family "does things" I would try to discern what is expected of me, how her adoptive parents would like to be addressed, where I would be seated.

    I would want to bring a guest, and I would want that to be someone who was unconditionally supportive of just me, and had a clue into what might be hard for me.

    I would try to be proactive. I have been treated very poorly at a natural family function, the stress of that combined with the novelty aspect of my very being, has made me reconsider wanting to repeat that ordeal. Like was mentioned in the blog, I was a curiosity and treated like one. Not Fun.

    Not to discourage you, my experience need not echo yours, but if I could do it over, I would have advocated for myself more, or at least made an attempt to understand the protocol.

    I hope your experience is wonderful.

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  2. I wrote about attending my daughter's wedding in my August 13, 2009 FMF blog, Can Two Mothers Really Share a Child? Sadly, I recently learned (through a third party) that my daughter's marriage is ending after less than five years. So it goes.

    http://www.firstmotherforum.com/2009/08/can-two-mothers-really-share-child.html

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  3. My daughter, married for the third time now, has never had a "wedding" which is ok with me, although I would have liked to been the one to give her away (her father is dead). Or my husband would have.

    One day she might want to renew her vows to the current husband, I think I will put a nudge in at around 5 years to do a "wedding" and then I will try to be the one to walk my daughter down the aisle.

    After all, I am all she has.

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  4. Dear Adrift (she didn't say she was Troubled),

    I think it's wonderful that your daughter wants you at her wedding! Birth parents are so often excluded from these major events, especially so early in reunion.

    Of course you are freaking out. I agree, get as much information as you can ahead of time, whatever might ease your concerns, like how you will be introduced. Then, just go and try not to worry.

    You might be pleasantly surprised (as I was at my son's wedding many years ago, after worrying about ten million things, including what I would wear!)

    It's going to be an emotional experience, however things go. But chances are good you'll be glad you were there.

    Hugs and best wishes from another mom

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  5. I think in these types of situations if we're proactive and informed and put the needs and feelings of our children ahead of our own, for the most part anyway, awkward events can go very well. I can see the similarities between this situation and being the step mom at my step child's wedding.

    I remember only asking for one thing to be different and brought it forward after much thought. My concerns were received well and my alternate idea was used.

    Good luck with everything. It'll be weird but I hope you can stay fairly calm, enjoy yourself and that all goes well!

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  6. My natural mother refused to go to my wedding because she was still giving me a silent treatment that last many years after my wedding.

    Her prescence at my wedding would have been such a healing validation of our connection as mother/daughter. Instead, her absence was another nail in the coffin of our reunion.

    Go, dear natural mother and enjoy the beauty of the day and watch your child take her vows and cry tears of joy that you can share the moment together.

    GO!!!!!!!!!

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  7. Unless the reunion has been many years and the adoptee has had a chance to acknowledge and deal with the deep feelings, you can bet that he/she is more in a state of numbness than anything, even at their own wedding.
    My first family attended my wedding but I was completely oblivious to the protocol or feelings because I had yet to "feel" myself.
    It wasn't till years later that I awoke and couldn't believe any of us actually went through with that day. I wish I had eloped, because I couldn't remember any of it or the happy emotions a wedding should have been.
    I wrote about this recently on my blog.
    I would suggest just trying to not take anything personally and hugging your daughter no matter what (in every essence), because years later that is all that will matter, not all the drama.

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  8. Hello: I just put a PS on the post, about an event of my daughter's that I could not bring myself to attend. Her high school graduation.

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  9. I am an adoptee whose birth family did not attend my wedding, despite me having invited them. (my mother though, had been dead for 4 yrs at that point and I DO believe she would have happily attended) I remember being very hurt by that at the time, esp considering the fact that they all knew how much it made me sad that I could not invite my mom. I always wondered if it was because they would have felt uncomfortable amongst my adopted relatives and around so many people that they did not know...and this post makes me pretty certain that was the case. I guess I can understand where they were coming from, but it still hurt at the time.

    I really think that unless it is going to cause a World War 3 or something, a first mother should most certainly attend these kind of events if invited. I think Joy gives good advice about finding out as much information as possible before hand, etc. And it would definately be wise to bring an unconditionally supportive person.

    Personally, and I mean no offense, I don't think that feeling akward is a good enough excuse to bow out of important parts of a child's life. Those things are just part of being a mother, first mother or otherwise.

    jmo

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  10. I would go anywhere my son asked me to go, if the Devil himself were there, let alone someone from the adoptive family:-) But that will not happen now as both parents are dead and he has no relationship with anyone else from his adoptive family.

    I had a unique situation with his wedding, as I was not invited, but neither was anyone from his adoptive family. They got married on the Island of Tortola, with only the bride's mom (her dad is deceased),her uncle, and several friends. It was a beautiful wedding on a beach at sunset.

