' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Rejection: My Daughter--My 'birth' daughter always kept that option open in her mind

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rejection: My Daughter--My 'birth' daughter always kept that option open in her mind


It's been on my mind today. I spent yesterday at the rather grand birthday party of a woman whose five children, eight or nine grandchildren, plus two nieces who came from a far to celebrate her 79th birthday. The luncheon for 75 was at a rather fancy restaurant, and later my husband and I spent the evening with my friend's close family--so many people, so much family. Today I realized that the high intensity of the evening hit a sore spot. I have no daughter anymore, my granddaughter is distant, both physically and emotionally. I was thinking once again today of adoption as the pain that goes on giving....

So I argued with my husband, started crying, stopped crying, drove to a nursery with him, bought a flat of soft yellow violas, came back home and planted them as it's finally not freezing out here on Long Island where we live not far from the Atlantic. But even their saucy sprightly look could not lift my spirits. I had been planning to post this section of the memoir I'm writing about my daughter, the one I gave up for adoption, to follow Linda's post the other day, and today it seems ever more poignant.

When I sat down at the computer a half hour ago and looked at my home page, I realized that today would have been my daughter's 43rd birthday. I also realized that the my mood went South and the tears came just at the same time of day as my daughter was born, around one-thirty in the p.m. My "birth" daughter, if you will, to make this post clear for first-timer readers...my daughter Jane who took her life in 2007.

This is from my work-in-progress, A Hole in My Heart. I am discussing a visit we had soon after we were reunited in 1981. This would have been about two years later, when she was my granddaughter's age, 17. She had epilepsy.

Copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2009
Was it that same visit when I took her to a stable in Amagansett for riding lessons? Her seizures were largely controlled by Depakane ®, and she was eager to learn how to handle a horse, and I love to ride. I’d taken lessons from the old Claremont Riding Academy that used to be on West 89th Street, when I lived in Manhattan. If she took a couple of lessons, I figured, we could share this pastime, and she was eager to do so.

Her lesson had gone fine, she obviously had a great time. This was something normal teenagers did, the girl in the hockey helmet seemed long gone. Just as the hour was up, I walked over to her while she was still in the saddle, and stroked her horse on the neck. He turned his head and reached toward my hand, ready to sink in his teeth. I pulled back just in time. “I wouldn’t care if he bit you,” she said sourly, in front of the instructor, making the remark not only hurtful, but also embarrassing. The comment had came out of nowhere and hung in the air. I shot her a look before I abruptly walked back to the car.

We drove home in silence. Once parked in the driveway, I asked if she wanted to go back to Wisconsin early, if that’s how she felt about me, well ahead of the two-week visit scheduled.

She did not.

But she did not apologize.

Nor did I demand it.

Jane referred to the incident when we spoke on the tapes one night: “I was pushing you to see how far I could push you, to see what would happen. I wanted to see how bad I could be before you walked away again.

“But I always assumed that if you went to all this trouble to find me, you weren’t going anywhere. All the stuff that I did—like at Evita too—was a matter of finding my footing in our relationship. And I felt guilty for having such a good time. What I said did not necessarily reflect on how I might have felt. But, yeah, there was a part of me that did not want you to have a good time. A part of me wanted to just find out what I needed to know…and then not be interested.”

So she could walk away at any time. That would show me know how it felt to be relinquished for adoption. Given up. Given away. To be a child that grows up—without any obvious evidence to the contrary, for as far as I can tell, the Schmidts gave her none—as someone can be returned. Adoptee memoirs are full of this fuck-you attitude, whether the writers acknowledge it or not, and mostly, they don’t. I read some of them and want to throw them against the wall. The anger these memoirists reveal remains palpable, simmering on the surface, the continuing desire to punish their birth mothers--usually it's only their birth mothers--pops up again and again. All the platitudes about adoption being the best solution for young and unmarried teenagers who have babies, about adoption being the way to provide a stable middle-class home for your child when you can not diminish against the insecurities and hurt one finds in these memoirs.

Yes, a permanent guardianship, and the loving bonds that would lead to, is sometimes necessary. But I no longer think adoption, as it is currently constructed in the world, is the best solution for anyone. For adoption with sealed records, or open arrangements that do not have the force of law, is always based on a false premise, and that premise is that one’s roots do not matter, or matter little. If they did not matter there would be no adoptee-search movement; no push to open sealed records, no adoptee memoirs full of anguish, no adoptee/birth mother plot lines all over television. There would be none of that.

