' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Meeting my "Adopted" granddaughter

Monday, July 12, 2010

Meeting my "Adopted" granddaughter

The week visit with my "other" granddaughter, the one who was adopted, was loaded in so many ways--emotional, wonderful and difficult. I'm somewhat stunned inside trying to figure out what to say here because just as she is processing all this "new" family connection, I am processing how she reacted to me. And Tony. No, mostly to me. He's safe, he's not related to her biologically. He's an understanding old soul, he is. (He is sometimes maddening, also, but that comes with being married nearly 30 years, and that's another story.)

Meeting Lisa at the airport on Saturday night was not the same as meeting the daughter I had in 1966 and gave up for adoption, but it was a jolt nonetheless. Now I'm meeting the daughter my daughter gave up for adoption. I hate explaining that over and over again, even to good friends, because it makes me feel like such a failure. A double failure. Not only did I give up a daughter, my finding her could not prevent the same thing happening into the next generation. When Lisa said at some point that she is unlikely to have children, I added, Just don't adopt. She said, Yeah, I think it's time to end that in this family. Or maybe she didn't use that word, but we understood what she meant. Great, I said, relief washing into me. It won't be three generations of birth mothers, only two.

The week reminded me how truly much I hate all things adoption. Oh, wait, it has its good part, some children truly do need families. And it turned out Lisa was one of them. She was not handed over to a childless couple who greedily wanted a baby, anyone's baby. They had two daughters, and took in a toddler who needed a home:

Where did you grow up, asked Roger, a friend of ours on Sunday.

From a year-and-a-half to eighteen, a small town near Madison, Wisconsin, she responded evenly, behind her stylish shades.

A year-and-a-half? I asked, thinking: What's this a year-and-a-half business? Where were you before that? I ask, in front of everyone.

I was raised by some nuns until then, she responded.

We are on a nice sunny deck overlooking a pond, with good friends, and I learn, behind sunglasses now hiding the extra juice in my eyes, that for a year-and-a-half Lisa was in some sort of home, that she was not adopted, as Jane, her (birth/first) mother, led me to believe. I'd learned months ago that she was not adopted by the African American doctor/father, and the white lawyer/mother (too good to be true, I thought, but I had no recourse to learn otherwise) as Jane had told me--shook their hands, she insisted, when I pressed for details.

So was this a clear cut case of someone who needed to be adopted? Might she have grown up in a home unless her family decided to adopt, after taking in several foster children? Yes and yes.

Throughout the week, I kept going back to it. We are all products of what happened to us, and this is definitely something that happened to me--this awful revelation. I have always tried to be understanding and aware that not every adoption is a bad thing. Well, closed adoptions are, and hers was. But my daughter, I hate to say, wanted it that way. She wanted a closed adoption. She did not want the responsibility of an open adoption. So on a sunny Sunday morning, I learn my granddaughter was in some sort of "home"--to call it an orphanage doesn't seem right, I don't think there were any or a lot of other children there--until she was adopted. At a year and a half. My god, a year and a half. How could that have been good? It could not have. This knowledge will definitely change--if only a little, but a change is there--in my attitude towards adoption, and adoptive parents. I know enough not to call Lisa "lucky."

All seemed to be going well the first couple of days, but truth is, I did not know what to ask, though I wanted to know more about her life. I did not know what she wanted to share, I did not want to pry like the journalist I am--now I was simply a grandmother, but I do write, and I write about all this--I simply wanted to be here for her. So we talked about her current life. Her gigs with a jazz quartet (Lulu's Playground) in Minneapolis, where she does spoken word as part of the set. Her unsettled love life. She is, after all, 24, strong and beautiful, of mixed race, all of which complicates one's love life, particularly in the quite white Midwest.

She is close to her (adoptive) family, her family, her mom and dad are being totally understanding and accepting about her curiosity about this part of her life. Of which they knew nothing. They did not know about the epilepsy, which is not inherited.

We kept busy, my friends were too curious, perhaps, perhaps I should have kept them away more, but the issue was that some of them are doing the very things that Lisa is interested in: writing. Writing and publishing poetry. Living the artist's life, the one she is choosing. Does she meet them, does she not? It seemed that it would be good if she did. Yet, I was aware that it was a lot, a lot of new people, whether or not they were in the world she is entering. I wanted her to know my life, our life, I wanted her to feel welcome in it, particularly since it coincided with her aims and aspirations. I wanted her to know who she came from, genetically and culturally. That involved my friends. My family is back in Michigan so she did not meet my brothers and their kids.

