Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A first/birth mother remembers 'coming out' to her husband-to-be

Tony and Lorraine, at our 25th wedding anniversary party
Today is my 30th wedding anniversary, and I'm in the middle stage of a cold, so there won't be any celebrating today. That will have to wait until next week and then we'll go to the city, take in one of the major art museums, and have an extravagant lunch at some place we can't afford to have dinner. But what is on my mind today is how Tony understood everything right from the first moment he comprehended that I was telling him I'd given a child up for adoption.

It was rather quite easy to tell him because the information came in response to his question, What had my recent book been about?
We were at a Sunday brunch on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where liberal writers and artists and publishing types who can afford to live in Manhattan live. (The bankers and titans of industry on are the East Side--of course I'm generalizing here but that is the general consensus.) Birthmark had come out two years earlier and that precluded me ever hiding the fact that that I was a woman who gave up a child. There had been a big ad in the New York Times book review with my photo, and a quite a bit of media coverage, but that didn't mean that the average Joe immediately associated my name with adoption. Yet what was I going to say when he asked what my book was about? I'd rather not say?

Of course, it was and still is imminently easier to "come out" in public--on a TV show, on the radio, in a magazine piece--than it is to spill the beans to a new acquaintance or an old neighbor, or anyone close to you. In revealing publicly that you are a first mother (birth mother), you do not have to deal with the almost certain amazement that follows such a revelation in a personal way. On TV, or in print, the audience is out there somewhere, but not up close and personal, and even if you are going to be attacked and criticized (as I was in '79-'80), it is by a stranger you do not know, not someone intimately involved in your life. Like many issues that are controversial, it's easier to be global rather than personal.

But here I was, at a Sunday brunch on a February afternoon, and answering the question: What is your book about? and with the man in front of me it was immediately personal. I remember the moment he asked the question, and I thought: Oh boy, I wonder how he will take this. But the writers I'd met did not seem shocked or horrified, and so told him in plain language: My book was about giving up a daughter for adoption.

His reaction was so cool I almost thought he might not have understood. But he did.

Three days later, at lunch in a bar on Second Avenue , the subject came up again and Tony told me about his cousin Joan. She had gotten pregnant in high school in the late Forties, and came to live with his family from upstate New York (Elmira) during the pregnancy. He talked how his mother kept her indoors except for trips to the doctor. He said that his aunt and uncle had gone to see the family of the her boyfriend, but they wanted nothing to do with the pregnancy. A few friends of the boyfriend lied and said that she had slept with them also--that she was just the high school slut. An abortion was nearly impossible to get at the time, and the family, and his cousin, were deeply shamed.

Our house on High Street
Tony, who was only eleven at the time, said he knew that Joan suffered terribly and he felt that the experience of giving up a child had negatively affected her life--a couple of broken marriages followed the relinquishment. So he was immediately sympathetic to any woman who had to endure the same grief.

Tony was largely responsible for my finding my daughter when I did--she was fifteen at the time, and he encouraged me not to wait, and I have been forever glad that I did not. He has been a rock throughout the years, not only during the ups and downs of my tumultuous relationship with my daughter Jane, but also as I continued to crusade for adoption reform through the years. Of course there has been the occasional clash over the time spent when I could have been writing something more  remunerative--we have a comfortble life yet money always been tight--but in general but he's always understood why I had to do what I did, and supported me every step of the way.

I wouldn't be the same person today without him standing by my side.

Today, the half-sister of the girl given up in a private adoption in Westfield, New Jersey, in 1947 or '48 would very much like to find her sister, whoever she is. --lorraine

13 comments :

  1. what a beautiful story... what a wonderful Man... Have a great anniversary and another blessed 30 years!! hugz, Cully

    ReplyDelete
  2. I know what you mean, Lorraine, about it being easier to tell the world via the media about giving up a child than to tell someone face-to-face at a cocktail party.

    About a year after my surrendered daughter Rebecca and I reunited, I appeared in a full page ad in the Portland "Oregonian" supporting Ballot Measure 58 which allowed adult adoptees to have their original birth certificates.

    The next day a co-woman mentioned she saw the ad and I just mumbled something and turned away. I just could not talk about it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Lorraine,
    Hope you are feeling better soon so the two of you can celebrate.

    On this day six years I was called by the agency letting me know that my daughter was searching for me and had written me a letter.

    I feel that I owe you an apology from a few weeks ago when I left a comment saying I had some doubt about this blog and my healing process. I don't know if you remember or not but it was after I had spent sometime with my daughter in WI. I came here to tell you about my visit and you were being attacked with some rather rude comments by adoptees. It caught me off guard and so I made my comment about doubts.
    I was wrong. I have and continue to learn from you and those who comment here. Please accept my apology.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Lorraine, your story is something I can relate to, to a point. I have never been "public" like that, but I never had a secret. My husband knew about my daughter long before we married, from the first date. He was my rock in the first year after the loss.

    Sometimes there are good men out there. Glad you found one! Next September 17, would have been my 30th Wedding anniversary..... I think that men that you want to spend that long with are rare and precious.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks Janet, I'm fine and thank you for the comment. That was a difficult time and I feel that more than a few adoptees got so angry they left the blog. But we were, and remain: First Mother Forum.

