' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: June 2009
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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Death of a Birth Father

Lorraine Dusky (c) copyright 2009

This isn't contiguous in the book, but this answers the question left by the following post: Did my daughter's birth father ever meet her?

January, 1991. A friend from Newsday phoned, and she was not her usual cheerful self. I’d known Judy since we worked together as reporters in Albany—it fact, she had been the friend I’d driven over to see in a daze the evening Brian called and informed me we were a no-go. Now here she was, two decades later telling me Brian had died, probably of a massive heart attack, that’s all she knew. He might have been dead for a day or two before he was found in his bed, she said, he hadn’t shown up for work and she wasn't sure how long it had been before the paper sent someone to check on him.

Oh. That means that he was dead for a couple of days before…. And now it’s too late for Jane.

Jane was back in Wisconsin then, living with her parents.. We were in touch, but not often. I felt no particular urgency about making the call—after all, Brian had been dead for a few days before anyone knew. Did it make any difference when she knew? She was not going to be going to the funeral, and I dreaded calling her with the grim news that she would never meet the father whose DNA she carried. I waited a whole day before I phoned.

Remember my friend, Judy? I began. The one who works at Newsday? She called a day ago to say that Brian died.


Probably of a heart attack in his bed, I continued. He hadn’t shown up at work, and the paper sent someone over, eventually.

Then: Why did you wait, why didn’t you call me right away, she asked, accusingly.

You might wonder why the time lapse of a day before I called her mattered—it wasn’t as if I had been on the automatic call list when he died—and if Judy had not been an editor at Newsday, the news would not have gotten to me for quite a while. But from Jane’s perspective, she was, no matter how you slice it, family. And family gets called right away. Family gets the telegram with the news, family doesn’t hear about a death casually, a day late, doesn’t hear, Oh, by the way, did you hear your biological father died? What right had I not to call her the instant I heard? None at all. Why had I controlled access to information that was rightfully hers? Why had I treated her like a child?

I apologized profusely, but the deed was done. She didn’t cry on the phone, but she cried plenty after, she later told me. Now she would never meet the father she never knew, the guy with the large head like hers, someone who shared her love of pub life, the man who made her legitimately Irish, the man with whom she shared half her DNA. Now that opportunity was lost for all time.

He was sixty-two years old. Newsday ran a great photograph of him in a fedora with the obituary. He was still a good-looking guy with an engaging smile that reminded me of Jane.

Some years later when we talked about Brian dying, she said, “I spent two months in mourning, trying to figure out how I felt about him, trying to create some kind of picture of what he was like,” she said. “It kinda pissed me off that he never picked up the phone. He decided I would never know how I was like him. All I wanted was a stinking lunch.” She paused. “He was the loser,” she said, bravado morphing into bitterness.

She spoke of Gary [her adoptive father] being upset that Brian’s death bothered her so. But you can understand his hurt—What was this man to her, anyway? Gary had done all the fathering in her life. He was the one who had to live with Jane’s round-the-clock drama. There is only so much grand opera that the people around someone like Jane can handle before they become saturated. After a while, the tap of empathy runs dry.

Brian’s wife, Bonnie, called me a week later and in a gesture of largess, asked if I would like to go to his apartment and see if there was anything left I would like to take for Jane. She said in going over Brian’s papers, she came across my letter with Jane’s picture, the letter we had composed together, as well as a letter from Jane that I knew nothing about. Did they ever meet, she wanted to know.


That was so like him, she said. He couldn’t handle anything emotional, he just walked away.


The following Sunday there we were—two unexceptional women having coffee at the Walt Whitman Mall on Long Island, two mothers of Brian’s children. When he was living with me and Kristen [his daughter with Bonnie] he fell asleep with a lit cigarette on the couch, she said. The whole couch burned, the fire department came, it was a disaster.

Oh, I say, thinking, he fell asleep with a lit cigarette because he passed out after one too many, didn’t he? I simply nodded. No need to point out what we were both thinking.

I could not live with him and my daughter, she went on, I didn’t want the whole house to go up in smoke with us in it. That’s why I insisted he move out.

Right. Who wouldn’t?

If he dried out for awhile, it didn’t last, and he went back to drinking.

Uh, huh. I nodded. It must have been one of these times when I called, and he said the timing was off, he could not deal with meeting Jane now.

Bonnie wasn’t bitter, she was just flatly stating the facts about someone we both had loved. And no longer did by the time he died.

What we did not say is that we knew how he needed that drink, depended on it at the end of the day. When you work on a newspaper you become one of a tight little club, membership dependent on being someone who enjoys chasing the truth—especially when it’s hard to get to—and the smack of adrenaline that comes with daily deadline and front-page bylines. When the paper has been put to bed, when the presses are at last running, you hang out together afterward at a nearby saloon, you let off steam, you tell war stories, that’s the way of the world, for your peers understand you like no one else can—not even spouses or lovers unless they too are in the same business. That was Brian through and through, the consummate newspaperman.

I followed her in my car over to his place, turning left, turning right, knowing exactly how weird this was. We ended up in a modest basement apartment in a neighborhood of modest middle-class homes in middle America. Bluish fluorescence from an overhead fixture supplemented the grim February light that managed to sneak in through the small windows, the kind common to ordinary basements everywhere. We kept our coats on. You could tell that without a steady stream of heat the place would be musty, the faded linoleum floor cold. A central room had a space off to the side for a single bed and a closet. The vest-pocket kitchen, if you could call it that, was a small unfinished space where you could make coffee and heat up a can of soup. A small bath with a shower led off the “kitchen.”

This was a not-quite-seedy bachelor’s pad suitable for a young man starting out or an old man winding down. Brian had been a man with a first-class gift for prose, with a good education well grounded in literature, the ability to easily and readily quote poetry, and the Irish gift of blarney. But he had also been someone who loved the bottle too much, and at his death he had been reduced to coming home every night to this cheerless space in somebody else’s house. The apartment was orderly, for Brian was ever the neat Virgo, and consequently there was a place for everything—his considerable wardrobe of blazers, sport coats and ties; a couple hundred LPs by all the jazz greats and then some; a good-sized pile of books that included, most surprisingly, Wild Spenders, a breezy novel that had the singular distinction of being written by a friend of mine, stuck there like a foreigner among his jazz biographies, art books, World War II histories and Hemingway/Faulkner/Steinbeck novels, the hip writers of his generation. I felt weird being there with his wife, yet I was also glad to have this shared moment to partake in some sort of remembrance with someone else who knew him, someone else who knew the best of him. I had loved this man so much once; he had promised that we would be together, and he had deserted me when I needed him. Yet that day it was impossible not to feel sad. If I shut my eyes, I can still picture him sitting there—as I did that day—a snifter with an amber inch of Hennessy VSOP in one hand, the light low, smoke curling from a lit cigarette. It’s two a.m. From an old phonograph record, Lester Young on tenor sax is playing between the mournful lyrics Billie Holiday is singing. Yes, now I can even hear the song: I’ll Never Be the Same.