By midweek her walls went up. She closed down all the while saying "I'm good." We kept busy, I tried to find things to do here that I thought she would like, she was gracious, she was lovely and accommodating, but the walls were there at least for now, yet I don't mean to overstate, or imply anything other than to state the facts. She was kind, not mean; she needed space, but I could not help be the one she was moving away from, because I was that person. The week was long. Perhaps we did not have enough time in Manhattan, going to this and that, the Met and a Broadway play, the Village Vanguard and Soho, but the walls would have gone up anyway. We could not just ignore one another, this is a small house, time had to be filled. We found ways to separate for a few hours during the days, but still, the week was long. She's written it was like a perpetual first date, and I suppose it was, more for her than me, because I was in the comfort zone of my own home, in my own town, surrounded by my husband and friends.

I knew that she was processing everything and that it had to be hard, but no matter how I talked to myself, no matter how understanding Tony was, no matter how she had to pull back to protect herself, I could not help but take it personally, no matter that Tony and logic told me otherwise. Maybe she didn't like me. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe....On my bulletin board is a little slip of paper--it looks like it was cut out of Parade magazine a zillion years ago, it's aged and now tan in color, and has 15 or so holes in it from being taken down and put back up again with a push pin. It says:
"Women are repeatedly accused to taking things personally. I cannot see any other honest way of taking them."--Marya Mannes from A Woman's Notebook.
I ended up with fresh hate for what adoption does to everyone involved, save, adoptive parents such as hers because they seem to have done it all right. I hate everything about it from the perspective of someone who was a young woman in 1966 (that would be me) and felt she had no resources and gave up her daughter for adoption. So began a generational heritage of adoption that beget another adoption. How common is this? More, I suspect, than anyone dreams of in this world.

But she is in my life now, and I am in hers. This is our beginning, our bumpy, difficult, emotional beginning. Time to absorb it, let it wash into me. Time to go to the beach and have the little amount of rum in my tonic that my stomach allows these days, time to mix that with my tears.--lorraine

I have to finish the rewrite of my memoir, and I will be posting less. I plan to post once a week for a while, unless I absolutely positively find something I have to post. The sad news today is that adoption pioneer Annette Baran, social worker and co-author of The Adoption Triangle, died. She was a great lady and I am honored to have known her. The Adoption Triangle is, I believe, the first book from the perspective of social workers and a psychiatrist to advocate the end of closed adoptions and open records for all adoptees. If you haven't read it, now is the time. Annette will be truly missed.

For videos of Annette see: http://www.musingsofthelame.com/2010/07/truth-of-annette-baran.html


  1. Lorraine, I read your granddaughter's blog - she is interesting. Her writing, joys in life and just joy at living are contagious and beautiful. I hope, with all my heart that her artistic love is a beautiful life for her.

    You are blessed. She is a beautiful person.

  2. I am so thrilled for both of you! How terrific that you're in each other's lives.

  3. Right to hate adoption, it does cruel things to families.Just a couple of points..did you read Evelyn Burns Robinson's books on reunion?Might find it helpful.
    Sounds as if you tried for a way too long space of time, so much to process, so much past and so many questions.No wonder she needed space.
    You know adopters always bring in way too many people to meet the new adoptee, you can do it with adults too.It satisfies others curiosity but does nothing for the adoptee.If you're going to develop a respectful relationship there's going to be plenty of time hey? Good luck.

  4. Im so glad you were able to spend time with each other. I can only imagine how you must have felt when you found out she was in an orphanage/care/foster situation for that long.

    I know my first Mother could not believe I was shuffled around for almost 6 months after she had me. Catholic Scarities told her I was picked up from the hospital by my ap's.

  5. Big hugs to you, Lorraine. I'm amazed that you are so soon able to write about this emotional experience. Try not to worry about "what next." As you said, you are now in each other's lives. That is true, no matter what bumps occur.

    An aside: I feel what you do about "failure," because your relinquished daughter then relinquished hers. As if you started something... and was heartened to hear that your granddaughter is not so inclined (to adopt, that is).

    Shortly after reuniting with my son, I learned that he and his first wife relinquished their two sons (two and newborn) when they separated five years before. It tore me apart.

    I have not searched for them. As long as my son is alive, I feel like it is his to do first. One is "of age now" and the other close.

    I don't think I ever will. Too much heartache already.

    You are a courageous woman.

