Yet unlike other natural mothers, I never considered therapy. Losing my daughter was something I had to get over by gritting my teeth and trying to forget. A few days after my daughter was born in San Francisco in 1966, my social worker suggested that I find a job. Through a temporary agency I got a job within a month at Blue Cross to assist in Medicaid fraud investigations. I tallied procedures as a nurse read them off from bills doctors had submitted.
In the weeks after her birth, I thought of my daughter, but more often I looked backwards, fixated on where I had gone wrong. Why did this happen? I pondered, trying unsuccessfully to explain myself to myself.
One day as I was taking the bus to work from the rundown apartment hotel where I lived, I looked out the window, trying to figure out why the bus was going so slow. Cars clogged the road, and I noticed each held only one person, a white male at the wheel. The bus passengers were almost exclusively women and people of color. It became absolutely clear to me that day on the bus that white men had the money and the power, and that women could never control their own lives until they had an equal place in society. Like the men at the wheel in control of their cars, the father of my baby had control over whether I could raise my child. When he decided not to marry me, I had to give up my baby so that neither she nor I would face the slings and arrows of a condemning society. Although I had a college degree, as a woman, I was employable only at jobs which barely paid enough to support me.
LAW SCHOOL ON MY MIND
A few days later, I received a Christmas card from my sister, Lucy, who lived in Orange County, California. I arranged a visit and left San Francisco in the middle of January, heading south on a Greyhound bus. I spent the next eight months with my sister and her husband. I did not tell them why I had been in San Francisco. She assumed I went there like other young people because then, was THE place to be then.
My sister and I did have long conversations about family, current events, movies, school, everything--all of which took my mind off the past and helped me think about the future. While I had fantasized about going to law school over the years, it had seemed like an unattainable goal. The women lawyers I knew had been discouraging, perhaps unintentionally; law school was demanding and jobs were difficult to obtain. I remember a college classmate telling me that if you got to law school, people will think you're a lesbian and you will never find a husband. Now I considered that if the best I could do was ride a bus to a minimum wage job, I was at about as low as I could be. I had nothing, no job, no husband, no baby, what did I have to lose by trying? I became determined to go to law school.
In September, 1967, I took a Greyhound bus north to Eugene, Oregon and the University of Oregon School Law. I was one of five women in my entering class of 80 plus students. I burned my way through school, graduating first in my class. I had had little interest in dating after I lost my daughter, but this changed when I met my future husband within a few weeks of enrolling--so much for the college classmate's warning! We married in the middle of my second year, I told him about my daughter the night we married, and we celebrated our 47th anniversary this past New Year's Eve.
After graduation, I worked in a small law office. Among my cases, I represented people under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I joined NOW and the Oregon Women's Political Caucus. Later I became the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer for the State of Oregon. I worked tirelessly for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and for equal employment opportunity for women. Arguing with opponents of the ERA was like arguing with opponents of opening records, so convinced they are of the old adage, Woman, thy name is frailty. During this time, I had three more daughters.
|Barbara Jordan with Bella Abzug and Rosalynn Carter|
FEMINISTS IGNORE ADOPTION LOSS
Adoption reform was not on the agenda. When feminists did discuss adoption, it was only to state how tragic it was that women did not have access to safe, legal abortions. I was an early subscriber to MS.--Gloria Steinem was one of its founders--but the only article I recall seeing on adoption was "Adoption Runs in My Family," a positive take on adoption by an adoptee. I wrote a letter to the editor, pointing out the pain natural mothers suffer and arguing that feminists should support single mothers in keeping their babies. I received a form letter by return mail. I am not buying Gloria Steinem's recent autobiography.*
During this time, the 1970's and 80's, natural mothers like Lorraine and adoptees on the East Coast were writing and speaking out about adoption loss and the need to know their lost children, or the adoptees' absent mothers. I was working full time and never watched daytime TV; with three children I had little time for TV in the evenings. I barely had time to read newspapers. I knew nothing about the memoirs penned by mothers and adoptees; I never heard of ALMA, CUB, or AAC.** I knew little of this new frontier in civil rights, and I never mentioned my lost daughter to anyone.
|Jane (in the middle) at the WA capitol, Olympia, in 2013|
Since my reunion I have participated in support groups and met many natural mothers which has been invaluable in coming to terms with Rebecca's adoption. Activism has been another form of therapy. I am happier lighting candles moving forward than looking back, cursing the darkness.--jane
* Lorraine here: When Jane was writing her letter to MS., I was already frustrated by the editors' lack of interest in what happens to women after they give up a child--or the impact of sealed birth records. I'd proposed pieces about our adoption issues over the years but never got anywhere; yet Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmopolitan immediately was interested in 1973 (!), and that is why my first piece on adoption appeared there. While MS. would run articles on blue-collar women's low wages (true), the editors (largely from good women's schools and their ilk) did not want to know about the messy lives of women who were stupid enough to get into "trouble" and did not have the wherewithal to have an abortion. Gurley Brown did not go to a "good" school; and she empathized with us.
**Adoptees Liberation Movement Association, Concerned United Birthparents, American Adoption Congress. Learning of ALMA, which means "soul" in Spanish, struck a chord, as I remembered how that was what I focused on shortly after my first daughter was born.
The enduring pain of adoption loss
When you give up a child...
The Equal Rights Amendment: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex."
National Women's Conference
Lost Daughters: Writing Adoption From a Place of Empowerment and Peace
"Lost Daughters Anthology is a tough book for mothers who relinquished to read because whatever we may have told ourselves about the “good” reasons to let our children be adopted, these poignant, sad, moving essays belie that with the sheer force of a body blow. I found myself with tears in my eyes as soon as I started reading, and they didn’t totally dry up until long after the last page. Taken in one gulp these writers remind us that being adopted is the singular aspect of their lives out of which everything else flows—just as it is the opposite side of the coin is for first mothers like myself: birthdays, family trees, motherhood, familiar traits, loss."--Lorraine from her review
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