|Daughter Jane and Lorraine, circa 1992|
It's only a mile away, but even moving next door means going through the collection of a life and deciding what to take, what to discard, what is worth taking, what is not, what you cannot live without, what you no longer want to live with. It's time consuming and somewhat emotional. My husband and I are both collectors of a sort--he has 5,000 books and he's getting rid of about a thousand; I've collected various sets of dishes and odd plates and platters that I like, as well as antique butterfly wing trays from Rio, and they are going to go!
We are moving from an Arts and Crafts house built in 1930 to a modern house built in 1990. And I want our new life to reflect the change. I'm going on here more than I meant but this is a way of saying that for the next couple of months (the move itself is in May), I won't have much time for writing. Jane will undoubtedly post now and then, but she too is busy with her life. While this is going on, I will publish excerpts of my memoir, hole in my heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption. The spacing will follow how it reads on the book page. This is the first section, not a forward, but "A Few Words about Language":
“They call me ‘biological mother.’
I hate those words. They make me sound like a baby machine, a conduit,
without emotions. They tell me to forget and go out and make a new life.
I had a baby and I gave her away. But I am a mother.”
Those words are from my memoir Birthmark, and are the most quoted
language in the book. At the time of publication in 1979, the debate over what to
call women who relinquished children was just beginning. Before that, we were
But that term was thought to be offensive to adoptive parents and “birth
mother” came into wide usage among those who wrote about adoption loss and
reunion, and even, some mothers themselves. Concerned United Birthparents
(CUB) had already embraced the term in its name, using the conjoined word
Yet not all of us to whom the term applies have been comfortable with this,
as the term subtly but surely implies that we are there only for the act of giving
birth, and then gone. Another group uses “first mother,” which is offensive to some
adoptive parents. Today we are not supposed to “give up” our children, but “make
an adoption plan,” a phrase that totally obfuscates the emotional crisis that
precedes any relinquishment. Some mothers will only say they “surrendered” their
children, implying they were overcome by forces they could not withstand. I
relinquished, surrendered, and gave up, but I no more made a “plan” than a person
who falls overboard from an ocean liner makes a plan to swim to the life preserver
thrown to her. The language issue on many points is so heated that one can find hundreds of scholarly and popular articles on the internet about “positive adoption language,” lists of what is approved, and what is considered “negative adoption language.” The number of words written about adoption language itself is testament to the intensity of feelings on the subject.
But mothers who relinquished their children have never been consulted
about these lists.
The phrase “real mother” as in, “Are you ever going to search for your real mother?”—which comes out of mouths of many not schooled in adoption-industry lingo—drives most adoptive parents around the bend, yet people being people use it and know what it means, and they also know that the adoptive parents are the ones who do the day-to-day mothering. Both women who give up their children and the women who raise them are real mothers. Different, but both real mothers.
I never have been happy with either “birth” or “first” as a term describing
who I am, though I have had to use those phrases for writing on the internet. Nor
have I adopted in my writing the other phrases endorsed by the adoption industry
and attendant social workers, as all were designed to make a mother and child loss
of each other seem simple, unemotional, clean and done, once a child is handed
over. Nothing could be farther from reality.
When possible, I have avoided the use of a modifier before mother unless
clarity demanded it, or I was quoting someone else, and generally used other and
natural. Birth of course remains when in a quotation or research paper.
But modifiers other than natural shut us up in a delineated time frame:
between conception and birth, then ipso facto: Gone. No matter the conflicted
feelings I had when I first learned of her existence, I gave birth to my baby and
once she was born I became her mother, a fact that a mere signature on a surrender
paper, and the adoption that followed, can never undo.
I had a baby and I gave her away. But I am a mother.--lorraine