' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: "Birth" grandmas are still grandmas

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Birth" grandmas are still grandmas

No matter what you call them, birth grandmas are still grandmas. My surrendered daughter Megan’s daughter Chelsea visited this past week. We took a quick trip to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon to see Hamlet, traveled to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, got our hair cut and our nails done (mine in sparkling silver; Chelsea’s in turquoise blue). I took full advantage of the opportunity to indulge Chelsea and myself.

After all, that’s what grandmas are for – to spoil their grandchildren. Five years ago, when Chelsea and her sister Rachael visited, the airline agent joked as he issued their boarding passes, “Now that your grandma has spoiled you, she’s sending you home to your Mama.

I started to speak, to explain that they weren’t exactly my granddaughters; they were the daughters of my surrendered daughter. I caught myself – it didn’t matter a hill of beans whether I raised their mother or not – these were my granddaughters and I did in fact have every right to spoil them. 

Beneath a Tall TreeAdoptees can be hypersensitive to the grandma thing. Adoptee Jean Strauss writes in Beneath a Tall Tree that when her birthmother sent Strauss’s son a Valentine and signed it “With love from Grandma Lenore,” she threw it in the trash. Zara Phillips became enraged when her birthmother Pat signed a birthday card for one of Phillip’s children “’Grandma.’ I think, What right does she have to that title? She lost that privilege (Chasing Away the Shadows: An Adoptee’s Journey to Motherhood.) Megan cautioned me early in our relationship not to refer to myself as her children’s grandmother, that her children’s only grandmothers were her adoptive mother and her husband’s mother

Fortunately, Megan has not prevented me from having a relationship with her children. While they know I did not raise their mother, I’m grandma to them, no matter that Megan would deny me that appellation. Reunion issues – guilt, anger, grief, fear, just aren’t there. It saddens me when I hear birthmothers tell of their relinquished children barring  them from their grandchildren. Children need more love, not less.

 Megan’s children are being raised in her Mormon faith. I’ve been antagonistic towards  the LDS Church ever since the ERA wars of the 1970’s. Still, Rachael, Chelsea, and I can talk about religion without rancor. Rachael is on a mission in Peru; I’m flattered that she placed me on her email list which is restricted to family.

I sometimes think that the dysfunction adoption causes rights itself after one generation. Because they are not forced to live the life dictated by cultural forces (your adoptive parents are your real parents) our grandchildren can return to their roots. The relationship is naturally comfortable.

Lorraine here: I will always be the "birth" grandma, from what I can tell, but that has its own rewards because it makes me the grandmother the kids are going to be like! No matter how you cut it.

A little explanation is necessary. I have two granddaughters: Kim is my daughter's kept child; Lisa was relinquished as an infant and adopted; today they are grown up and I know them both. So does that make me a "regular" grandmother, as well as a "birth" grandmother? You decide.

Kim knew me from the beginning of her life, but because Jane, the daughter I relinquished to adoption, was living in Wisconsin near the adoptive family, Kim knew my daughter's adoptive family better than she knew me, a thousand miles away in New York. When Jane, divorced and a single mother with a disability (epilepsy), proved to be unable to adequately care for Kim at five, Jane's family, the Ps (I am going to keep their name out of the blog), took Kim into their home and ipso facto became "parents" all over again. Jane for several years flitted in and out of their household, and back here with Tony and me. 

During that period, Kim spent a good part of the summers with me and my husband, and I loved it. I mean, it was heaven. (Of course she had a few moments of showing me what a difficult child she could be because she knew she couldn't act up back at the Ps where she was an angel because...but that's another story.) Anyway, her visits her were a boon, and I thought, Kim will always know me as "Grandma." But there was a caveat. My daughter Jane always called me, and referred to me, as "Lorraine." Yes, Kim had another grandmother--her father's mother--but as Jane's husband was running from child support in New Jersey, his earlier family was scarce, and Kim never knew that other grandmother. Jane never met the woman. My goodness this is a complicated story, but Jane's life, and Kim's, were complicated.

