Friday, February 26, 2010
Attending your daughter's wedding when you are the First/Birth Mother
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
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, 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.
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.
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.
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
Posted by Lorraine Dusky at 8:22 PM