' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Part 3: A granddaugher adopted by strangers, the years tick by

Friday, June 11, 2010

Part 3: A granddaugher adopted by strangers, the years tick by

The story so far: My daughter, who was adopted, had a daughter she relinquished to adoption when she was twenty. The girl's paternal grandmother offered to raise her, but daughter Jane was opposed to that. To catch up, earlier posts, are linked above and here and here. (They are not running concurrently.)

So...I had to accept that my granddaughter was adopted by genetic strangers, a deplorable ending to my not keeping my daughter when she was born 20 years earlier. By the time Jane told me the fable of the "white lawyer mother" and the "black doctor father" I was not only aware of Jane's prediction to lying, but had read about it as a possible outcome of simply being adopted in the first place--with feeling that the life she was living was somewhat of a "lie."

Her situation was compounded by the fact that Jane apparently had been sexually abused by her paternal adoptive grandmother's life-in companion. I say "apparently" because when Jane finally revealed this, at eighteen, to both me and her adoptive family, the man denied it, he continued to live with the grandmother afterward, and her adoptive parents did not know whether to believe Jane or not. By then the lying had infiltrated so much of her life and her relationships. I too was somewhat skeptical but quite quickly my husband, who had written about the devastating effects of child sexual abuse, and I came to believe her; this was one story of hers that never altered, she never forgot what she told us, as would happen with other stories.

God, I hate writing this because it's revealing hard truths about my daughter; not that she was abused, she was a victim, not guilty; but because the lying was such a factor in her relationships. In time I rarely bothered to contradict her when I knew something could not possibly be true; there was no point in doing that because it only led to further disagreement, and despite everything, I preferred having a relationship with her as it was to not having one at all. Florence Fisher, adoptee-rights pioneer, and I talked about this over the years.

Now before anybody gets crazy, understand that I know only a small percentage of the adopted population are going to react in this way, but there it is: "a rich fantasy life usually spun around two sets of parents....themes of loss, abandonment and rejection, and the child behavior problems often included lying, as they felt they had been lied to...." --David Kirschner, Ph.D, in Adoption: Uncharted Waters: A Psychologist's Case Studies. . . Clinical and Forensic Issues, With Practical Advice for Adoptees, Parents and Therapists
And lying is also common among people who have been sexually abused; Jane would later tell me that she was sent to a therapist--I think her name was Connie--to whom she could not/would not tell the truth about the abuse when it began, and so she began learning a pattern of lying that would later affect her life far beyond the therapist's office.

But it was no made-up story that Jane had a baby she relinquished for adoption. That year, she sent an elaborate Mother's Day card, with the most loving messages she had ever sent and she wrote on it how much I meant to her and how now she understood more about me, and us. Shortly after that, she came for an extended visit. I hugged her, we wept together, she was quite simply, fried emotionally, fried like an egg on a hot rock. She brought pictures of Lisa, she gave me one and kept two others on her night stand. We did not really even talk about the experience much; there was nothing to say. Now she knew. Now she understood more about me, though in a way I had hoped she would never know.

Six years passed.

Jane had another daughter in 1992 in a short lived marriage. Because of her epilepsy, she had a hard time managing a job--she only was able to hang unto low level jobs even though she could be book smart--and she had a hard time balancing work and taking care of her daughter. Jane did not talk about Lisa, and though my other--first--granddaughter was on my mind, I was hesitant to bring her up. Whenever I did, I could sense Jane bristling on the other end of the phone line, I would hear a protracted silence. I thought of her real, biological father, Patrick, who shut down any emotionally difficult conversations and situations. He would simply change the conversation or walk away; though he was very much present when she was born and our relationship continued, after I found her he refused to meet Jane, always having one excuse after another. So now his daughter was acting the same way. A couple of times I called Jane on Lisa's birthday, three days before her own, but it was clear she did not welcome the calls or the reminder. If she was not home when I called, she did not return the call, as she always did otherwise during the periods she was talking to me.

