Thursday, June 5, 2014

A birth mother remembers the first call to the adoptive parents

Lorraine
I remember the fear I had when I had to call my daughter's adoptive parents and tell them that I was "our" daughter's other mother. Would they reject me and slam down the phone? Would they call the police? How could I assure them that I did not want to steal my daughter back?

There isn't a lot you can say to make yourself presentable--saying "I don't want my daughter back" is a lot like trying convince someone that you are not a racist. But before I got to that, I had to introduce myself and tell them who I was: My name is Lorraine Dusky and 15 years ago on April 5, 1966 I had a baby girl at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York, and I believe that girl is Jane.

Then I held my breath. Because my daughter Jane was not an adult, I felt I had to go through her adoptive parents.

Then I waited.
The first weekend we met, at her parents' home

What is your name? And where are you calling from? were the first words the woman--her adoptive mother--said. I answered, and gave her my phone number, but then said: Why are you doing this? I was worried they were going to call the police, like I had heard some adoptive parents did. Instead, she replied:

 I was worried that you were going to hang up, and we wouldn't be able to find you.

Then I cried. Then she cried.

I told her how much I thought about Jane and how much I wanted to know that she was all right and I hoped that I might be able to meet her. I am sure that I added: I don't want to take her back, that isn't it, but it has burned me up now knowing where she is, or how....

She put her husband on the phone and he may have specifically asked me what I wanted, and again I stated that I didn't "want to take her back."

And then they put Jane on the phone.

My calling was welcome to Jane's adoptive parents--let's call them the Rhymers--because they had been trying to find me. Why? Because "our" daughter had epilepsy. Their doctor had tried to find me through the agency, but the agency didn't even respond to their doctor's letter. Epilepsy is not hereditary, but her doctor was looking for any background information that might prove helpful in treating her.

Years after they first contacted the agency--around the same time I first began writing to the agency--they did receive a letter informing them that I had relayed some medical information. Once I realized that the birth control pills I took, after a negative pregnancy test, were likely to have harmed the fetus in some way, I wrote with some urgency to the agency. My earlier letters were just to stay in touch and let them know that I couldn't get my daughter out of my head--and could they tell me how she was? Now I stated in no uncertain terms that someone needed to let the adoptive parents know I had taken hormones while pregnant. The DES scare was all over the news at the time, and the doctors and experts I had been interviewing agreed that my daughter needed to be "checked," whatever that meant. Checked for what? They did not know. Just "checked."

That is how my reunion begins, and it is more than likely that our contact was made easier by several things: Jane's seizures, which started when she was five, the doctor's desire--with the full agreement of her parents--to locate me, and the fact that Jane had already told her mother that she wanted to find me. Her adoptive mother, Ann, said that they would look for me once she turned eighteen, but, of course, they had already let the agency know that they wanted to contact me.
                         
Not that the folks at the agency, Hillside Terrace would have done anything. My earlier letters were answered with answered with the news that she was "fine and happy" with her family. I remember those words so well because when I read them I thought: How do they know she is "fine and happy?" They are merely brushing me off.

She wasn't fine and happy at all. She was having massive and numerous seizures. She had been hospitalized many times. She had had a concussion. And in fact, I know this: the hormones in birth control pills leech Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, out of the body; and one of the treatments for seizures are large doses of B6. You make the connection. I did.

Within the week after our first phone call, I was at their home (see photo). Of course I was thrilled to see that Jane had a good home, a stable home, loving parents, brothers, and was living a comfortably middle class. That was how it was supposed to be, right?

But as time would pass, the relationship between the three of us--Mother, daughter and Other Mother--became increasingly complicated.--lorraine 

I will be writing more about this in the days to come, and how adoptive parents today might respond to a first mother. Right now I can't write more--my weak eye is revolting by twitching, which means I have been looking at little black marks against a white background far too long in the last few days. And despite a huge effort this year in New York, it is almost certain that nothing will happen once again in my state. Am I bummed? Yes. Very. Yesterday I was angry; today I am merely tired.
________________________
READING

What could I have read that would have prepared me for everything? There really wasn't anything at the time, but today I would recommend to first mothers, adoptees and adoptive mothers: Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self  (above) for it discusses psychology of the different ages of the adopted individual. When it came out in 1992, I was several years into our reunion and relationship, but I still found the book immensely helpful in understanding the adoptee mentality. I lent the book to a teen adoptee I knew, and she read it in a day, and lent it to her best friend, also adopted. Most people who are not part of the adoptee circle do not understand how large a factor adoption plays in our lives. Adoptive parents have a different perspective, and end up feeling that if the adopted individual doesn't talk about it, she doesn't care. Not so. They are waiting for you, the parent, to bring up the subject.

