|First weekend Lorraine and daughter met|
Adoptees fear searching because they were schooled in the thought that their birth mothers (who are mothers for all of their lives, not just at "birth") have put the child they gave up "behind them" and made those "new lives" for themselves they were urged to make. They might have been told by their adoptive parents or friends or relatives that contact by their child would just open old wounds.
The adoptee hears: Maybe they have never mentioned the lost child again to their brothers or friends. Maybe the family out of deep shame is united in their silence and secrecy and they have never brought up the child who lingers in the dark family closet. Maybe they deserve their "privacy" if that is their wish. (Bollocks to that, by the way, but that's another issue.) So the adoptee is left thinking: Maybe maybe maybe I shouldn't search--even she desperately wants to.
And what if you do search--and find that the person doesn't want to bring you into her or his life?
Against all those odds, deciding to take the first step and begin a search is fraught with anxiety and emotion. Expect it to be. I don't know the exact moment I made the decision to search, because I always knew that I would, even as I was signing the consent papers that day in the spring of 1966. I certainly did not share my thoughts with my social worker, because she insisted that I had to get the idea that I would ever know my daughter out of my mind. My social worker, Helen Mura at Rochester's Hillside Terrace (not of whiff of what the place really was in its name), knew how ambivalent I was, how troubled I was over relinquishing my baby. I was a mess.
LOOKING THROUGH A FENCE
So while Mrs. Mura is repeating this adoption-is-forever-and-you-are-gone-forever line to me, in my head I'm seeing myself in a movie looking at a child, a girl child naturally, in the school yard through a chain link fence. Did I know then and there I would find her? I was too afraid to think that. Too afraid that it wouldn't come true. Life is way too iffy for anything other than a qualified maybe.
Time passed. By the time my daughter was eleven or twelve, I began writing to the agency asking did they know anything, can they tell me anything and by the way, I haven't forgotten or "gotten on with my life" without her in it, did she need me? In fact, she did, as her doctor at the same time wrote to the agency trying to find out more about me because my daughter was having frequent and serious life-altering seizures. I would later learn the doctor's letter was never even answered; I got answers, in time, to all three letters I wrote to the agency, each time from a different person. As far as the agency was concerned, the girl in question was "fine and happy" with her new family.
She wasn't fine at all. Happy? Not on your life.
|A few years later, 1983|
But the idea of searching was a fire that never went out. I read about Florence Fisher, and soon met her. I joined the organization she started, the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association, or ALMA. Once Florence decided I was not a nut job intent on somehow getting my daughter back (whatever that meant), she quietly suggested I write the state and ask for my daughter's birth certificate. Maybe, just maybe, someone would not be paying attention and mail me my daughter's new and amended birth certificate that would contain her new parents' names. It had happened, and in fact, did happen to another mother I met at ALMA. However, I got a letter telling me that that person I was searching for did not exist.
BUT WHEN WOULD I BEGIN THE SEARCH?
Yet through acquaintances at ALMA I heard of a searcher who, for a fee, could possibly find my daughter. It was all hush-hush because Florence's official rule was that natural/birth mothers should not search until the child was of age, that is 18; and adoptees under 18 also got no help from ALMA, though I saw no young adoptees at the Saturday morning monthly meetings.
But I knew by this time that I would search. It was all a matter of when. Yet I was afraid: what if she rejected me? What if...her parents called the police? What if....When you are dickering with the fearful unknown you can come up with a lot of what ifs....
I wrote Birthmark and put in enough of the actual data about my daughter's birth so that if her parents read the book, they would figure out their daughter was also my daughter and they would call and we would all live happily ever after. I was on national television and did a book tour across the country with a lot of media appearances, and every time I tried to say the relevant facts that would mean something to anyone who knew an adoptee born April 5, 1966 in upstate New York.
But none of this yielded up my daughter. So two years later, I set the wheels in motion and I got her name and address, and learned that in fact, the searcher had already located her using the clues in Birthmark. I phoned, spoke to both of her parents, and then her, and I was in their home less than a week later.
I wish I could write "and we lived happily ever after" but adoptee/birth mother reunions often don't run that course. My daughter and I could not go back and erase the trauma that her adoption meant to both of us. As the mother, that is what we want--that we will meet our children and they will be glad to meet us, and the relationship will begin anew with mutual understanding and possibly, even the kinds of unconscious connection that blood kin often feel. But the relationship between birth mother and adoptee after reunion is so much more complicated.
