' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Family ties broken by adoption, linked by sychronicity

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Family ties broken by adoption, linked by sychronicity

I'm off to Peru with Rachael, the daughter of my surrendered daughter Rebecca. Rachael was in Peru a couple of years ago on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She's taking this trip to visit the friends she made in Peru and asked me to come along. I am thrilled to be going.

I have never been to Peru, but it has a connection to the adoption of Rachael's mother. When I was six months pregnant with Rebecca in the fall of 1966, I left my home in Fairbanks, Alaska, traveled down the west coast stopping in Juneau, the Canadian city of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and Seattle before settling in  San Francisco where I knew no one.

I rented a room in a large apartment hotel in the tenderloin district. A few days after my arrival, another resident, Victor, saw me in the lobby and asked "Are you expecting?" I answered "yes", and turned away.  Victor, concerned about my condition and taking pity on the obviously alone and pregnant young woman, insisted on talking to me every time he ran into me when I was going out or coming in. Eventually I got to know him, and we spent time together in his room talking and watching television or going out to dinner. One day we went to Lake Tahoe in Nevada. Victor was Peruvian, having come to the U.S. several years earlier. Now he worked as a waiter at an upscale restaurant.

Victor was my only friend--and on most days the only person I talked to--during the time I was in San Francisco, from early October until Rebecca was born in November. I did meet with a counselor from Crittenton a few times. When Victor learned I was planning to give up my baby, he was horrified. "How could you give away your own flesh and blood," he'd say, his voice rising.

"Victor," I'd answer, "you're from Peru; you don't understand. This is what we do in the U.S." I tried to convey, without saying as much, that we were more advanced than Peruvians; that at one time, single American mothers too kept their babies, but we knew better now. Victor offered to help me; suggesting we could get an apartment together although he was short of funds, an option that did not appeal to me at all as I had no romantic interest in him. I thought you had to be in love to consider the daring act of sharing an apartment with a person of the opposite sex. Although I had no idea how I could support myself and a baby, merely being poor was not driving the adoption. It was the shame and the absolute belief that this was how it was supposed to be.

In spite of his feelings, Victor remained my friend. He drove me to the hospital when I was in labor, visited me there, and drove me home, without my baby.

Later I realized Victor had it right, and I had it wrong. Giving your baby to strangers was not the mark of an advanced civilization, but of a culture gone terribly wrong.

If I had listened to Victor and kept Rebecca, she would not have been raised a Mormon, not have attended Brigham Young University, not have met her husband, not have had Rachael, Rachel would not have had a mission in Peru, and I would not be on my way there this month. The possibilities of what would have happened are endless. What did happen was that I gave up Rebecca, left San Francisco six weeks later, and went to my sister's home in Orange County, California. In the fall of 1967 I started law school at the University of Oregon where I met my wonderful husband. We married a year later and together have three fine daughters.

I've asked myself whether this was all planned in some way; the pain of giving up my daughter was the price to be paid for the good things that have happened in my life. My loss also gave my life a purpose which it would not otherwise have had: to work for adoption reform and the empowerment of women.

By coincidence (or design), last week I happened upon a copy of Thornton Wilder's classic tale The Bridge of San Luis Rey at Powell's bookstore in downtown Portland. The story is about five people in Peru who die when the bridge they are walking on collapses. A monk sets out to study their lives and determine if their deaths were an accident or an intention.

Of course there is no answer to the question, and as Wilder tells us, it doesn't matter::
"But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."
I regret giving up my daughter; I am happy I have the family I have. I'm excited about my trip to Peru. As a side note, my mother knew Wilder when she was a grad student at the University of Chicago. That's the way it is.--jane
Shared Similarities: Family traits not erased by relinquishment or adoption
Letters Lead to an Alternative Universe Daughter
 The Bridge of San Luis Rey: A Novel  "Now reissued in this handsome hardcover edition featuring a new foreword by Russell Banks. Tappan Wilder has written an engaging and thought-provoking afterword, which includes unpublished notes for the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, illuminating photographs, and other remarkable documentary material. Granville Hicks's insightful comment about Wilder suggests an inveterate truth: 'As a craftsman he is second to none, and there are few who have looked deeper into the human heart.'" --Amazon

Synchronicity and Reunion: The Genetic Connection of Adoptees and Birthparents
"This book has been extremely helpful in answering those questions and making sense out of the many coincidences I am discovering. There are others who have done studies and have their own opinions on the genetic connection, but unless you are an adoptee or a birth parent, you can never fully understand the impact or significance of this connection. Stiffler is a birth mother who has provided facts gleaned from both others' studies, and more importantly, her own personal life situation. Because of this, I highly recommend this book to all adoptees and birth parents."--Amazon reviewer

The L-Shaped Room is a 1962 British drama, pre-Pill, pre-legal abortion, which tells the story of a young French woman (her name is....Jane), unmarried and pregnant, who moves into a seedy London boarding house, befriending a young man in the building. She considers getting an abortion, but is unhappy with this solution. This is a link to the book; the movie can probably be purchased independently. Leslie Caron's performance in the movie won her the Golden Globe Award and BAFTA Award for best actress, and also earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for best actress.


  1. Jane, this is a beautiful post. I ask myself a lot of these same questions, but I was the one who was adopted. So many things would not have happened in the way they did had my mother been able to raise me. I have no doubt she would have been a wonderful mother! But it would have been different...better in some ways maybe, but definitely not worse.

