' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Knife in My Heart: On Learning That My Daughter Is Giving Up a Daughter

Monday, June 1, 2009

Knife in My Heart: On Learning That My Daughter Is Giving Up a Daughter

As I heard that the blog today was a jumble of symbols--while I saw it read clean--I am trying again with the same post. To those of you who read it yesterday, please excuse the confusion...Mercury is still making retrograde mischief.

By Lorraine Dusky (c) 2009

It was Jane’s birthday, 1986. She would be twenty years old. I’d never not been in touch with her on April Fifth since we had been reunited, and despite our falling out, I could not ignore the day. Our day. That was inconceivable. For a first mother, the birthday of one’s relinquished child is reason for a day of quiet mourning, laden with grief that most likely will be internalized. Do we tell co-workers or college roommates why we are blue? A husband why we are snappish? Our other children why we need to be alone? Maybe not. You just go on, and if you are lucky, are able to get by with the knowledge that tomorrow will be another day, the sun will come up just as it did the day before, sunset will happen on schedule, the day will be behind you for another year.

I admit that some years before I found Jane, the day would pass without me consciously noting it, and then, the next day, or the day after that, I’d catch myself, remembering, Oh my god, it was her birthday, how did I forget? Of course I’d feel guilty. Not that I could have sent her flowers or anything. But still.

Because her birthday was so close to Easter and spring vacation from school, we had been able to celebrate together on the actual day, close enough. I’d make a cake, ice it with my mother’s recipe for no-fail butter cream frosting, buy her as many presents as we could afford.

This time—five years after our reunion when she was fifteen--there had been the great divide between us. Though her departure had been stony, I was not going to let her think that I had forgotten her. I phoned.

Her father answered. Jane, he said, Jane was not there, but Gary seemed to be stumbling over his words, not sure what to say even though I was not asking anything complicated. Just tell her I called to wish her a happy birthday, I said. I hope she’ll call me back.

She did, and with that call came the saddest news a first mother can ever hear: She had had a daughter three days earlier, a daughter she was not going to keep. The father—someone she’d met at Burger King, where she had been working again—was pretty much already out of her life. When I called, she had been at the hospital, feeding her baby—I named her Lisa, she said, Lisa Marie—which explained her father’s confusion over what to say. There were no tears from her, just a straight-forward explanation in a voice that was half dead.

There’s not a lot to say about how I felt. Knife in my heart spills out of my hands on the keyboard and I know it is a cliché of the first order, but knife in my heart kind of says it all. The years of sorrow, the buckets of tears, the bottomless guilt, the immense culpability for not having kept her, for not finding—for not making—a way, rained down on me.

Oh god Jane, No, no no, I am thinking. What have I unleashed in the world? A chain of adopted children? Jane and now Lisa and who knows after that? All the guilt that giving up a child infects in one’s life—all this would be hers too?

Knife in my heart.

Over the next few days the story spilled out. When she went back to Wisconsin, she went to work again at Burger King and again worked the last shift. Eventually she got to know someone, an African-American named Oscar who came in often. Oscar paid attention, he became her boyfriend, she got pregnant, they broke up.

Why didn’t you use birth control, I asked.

Because I was going to kill myself before I had the baby, she said.

There’s no possibility of keeping her? I asked.

Let’s not go there, she said.

Wisconsin has something called “open adoption” now Jane, you could be involved in the choosing of the people and even…know who they are, keep track of her, I said. You don't want to go through what I have, I was implying.


His mother wants to take the baby to Michigan—someplace called Inkster, she said, ever heard of it?

Inkster! It’s the predominately African-American community right next door to west Dearborn, a few miles away from the motel my parents owned when I was in high school, where I grew up. How coincidental is that? And Great! I’m thinking, then Lisa wouldn’t have to be adopted, Wow, I might be able to visit when I was in Michigan, this is totally amazing! Sounds like a plan, Jane, what do you think?

No way. I’m not even considering it. I’m not going to give her my baby. Not if I can help it. I don’t like the sound of it.

But that might not be such a bad idea, I said…then…then you could someday know where she was, you wouldn’t have to go through what I have…then she would not have to be adopted, I did not say.

There was so much certainty in her voice, so much resignation, she was not asking for advice, not going to hear my words no matter how I pleaded my case. Please other family of Lisa, I was thinking, fight my daughter and keep this baby. Jane will soften in time, she just can’t handle this now, or is she too much her father, will she just walk away because emotionally she can not cope? Please don’t let her do what I did, the times are different now, it doesn’t have to be this way. Or is this some demented way of repeating history, of saying, Well, my mother did it to me, and it wasn't so bad, look I’m fine, and so my daughter will be too? Being adopted isn’t so bad.

