' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Merry Christmas to us ALL

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas to us ALL

Rockefeller Center, 2008

In my local weekly newspaper, the Sag Harbor Express, the Inquiring Photographer asked the question: What would you like for Christmas this year?

One woman wanted her children to be with her; a man wanted good news on the wars in the Middle East and the situation in Africa...and the third person, a woman--smiling broadly--says: "I already have what I want...I adopted a beautiful child two days ago, and what else could I ask for?"

Who is the child, where is he or she from, where is the mother, I wondered. This will not be her happiest Christmas. She is having the worst Christmas of all.

Ah Christmas...the cruelest season, the saddest time, the loneliest day for those separated by adoption. My life seems to have been separated into three kinds of Christmases: those before I had my daughter and surrendered her; the fifteen years when I did not know where she was; and those after I found her. Actually, there is a subset there because there were a couple of Christmases when we were not in touch, when she had pulled back for one reason or another. Some of those, for reasons I can not discern, were worse than others.

But although we never actually spent Christmas Day together (often she would fly to New York the day after Christmas) once I knew where she was, and how she was, my peace of mind was enormous. I could listen to the tremulous notes of "Silent Night" without the lump in my chest feeling as if it were going to explode, right then and there in church. Now I get merely get tears in my eyes. This year I'm getting cards and emails from people referring obliquely to the one-year anniversary of my daughter's suicide and adding that this must be a difficult time for me. How to say this: Yes, it's hard, but not as hard as the Christmases when I did not know where she was: when we were separated by adoption.

Strike you as odd? Unfeeling? Adoption is always in the present in the mind of the mother. There is no past, no getting over the hard part and moving on, because somewhere there is a child with your DNA and all you feel is the loss.

In the present.

Oh, perhaps the second year after surrender is not as bad as the first, but I'm not even sure about that. All I know is that while I miss Jane terribly--I miss emailing her, talking about what we were going to make for dinner, discussing politics, what we were doing that evening, next week, where we were going, how our respective work was coming along, how she was doing in school herself, how my granddaughter was, the million little details that make up a life--this pain I feel this year, a year after her death, is nowhere as searing as when I did not know where she was.

I always said that death would have been easier than giving her up for adoption. Now I know the feelings of both, and I was right. Death has finality; adoption stays with a mother in her present. The only past tense in the mother's heart refers to the days of birth and surrender.

I have no words of solace or comfort for those separated by adoption at this time--whether you know where the other is or do not-- except to tell you what I told myself in my darkest moments: This day will pass. Tomorrow will be another time. This is life. Some days, some times are good; some times are sad, some times are happy. We have to remember the good times, and know that the darkest days will move away from us. Enjoy the family and friends that you do have, and put the sadness in a small chest in your mind, one that you won't visit for now. Go watch "Law and Order," put on your favorite Christmas music, call your niece, enjoy the loved ones you have close.

To all mothers in secret reunion without the adoptive parents' knowledge, I say, be glad for what is. The alternative is not knowing and nothing will ever be as horrible, as wretched, as soul-killing as not knowing. Yes, you would like everything to be out in the open, you would like to be able to coo over the grandchild in the hospital the same day the adoptive parents do. But instead of only bemoaning what is missing, accept that the adoptive parents must have made the subject of her or his origins such a forbidden subject that she or he can not be open and honest with them. Transfer you irritation to the adoptive parents, not your child. Celebrate the person for what you do share, not what you do not, and do not make yourself sick with frustration that your reunion is not all that you wish it would be.

Enjoy to the fullest what you have.


The Privileged and Their Children... Oh, you do want to read this if Alex Kuczynski's story of her travels with a hired surrogate mother interested you. The Public Editor of the Times weighed in with comments--about the photos, the reaction, and the surrogate mother saying that she did not really do it for the money, it just covered her costs of not working. The link will take you there.

And Sunday's (12/21/08) Times had another letter saying that the money issue should have been explored more. I mean, come on--even though surrogate-mom Cathy Hilling denied it, I have a hard time believing that if she were wealthier she would be renting out her body. How many wealthy women feel so generously inclined? Cathy is completely deluding herself.

Piscataway, N.J.asks:

"Why didn’t Alex Kuczynski, who wrote the article in The Times Magazine, acknowledge that this is at least a hard question to answer? Why didn’t she probe Cathy Hilling’s statement that she didn’t become a surrogate mother for the money? And why wasn’t there any follow-up on the interesting fact that Ms. Hilling’s daughter sold her eggs to pay for college tuition? This seems like a family economic strategy in hard times."

Go Joyce!


  1. This is beautiful Lorraine.

    My daughter Megan was born November 17, 1966. She was placed in foster care while I struggled with THE DECISION. I kept staring into the wall of my rented room trying to visualize how life would be if I kept her and how it would be if I gave her up. The social worker had told me she had the perfect family but they wanted a child under 30 days old. I felt I could not let Megan stay in foster care for Christmas, and having no comfort with any decision, called the social worker on the 29th day. I told her I would let her go so "she would have some Christmas presents." I signed THE PAPER December 19th. I comforted myself with the thought that Megan made the dreams of a childless couple come true for Christmas, just like the woman in the news article Lorraine referenced.

