As soon as my daughter was born.
I knew this in my bones. I didn't voice this to anyone, and at the time my daughter's father, Patrick, kept saying that we would be together. Later. After she was given up is what he meant.
Let me explain myself. From the time I could imagine what my life would be like--and I'm talking the age of reason here--it did not include children. I always wanted a career--I always knew I would have one--and I grew up in a time when women who had careers did not have children. It is as simple as that. There were no thoughts of "having it all," which became the mantra of the feminist movement in the Seventies and Eighties.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
But life doesn't always follow the plan you think you have for yourself. If I'd married the boy from home after college--who fully accepted that fulltime motherhood was not even a blip on my personal radar--we would have had children, or at least a child. I remember the first time he mentioned it--we were college freshmen then--and I thought, Yeah, with him, I could have a baby. I could be a mother. We'll make it work. He wants children, he is great with his little brother (who was four at the time and we sometimes took him to the movies), I love him and want only to spend the rest of my life with him...ergo, there will be a family.
But after graduation we did not marry. I became pregnant in my next relationship a year later. Not very good planning for someone hell bent on having a career first. And while I had thought as a young woman determined to have a career that children were not part of the scenario, love that I never knew I could have poured into that baby I was carrying, once I accepted that I would indeed give birth to her. Every fiber of my being wanted to keep her, to love her, to raise her, to be a mother to her. Not being a mother in general was a quite different concept than not being a mother to my baby
And since I couldn't keep her, how could I ever have another? That would be unfair to her, an act of betrayal so inimical that I could not fathom it. There are no good words in English to describe the depth of feeling that screamed out to me: You can't give one child away and keep another. That's wrong, deeply, profoundly wrong in a way that violates the love you felt for this child you gave up. You cannot do it. You must not do it. It would be a sin against that maternal love.
|Jane and Lorraine, 1982|
THE HEART KNOWS WHAT REASON CANNOT FATHOM
Does this fear of another child make logical sense? Maybe not. Certainly not to the women who went on to have other children they kept. Fellow blogger Jane just wrote about how relinquishing her first daughter colored her relationships with the three others that followed. But the heart knows things that reason never understands, and that was my reality. Before I married Tony, I had three other serious relationships. I married the first one; he was five years younger than I. When he asked me to marry him, I told him about my daughter whom I had given up, and followed that up with the edict that I would never have another child. He insisted that he did not want children either, and had a vasectomy. We never, or rarely, talked about the daughter that I had but didn't have. As more and more thoughts of her could not be beaten down, as I was beginning to write about my daughter, in poetry and magazine pieces, we divorced. Was this the reason? I don't know. I only know the two coincided.
In the next serious relationship, children were never mentioned. I began working on my memoir, Birthmark, but having trouble. That relationship came to an end for lots of reasons, but I remember the moment I knew it was over. "You'll never write that book," he said. I walked out and emotionally never went back. She was beginning to intrude on that relationship. As for the next one, when he mentioned in the third of the fourth year we were together, "our grandchildren," I mentally recoiled. I remember exactly where I was when he said that. What is he talking about, I said to myself. There will be no children from this union. There is my daughter. I can't have another. Doesn't he understand? He did understand a great deal, as he was with me through the final writing and publication of Birthmark and the maelstrom of criticism that followed. But he did not understand my scar tissue that meant there would be no children, no grandchildren, from our union.
With Tony, my husband of three decades, there was never a thought of another child. He had two, one in high school, one in college, when we met, and he was adamant about not wanting another. He openly says that when he heard that I'd had a child, he was relieved, because he was only meeting women whose biological clocks were ticking and they wanted children--soon. He instinctively knew that would not be the case with me. I was 37 when we met. I could have still tried, couldn't I? Not me. I could not, would not, ever have another child.
SECONDARY INFERTILITY AND BIRTH MOTHERS
It turns out I am not alone. In 1984 when Concerned United Birthparents did a survey of 334 birth mothers, over 30 percent said that they had not had another children either because they chose not to (17 percent, that would include me), or could not (14 percent). Other later studies published in sociological journals found the same increased incidence of what is called "secondary infertility."
Obviously, it wasn't just in an inability to even imagine having another child that the one I relinquished colored my life. She colored every single relationship with nearly anyone I've ever had, male and female. Before Birthmark and a public coming out of the closet, I had to think: do I tell this individual about my daughter? Do I keep it secret? Can I trust her/him? Even today that part of me is still very much on my mind--do I tell new acquaintances who do not already know? Do I want to go through the long conversation that will invariably follow? Is this person adopted? Or, more likely in my life, an adoptive parent? Didn't I hear that this woman's daughter had a child by artificial insemination? Dare I ask if she knows who the father is, will the child be ever able to learn who his father is? Adoption was always part of my baggage; you can't leave it behind.
Even after I relinquished my daughter, Patrick and I continued on a long and bumpy road of a relationship for years. By the time he was truly available, I was married and chose not to leave my first husband. Then when I was divorced, he was married again. It seemed tragic at the times, but perhaps it was better that we never married.
The Evan B. Donaldson report on birth mothers found that birth parents who marry have higher risks of ongoing adjustment problems and marital difficulty; mothers who are with the fathers of the lost children are at greater risk for prolonged grieving. A confidential intermediary told me that when she finds a birth mother who is married to the father, the likelihood of refusing contact with the child goes up. Perhaps the couple has never spoken of their relinquished child, and buried their grief and guilt to a place where they do not have the strength to open that wound. I met one couple who did welcome their daughter; in fact they were in Albany with us one year lobbying for repealing the law that sealed original birth records. The father said that before their daughter came back, they never ever talked about her, never mentioned anything about adoption, and when it was on television, they changed the channel without saying why. They were such a lovely couple, and their daughter was so charming; I found his comments astonishing at the time. Now I know they represent the usual, not the rare.
As for Patrick? He did have another child, a girl. Her name is Meghan. My first husband remarried, had his vasectomy reversed, and had a child, a girl. Her name is Kate, the same as Tony's daughter. Yes, I know the names are not that unusual, but some of you reading understand this is a double header. Life is full of coincidence that is impossible to explain rationally.
I don't want to leave the impression that we first mothers who do not go on to have others are always bereft. We aren't. It is true that adoption colored our lives to a degree greater than any social worker we first mothers dealt with could have dreamed of. Yet we do go on to have other loving relationships. Many of us marry, have friends, and lead full, satisfying lives. We pursue other dreams and interests. We become lawyers and legislators and judges and folk singers and writers and journalists. But the child who got away? She's always there. Always.--lorraine
Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process
A second child doesn't replace the one lost to adoption