|Jane and Lorraine in Sag Harbor, circa 1996|
I usually don't write about her not talking to me much now because it's obviously no longer an issue. She is gone. I don't cry anymore because she won't speak to me; I have cried plenty, but now she cannot speak to me, except in dreams.
But the silences, oh the silences were terrible. Her birthday was the worst: did I send a card or call when she had rebuffed me for so long? When I felt that calling would only reach a answering machine? When leaving a message felt like it was going into a black hole? So I did not.
Adoption reunions are so complicated. What starts in joy and relief--as ours did--by turns was up and down and sometimes felt gone for good. One time Jane stayed away for more than a year; that was when her first daughter was born, and given up for adoption.
Then we were close again. For years.
Then, nearly a decade later, after she married a good man, after I had a reading in that ceremony, after years of smooth sailing, after I thought she would never distance herself again, her younger brother died in a skiing accident. He was not an adopted son, but the biological issue of her adoptive parents. She called me crying, I tried to comfort her; the memorial service, as I understand it, was disturbing to both her and her adopted brother because of a casual remark by their mother. The adopted son did not speak to their mother for nearly a year.
Jane took the opposite track: she got rid of me. She would prove to her adoptive mother she was a good daughter and she could do that by pushing me--only the birth mother!--away, far away. When Jane left for the memorial service in another state, we had been close; when she returned, the distance in her grew greater by the day, and within a couple of weeks, it was as if I did not exist. We did not have words; we had no disagreement; she was just gone. She was not going to answer my phone calls, or respond to any letter. She didn't have email then. I retreated. At the time, I had no idea why this had happened.
I saw her once when I went to Wisconsin to pick up her second daughter, who would spend a good part of the summer with us. Jane and I spoke, but never alone, and in the presence of her parents--we all hand lunch after mass--she was surly to me. After that summer was over I went to a CUB (Concerned United Birthparents) retreat and heard Nancy Verrier say that at least once we ought to tell our children that we were sorry they had to be adopted--no tacking on excuses, or blame, just a simple, I'm sorry. I screwed up my courage and called a month later, her husband answered, and she came to the phone. I said, I'm sorry. We talked for about an hour. But that was it. There was no change in the relationship. She did not call back.
FEELING LIKE A MAGNET
Then, miraculously, months later, she called one day and we were back on, as if nothing had been in our way. She ultimately let me know that she had pushed me away to prove to her other mother that she was a good daughter, and the way to do that was to show her other mother that I did not count much. Another time she told me she felt like a magnet--if she moved towards one, she had to move away from the other, that she constantly felt pushed and pulled in different directions. When she committed suicide, we were at a good place--after a summer when she cut me off again. It was always like that, up and down. Over all the years, however, we were in touch much more than not, and we had a lot of good years. She'd answer my phone calls as soon as she could. One Thanksgiving when we couldn't be together, she called our house four times throughout the day. She returned phone calls as soon as she could. For long stretches of time, our relationship actually felt normal.
Yet I think of a good friend, a birth mother, who has a daughter who hasn't spoken to her in five or six years. I read the blogs of mothers whose tears could fill a small lake. I sometimes think adoptees can never understand how deep the pain they inflict when they walk away; but it has to be the same for them when first mothers distance themselves when they, the adopted, want desperately to have a relationship. I think often it is the husband who doesn't want this reminder of another relationship around; like lions who kill the cubs of another father if they take over the pride, the fathers do not want the individual from other time, issue of another man, around either, disturbing everyday life as they know it. It is easy to accept someone when he or she isn't around, but when she or he pops up, that's another story. I know wives of birth fathers who are just as rejecting of their husband's children from another time, and as cruel. A child is proof of something; someone perhaps to be counted in the will, or to claim objects when the heirlooms are divided up, or to claim a grandparent's affection, and when that someone is not related by blood or kinship or friendship to them, some individuals revert to basic animalistic urges and motives that go back to the beginning of time.
ACCEPTING WHAT IS, NOT ALWAYS WAITING FOR WHAT ISN'T
I started this post hoping to find some words of comfort for those first mothers still bravely going through the silences that are so deep, and the same for the adoptees feeling the same despair and rejection, but I seem to be unable to find any words that sound comforting. Ultimately, we all have to recognize that the choice another makes is not our doing, and nothing we can do will change her unless she wants to be changed. We have to live our lives finding joy where we can, in our families, in our pastimes and careers, in a church, with our friends. We have to release those who do not want us in their lives. We can feel sad, but we have to see that sometimes a broken relationship is beyond our ability to repair. Relationships take two people. We have to accept what is, and stop waiting for what is not. This is hard to do, and full of sorrow, but ultimately leads to serenity. We have to make the best of the hand that's dealt us, and we all don't get a Royal Flush. --lorraine
From FMF: Valentine's Day Message: I'm sorry without caveats
Does surrender (for the birth/first mother) and adoption (for the child) lead to PTSD?
Nancy Verrier's second book about adoptee trauma and its lifelong effects.