|Lorraine and Jane, spring of 1982, soon after reunion in NYC|
From a short visit of a few days, our times together expanded to be whole summers. I imagined glorious walks on the beach, sunset horseback riding—you know, the really terrific stuff about being a mother. What a wonderful time we would have! Getting to know each other, enjoying each other’s company! What could go wrong?
Plenty, is the short answer. Just as mothers and daughters who are not separated have “issues,”
we have Issues Plus. We have the residue of the past clinging to our walls like a layer of soot, impossible to wash away.
Like the time we go horseback riding. Since she’d never been riding before, I spring for a couple of lessons for her, thinking after that we can share a trail ride—in the outdoors, in the sunshine, surely it will be salubrious. The lessons are pricy, but the budget must be stretched, right? She is enthusiastic, I’m watching her and the instructor from the fence, all is going well—we have not asked the horse of course, and she’s probably irritated with a novice on her back. At the end of the hour, I’m on the ground, Jane is still mounted, and I reach up to scratch the horse’s neck, who quickly turns her neck and tries to nip my fingers. I pull back my hand before she treats it as if it were a carrot. “I wouldn’t care if she bit you,” Jane tosses out like a ball at batting practice. I recoil and walked away. Will she ever forgive me? Not today, anyway. It was near the beginning of a long summer visit, and I wondered if I had made a mistake—not just with the lesson, but having her stay with us for such an extended time. She had been eager when I asked, her parents had agreed, telling me they think it would be good for her self-esteem.
'I AM SO MAD AT YOU!'
Little kids say a lot of things to their parents when they are mad, including I hate you! Although Jane was eighteen, her emotional age had not yet caught up to her chronological, and though I knew this intellectually, I’d lose sight of that when we were together. What I did not yet fathom was that in regards to me, Jane was a lost little kid, someone very mad at her mommy for abandoning her. But what did I know? There was no handbook on how to navigate a successful reunion between mother and child. We were making it up as we went along. Just when I thought everything was going great, she would unleash another arrow from her quiver and pierce that notion with the shock of a sniper. Later that day, we talked for quite a while. She did not really mean that. She did not want to go home. Okay, let’s move forward. Yet that kind of surprise attack—her blurting out what amounted to I am so mad at you for giving me up!—would occur again, and again.
Today, all one need do is troll through the adoptee blogs and you come upon ample evidence of this kind of behavior. As one blogger explained:
"…at this stage of reunion, the adult me is not always in charge. Reunion can cause psychological regression. Though on one level I am still a (moderately) reasonable middle-aged woman—a wife, a mother, an employee –that's not all I am these days. There's another part of me that feels more like a toddler in the midst of a major daddy's-little-girl phase. For this inner-child me, no amount of contact is enough. How much would it take to fill the hole left by a 46-year absence?
“I'm aware that this is where many reunions get into trouble, and I'm trying not to fall into the trap of expectations that can never be met. I'm trying to acknowledge the child-me and let her have her say without allowing her to be the one in charge. She can sit around wailing "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!" all day long, but when it's time to write an e-mail or pick up the phone, she needs to let the grown-up handle the job.” –Rebecca Hawkes at Lost Daughters blog, 10/10/12.CAN'T SHAKE THAT GUILTY FEELING
As for me, I didn’t know up from down those early years. I was consumed with guilt over giving her up I thought I could intellectualize away. I had my reasons, right? But while I hoped for healing—for both of us--spending time with her was a constant reminder of how I had failed her at the moment I should have kept her. And if she was a child emotionally, I regressed back to that sad and confused heap of raw emotion lying alone in a hospital bed waiting for Patrick [her biological father] to rescue us, to say we would be together, we could keep our daughter, a time when What the World Needs Now Is Love, More Love filled the airwaves. The feelings unleashed in me were as fresh as wet grass in the spring dawn. Yet I wasn’t really aware this was happening. I was supposed to be overjoyed I had found her, right? That she and her other family had accepted me, right? And she was here, in my home, everything was great, right? In fact, everything inside was roiling.
Was I guilty about having given her up? Was I guilty about the birth control pills—could they have been a factor in her epilepsy? Did I feel that I could never do enough to make up for the past, no matter how upright and caring her nuclear family had been? Was I aware of how much had been missed, how much was gone, what we could never get back? Did her spending time here with us exhaust me emotionally? Yes. Yes. Yes. Oh yes. I was trying to keep myself together, but I was teary, I was always on edge, I was a mess.
Despite her growing up in what seemed like a good, stable family, despite wondering how I could have handled the epilepsy on my own, I could never think, Yes, I did the right thing, Yes, it was good that she was adopted. Or at least, all right. The justifications might repeat in my brain—it was the times, it was the shame of it all, I was alone without a place I felt I could turn—but none of was enough to reach the core of me, that damned hole in my heart. If everything had been so fucking great, she wouldn’t be so defiantly angry, she wouldn’t unexpectedly lash out at me the way she did. I was defendant, judge and jury and the verdict was: guilty. --lorraine
PS: Jane ended up loving horseback riding, and it was something we did as often as possible, in New York, and in Wisconsin.
The above may not be copied or republished with permission. Copyright, Lorraine Dusky, 2013.
Lost Daughters: My Overtime Mind: Who's in Charge of this Reunion?
Birthmark "Sadly, every bit as relevant today as it was when it was written nearly thirty years ago - Birthmark poignantly spans [Dusky's] life from the time of her relationship that led to her pregnancy, through the birth of her daughter, and her inability to forget and get on with her life and despite having the career she thought giving up 'the child' would allow. It will be most relevant for those who thought they could give away a child and pick up the pieces of their educations and careers...and for all those who told us we could or should." --Mirah Riben at Amazon.
Please excuse my including my own book in this post. The passage above is from a memoir in progress. I'm writing as fast as I can. Birthmark is out of print but available from used book sellers.