' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Conversations with my daughter, Part 4

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Conversations with my daughter, Part 4

Jane and Lorraine, approximately 1990
 In 1986, my relinquished-and-reunited daughter Jane had a daughter and gave her up for adoption. The fact that she would end up, at twenty, another first/birth mother damned near killed me because I knew how emotionally I had been ripped apart when I surrendered her--and now she would have to go through the same grief of giving up a child. It also meant that my act of relinquishment had started a trail of adoption in my line, nearly the worst thing I could imagine--generations of women going through the hell of relinquishment. I was bereft. What would be worse? That my daughter was a serial killer.

The father of the as-yet-unborn child wanted to claim her and raise her with his mother, but Jane was opposed to that, no matter how much I pleaded his case. When she was adamant about not letting H. raise his child, I moved on to open adoption, something I had unwittingly proposed when I wrote in  Birthmark
"If it had to be that way, if there wasn't a man to marry her, if she couldn't support herself financially and emotionally, if she couldn't go the road alone, in other words, if the child had to be adopted, I would tell her to insist on meeting those parents. She is giving them her child, and she has every right in the world to meet the people who will raise her child, and yes, pass judgment and decide for herself if they are good enough. She can demand this no matter what the laws on the books say, no matter what she has been led to believe by people who have never given away a child. There is wisdom the heart knows beyond reason, where logic follows if we let it. And if the experts say you can't do it that way, I would say, too bad; I will find parents to adopt my child another way. I know it can be done."
Lisa before adoption, at one month
But open adoption of any sort in 1986 was rare, and I was a thousand plus miles away on Long Island while she was in Madison, Wisconsin, living with her adoptive parents. From what she said, they were disgusted with her, and the pregnancy. This occurred at a time there had been a break in our relationship and I did not know she was pregnant until I called her for her birthday, April 5th; she was at the hospital at the time, her father took the call. She phoned me that evening, and told me that she had had a child two days earlier, and she was giving it up for adoption. Period. There was no room for discussion, but when I heard the father wanted the child, I tried to convince her that was the best outcome, if she would not raise her herself. But my daughter could not be swayed.

She went to a Catholic agency. Open adoption, if it was ever an option there, was not mentioned to me because she wouldn't even hear of it. I realized I was jeopardizing my relationship with her by talking about it, and so had to stop. 

Despite all my feelings about the loss of adoption, because of my work in adoption reform, because I had been so very public about the grief a birth mother endures, I had been powerless to stop an adoption--even that of the daughter I myself had relinquished. Was everything I said falling on deaf ears? Was my personal involvement a sham, like that of a minister who rails against homosexuality only to be outed himself? What was I doing with my life? 

For many years afterward, I stayed away from all adoption issues. I rarely spoke out, wrote about it only when asked, went to meetings only when someone asked me to go with her. I turned to women's rights in general and wrote about women in business, and the often unequal treatment of women in the legal system.

Lisa Marie, 24, in 2010
As regular readers know, Jane died in 2007 of her own hand; two years later, I found that daughter of hers and we have a relationship today that is the light of my life. This shot was taken in the summer of 2010 when she visited us in Sag Harbor. She is a strong, independent woman with a full life. She is an aspiring writer living in Minneapolis. She seems to understand so much about all this.

The conversation below with Jane was taped in the late Nineties, after she had been married, had another child, and divorced, a year or two after the picture above was taken. We had talked about doing a book about adoption together, or that this conversation would be part of a memoir I wrote about our relationship that was now in its second decade, so it was taped. I am so happy I have her voice on tape talking about the issues that are so deep.The conversation continues:

