Sunday, April 3, 2011

Some adoptees search, some adoptees don't

Jane and Lorraine in 1982
Adoption and adoption reform has obviously been a central focus of my life. I got involved with ALMA and adoption reform in the mid-Seventies, published Birthmark in 1979 before birth mother was the accepted language for women like me, found my daughter in 1981, and here we are today. I took a two-decade break from the intensity of it all, except for occasional stories or speaking appearances. But it has always been a major factor in my life, the maypole around which my life has revolved ever since my daughter was born in 1966.

As Maryanne, one of our regular readers wrote at the previous blog,* her son didn't think much about being adopted. That was pretty much how my daughter felt. Jane was just not that interested in "adoption" as a factor of her life, though it clearly was, as we eventually talked about it. But in her day-to-day life,  her epilepsy overshadowed everything else and she made no bones about letting me know. She wasn't critical of my involvement, but she wanted to make clear that she was not joining me on the ramparts of reform, neither as an adoptee, and later, nor as a first mother herself with the surrender of her first child, Lisa.

Jane didn't object that I wrote about adoption; and I wrote very little about her at all. We rarely talked about adoption. I think she both wanted to be out of the picture, but at the same time obviously enjoyed being "that person" sometimes, and would talk about how she was the daughter in Birthmark. In the tenth grade, she did a book report on it. Only once did she express interest in going to an adoption conference with me,
photo by lisa sullivan roberts
this one at the University of Pittsburgh. It was in the fall of 2007, exactly two months before she committed suicide. Neither of us had enough money to make it happen. When I slipped away for a few hours to visit the Carnegie-Mellon art institute, I bought her mug at the gift shop, as she collected them from various places. This mug is purple (her favorite color) and a modern design, not your ordinary mug. Jane actually mentioned it in the short list leaving things for a few people. I couldn't take it back, it would be too much a reminder, and suggested to Kimberly, her daughter who was not given up for adoption, that she use it as a pencil holder on her desk. Kimberly was not yet sixteen.

But I digress. But Jane's been on my mind more than usual because the anniversary of her birthday is Tuesday. April 5.

BirthmarkIt's been a long, cold winter here on the East Coast. Only crocus and a few daffodils are out, even though it's April. But spring came on time in 1966 in Rochester, New York. As I was driven to the hospital in the late morning by a friend, other than Patrick, Jane's father, the only friend in town I had, I remember the forsythia was in wild bloom everywhere. On one road we took, the bushes ran along like a hedge, a riot of wild lemon yellow. I don't know where that road is, and I haven't been back to Rochester since 1979, but I can see that strip of forsythia bright in my mind's eye.

I never see forsythia that I don't think of my daughter. Despite all the pain that Jane's birth cost, physically and psychically, despite everything, I feel peace when it catches my eye. I love that it reminds me of her, the whole of her. That's why Birthmark has a yellow cover; and that's forsythia there on the jacket. (The artist originally drew daffodils and it had to be redone.)

For years, I would simply buy branches of it and let them slowly open in the heat in my apartment. After we moved to this house in Sag Harbor, I planted a forsythia bush in the backyard, the old-fashioned recumbent kind that doesn't have as many blooms as the newer variety. Our bush got so big--about twelve feet by four or five feet, I'd say--that it took over too much yard and didn't give the mass of color we wanted. Two years ago, we dug it up and put in another bush. It's my own  memorial to Jane in my backyard. I take very good care of it, feed it fertilizer and clip it after the bloom.

The bush this year has filled out some, each branch is covered with blooms. They will come. They will fill my window for a few weeks, that will make me feel glad inside, and I will be sad to see the last blossoms fall off. Now that I think about it, yellow is one of my favorite colors.

What does this all have to do with Jane being an adoptee not that interested in adoption issues? I don't know. I also know two people my age or thereabouts who also seem to be only mildly interested in adoption, and they seem to be well-adjusted, content people, successful in their careers, with stable marriages and lots of friends, myself included among them. Neither one of them, in fact, completed searches for their birth parents that they both started. I was so burned up with the need to know I don't pretend to understand that part of them. But I accept them for the fine, intelligent people they are. And I treasure my adopted friends who are interested in reform; I love emailing and talking to them about this issue that is so central to me, to us. My life is richer with them--all of them--in it.
Not our bush, yet

Jane says that she always wanted to search for me and was glad that I found her instead, but that, I think, was the sum of her adoption involvement until she had a daughter herself that she had to surrender. But still that did not turn her into a movement person.

