' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Silver Linings come to this first mother

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Silver Linings come to this first mother

Dear Readers:
Lorraine
Ten days ago my husband Tony and I were in Marquette, Michigan for a granddaughter's graduation from Northern Michigan University. First, I'll get the bragging out of the way: Granddaughter Britt was magna cum laude, with an added plus: the Secondary Teacher Education Award. Her name will be on a permanent plaque at the school.

You can imagine the pride I felt. Well, it wasn't just pride, because there were moments during the graduation I couldn't help think back of...where I came from in this journey to get there. Losing her mother to adoption in 1966. YEARS of feeling devastated and desolate, wondering if I could ever climb out of this deep dark hole in my life, my heart, my soul. Giving up a child to adoption is something you never ever get over, not really, but there my husband and I were, in far northern Michigan, nearly as far North in the state as you can go, on the shores of Lake Superior, watching my daughter's tall, lovely blonde daughter graduate from college. And I've known her since the beginning.

Graduation: Britt and Lorraine (no animals were killed for coat)
It was overwhelming, and you know me, my emotions are on my skin, and both Tony and I had tears when her name was called and she walked across the stage. Because she was on the honors list, we were in seats reserved for family of honors grads, and we got the last two seats in the front row. That meant as she turned a corner and looked at the crowd, she found our mad waving and she smiled and waved back. Also present was her stepdad, her boyfriend, and a friend. The commencement speech by a colonel was short and excellent (first piece of advice: get a passport and travel!), the college orchestra played wonderfully and the graduates were led in by a bagpiper. Her adoptive parents were in Arizona and as her adoptive grandmother has Alzheimer's, they were not able to make the trip. Britt had made it clear our presence was not open to debate, but necessary and required, a fact that by itself was balm to the heart.

We all had dinner the night before, after the award ceremony, and had lunch together after the graduation. Then she and I went shopping for her Christmas present (clothes, a new outfit for a party she was going to that night), before she and I had an hour alone at a Starbucks. I will admit that when I published Hole In My HearI was nervous not knowing how Britt would react, but the memoir had the effect of opening doors for us, and we have been much closer than we had been before. She said: Now I understood so much of what happened. Having the book forge a stronger relationship with this granddaughter has been the greatest gift, something I could never have predicted.

A let up during the rain. 
The next day Tony and I drove from the Upper Peninsula in sometimes blinding rain and thick fog, going at times 80 miles an hour to not get caught in the spray of the car ahead of us, which pretty much obscured the view. 

We drove over 400 miles to Saginaw, where I'd lived for six months and worked on The Saginaw News, my first job on a daily newspaper, my first job out of college. A half century later, Saginaw is much changed, It's lost its raw vibrancy, the restaurants were few and far between--and mostly closed on Sunday in December. The great yellow brick mansion on Mansion Row I'd once had an apartment in had been torn down and replaced with modern office buildings. After six months in Saginaw I got a better job on the metro staff of The Democrat & Chronicle and moved to Rochester, New York where promptly I met and fell in love with the political columnist  who would be the father of my daughter, Britt's mother. 

Fuzzy's restaurant in Saginaw--a time warp with homemade soup on a foggy day
Before the trip North, Tony and I had dinner with my alternate universe daughter, Jennifer, and her husband in Detroit. The next day I was interviewed by Cynthia Canty for Michigan NPR in Ann Arbor--the interview was on point and not condemning--Cynthia is an adoptee herself. She didn't mention that during the interview, but she has in others so I'm not revealing anything here she hasn't talked about herself on the air. The interview won't be aired until sometime after the new year, and it will be live streamed. Then it was off to Washtenaw County Catholic Social Services, by way of Map Quest (directions not quite, er, A+), where members of their adoption support group were waiting, along with the staff who deal with adoption. That was a great experience, as I met not only adoptees and other first birth mothers, but also adoptive parents (mother and father) and one of their children--now Facebook friends. 