Same visit, another night. She’s lying on the couch. I’m sitting at the end. She had been talking about being raised in an environment where it was a given that she would search for her birth mother one day, and while that gave her no answers, her mother’s appreciation of the inborn need to know made her feel accepted and understood. What hung in the air between us was the daughter that she chose to put in a closed adoption.
I wait, wondering if she is having the same thought. She did.
“Putting Lisa in a closed adoption, a part of that was selfish, but I was not emotionally ready to raise a child,” she reflects. “I was twenty years old, I was working at Burger King, I was not going to college, I was living at home, making $4.75 an hour, and I would never see this baby.
“Was that selfish? Yes. Did I give her a better opportunity? I hope so. I think so. I wasn't going to marry him.”
She adds that she was using birth control—the contraceptive sponge—at the time, but got pregnant anyway.
“You told me you were planning to kill yourself, and that’s why you didn’t use birth control,” I counter.
“Maybe I thought that if I shocked you enough you would—pardon me—shut up about open adoption. I was a twenty-year-old kid and if I said the most outrageous thing I could walk out of the room, and go downstairs and be moody. I’ve thought about suicide so many times, but there was no time during the pregnancy when that might have happened.”
The conversation drifts off to a time when she took a bottle of aspirins and had to have her stomach pumped. “I was clinically dead a couple of times.”
Because of her seizures? Because of the aspirins? And was all this at least partly because she had been adopted? There had been numerous suicide attempts, and sometimes I was just too exhausted by the dismal cycle of the events of my daughter’s life to probe deeper. This was one of them.--lorraine
There is one more part to this conversation. For the earlier sections see:
My (relinquished) daughter talks about adoption; Frank talk about adoption with my relinquished daughter, Part 2; 
and Frank talk about adoption with my relinquished daughter, Part 3


  1. this comment i left after coming from FB. Firefox browser.

  2. Your story is moving. How strong you must be to be able to share this with us, and thanks for that. I'm not sure I could even function ........
    My heart goes out to you and your daughter.
    I have learned so much from you blogs - keep 'em coming.

  3. Lorraine, thank you for sharing these conversations with Jane. I hope your openness will help other first mothers. I'm so glad you have a relationship with Lisa. I'm sure it means a great deal to her.

  4. (((Lorraine)))

    I can relate, although our situations are very different.

    The night I met my son, for the first time after giving birth to him (if you can call that meeting, since I wasn't allowed to see him) he told me that he and his first wife had given up two children for adoption. Two boys, a newborn and a two-year-old, when their marriage fell apart and his wife's parents wanted her to start fresh, not burdened with anything that remained from her marriage to my son.

    That news brought me to my knees. I cried myself to sleep, but in fact I did not sleep. Wondering if because I had relinquished him, he thought it was okay to give up his children. Even though he hadn't had a good life in his adoptive family.

    I have come to believe that relinquishment and adoption breeds more of the same. Although I didn't know until after my reunion with my son, my mother had been surrendered by her mother, at age 6, after her father died.

    Why did she think it was okay, even preferable, for me to give up my son, after what she had been through? Why did my son think it was okay to give up his sons, when he had been given up?

    I continue to wrestle with this...

  5. I have been following the John Wyatt story closely, and I found it interesting to read that your granddaughter's birthfather wanted to raise her. I assume he took no legal action to make that happen - or did he? Please comment as to how Jane was able to deny him custody of Lisa.

  6. She was against it; she said that he "didn't show up in court," which was a fabrication as there was no "court." She told me a lot of fabrications about the case. Later I heard (from Lisa's adoptive mother) that the state and county gave him no credence. A black man in WI...in 1986.

  7. We all,as birthmothers, have complicated stories to tell,but yours is really 'over the top'. (That's a beautiful picture of your granddaughter). Another coincidence- I went to medical school in Milwaukee for 3 years(before I became a birthmother and graduated from the Regina Residence unwed mother home instead). I think it was too depressing for me to think about death and disease 24/7 so I did the happiest thing I could think of-have a baby. This was all subconscious back then(in the mid-70's) Today I'm in Sag Harbor for Harborfest ,but walked into my couch and broke my toe and foot so I won't be doing much of anything and am reading this blog while recuperating Jen

  8. What a raw, emotional story this is. I can hear how painful it is to have your granddaughter given up for adoption, too. Thank heavens you are reunited. Since natural fathers still have so much trouble today asserting their paternal rights I would guess that in Wisconsin 25 years ago he probably didn't have a snowballs chance in hell.

