Friday, July 23, 2010

When Birthdays Are the Saddest Days of the Year....

Birthdays. God, they can sting. Not just because I'm not in my youth. My daughter, even though I found her when she was fifteen, maybe remembered two or three--or am I just imagining that because I want to, maybe she remembered none? because I can not point to a single birthday present or card that indicates she remembered in the 26 years we knew each other. And how do you tell a child, whom you relinquished to be adopted, that you wish she would remember your birthday? That's over-reaching, that's too much to ask for. You gave her up, remember? Be glad for small favors, I would tell myself. Be glad you know her.

But from the other side of the coin, I just read a sad post on a blog, Real Daughter, that made me real sad. Her first mother's birthday was last week, July 22, the same day, I noticed, as an old boyfriend, and Real Daughter is constrained from getting in touch. Claire/Linda wrote:
"Right now I'm just sad. I want to call her and tell her Happy Birthday, but I can't. I am, in a sense, damned if I do, and damned if I don't. If I do, it could be perceived as harassment. She told me she would never speak to me again if I told my siblings about me. If I don't, maybe she thinks I am a cold hearted bitch."
And when I wrote in an previous blog that something had led me to understand better mothers who are unable to tell their families about their (usually) first child, Mark asked me to write more. And yesterday a reporter asked me how I managed not to even tell my family when I was pregnant. (I lived in another state, I was 22, that's how.) But I tried to explain the deep and unabiding sense of shame that I felt over being pregnant back then when a "single mother" was not a phrase anyone said. People just raised their eyebrows and look askance.

When I was pregnant I thought about killing myself. I hoped I would miscarry. I jumped up and down in an effort to do so. I had tried to get an abortion. When my parents phoned, I pretended I was still at my job, rather than hiding out for months in my apartment, lest I run into the few people in Rochester I knew. I endured. She was born. I relinquished her. I surrendered my daughter to adoption. I gave her up, feeling as if I were in a drowning sea. A life shot through with the grief of a first mother began. But today I have two wonderful granddaughters, each special and different in their special and different ways.

I can not forget the shame of the time when my daughter was born in 1966. Only my desire to take an active part in reform propelled me to claim my place as a birth/first mother, and thus, my family had to be told. I was scared. I was embarrassed. It was hard. But I moved forward. I am not saying this as a matter of pride, but just as fact. I took my mother to lunch, she ordered a gin and tonic, I ordered my tonic with vodka. Before the first course arrived, I said: I have something important to tell you...and I kept on going. She was great; her greatest sorrow was that I was not able to tell her out of shame at the time, that I had been alone. I can still see her face today as I sit here, tears freely slowing down my cheeks now, for she has been dead for a decade. Over that weekend, I had to repeat this scenario twice more, telling each of my brothers, who I did not see at the same time. It was hard every time, but less hard once I got it out the first time and told my mother. My father was deceased by then; he never knew my daughter had been born. 

Our sister-in-arms here, Jane had to tell her grown daughters, which she has written about before. It's never easy to be open about surrendering a child.

To all the first/birth/natural mothers who come upon this post and have not told their larger families, their other children, about their siblings who have been adopted by others, let me help you find the way. Your husband and children most likely love you, and once they get over the shock of hearing about this secret, they will still love you and accept you. They might be hurt that you felt you had to keep this secret, but most have the capacity to understand how and why you had to. Most people will offer sympathy and love and hugs. (Bring out the hankies!) And you will give your adopted son or daughter the greatest gift, the gift of acceptance, the gift of not having to be a secret anymore. Some of the saddest comments and posts I read here are from adoptees whose first/birth mothers will not meet them (see above), or meet them, but only in secret.

You could not keep your child when they were born. You can never make up for that. But you can bring them fully into the sunshine of your life today. You can give them that one gift. It's a start.--lorraine

7 comments :

  1. "you can bring them fully into the sunshine of your life today" what a beautiful way to put it!!

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  2. My parents knew about my daughter that was forced to put up for adoption but never talks about her. Even after my Dad knows about her. That I am in contact. He still won't count her as his grandchild.

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  3. Birthmother talks... you are not alone in your situation. My own birthmother has a mom who still refers to me (34 years later) as "the trouble". Although we were reunited (and have been estranged since that reunion) "grandma" does not acknowledge me in any way. There are some parents who just can not let go of the past; they just can't allow their hearts of ice to melt. I did not know it at the time, but at our reunion she was all too quick to drill it in to my birth mother... "This child is not your daughter. She has a family of her own. You are not her mother." (By the way, I was no "child" when we met. I was 23!) No wonder why it didn't FEEL like my birthmom was happy to see me. Her own mother made sure she couldn't and wouldn't let her guard down. I feel badly for such parents... don't you? To go through life that frozen...

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  4. My one and only child a daughter was lost to adoption the day she was born. I never held her until 35 years later and felt that unconditional love that her & I missed all those many long lost years.

    You tell my story; the wish for death and trying to get rid of the baby that brought so much shame to the family. The moving to a motel in a strang town and driving to the hospital to give birth and crying outside the nursery and driving away, all those many years ago.

    I sometimes wonder how I had the where with all to continue surving.

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  5. This just may be my favorite writing of yours ... Beautifully done, and so heartfelt. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  6. I understand this wholeheartedly.

    The one time my son came to my home, he sat on my couch and bragged that his adoptive mothers birthday was also the same month as his. I had to endure his posts on a social networking site, boasting that he was "taking his mom out for dinner to a swanky restaurant for her birthday",
    while I never recieved even an email wishing me a "Happy Mother's Day", or "Happy Birthday", even though we were communicating at the time.

    This is all for the woman who got to be mother because of the falsehoods told to me so I would surrender him.

    A "Happy Birthday" or a "Happy Mother's Day" from my child would have been wonderful, forget the card; just hearing it would have been nice.

    Just another fact that proves how devastating adoption is, for the rest of your life; that we are not even worthy of a simple endearing term, "Happy Birthday"...

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  7. Cat here.

    I remember when I told my other children about their brother. I was terrified.

    I told them at the same time.
    My husband was there for moral support.

    Their responses were quite amazing.

    My 11 year old daughter said
    "That's really cool!"
    I was a bit confused at her response and asked how that was cool.

    She said that she now had a half brother (sibling) like all her friends did. That made her feel closer to her friends.

    My 14 year old son gave a different yet equally confusing response.

    "Thank goodness for that!"

    Again, I was mystified. I asked what he meant.

    He said that I had been crying a lot over the years, and even more so recently. He thought I had cancer! He thought I was dying!
    It was a relief to know that terminal illness was not the reason for my tears.

    He then gave me a huge hug and said he would help look for his brother.

    I didn't realise just how much my raised son had been affected by the sadness over my other son.

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