  6. Thank you Lorraine, for sharing this reunion with us.

    I've always believed that it's so much harder for those we search for, than those of us who do the searching to begin to feel comfortable in a new relationship. You obviously have dealt with reunion issues for many years; including your experience with her mother.

    It's challenging to have to reconcile both the similarities and the differences between us and our found family member. That "intimate stranger" description seems to be fitting for our lost family members while we adjust to getting to know them.

    I was another mother who was promised my son would go immediately to his new home, and instead was sent to foster care for 6 months. That just plain old stinks...especially when we were lied to. Although this fact didn't seem to bother my son after reunion, as much as it did me.

    I wish you both a loving, respectful and meaningful relationship...all in good time!

  7. Thank you for sharing your story Lorraine, and Lisa for (I assume) allowing it.

  8. Wow, so many questions here, many in regards to Jane's adoptive family. Do they have any interest in meeting Lisa, or vice versa? Does your other granddaughter know about her and do you think they will ever meet?

    The time in foster care is truly disturbing. My baby was also put into temporary foster care, unbeknownst to me at the time; I thought he was going directly home with the APs. It pains me deeply to think that he could have been left there for an extended period, or even for life, if he was deemed "unadoptable" for some reason.

    Thank god Lisa did finally get placed. She is a lovely woman and it's so wonderful that she shares your talent for writing and the arts.

  9. Oh Lorraine, it sounds like you and Lisa had quite a week! I can only imagine how much comfort it brought you to be able to spend time with her. She sounds like quite a talented amazing young lady!

    As an adopted person myself whose birth mother also passed away in her early 40's...I can understand first hand the kind of emotions your granddaughter is going through. It is definitely a process trying to work though everything, the good and the bad...so I'm sure with patience and understanding on both of your parts, you'll be able to develop a wonderful long-lasting relationship.

  10. "Time to go to the beach and have the little amount of rum in my tonic that my stomach allows these days, time to mix that with my tears."
    Oh my sweetie Lorraine... you know that these feelings happen in every family - birth and adoptive. Lisa is right - this was your "first date" (the first of many, I suspect).

  11. Lorraine, I'm still optimistic about your reunion. I suspect it's impossible to go into reunion without expectations, but that means reality will always fall short. We really must simply accept what is, and do our best to make our half the relationship as good as we can make it.

    I, too, was in an orphanage- ten months in my case- before being adopted. So yes, my adopted family was greatly superior to institutional life.

    My adopted sister also became a birth mother. In fact, many of the natural mothers I've met shared the same fate- far too many for it to be a statistical anomaly. I don't know what research has been done, but I suspect between a third and half of adopted girls continue the tradition. Which is frightening in its own way- another significant percentage have, like your granddaughter, decided to not parent. Which is also frightening in its own way...

  12. d28bob, you are right. adoptees are 14-times more likely to surrender a baby to adoption that non-adoptees (Moore and Davidson, 2002). I think it is pressure from the adoptive mother that does it. Emotional coercion. e.g.: grandmother’s preference for adoption increases likelihood of surrender tenfold for teen mothers -- (Dworkin, Harding & Schreiber, 1993). imho, some adopters feel deeply threatened when their little adoptees prove to be fertile.

  13. My poem for Annette Baran


    A small bright bird
    Filled with life
    she graced the space she filled
    Always moving, never still
    except to listen to a friend
    which she did with full heart
    Her kind eyes saw you
    her silence let you fill the cup
    Her words were milk and honey
    on any hurt or fear

    I knew her as grey but never old
    Her spirit ever young, eager
    for the next adventure, the next laugh
    the next delicious shopping trip

    Annette knew what to buy, and where to find it
    What to read, I loved every book
    she led me to, her wisdom
    carried on, oblique, in other's words.
    She showed me the lipstick that won't wear off
    said, "it will change your life"
    Her sense of style impeccable, unique
    A joy to see
    A joy to follow

    My Yiddishe Mama, witty, wise
    down to earth, a true friend
    Annette stood before a crowd
    at an adoption conference once,
    and said "I am sorry
    for what my profession has done,
    for what I have done"
    That's all, no excuses, no justifications,
    No Big Buts......

    Just courage, integrity, intelligence and class
    She laughed at fools, the pompous, the self-righteous
    She cried with those who truly grieved

    Now we grieve her, her valor, her light gone from this world
    But she shines on
    In blessed memory
    In her work we take up
    In the quest for truth and justice
    Still undone

    She shines on.......

    Mary Anne Cohen
    July 2010
    Rest in Peace, Dear Annette
    The good race is run.



COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.