|Jane and Lorraine sometime in the 90s.|
(Copyright Lorraine Dusky 2013, may not be copied or reproduced in any form)
April. At American Adoption Congress’s 25th anniversary convention in Atlanta, I am one of the keynote speakers. The AAC is comprised of adoptees and both first parents and adoptive parents, and stands for openness in adoption, including taking down the sealed-records statutes. I talk about the early days of this movement, and how far we still have to go. I do not gloss over the rabid opposition we faced then, and still do.
Tact in the service of reform is often ineffective; it can obscure the depth of one’s passion and muddle the message. Taken to its extreme, it confuses the opposition. While mildness may let you continue talking to the opposition, talk is sometimes all you get without any real progress. Just as there was no way for abolitionists to speak to slave holders without raising their hackles, so it often is about adoption issues. That day I do not mince words and point out that no matter how you slice it, no matter how many adoptive parents say they are in favor of open records, the legislators who remain the staunchest opponents frequently turn out to be adoptive parents, or near relatives.
Adoptees and first mothers I know sit up front and nod in agreement. I think my talk is being well-received.
Well. As a group, the adoptive parents are quite less than pleased, and tell me so during the question period after; later I hear some of them spent the better part of the day smoothing their own ruffled feathers. Adoptive parents may be insecure and sensitive on adoption issues, but rarely if ever do they hear criticism directed at them as a group—and particularly not from a birth mother. We are supposed to be tending our wounds, and the very idea that we might criticize them is offensive. They took our kids, didn’t they? Adoptive parents are familiar with two reactions: sympathy, because they couldn’t have children of their own, and praise, for adopting someone else’s outcast. Who does this woman think she is?
The only adoptive parent who is friendly is Adam Pertman, director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, an adoption think-tank. When he sees me in the hall soon after my talk, he grabs me and gives me a big hug, and continues on his way. I do not even know who this effusive stranger is at the time. Though some first mothers revile Adam because they think his writing censures them in places, I’ve never been able to stay mad at him for any length of time. We are on the same side.
What I do not share except with one other mother at the conference is that my daughter has retreated. Again. I am a poster first mother for reform and reunion, and my own daughter isn’t speaking to me.
On one level I feel like a fraud; on another, whether my daughter is speaking to me or not is immaterial to my message: adoptees deserve to know who they were when they were born, and reform will not happen without a phalanx of first mothers announcing that we do not want to remain anonymous from our own flesh and blood. There will always be those fearful few who want to stay anonymous from their children, for any number of reasons—because they have never told their husbands, or their other children, because their religion has told them they belong to another family now and forever, because of the incapacitating shame they feel—but the vast majority of us desperately want to know our children, no matter how secretive and pathetic we were at the time we relinquished them. In the path to unsealing the records, we are needed. We cannot stay in the closet. Our voices must be heard.
I had sent no gift, no card. I thought about calling, but assumed she would hang up when she heard my voice. Or maybe they already had Caller ID (we did not) and she would not pick up. Or if she did answer, I’d get a cool response that announced: Oh, it’s you—why are you bothering me? You are nothing to me. Or I’d leave a message that went unanswered, as they all had since the Big Freeze began. And you know what? I am fucking exhausted by this fractious relationship, exhausted trying to figure out how to react to Jane, tired of getting beaten up by something I could not fix. I do not call.
But I don’t get off lightly, I spend part of the day deep in the blues. A first mother friend, Linda, who knows what I am going through, calls and I burst into tears. We email each other pretty much every day. Unless you are one of us, you would be surprised how often adoption passes by in the culture: on television dramas, in celebrity gossip, on your street and in your office. You want to escape, but can’t. A never ending supply of reminders of the biggest, and saddest, event of your life confront you daily, and to each other we could make note of them. We are alternately snide, ironic, infuriated, or merely calmly observant in our emails. We can express our feelings to each other without being thought obsessive or loony. Linda’s daughter had cut her off too after she, the daughter, had found her and the reunio had been ecstatic. Reason? Unknown. Or maybe it was because Linda had used the guest towels hanging on the rack when she visited, as her daughter had remarked unfavorably about that. She didn’t use the right towels. You think I’m kidding? I’m not.--lorraine
TO BE CONTINUED.
Part 1: A relationship with my daughter goes awry. Reason unknown.
The Adoption Reader: Birth Mothers, Adoptive Mothers, and Adopted Daughters Tell Their Stories A collection of essays from first mothers, adoptees and adoptive mothers that gives great insight to the experience of adoption from all sides. "This is one of the few books written about adoption that has brought tears to my eyes with the emotional intensity shared by the writers in their stories from all perspectives of adoption. I would recommend this book to anyone touched by adoption, or who is considering entering into the world of adoption, whether through adoptive parenting, placement, counseling, or reunion."--Amazon (Full disclosure, my essay opens the book. Right now it basically costs the shipping, as the price is listed at .01. Yes, really. A truly worthwhile book for anybody interested in this subject. Order by clicking on the title link or book jacket. And yes, that's my earlier memoir, Birthmark, in the sidebar that can also be ordered.