So here’s his stuff, take what you want, Bonnie said matter-of-factly, jolting me back to the here and now. His brother John came to the funeral and took a few things, she went on, Kristen didn’t want anything, and the rest? I have to clear the place out and I’m giving all this stuff away, so anything that is here now you can have. Brian’s other children had not even come to the funeral, she added, now with a brittle edge in her voice she made no attempt to hide.

Where was he buried? I asked, for Jane would want to know.

The military cemetery at Calverton. One of the boys said that he was coming, but then he didn’t, probably talked out of it by Erin, his oldest daughter, I’m sure of it.

I nodded, recalling what Brian had told me, that Erin had only reluctantly visited him and his new family once, that she had taken on her mother’s anger at the divorce and made it her own personal stash. That I knew this I did not mention. So Erin’s resentment had stayed intact all those years, she never forgave her father for his failings, for her uncomplicated life being upended when she was not yet in her teens. Maybe some transgressions can not be forgiven. I know about those.

I picked out a simple wooden chess set, a few LPs of Billie Holiday and Count Basie, a Herbie Hancock album; some art books that Brian had signed his name in—Jane might like to have his signature—a small collection of well-used metal toy soldiers that must have been playthings from his childhood, two leather jackets, a couple of vests, and a gray felt fedora. I knew the hat was likely to fit Jane, or be close, there was that. I knew she might even wear the vests.

Bonnie talked about how Kristen was probably never going to be close to her sister, and since she, Bonnie, was not going to have more children, maybe Jane and Kristen could be friends one day. But Kristen’s only twelve, she doesn’t know about Brian’s other daughter yet, I’ll tell her when it feel right.

Sure. Great, I thought, Jane would like that. To know a sibling.

I put the stuff in my car, and then it was time to say goodbye. Bonnie and I stood outside, next to Brian’s red car—I don't recall the kind, some modest Chevy, I think—parked in the driveway. Erin was only interested in the car, Bonnie said, she wanted to know, Was it worth anything, when was I going to sell it? Bonnie raised her eyebrows, turned down the corners of her mouth disgustedly, it felt as if—if it weren’t so tacky—she might have spit on the ground in disdain. The car was worth a few grand at best. I stood as if planted, not quite sure how to say goodbye, not hurrying the moment. Do I lean over and kiss her, do we shake hands? I was flashing on the time I had been out jogging one afternoon the summer before and a red car just like this had turned onto the narrow street where I had been running. With cars parked on one side of Elizabeth Street, there’s only room for one-way traffic at that point. Somebody has to pull over their car so the other can go by. The sidewalk is uneven and cracked there, and so I was running on the street like I always did. There’s little traffic on Elizabeth, so it usually wasn't an issue, but no one behind me could pass until I got out of the way, and quite suddenly, I sensed a car inching up on me. I stopped and turned around and I swear to god, I saw Brian was at the wheel of this very same red car. I stood there perplexed, squinting to make sure it really was him, and was just about to walk up to the car, say, Hello Brian, don’t be embarrassed, do you want to talk? when the driver hastily backed up into Hampton Street, a busy state road, nobody with any sense does that. Then he was gone. Now, looking at this little red vehicle, car, I was sure it had been him that day. This also I did not mention.

“He did love you,” Bonnie said, apropos of nothing. My eyes teared up. Oh Lord, please don’t cry, Lorraine. Do not cry. This is a man who did not marry you when you needed him, this is a man who did not have the courage to meet his daughter, this is a man who let you down.

But I had loved him. I had. Completely and utterly and for a long long time, all through my first marriage and even after, even despite myself, despite all good sense and self-preservation. If we ever met for lunch, and we did, over the years, there was never a slow spot in the conversation, the attraction was immediate, I’d walk away dreamily thinking about star-crossed lovers for the sexual attraction had never died. Bonnie put her hand on my shoulder and we stared into each other’s eyes as tears congealed into a hard lump at the base of my throat. “He did,” she said again, now nodding slightly for emphasis. I let the silence speak.

I drove home to Tony without the radio on and was there before dark.

Jane’s legacy from her father—all she would ever know of him—fit in a single cardboard box that I got at the UPS store. It was a good size, to be sure, but it was one box. With a copy of his obituary, I sent the package off to her and insured it for a couple hundred dollars, as if money could have replaced what would have been lost.

That time she showed up in the town where I lived when she wasn’t going to call me? She was wearing one of Brian’s jackets, the gray suede one, and his fedora. I was wearing a man’s black felt Stetson that day, I remember thinking that anyone would have seen that we were mother and daughter. My mother, my daughter and I—we all wear hats well, I thought, but keep your mouth shut about that because that might piss Jane off. I had to watch my step for I was on probation once again. Why—who knows why? Because she wants to show me that she can walk away whenever she feels like it

When she took off the hat and put it down beside her, our eyes met the way eyes do. I did not pretend to understand how she felt.

Some years later, when she came back with her daughter Britt, who was not yet three, Jane asked to visit his grave. It was about an hour's drive away. We stopped for flowers, stopped to get the exact location in a field of identical and orderly military gravestones. Jane placed the flowers on his grave, Britt picked up a stone and placed it next to the flowers. "That's what he deserves," Jane said, her voice barely above a whisper. "A stone."

But still, his daughter had come to pay her respects.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Birth Father Refuses to Meet His Daughter

While we are talking about men's reactions to learning about a first child who had been surrendered to adoption, here is a section of the memoir I'm writing that relates to my daughter, Jane, and her biological father, Brian. This section picks up after Birthmark has been published, and I have found Jane. The year is 1983; Jane was seventeen. Jane lived in Wisconsin; her adoptive mother was a nurse, her father an insurance adjuster. At the time of this part of the story, Brian was a reporter for Newsday on Long Island, where I live.

Copyright 2009 Lorraine Dusky

Chapter 11 No-Show Dad

If the point of Birthmark had been to shine a light on the truth of adoption and the injustice of sealed birth records, as well as to show that mothers did not forget, then further publicity of our “happy ending” was a good thing. With Jane’s and her parents’ agreement, I initiated reunion stories in the media when she came back to Sag Harbor the following summer for an extended stay—most of the summer! Imagine my elation! Imagine my joy! Evan, my husband's son, was also spending the summer between college semesters with us. In two years, I’d gone from a single woman singing the blues to a wife and mother, two times over.

Sure, it happens to a lot of women, but to me? Not something I would have allowed myself to imagine. How much the changes in my life affected me was evident apparently in the lines of my face. A couple of months after I’d been reunited with Jane, someone a friend of a friend asked her if I’d had a face lift or “something done.” He said I looked “different, younger.” I was forty at the time.

Jane and I did a TV show in Boston, interviews with the local weeklies, and Long Island’s daily, Newsday, where Brian worked, sent a columnist. Her story [1] filled nearly half a page, with a picture with the two of us sitting on our back porch with our arms wrapped around each other. Ann [Jane's adoptive mother] is quoted, noting that while Jane had been curious about her biological mother, friends were against our meeting. “You never know how strong the ties are.” she said. “But we did it for Jane’s sake…. Here was this glamorous girl from New York. ‘It had to be that, didn’t it’ I thought then. I wasn't thrilled about the whole thing. I really did feel threatened.” She added that her husband was more suspicious about what I wanted, “but it was easier for him because it was a mother who came into the picture….But no, it worked out nicely.”