Elly Falit, the pregnancy and adoption manager, could not have been more welcoming, and weirdly enough, she and I feel as if we have made a new friend--even though we are several states apart. We had emailed a number of times before and since, and so that implements the feeling. One of the first mothers who came told me as she was leaving that she came out of the closet this way: She worked at a fabric store, and a woman came in to buy cloth to make a remembrance quilt for the brother that she would never know--because he had been adopted. The mother said, Well, at the very moment, I just decided enough was enough and told her I was a birth mother. It was so good not to keep the secret any longer. What a wonderful comment that was to hear. If I have been a part of helping mothers come out of the closet, I will have done my job.

What I did learn was that "birth mother" is the linga franca there, and that no one had considered that saying "thank you" to a mother at reunion might be hurtful. It's a private call, but I did say I was glad my daughter had never said "thank you," but was more sage and honestly angry! about my not finding a way to keep her.

Incidentally, the Washtenaw County agency ONLY does open adoptions--unless the mother absolutely wants it closed--to the point of there being no record at all as per Safe Haven law in Michigan. Though we hate that Safe Haven laws seem to approve of mothers leaving their children with no record, they are the law and it's undoubtedly better to leave a child at an agency than on the steps somewhere--or in a public bathroom. But here they will do no closed adoptions at the request of the adoptive parents--only the natural mother. And the adoptions are fully open--everybody meets, and knows how to stay in contact. Wow, I thought, if all the adoption agencies in the country were like this, the world would be a better place.

Especially I thought of New Jersey, where the male executive director of the Catholic Conference, Patrick Brannigan, issued a statement that the media and all those involved in adoption have a "moral obligation" to publicize that state's new law--whereby adoptees will be able to obtain their original birth certificates come January 2017--so that birth mothers in the closet who wish to redact their names it will be able to. Personally, I'd like to swipe Brannigan's biological history clean and leave him wondering all his days who he came from to give him a taste of what adoptees go through.

Before we left Ann Arbor we managed to get a parking ticket for a space we had paid for during the time of the ticket. I got an actual receipt from the machine that took our money, and sent that in with the ticket and managed to get it excused. Silver linings all around, one might say.

Years ago when I wept through "Silent Night" at Christmas mass when I still hadn't told my mother about my daughter, I never could have believed all this would be possible. I'll try to write again before Christmas, as I know it is a hard time for so many of us, first mothers and adoptees. In other news, Yvonne, adoption nemesis and yet my friend and about whom I'd written about before, died and...well, that is a story for another day.--lorraine

For Tony's take on the trip: 

INTO THE AMERICAN WILDERNESS

_______________________
THANK YOUR FOR ORDERING ANYTHING THROUGH FIRST MOTHER FORUM. Just click on a link to amazon or the stores int he sidebar and order away--anything! It all helps.

Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption

"As an adult adoptee who has attempted, but failed to find and reunite with my birth mother and half siblings I felt that I had almost gone through that process by reading Lorraine's book. She covers every issue that an adoptee has to consider. Many of these issues are extremely painful but because of Lorranine's clear and honest prose the issues can be processed. This book was therapeutic for me and I highly recommend it to any adult adoptee. Read it you will [be] better!"--Lori Marsden at Amazon. 


15 comments :

  1. Your granddaughter is a treasure. So happy for you that you have this bond with her.

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  2. Congratulations to your granddaughter! You must be very proud! How wonderful that you know her and have such a great relationship. I love your blog!

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  3. This is a wonderful postlude to your heroic yet heartbreaking story. I lost my oldest son to adoption. We are in reunion and he loves me very much. But he is still 'grateful' for the adoption, perhaps because those are all the messages that he has gotten about how to respond. It's very obvious that he has trouble coming to grips with his OWN feelings and not always performing for others. He has had severe addiction problems over the years and even spent a considerable amount of time homeless. The research tells us that adoptees are 4 times more likely to suffer from addiction. He has been sober for the past two years and working diligently, but is still grateful. It breaks my heart.

