Sunday, December 5, 2010

Birth Mother's Lament: A Message for My Daughter

Lorraine
Hello baby, I am writing this to you. It is strange and wonderful to think that you might be reading this. It is like putting a letter in a bottle and flinging it into the sea.

You will be thirteen. It seems like just yesterday you were struggling for your life in an incubator, and now you are almost grown up. Your body is changing, and your breasts may be starting. What are girls your age like? Long straight hair, blue jeans, peasant blouses and espadrilles. Giggles on the bus from school. The first telephone calls from boys. Girl friends who share all your secrets. Or maybe you're not like that at all. I wasn't. Not really.

Are you alive? Are you?


There's so much to say I am having a hard time beginning.

I write to the agency where you were adopted every now and then. Somebody writes back, the person is always changing, and they have told me that they put the letters in our file and if you ever come back and ask, they will give them to you. I sent a picture too. I don't look like that anymore. Something about me has changed. I'll send another soon.

The first letter that I got back from the agency said you were adopted by a couple who "have been most delighted by you." And what about you? Are you delighted too? The letter also said that during the home study the parents talked extensively about their feelings toward the natural parents. "They will surely convey the idea that the child was surrendered because her mother loved her." That's not really right. Of course, I love you but I didn't give you away because I loved you; I gave you away because I couldn't keep you. I try to tell myself that it was meant to be this way, that you came out of me and him and that you were supposed to grow up with those people, whoever they are, and there are times when I can accept that quite calmly.

Not very often.

Your grandmother is still alive, and we talk about you frequently. In a way, you're part of our family too, right now. She said she was going to change her will and leave you , in a trust, the same amount of money she is leaving her three other grandchildren. It's not much, but we want you to know that we think of you. And one time, she told me that when she dies, she wants on her gravestone four grandchildren, no matter who knows and who doesn't and who asks questions.

But we don't think she is going to die until she meets you. She tells her friends that she is going to live some years yet, and when they ask her how she knows, she simply says: "I've got something to live for," and then she smiles and that's that.

She has a plant at home for you too. It's a baby's tears that someone gave her, and when she's watering it or moving it around so that it gets enough sunshine, she thinks about me and she thinks about you. It's growing like mad.

People often say to me that they know I'll meet you one day. But what if you don't want to know me? What if you aren't even curious? What if you are so angry you won't look me up, even if you can? But when somebody says, I know she will, I get all shaky inside and I wait a few minutes until it passes. I collect all these things in my heart, and if I think on them hard enough, maybe it will happen. Sometimes I stop in the Catholic church near here and just sit and wonder about you and light a candle too.

I don't mean to sound pathetic. I've made a good life for myself. Time passes and the phone rings and the sun comes up. I laugh and dance and have people over. The man in my life understands about you and how I feel. Maybe one day you will meet him.

My daughter, Jane,
at about four
I have something bad to tell you. You know those birth control pills I took when I didn't think I was pregnant? They doctor gave them to me. Well, it turns out that they can hurt you. I read it in a medical journal. It might not mean anything, but you should be examined regularly to make sure there is no abnormality. You should start being examined by the time you are fourteen. It is very important.

The statistics aren't as frightening as if I had taken another hormone some pregnant women took--DES--but there still is a chance that the pills could have affected you: you have got to be cautious. I found out about it this last summer when I was researching a magazine piece.

I wrote to the lady at the agency--I wrote three times, in fact, before I got an answer--and she said someone would get in touch with your parents and let them know. But I worry that your parents won't believe me, that they may think it's just a trick to communicate with you. I have asked the agency to let me know when they have contacted your parents. It's only been a month.

I hope your parents don't think I am some kind of pariah come back to haunt them, or hurt them. I hope they understand I don't want to hurt you. That's the last thing I'd ever want. I don't imagine that if I found you, your life with them would change that much; you just can't walk out on what I have has been a lifetime of love. But I could tell you what happened. I could ask you to forgive me.

Yes, I'd like to have you visit me. You could call me Lorraine, it would be fine. I'd just like to see you. Even if I couldn't talk to you.

You have two uncles and three first cousins, and a whole bunch of other relatives who already know about you. I sometimes imagine flying home to Detroit with you to meet my mother. She'd be at the airport, make no mistake. She always picks me up when I come home for Christmas.

