Case in point: Last night we met the couple who own the house behind us. Our properties are divided by a hedge. They've owned the house for several years but largely rent it out, and use it only sporadically. They rented it last winter, will be there through the end of June, but good friends of ours will be occupying it for July and August. That's life when you live an a resort area.
So after years of nearly no communication, they sent us a note about a communal large oak tree on our property line and last night they ended up in our back yard for drinks, arriving through a break in the hedge between our houses. We knew nearly nothing about each other. They are academics. They have written books. Etc.
We are chatting along pleasantly enough and the four of us are revealing bits about our selves--the wife's difficulty in getting tenure (she got it), the husband's book about China, my husband's and my backgrounds (including books we have written)--and at some point the woman asks if we have children.... We are all old enough so that there have been no signs of young kids or teenagers about.
My husband Tony offers that he has two, and that I had one (the fact that I had a previous husband had already been mentioned) and when we married it was clear that we were not going to have more children. End of story.
I do not jump in to explain further, adding the kicker: Yes, but I had a daughter but gave her up for adoption, and Yes, we reunited...but she died. You know saying any of that is going to take up all the oxygen in the room, shift the mood, cause a mental OMG on their part. I was not ready for that, nor did I want to be the focus of such an intense conversation. I passed.
It was nothing about them that made me hold back, but I didn't want that part of my life to surely lay a solemn layer of gravity on the pleasant getting-to-know-you conversation. So when the four of us talked about our careers, I simply left out the central fact of my life, and unquestioningly my professional life too, especially in the last several years. I mentioned other books I'd written, the magazines where I'd been an editor.
No big moral to be gained here today. Sometimes I tell people the facts of my child when it feels right--it's just a feeling I have, to tell or to hold back. If my memoir was about a new language program I had devised (as their winter renter apparently did), I surely would have told that. But our stories--mother or adoptee--are tragic and the heart instinctively understands.
Knowing how my reveal last night--even when we were talking about books we have written--would have shifted the mood so dramatically down, I made the choice to let the pleasantries continue. The morning I mentioned to Tony that I consciously made the choice last night to say nothing when we were talking about our lives, and he said he was glad I did. There are times when it is just better not to be the center of attention and focus, and let the mood stay on an even keel.
If I get to know them better, or maybe if someday I am just talking to the wife, I will of course tell her my story. I am certainly not hiding it. Not every moment of our lives has to be teaching moment. Last night just wasn't one of those moments.--lorraine
I'm interested in hearing about your experiences telling or not telling people, whether you are a first mother or adoptee.
FROM FMF (you might also enjoy)
The awful legacy of adoption
Philomena: A forced adoption, a lifetime quest, a longing that never waned
Birthmothers: Women Who Have Relinquished Babies for Adoption Tell Their Stories
By Mary Bloch Jones
This book came out in 1993 and was written by a woman who seemingly had no connection to adoption, but she had an understanding heart. I read it when it came out and was struck by how much the Ms. Jones "got" about our stories, our heartbreak, our lives. One passage she wrote always stayed with me, and I ended up quoting the last part of it in Hole In My Heart:
"As I explained, repeatedly, that I had no connection to adoption, no affiliation with and 'side' or interest group, no ax to grind, I began to realize that, to birthmothers, relinquishment was, more than merely a life-altering turning point. For most, it was an invisible barrier separating them from the bulk of humanity."
Today is just one of those days. I'm worried about finances, and I've been stressed out, and just seeing that thought brought tears to my eyes. ...invisible barrier separating us from the bulk of humanity.