What's difficult for us birth mothers is to know when we might send them a note or an email or a card because we find it hard to believe they don't want to know, somehow, that we are still thinking of them. I've heard adoptees say that they did appreciate getting that one card on their birthday--it answered the questions: Does my birth mother think ever think of me? Is she thinking of me on my birthday? Does she even remember my birthday?
But then I've also heard adoptees who say they dreaded when their birthdays were coming because they might get such a card in the mail, and it made them feel as if they were being stalked. One birth mother sent me her daughter's letter saying just that. Ouch. If there ever was a Catch 22, this is it.
For this, there are no hard and fast rules as to what is best. Each of us must do what lies in our hearts, and hope that our action-- an email, a birthday or holiday greeting--is received warmly. But no one can read the heart of the other. Since my 26-year-relationship with my daughter involved periods of silence that lasted more than a year at times, I sometimes broke the ice and made a phone call, but more often then not she was the one who called and we were back in the business of mother and daughter. I have a vivid memory of one birthday of my daughter Jane when I knew--I just knew--that she did not want me to call, and Linda, a birth mother friend, called me when I was in the depths of despair. It was the spring of Jane's last year on earth. It was so comforting to talk to Linda, and simply have be with me on the phone while I wept. My husband has been great about everything connected with Jane, and then my granddaughter whom Jane relinquished to adoption, but there are times another birth mother is better than anyone.
WHEN 'NO CONTACT' IS WANTED
Emotionally, it was exhausting when Jane retreated and I wondered what to do. Maryanne, who wrote about her own off/on relationship with her surrendered oldest son in the comments to the last blog, seems to have managed it as well as anyone could. My own relationship with my granddaughter, after what seemed like such a positive beginning two years ago, took a turn into "no contact wanted" in the fall. Many of you know about her as--with her permission--I had written extensively about our meeting and burgeoning relationship. We went from frequent emails and phone calls, before and after a week-long visit here after I sent her a plane ticket, to her slowly drifting off a year later. I had opened my heart and home, and so did my husband. I was planning what family heirlooms I would one day give her. When she didn't answer an email, when the last phone call had been somewhat strained, I emailed and asked again, in one sentence, what was up. No response. I asked again in a note that was barely more than a ? I felt like a jilted lover who had not been told the relationship was off. Only the week before I had sent her a scarf in colors I thought would look great on her. Now I felt like a fool.
An email finally came, telling me she was happy now, that the last two years had been emotionally roiling, and now she wanted "no contact" for an indefinite time being. In fact, she said she was annoyed that I had emailed her after she had not responded to other emails. Her email was actually a relief to receive, because I needed more clarity and closure than her just slip sliding away.
But of course I was sad. However, there were other things in her email (that I am not going into) that made me somewhat angry, and instead of "no contact" I wrote her back and calmly but firmly answered her charges, adding that I would always be open to a relationship and signed off Love because that is still how I feel.
NO LONGER PLAYING THE VICTIM
Responding like that felt better than just lying down and taking more punishment for having given up her mother. I had not given my granddaughter up, and tried unsuccessfully to talk my daughter into letting her father and his mother raise her. But like the women who flee to Utah, that adoption-friendly state, to relinquish their children when the birth fathers object, my daughter Jane could not be persuaded otherwise. And in 1986, in the state of Wisconsin, the system did not side with the father. However, that was a long time ago. Now I was dealing with the reality of a grown-up women. I don't know what caused the change in attitude; it began right after she met her father. I heard it in her voice, read it in her emails.
Jane's pregnancy occurred during one of our breaks and we had not been in contact during her pregnancy. It is likely that she told the father of her baby terrible things about me; I don't know. I called her on her birthday, however, and learned then that she had given birth two days earlier, and we resumed a fast relationship, on the phone a couple of times a day for a while. She and Lisa's father were no longer together, and she would have never told him I was in favor of his keeping Lisa. She said things about him that I could not verify, but doubted, knowing they would make me think he was unfit. Jane visited in a couple of months after the birth, and was still incredibly raw.
I have punished myself a great deal for having given up her mother for adoption, even though it happened when I felt I had no choice. But in the way it feels, that doesn't seem to salve much of the emotional anguish, no matter what we tell ourselves. But not answering my granddaughter's charges would have felt like standing there and let her continue the emotional whipping. Some part of me said, Been there, done that. Enough. If you want a relationship, I'm not playing the victim, always apologizing for some imaginary line I've crossed--even if the problem was as you say that I contacted you first. Yes, I did, and you came, you saw, you took. All that is within your right as a member of my family, my granddaughter. But now if you want a relationship, it has to be on another footing than me merely being apologetic and afraid.
PRETENDING I WASN'T SAD WASN'T HEALTHY
The holidays were harder this year than last because of this. I admit I talked myself into thinking I did not feel as bad as I really did--she wasn't my daughter, I didn't give her up, right? Instead of crying, I had a sinus infection much of the fall, and it came back the week before Christmas. We cancelled our usual Christmas Eve trip to New Jersey to spend a boisterous evening with my husband's many nieces and nephews, and their kids. Acupuncture released the sadness a few days before Christmas, and I spent a day-and-a-half weeping on and off, realizing this was a lot healthier than holding it in like a hard ball in my heart, my head, my gut. I thought I had everything under control when a relatively new friend (who knows my story) approached me in the supermarket, and the tears just flew out again. After the tears ended, I was able to have quite a good holiday with friends who live nearby, some of whom know my story, most of with whom I never talk about this issue. Christmas Eve--a very big deal for me with my Polish family background--was at the home of the friend I ran into at the supermarket, and it was a good evening--not a single word about adoption.
I have no idea if I will ever hear from my granddaughter again. At our age, one does think about dying; I also have no idea if I would want my husband to let her know if I were sick, or dying, or if he or my family would. That's "contact." That requires her to make a decision. Maybe, now, I don't want to know how she would react.
Reflecting on this I am amused that in the "positive adoption language" that is social-worker/adoptive parent speakese, it is "preferred" to change the tense of being adopted. Preferred lingo is "He was adopted," not "He is adopted," as if adoption was a one-time act that did not color the rest of one's life, whether you are mother or child.
A cosmic Ha! to that.--lorraine
* The language is weird, I know, but I write this for people who may not be familiar with life's continuing saga played out here at First Mother Forum, and adopted out does make its meaning clear; I picked it up from an adoptee blog.
More: Meeting my "Adopted" granddaughter
Conversations with my daughter, Part 4
Forty-five years later, I still regret giving up my daughter.
'Positive' Adoption Language