I remember precisely how the last minute invitation to brunch came--Come to brunch, Ted and Joanne are here this weekend, they'd love to see you, says Lynn on the phone. Lynn and Robert live a five-minute drive away, Ted and Joanne used to have a summer home here, and the six of us had been close. Ted and Joanne are hoping that we will come. It sounds like a pleasant time, a way to keep the bonds with old friends alive.
But Granddaughter, who had been adopted (out of the family) is visiting for the first time. As her mother--whom I gave up for adoption--is deceased, I am the first blood relative she has ever met, and she just arrived a few days ago, three, I think. Remembering all that I have read about adoptees not wanting to meet friends and relatives of the biological family, I am cautious--at first I say no--but she's sitting there as I am on the phone, Lynn is eager for us to come, and it seems only reasonable to ask Granddaughter if she would like to do this, rather than just say, No, my granddaughter is visiting. (Lynn knows who I mean by this; the granddaughter that I've never known.) She's going to be here for a week (the distance covered was far, she wants to see Manhattan, a hundred miles away) and we are sitting around reading newspapers. We have no plans. It's Sunday. It's summer. So I put it to her, would she like to meet a few of our friends, have brunch with them, it's a pretty house with a pool, we'll be outside, it's nearby.... Granddaughter herself is a poet, two of the people are in publishing, they are all friendly, warm people...I'm thinking, This won't be too much, will it? I am making a mistake here even asking?
All right, I never should have asked her. I should have said, No, Lynn, it's not a good idea. I never should have put my granddaughter in the position of being the decider. Maybe she was just trying to be polite, to do what I wanted to do. Perhaps she was not sure how she felt. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I never should have sent her an air ticket for a week's stay; I should have been sending her back that very day, I suppose, it was the second or third day, but she did want to see New York City, she'd never been there....Does life always come with hard and fast rules that can never be broken?
I asked her a couple of times--did she really want to do this?--and I got the go ahead without any hesitation that I can read. We go. It is a gorgeous sunny day, we sit outside, the vibe is agreeable, and she totally charms our friends. She is gregarious, at ease with just about everybody, and really, she's got charisma big time, and I'm not just saying that because I am her blood grandmother. It's true. Our friends raved about her. All of our friends thought she was, in a word, great.
Now it is two summers later, a few days after the Fourth of July--she had arrived on the night of the Fourth--and Ted wants to know how she is doing, what she's up to. He's had some Failure to Launch issues with his two boys about her age, and I know he was impressed with my granddaughter. But he's been out of the loop and doesn't realize that she gave me the heave-ho eight, nine months ago.
How is your Granddaughter, that nice young woman we met? Lynn and Robert are there, wondering what I will say; so is Ken, a photographer who she also charmed. He photographed her. He's waiting for the answer too. What do I say? I am not the kind of person that tells social lies to paper over reality. I do not have inconsequential conversations about issues that run deep. I may at times say nothing, but ask, and you will learn what I am thinking. Saying, Oh, she's fine is not an option. An easy out it would be, but also a bald lie, and undoubtedly lead to more questions--Have I seen her recently? Is she coming back this summer? I'd be stumbling for answers while others knew I was making this up.
Do I say, Oh, we're having a bumpy time right now, but I expect it to blow over? Then if he asks, what happened, what do I say then? Besides, that's not the truth either.
Do I say, Oh, why don't I tell you later...leaving the question hanging in the air, the evasion fraught with dark expectation of adoption-reunion problems.
The woman sitting next to me is a new acquaintance, she knows nothing of my connection to adoption, or this young woman Ted is asking about. But for that moment, everyone is waiting for my response. Ted is an old acquaintance, he deserves a real answer. "We had a terrific relationship for about a year and half, on the phone once a week or so, emails," I say evenly, "but then she sent me an email that she didn't want to have any contact with my anymore. She wrote she wants no contact."
What? Ted says. "What happened? I'm stunned. Everything seemed so...great?"
Someone breaks in to change the conversation, to lighten the mood, and there are enough people at the table that conversation breaks up into several. However, Ken, sitting on my husband's right, wants more explanation. Thankfully, my husband joins in now, tells Ken that this is not unusual after what seems like great reunions, that Jane, the daughter I gave up and found when she was fifteen, used to drop in and out of my life when she was alive, how she would return after months with a phone call and the words: How are you? as if we had been talking just last week. And we'd pick up and go on like there hadn't been a gap of several months. Ted, from across the table, is listening avidly.
I've had this conversation three, four times already because people do ask, How's that granddaughter of yours doing? Have a reunion that is not secret, and the adoption will reverberate throughout your life. Friends and family become part of the adoption story too, because it is part of the story of your life. Friends and family will want to know how "it" is going, how you are doing, what's happening, just as they would ask about children you raise. This is one case where I hope the word gets around, that others tell the story so I won't be asked anymore about how she is doing.
I have heard and read enough about adoptee-birth mother reunions to know, as only someone on the outside can know, that reunion for adoptees is an emotional bungee jump, fraught with disturbing feelings that cannot quite be sorted out, that sense of abandonment cannot be quelled with words, it is too deep, too ingrained, it came before language and so there are no words to give voice to the true feelings.
For birth mothers who long for reunion and a relationship, but are "abandoned" by their children after reunion, it feels as if an unquenchable anger that nothing can slake surfaces again and again. You can sense that anger in many of the adoptee memoirs, even if they never come right out and say they are angry. Children return, and then leave, abruptly, and we birth mothers are left stranded on that cliff wondering what happened, wondering what we did wrong, what we can do to "fix" the situation. But you can't fix anything with a phantom. You can't fix anything with someone who is not there, not reachable. You can't fix the unforgivable sin of abandonment. Walking out on us is one way of showing us--the women who abandoned them, for whatever reason, under whatever circumstances--how that feels.
I lived through an up-and-down, here-and-gone relationship with my reunited daughter for more than a quarter of a century, and I consider our relationship to have been pretty good. I have too many good memories not to feel that way. I thought this relationship with a granddaughter would be different, for I did not bear this woman, I did not give her away. I tried to talk my daughter out of doing so. And I did not expect after feeling so close to her that she would just up and leave. We had been planning a second visit when the coldness came.
I have no idea if I will ever see her again. We are connected by blood, but after a good year of a relationship, we are now two beings traveling on different courses. The choice is hers. She wrote that she wanted No Contact.
That is what I say when asked, How is that granddaughter of yours doing? --lorraine
As I am writing my memoir again, I have limited time that I can be on the computer. Too much computer time, in fact, set back my recovery from surgery this spring repairing a torn rotator cuff, and I tore a bicep muscle in the process. Jane and I are both cutting back on the number of posts that we put up, and will try to do one a week, alternating with each other. Things pop up that I would like to write about--the movie People Like Us, the birth-mother plot line on Rizzoli and Isles--but I am unable to do it all now.
From FMF: Part 5: A (birth) granddaughter's rejection turns into a YES!
Meeting my "Adopted" granddaughter
Why Reunions Go Awry: What Memoirs of Adopted Daughters Tell Birth mothers
Betty Jean Lifton's book, Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience is an excellent study of the difficulties of dealing with being adoption--and reunion. Highly recommended for both birth parents and adoptees. Order by clicking on the jacket icon or the title above.