I cannot say I was disappointed; Jane was her father's daughter as well as mine, and he walked away from troubling emotional issues. Jane had her own life. I did not love her less because we did not share causes; she was interested in helping disabled people. The year before she died, she put on a fund-raiser for the epilepsy foundation in Madison, Wisconsin, and was planning another until a kind of madness intervened.** Jane was a troubled, searching, interesting, complex, ironic, sometimes funny, sometimes sad person who knew how to reach out to others with deep personal problems. Our relationship was multi-layered and sometimes distant; it always hurt when she slammed the door on me; it always felt good when she opened it again.

Oh Jane, I wish our lives could have been different. I wish I could have kept you to my breast all of my life until you were ready to fly on your own. Be at peace, my dear, my baby, my child, be at peace. I will think of you as our forsythia comes into bloom.--lorraine
_____________________________
* How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives
** Read Jane's own piece about her epilepsy: The Power Within You

11 comments :

  1. I'm tearing up here. What a moving post. I'm so sorry your daughter is not alive today to wish her a happy birthday.

    As for searching, I was found. But I had always planned on searching at that magik age of 18. As I child I thought of my mother every day. Ever since I knew the meaning of that horrible word adoption, at the tender age of four.

    I don't know how old I was, maybe 10 or 12, but I was watching the Gary Coleman show (I think it was) and there was a show about reunions! There was a phone number for ALMA, if I recall correctly, and I wrote it down quick, making sure my adopters were not around, and crumpled up that tiny paper with the phone number, and put it in the corner of my jewlery box.

    But as it turned out, I didn't need that number. I was found by my married parents when I was 15.

    I'll never understand why anyone wouldn't want to know their own mother/child. It takes all kinds I guess.

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  2. Wow, what you wrote is very poignant, hauntingly beautiful as well. And it hits my adoptee heart big time. xo

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  3. What a touching post.

    I'm not a movement person either and like you, I can't understand people who aren't dying to know where they came from...but like you, I am thankful for all great people in my life.

    (((hugs to you)))

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  4. You write so beautifully. Anyone who follows your story can see how much you loved your daughter. That 'not my forsythia yet' picture has me curious. Reminds me of my parents digging up mountain laurels along Stonytown Rd. when there was nothing there but a sandpit and me and my sister picking blackberries along Payne's Creek before they dredged it(across from our house). I was in Sag Harbor last week and the forsythia in my back yard wasn't blooming yet. Oh well,soon enough.

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  5. Anon at 12:48...you were in Sag Harbor last weekend? Oh, do reveal more about yourself...

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  6. For me as an adoptee, I personally did experience a time in life when I felt I did not need to know where I came from. A phenomena of closed adoption perhaps, but I suppose I saw no sense in wondering about what I thought I would never have answers for. I saw my amended BC when I was very young; I thought all my original info was gone forever.

    What good will it do to ask a question that will not be answered, not today, not tomorrow, not ever?....or so I thought.

    Which is why I am so thankful for the reform movement. Answers are out there, and they belong to those that they have been taken from.

    I am glad now to have those answers now and a reunion :-)

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  7. My first son was born this week as well. I just sent his present and can identity with the forsythia and spring flowers reminding me of him and his birth.

    May Jane rest in peace, and wishing you comfort on the good memories.

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  8. Amanda said "Which is why I am so thankful for the reform movement. Answers are out there, and they belong to those that they have been taken from."

    Standing, clapping and cheering to that sentiment.

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  9. What I have found is that most anniversaries in adoption are very difficult. I am so sad that you have yet another anniversary to acknowledge for your lost daughter. I am happy that you had a chance to know her during her last years. I would like to invite you to post your obituary/tribute to her on my "In Memory Of" page.

    http://canadianbanishedmother.wordpress.com/in-memory-of/

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  10. Lorraine, I too am moved by your post. Jane was lucky to have you in her life. When I think of the checkered emotional roller coaster of 6 years spent in reunion with my own birth mother, I'm ultimately happy that I got to know her even though an on-going relationship didn't materialize. I can only hope and assume she feels the same way, but sadly fogged over from what I must assume is her continued guilt or shame. We all are entitled to choose active participation in the movement you champion, but the bottom line is we're all better off that you make the effort and share it here. Thank you.

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  11. Slight edit to post above: it was the Gary COLLINS show. Duh! (slaps forehead)

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