    It never ceases to surprise me that an adoptee can give his/her child up for adoption. I had such a difficult experience with adoption that that is something I would never want to do. But maybe this means that there are some adoptees who didn't find it to be so bad and feel that it is acceptable and even a "good" option under the circumstances. Or maybe on some level it is a form of acting out. As in do unto others as has been done unto me. I don't know.

    As for Jane's long lasting battle with depression, I would assume that both being adopted and relinquishing a child would be contributing factors. However, do not rule out the effects of her epilepsy on her mental state. This is a very serious and debilitating illness and most chronic illnesses have depression as a side effect.

  9. Robin: Trust me, I do know that epilepsy was part of her problem, which is why I hope that I can tell the whole story in a book. There was another issue too--I think I'll save that one for later.

  10. I'm sorry,I keep using the word'birthmother' in referring to myself. I never really thought much about it and didn't realize how insulting and degrading it is. When I first found my son 11 years ago, I received a card from an adoption agency in NYC inviting me to a 'birthmother's day celebration'. I don't know where they got my name from. It showed a young woman looking like she was rising up from a grave,very artistically done of course,but truly bizarre. I showed it to my Dad and couldn't understand why he thought it was so funny."You're his mother" he said . So, I will not refer to myself or anyone else as 'birthmother'. Jen

  11. Jen: give me a call--I'm in the book! I was out of town at a funeral and just fully read your comment.

  12. "I wasn't emotionally ready to have a child" I have heard this statement before, many times of course.
    I wonder where this idea comes from. I wasn't emotionally ready to raise a child either, but I did. A lot of it was just hormones and interaction. I learned as I went. I wander if she was trying to please her adoptive parents.
    Of course I have no idea. I wonder if there are adoptees who really do get through this unscathed. I mean I am always told there are, but I have never actually known one. I have known people who feel very close to their adoptive families and happy with their adoptive families, but not known one that got off scot-free as of yet.


  13. I am so very touched by your writing, Lorraine. I could never assume to know the feelings that you and other mothers have experienced, and I am so sorry for your loss. I am also very sorry that your daughter, Jane, had so much pain in her life. I do so admire her openness and integrity with you as she talks to you about her choice to relinquish her daughter, Lisa Marie. I know it must have been very hard for her and you as well.

    There is no mistaking a mother and daughter bond in the pictures you have shared of Jane and yourself, and you granddaughter is beautiful

  14. @ anon who said "I wasn't emotionally ready to raise a child either, but I did."

    But did you have epilepsy?
    Epilepsy can make parenting more difficult, much depending on how well the mother's seizures can be controlled.
    It can take a huge emotional toll, and depression and other anxiety disorders are common among epileptics.

  15. @Anon 6:18,
    Where do we draw the line? Should all unmarried parents be encouraged to give up their child for adoption? Should all teenagers be encouraged? How about everyone with a health problem or anyone going through financial problems? Should anyone with less fortuitous circumstances than Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner be encouraged to relinquish? Parenting is hard, very hard but family preservation should be encouraged and aided whenever and whereever possible.

  16. @ anon

    No, I didn't have epilepsy, you can't seriously be suggesting that epileptics not raise their own children? I frown in your general direction,

    As a matter of fact though, I did have quite a few real problems of my own. For example I was a heavy cocaine user when I got pregnant. I stopped using drugs for the pregnacy and never went back. I am quite sure anon had you been there two put your two cents in you would have suggested I wasn't capable.

    I wasn't emotionally ready.

    I wasn't, it was a process that happened as I overcame my obstacles. And my child turned out wonderfully so I must have done something right.

    Of course had you been there anon to spout off you would have had to hide behind a tree or something clever and brave to keep yourself anon. I would want to do that too though if I made comments like that.