Number One Grandma, and the one who provided the most "mothering" was Grandma P...and somehow the year Kim hit puberty and came for a visit, I went from "Grandma" to "Lorraine." Lorraine I was to my daughter, and no matter what she called me before, Lorraine I would be to the teenage Kim, who was now living with Jane, who had remarried.

It hurt. It hurt like hell. I wanted to be Grandma, plain and simple. It felt like such a slap in the face, such a reminder of what I could not be--just a grandma, not Lorraine, but no matter how hard I tried, that's who I was. An outsider who did not deserve to be called Grandma. I remember how upset I was, how I cried. Being demoted from "Grandma" to a first name might seem like such a small thing, but it brought up a lot of old feelings.

I tried to figure out what to do, wrote Kim a letter, which in the end I did not send. But I did tell her at one point that it hurt my feelings when she called me Lorraine; she countered that I did not seem like a "grandma" and that it felt more comfortable to her to call me Lorraine. I knew that I seemed a lot younger in spirit and activity than her other grandmother, who is only a few years older than me, but has been suffering from dementia for a several years.

I gave up. But I continued to sign my emails Gramma Lo and Kim turned that into "Glo." Which is how I sign my emails now. She calls me Lorraine, and I've accepted that. When she visits, no one doubts who she is in relationship to me.

I'd still rather be "Grandma" but hey! Kim and I have a pretty good relationship. She's off to college this year in Michigan, she's studying a combination of art (my brother is an art director, one of his daughters plans on going to art school) and English, which has been my professional field for all of my life. Despite her leaning towards art for several years, she's discovered that she's a natural writer. Without ever hearing that I am a total Francophile, Kim decided at about age eleven she wanted to study French rather than Spanish, and took four years of French in high school. Lorraine, a name chosen for me, is, of course, the name of a territory between France and Germany and is where...my heroine Joan of Arc is from. What can I say?

Lisa, the relinquished granddaughter with whom I recently reunited, calls me Lorraine. It was what she wanted to call me; maybe because of Kim's calling me that, I have no problem with it. But I did hear her, when asked how she was related to me and my husband, say that we were her grandparents. However Tony and I were talking to someone else at the time, and we did not hear what else she said, or if she explained the rest. I do know Lisa was somewhat disappointed in that she did not see facial similarities when we met (her natural mother died a few years ago), and so I was the first, and so far, only, person she has met she is related to. And yes, friends, when some of you wrote that you saw similar smiles in the two of us, I loved it. Because she is biracial, the skin color may overshadow other physical similarities. I picked up several characteristics where we are alike but I'm getting the feeling she saw fewer than I did. In general attitude towards the world, we are quite similar. I was able to give her some clothes of mine that are perfect for her, particularly one amazing Norma Kamali beaded jacket she will use performing.

One thing she did stands out in my mind. We were walking on the beach and she reached down and picked up a single flip-flop and put it it the sand so that it stuck up. "Easier for someone to find it that way," she said as an explanation. I smiled to myself. I'm always picking up the lost towel, and in the winter, glove, and putting it in an obvious place so if the owners should come back, they can easily locate it. Tony, thinks my gestures are sometimes unnecessary and he's got a more why-bother? attitude. I've returned groceries found in a parking lot, wallets found in the supermarket, moved grocery buggies out of the way, or returned one back to the store when most people leave them. This is not to say what a good person I am. For one thing, I'm always losing things and so appreciate it whenever I get them back; but what I'm talking about goes beyond that, and you know what, in my later years I recognize that my mother did the same kind of thing. And when I was a kid, I sometimes found it tiresome in her.

Oh, one last thing: Lisa has a play-writing grant right now, so that writing DNA is still alive and kicking in my progeny.

Call me one happy grandmother.


  1. Thank you for this. Very timely. My son (that I lost to adoption) his wife just had their first baby, my first grandchild this past Monday. It's been a tough tough week.
    I've really been wrestling with the Gramma thing.

