Sunday, May 30, 2010
A Neighbor Condemns Searching for our Children Lost to Adoption, a friendship ends
Some background here: A neighbor I'll call Yvonne is older than I (she is 80) and over the years we have become quite close. We've done countless favors for each other and she has called me her "youngest sister." But there was always this big black cloud in the room on a subject that, hmm, dare not speak its name: adoption. I've written before about what occurred between us, but I'll summarize here.
Although I knew adoption was a subject that I knew one had to tread lightly--Yvonne never met an adoptee who wasn't totally happy to be adopted, completely integrated into the family, etc.--I still did not know that we were a gazillion miles apart on the issue. When the hated movie Juno came out, I gave her a copy of my memoir, Birthmark, to read, hoping that she would understand the point of view of a first/birth mother more than she had seemed willing to in the past.
My POV: That I, a woman who surrendered her daughter to adoption, felt it necessary for my mental health to find that daughter. That I, as her biological/birth/first mother, did not want to interrupt her life with her other, adoptive, family. That I wanted her to be a part of my life too, in some fashion, but that did not mean she would turn away from her adoptive family. That in doing this, everyone recognized that Jane, my/our daughter was an integrated human being with a past that began before adoption.
Jane had been to our house many times for extended stays of several months, but Yvonne and I were not more than nodding acquaintances then, and she had not met Jane until a couple years before she committed suicide; Yvonne knew one of Jane's daughters (one relinquished for adoption, one not) because she had spent several weeks here each summer when she was a child. So, Yvonne had some inkling of how our situation had worked out. She was kind to Jane's daughter.
Anyway, Yvonne said she could not stop reading Birthmark until she finished, wanted to get copies for her children, all now grown, and all of whom I know and like. Incidentally, none of them live nearby--the closest is about a three-to-four-hour drive away, the others several states away or across the country. When Yvonne became ill in the last couple of years, it was my husband and I who were the helpers on the spot, the visitors in the hospital, before anyone else got here. But understand our friendship was a two-way street; she has done many favors for us also. I took care of her cats when Yvonne went away; when we had a dog, she took care of him. We gave her books to read; she's wealthy; she's been generous to us. Her children seemed somewhat relieved that she had a good friend and neighbor a few doors away. It was a reciprocal relationship.
Yet, adoption lay between us like a roaring brook we all agreed to step around without comment.
But there were times when that became impossible. Yvonne's very good friend from boarding school (who coincidentally lives a few blocks away) became an adoptive grandmother, twice over. Her husband once told me--after I told him I was a birth mother whose daughter had lived her for some summers, worked downtown at the ice cream parlor--that I was "their greatest nightmare." I said nothing.
One day, Yvonne, in a pique generated I think by a small amount of wine in her 110-pound frame, called me..."no more than a reproductive agent." I can only think she heard that phrase from the people who think I am "their greatest nightmare." (Read more here.)
Trouble ensued. Eventually we talked and I brought up how she might feel about her own mother who left Yvonne and her two sisters in the care of their American father in the states while she, the mother, went back to France and continued to be the aristocratic courtesan of the literati and social set there. (Her mother is actually quite well known in France, even today, as much for her sexual exploits and conquests as her writing.) For several years Yvonne did not even see her mother, and when she finally did, after boarding school days were over, I came to understand it was not a warm and loving relationship. Yvonne felt that it would have been different had the three sisters been boys. Though she won't really talk about those feelings, it's clear that her mother did more or less physically abandon the girls; Yvonne's older sister did not even see her mother for 17 years.
Anyway, a whole year passed in which we somehow avoided adoption. Until a few days before Mother's Day when she expressed the hope (by crossing her fingers and widening her eyes) that the couple who live between us, who must be in their late thirties to mid forties, are able to adopt, as she heard they hope to. Maybe it was the timing, maybe I have been quietly seething for the whole last year since her "reproductive agent" eruption (which she denies she ever said such words! The very idea!), maybe it was at last a recognition that we could not really be friends, but I said a few angry semi-incoherent words about how she did not understand anything about me, how international adoption was a hotbed of corruption and child-stealing, and I stormed out. I wouldn't say I had sleepless nights, but more than once when I woke up at three or four, I could not get back to sleep replaying over in my mind what I'd like to say to her. My husband, Tony, had the same reaction.
She called a few days later, as if nothing had happened. One time--on Mother's Day, no less--I was actually talking to adoption-reform pioneer Florence Fisher and took the call before I saw on Caller ID that it was Yvonne. Basically she had a message for Tony which I passed on. He did not call her back. The next time she called did not take the call,--she left a message as if nothing had happened.
One has choices, one usually has choices. This time I decided to try to say in a single-spaced two-page letter what I could never get out if we actually spoke. I also thought it would make more of an impression, she would be able to read and reread what I had to say. A few days later, she wrote back, seemingly not quite accepting what I said. I wrote back again, explaining further. Asked her to watch a few videos that I sent to her email address.
In short, while she agrees there may be the very rare (one) corrupt adoption agency, she can not believe that corruption is rampant. But then she wrote what it at the heart of today's birth-mother dilemma: that while she believes that "if and when a child is old enough it wishes to know its heritage her or she should have easy access to that information," she does not believe "that the birth parent should have the right to disturb and upset my family in search of their child or have a say in the way I bring up MY [her emphasis] child. In my opinion it is a one way street."
She goes on to say that this is the last time we should discuss this adding: "You have a right to your opinion, which by the way I understand, but I also have a right to mine." She ends by adding that one of her daughters and husband is coming for the weekend, and she knows they would love to see us. While I was writing this, she called and I did not answer; her message was: Could we come over for a drink at six?
I give up. Though she knows--and I have reminded her in this last go-round--that I found Jane and was reunited with her when she was fifteen with her adoptive parent's blessing--an action Yvonne condemns, she seems to think we can go on as before. We can not. I feel like while, say, someone freely admits she is say, a racist, she wants to invite me (not of her race) to dine at her table because I am somehow "not like the rest of them."
Her attitude is pervasive in society and more so, here in America, I believe, than elsewhere because we are a culture are tied into the myth that the past is of little consequence, that we can make and remake ourselves into whatever and whomever we want. It's why I feel so hopeless in combating attitudes like hers and that of another "friend" who attacked me over a year ago for searching for Jane. Attitudes about openness have changed on one level, but in many quarters, and by many adoptive parents, not towards us birth/first mothers. We gave the children up; it does not matter that the anonymity was coerced (which I painstakingly explained to Yvonne); we signed the fucking papers and so there it lies. We can live lives of misery and yearning, that's too effing bad--as Yvonne put it, it is a one-way street.
I do know I do not want to be around her anymore. I do not want to be the pariah among her thoughts. Our friendship is over and out. Eventually, I'll stop being upset.
The evening calls. I have a cous-cous salad (healthy and delicious!) to make to take to an afternoon croquet game and barbecue with friends; my husband's nephew by marriage, a tree guy, is coming tonight with his wife and two toddlers to take down a dead tree in the back yard tomorrow, and I'll make them a splendid lunch, with shrimp and clams. Life continues. And the next blog will be about good news from my other granddaughter, Lisa. There is a silver lining.--lorraine