  17. Here's the thing: both of my children's moms died while giving birth to them and they were both given to an orphanage in Africa. My adoption of them had nothing to so with fertility or infertility since I have never tried to concieve. My son was in that orphanage until he was 5 and my daughter until she was 5 months. While I recognize the mothers who gave birth to them and pray that we see them in heaven someday, let me be clear that my 8 year old son sees me as his mom and so does my 17 month old daughter who is more attached than many birth children to their mothers. Few things surprise me in life anymore, but to find a blog like this with a whole group of people who look so negatively upon adoption (you say not in general in the site's about section, but it certainly sounds like a general disdain from all I've read) it truly quite shocking, and literally heartbreaking to me.
    You may not like to be called birthmother...and that's fine. But let's get something straight here, I AM my children's Mom. I'm not their adoptive mother and they are not my adopted children. I'm their Mom, their REAL Mom, and they're my REAL children. They get this and so do I, so I suppose that's all that matters.

  18. Kara, what a warm, big-hearted good person you are! Of course you are their REAL MOM and they are your NOT adopted children. The orphanage in Africa just happened to have them until you could pick them up. And the fact that your 17-month old daughter is more attached to you than some natural mothers are to their children is totally amazing and wonderful. God bless you!

  19. Kara,

    Adoption is a wonderful thing for children who need familes and those who accept them into their lives. Yes, you are definitely your children's REAL mother. At the same time, your relationship with your children cannot be the same as the relationship children have with mothers raising them who gave birth to them. Adopted children have another mother who is very real to them, even if she is dead. While your children may not talk about their first mothers it is likely they fantasize about them. Not talking about them may mean that they don't trust you enough to tell you what is in their hearts.

    I think you'll find that reading about the experience of adoptees will be helpful. The memoirs of international adoptees Jane Jeong Trenka and Peter Dodds are a good place to start. Sherrie Eldridge's "Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew" is also valuable.

    The portrayal of adoption on First Mother Forum is based on the actual experiences of mothers who lost their children to adoption. To learn more, read memoirs by first mothers. In addition to Lorraine's seminal book, "Birthmark", the Origins-USA website has a list of excellent books. http://origins-usa.org/books_and_media. While you're on Origins-USA's website, take a look at the stories of natural parents, http://origins-usa.org/Parents_Stories. Browse the web and check out the blogs of other first parents.

    The more you learn about adoption, the better you can help your children as they confront the issues being adopted presents.

  20. Wow, what a story! Many thanks for sharing it! I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your daughter, not only at birth but also when she died.

    In talking about adoptees who have given their child away, please remember those of us who couldn't go through with that and instead, live with the pain and guilt of abortion. Part of me always knew that I had to have an abortion, to show my real mother how it felt, i.e., I'd rather kill my child than give it away as you did me. Things aren't great with my real mom; we haven't talked in a few years, but I know who she is. Fortunately, I was able to give birth to three wonderful sons after having the abortion. I hope that they will never know anymore about adoption than their mother has told them and that they will never entertain the idea of giving away their child.

    It is so very sad when adopters can't quite understand that no matter how wonderful they may be and how much they may love their adoptees, they will never be or replace our real parents. Never.

  21. @Kara,
    The problem with your comment is that it is entirely from your point of view. Both of your children (and yes, they are your children)are very young. I hope that as they get older you allow them to have their own thoughts, feelings and beliefs about adoption and who is and isn't family based on what they want rather than the script you seem to have already laid out for them. I am assuming that you are not adopted so it is actually your children who are living the experience of being without their bio-families and in a different country. I hope you will be respectful of your childrens' real feelings about this situation even if it does not fit the way you want it to be. As for your 17 month old daughter, some (though not all) adoptees can be very insecure and this might be a case of an anxious rather than a secure attachment. Without knowing you it is impossible to say for sure. Although it is certainly a different relationship to grow up in a non-blood related family than it is to grow up in one's bio-family with shared ancestry.



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