The writer noted that Jane was only uncomfortable with one question: What is Lorraine to you? “It’s hard to describe to other people what she is to me,” Jane answered.

Oddly enough, the writer did not ask about her father, and we offered no information. Did she know who it was? Did she even knew him? The information mill among newspaper people operates pretty well, as you might imagine; but maybe she hadn’t heard any of the gossip from Rochester, because after all, I left there in a cloud seventeen years earlier. If Jane hoped a story in Brian’s own newspaper would melt his heart, she kept it to herself, and I did not mention it. I hoped he would call. Unless he was at that moment away in detox, he had to have seen the story.

However, her father was mentioned a few weeks later, in a New York Times story, [2] that noted that he lived on Long Island, but so far had refused to meet her. The story included another mother [Alison Ward and her daughter, Holly] who had reunited with her teenage daughter. The four of us are all smiles in the accompanying photograph. “Jane, who had planned to start searching for her natural mother when she turned eighteen, views the situation this way: ‘I just feel I have two women who really care about me,’” the story read. No sweat, she seemed to be saying.

Ann was quoted in the piece, remarking that she “always wondered if [our meeting] would interfere with my relationship with Jane, but finding Lorraine has freed Jane and given her much more self-confidence. And, if anything, Jane and I are as close, if not closer, than ever.”

A spokesman for the National Council for Adoption—the opposition—was also quoted in the story, stating that the search movement could be the source of a great “potential for human sorrow” on the part of the birth mothers. “These women may have had their child through rape or incest, and a meeting could be very harmful to them.”[3] He estimated that only one to two percent of adoptees and birth parents want to meet; Florence Fisher of ALMA disputed that, and put the figure at 80 percent. Elizabeth Cole from the Child Welfare League noted that records are open in Britain and Israel and that her colleagues there “had not found the practice to be harmful.” She predicted that adoptees will eventually get their original birth records in this country. That was in 1983.

The piece ended with a zinger: “In 1979 Julie Welsh, a 33-year-old medical secretary from Fair Lawn, N.J., traced the son she had given up for adoption 12 years earlier to a family who lived only 30 minutes away. One day she summoned the courage to knock on their door. She learned that the boy’s adoptive mother had died when he was 5 and the father had married a woman who did not like him, so he was sent to a private school in New Hampshire.

“‘If you want him back you can have him back,’ Mrs. Welsh was told. She did, so the following weekend she and her husband drove up to get the boy, Jeff, who had not been allowed to come home for holidays or vacations. The Welshes, who have two other children, have legally adopted Jeff, whose first words when his mother encountered him were: ‘I’m so glad you came and found me!’”

Brian had to have seen at least one of the pieces. But he did not call. Nor had he responded to the picture and note I’d written earlier, sent to him at the office. There was no reason in making another call, only to be turned down again, but Jane had other ideas. She would get him on the phone herself—he would not turn her down if she called, right? Probably right? I admired her moxie—she was only seventeen, and she’d been the adopted kid who had seizures and wore a hockey helmet to school for four years. But what if, even then, he said, No, I won’t meet you and hung up? Was she up to this outcome? How much more pain did she have to endure? But I did not interfere; this was her call. She’s a gutsy kid, I told myself—she’s my daughter, all right.

So, from the upstairs phone in the hallway—the same one where I’d taken her name down two years before—I dialed his direct number at Newsday and handed her the receiver. Please stay, she whispered as the phone rang, I might need you. Brian answered.

But she was also his daughter, she was also a teenager afraid of rejection, and now her courage failed her. “Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?” I could hear his voice faintly coming through the line but Jane could not make herself speak. Her eyes were shiny globes of infinite sorrow. Go ahead, say something, I urged with a nod of the head, Say something. Say Hello. Say anything.

She could not find her voice. Maybe I should have grabbed the phone out of his hands and yelled at him to be a man and just say hello to his daughter, but he’d been so clear—even irritated the last time I’d called—about not being ready, just “not now,” and maybe my intervention now might just make him angry, and that might be worse than this impasse. That might set back everything, if she were ever to meet him. Maybe.

Brian hung up after twenty seconds or so.

Jane looked me, sad and terrified and disappointed all at once, a look that broke my heart. She ran down the steps and out of the house. No, she did not want me to come. She did not want to talk about the aborted phone call, or him or anything when she got back, and what really, could there be to say? We never spoke of that phone call again.

Of course now I was really angry with Brian. This was someone who had spoken of “honor” and “character” when we had been together. He turned out to be a straw man. He didn’t even have the backbone to meet his daughter.

[1] Marilyn Goldstein, “ Forging A Family Bond After 17 Years, Long Island Diary, Newsday, July 21, 1983.

[2] Judy Klemesrud, “Mothers Find the Children They Gave Up,” New York Times, Aug. 29,1983.

[3] While that seems to be the great bugaboo about open records to uninformed people or those opposed to open records, there are no indications, no statistics from states with open records that these women object to meeting their children in any greater number than women who were not the victims of rape or incest. Of course last week, we had a story from New Jersey about a woman who was suing the state when she a child contacted her. For such women, I have little understanding, as the child is wholly innocent in such a circumstance.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dear Abby Gets It! Firstmother Husbands cont'd

I foolishly asserted in the June 19 column, “Firstmother Husbands: How They Handle the News of an Earlier Child,” that “the outraged husband who rejects his wife when he finds out about her sin … is a myth.” In her June 21 column, Abigail Van Buren responded to a woman with an outraged husband. Here’s the letter and Abby’s response.

"DEAR ABBY: I became an unwed mother many years ago, when there was a stigma attached to having an illegitimate child. Unable to care for my son, I placed him for adoption. He has now found me.

I have a family, and my husband does not want me to tell our adult children or contact the young man and his family.

Do I go against the wishes of my husband, whom I love very much, or should I tell our children and perhaps risk my husband leaving me? — CONFLICTED IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR CONFLICTED: From the tone of your letter your husband is the dominant partner in your marriage. If that’s the case, and you really think he would leave you after all these years because you leveled with your children about the fact that they have a half-brother, then keep the secret.

However, if your relationship with your husband is anything approaching a partnership, then stand up for yourself and make it clear that you are the sum total of all your experiences — both the joyful and the painful — and you need to see your son, thank his family for the love and care they have given him, and let your adult children make up their own minds about whether they want to be contacted.

This is the 21st century, and we are far beyond the attitudes of the 1950s in which a human being who is born out of wedlock is a shameful secret forever to be buried. In addition, secrets have a way of always coming out eventually."