And Jane and me? Fissures in our relationship would occur unexpectedly over the entire time we knew each other, and that was twenty-six years. Everything would have been going along swimmingly for a while; sometimes I even felt smug about how great we got along, as compared to stories I heard about other birth mothers and daughters. Oh, we might exchange a few sharp words, I might point out that something she was telling me did not seem plausible, but certainly nothing was said that was out of the ordinary for a mother and daughter. And sometimes there was absolutely nothing; one phone call would end on a friendly note, and then poof! she’d be gone like a genie in a bottle. Once it was because her other mother said one of her biological children was her favorite. Jane withdrew for nearly two years that time, and it took me longer than that to piece together what had happened. If that son was Mom's favorite, Jane was going to do everything she could to show that she was deserving of her adoptive mother's love--and that meant, showing her that she could--and did--walk away from me. I was only her birth mother.

It was as if I was standing on a mountain ledge when out of nowhere would come a humongous boulder that pushed me off the cliff. I never saw it coming. It was as if Jane herself had signed surrender papers and walked away. Just as she imagined I had. When we would get back together—on her schedule and her schedule alone—Jane would never acknowledge that anything out of the ordinary occurred. To her mind, I deserved whatever she had to dish out. After what I’d done, what could I expect?

In those lonely interstices between the times when we were on good terms, there was some peace in knowing that she was alive and probably living in Wisconsin, I suppose; but that knowledge did not feel like comfort. Each time, her rejection felt like being assigned once again to some heretofore undiscovered special level of hell reserved for women who give away their children. Rationalizing her behavior as typical—as I said, adoptee memoirs are full of this kind of behavior—provided no peace. I would think of Alison, the other birth mother in the story in The New York Times, whose daughter had simply walked away one day and not returned, as decades ticked by. I would think of Linda, whose daughter invited her to her wedding, and then cut Linda out of her life, yet maintained a relationship with Linda’s sisters and niece. I would think of the woman who had cut off her mother after she had the audacity to send a Hallmark card to mark her daughter’s birthday.

In time I came to accept that I could not be forgiven, not really, no matter what she said, or what I did. Her hurt was buried so deep no mere words could touch it. Her hurt was buried so deep it could never be fixed. And nothing I could ever do would change the equation of our relationship.--lorraine
Happy Birthday Baby, wherever you are.


  1. It seems someone has to be at "fault."

    Not circumstances, not the father; it must have been a conscious decision on the mothers part to hurt the child?!

    I sometimes wonder about the lack of perceived responsibilty on the firstfathers part.
    Why are they not the object of a comparable deep seated hurt?
    Had he made a different decision the whole triptych might have unfolded completely differently.

    I do understand the connection between a woman and her offspring.
    But I find it interesting that half of the imagined reason for the condition the child finds themself in is largely forgotten when the blood boils.
    It's unfair.

  2. Lorraine, this breaks my heart. No doubt because my son has treated me the same way -- without compassion or consideration. He wants me to know how it feels and, yup, I guess I do...

    HUGS, Denise

  3. It seems from your story and Linda’s that it’s easy for everyone to make the first mother the scapegoat. How tragic. Your anguish is palpable. As I read pieces of your story, it often reminds me that when highly charged events such as a reunion occur, people polarize in order to avoid their true feelings. Better to have one’s little perch of anger shielding one from true emotional growth or self-disclosure, which is much harder. (Maybe your book will knock some people off their perch.) I don’t know the details of your relationship with your daughter’s a-parents or her suicide, but my heart breaks whenever you mention it. Your daughter feeling "guilty" for having a good time. . .ouch. Wonder what the source of that was (she says, clenching her jaw).

    Why is it so difficult to blend families without people feeling so deeply threatened. Moreover, it seems as though reunion may not address the feelings of the adoptee.

  4. Thanks for your response. Osolomama...I feel that you get "it," more than most aparents even want to try. After listening to Jane for all those years, I think she was always torn...the closer she got to me, the more she had to pull away from her amom. It was impossible for her to be comfortable when both of us were in the room.

    But what do you mean by reunion not addressing the feelings of the adoptee? Jane wanted to search, and had told her amother that; I was desperate to reconnect. The way adoption was designed in those "good ole' days" was not set up to accommodate a reunion, or two mothers. Conflict was--and still is--built into the situation.

  5. Oh bother, I just wrote a long post and then it directed me to sign into WordPress and I lost the whole thing. But here's a recap of what I said. It seems as though reunion does sometimes lead to the torn feelings you describe. That's not to say I'd discourage it; far from it.

    I wonder if you follow Dawn Friedman over at This Woman's Work. She put up a really interesting post recently on how parents sometimes seflishly guard their emotional relationships with their children to the point of not letting anyone else "have" them. She talked about her MIL and her first child (I believe) candidly in this regard. It's a process we all go through but eventually, secure parents always let go and let their kids--especially adult kids--have significant emotional relationships with other people that don't involve them. I was just musing if this might not be one of the very basic problems with reunions, leading to the adoptee feeling torn and guilty for associating with the first parent. Thoughts?