    Mike sent me a whole web page of the wedding, which he also sent the adoptive mother. When I met him and his wife two years later, she gave me a handmade album of photos from the wedding. She said it was just like the one she made for her mother. I really can't complain:-)

    Mike just completed a marathon today, and his wife completed a half marathon. This was their first, both with good times. I am looking forward to the pictures when they get home.

    I would love to get invited to any event where they were.I have never felt "entitled" to anything from the son I gave up, so anything I do get is a gift to be treasured.

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  11. I’m celebrating a 21 year reunion with my son whom I surrendered for adoption in 1968. Unless the marriage laws change in his state there will be no wedding between he and his loving partner. However, four years into our reunion, his sister, also adopted, announced her wedding. She and her fiancé lived 2 hrs. away but we’d met several times and had a nice relationship. During a dinner visit one summer night, she approached me and took my hands in hers and said she'd be honored if I “and my family would attend her wedding”. I accepted and was thrilled! I went right to work on a wedding quilt for them. Months later, (now less than 4 weeks till the wedding) I’d still not received my invitation.. Clueless, I asked my son if Lisa planned to send out formal invitations. Duh..how dense could I be?

    Apparently, their Adoptive Mother had seen my name on the guest list and lit into his sister about it. After all, I was not “her” Birth Mother, etc! She wanted no part of my presence. Lisa was a 30+ professional woman and she and her fiancé were funding the wedding. Yet—my name was unceremoniously stricken. He said he told Lisa that I would understand and that he would tell me. He, of course, did not----until I asked about the invitations. Funny thing is---I did not understand and calmly told him that unless I was un invited by the person who invited me, that I planned to attend the wedding…though I wasn’t totally sure I’d follow through with it. I was upset that my son had offered to be the bearer of this bad news and that his family unfairly allowed him to take that responsibility. Ultimately, the day before the wedding, his sister did call me. We had a lovely chat and she again, said though she felt “undeserving at this point” that she’d be honored if we would at least come to the church. (no mention of the reception this time). My husband's birthday was the day of her wedding but we willingly altered our family plans and did attend the (beautiful) event. It went along without any trouble at all. We sat with the rest of the well-wishers and went, with others, through the receiving line at the back of the church. Upon reaching his Adoptive Mother , we complimented her on the beautiful bride and ceremony. In spite of her being fearful of how she would introduce me, she turned to the groom's mother at her side and simply said, "this is Nancy Horgan and her husband, Peter". She then warmly asked if we might want to come back 'to the house as it would be “a good chance to meet the cousins --all in from out of town”.( The reception wasn’t until later that evening.) Since we had family waiting for a birthday celebration we thanked her graciously and declined and said--'another time' (uh..with perhaps more notice??). To be clear, I did not ever intend to hold up a "Birth Mothers Never Forget" sign...or interrupt the ceremony with a short history of the cruelty of the sealed adoption records system...or insist that each guest know my relationship to the bride's brother. This unfounded fear each other is the nonsensical result of all the secrets folded into sealed records adoptions. It's been many years since that event. My son has grown in ways that far surpass any expectation I have ever had. Today, he wouldn’t dream of not objecting to such offensive behavior toward me..or anyone else. His Adoptive Mother has survived this blended family. Sadly, she has never been able to apologize for uninviting me to her daughter’s wedding...though, she has to know that it was wrong to do so. Lisa had not yet found her Birth Mother at the time of her wedding. I wanted to witness that wonder-filled event as a stand-in for her.
    I still sit here in shock at the knowledge that when she was recently located she declared she wanted no part of a reunion. That her pain has been hard wired to her soul is a true and utter tragedy.
    Weddings, of ALL events, are a time to celebrate family inclusion---from far and wide.....a time to relax and refocus on the future…and feel blessed

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  12. Dear Earth Mother, what a story that is...and I salute you for the classy way you acted. But when I got to the last bit, about your son's (adopted) sister not wanting any part of her own reunion, my heart just sank. Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we decide to relinquish. Her (birth/first)mother learned the awful truth that no one tells you at the time of surrender, that even if you find your child one day, the road thereafter will likely be strewn with thorns.

    Thank you for sharing your adoption-wedding story.

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  13. Lisa,

    My not going to my daughter's high school graduation was not a matter of merely feeling awkward --I was having anxiety attacks for weeks. I knew how critical her extended family had been of the birth mother of "their" daughter coming back into her life, I would be going to Wisconsin alone, and I could feel the stones thrown at me all the way in New York. I really was not up to make that journey by myself.

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  14. Lorraine...I understand and I wasn't just referring to your post. That would have been horribly scary to feel like such an outsider:(

    Anxiety attacks are a true medical condition and imo, are a valid reason for someone not to do things or attend events or whatnot.