    I am a Gramma now, but my son, probably does not consider me this child's Gramma. I did think it was interesting that he did let me know the baby had been born though. I was important enough to at least TELL about the birth.

    Forever riding the roller coaster.

    Thank you both for this post.

    My Birth Name is Allison

  2. I guess that I just don't understand the obstacles people put in place. Perhaps it is because my family (through my brother) is a "birth family," but when my husband and I adopted there was never any question of whether we would have an open adoption or not. My brother's child was adopted during the closed adoption era in the 80's and we would love to just know that he is happy and had a good life. I would never put another family through that total loss of knowledge.

    Although my children's birth mother has chosen to put some distance in our relationship and has requested letters and photos only through the agency, we are hopeful that with some time she will come back. The agency is instructed to give her our full contact information if she ever requests it and we will insure they always have our current information.

    In the meantime we remain connected to her mother, who we call "Florida Grandma," and to our children's half siblings who live with their grandmother. They are our children's brother and sister and will always be identified as such.

    Families are, and always have been, complicated through relationships made by deaths, divorces, remarriages and the families we create for ourselves through friends. Adoption is another layer of complexity, but if handled with honesty and sincerity, does not have to be an obstacle to children knowing all of the people in the world who love them.

  3. I wish I could be grandma - I am to my daughter's husband's son - he adores me and thinks that the best thing ever is when I call or send him puzzle books. He is adorable and I love him.

    My daughter's sons, I will never meet them if their parents have anything to say about it....I am not their grandmother...and because the two of them can't act civil, the boys and I pay the price.

    Funny thing is that my daughter is a dead ringer for me - except she has beautiful caramel skin...which I love...and dark gorgeous hair. My grandsons, well the oldest actually looked more like his grandvather and my brothers than anyone else and the youngest....well, he looks like every male born in my family for four generations...completely like them.

    For me, I will cherish the one I do know and make sure that I can go see him sometime in the next year. The grandpa he lives with is a good man and knows how important it is to have family around.

    The others, I don't think I will ever meet them. It is a shame too, since I could tell the oldest who was the runner in the family that gave him is love of long distance and why he is so smart. The younger, I could tell why he is such a gentle loving soul and why he is such a square little guy...just like two of his uncles, that he actually looks very much like...

    Sigh...when are they going to learn that children have an infinite capacity to love and that it is wrong to try to control that love?

  4. Here is what I think and feel:

    My son's amom raised him and can control him psychologically so that he is conflicted in his desire to be close to me - her doing/her choice.

    The grandkids are NOT being raised by her and she does not have that control over them or his wife.

    So whether or not she recognizes me, I am their grandmother and amon's legacy will be that she was a mean woman who was cruel to their daddy and caused him pain.

    I have no sympathy for the woman.

  5. Grandparents are SO important in a child's life. My grandmother was one of my very best friends. I was much more like her than my own mother and so I felt a connection with her like none other I've ever had.

    So as an adoptive mom of a son in a VERY open adoption, I was anxious that his grandparents be a part of his life. Things went along wonderfully and by the time he started talking, the "name" subject came up.

    I don't think any of us knew how to broach it. They seemed fearful of overstepping some boundary (that I didn't see!) and so finally I said, "I don't feel comfortable with him calling an adult by their first name - much less a grandparent. What does your other grandchild call you?" And so it was settled and it was a huge relief.

    I've seen instances where adoptive parents in open relationships refer to birth relatives simply by their names or skirt the issue in some way. That just seems nuts. If you're going to be open then be COMPLETELY open and most importantly, honest.

    "T" and "S" are my son's grandparents, "Nini and Papaw" and that's it. Period. End of story.

    Fortunately my parents are not threatened by that so it wasn't an issue. They feel as Jane does - a child needs more love, not less.

    Nini and Papaw call him often to ask about his day and tell him they love him. We go to see them every couple of months or so. By the time he was three and a half he was spending the weekends there without me. (Previously he and I stayed with them for visits.) We live about five hours apart so we would meet halfway and he would practically leap out of the car to go with them - Lol!

