' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: A Daughter's Guilt Comes to the Forefront

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Daughter's Guilt Comes to the Forefront

Continuing yesterday's post about my daughter's first visit to my home on Long Island:

Copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2009
That day I made the case for some leeway in this language business because I needed to introduce her as someone other than “my [amazingly young] friend Jane,” which begged the question, Is she your niece? I told her that sometimes I would introduce her as my daughter whom I had given up for adoption because she that’s who she was, right? She agreed. Or just say “my daughter,” so as not to get into a discussion neither of us welcomed at that moment.

But I had better watch it.

So throughout our entire relationship I was parsimonious in the use of the word “daughter” when she was around. She was free to say “mother” reference to me when the spirit moved her, and she knew that I purred with pleasure when she did. If she saw a man she didn’t know talking to me, she delighted in calling “Mother” from across a crowded room. She came up with her own name for me, Maraine (a combination of Ma and Raine from Lorraine), and the two of us used sometimes when no one was around. I typically signed cards and letters to her that way, only daring in the later years to write Mother. Words do matter. The parameters of our relationship were outlined in the language we used. She who had no control over the biggest event in her life could now control this one thing.

Those three packed days of sightseeing and bonding in Manhattan ultimately wracked her with guilt. On the last day, we spent hours at Macy’s shopping for her. Now I am a good shopper. I like to put outfits together, find the right shoes to go with the right top, the right belt to pull the outfit together. Jane enjoyed this as much as I did, looking over racks of blouses and vests and pants and skirts to find outfits that she could take back to Wisconsin and show off to her friends, clothes from Macy’s, the world’s biggest store!

When we met Tony for dinner at Benihana she was wearing one of her new outfits. Tony and I chose the Japanese steak house because we thought she’d get a kick out of the flashing knives as our own personal chef diced and sliced. We had second-row balcony seats for Evita after that.

Now seemingly out of nowhere, gloom settled in as she became silent and sullen. Tony, who can pour on the charm like heavy cream on plum pudding, did his best to amuse her, but Jane could not be moved. Brooding she was. Tony and I shrugged and continued on to the theater. Same thing. She didn’t seem to enjoy the play at all. She was silent on the long drive back to Sag Harbor.

Later, I heard from [her adoptive mother] Ann that when a road show company brought Evita to Madison, Jane told everyone that she had seen it, and on Broadway! She knew the story, the songs, it was great! Fantastic! Really? I said, surprised. Yeah, really.

And many years after that, Jane told me that everything had gone so well, during her visit, she was having such a good time, she felt so comfortable—and now it was being capped off with dinner and Broadway—that she suddenly felt incredibly disloyal to the family back in Wisconsin. She shouldn’t have so much fun with this new family unit, she shouldn’t feel so comfortable. She should feel like an outsider.

It’s utterly totally impossible to plumb the depths of what it feels like to be surrendered for adoption. It happens pre-verbally; it happens without the consent or, or cognitive knowledge of, the individual being given up. By the time the individual is aware of his life situation, being raised with genetic strangers and not one’s own, it is a fait accompli, its undoing impossible, no matter one’s preference. And to be available to be adopted, you first have to be given up.

Of course there are always reasons why adoption can be a better option than living with one’s mother. Drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, abandonment—all are valid reasons why adoption for many is a life-saving solution. But in situations where that is not the case, it may be impossible for the individual who is given up to truly accept reality and understand a mother’s circumstances and reasons, and ergo, to be able to truly and completely forgive. We are human after all, with all the insecurities and failings homo sapiens is prey to. We are all, birth mother and surrendered child, only human.

And what of the adopted people who never search? Perhaps it’s the impulse that made me a journalist, but I can not comprehend living with such a mystery, such a basic hole in one’s self knowledge, and not doing everything in one’s power to solve the mystery, answer the questions. What we do know is that women search in much greater numbers than men; men often search at the behest of their wives when the time comes to have children; more men than women profess not to be bothered with curiosity about their roots; many who say they do not want to search do so later on, especially after their adoptive parents die, and that adoptees start and stop searches and start again and stop again and start again. Searching can be frightening, who knows what or who we were before we were adopted. --from the upcoming memoir, Hole in My Heart


  1. Lorraine,

    How sad that your daughter had to feel the way she did guilty for having a good time without her adoptives.

    And this was a good reunion where both families, knew of each other, and talked. Imagine those who don't?

    Adoptee's aren't allowed to be who they are because there are always conditions and expectations from the moment of birth to fit in with a group of strangers.

    I can't imagine living like that but that's what adoptee's do all their lives.


  2. Lorraine,
    I love your discussion of what to call you, specifically the reference to it being one thing under the adoptee's control.

    Great post!



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