Tuesday, May 4, 2010
To Search or Not: That is the question for adoptees/birth mothers
I can not answer for others, but as for myself, a first/birth/original mother who had relinquished a daughter, I could not help but search. I had to find out what happened to her. Not knowing was eating at me and would continue to gnaw through my nights and days until I found her. When I was getting married, and my life seemed otherwise full, I hired a searcher, paid him $1,200 through an intermediary--we never met--and my daughter and I were reunited, with her adoptive parent's blessing, when she was fifteen in 1981. End of story? Not quite.
Many of you know my daughter Jane had myriad problems due to not only being relinquished, but also because she had epilepsy, and both issues led to neurotic behavior. She welcomed me into her life, saying she always wondered, especially on her birthdays, St. Patrick's Day, Christmas and New Year's and yes, Mother's Day, if I ever thought about her; she intended to search for her birth mother as soon as she turned eighteen, she said. That I found her first she counted a blessing.
Yet unlike her relationship with her other mother, her adoptive Mom--who in truth said plenty of really nasty things to her over the years, which Jane would tell me--our relationship was more fragile, sometimes tenuous. Even after we knew each other for decades, she could turn off and out and walk away on a dime when it suited her; the smallest irritation or perceived slight or wrong word that I hardly knew escaped my lips lent to agonizing days, weeks of soul-searching: What had I said wrong? What should I have done differently? What did I do? Once she ignored her email, changed her phone number, sent back a letter with REFUSED stamped on it. Now that's a rejection.
A Deep Sense of Abandonment
Whether or not she ever admitted it--and she did not--she was imprinted with a primal sense of being abandoned, and she never truly forgave me, because she could not. When I read newspaper stories of reunions--written in the glow of the honeymoon stage--the often the adoptee finds that the word "abandoned" escapes from his mouth, and he then expresses surprise because, he tells the reporter, he never consciously thought of himself as abandoned. Yet there it is. And there it was deep inside my daughter. When she shut me out, it always felt as if she was determined to let me know: I'll show you how it feels to walk away. I'll show you that I don't need you. I'll show you that I can get along just fine without you.
On the Internet, these are the kinds of relationships we hear about the most--the high of reunion, followed by the long slog of the lows. Birth/first mothers and adoptees with happy relationships are not writing about their successful, glorious reunions. Life has has highs and lows, many bumps in the road, and reunions between adopted people and the mothers who relinquished them have more bumps than otherwise. And we birth mothers have to accept what is, not what might have been.
There Were Good Times Too
To live a life with answers, with a real daughter, not an imagined one--however troublesome our relationship could sometimes be--rather than with a void was to me the more fulfilled life. I had to know what happened, who she was, where she was. And I cherish the years of good feelings and good times we shared, the simple satisfaction of being mother and daughter, at the Montauk lighthouse, at a local bar over a beer, on top of the Empire State Building, shopping for a new outfit for her. She said wonderful things to me that I hold dear. She was, first and last, my daughter. She committed suicide in 2007.
Some birth mothers, and adopted people, seem to be able to shut out the questions, and maybe they are happier living their lives that way; but I could not, and did not, and was never, not for a single moment, sorry. I would have been sorry had I never searched.
I am going to be taking a hiatus from posting as often. Life is taking me elsewhere right now, and I need to go there. I will try to post once a week. And I may put up short notices about stuff in the news on the sidebar. Jane will continue writing too. This is a link for my memoir, Birthmark, about relinquishing--before I felt I had a right to search: