Monday, December 23, 2013

Shared experience and the sisterhood of first mother loss at Christmas

Sent by my alternate universe daughter 
We had a Christmas lunch at our house yesterday--friends came by for Champagne punch and sustenance. Two guys my husband made sure to introduce to each other were both Vietnam vets. One was a journalist who was captured and briefly imprisoned; the other was a Naval officer who had spent two years in combat. After my husband made the introduction, they spent a long time talking. Later my husband said: It's the most intense experience of their lives--no one who hasn't been through it can quite understand. My husband was in the Army between conflicts, and after ROTC, only spent six months on active duty. But he understood immediately why these two men would bond.


I thought: That's what being a birth/first mother is like. No one who hasn't been there can understand the immense loss and grieving that comes with relinquishment--except another first mother. And yet, most of us don't go around talking openly about our experiences so that it's unlikely that I'm going to end up at a party one day and the host will introduce me to another person and pass on what we so deeply share: that we both lost a child to adoption.

Lost. That's the word. Whether our parents offered no support and we were very young, or we were older but still felt trapped by the strictures of societal mores, or whether we were talked into giving up a child two years ago by an adoption facilitator, it's all the same. We lost our children. We lost them when we gave them up. We sometimes get a piece of them back--I certainly did--but so much we lost. I always could sense my daughter's divided loyalties, her feeling that she did not quite belong in either family, her sense of what if my mother had kept me? 

We are a sisterhood bonded in the sorrow of loss.

I miss my daughter. We had a glorious reunion, a lengthy relationship that spanned more than a quarter of a century, and we had our ups and downs. Sadly she died five years ago a few weeks before Christmas. But I have made my peace with her death, peace I was not able to find when I did not know if she were alive or dead, when I did not know where she was. Today I have a good life, with a good husband who has always understood my sorrow, a residual blessing of his favorite cousin getting pregnant in high school and having to give up her daughter.* One granddaughter is in college and doing fine; I'll talk to her on Christmas. The other granddaughter, who was relinquished by my daughter--yes, sadly this happened--prefers to be left alone. Tony's children--who were grown when we met--are part of my life; their children who call me Grandma Raine. The daughter of my first love--whom I almost married--is in some strange, mystical way that I do not question, is also a big part of my life today, though we are several states apart. She has a special place in my heart, and she is the one who sent the flowers above. Our bond is hard to explain to outsiders.

But of course, Christmas is a time when you remember your loved ones who are gone, and this year will be no different. I am thinking particularly of all the parents of Claire Davis, the 17-year-old who was killed by a fellow students at Araphahoe High School in Colorado. Claire was adopted; I haven't been able to find out if it was a closed adoption and if her first mother knows of her death. I'm also thinking of Carol-King Eckersley of Portland, Oregon, a first mother whose son died in Pan Am Flight 103 when a bomb in the plane went off over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. She didn't search for him  until it was too late.

Lorraine
For so many of us, Christmas is a time of special sadness when everyone is supposedly over-dosing on joy and yule cheer: we miss our children. We miss them whether or not they are still unknown to us, whether we have been in reunion, good or not, whether we will be able to spend time with them this holiday season. We know what we missed, and there is no going back. There is only going forward.

To those who have yet to find their children or reconnect, and want to, do not wait. Time is not on our side. Eighteen is not a magic age and eighteen-year-olds are notoriously hard to find if they are not living at home. I found and contacted my daughter's adoptive parents when she was fifteen. I--and they--wished I had done it sooner.

To those--adoptee or first mother--who have reconnected and found true communion with your children, enjoy the time you do have, do not spend too much time with each other expressing the sorrow of what it is lost. Focus on what you have.

To those whose reunions are broken, remember this: the people who want to be in your life will be. You don't have to go chasing after them. Surround yourself as much as possible with people who do love you.

To those who feel they would like to call or send words or flowers to someone you have not been in touch with, just do it--especially if you are the one who shut down contact, the one who needed "space."

And to those who will feel alone no matter what happens on Christmas, remind yourself that Christmas is a day, one day. The day after Christmas is a new day.

Jane and I both wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and happy holidays. We may be taking a short vacation here ourselves.--lorraine

COMMENTS CLOSED
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*If anybody is reading who might know this person contact me via forumfirstmother@gmail.com: A daughter was given up some sixty years ago in Westfield, New Jersey to people who knew the doctor. The adoptive parents later donated to my husband's brother's political campaign--in Westfield--so they may have known he was "family." And the woman's sister is looking for her lost sibling.

Love by Vanni (illustrator) and story by Lowell A. Siff
"Its sweet, heartbreaking story is told on pages of vibrant colors and uneven widths, pages with cut-outs and strip-ins, pages with peepholes—pages of all shapes and colorful varieties. This story is a simple one about a little girl. She has parents, naturally, but they went away when she was nine. And as she has no relatives to care for her, she is taken in by an orphanage. Lonely and a bit unusual, she stares at people with her big eyes. She often does things that aren't very nice, and people aren't very nice to her. In fact, they want to send her away. Until, one day..."--Amazon
I totally love this book. I have bought several copies for friends as gifts, and oddly enough, I found it in a book store in Saginaw, Michigan long before I knew adoption would be a part of my life. It's a little late to order for Christmas, but this is a great gift book. 

WE APPRECIATE ANYTHING ORDERED THROUGH THE PORTAL HERE. The title link and jacket art will take you to Amazon. Thank you! 

12 comments :

  1. "To those whose reunions are broken, remember this: the people who want to be in your life will be. You don't have to go chasing after them. Surround yourself as much as possible with people who do love you.”

