|Around the time of her birthday one year|
His birthday is in a couple of weeks and I do have an address for him. Should I send him a card with some money?--Confused First Mother
We are asked this periodically--what to do on a birthday or holiday when the reunited son or daughter has not been in touch for a while and has ignored all attempts at communication. What to do when their birthday is looming?
The quick answer is: do what your heart tells you you must.
I know. Very hard. We send off a card and hope it generates a phone call, an email, a text message. But it may not. We have to recognize that in a very real fashion there is a level of trust and respect that we lost when we gave up our children. Why didn't she do this or that, when we are trying so hard?
Because we gave them up.
In a way, it's kind of a response to being given up: You gave me up and didn't come back. Now I am doing the same to you. I was talking to a first mother friend I hadn't seen in years, and we both had daughters about the same age, and we both have had our share of difficulties in our relationships, and she said, We lost them when we gave them up.
'I DREAD GETTING A BIRTHDAY CARD FROM YOU'
If we have a reunion, we get them "back" in a certain way, but of course it's never like the termination of parental rights was not signed, no matter under what circumstances. It was. We can never be what we would have been had we raised our children. My daughter, Jane, called me "mother" sometimes in cards and gift tags when she sent flowers (she did a couple of times), but never Mom or Mother when we were together. Consequently, though the granddaughter she kept knew me as Grandma from birth, she heard me referred to as Lorraine all the time. She lived with my daughter's adoptive mother, "Grandma", who pretty much hated me and didn't hide it. As soon as my granddaughter hit puberty, I became Lorraine to her too. Broke my heart. I spent a lot of time crying over that when it happened. Now I sign my emails to her "Glo" for Grandma Lo, and she sometimes responds likewise. But Lorraine it is in person, and I have made peace with that. Grandma is someone else.
And one year, when Jane had totally cut off contact after years of a good relationship--when emails, phone calls and letters had been returned with a "REFUSED" in red stamped on it--I did not call. I was blue, but one does get tired of being a doormat. I would have felt bluer if I can left an unanswered message, and that is what I truly expected. She called me that fall.
Where were we? What to do with the upcoming holidays and birthdays when our reunited children are not in contact. One first mother got a letter once saying, Please do not send me a birthday card because I live in dread that you might. Her birth/first mother was crushed, of course, but the daughter in question was still living at home and her adoptive parents were having a conniption whenever "their" daughter got a communication from her natural mother. They threatened to call the police, though I am not sure what the police would do.--the woman only sent a card, after all. After the adoptee moved out and lived on her own, she contacted her first/birth mother, and they began a good relationship that continues. The adoptive parents do not know.
To contact or not on a birthday when there is a rift is certainly something that I lived through. One year it was particularly harrowing as my daughter had lived with us for six months and it was a terribly chaotic time. I worked in Manhattan three days a week, and so was I gone three days, two nights, and my husband--not her father--was here. They had always gotten along, and since she knew him from the time she and I met, he had become something like a step-father. He often listened to her outpouring of troubles when I could no more. She had lived with us for summers before, and they had gotten along well. But everything was different this particular year. Our house had become a vortex of gloom and chaos. He didn't tell me at first, but he had taken to driving around at night simply to avoid being in our home when she was there. He dreaded when she came in, reeking anger and insolence. His solution may have been better than hanging out in a bar, but knowing what he was doing instead made me realize the situation had to end. It was his home, it was our home. My daughter wanted to leave too, and she did.
Nearly a year later, what to do when her birthday came? She was living with her adoptive parents. Her mother had written me a scathing letter. Nonetheless, that year I phoned her, happily her father (and not her mother) took the call, and our daughter was ready to resume a relationship. We made up.
GO WITH YOUR HEART, COUNT ON NOTHING
In the end, one's first reaction to write or send a card, or not, is probably the right one. Your instinct is telling you what to do. If you will feel worse not sending a card or an email, in short, if not acknowledging the birthday--a big day for adoptees, after all--do go ahead. Some adoptees say even when they cannot be in contact for any number of reasons, the fact that their birthdays are acknowledged--by their first mothers--was important to them. In other words, even though emotionally they were unable to respond, but they appreciate that you thought of them on the day they were born--to you. You are the "birth" mother, first mother, you were the mother there when they came into being.
Gifts in the face of no contact are something else. I advised the woman above to not send a card stuffed with money, if she sent one at all. Her son may not want a relationship, but only money, and she will always feel ripped off. Other adoptees take the completely opposite tack, and are uncomfortable with gifts, especially expensive ones, because they say they feel as if their first mothers are trying to buy their affection. We in turn are surprised at that, because we are merely reacting like a mother--trying to be generous to our children, trying to do for them what we feel we should be--because they are "our" children.
So, one's first reaction is probably the right thing to do, but it you really feel conflicted, err on the side of generosity. Don't expect a return. Your missive, whether an email, a card, a text message, a Facebook hello, may be just the opening your son or daughter has been looking for, and get in touch. You never know.
Just don't count on it. Reunions--as we all know too well--are tricky.--lorraine
PS: As for our children who were adopted remembering our own birthdays? Speaking for myself, it never happened. At first I wished that she would, but after so many years she she did not, I gave up expecting that she would remember--or even ask when my birthday was. It would have meant the world to me if she had remembered with a phone call or a card. I had to remind myself that since she had not been in my life as she was growing up to celebrate my birthday, it was not glued into her memory. It's also possible that she had no idea how much it would have meant to me to be remembered.
Finally, after about two decades, after she was happily married, I did tell her that all those years she forgot my day did hurt--as did not getting some acknowledgment on Mother's Day. That did help--but she still never remembered my birthday, not once. Then we hit another patch of more than a year when she was determined to show her adoptive mother--who by now hated me 24/7 and made that clear to Jane--that I didn't count. My birthday? Mother's Day Surely you jest. She wasn't even acknowledging that I was alive.
Then, of course, she did.
About the day we find upsetting:
It's 'Mother's' Day again. And 'Birth' Mother's Day too.
Does Mother's Day make birth mothers blue? YES.
The Search for Anna Fisher by Florence Fisher (now available in paperback)
"Florence Fisher is an Adult Adoptee, adopted at birth, who searched and found both of her first parents, and who founded the Adoptees' Liberty Movement Association (ALMA Society). ALMA is one of the first Adoptee Rights organizations to fight for the rights of Adult Adoptees to gain legal entitlement to the first chapter of their lives: their life pre-adoption. Published in the early 1970's, this book is still relevant today. Although time and increased education over the decades has assuaged some of these issues, the misunderstandings, stereotypes, and assumptions Fisher faced are still faced by Adoptee Rights Activists and searching members of the adoption constellation (often called "triad") today. It is hard not to be drawn into Fisher's story of her devotion to activism and search for her family. She is extremely transparent and honest about her journey and feelings--something the reader grows to know is important to her as part of Fisher's life was held in secret, and she desired no secrets any longer."--Amanda at Amazon. I think I know who this Amanda is.