For adult reunions today, I would recommend the Lost Daughters: Writing Adoption From a Place of Empowerment and Peace by adult women, most of whom who have been reunited, or at least know who their natural parents are. They essays are revealing and powerful, and some are tough to read. Four Stars. 

THANK YOU FOR ORDERING ANYTHING THROUGH FMF. To reach Amazon, simply click on the book jackets or titles.  

29 comments :

  1. I read somewhere that many birth mothers become interested in finding their children when the kids are around fifteen. I know I did, and I sent a letter to the adoption agency with my contact information and my openness to reunion. I heard nothing back. My son tried to find me when he was 19, because he'd been given no information. In fact, he'd been led to believe that his natural mother had died, so he stopped searching. I found him when he was 44 with the help of a wonderful Search Angel. He was born and adopted in New York state, so I've been watching their legislature closely (and written and emailed and called). The intransigence of a few die-hard lawmakers is frustrating beyond words. What are they thinking? I am following your story, Lorraine, and feel almost as if I'm travelling your path with you.

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  2. Hi Lorraine: I am extremely eager to read more of your reunion story, and more of the interaction between Jane, her A-mother and yourself. Thank you for sharing all of this.

    We can all imagine how my A-mom would react to a call from my first mother! It would not
    be pretty.

    It enrages me that the adoption agency would not help you, knowing that your daughter had a medical condition and you had information. Rules and regulations be damned, even in those days, how could human beings not do something to help? I am blown away by this.

    As far as NY, I also feel that nothing will happen this year. But all the sealed records in NY can not take my first mother's name away from me. Whether she is still living or not, I know her name. I know my original name. Are the legislators really that stupid? In this day and age there really is no more privacy and secret, sealed documents. There are ways around everything. When are they going to get with the times?

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    1. Julia: The agency did nothing for the adoptive parents and her doctor when they wanted to reach me; around the same time I was contacting the Rochester agency and letting them know of my availability. I would have been thrilled to have been contacted--even though it would have been for a medical history.

      But ..that is the law. And people be damned!

      Folks: I am finishing my memoir and it will be published one way or another--even if I have to do it myself! All interested editors: please contact me!

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    2. I can not wait for your memoir. On the edge of my seat. Please take care.....

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    3. Send good vibes. It has a long history.

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  3. Lorraine and Jane, thanks for keepin' on keepin'! My husband and I finally got to see "Philomena" last week, and I thought of you both. Here's to Hope: (1) Hope that NY heeds your wisdom (I finally also saw the video of Lorraine's testimony before the senate, and it was so well presented) and (2) Hope your memoir gets published soon

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  4. In my case, my first and only call to my son's aparents didn't go that well...I was in essence told to f..k off and never contact them again...then again...it is not their choice, it is my son's choice if he wants contact with me.

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  5. My call to the ap's eventually ended up with a police officer knocking at my door with a deposition. A-dad wanted me arrested and put in jail for the crime of finding my child. IMO, parents (?) with this kind of mindset are the real criminals and have what I call an "ownership" mentality.

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  6. I had unplanned contact with my daughters a-parents. I mailed a letter, addressed to her (she was over 18). They intercepted it, opened it, read it and kept it from her for several months. They never contacted me. I heard about this from her months later. I am quite confident that action greatly effected our non-reunion.

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  7. tulip and Suz: You had the kind of non-reunions that I feared so much. As I said, I was worried my daughter's parents were going to call the police. I have no idea how they would have reacted if my daughter had been a good girl, a little blonde angel without problems. But she wasn't. She had very serious epilepsy. Her mother (a nurse) thought I might be in a mental institution--though epilepsy is not hereditary. And until Jane had her first seizure, she was a bright child who learned how to read early. So?