    Your Christmas blog is very touching and especially this paragraph spoke to me. Today is my 63rd birthday. Forty-four years ago I was locked up in a home for unwed mothers in Westfield MA - Guild of the Holy Child. Interesting name. Anyway, as you point out, only we who have lived it can understand it, and this is a rough time of year - now until my daughter was born on January 31.

    Today, my two raised children and their families are taking me for lunch to a restaurant I’ve been wanting to go to, and then we are going on a wagon ride - was supposed to be a sleigh ride, but no snow. I really needed to be told to enjoy the people who do love me and want to spend time with me. I can not diminish our experience by pining for something that is not to be.

    So, thank you, thank you for reminding me of this!

    Merry Christmas and Love,

    Becky

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  2. Lovely post, Merry Christmas to all!

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  3. What a heartfelt post, with the most lovely choice of words. Seared right into my heart and affirmed my own resolve this Christmas: to enjoy my loved ones who do want to be around me, and to give my 5 year old son the magic he is looking for as he struggles with anxiety and sadness over the absence of his dearly beloved Nina.

    I wish everybody that comes together on this forum, and especially the two wonderful women who bring us all together, much peace and joy this coming year!

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  4. I just want to really thank you, Lorraine and Jane, for creating this treasured space where we can be. There aren't many such spaces in the world.

    Best wishes to you and to everyone who comes to converse here.

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  5. Becky - I, too, was in the Guild of the Holy Child in Westfield but it was in 1967. We missed each other by a few years.
    My son was born in March and - you're right that this is a very tough time of year.
    I feel that you are a sister to me among so many sisters. Please write if interested in communicating.
    Maureen

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  6. Merry Christmas, and Blessed Solstice, everyone! I heard from all my sons and got something from all, including a box of assorted gifts from my oldest, Michael. My favorite is a little Swarovski crystal owl. I feel truly blessed. And his card was gorgeous, a picture he had taken of a bright red cardinal against the white snow.

    I know how it feels to hear nothing from the lost child; that was how it was for me for many years, and wish peace and understanding to all in that difficult situation today.

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  7. Wonderful to have a place. There are so few. The life sentence of adopting is most difficult at this time of year, but not much easier at other times of the year either.
    It struck me what someone wrote about chasing illusions; I can tell you that it is destructive. Having hope and having illusions are very closely related, hope being much more positive. Illusions are dreams that can begin to run, and therefore ruin your life. One must be realistic- and that is not easy to accomplish. To be hopeful, but not too attached to the outcome is what works for me these days. My hope is small, almost non-existant at times, but leaves me open if there is a change of heart from the other person. Fine lines- private, difficult work-painful- but all I can do anymore. I explained to someone recently that I believe my heart cannot take on anymore pain, or guilt, or shame, or blame. I am very hard on myself. Backing away is healthy, in my case, as I have made myself very ill over my situation. I believe that is my fault for having the illusions- letting them control me, and my life-decisions. It is a killer, and acceptance of what is, is all that seems to balance things out for me. Again, however, this is a very difficult position to take, and to maintain.

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  8. I think I have said this a time or two before, but I am absolutely crazy for both of you, Lorraine and Jane.
    This was my fifth Christmas in reunion and the best yet. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would not talk to my daughter on Christmas. I sent her a text telling her that I missed her and I was available to talk all day, also mentioning to her that I realized she does not like to talk on the phone. She responded with a sweet Merry Christmas text message.
    Did I like not being able to talk to my flesh and blood on the most special day in my year? Nope. It sucks. But knowing that is what my fate in life is, makes it easier.
    She loves me and I am extremely unimportant to her daily life. That's okay. I understand why. I wouldn't have much time for my mother if she abandoned me at birth. I wouldn't really care that she was doing what she was told was best for me. I would think LAME!!! It is our fate to be on the bottom of the list of importance. It's just so weird how I can love her so fully, with such expanse, regardless of her regard for me. Don't get me wrong, she is kind and sweet, and funny and fun when we are together. But being 1,000 miles apart we only get to see each other a couple times a year when I make it happen. Again, she is gracious with her time to allow me to spend time with her and my granddaughter. So I am not complaining just sad that it must be this way. I am a mother who lost her daughter to adoption. I am the outsider. And I am reaping what I sowed.
    ------
    To Lo's message to make comment earlier than later, I totally agree. I was passive in my search and therefore it didn't happen until my daughter found me at 29 years old.I wonder what our relationship would be like if I set out to find her when she was younger. But it is what it is and I can't change a thing that happened yesterday, much less 20 years ago.

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  9. Oh Rita, my heart breaks for you. Are we really assigned to "that place" where we reap what we sow because we abandoned our babies at birth? Please don't beat yourself up, as I am sure you did the best you could under your circumstances. This Christmas was my first after my adult child (age 41) found me in November. I got "vibes" when she asked me in the first phone call how a parent could place their child for adoption. Apparently, my child still doesn't get it and the mindset of the coercive 1970s. I didn't hear from my adult child at Christmas and haven't heard from her since our first reunion in November. I am wondering why my child found me if only to "abandon" me. The silence is excruciating, and maybe paybacks are a biotch. I do know this past Christmas was so lonely and sad, as all my guilt and shame for "giving my child away" came bubbling up from the repressed places of my heart and soul for the past 40 years.. The pain is oh so awful. How do you all deal with it?

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  10. I am hoping someone could answer a question for me. My aunt stayed at the Guild of the Holy Child also and I was wondering what hospital that they took the first moms to give birth. I am helping a cousin try to find her 1/2 brother. So I am thinking if I know the town of the birth that I may find the birth certificate in that town. We have a month and year give or take a week or so in that month. Also have the adoptive fathers first name and last initial. The first parents have passed on buy my mom who would be the aunt is 84 and would love to know that this man is doing fine. If you can help answer some of the questions please email me at massm@nycap.rr.com or call me at 413-329-5215 or 413-629-3514.

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