More silence.

So do you want me to find out anything about open adoptions for you? I asked. In 1986 there where not yet common, but they were possible. All that it would require is for Jane to ask for one. Wisconsin was even in the forefront of open adoptions.

She would not even hear of it. Nothing I said about open adoptions, about letting the young man’s mother take the girl, reached her. All I could think was that she was determined to repeat history, to end up, as a Park Avenue psychiatrist once told a girl friend of mine he was dating when she got pregnant—You don’t want to end up like Lorraine, do you?

I was an senior editor at Town & Country when he said that, and if you did not know me, and you saw that I had on a good suit and a thrift-shop Gucci scarf, you would have imagined that I was some society girl working until, well, I didn’t any more, because who else would be an editor at Town & Country? Yet he could say: You don't want to end up like Lorraine. You only say that about someone who is pathetic. Someone with a drug habit. Someone in jail. Or someone who has given up a child. I was mortified when I’d heard what he said, but he got it right. You don't want to end up like Lorraine.

And now Jane was. Ending up like Lorraine.


  1. Incomprehensible is the only word I can come up with after reading this post.

    Wonder what the percentages are on female adoptee's losing their babies to adoption?

    I know I have read this story over and over again from adoptee's who have surrendered.

    I am sorry for your loss and your daughter's loss, adoption rears its ugly head again and again.

  2. As both an adoptee, and a mother who lost her firstborn to adoption, I must admit, it's sometimes tough to find the line in between. At times i feel it gives me tremendous insight, and is unique and helpful.

    But inevitably, there were and still are times when I am simply a mess, confused and dysfunctional in almost every way.

    Add reunion rejections to that messy mix, and It's a wonder I even get out of bed in the morning....And as we all know, Mother's Day, and birthdays can be some of the most trying times of the year, in terms of holding it all together.

    And so, once again, at this time of year, I find myself having to re-address adoption reality all over again. But I do think this year has been better than last, and maybe, just maybe, I can come out on top one more time.

    For all of you out there who struggle like I do, I feel you. I don't have any earth shattering advise, and I can't tell you how to get through it. I can only tell you in hindsight, that I am still here. I just grabbed on to the good things in my life, and the loved ones I had not yet lost, and held on tight. And then when I finally looked back, I realized that they had been more than enough after all.

    And so, with every passing Springtime, and every Mother's day and birthday that rolls around:

    May you grow stronger and love deeper than the year before...
    May you smile through the tears, and be surrounded by those who know and love you, when you need them most...
    May your heart slowly mend and stretch ever wider, to love those around you who adore you, and need you...
    And may you look back one day, and know that it was enough.

    This is my heartfelt wish for all of you, and for myself. God bless and keep you all.

  3. Lorraine, I can only imagine the pain you must continue to experience knowing Jane gave Lisa up for adoption. It seems like adoptees really struggle with parenthood, sometimes going to extremes in either "repeating history" by relinquishing or, as in my case, being super-paranoid about the loss of our own children. I literally get up at least once a night to make sure my kids are safe in their beds, and I have described before on my blog and elsewhere how, when my kids were born, I had this irrational terror that they would be taken from me in the hospital. There is a lifelong and multigenerational effect of adoption that is paid short shrift by an industry that promotes adoption as "win-win" for everybody. My deepest sympathies on your multiple losses.

  4. I totally agree that adoptees probably have an irrevocably skewed view of parenthood... however, since every case of planned or considered relinquishment is different... if the pregnant party is furious at the impregnating party, I think the whole deal between the parents can really become a power play between them more than any real focus on the child or even adoption as an issue. I mean, honestly don't a lot of women sort of see their child as a little version of their father, and woe to the child if the mom is mad at the dad! Maybe even so mad that they wouldn't want his family to ever have control over a little piece of her by keeping (her baby). I can easily see how angry emotions at the dad could cause a rejection of the child, and also how the mother in wanting to just be able to control something, might choose adoption (even as a knee jerk reaction). My bmom tells me that at least in part it was on her mind that if she had kept me (even if there had been a way to do so), my bio father would have been a problem for years and years and years of untenable drama. I don't mean to suggest at all anything different from the very real tragedy and heartfelt loss, I just thought to mention what maybe could be an urgent factor in an adoptee bmom's mind that could partially account for such a rash decision.



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