    Suz: What your daughter's parents did was a federal crime. How did they know it was from her other mother? They just assumed. I know of another woman who had a terrible relationship with her daughter--she wrote her and told her never to contact her again--but once she was on her own, and did contact her mother and they ended up with a good relationship. I hate to say it, but the way adoption is fed to those who adopt often pollutes a the atmosphere so much that they are unable to have a relationship with their natural family. Too much guilt, only they don't see it that way. I hope things will improve for you one day. But a relationship takes two. All I can do is offer this advice:

    The people who want to be in your life will be. You don't have to go chasing after them. Be well, my sister.

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  8. Look at what we are reading here, from Beatrice, Tulip, and Suz. Just look at how their child's adoptive parents acted when faced with the possibility of contact with the first mother. It's disgraceful.
    Sadly, this is the ONLY type of adoptive parent I have ever come across. Any adoptive parent I have known throughout the years has been this way, including my own, of course. Insecure, possessive, demanding, almost ruthless. Adopting a child was never about the child for these people. It was about them, and the child became their possession. God help anyone who would say otherwise. God help the adoptee who searches.

    The adoptee is a person. Someone gave birth to this person. Without that someone, where would the adoptive parents be? This is not a game of "who won this little baby". This complex mess involves human beings and I don't know why we can't act as such.

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    1. I completely agree with you Julia Emily.

      I also wanted to say that I really really like the way you express yourself through writing. I think you have a very powerful tool there for being heard. I've thought this for a while.

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    2. Thank you, Cherry! Maybe I should write a book. Truth is stranger than fiction, after all !

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    3. Julia Emily, some APs I've witnessed tend to, ah, lose interest in their children after awhile. I took care of a young girl after school until quite late in the evening for more than a year. I have no idea why her parents adopted her. Her older, biological brother drove my sons up the wall (this complicating and ultimately ending my unpaid child care). After I stopped looking after her, I couldn't help but think she felt abandoned yet again. Both of her parents were deeply involved in careers to such an extent that I almost never saw the a-mom. She never thanked me, either, though her husband seemed very cognizant (and sheepish).

      Now. Why did they adopt her? And will she search? She's almost old enough.

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    4. This is interesting, because it is what happened to my friend, the black market adoptee. Her AP's lost interest. Or, more to the point, they never had interest in the first place. The only answer we can come up with is this: back in the 1950's it was expected that a young married woman would have a child and stay home with that child. My neighborhood in NY was choking with stay at home moms and zillions of kids.

      When we were very young my friend's mother went back to work. My friend was alone after school until late evening when her AP's came home. The house was filthy. No one was there to supervise schoolwork or start dinner. My friend ate a lot of macaroni and chees out of a box. She did spend a lot of time in my apartment, but we went to different schools, so our schedules did not always coincide.

      Strange that, to this day, my A-mom will say that these two people "loved their daughter." I beg to differ. But it shows you the kind of fantasy world my A-mom is in. If everything is picture perfect on the outside, she's satisfied. She never wonders what goes on behind closed doors.

      My poor friend always says that her AP's should have just gotten a dog. Very sad, to my mind.

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    5. Funny you should say that about dogs. We had several when I was a girl, all of whom (except one, long story) simply... disappeared. There one day, gone the next, probably to the pound, to judge from my parents' nonchalance. I wondered, if they could shed a beloved (by me at least) pet so easily, could they also get rid of me? Which, eventually, they did.

      My parents were really not suited to parenthood, but in the '50s, one simply did. As it happened, they didn't want to encumber themselves with dogs either; their obsession was the house. My mother wanted it always to look "as though no children lived there," and with me as her scullery maid, she almost always succeeded. The beautiful house by the sea: appearances were all. Even though the homes were so close together that undoubtedly the neighbors heard my screams periodically, nobody got overtly involved. When I look back on how kind--overly kind!--our neighbors were to me, all of the little jobs they found for me, and later my status as the neighborhood's most sought-after babysitter, I realize they knew far more than they'd admit.

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  9. I, too, am looking forward to your new memoir. Your first one, Birthmark, was/is one I often recommend. I wish more birth-mothers/natural Mothers would/could write of their experiences. As an adoptee, I feel that knowing what our mothers went through is a very important part of our healing.

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    1. CullyRay, thank you for saying that about wanting to hear our voices.