JANE: The letter is right on except for the “thank his family” part. I can’t agree that raising a child is so much of a burden that birthmothers should thank the adoptive parents.I’d also add the following paragraph:

Consider the situation from your son’s viewpoint. He found you because he needs to know his origins and connect with people who share his genes. You gave him up because you had no choice but now you do. Think how painful it will be to him if you refuse to contact him, in effect telling him once again that he cannot be a part of your life. Learn more about why adoptees search and encourage your husband to do so as well. A good place to start is Tim Green’s “A Man and His Mother: An Adopted Son’s Search.” You and your husband might also consider joining a support group for adoptees and birthparents. The American Adoption Congress has a list of resources on its website.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Chosen Child: Adopted and Special

I stumbled across this reunion story yesterday when I Goggled “Birthmother.” The adoptee, Margaret Harless, is now 54, just two years older than I. She was born to a “poor, unmarried housemaid” on the Air Force base in Germany where her parents, an American soldier and his wife, received their “gift” in a face-to-face meeting arranged through the base chaplain, unusual (I think) for an adoption of that era; it also struck me that it was a harbinger of the international adoption trend.

This following passage jumped out at me: “Throughout her childhood, Harless said her parents balanced their honesty about her adoption with a love that treated her no differently than if she had been theirs by birth. "They always told me, 'You're very special because we picked you out. We didn't have to take you,' “Harless recalls with a laugh. ”I never felt like I was missing anything."

Special. Picked you out. We didn’t have to take you. “Picked out,” like choosing a cake from a bakery display case? Like shopping for a car, selecting the color and preferred options? I pictured the cartoons of my early childhood, prospective parents smiling through a nursery window full of pink and blue bassinettes with a stork standing by, the parents pointing to their selection, the stork wrapping up the bundle of joy and delivering it down a chimney. How would I feel if I heard that from my parents? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have taken it well at all. And I also thought of the ancient proverb, “Beggars should not be choosers.”

But I read on and this really hit home: “But Harless also wanted to know the person who, according to her parents, had given her up because she couldn't afford to keep her and wanted a better life for her daughter. She didn't pursue this desire during the life of her parents. Though they were outwardly supportive of any attempts to locate her birth mother, Harless said she believed different feelings lay beneath the surface. [Italics mine].

How sadly familiar that previous statement is to so many of us FMF readers; we know those mixed signals all too well, the perpetual elephant in the room of countless adoptee/adoptive parent relationships.

Thankfully, Harless eventually followed her instincts and registered with adoption.com and forgot about it, until she heard from an American woman living in Germany who makes a career of reuniting American adoptees with their Germany birth families (what a great job!). Some missed communication ensued, but eventually there’s the happy ending we all dream of, in thanks to Facebook, which just confirmed my theory from my Facebook Fallout blog of April 3.

Lorraine and I briefly discussed the notion of being “chosen.” She noted that adoptees—especially aware adoptees—aren’t fond of the term. My daughter used that phrase early in our reunion; one day at work a colleague overheard her conversation and he poked his head over the cubicle wall and asked, “Are you a chosen one too?” My daughter’s adoptive father told me the story of how they came to be her parents. They didn’t “choose” my daughter; she fell into their laps. The agency called them the day I signed the relinquishment papers and asked if they were prepared to take on a daughter. No bassinettes full of bundles of joy, no storks.

JANE: Presenting adoption as a "gift" from doesn't sit well with me [me either-Linda]. It’s really just another international adoption story. Couple from US adopt poor child so child can have a better life. In the post-war period many German children went home with American military families. They were open adoptions only in that they may have met and knew each others names but no communication.

Ironically, Germany did well in the post-war period so it is likely that these German mothers could have raised their children, like the Korean mothers who gave up children in the 1960s -1980s.

There is an organization of German born adoptees, Geborener Deutsche, which helps German adoptees search for their original families. Peter Dodds wrote a memoir of his experience of being adopted from Germany by an American military family, >Outer Search/Inner Journey He learned German and found his mother. He is opposed to international adoption.

The positive part of all search/reunion stories is that they help counter two myths--that adoptees are welded to their adoptive families as if born to them and that birthmothers don't want to meet their children. Of course, the downside is that reunions are still news--meaning that the public doesn't expect them to happen.

Adoptee followers of FMF, we'd like to hear from you; tell us how you feel about being called "special" and "chosen."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Having a Baby Today; and a new book about identity when adopted

photo by Ken Robbins
We've skated in the past over this generation of young women choosing not to have children until OMG it's too late....well, today, two books reviewed in the New York Times Style section caught my eye: Rattled! a memoir by Christine Coppa is about a young woman who got pregnant at 26 and decided to have the baby, even though daddy split; the other, In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding, Love, Commitment and Motherhood by Rachel Lehmann-Haupt is the story of the author, now 39, who is considering insemination unless Mr. Right shows up on her beach blanket this summer. Don't know if she is considering insemination by someone who the child might someday be able to know. Here's the link to the Times. Perhaps we could send her a copy of Lethal Secrets: The Psychology of Donor Istemination, Problems and Solutions by Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor, long time adoption-reform advocates.

You probably won't have any trouble deciding which author we at Birth Mother, First Mother Forum would prefer to have over for tea or a rum and tonic.

And from New Jersey, Linda has alerted us to a new book by a fellow Jerseyan, Ann Bauer: The Sound of Hope about her quest to find her original parents and identity.

And while we are feeling frisky and cranky today: check out what just popped up after I hit the publish post, View Blog:
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Friday, June 19, 2009

FirstMother Husbands: How they handle the news of an earlier child

Photo by Ken Robbins

How do the husbands of first/birth mothers handle the news of learning their lovers and wives have relinquished a child for adoption? What, if any role, do they play in whatever relationship occurs with the "lost" child of the birth mother they are married to? Should first mothers tell their husbands about the child? Here are the experiences of we three FirstMothers:

LINDA: I met my husband, Ken, when my daughter was 21 months old, and I told him about her very early in our relationship. He wasn't freaked out, it never bothered him, and he accepted my status fully, except when her birthday arrived every fall and everything stopped for my "national day of mourning." He always said it had nothing to do with him, so he'd just step aside and let me deal with it.

Ken answered the phone the day the adoption agency contacted me; he knew exactly what it was about, thanked God the phone call finally arrived, and was thrilled for me. He also admitted just last night that he was thankful that we would finally come together on something that separated us...he always felt like an outsider, excluded, whenever my sisters and I would talk about my daughter in hushed tones.

My daughter and I exchanged letters and photos immediately; when her letter arrived I asked Ken to open it, look at the photos, and tell me what he thought. "Oh, she's definitely your daughter," he reported. When he met her for the first time at her home in the South, about four months into our reunion, he confirmed she had my temperament, and loved her very much. He still does. Throughout our reunion ups and downs he would have preferred I hadn't been so hard-nosed, but he understood why I was--there was more to deal with than just my daughter; he never said anything because it wasn't his affair.

Ken told me he could see the troubled relationship coming. He described me as out of control, as though I was on speed, trying to cram 23 years into two; "everyone" but me knew it was overwhelming. He wanted to be the knight in shining armor, wished things were different, that things would turn around.

