|Jane and Lorraine, 1983|
Other than the disappointment over her natural father's refusal to meet her, you may be assuming that everything was hunky-dory when my daughter Jane* visited--as she did for weeks and then whole summers--and that we continued to bond without issues, that I was generally on Cloud Nine, and that she went back to her adoptive family and home in Wisconsin like a shiny penny, self-esteem restored, LD (learning disabled) classes—what’s that?
It took a while, but as Jane returned and stayed the entire summer for several years, we began to see that she was far more psychologically damaged than was readily apparent at first. She not only had to deal with the very real fallout of being epileptic, known to leave a huge emotional footprint. She also had the issues of being adopted and growing up in a biological family not her own, about which rivers of literature have been written. She had trouble telling the truth if she thought a lie was what we wanted to hear. Maybe she had gotten so used to being the center of attention because of her seizures, but it often felt that she was more comfortable creating huge dramas where she had the starring roll than just living. Her capacity for creating turmoil reverberated through our lives, and as time went on it just got worse.
There were periods of calm, to be sure, when we’d be at the beach, shopping, or having lunch in a restaurant, just the two of us, when she seemed happy and normal and we could delight in just being together at last. Birth mother, birth daughter, call us what you will, anyone seeing us together would have known we were related by biology.
One year she sent me a gigantic (two feet by one foot) Valentine’s Day card with this message “Just Think, Valentine! Once we were perfect strangers, but then fate stepped in and through some miracle, out of all the millions and millions of people in the world, our paths crossed.”
Inside it says: “Now what?”
She wrote: “Dear Lorraine, I just wanted to say I LOVE YOU in a very special way, to a very special person, on a very special day. Love, Jane :) ”
There was that. But there were periods when we were not in touch, typically because I’d said something that she deemed unforgivable—it was always something that I hardly remembered because it had been so inconsequential, but she would decide that was reason enough to be out of my life for good. I was on trial. I was always on trial. I was the mother who had given her up, and to most adoptees, that registers, on some level, as abandonment: What was wrong with me? that my mother didn’t keep me?
I came to realize that her visits sliced me open like a turkey being carved to serve, and guilt was the gravy. Was I guilty about having given her up? Was I guilty about the birth control pills I took before I knew I was pregnant—could they have been a factor in her epilepsy? Was I horrified thinking that some part of me realized given the circumstances of my life in 1966 it had been reasonable to relinquish her, that I could not imagine how I would have raised her myself? Did I feel that I could never do enough to make up for the past, no matter how upright and caring her adoptive family had been? Did her spending time here exhaust me emotionally?
Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.
Would I have traded any of it for not knowing where she was, and how she was?
Not for an instant. She was my daughter. Time would of course ameliorate some of the guilt--ultimately she was responsible for her own life, and simply beating up myself year after year surely wasn't healthy. But I could never walk away from all of it. It just was. No matter what I told myself about the mores of the times in which she was born, about how her father saw her relinquishment as the "only solution," about how I convinced myself that she would have a better life with a complete family, no matter everything, I was the mother who had surrendered to forces greater than my ability to overcome them, and I had given her up. She and I would never just be "mother and daughter."
------------from an upcoming memoir by--lorraine
*Lots of Janes at First Mother Forum. Not only is my esteemed blog partner named Jane, so was my daughter.
Lost & Found is an excellent book for all involved in adoption, natural mothers, adoptees and adoptive parents, grandparents and close friends and relatives, written by an adoptee and therapist, B.J. Lifton. She intelligently touches on the issues adoptees face in even the "best" adoptions and reunions. Link to it here. (Lost and Found is also the name of a book about Jaycee Dugard written by John Glatt.)