Meeting Lisa at the airport on Saturday night was not the same as meeting the daughter I had in 1966 and gave up for adoption, but it was a jolt nonetheless. Now I'm meeting the daughter my daughter gave up for adoption. I hate explaining that over and over again, even to good friends, because it makes me feel like such a failure. A double failure. Not only did I give up a daughter, my finding her could not prevent the same thing happening into the next generation. When Lisa said at some point that she is unlikely to have children, I added, Just don't adopt. She said, Yeah, I think it's time to end that in this family. Or maybe she didn't use that word, but we understood what she meant. Great, I said, relief washing into me. It won't be three generations of birth mothers, only two.
The week reminded me how truly much I hate all things adoption. Oh, wait, it has its good part, some children truly do need families. And it turned out Lisa was one of them. She was not handed over to a childless couple who greedily wanted a baby, anyone's baby. They had two daughters, and took in a toddler who needed a home:
Where did you grow up, asked Roger, a friend of ours on Sunday.
From a year-and-a-half to eighteen, a small town near Madison, Wisconsin, she responded evenly, behind her stylish shades.
A year-and-a-half? I asked, thinking: What's this a year-and-a-half business? Where were you before that? I ask, in front of everyone.
I was raised by some nuns until then, she responded.
We are on a nice sunny deck overlooking a pond, with good friends, and I learn, behind sunglasses now hiding the extra juice in my eyes, that for a year-and-a-half Lisa was in some sort of home, that she was not adopted, as Jane, her (birth/first) mother, led me to believe. I'd learned months ago that she was not adopted by the African American doctor/father, and the white lawyer/mother (too good to be true, I thought, but I had no recourse to learn otherwise) as Jane had told me--shook their hands, she insisted, when I pressed for details.
So was this a clear cut case of someone who needed to be adopted? Might she have grown up in a home unless her family decided to adopt, after taking in several foster children? Yes and yes.
Throughout the week, I kept going back to it. We are all products of what happened to us, and this is definitely something that happened to me--this awful revelation. I have always tried to be understanding and aware that not every adoption is a bad thing. Well, closed adoptions are, and hers was. But my daughter, I hate to say, wanted it that way. She wanted a closed adoption. She did not want the responsibility of an open adoption. So on a sunny Sunday morning, I learn my granddaughter was in some sort of "home"--to call it an orphanage doesn't seem right, I don't think there were any or a lot of other children there--until she was adopted. At a year and a half. My god, a year and a half. How could that have been good? It could not have. This knowledge will definitely change--if only a little, but a change is there--in my attitude towards adoption, and adoptive parents. I know enough not to call Lisa "lucky."
All seemed to be going well the first couple of days, but truth is, I did not know what to ask, though I wanted to know more about her life. I did not know what she wanted to share, I did not want to pry like the journalist I am--now I was simply a grandmother, but I do write, and I write about all this--I simply wanted to be here for her. So we talked about her current life. Her gigs with a jazz quartet (Lulu's Playground) in Minneapolis, where she does spoken word as part of the set. Her unsettled love life. She is, after all, 24, strong and beautiful, of mixed race, all of which complicates one's love life, particularly in the quite white Midwest.
She is close to her (adoptive) family, her family, her mom and dad are being totally understanding and accepting about her curiosity about this part of her life. Of which they knew nothing. They did not know about the epilepsy, which is not inherited.
We kept busy, my friends were too curious, perhaps, perhaps I should have kept them away more, but the issue was that some of them are doing the very things that Lisa is interested in: writing. Writing and publishing poetry. Living the artist's life, the one she is choosing. Does she meet them, does she not? It seemed that it would be good if she did. Yet, I was aware that it was a lot, a lot of new people, whether or not they were in the world she is entering. I wanted her to know my life, our life, I wanted her to feel welcome in it, particularly since it coincided with her aims and aspirations. I wanted her to know who she came from, genetically and culturally. That involved my friends. My family is back in Michigan so she did not meet my brothers and their kids.
By midweek her walls went up. She closed down all the while saying "I'm good." We kept busy, I tried to find things to do here that I thought she would like, she was gracious, she was lovely and accommodating, but the walls were there at least for now, yet I don't mean to overstate, or imply anything other than to state the facts. She was kind, not mean; she needed space, but I could not help be the one she was moving away from, because I was that person. The week was long. Perhaps we did not have enough time in Manhattan, going to this and that, the Met and a Broadway play, the Village Vanguard and Soho, but the walls would have gone up anyway. We could not just ignore one another, this is a small house, time had to be filled. We found ways to separate for a few hours during the days, but still, the week was long. She's written it was like a perpetual first date, and I suppose it was, more for her than me, because I was in the comfort zone of my own home, in my own town, surrounded by my husband and friends.
I knew that she was processing everything and that it had to be hard, but no matter how I talked to myself, no matter how understanding Tony was, no matter how she had to pull back to protect herself, I could not help but take it personally, no matter that Tony and logic told me otherwise. Maybe she didn't like me. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe....On my bulletin board is a little slip of paper--it looks like it was cut out of Parade magazine a zillion years ago, it's aged and now tan in color, and has 15 or so holes in it from being taken down and put back up again with a push pin. It says:
"Women are repeatedly accused to taking things personally. I cannot see any other honest way of taking them."--Marya Mannes from A Woman's Notebook.
I ended up with fresh hate for what adoption does to everyone involved, save, adoptive parents such as hers because they seem to have done it all right. I hate everything about it from the perspective of someone who was a young woman in 1966 (that would be me) and felt she had no resources and gave up her daughter for adoption. So began a generational heritage of adoption that beget another adoption. How common is this? More, I suspect, than anyone dreams of in this world.
But she is in my life now, and I am in hers. This is our beginning, our bumpy, difficult, emotional beginning. Time to absorb it, let it wash into me. Time to go to the beach and have the little amount of rum in my tonic that my stomach allows these days, time to mix that with my tears.--lorraine
I have to finish the rewrite of my memoir, and I will be posting less. I plan to post once a week for a while, unless I absolutely positively find something I have to post. The sad news today is that adoption pioneer Annette Baran, social worker and co-author of The Adoption Triangle, died. She was a great lady and I am honored to have known her. The Adoption Triangle is, I believe, the first book from the perspective of social workers and a psychiatrist to advocate the end of closed adoptions and open records for all adoptees. If you haven't read it, now is the time. Annette will be truly missed.
For videos of Annette see: http://www.musingsofthelame.com/2010/07/truth-of-annette-baran.html