I asked him what was the best part of the five years my daughter was in our life and he replied having her in our home, having her here. She came to us, it meant a lot to him. The worst part is now, not having her in our life, but he knows it's something he can't control, and he won't voice an opinion. He knows he could call her today and they'd have a great conversation, but he won't because of how it would affect me. As we were discussing this last night he kept saying, "She is your daughter. I love her. It's the not knowing that tears you apart. When I met her I thought, how could you make me miss this for so many years?"

Ken and my daughter's parents are about the same age, i.e., a decade or so older than me. When I told him there are many husbands and significant others who aren't as open minded as he is when it comes to their wives' past, he just couldn't comprehend men rejecting their wives' children because another man is their father. Ken confessed, "If it ever bothered me, I got over it once I became a part of things, I embraced it, welcomed it. It was a joyous occasion. The black cloud left, and then the sun came out, and then the sun went away [the past four years without contact from my daughter]. But today, seeing the pictures [coincidentally, my daughter emailed us photos of my grandsons the same day I interviewed him for this article], I see a rainbow."

JANE: My husband, Jay, and I began dating when I was in my first year of law school, the year after Megan was born and surrendered. Jay went into the Army at the beginning of my second year. He had leave over Christmas and we went to Reno to visit his sister and her family. He asked me to marry him and we were married in Virginia City, Nevada on December 31, 1968. The evening before our wedding I told him about Megan. Other than a few people who knew me when I was pregnant I had not told and did not tell anyone else about her other than my obstetrician until our reunion in 1997. One reason --I have to admit--that I told Jay was that I read in Ann Landers (please don't laugh) women should always tell husbands about previous childbirths.

A week later he returned to his Army base in El Paso, Texas and I returned to law school in Eugene, Oregon. We did not talk about Megan for many years. He did try to bring her up several times but I did not want to talk about her to him or anybody else.

Several weeks after Megan contacted me in November, 1997, I told Jay we had connected and he was very pleased. He has been welcoming to her, her children, and her husband.

Although I've heard of women who were afraid to tell their husbands about their lost child, I have never met any birthmothers whose husband rejected them. Au contraire, every birthmother I've known who has married has had a supportive husband. Interestingly, about 20 percent of birthmothers marry the birthfather. I really think the outraged husband who rejects his wife when he finds out about her sin, a la Angel Claire of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Ubervilles, is a myth.

LORRAINE: I've been married twice (the first one within two years of relinquishing my daughter) and both husbands have been entirely supportive. I told Husband Number One when he asked me to marry him. No problem; we did not, however, share this with his parents. When I met Husband Number Two, Tony, it was a little more than a year after my memoir, Birthmark, was published and when he asked what my book was about...the truth was out. When he barely reacted, I was naturally surprised. Later I found out he (who had one daughter in college, a son in high school from his previous marriage) had only been meeting and dating women my age (35 and up) who were desperate to have a child and his first reaction was: Great, she's already had a child, she won't be having baby hunger, worrying about her biological clock, I wonder if she will go on a date with me.

Tony and I have been together since then--1981--and he had a lot to do with my decision to search for my daughter when she was fifteen. He saw no reason why it was sacrosanct that I wait until she was older. After I found her, she lived with us off and on for several months at a time beginning when she was in high school, he became a kind of step parent to her. Jane liked and respected him. Though I have not been active in the adoption reform movement for long periods of time, Tony has always been supportive whenever I have. He understands this is so much a part of me that to stop it would be like trying to turn me into someone else.

Our advice from FirstMotherForum (and reaffirming advice columnist advice): If you have not yet told your partner, and if you have a loving relationship, it is unlikely to be harmed by letting go of this secret. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to tell, because then it will seem as if you have been lying by omission, something Late Discovery Adoptees know about. And once the truth is out, your relationship is likely to strengthen because now you are sharing this very deep part of you. And there will not be any difficult moments with your partner and other children, should the phone ring one day and someone says: I was born in City X on such-and-such a date...."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Learning About One's Birth Family at the Kitchen Table

My husband's son and his family are visiting and last night as we sat around the dinner table, my husband, Tony, told stories of his mischievous youth to his grandson, who is ten-going-on-eleven.

There was the story about being found out playing with kids in houses under construction. His mother happened to drive by and catch him hanging from second-story rafters. She used a yard-stick on his behind afterward and grounded him for two weeks. (Corporal punishment! I can imagine that's how that would be interpreted--because, yes it technically is--by a social worker, but that sounds so much worse than the story in context.) Earlier in the day, the grandson mentioned to me and Tony that he was related to Franklin D. Roosevelt on his mother's side, a fact we had not known. Later in the evening, Tony and his son were reading side by side, and their common love of history and lifetime learning was evident, while grandson Dylan watched a science show on television.

I remember how pleased I was when my eleven-year-old granddaughter mentioned that she was determined to learn French when she could take a language--rather than Spanish. I don't think there was any way she knew then that I was a Francophile pretty much from the age of reason. She's seventeen now, and called the other day to say that next year she would go to France with her fourth year French class. And by now she does know, yes, I am a lifelong Francophile. Her prom pictures show her wearing long white gloves, just like the ones I wore to the prom, while the other girls in the picture have forgone the gloves. Yes! I said, she's my granddaughter all right! Jane has written before about hearing Megan, her daughter who was adopted, talk about how different she was from her sisters...while they all sat there in the Birkenstocks.

Though I never met her, I know that my father's mother was well educated in Poland, and came to this country at a young woman by herself--a rather daring feat. Here she was a bit of a rabble-rouser as she wrote letters to the newspaper in her small town in Pennsylvania (though I'm not sure which town the newspaper was in--Jenners, or Boswell, or an even larger town farther away) and for extra money (my grandparents were very poor, with six kids) made bathtub moonshine she sold for 50 cents a bottle. When she was caught, my grandfather took the rap and spent a night in jail. Cool grandma, I thought, but...handed down from a social worker that probably would have been translated into: Criminal activity--even imprisonment--in your family.

What does all this have to do with the resolution--A Right to Human Identity--that Jane wrote about in Wednesday's post, (6/16/09) and the author (Rev. Mark Diebel) of the resolution commented on? Just this: if we are not adopted, we learn a great deal about who we are from our ancestors and people who are genetically related to us in the daily course of our lives. Denying anyone the right to know whatever is possible to know about him or herself is so grievously wrong that the mind boggles at even trying to explain why. It simply is.

I'm bringing up Rev. Diebel's comments here because readers might otherwise miss them:
...the real point of the resolution is to assert that a person has a right to their history...in the case of birth it means knowing the identities of the parties involved. In the old times that meant parents. Today it means donors, surrogate mothers...commissiong parents...first mothers and fathers.

The means for passing on this information must be examined. I certainly hope that the resolution in the Episcopal Church can help put the discussion of this important subject in another forum.

The EP has no pull in the legislature. Statements like this serve to indicate how a group of people are coming to think. It has an indirect value (we hope!)--Mark Diebel
We need more adoptees making noise like this. We need more adoptees demanding their birth identities. We need change in our lifetimes. Act up and make it happen! --lorraine

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Right to Human Identity doesn't go far enough

The Albany diocese of the Episcopalian Church recently passed a resolution "A Right to Human Identity" urging the New York state legislature to enact a law enabling adoptees “to secure current information regarding their historical heritage, medical history, and genetic derivation without the necessity of court action.” Our friend and adoptee Episcopalian priest Mark Diebel of East Greenbush, New York wrote the resolution, and it will be taken up for consideration by the Church’s General Convention in July.