    He also has great-grandparents that live near his grandparents and he gets to see them as well. I'm so happy for him!

    He's already asked me if he can drive to see them "by myself when I'm a teenager" which cracks me up since he's five years old. Does he plan ahead or what?

    Sorry to ramble. It's a very bad habit of mine.

    Lorraine - I'm sorry that your granddaugher stopped calling you "Grandma". And it's not silly that it hurt you - it makes complete and perfect sense. I would have cried too. Buckets and buckets.

    But I'm so glad that you and Jane have your grandchildren in your lives. That's the way it should be.

  6. Anonymous, posts like that give us all hope.

    Thank you for visiting her and sharing your experience.

  7. Angelle - I'm sorry your son's amom is such a jerk. I can't grasp why people act like that. They don't seem to understand that they reap what they sow.

    My son's birth-dad was briefly married to a woman who told him she wanted him to have nothing to do with my son. So he would have to sneak over when we were in town. I guess she finally figured out what he was doing and "let" him come over, but "forbid" him to bring their son over to meet his brother.

    She got hers as far as I'm concerned. He's divorcing her. And as of this past Father's Day weekend, my son has now met his little brother! :)

  8. Why deny a grandparent's love to a child? My mom was a foster child and after she married my dad, she reunited with her birth mom. By the time us kids came along we were blessed with three grandmothers, two biological + 1 foster (all grandfathers were gone by that time). And we didn't know the difference! They all read us stories and baked us cookies. We loved it!

  9. You know, the actual word used to address another person isn't as important as the actual relationship with that person. As far as Lisa goes it's quite likely she does think of you as her grandmother but to just call a person you don't know by such a familiar name as grandma can feel very uncomfortable.

    I'm confused about something else. It seems to me that a large number of first mothers blame their parents for the adoption of their child.

    Could that be a reason for the adopted adult parent's resistance to honoring these people by calling them grandparents?

    As a side note, I think grandparents are crazy important and went out of my way to make sure my son's were as big a part of his life as possible.

    The more the merrier!

  10. In the culture of my adopted family, I was taught that it is impolite to address elders by their first name. One either addresses them as Mr or Mrs X, or "Ma Tante" (Auntie) or "Memère"(Grandma) where familial ties apply.

    My Adopted father was an adoptee, and in reunion with his first mother by the time I was adopted. I always called his first mother "Memère" and I was always told that I had 3 Memères, (not counting my biological ones) -- my Mother's mother, and both of my father's mothers. His amom had passed away in the weeks before I was born.

    Both of my living grand mothers passed away by the time I reunited with my first mother and her mother.
    When I met them for the first time, I did not feel right referring to my grandmother as "Eleanor" or by her married name, having been told that she and my grandfather had been acrimoniously divorced. My first mother's 2 & 3 year old sons called her "Gram" and so, I took my cue from them, and have called her Gram ever since. She thinks it's a gas that she can have an adult conversation with someone who calls her their Gram.

    That is, to me, who she is.
    Maybe this has been easier in my family because of the language difference. Who knows. Over the years, there hasn't been a lot of discussion or grief over who-gets-called-what, although I reserve "Mom & Dad" for my adoptive parents.

  11. As I said in the post, I have no problem with Lisa calling me Lorraine; grandmas are someone you grow up with. In fact, I might find it weird if she called me "Grandma." But I usually sign my emails...Gramma Lo.

  12. Sorry Lorraine, didn't mean to imply you had a problem with it. Just pondering the situation out loud.

  13. Both of you are really grandmas, in word and deed, especially since you both have a relationship with your grandkids. The words do not matter. You are very lucky to be a part of their lives, many natural grandmas never get to see their grandkids or in some cases even know if they have any. What you have is precious, and I am afraid rare in adoption.