    I guess I was just speaking in general terms that ANY mother shouldn't let feelings of akwardness keep her from being there for special events in their child's life...and that extends outside of the triad.

    (((hugs)))

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  15. Lorraine, Just a note to clarify---
    What I should have said is this: "I still sit here in shock at the knowledge that when Lisa finally located her First Mother, she (the First Mother) declared she wanted no part of a reunion." I was doubly glad I had attended her wedding.

    Lisa was the first (waiting from dawn to be #1 !) to obtain her OBC under the (ridiculous) 'sandwich' law that recently went into effect in Massachusetts. She had the good fortune of being born in the right year and was able to access her identity and the name of her First Mother. Still, the end result of her Herculean sleuthing efforts led her only to a phone # for her First Mother's sister. They are both elderly women. Lisa called ‘the sister’ with a gentle and brief explanation. Lisa had composed a thoughtful and caring letter for her First Mother..it was lovingly hand written. Though 'sister' would not reveal the location of the First Mother, she, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to forward it. Lisa had dreamed of a reunion similar to the one her brother (my son) enjoyed, but her hope was, at the very least, to give peace of mind and offer open arms to the woman who gave her life. With 2 precious children of her own, Lisa deeply understood the pain that her First Mother must have lived with after having to surrender her newborn baby.

    Soon, an envelope, from the First Mother's sister arrived back in Lisa’s mailbox. Inside, in addition to a note from the sister was another envelope (addressed to “Lisa”) with the beautiful hand writing that Lisa recognized as being so much like her own. It was a letter from her First Mother, Roslyn...forwarded through the sister. That Lisa found a special place to sit, open and relish this treasured slip of paper adds only to the heartache of what was written. It was full of "I'm sorry's" and "I can’t’s” and “That part of my life is over" and..the worst, "You have a wonderful life" as if any life without your own Mother acknowledging you could be truly wonderful. Through other conversations she’s had from ‘the sister’ Lisa was confident this declaration was indeed from Roslyn.

    Lisa has complied a huge binder of all the research she conducted. Every detail is notated with loving attention elevating the information to (almost) sacred status. To her credit she has been able to maintain a minimal phone relationship with Roslyn’s sister--- who lives on the west coast.. Interesting that it turns out that the sister has 2 (grown) children who are adopted. She and Lisa are finding a way to share their experiences past and present. Lisa feels that the steam of light through the miniscule crack in the family door is better than nothing.

    Though this is not about 'weddings' anymore I do want to emphasize that Lisa has respected Roslyn's wishes. Though disheartened, she is not an enraged, stalking adoptee wanting to barge in and "ruin" the life of someone who wishes to be left alone (in her grief, no doubt). Yet THAT is the paradigm that we are fed from those who oppose access to identity. Roslyn could certainly be hunted down...but, for what? That is not the experience Lisa wants for herself, her family or for Roslyn. Suffice it to say that Roslyn lays her head on her pillow each night knowing she does not have the courage to face down those who intend to keep her buried in pathetic shame. Lisa has forgiven her but that’s not enough. Roslyn’s road IS strewn with thorns, Lorraine. If only she knew that should she chose to throw caution to the wind and walk over them and through the pain---- that waiting for her is a beautiful , compassionate daughter who can help with healing.
    It’s all so sad. I wouldn’t wish adoption on my worst enemy.

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  16. I would, as a birtmother reunited with my daughter for the last ten years, LOVED to have been given the chance to attend my daughter's wedding ceremony. However, her adoptive mother issued a strong ultimatum which was, if she invites me, she will never speak to my daughter again. Fearful of what might happen, my daughter chose to not invite me. This has, however, created a ton of resentment on my part, since my daughter has not called me since the wedding plans have started, and basically has excluded me from any discussions of anything at all. I secretly feel that at age 28 she should be strong enough to stand up to her adoptive mom, since she isn't paying for her wedding and she will, I feel, not carry through on such a ridiculous threat. Why am I feeling so angry that my daughter is not able to stand up for herself? She says she wants me there but is afraid of her other mom. I somehow do not buy this. Where do I go from here? Right now I feel like ending our relationship, as I am childlishly hurt and cannot seem to focus on anything else. Any suggestions on how to proceed from here?

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  17. This has been very interesting! As an adoptee who will probably be planning at least 2 weddings in the next 3 years, I have been thinking about this. My n Family will be invited, as obviously, my a family will be, too.

    My daughters have relationships with my n siblings and younger cousins. I just worry about how my extended a family will behave....Ap's have met a few of my siblings, and it was actually a nice experience. My girls' weddings may be a different story though.

    I should probably just start reminding them NOW that BOTH of my families will be in attendance. ;)

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  18. I hope other mothers who have similar question will find your post

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