We always talk about you on Christmas, my mother and me. Sometimes she calls me around your birthday, if not on the exact date, and I know she says a lot of prayers for you. And there are forsythia in the living room that I am forcing into bloom. You will be thirteen tomorrow.

BirthmarkSome people may question why I wrote this book. I had to get in touch with you. It seemed like the best way.

And I am tired of hearing about how natural mothers don't want to be found. I so desperately want to know you one day. I want those laws changed,.

I'm going to sign off now, but remember that we're all hoping and praying and waiting for you.

All my love,
lorraine
--From Birthmark

I woke up this morning feeling I had to put this on the blog. Don't know why I got such a strong message from the ether, but there it is. By way of explanation, forsythia was in full bloom when my daughter was born on April 5, 1966, and I remember seeing long hedges of it on the way to the hospital. The birth control pills I took in 1965, when I was pregnant but did not know it, were a probable cause of my daughter's epilepsy. She died in 2007.  

Birthmark was very controversial when it was published in 1979. Jane and I were reunited in 1981 through the paid services of someone shadowy known as The Searcher.

When I read this part of Birthmark at the opening session of a kinship weekend at the University of Pittsburgh a few years ago, there was total silence in the room, and only one person in the audience came up to me afterward. She was an adoptive mother/professor and we talked about how she feels that her child was "meant" for her, and how difficult it was to hear what I had to say and how difficult it must be for me to hear adoptive parents say that. It was an honest discussion between two mothers talking about a difficult interstice of reality and emotions. I wish I had written down her name, but I see her face very clearly.

I was surprised...that she was the only one who wanted to talk to me as I stood around by myself...until I realized as the weekend progressed that most of the people there were adoptive mothers and my words made them cringe.

So it goes.

16 comments :

  1. Tears are easy these days. I think as I get older the emotions run closer to the surface. Maybe because I can cry now....

    I am glad you wrote it...I hope she had read it.

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  2. It brings tears to my eyes when I see how much a child looks like her mother.

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  3. Oh, what I would have given to have read a letter like this from my Mother.....

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  4. When I am up to it, I will take a shot of the picture of me at the same age. It was...more than weird to compare the two. It was a revelation. And hard and wonderful to see the resemblance. What I saw was what I had missed.

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  5. This blog reminds me of the old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

    I was hoping you would also show a picture of yourself at that age.

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  6. I too was thinking at first that picture was a photo of you at that age! What an absolutely beautiful letter Lorraine.

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  7. I too was thinking that was a photo of you at that age! And, I'm with Lori on the tears. What an absolutely beautiful letter Lorraine.

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  8. What a beautiful letter. Thank you for posting it.

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  9. Lorraine, 1979 was a pivotal year for me because that was the year I read "Birthmark" and "Lost and Found". It was your book and Betty Jean Lifton's book that pierced the numbness in my heart and soul...and started my journey out of the darkness as a natural mother.

    I thank you for that...

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  10. 1979 was also a pivotal year for me ~ that is the year my son was born and given up for adoption. What I would give to be able to go back in time and have these books available to me before making such a life-changing decision...

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  11. Thank you for those touching words. I am also an fMom and my son turned 18 last week, and your letter echoes the silent love I feel for him.

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  12. When I read this part of Birthmark at a kinship weekend at the University of Pittsburgh, there was total silence in the room, and only one person in the audience came up to me afterward. She was an adoptive mother and we talked about how she feels that her child was "meant" for her. It was an honest discussion between two mothers talking about a difficult interstices of emotions.

    I was surprised...that she was the only one...until I realized as the weekend progressed that most of the people there were adoptive mothers and my words made them cringe.

    So it goes.

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  13. "What I saw was what I had missed."

    This is exactly how I feel when I see pictures of my daughter's childhood. I cannot describe the grief that I felt upon seeing photos of her as a baby and a toddler.

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  14. Your letter is beautiful. My mother says that she wrote a letter but it's never been found. Private adoption - need I say more?

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  15. It's a very powerful letter.

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  16. Your love letter to your daughter needs to be required reading for prospective first mothers and other mothers. I am swept into the journey of your words, your yearning for your 13 year-old daughter and your tender heartspace I hope you have embraced forgiveness with vigor on all fronts. Again to say my thanks for guiding us to such compassionate, wise, urgent places. Your words move right to my heart, each and every time. Jane Guttman--
    Anaïs Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”

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