Do not doubt it, coming face to face with your child all these years later will open a gusher of emotion. Feelings of sorrow and unresolved grief that have been buried under layers of time and acceptance come roaring out. Once you are confronted with your child--whatever the age--you are likely to be emotionally thrown back to the time of birth and relinquishment. Expect a whirlwind of raw emotion, even as you are thrilled and happy you have reconnected. Even if you do not consciously dwell on the days of birth and relinquishment (I did not), your unconscious has a way of sneaking back there and zapping you.
EMOTIONAL BASKETCASE AFTER SHE LEFT
I didn't realize this was happening to me--I was mostly euphoric that I had found my daughter and she had not rejected me out of hand. Yet my husband noticed that I was coming undone, and would later tell me that after she left our house after one of her extended visits over the next couple of years I was an emotional basket case. As she was growing up in Wisconsin, and we lived on Long Island in New York, our visits were not casual events. Once we saw each other, we both knew it would be months, or a year, before there was another meeting.
But while my daughter had prepared her parents with the knowledge that she wanted to find me--and so the way for me was paved--no one considering searching can know what kind of reception they will find. If an adoptee is still living at home, or under age, you may find they are not receptive, and in fact, fearful and resentful of your intrusion. They are likely to be telling you what they are hearing from their adoptive parents. They may have been so schooled in the idea that even expressing a desire to know one's biological kin is a betrayal to their adoptive parents that they cannot accept you coming back. They may think that being receptive to a first mother's entreaties is being disloyal to the parents who raised them. Those motives for rejection may not even be conscious, and they may simply say: Not interested. Send me your health history, goodbye. They may have incorporated the idea that they will never ever know who they came from into their very being, and may simply reject any change in that.
As a first mother, the main thing to understand is that just as you will be opened up emotionally, so will the found son or daughter. I don't know which party has it harder, but from what I've read and heard, adoptees can become so undone that while they agree to an initial first meeting and that seems to go well, the feelings opened up may cause them to recoil and go away. Conscious feelings of what if she had raised me burble up to the surface. The question of Who Am I? and Who would I be today? can cause a huge conflict, and the overall effect is to make the found adoptee recoil.
While the questions of what if are just as real for the first mothers, they are different. Would I have the life I have today if I had kept her? Probably not. How is the rest of the family who knew about her when she was born going to react? What about the parents--grandparents to the adoptee--who were instrumental in insisting that the child be given up? How will my other (kept) children react? If a woman hasn't told them, or even her husband, facing them and admitting that she is not exactly the person they thought she was (she has been lying by omission, in fact) is a hard reality to swallow--and act upon. And all of this is cloaked in a heavy layer of guilt for not having kept the child close and protected, especially if the adoptee has a story of woe and travail and a less than ideal childhood.
Consequently, just as adoptees recoil and retreat, so do some first mothers. They meet their relinquished child, and everything seems fine, and then they too can't handle the rush of emotions--or telling those who do not know--and retreat back into the comfort zone of silence.
HOPE FOR THE BEST, BUT PREPARE FOR DIFFICULTY
Once you--first mother or relinquished child--decide to search, you must be prepared to be rejected. I have no magic bullet to tell you how do that. I'm telling you this, but of course everyone searches with the hope that it will all turn out well. As a mother, if there is a pressing medical need to pass on heath history, that may compel you to search.
One last point: if the idea of searching is nagging at you and won't go away, take the plunge and do it. At the end of your life, what would you rather have: the knowledge that you tried, or the reality that fear kept you from acting on the impulse to search? No matter that my relationship with my daughter had its numerous highs and lows--as did my relationship with my own mother--never for a second did I doubt that I had made the right decision in finding her. And, I think, neither did she ever think otherwise, and certainly not near the end of her life.--lorraine
Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents,and Adoptive...by Jean Strauss
"An adoptee offers compassionate and comprehensive guidance to locating "adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents." Strauss proceeds from the view that seeking reunion with relatives estranged by adoption is a good thing, and she marshals impressive reasoning and evidence to support her case. She discusses the laws that make adoption records confidential in the introduction and thereby sets the stage for the search strategies that follow. As Strauss points out, the history of adoption is neither simple nor consistent, and the nature of adoption today is very different from what it was when present adoption laws were enacted. The more a searcher understands the nature of adoption practices and laws, she says, the more likely his or her search is to succeed."--Booklist