    Thirty-one years later I learned that Megan's adoptive family already had three children when they decided to call the adoption agency in JANUARY about adopting another child. They visited Megan in foster care (something I was not allowed to do) and, according to Megan, exclaimed "we'll take her!" Megan spent her first Christmas in foster care after all.

  2. Yes, Lorraine, I have lost a child by still birth, several late term miscarriages due to that strange secondary infertility...and not knowing was indeed the worst. Yes, now my son and I are "speaking secretly" every couple of days, known only to his wife and one child of his. My younger sons, born many years later than he, are grateful that their mom is so happy.

    I want to see my eldest, and he may never be able to bring himself to this "betrayal" of his adoptive mother. Every word is a blessing after 38 years of silence. I may never meet my grandchildren, but I will hear of them. It is bettter than I dared hope for.

    My heart goes out to those who do not yet know this joy, and I ache when I hear those stories; even my own.

  3. With deepest sympathy to those who have lost children to death or stillbirth or miscarriage as well as to adoption, I have to respectfully disagree about adoption loss being worse than death.

    I cannot imagine a greater horror than losing a child to death under any circumstance, and I can't compare it to surrendering a child, bad as that was. Maybe that is because I found my son so young: he was only 8 when I learned his new identity and location and that he was alive and well, but even when I did not know I did not feel as if he was dead, and there was always some faint hope I would see him again. It was very painful, but did not and does not have the devastating finality and hopelessness of death.

    I guess I would chose the uncertainty of life, with all its pain and potential for more rejection and hurt, over the cold certainty and "closure" of death. I have not lost a child to death except one early miscarriage, which I do grieve, but not as one would grieve a full term child. But I have lost my parents, aunts and uncles, some cousins, and a few dear friends and beloved kitties, and would give anything to be able to see them again. It does not comfort me that I know where they are, in the earth.

    Even when my son was not communicating with me at all, and I lost touch with where he was for a few years, I still had the peace of knowing he was probably ok and living his life, which he was. Where there is life there is hope.

  4. Me too, Maireaine. Me too.
    There is no finality like death.
    Timor mortis conturbat me.

  5. Oh, I am sorry to have upset anyone, or minimize anyone's pain. My experience is only mine.

    I was pregnant 7 times, with only 2living children (that I knew of). Those that I knew were gone, I could have a hope for their continuing in a better world. I had no control over their loss to me and my family.

    But as for my son whose fate was unknown to me for almost 40 years, he was born with a congenital condition that certainly could have killed him, or even left him disabled and/or in pain.

    He was my firstborn, and taken from me unfairly. I had the guilt of not doing whatever it took to keep him with me, including fleeing the county to avoid the prosecution threatened by the adoptive parents' lawyer. I had hoped for a large family, all of my life, and every child was loved by me before they were born. The fate of only one was unknown.

    I think that the parables go something like: the shepard leaves his other sheep to search for the one who is lost; the woman searches her home from top-to-bottom to find the lost penny.

    Not knowing was torture. Now I know, even if it now his guilt that keeps him from telling anyone, or contacting me on a regular basis. If that comes, it would be wonderful. Now that I have found him, I have kept my promise to him to do so.

  6. Unless you have walked in our shoes, I do not think which pain is worse is a point for debate. Just as--is it worse to be a mother who gives up a child or a child who is given up?

    All I know is that for me, during the years apart when I did not know where she was, or if she were even alive, the holidays were a much worse experience than that of this year, a year after my daughter died. The first year after I gave her up was pure, unmitigated hell. And so it would continue until I knew where she was.

  7. Found this in my email when I got back from Christmas traveling to visit my husband's family:

    Lo, I just read your comments on your blog. You are the first person to understand what I mean when I tell people it is easier since my son died than it was waiting and hoping that he would agree to share a bit of himself with me. He too was a very troubled person, raised in a dysfunctional family according to his wife, a real loner who didn't let people into his life easily. I agonized all the time about when and if we would ever meet or if I would get another hateful letter from him. Now I can hope he is at peace and that at some point we will be reunited.

    Have a happy holiday.


  8. I guess which is easier would depend on a number of factors.
    Not knowing my son's circumstances wasn't a walk in the park for me either.

  9. Nor for me, Kippa. But it makes my blood run cold to hear that for some people death of a child is less painful than surrender. I just cannot imagine that. For me the pain of not knowing where my son was is long over and not emotionally remembered, like the pain of childbirth.It is over. Being reunited wiped that out for me.

    We are all different, all experience life and emotion in different ways. I have a very strong negative reaction to comparing adoption to death or the Holocaust or other greater horrors.
    That's just me, but I've never been the typical birthmother. Surrendering a child was the worst thing that happened to me, but I do not think it is the worst thing that could happen to a person.



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