      I struggle with how to tell my story publicly without also inadvertently telling my son's. Our stories are so closely entwined when it comes to his adoption. I increasingly need to express what the reality of losing my son to adoption is like, but I definitely don't want to breach his privacy. It's something I'm struggling to sort out in my mind at the moment, particularly as I'm beginning to find a way of being able to express some of that reality publicly, through potentially exhibiting things I've made about the experience.

      I'm glad to hear such expression might have a healing potential. The viewpoint of adopted people was initally shocking, being so at odds with what I once believed, but so illuminating in helping me to understand something about what my son might also have felt and experienced.


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    2. Cherry: your story and those of other first moms here are an enormous help. I lived my entire life never even thinking that my first mother had an identity of any kind. It wasn't my fault, but it was what was fed to me.

      Now I know what she must have gone through at the time I was born. I imagine how she struggled for years before she actually signed the final papers. She has a name, and a profession. She is/was a human being, and I hope she was able to build a decent life for herself after all of this happened.

      I never knew how important it was for me to know this. Thank you.

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    3. How could you not wonder, even after your APs diminished your mother as "the girl"? I also thank Cherry and the other mothers here for giving the back story to the voiceless, the mothers who relinquished so much in exchange for so little, starting with respect.

      You really ought to write that book, Julia E!

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    4. "Diminished". Thank you. That word speaks volumes.
      I am sorry to read your story as well. Maybe we should collaborate. It would make for one heck of a book!

      But I sincerely thank you for sharing here. Most everything I read is a big help, in many different ways.

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  10. I am a birth mother in reunion with my son, AND I am the adoptive mother of a son, born in Vietnam in 1973. I can state unequivocally that I would support a reunion between my adopted son and his real mother, because that's what she is--his real mother. Each of us has one mother, full stop. Sometimes another person steps in to perform the function of mother, but, based on my own experience, I say that separating a mother from her baby, except under the most extraordinary circumstances, should not be dressed up as a "loving option." If we really care about the child as the first, the only, priority, then we must acknowledge that adoption is almost never in the child's best interest. I was young and naive when we adopted my Vietnamese son. I know much more now, and a lot of it I learned from both these sons. I, too, have no patience with adoptive parents who try to come between their akids and their real, biological parents.

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  11. Julia, you are so right. If all parties treated one another with love, kindness, and respect, this whole adoption business would end on a much more positive note.

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  12. I am a birthstone and I would love to talk with another birthstone in my situation.I.tiff up my daughter and when I start seatching for her her adoptive mother threatens me and told my.daughters lies and now after all these years.she hates me and. Would love yo talk to another mother like me
    to
    talk with someone who reinited with their daugjter

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  13. Your writings are so frustrating to read sometimes. I hate to be a critic here but I have to type this because i've been reading for quite some time and it's weighing on me. Not all biological parents, whether they be mothers or fathers have positive reuniting with their biological children. Not all children wish to have reuniting with their biological mother or father, whether the child have a history of medical issues and complications or not. I was adopted as an infant, my parents told me from day 1 who my mother was, what she looked like, that she made a big decision in giving me up for adoption, why she gave me up for adoption (at age 16) etc ... My MOTHER AND FATHER hid not a thing from me. When I asked, they were honest and told.

    I don't resent my biological mother one bit for this, as a matter of fact I hold the utmost respect for her for making the brave decision of giving her first child up for adoption, the hardest decision a woman can ever make for herself. My biological mother went on to have more children after I was born.

    I have no desire to meet this woman, ever. Does that mean that I don't ever want to meet her? No. This just means that I have no longing to. This is how a majority of adopted children view this too ... there are rare cases in which adopted children are eager to meet their biological parents, and these are the cases that you normally see because these children seek their biological family out so desperately. I was always curious to see my mother, or to see what she was like. I found her on Facebook and that did it for me. That's all I needed. Of course she ended up finding me on Facebook too and she sent me a message, which I read and did not and will not be responding to. Not because I don't want to talk to her, or to know her, it's nothing of that sort. I choose to not respond to her because she is a stranger, a stranger who is more connected to me emotionally than I will ever be to her, that is the unfortunate truth. I chose to not respond to her in her favor, for those of you mothers who have reached out to your child through social media, a letter, a phone call or something of the sort. I chose to not respond to her because she has gone for 20+ years without knowing me or speaking to me, she has finally seen what I look like, where I am and that I am fine. There is no need for me to open up a line of communication with a stranger who will most definitely want more after a few conversations. There is no need to take the risk of hurting someone who has a wound that has been healed for over 20 years and taking the risk of slowly opening up that wound again.