God, just that last sentence alone reveals how difficult our relationship could be. Up and down, in and out, on or off, I never knew what to expect from week to week. The slightest remark could set her off and away--and sometimes it was nothing I did, but what was going on with her adoptive parents--no correct that, her adoptive mother. She was agreeable after I found Jane, but then came to hate me. I do not think that is too strong a word. What's the worse thing her mother, Mary, could say to Jane, and she did: You're just like Lorraine.

BirthmarkAt this point, Jane and her daughter were living with Jane's adoptive parents. One time I sent Jane a notice about legislation to open records in Wisconsin, adding maybe you want to do something about this--write a letter, perhaps? It's up to you, you don't have to do anything, but I thought you would like to see this. She'd read my memoir Birthmark and knew I continued to stay involved in adoption reform, one way or another.

But she was not me; she had a lot of her biological (birth seems absurd here, and plays up the absurdity of the term--he was not present at the birth) father's denial of anything emotionally difficult in her. Quite honestly, when I sent the flier I had focused on her being adopted in a sealed-records state, and her always saying she was glad that I had found her--not on her being a first/birth mother too. My mistaken conclusion? She would be interested in reforms occurring in her home state. Lisa was almost never talked about. At the time, I somehow did not recall that she was a (birth/first) mother who chose a closed adoption when she could have had an open one. Florence agreed that if I wanted to have a relationship with Jane, it only would be on her terms, and that included not talking about Lisa. To do so would jeopardize our already fragile relationship at that time.

Consequently we never spoke the changing legislation in Wisconsin, but one day a year later when I was in Wisconsin to see my other granddaughter, Jane's adoptive father said that she started swearing about me when she got one of my letters. He wasn't sure what it was about, but I knew it had to be that. I knew. So I would never talk to her about what I was doing after that, and generally that was a time that I took a vacation from most adoption-related matters and wrote other books, worked in Manhattan on a magazine. I wanted my life to be about more than losing a daughter to adoption.--lorraine 
To be continued.

PS: Adoptee and reform activist Elaine Penn, who found her biological mother in New Jersey (read the amazing story of the explosive reaction of the strange and less than wonderful, er, woman who bore her) will testify in Trenton on Monday, June 14, sometime during the hearing on the original-birth-records bill under consideration there. You should be able to hear it on streaming audio by linking to the New Jersey legislature and poking around a bit for the live hearing:


  1. "But she was not me; she had a lot of her father's denial of anything emotionally difficult in her."
    I have to wonder - were her father's parents anything like her adoptive parents?

  2. Yep it's a hard row to hoe.Did you ever think her lying may be because of her abuse, turning it around?
    Good wishes....

  3. Von:Yes, of course I thought it added to her ignoring the truth. That's why I included it. I should have been more explicit about that. will add, tomorrow.

  4. Cully: I never met her father's parents. His father was deceased, his mother was the local bishop's secretary in Rochester. And the idea of divorce was...a non-starter.

    Of course, later he did get divorced.

  5. Looking forward to reading about you meeting your granddaughter. Enough background, I hope you will soon get to the heart of the story:-)

  6. Lorraine, I don't understand your reply... you never met Jane's father's parents, the idea of divorce was a non-starter (??), and later he did get a divorce... ?

  7. Von: changes made in blog, thank you for pointing out what I forgot to explicitly state; and Cully, changes also made, reread post. Patrick was Jane's biological father, with whom I was deeply in love and had a relationship that would eventually span more than a decade. I never met his mother, only a brother who did not want Patrick to divorce his wife and marry me. I believe he is active in a parish still in Rochester. Patricks's four other children never expressed any interest in meeting Jane, nor did this brother. Patience, Maryanne, you know more of the story than most. I'm getting there.

  8. Off topic, but your blog is mentioned in this interview with the creator of "Life Unexpected."

    And the show has been renewed for another season - I love it!


  9. Why did she choose to give her baby away? I would never do that!



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