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    1. Understanding what effect adoption had on you is just so difficult for an adoptee. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life, which I would attribute to a classic case of 'anxious attachment' as a child and also a highly sensitive personality that was not a very good temperamental fit with my aparents. As was usual in 1970, I was in foster care for the first three months, and was unable to hold eye contact and almost never cried (presumably because I had given up on anyone responding) by the time my aparents got me. Because you know, blank slate, infants feel nothing, etc...I don't know how they justified such a practice, but anyway...Though I often felt filled with paralyzing and global fear (unconnected to anything in particular) as a child, I never thought of my birthparents or longed for them or even thought of adoption or being adopted at all. It was not until I was in reunion and read all the adoption stuff that I saw my pattern was quite common. Its not something an adoptee would think of on their own because its really not part of your conscious thinking, it has no literal content about being adopted in it. ...While first in reunion I had no issues at all with 'anger' and felt nothing about being adopted, but as time goes on, I find it hard to contain my anger and hurt. Though I try.

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  4. What a beautiful story! Congratulations to you, and also you deserve to brag about your granddaughter, what an accomplishment. Happy for you that you were able to share that time with her on that special milestone of her life.
    Sorry to read about your friend/adoption nemesis, Yvonne, passing. I am currently in the middle of reading your book, 'hole in my heart' and it is very good. Not sure if reading it here at the holidays is such a great idea, but actually it is really helping. It seems that 'adoption' is starting to make some positive changes...the Washtenaw County agency's open adoption stance. Hope this continues as more First mothers and Adoptees speak out. These are silver linings for sure.

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  5. Congratulations to your granddaughter on her graduation. So happy that you both have a strong connection.

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  6. Thank heavens you found your daughter. It breaks my heart to think that you might have never even known that you had grandchildren or known anything about their lives. We all deserve to know this about our closest blood kin. Who did come up with this insane system of fully closed adoption?

    Btw, did anyone there know right away that you were related? Perhaps by saying something to you like, "You must be Britt's grandmother?"

    Thanks for sharing this lovely and heartwarming story.

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    1. Robin:

      I was just the grandmother. No one doubted anything--why would they? The APs do not look like her at all. And no one knew the story...of this or that except her friends. When I met her art history professor (her minor) in August, Britt simply introduced me as her grandmother. Between us, there is no need for a filter. That dissipated after I "opened" my adoption by finding my daughter at 15, and her parents welcomed me into their lives.

      I would have to say that no one seeing Britt and I shopping or sitting at Starbucks--talking about adoption, talking about the app for learning French on her phone, about where the job she hopes to get next semester, about going to Wisconsin for Christmas...about her mother's suicide (which we did in August) would be likely to have any doubt how we were related. Same was true when I was with my daughter, though I saw a strong resemblance to her father.

      As a point of interest, Howard Schultz, the CEO and founder of Starbucks, graduated from Northern Michigan U. So there is a Starbucks in the school library.

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  7. I completed my MSW internship at Washtenaw County Catholic Charities a decade ago and remain so appreciative of all I gained from my time in that office. It's wonderful to hear that the post adoption group is still going strong; I appreciated Elly's work facilitating the group and am so glad to know that she manages the adoption program. If adoption has to exist, this agency is going about it in the most ethical way possible.

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  8. Thank you, Lorraine and DallasJenn (I remember you, a wonderful MSW intern!)for your kind words about CSSW's open adoption program. We are very proud of the work we do here. "Birthmark" & "Hole in My Heart" are important books for anyone working in adoption or pregnancy counseling, and meeting Lorraine has been a true pleasure.

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  9. Congratulations to your Granddaughter, Lorraine!!
    And from the previous page thread - yes, my daughter said "It was God's plan that she was adopted"... :(

    Merry Christmas everyone!! :)

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  10. I can only imagine how it felt to watch your granddaughter graduate earlier this month. Yours has certainly been a circuitous route to "Proud Grandmother."

    I like the commencement speaker's advice.

    Noting Yvonne's transition. Godspeed to her.

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  11. Your description conveyed your pride and happiness so much that I could almost picture being there! Congratulations to your granddaughter! So happy for you Lorraine!

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  12. Lorraine, I saw the photo of your granddaughter's graduation ceremony the other night on Facebook. I have to say that it made my heart sing. Love you, my friend.

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    1. Thank you, Raven. It was quite a trip in many ways. Her very thoughtful Christmas gifts for me and Tony arrived today.

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