  6. I am going through the same thing. It hurts more than I can say. To my daughter I'm an inconvenience. I'm too easy to ignore. She says she loves me but, actions speak louder than words. I call, she does not return my calls.

    Today, I managed to get her and not her answering machine. So, lucky for me. /sarcasm

    I'm trying to get out from under the depression, and the rejection, but some days it's all but impossible.

    She has so many "good" excuses. She works midnights. Her husband is having an affair. Her mother in law is dying of cancer. Her son is acting out in day care. Beating up other kids. The two days she has off she has to run around "with" him to get things done. She has to pick up my grandson from her parents. Yadda Yadda.

    I've asked if I can baby sit, even once a month. So at least I can sit on the floor and play with him. She will not say yes or no to that question. She just keeps telling me all she has to do.

    I don't want to be part of the problem, I want to be part of the solution. So, I back off.

    About a year ago, I made the mistake of telling her that I wished I had never listened to the doctor, church elders, family and kept her. I told her that I hated the "adoption machine." She asked me in a patronizing way. "What if you had never met us?" I stared off into the distance and didn't answer. But, inside I was screaming that maybe I would not hurt as much as I do now.

    Today is a very bad day. I can't live on seeing my grandson, and her only once or twice a year. I suppose that many will say. But, at least you get to see them once in a while. Sorry but that's not good enough. Nothing, no glossing this over will ever take away the extreme pain of rejection and grief that I feel.

    My husband gets angry with me for trying to contact her. He says to hell with her, she doesn't care why should you? He does not understand. So I hide my pain from him because to tell him will only cause him to get mad at me. There are no support groups here, and no psychiatrists. I managed to get into one for a couple of sessions. All he said is that's something we may not be able to change. Ok so... then HOW the HELL do I go on with my life?

    Medication is all they give.

    God help us, no one understands the pain, but ourselves.

    Dieing of a broken heart in Windsor, Ontario, Canada

  7. It's been a couple months of months since you wrote this article, Lorraine, but I so identify with you.
    My heart goes out to you for the lost of your daughter but i feel the problems she had were within herself. For 15 years I have been beating up myself. I have finally stopped. I have finally accepted that I need to be grateful for just being able to see her, meet her, look into her eyes and touch her hair when other birthmothers will never have that chance. I, too, was rejected and it hurt more than words can ever explain but for sooo long I let it ruin my life...guess what...NO MORE.
    I spent some time with her. She gave me a year and in that time I worked my butt off trying to do everything for her..all thrown into one year. You name it..I did it...so much so that I did not even realize what was going on in my own house..a husband who went through quad bipass (heart) that same year..yes, I was that wrapped up in her. And in the end she threw me away anyway.
    It has now been over 15 years..I have not seen or heard from her..
    I did write a book (not published) if it will help..let me know..
    You are not alone and the rest of us (bithmothers) are here to catch your tears.

  8. Osolomama,
    You hit the nail on the head...on the day, that I had waited 19 years for (we have a law in this state..you can not reunite until the adoptee is 19 and only with their written consent)the amom sent a letter to the social worker that she was to give to her (we met at the adoption agency where i had placed her).It read and I quote "This is like putting a gun to my head".
    Now tell me..did I have a chnce for a relationship at all!!!
    Sooo threatened by me..and all I wanted to see was how my baby grew up and if she was well-cared for and okay in life.
    I really feel i did not have a chance from the very beginning..her (birthdaughter)mind was already set..the other thing adoptees need to learn is to "give up the fantasy". We are just normal people..most of us do not live in castles.I feel she was sooo disappointed in who I was..unlike, Joni Mitchell, whose daughter fully acepted her.Why not..after all she was Joni Mitchell!!
    My birthdaughter is now 39..you would think she would have a little more understanding by now. I wanted her to have the life i could not provide for her at that time in my life..how hard is that to understand.....
    Life is short. Someday you learn "too late" that maybe your birthmother actually was a good person with feelings not just an incubator.

  9. Boy do these stories sound familiar to me. I am going through a period of my birthdaughter not speaking to me after 6 weeks of finding each other. I have let this eat away at me and tare me up no more I have got to go on with my life and I hope she has closeure now that she knows whY I gave her away.

  10. It's been several years since you wrote this, but thank you. For every last of it word thank you.

  11. Lorraine, my son behaves so much like your daughter, Jane. I thought that after 23 years in active face-to-face reunion we would reach some sort of plateau, but alas, that did not happen. Instead, he cut me out of his life "permanently." He's done this so many times over the years that my head is spinning. It's been two years now since he severed our relationhip. I know he's going to reappear one day, acting like nothing happened. It makes me feel tired...



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