    XXXX

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yep, I can relate Lorraine. My hubby and I just celebrated our 30th on Aug. 8 and he was the one who got me through that first year after losing my daughter. I told him about her right away when we first started dating. He was the one I could lean on when the pain and grief was so intense I couldn't breathe. He was the only one who knew about her and I actually had someone I could talk to about what I was going through. He was there when my family wasn't. I really believe it's because of him that I'm still standing today. There are some good people in the world.

    Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "I wouldn't be the same person today without him standing by my side."

    I feel the same way about my hub, Lorraine. I might have crumbled without his support and grounding when my reunion finally happened.

    Interestingly, once we were getting serious, I suddenly felt threatened, like they were so many reason he might call off the relationship. I sat him down and told him every little thing (some were big). As in, there's this and this and this and this. Are you still interested? Do you still love me?

    I was afraid and put myself at risk, but I couldn't bear to lose another relationship because of who I was. (As in my son's father telling me I wasn't good enough to marry) So I spilled.

    And he stuck with me. Also 30 years coming up in Feb. Through my reunion which began 15 years ago and was no easier for him than for me.

    Bless you and Tony.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Happy Anniversary Lorraine and Tony! I'm so glad that the little boy's compassion and understanding for his cousin grew into the man that would love and support a woman in her life, and in her work that has touched, educated and helped so many.

    Janet- Happy "Anniversary" to you too... I always wondered what that day would have felt like for her.

    I haven't left the blog!!

    Have a great day~

    Tamara

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm always interested in how adoption is portrayed in pop-culture and this week on "The Millionaire Matchmaker" adoption and relinquishment reared it's ugly head in relation to dating. But in this case it was a man (I'll call him the "dater")who had relinquished his two children following a divorce in order to allow the kids to be adopted by the woman's new husband. To make it even more interesting, the oldest child was the mother's from a previous marriage whom the dater had adopted when they got married. Several years into the marriage they adopted a daughter (seemed like an infant adoption but it wasn't really talked about in detail). Then the divorce came about and the dater/father gave up the kids when a new husband came into the picture.

    Flash forward to the date arranged by the matchmaker - she was completely turned off when she learned he had let his kids go. She said she expected a father to fight for his kids with everything he had, so this was the end of the road for them. Matchmaker's advice to the dater: in the future wait until about the fourth date to bring up this issue.

    I'm inclined to agree that one does not need to get into the details right on the first date. A general discussion of kids could come up, but I think sharing such a personal story with a relative stranger is too much emotional investment on a first date.

    Just thought I would relay this since it was a surprising topic to show up on a reality dating program.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Maybe--the adoption references in pop culture are so interesting, aren't they? Jane and I (and Linda) are always tuned into them. From what I can tell, none of the kids you are talking about were not biologically related to the "dater"? Right? If he wasn't going to continue to be involved in their lives, it probably was better if the new husband, and now step-father, became the adoptive father for a lot of reasons, including inheritance.

    But it does seem then as if the legalities of adopting become more of a chess match than a "forever family."

    ReplyDelete
  11. Lorraine,
    You are correct, the "dater" was not biologically related to either of these two children. The whole thing gets even more complicated - the dater said he regretted ending the relationship with the second daughter but no mention of how he felt about leaving the other daughter (the bio-daugher of the wife whom he had also adopted during their marriage).

    The daughter that the couple adopted together was five years old as of the last time he saw her. He indicated that he wanted to find her to re-establish their relationship. Again, no mention of reconnecting with the ex-wife's bio-daughter that he also adopted. He also has no other children and one of his dating requirments was that his match should not be interested in having children.

    Of course I'm thinking at this point in her life the adoptee in question might want to reconnect with the a-dad/dater, but what about the natural mom and dad? I wonder if she would be more interested in finding them or in finding the long-lost adoptive father?

    As an aside, the matchmaker's personality and dating advice are mostly deplorable, but I can't help watching this show! How strange that adoption would show up in such a twisted way on one of the cheesiest reality shows out there.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Maybe,
    I'm with you. The whole thing smacks of children being disposable commodities. Dad's tired of them? Pass them on to another father.

    I saw some of this forty years ago when I practiced law. Fathers who adopted step-kids to make their wives happy (or to be sure the ex-hubby didn't come around). These fathers were disappointed (to put it mildly) that they were stuck for child support after the marriage broke up. "Not my kids."

    The Matchmaker's advice: don't tell the next love interest about running out on the kids until the fourth date so that by the time he tells her she's so enamored of him she won't care is appalling. Glad I don't watch this show. I'd be throwing my shoe at the TV.

    ReplyDelete

We welcome comments from all, and appreciate letting us know how you relate to adoption when you leave your first comment.

COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish or not. We are trying to find a way to end the endless anonymous comments, which drive many of us crazy. Pick a name! Any name. Choose the NAME/URL selection. You do not need a URL. Your name does not have to be your name IRL though we appreciate those who do, and we understand due to the sensitive nature of our subject, many will prefer to use a nom de plume. Okay with us, but the endless Anons are tiresome for everyone. If you post as "anonymous" you run the risk of not being posted.

We try to be timely but we do have other lives.

For those coming here from Networked Blogs on Facebook, if it does not allow you to make a comment, click the "x" on the gray "Networked Blogs" tool bar to exit out of that frame and it should then let you comment.

THOSE WHO WISH TO LEAVE LINKS PLEASE WRITE MORE ABOUT IT THAN SIMPLY LEAVE THE LINK--TELL US WHY WE SHOULD GO THERE--AND ALSO KNOW THAT YOU CANNOT COPY AND PASTE FROM LINKS. We are unlikely to post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.