    I have this Synchronicity book...I have lots and lots of instances of synchronicity in my adoption "story"...many of them just bowl me over. It is a long, long list.

    The biggest one lately happened when I spoke to my half brother on the phone at the first time. We both have 4 children and one of his sons has the same name as mine...Franklin. And he calls him Franklin and so do we...not your typical name today. He also was not raised by our father and his mother and stepfather so favor my adoptive parents. I don't know the "why" of the way of things, but I can't deny they are mysterious! Lee H.

  2. Love and death, a beautiful quote,Latin America, this post hit home for me today. I have just come from the funeral of Joe Collins, a detective who reunited more than 3000 family members separated by adoption as well as starting a charity to build houses for the poorest of the poor in Guatemala. Several of his Guatemalan friends were at the funeral.

    Joe was more than a detective, he got personally and compassionately involved in every case, and testified in Trenton with adoptees, adoptive parents and first parents for open records many times. It was a cause he came to fully believe in after helping an adopted family member search.
    He was a true friend to adoption reform, and to many of us personally here in NJ. To those who knew Joe, you know this.

    His connection with Guatemala and love for the families and people there was profound, and when he saw they were living in hovels, he did something about it. You can read about "From Houses to Homes" here and I hope will contribute to this good work which must go on:

    Joe's story also reminds me of what you have written, Jane, the bridges that link us and take us to places we never imagined we would go. Joe was a wounded healer, a recovering alcoholic who once owned a bar with his brother, and lost two marriages before he faced his problem. His son told us that helping people search, seeing the profound grief of adoption separated families and the joy of reunion changed him, and enabled him to go on to his great but humble work for the poor of Guatemala.

    "Good night, sweet Prince, may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." Rest in Peace, Joe, and may your legacy of love live on.

  3. Maryanne, thanks for letting us know about Joe. I never met him but referred many to him and spoke to him on the phone.

    Everyone always held him in the highest esteem.

  4. Jane, I'm delighted that you are going on this trip with your granddaughter.
    Have a wonderful time (I know you will).

  5. I have been thinking about these very same things--thank you for a wonderful thought-provoking post.

  6. Bittersweet Jane. I found myself smiling at the idea of you going on a trip with Rachael and my heart aching at your story of Victor. I had a Victor in my life too. In 1985 a gay man named James offered to marry me "to solve both our problems". His mother was not aware he was gay and was pressuring him to marry. I was aware and I adored him. I declined the offer. He died of AIDS in the early 90s. I miss him to this very day.

  7. I,too, have lots of synchronicity stories in my reunion story. The funniest was that my son named his favorite stuffed animal(a dog) with the same name as his birthfather(not a common name either). We were walking in town on our reunion day and when I told him his father's name, he stopped dead in his tracks. I thought he didn't like the street we were on or something-too funny. Also, for a few years leading up to my finding my son, I felt drawn to go to a certain store(I hate shopping) I kept going to the coat department and bought 3 coats there, and it turns out the coat department was just a few feet from the shoe department where my son was working at that time. During the time I was pregnant and after he was born, I never wore shoes, just sandals and in the winter sandals with socks. I didn't have much money and also my feet are very big and hard to find shoes for even though I'm average size. So, I should have gone into the shoe department too and bought some shoes from my son.

  8. Wonderful post Jane - enjoy Peru and Rachael - I have lots of synchronicity in my reunion also. Makes you wonder.....

  9. It is wonderful to hear that you are close enough with your granddaughter that you will be going on a trip with her. I hope you have a fantastic time.

    I don't see what happened after relinquishment as an either/or. I believe that if society had been different and you could have kept your daughter, that you still may have ended up staying with your sister, going to law school and meeting your husband.


  10. Jane,

    what a wonderful time for both of you, traveling is such a great way to see other places but explore family too.

    I just had an experience traveling with my daughter and her two teenagers. We were driving in car to Washington. We met with two of my son's and their families. We had a fantastic 4th over $300 worth of fireworks. Seattle celebrates in style. We hiked all over to ice caves together. Such an experience 6 grands 19 to 10 yrs three if my grown adults with three spouses, luckily my son has big roomy house. lol


  11. "The road not taken" has given just about everyone cause to explore the "might have been" possibilities at crucial junctures in our lives. Your excellent narrative prompts me to look at some of those not-taken roads on my own journey, and have to admit they're as troubling in their own ways as the one I chose. Although I have agonized and grieved over my daughter's loss, and although she didn't get the kind of home I was promised for her, I can't honestly say that either of us would have been better off had I taken either of those "other" roads.

    I smiled as I read about the offer of help you received from a relative stranger. I was offered marriage by a young man I met on the bus on the way to Crittenton! That would have been one of my "roads" - something that was more tempting to me at the time than I care to admit!

  12. What a wonderfully written post. No matter what your plight is, you can't help but to focus on the "what if's".... the what could of beens. But you acknowledge them just as equal factors along with "what is" and "what isn't". It is all these parts that make us who we are. Very refreshing to read your insight on how this great loss has turned into great purpose for you as well. That's really the best you can you do. Thanks for this post :)

  13. I got back from Peru today. Great trip!

    Robin, you're right -- I have often thought I could have done both -- kept my daughter and gone to law school where I met my husband. I'm sure Jay would have accepted her then as he did when we reunited 31 years later.



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