    I don't see why what you are called matters so much, but then I do not care that my son calls me Mary Anne and not Mom. If he ever has a kid they can call me anything or nothing, as long as I get to see them once in a while. But that is all theoretical as I do not know if they will ever have children or even want to. Ditto for the kids I raised. I know many women who are very little part of grandkid's lives because of distance or estrangement from their children, and these are people who have no connection to adoption. It is always a heartbreak, no matter what the cause.

  14. "Could that be a reason for the adopted adult parent's resistance to honoring these people by calling them grandparents?"

    Good question Campbell and the answer is most likely no, the fact that we blame our parents for not making it possible for us to keep our children have nothing to do with how we would be as grandparents.
    I don't know about you or other good folks but I didn't actually ask my grandmother to be a perfect person she was just my grandmother. Actually she was far from perfect and i still loved her.

    Wouldn't the issue more be about the fact that we gave our child away and so our punishment for that would be we are not allowed to be grandparents? I do think it's that simple.

    I could be wrong, maybe there's a complicated twisted way of looking at this and I missed that but I don't think so.

    Campbell do you think we are somehow child like to say that our parents are also to blame for the adoption? Should we just shoulder all the blame, not even mention the father of the baby either? Certainly not the social worker or the guy who sent me away when I went to ask for the single mother benefit and was told I can't have it I should go ask the father for money (even though I didn't know where he was).

    To be honest I've been blaming myself anyway because that seems easiest as far as being able to feel better.

    Thanks for reminding me to just blame myself completely. (and yes your comment did piss me off but it's ok because you didn't mean to piss anyone off)

    Thankfully I'm not a grandmother so I don't have to deal with these issues but I know I won't be low status because that's not healthy.

  15. It is the past 18 months that I have discovered 'Origans NSW Australia' then Qld branch that other Natural Mothers or Birth Mothers who had their babies snatched at birth, whilst drugged against their will were feeling the continual hurt as I do. My daughter, my mothers' first grand daughter was born 9th June 1965 in Brisbane Qld.

  16. In my thinking I mixed up the first parent's parents with the first parents, thinking of them as the grandparents when in fact they would be great grandparents.

  17. Campbell, I was thinking the same thing and mixing the two. It must be adoptee brain;~))

    We have all "grandparents" in my family. Everyone acts like the adults they are and gets along 100%.

    Until I got online, I thought that was how all families were getting along. Wish it was ;~/

  18. Miss Quickly:

    Do you even realize what your last sentence says?

    "Over the years, there hasn't been a lot of discussion or grief over who-gets-called-what, although I reserve "Mom & Dad" for my adoptive parents."

    So what you are saying is that ... your natural mother...is called...? Not mother.

  19. "Over the years, there hasn't been a lot of discussion or grief over who-gets-called-what, although I reserve "Mom & Dad" for my adoptive parents."

    This isn't uncommon Stacy. Both my sister and I refer to our bio moms by their first names. It's not meant to be insulting or grief inducing.

    Try and picture yourself calling someone you just met after 30 or 40 years mom or dad.

  20. Campbell, that's a given, but it comes at the end of a comment about how there is no difference in the names she tells the kids to use for the grandparents,and how it's insulting to use a first name for an older person. I was just pointing out the inherent conflict in her reasoning.

  21. Thank you for the reminder that I am a grandma. My two grandsons do not know I am their grandmother. Their father, my son, will not tell them or allow them to be told. I need to keep reminding myself that no matter what they call me, I truly am one of their grandmas.


  22. Glory:

    Maybe someday you will be able to tell them yourself. Sounds like your son has not told his adoptive parents that he knows you. Because...they don't want to know you exist. Yet another reason to hate adoption--families that pretend the child came via stork.

  23. My son told me about some great things his son had accomplished in college. He wrote "my son (your grandson)..." I responded, "Does that mean I can take some credit ?" He wrote, "Leadership is in his blood." I can't tell you how great that makes me feel to be acknowledged...My son and I have had a rocky reunion. He told me once "...my children are NOT your grandchildren..."



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