While we strongly support the right of adopted persons to have this information, we at FirstMother Forum have doubts about the mechanism for achieving this result. Information gathered years earlier and filtered through the eyes of a social worker often leads to misinformation.

Two years after I surrendered my daughter Megan for adoption in 1966, I married and my husband and I have raised three daughters. Over the years we have given them information about their heritage, medical history, and genetics through dinner conversations, get togethers with relatives, and the like. “Your great-grandfather came cross country on a train all by himself when he was five; my cousin played the piano; this used to belong to my mother; I remember when I was a little girl….”

That’s how Megan, my surrendered daughter, should have gotten her information, from me and her father. That’s why we at FirstMother Forum wholeheartedly support the right of adopted persons to obtain their original birth certificate which has the name of their biological mother, and often their father.

Megan, however, first learned about her historical heritage, medical history, and genetic derivation in 1986, not from family folklore or direct experience but through a redacted version of a report prepared by a social worker 20 years earlier based on a couple of relatively brief meetings. There were bound to be errors. Here’s an example:

The social worker asked me about my parents and siblings. I told her my younger brother had dropped out of high school, smoked pot, and protested the war in Vietnam. When Megan got the report from the agency 20 years later, she read that she had an uncle with metal health problems. We didn’t meet until 1997. So for 11 years she believed that there was mental illness in my family which might be hereditary. As for my brother, he is still a hippie today, but his is also an excellent father to four sons and runs his own business selling South American imports at Seattle’s Pike Street Market.

Besides being inaccurate, Megan obtained personal information about someone, my brother, who had nothing to do with her. My raised daughters were not entitled to this information about his youth, although if they had shown interest, I would have shared it with them in the context of the times, when many were smoking marijuana, dropping out of school and protesting the war.

Social worker notes may contain comments like "the mother very much wants to place her child” or “the mother does not want to parent her child.” We were much like the condemned man walking to the gallows. The time for tears, for protestations had passed. We signed our surrender papers as stoically as General Robert Lee signed the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. We would not outwardly resist the inevitable even though our bodies were screaming “don’t do this.” The social worker wrote what she observed but what she observed was a façade. An adoptee reading these remarks years later might well believe that his mother had no feelings for him and decide not to search.

A couple of other comments about the inherent unreliability of case reports: Information about the adoptee’s birthfather likely comes from the birthmother and thus is further filtered. The picture of the mother in agency reports is fixed in time. The pregnant 17 year old, frozen with guilt, unable to express her feelings, is far different from the confident successful woman the adoptee is likely to meet years later.

The availability of material from the adoption agency file can derail legislation allowing adoptees to receive their original birth certificates. If adoptees want only historical, medical and genetic information, the adoption industry argues, the redacted file is sufficient and adoptees don't need to search for their birthparents. As birthmothers, we want adopted persons to search because we know there are thousands of women waiting hopefully for their calls.

On a positive note: The resolution adds a respected voice to those asserting the right of adoptees to have information about themselves and the injustice of denying it to them. Media coverage of the resolution at the General Convention in Anaheim will bring to the fore once again how millions of Americans are denied the fundamental right of knowing their identity. And just perhaps, the legislatures in New York, California, and the other 42 states which have refused to end this discrimination against adopted persons will finally get it.

Here is the resolution in its entirety:

A Right to Human Identity

RESOLVED, that the Diocese of Albany adopt the following statement: Personal history is a fundamental human right and knowledge of one's entire parentage should be assumed as part of a person's natural property. Be it further
RESOLVED that the Diocese of Albany adopt the following statement: That the NY State legislature be urged to establish procedures that would enable adoptees [upon reaching legal age] to secure current information regarding their historical heritage, medical history, and genetic derivation without the necessity of court action. Be it further
RESOLVED, that the Diocese of Albany propose the two above resolutions to the next General Convention (July 8-17, in Anaheim) with the second resolution written so as to cover all states.

Monday, June 15, 2009

More Madonna News; Child Trafficking in Asia


Madonna's bid to adopt a girl from Malawi, Chifundo Mercy James, has been approved by the highest court in that country according to several news sources. The papers also say that while "her family" (ie, maternal relatives, her mother died in childbirth) is for the adoption, her father, who has never seen the girl, also according to these sources, is against it. From Mirah Riben's blog, Family Preservation Advocacy, we took this statement:
We are delighted to report that Malawi's Supreme Court has overturned an earlier ruling denying a petition by Madonna to adopt Chifundo "Mercy" James, and has granted a full adoption. According to the New York Times, Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo, in reviewing the lower court's ruling, said that the first decision was a narrow interpretation based on old laws and that "in this global village a man can have more than one place at which he resides." We agree. Moreover, in our increasingly inter-connected world, a child should not be viewed as the sole responsibility of his country of birth.

--from the press release of ACT for Adoption, a Rye, NY, based organization of adoption attorneys with a Harvard connection through the proponent of all-adoption-all-the-time Prof. Elizabeth Bartholet of Harvard.

Read Mirah's blog, Family Preservation Advocacy, for more on the skinny.

And while we are on the subject of international adoption, read about child trafficking in Asia from Australian radio where babies are brought in fishing boats, packed in styrofoam fish crates with air holes so they don't suffocate. This is from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:
First world demand to adopt very young babies is driving a new twist in people smuggling, particularly in Asia.

One of Australia's senior law officers, John Pascoe, says more and more, smugglers are trading in pregnant women - the perfect incubators - for access to their newborns. Australia's Chief Federal Magistrate John Pascoe, Australia's Chief Federal Magistrate (analogous to our Attorney General) says that among the measures needed to fight the insidious trade should be a new system of children's rights. To illustrate the shift in focus for the smugglers, Mr. Pascoe describes a 2003 case that happened off Indonesia--where the babies were found in fish crates.

JOHN PASCOE: Sadly this is a crime which is very hidden, trafficking generally is very much a hidden crime, but there are increasing numbers of reports, there are fortunately an increasing number of arrests in this area, so we believe that it's increasing and that the numbers are probably in the thousands rather than in tens or hundreds.

Interviewer LINDA MOTTRAM: So why is this growing? Is it just because the trafficking progress is evolving? The traffickers are finding new and better ways, if you like, to move the people they want to move or are there other factors there?

JOHN PASCOE: We believe that trafficking is always motivated by economics, but also there is significant demand for children for adoption apart from anything else. I believe that most newly born children end up in some sort of illegal adoption process. There's huge demand from first world countries for very young children for adoption purposes.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Well, what can be done about this? There are international conventions on the rights and protection of children but clearly that's inadequate?

JOHN PASCOE: Yes, I think we need to encourage countries throughout the Asia Pacific region to become signatories to the various conventions that protect the rights of the child. and that is not universal across the region. And I am also putting forward that I think we need to move to a system that actually gives a child rights which crystallise the moment it is born and those rights should include a right to know its nationality, to know who its parents are and generally to be properly cared for.