    As a mother, you will always be more connected to your child than they are to you. You will always be more emotionally connected toward your child than they are to you especially in their teenage years. While I could very easily open up my heart to this woman who gave birth to me and delivered me to my parents, there is no need to. She is a stranger who happens to be biologically connected to me. My mother and father are the people who raised me since the day that they were legally allowed to start raising me.

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    1. Anon,
      You're clearly sensitive and trying to do the right thing by your natural mother. Let me pass along some information which may be helpful as you navigate your adoption journey. It's unlikely your natural mother made "the brave decision of giving up her first child." At 16, she was probably not in a position to make ANY decision. Her parents, church, whoever pushed her into giving you up. Your adoptive parents benefited from her vulnerability and lack of resources.

      Your natural mother may seem like a stranger as you think about her in the abstract but if you met her you might be astonished at the similarities. I know this from my own experience. One of the reasons I did not search was that I thought my daughter and I would be strangers. When we met, I found someone who looked like me and shared my talents, interests, and values. I suspect you are more connected to your natural mother than you recognize.

      You're only 20 and your mother is only 36. I caution you against making a firm decision about not meeting her. Wait and see how you feel in a few years. We've known many adoptees who don't want to search or meet their original families, And then one day they do. Often this is after they have children of their own.

      Meanwhile, I encourage you to learn about adoption, Being adopted is a lifelong journey. You can find a list of excellent books on the websites of the American Adoption Congress and Origins-USA.

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    2. Anon 4:19 wrote:"As a mother, you will always be more connected to your child than they are to you. You will always be more emotionally connected toward your child than they are to you especially in their teenage years."

      I wish you would specify that this is how you personally feel. it is by no means a universal feeling for all adoptees. As a matter of fact, many adoptees feel a strong emotional connection or tie to their first mother throughout their entire lives, even if they don't know who she is.

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    3. Anon

      You said "I chose to not respond to her in her favor, for those of you mothers who have reached out to your child through social media, a letter, a phone call or something of the sort. I chose to not respond to her because she has gone for 20+ years without knowing me or speaking to me, she has finally seen what I look like, where I am and that I am fine."

      I found my son on FB, but cannot reached out to him. You see, for many of us birth parents, we live in this limbo of not knowing...we don't know if our child has been told about them being adopted, we don't know if you are ready for contact with us and we don't know what the adoptive parents have been told about us (your parents may have been feed a bunch of lies about your birth mother by whoever facilitated the adoption). In these days of social media, it is a double edge sword...we can find our children...sometimes the law might prevent us from contacting our children. In my case, my son was adopted in Greece and the law there only allows the adopted person to contact their biological family, as a birth mother I am prevented by law to contact him directly.

      Seeing how he looks or that he is "fine" is not enough. So, for me you would have done me no favours by not responding to any message...I would love to get any message from my son, even if it said "I know who you are, I know how to contact you should I need any medical information, now leave me alone". This is of course not what I want, but it will be his choice and I would respect him for it.

      Finally, yes, your mother and father is those who raised you...most birth parents respect this..but there is a saying "Of course I love you, you have listen to my heart beat from the inside" which for me explain the strong emotional connection and need for a birth mother's to reconnect with our children.

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    4. @Jane,
      Drinking the adoption Kool-Aid of "My mother made the most difficult decisioin and is a saint for it. She did it for me because she wanted me to have a better life. And my APs ARE my REAL parents" is a whole lot easier than realizing "Holy f**k! My own parents GAVE ME AWAY and they gave me to complete strangers. I should have had a different name, grown up in a different family and most likely in a different city. I have lived the wrong life."

      You see, I am f**king pissed I was given up for adoption. As someone who has been coming to this blog for several years, I get the impression that 99% (at least) of the ladies who comment here, and certainly our bloggers, would have made wonderful parents. As far as I can tell there is nothing wrong with any of you. Just like there was nothing wrong with my own natural mother. I'm pissed.

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