|Birthmark jacket photo|
(Copyright, Lorraine Dusky 2013. May not be reprinted, copied, etc in any media)
Despite the rancor surrounding mothers like me then and still today, I also met many, even in 1979, who immediately understood the poignancy of a mother and child reunion. A headline in The Detroit News read: “Unwed mom has never stopped looking.” From Vancouver, British Columbia, in The Province: "Changing her mind not enough, which was basically an interview with two adoptive mothers and proclaimed that adoptive parents received "as much medical knowledge of the child's parents as possible." The Whig-Standard in Kingston, Ontario: "Obsessed by Guilt." An excerpt of the Birthmark ran in Family Circle under these words: “I GAVE AWAY MY BABY.” Totally appropriate, I thought. No fudging with the story line or the language there. That excerpt prompted
hundreds of letters, including this one, written in a child’s handwriting in pencil on plain note paper:
"I’m adopted…I was born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1965…I can’t really remember a lot just what my parents told me when I was 10 years old. I was adopted at 8 months…when I was 12 or 13 I snuck in my parent’s room I really don’t know what I was looking for but I found a letter from the adoption agency telling about my parents and all. And the lady in the picture fits the description also the man she was going with fits my fathers description…. I really do want to find this ladys address is it possible to get her address for me? I am 14, and I really would like to know who my real mom is and I think this is my real Mom.”Letters like hers—mostly from older adopted people and first mothers—follow every appearance, every mention of Birthmark anywhere. Letters spill out despair, grief, unrelenting sadness. “I understood for the first time, that the emotions I had since I was a small child were healthy and normal,”--Rita of Binghamton, New York. “Only other adoptees can understand the rage that I feel when told I cannot obtain the truth of my origins,”--Jeanne of Miami to Newsweek. “I really wonder about you, and am most impressed by the fact that your search may have started first,”--Annette from Lyndhurst, New Jersey, included in a whole journal of poetry about her first mother. One man sends a photograph and proposes marriage. I write everyone back, quoting a line of Lincoln’s: “Let us have faith that right makes might.” Most of the letters I no longer have, but some are stuck into books and folders and fall out when I least expect them, as that 14-year-old’s did the other day when I was looking up something.
Of course there were others, mostly unsigned: “Stop your letter writing, etc…Give up and forget forever the child you gave birth to,” one note says on a small sheet of paper, under a heading in bright orange type: GET THY SHIT TOGETHER!” Unsigned. A note on a small piece of yellow lined paper tells me that huge numbers of mothers do not want reunions, and oddly, urges open adoptions as the handwriting gets smaller and smaller to cram in more. Unsigned. “Very little has been said of the rights of adoptive parents….I would hope that a Supreme Court decision would treat adoptive parents better than the media have so far,” wrote Henry of Ridgewood, New Jersey.  What is he talking about, I wonder, adoptive parents hold the trump cards. We are nothing. We have no rights.
A year later, at a cocktail party in Manhattan, a writer who knows me slightly—and not so coincidentally, an attorney also--turns to me in the tiny kitchen where we find ourselves alone. He is no more than two feet away from me. “I know people who would like to kill you,” he announces calmly, as if he were asking me to hand him a beer from the fridge.
He stares at me, waiting for a response. What are the right words? How can I get out of here? I’m thinking. Who wants to knock me off? I back against the refrigerator, say nothing.
“They are a couple in my building,” he goes on impassively, “They’re adoptive parents.” Don’t you get it? He glares at me.
Oh. Adoptive parents. Like the ones I hear about at ALMA meetings. I don’t remember saying much of anything to Mr. Author/Writer/Attorney/Big Shot. My mind is reeling over his message: Kill. You. I want to tell him that the girlfriend of mine—who was in the other room—yes, someone he was interested in—has also given up a child for adoption, but that is hers to tell. You bastard, you have no idea, I am thinking. We are everywhere—where do you think children available for adoption come from? Yet my mind is reeling with the kill me message, and no witty riposte comes to mind. He eventually leaves the postage-stamp of a kitchen while I consider quietly slipping away. But the party had been given partly for me and my new husband.
Strangely enough, this man’s first book is about a father’s desperate search for a son in Chile who has gone—Missing. [Note: the cap is intentional; that’s the title of his book and the subsequent movie.] I can conjure up that moment, see the shiny white counters and white metal cabinets, his dead-on smugness, as if I had just hit “repeat” on some inner remote.
Another time, a dinner party, late in the evening when booze has loosened inhibitions. The semi-famous (at least in literary circles) New York Times obituary writer is sitting next to me and suddenly pounces. Until then Alden had been chatty and charming. Now the proverbial teeth are bared, the charges the same as always, aggressive, angry.
The table of ten others turn to us. Stay calm, I remind myself. It’s over a year since my memoir came out, my answer by now is well practiced: Adopted people want to know their roots, they need to know that their mothers do not forget, that giving up our children was not a singular act but stays with us all through our lives. This curiosity to find one another is primal. To have some peace in my life, I need to know she is all right. Alive or dead. Adoptees say they want to know where they came from, why they are the way they are.
But still Alden rails on. What gives you the right? Always it came back to that—what gives me the right to open up the past?
Before I respond again, a little voice inside remembers that this man has a reputation as a womanizer—a few years ago we met somewhere when I was at T&C and he asked me to lunch. I was mildly shocked and refused. Maybe not only does he remember that—and now he’s getting back at me for refusing his advances—maybe, just maybe, he has a kid out there who might come knocking at his door, a kid his nice wife doesn’t know about. Or maybe he’s not sure, but aware that he could, he’s had sex with so many, who can keep count? Will your own obituary have more descendants than your wife—sitting right across the table—knows about? Or will your bastards not be included?
His wife springs to my defense. What were we doing all last summer in Wales, she demands, looking for the graves of your ancestors? If you did that, can’t you understand this? What is the matter with you? After her upbraiding, no one speaks for a long fifteen seconds, and finally and the host, the celebrated food writer for the Times, Craig Claiborne, changes the subject. It is grimly awkward sitting next to Alden for the remainder of the meal, and I am relieved when he and his wife depart, perhaps earlier than planned. If I’d been more clever, I might have quoted Cicero: “Not to have knowledge of what happened before you were born is to be condemned to live forever as a child.” That might have shut him up. --lorraine