And you know what? Every time a celebrity such a Madonna adopts, three little girls somewhere in the world decide they are going to do their bit for children...and adopt.

Though I thought the weekend would be adoption free, it was not. Someone I know was hosting a friend who adopted two children from Brazil, though from the story I heard, the adoptive mother found the siblings in separate orphanages or homes and reunited them when she adopted; a good thing, but was there no one in Brazil who could have done the same? And then I heard of someone I knew vaguely who had two children...and since the man telling us the story knew she was not able to have children (as he had once been her boyfriend), he asked the father who had had run into at his office...how this was possible? Surrogate mothers. I think it's more prevalent than we know. This is a story from the publishing world; Jane tells the same about the legal community, and Linda is always meeting adoptive parents by...accident?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Navigating between Two Mothers: Biological and Adoptive, Part 2

Photo by Ken Robbins

The previous post begins a chapter about my daughter, whom I relinquished at birth in 1966, and her relationships with two mothers, me, her biological, birth, first original mother; and Ann, her adoptive mother; as well my relationship with the adoptive family, which always was a little dicey. To briefly recap: I found my daughter, and was reunited with her, when she was fifteen in 1981, when reunions were just beginning to make news, and open adoption was pretty much unheard of. My daughter's family were salt-of-the-earth types (her father was an insurance adjuster; her mother, a nurse) lived in the Midwest; both my husband and I are writers. All of us came from working/middle class backgrounds.

To continue from Hole in My Heart, an unfinished memoir:

Copyright, Lorraine Dusky 2009
Yet despite any doubts about me, Ann would refer to Jane as, “our daughter,” a pronoun which rang like a bell the first time she said it, and for which I have always been appreciative. Tales of other adoptive parents that I heard from other first mothers were not nearly as encouraging as the relationship I was forging with the Schmidts, and they were doing it at a time when reunions of this sort were indeed rare. Other first mothers were told to never contact the children in question; that the police would be called otherwise. Adoptees who had the audacity to search, or, what’s worse, find and meet, were cut out of wills, and told by their parents they were now dead to them, and that included the grandchildren. The common solution? The adopted person would keep any relationship with his first family secret from his adoptive family.

I hoped my daughter would feel the same indelible connection with me that I did with her. However, that did not mean I wanted her bonds with the Schmidts to loosen, for their enduring relationship would be proof that the adoption had gone well, and that would at least assuage my conscience. But navigating between the two mothers would always prove hazardous. As Jane would describe in an email one day many years later: “I feel like a magnet torn between two sides that are pulling at me. To move towards one, you have to pull away from the other.”

Yet Jane maintained she would not have had it otherwise: “You took such a great stress out of my life by finding me,” she said when we recorded the conversation. “I was very lucky to not have to be forced to search….It was a given as I was growing up that I would search. The attitude was, you get through high school first, and then we’ll deal with this. But you coming along made my life a lot less—so many questions I didn’t have to wonder about anymore. Especially when I went through depression—this wasn’t one of the issues.”

Over the years, Jane would sometimes point out that it would have been extremely difficult for me, as a single woman with an erratic income, to cope with raising her, especially because of her epilepsy. Hell, it would have been hard to raise her as a single parent back then, with or without the epilepsy. With Ann and Gary, in Madison, Wisconsin, in a stable family with good health insurance, Jane had the best medical care known at the time, and the control of epilepsy has not advanced all that much since then. I might have been a perfectly acceptable mother—I was a sought-after baby-sitter as a teenager—but I recognized all along how overwhelming raising her alone would have been. I never have thought I would have been a great mother—I always did want a career, I was ambitious, I was raised at a time and in a family where a career and motherhood were not compatible, when being a single mother with an out-of-wedlock baby was a disgrace, and my family had no cushion of money that might have eased the way. Jane understood all this, and when she said, I don't know how you would have done it, Lorraine, I did not argue.

My relationship with her father, Gary, was far less problematic than the one I had with Ann. He was far more accepting of me, and unquestionably smoothed my incursion into their lives. He would have preferred I was someone who went to Sunday mass, but he showed no overt disdain towards me, or us. But then, I was Jane’s mother—not her father—and that other man was nowhere in sight. Gary had no competitor. True, when Jane visited, Tony took on a role not unlike that of a step-parent, but he was not her father.

Tangible evidence of Jane’s difficult see-saw relationship with her two mothers is a picture snapped by Gary one sunny day many years after we all knew each other. We—Gary, Ann and I—imagined it might be a swell record of our rather remarkable relationship. Because despite my sense of being the moral underdog in the eyes of the Schmidts, all of us--Ann, Gary, and I--were managing to work through the uncharted waters of this adoption and reunion with a modicum of turmoil, and we all knew it. Jane is sitting between us. Ann and I are staring straight into the camera, both of us smiling the way you do in pictures, both of us looking comfortable in our roles. However, Jane is pensive, not a glimmer of a smile. She is looking away from the camera, looking as if she did not belong there, looking uncomfortable sitting between her two mothers.

Some might say that life would have been less complicated for Jane if I had not contacted her when she was a teenager, and people openly admit that they adopt from Siberia and China and India not only because it’s easier to get an infant there, but because the likelihood of a child’s original mother coming back is pretty much nil. No competition, no complications. But prima facie that ignores what the adopted individual might want—in fact, it gives the individual no choice. Adoption then becomes not an arrangement to fulfill the needs of a child who needs a home; it becomes a deal that satisfies the desires of someone who wants a child at any cost—and that child’s need to have and hold his connection to the tree of life be damned.

Jane would not be caught in that trap.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Navigating between Two Mothers: Biological and Adoptive

copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2009

From Hole in My Heart, an as yet unfinished memoir, a chapter called Two Mothers:

(For those new to the blog, Jane is my daughter who I relinquished for adoption and reunited with when she was fifteen; Ann is her adoptive mother, Gary her adoptive father, Tony is my husband who is not Jane's biological father. The time frame is the early Eighties. Tony and I are living on the eastern end of Long Island, as we still do today. The Schmidts, Jane's adoptive parents, live in Madison, Wisconsin.)

Life seemed to be going on relatively smoothly two years after I found Jane. We’d had a few lengthy visits, and the initial intensity had worn off.


I was always thrilled when she was coming, emotionally fraught and fragile when she was here, and exhausted when she left. I tried to act as if I were absorbing everything, no sweat, but I guess I was not doing such a great job for Tony always noticed how internally fried I was, especially as she left. It was as if I were holding all the emotions inside and was only able to breathe once she got on the plane back to Wisconsin. Even if we did much the same things as I did when I visited my mother—lunches, shopping, movies—the emotional quotient was vastly different.

Be that as it may, Jane and I were settling into the relationship we would have over the next quarter of a century. We started out before email. We wrote infrequent letters, especially at the beginning. She was a teenager with severe epilepsy, and frankly, I did not know what to write about my life to her. Telling her what I was doing on a day to day basis seemed silly.

