' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: An impossibly simple thing

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An impossibly simple thing

In August, my surrendered daughter Megan asked me not to send her four children birthday presents although I had been sending them for over 10 years.

I let pass Aaron’s 10th birthday in September and Rachael’s 20th birthday in October without even a card. I ignored Megan’s birthday in November.

Now Christmas is coming. I'm thinking Megan’s insistence that I not send her children birthday presents may not include Christmas presents. I realize I’m parsing her words, thinking like the attorney I am.

Lorraine passed on to me a column by Philip Galanes of the NY Times with advice to an aunt who is in a legal dispute with her family. She wanted to send Christmas presents to her nephews. Galanes told her “there’s no reason for the boys to suffer because their parents and favorite auntie are so pigheaded they can’t resolve a simple disagreement. … Mail the presents with a polite note to the parents telling them that you miss the boys and hope they’ll pass your gifts on to them in the spirit of the holidays. Be prepared for the packages to be returned, unopened.”

It’s not that simple. The woman who wrote Galanes was certainly the children’s aunt; Megan made clear from the outset that I was not her children’s grandmother, a status reserved for her adoptive mother and mother-in-law.

I could ask permission to send Christmas presents but I don’t want to appear weak or pleading. I could send presents without permission. Rachael, at least, is an adult and can receive presents without her mother’s permission. (There’s the lawyer in me again.) But that’s putting Rachael and the other children into the middle of whatever it is that has upset Megan.

I wish I had a more relaxed and open relationship with Megan like I have with my three raised daughters. Although we have had some good conversations about movies, religion, politics, communication can be stressful. I strategize on what to write or say, walking the line between being direct and subtle, emotional and cold, familiar and distant.

I’ve read a great many adoptee memoirs and I see myself in the descriptions of their birthmothers. We are supplicants, seeking forgiveness, walking on eggshells trying to appease our children.

The adoptees’ memoirs are filled with unresolved bitterness and anger towards their birthmothers. They seek out faults perhaps to assure themselves that their adoption was “for the best.” It seems that just about anything can be perceived as a slight worthy of cutting off communication.

I dislike this situation which keeps me from performing simple, kind gestures.

I think I’ll go watch television, perhaps a “Law and Order” re-run and try to take my mind off the whole thing. I’ll pretend Megan, Rachael, the whole pack of them don’t exist.

Hi, Lorraine here – Though my daughter and I had a mostly good relationship for a quarter of a century, a few Christmases passed when she had cut off communication, and we did not even exchange the simplest greetings, let along presents. I would have to shrug it off, just like Jane says, and move on. We birthmothers feel sometimes you are damned if you do (send a present to the grandchildren) and damned if you don’t (same thing).

Giving up a child for adoption is the hurt that goes on giving.


  1. This will not solve the primary problem, but will remedy any secondary effects:

    Just buy them savings bonds online. You can mail them a little card or something, [have the bonds mailed to YOUR house]. Their mother cannot withhold it from them. When they are grown, you can give them directly to them. They will realize that Grandma L didn't forget or neglect them.

    Just a suggestion,
    Lisa Kay

  2. Thanks Lisa for your suggestion...it's a good one.

  3. Is it possible to continue your relationship with your grandkids by taking on an identity other than grandmother? I'm reminded of Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire. Not that you'd pretend to be anyone other than yourself, but to allay your daughter's concerns, whatever they are, by naming yourself something else.

  4. I strategize on what to write or say, walking the line between being direct and subtle, emotional and cold, familiar and distant.

    Jane, This seems to me the thrust of this post. Doesn't matter if it's presents or cards or phone calls... we are always wondering if we're doing enough, too much, coming off wrong or just right.

    As Lorraine says, adoption just keeps on giving...

    Even though I don't write specifically about adoption anymore (my blog became one of those things that I worried might bite me in the butt with my son someday), I follow my favorite adoption blogs closely. Keep it up.

  5. You know, Denise, you hit it on the head for me. My son and I have just "found" one another. My family and his wife know, and are happy for us. Right now, we just email every few days. But I fear what he will think when he knows what an angry and insane life I had after having my son torn from me. The wonderful parents who raised him paid folks alot of money to destroy a young life; mine. But he is a wonderful fellow, and they did that, too. The worst time in my life has become a blessing, but now has returned to fear. He wants to "be compassionate", and I want to erase the part of my life that left the hospital without him. Will he read this, or other letters like this and hate me?



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