So I phoned now and then, but not too often, she was living with her parents, calling often would have been too intrusive. I kept it to holidays, and just now and then. It was awkward to call, and I never picked up the phone except on a holiday without second guessing myself. Should I? Is it okay to call today? How long has it been since I phoned? Don't get me wrong, everyone was always friendly, and if she were not home, she always called back within a day. Yet I felt like an intruder. Say I called when Jane and her mom were having an argument. “Jane, your birth mother is on the phone,” would not be a welcome interruption. In any case, all of us together—Jane, Ann and me—stumbled along without any major problems for several years.

Gary and Ann had come out to visit us without Jane for a few days, and that went smoothly—as smoothly as one could expect for two couples who did not have much more in common other than a daughter. It is unlikely we would have been more than nodding acquaintances had we had lived in the same town. We showed the Schmidts the beach and the lighthouse at Montauk—Jane and her mom both collected lighthouse memorabilia—and we cooked in, we ate out, we watched television, we talked about Jane. As I’ve said, they are salt-of-the-earth types, and they sincerely hoped that my becoming a part of Jane’s life would give her ego a much-needed boost. It was clear to everyone that her self-esteem hovered ten points below zero.

Perhaps for that reason, Ann, who is a private person, agreed to be a part of joint memoir that would include her side of the story. As Birthmark ends before I was reunited with Jane, I tentatively thought of calling the new book Happy Ending. But we always ran into some roadblock. Such as some new crisis from Jane, not a particularly “happy” one. Besides, I was of two minds about the project. A part of me wanted to finish the story; another part wanted to move on once whatever good might come out of the reunion in regards to adoption reform was over and done. I wanted to be more than the crazy lady who was always dragging around a soapbox with Adoption Reform written on it.

Yet while Ann was willing to let me be a part of Jane’s life, her defensive distrust of me could not quite be hidden behind surface friendliness. It wasn't just me, as Jane’s other mother, it was what I represented: a New York City career woman. And to top that, a writer—not something more understandable, more normal, more like her or Jane's father, an insurance adjuster. If only I’d been something else, I could feel her thinking, a teacher, a nurse, a dental assistant—even a dentist. Her attitude was not conveyed in words, at least not to me; it was a pursed lip here, a flinty look there. We were—arty East Coast types. Our politics might be the same, but we were likely to have a suspect moral code—and besides, Look what I had done. The unthinkable. Given away a child. Gotten pregnant outside of marriage in the first place.

They would call to make arrangements regarding Jane, and we might be entertaining friends with dinner, and the background merriment did not make a good impression. Though I tried—Don’t answer the phone now!—Tony simply could not be broken of the habit of answering the phone no matter when it rang. Obviously, we were party people one could barely trust, while they were good sober citizens who didn’t entertain debauching drunken friends in their home Saturday nights. Twice they had called when we had people over! All this was disdainfully reported to Jane, who reported it to us. We could never forget that she, Ann, held the morally superior position.

I anxiously wanted the Schmidts to approve of me and not see me as the enemy. But like Jane, I always felt as if I were walking on a fence and with any wrong step I would topple off. And of course, they had all the power. Not only were they her legal parents, they were Mom and Dad, and while Jane was a minor, their disapproval could cut off all contact with her. To counter Ann’s opprobrium, I emphasized my Midwestern working-class roots, dropping Michigan into the conversation whenever possible. I didn’t go as far as going to Sunday Mass with them when they visited, but I considered it. Tony, a lukewarm Methodist by birth, a Buddhist at heart, never would have gone. We stayed home when they went to church.

to be continued...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Spotted in this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly:

Series Debut

16 and Pregnant

This reality series, which focuses on a different teen each week, features cute, Juno-esque graphics. But unlike that fluffy comedy, 16 spotlights the struggles girls face — and what they're forced to give up — when having a child. It's a must-watch for sexually active teens everywhere. B+Tim Stack

Wanting to know more, I found this on the MTV Website:

16 and Pregnant is an hour-long documentary series focusing on the controversial subject of teen pregnancy. Each episode follows a 5-7 month period in the life of a teenager as she navigates the bumpy terrain of adolescence, growing pains, rebellion, and coming of age; all while dealing with being pregnant.

Each story offers a unique look into the wide variety of challenges pregnant teens face: marriage, adoption, religion, gossip, finances, rumors among the community, graduating high school, getting (or losing) a job. Faced with incredibly adult decisions, these girls are forced to sacrifice their teenage years and their high school experiences. But there is an optimism among them; they have the dedication to make their lives work, and to do as they see fit to provide the best for their babies.

I’ve watched the trailer twice and it’s like watching a plane crash or train wreck--sensationalistic, edited for drama and ratings, not reality, and of course there's a camera in everyone's face so how much is reality versus acting? The cast members in the trailer have twangy accents and one guy (I’m guessing a grandfather-to-be) was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt, baseball cap, and sported a very long mullet...in other words, perpetuating the stereotype of an unwed young mother as trash. And yes, adoption is mentioned.

I wonder if the series sought out pregnant teens in affluent zip codes; probably not, because those teens have the means and access to pregnancy alternatives; besides, I doubt they (or their parents) would subject themselves to such public scrutiny.

I’m as uneasy about this series as I was the ABC series "Who's Your Daddy?” where a young woman had to guess which man was her birthfather à la The Bachelor (there were even red roses, it was...just creepy and unseemly. Thank God just the one show was aired). My gut reaction upon hearing of the program was shame on MTV, and what were those young girls and their families thinking, or not thinking?

An old friend of mine, an adoptive mother who facilitated my adoption support group for a decade, posted this comment on her facebook page last Sunday:

"[She] has observed a pregnant young girl (high school student?) in church who asks for God's care for her baby and herself. Today I congratulated her and her mother for planning to keep the baby -- told her that was the best for all! Tears came into the mother's eyes -- so I hugged her twice!”

I responded with, “Yay!...Yay Yay! If I were with you right now I’d squeeze you so hard I’d probably break a rib.”

I know many will disagree that it’s best for a 16-year-old mother to be a mother herself, but as we’ve discussed often and strongly here at FMF, relinquishment and its consequences are even more difficult.

I'm sure the news media will have plenty to say about 16 and Pregnant tomorrow, when the show premieres. So should we.--Linda

Lorraine here, adding that I think the show might actually do some good and get kids to be more careful sexually, i.e, use birth control. New mom Bristol Palin is now an advocate for teenager not having kids--of course, her answer is abstinence alone, which is unrealistic. Adoption for some of teen moms is going to happen; I won't be offended or put off if relinquishing a child for adoption is presented on the MTV show as the terrible terrible gut-wrenching, life changing event that it is. Will I watch? Probably check in and see how it hits me. And I might as well add, I thought even the incredibly tacky tacky Who's Your Daddy raised awareness of the need to end ALL RECORDS-CLOSED adoptions. A Good Thing. My original piece seems not to be available for free from Newsday, where it was originally published, but here is a thoughtful look at the whole situation that includes some of what I wrote by an adoptee writing in the UK.

Wednesday evening update: Here's what the NY Times says about the program.