' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: 'I know people who would like to kill you.'

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

'I know people who would like to kill you.'

Birthmark jacket photo
Continuing the story of what it was like in 1979 and after when I published Birthmark, the first memoir from a mother like me (always looking for the correct word!)...the following from the memoir I'm working on, Hole in My Heart, covers some of the up close and personal reactions that the first memoir generated: 
(Copyright, Lorraine Dusky 2013. May not be reprinted, copied, etc in any media)   

Despite the rancor surrounding mothers like me then and still today, I also met many, even in 1979, who immediately understood the poignancy of a mother and child reunion. A headline in The Detroit News read: “Unwed mom has never stopped looking.” From Vancouver, British Columbia, in The Province: "Changing her mind not enough, which was basically an interview with two adoptive mothers and proclaimed that adoptive parents received "as much medical knowledge of the child's parents as possible." The Whig-Standard in Kingston, Ontario: "Obsessed by Guilt." An excerpt of the Birthmark ran in Family Circle under these words: “I GAVE AWAY MY BABY.” Totally appropriate, I thought. No fudging with the story line or the language there. That excerpt prompted
hundreds of letters, including this one, written in a child’s handwriting in pencil on plain note paper: 
"I’m adopted…I was born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1965…I can’t really remember a lot just what my parents told me when I was 10 years old. I was adopted at 8 months…when I was 12 or 13 I snuck in my parent’s room I really don’t know what I was looking for but I found a letter from the adoption agency telling about my parents and all. And the lady in the picture fits the description also the man she was going with fits my fathers description…. I really do want to find this ladys address is it possible to get her address for me? I am 14, and I really would like to know who my real mom is and I think this is my real Mom.”
Letters like hers—mostly from older adopted people and first mothers—follow every appearance, every mention of Birthmark anywhere. Letters spill out despair, grief, unrelenting sadness. “I understood for the first time, that the emotions I had since I was a small child were healthy and normal,”--Rita of Binghamton, New York. “Only other adoptees can understand the rage that I feel when told I cannot obtain the truth of my origins,”--Jeanne of Miami to Newsweek. “I really wonder about you, and am most impressed by the fact that your search may have started first,”--Annette from Lyndhurst, New Jersey, included in a whole journal of poetry about her first mother. One man sends a photograph and proposes marriage. I write everyone back, quoting a line of Lincoln’s: “Let us have faith that right makes might.” Most of the letters I no longer have, but some are stuck into books and folders and fall out when I least expect them, as that 14-year-old’s did the other day when I was looking up something.

Of course there were others, mostly unsigned: “Stop your letter writing, etc…Give up and forget forever the child you gave birth to,” one note says on a small sheet of paper, under a heading in bright orange type: GET THY SHIT TOGETHER!” Unsigned. A note on a small piece of yellow lined paper tells me that huge numbers of mothers do not want reunions, and oddly, urges open adoptions as the handwriting gets smaller and smaller to cram in more. Unsigned. “Very little has been said of the rights of adoptive parents….I would hope that a Supreme Court decision would treat adoptive parents better than the media have so far,” wrote Henry of Ridgewood, New Jersey. [1] What is he talking about, I wonder, adoptive parents hold the trump cards. We are nothing. We have no rights.

A year later, at a cocktail party in Manhattan, a writer who knows me slightly—and not so coincidentally, an attorney also--turns to me in the tiny kitchen where we find ourselves alone. He is no more than two feet away from me. “I know people who would like to kill you,” he announces calmly, as if he were asking me to hand him a beer from the fridge.

He stares at me, waiting for a response. What are the right words? How can I get out of here? I’m thinking. Who wants to knock me off? I back against the refrigerator, say nothing.

“They are a couple in my building,” he goes on impassively, “They’re adoptive parents.” Don’t you get it? He glares at me.

Oh. Adoptive parents. Like the ones I hear about at ALMA meetings. I don’t remember saying much of anything to Mr. Author/Writer/Attorney/Big Shot. My mind is reeling over his message: Kill. You. I want to tell him that the girlfriend of mine—who was in the other room—yes, someone he was interested in—has also given up a child for adoption, but that is hers to tell. You bastard, you have no idea, I am thinking. We are everywhere—where do you think children available for adoption come from? Yet my mind is reeling with the kill me message, and no witty riposte comes to mind. He eventually leaves the postage-stamp of a kitchen while I consider quietly slipping away. But the party had been given partly for me and my new husband.

Strangely enough, this man’s first book is about a father’s desperate search for a son in Chile who has gone—Missing. [Note: the cap is intentional; that’s the title of his book and the subsequent movie.] I can conjure up that moment, see the shiny white counters and white metal cabinets, his dead-on smugness, as if I had just hit “repeat” on some inner remote.

Another time, a dinner party, late in the evening when booze has loosened inhibitions. The semi-famous (at least in literary circles) New York Times obituary writer is sitting next to me and suddenly pounces. Until then Alden had been chatty and charming. Now the proverbial teeth are bared, the charges the same as always, aggressive, angry.

The table of ten others turn to us. Stay calm, I remind myself. It’s over a year since my memoir came out, my answer by now is well practiced: Adopted people want to know their roots, they need to know that their mothers do not forget, that giving up our children was not a singular act but stays with us all through our lives. This curiosity to find one another is primal. To have some peace in my life, I need to know she is all right. Alive or dead. Adoptees say they want to know where they came from, why they are the way they are.

But still Alden rails on. What gives you the right? Always it came back to that—what gives me the right to open up the past?  

Before I respond again, a little voice inside remembers that this man has a reputation as a womanizer—a few years ago we met somewhere when I was at T&C and he asked me to lunch. I was mildly shocked and refused. Maybe not only does he remember that—and now he’s getting back at me for refusing his advances—maybe, just maybe, he has a kid out there who might come knocking at his door, a kid his nice wife doesn’t know about. Or maybe he’s not sure, but aware that he could, he’s had sex with so many, who can keep count? Will your own obituary have more descendants than your wife—sitting right across the table—knows about? Or will your bastards not be included?  

His wife springs to my defense. What were we doing all last summer in Wales, she demands, looking for the graves of your ancestors? If you did that, can’t you understand this? What is the matter with you? After her upbraiding, no one speaks for a long fifteen seconds, and finally and the host, the celebrated food writer for the Times, Craig Claiborne, changes the subject. It is grimly awkward sitting next to Alden for the remainder of the meal, and I am relieved when he and his wife depart, perhaps earlier than planned. If I’d been more clever, I might have quoted Cicero: “Not to have knowledge of what happened before you were born is to be condemned to live forever as a child.” That might have shut him up. --lorraine

[1] Newsweek, Oct. 15, 1979


  1. I think that to this day there are adoptive parents who want to pretend that their children don't have another family, like it somehow got obliterated when the adoption was finalized. I can only imagine how much more prevalent this attitude was in the '70s. But my goodness, the venom behind wanting to see you dead for expressing your opinion! I really hope we can move to a point of better understanding between the two sides, so to speak.

    Well, the day the Supreme Court glorifies the importance of "certainty" for adoptive parents when they are "promised" a child has finally arrived with the Baby Veronica opinion - so your "friend" can stop worrying that adoptive parents are not recognized as superior human beings. We have always been regarded unequivocally as being the benevolent providers of a better life for our adopted children - and now the Supreme Court has reinforced that view of us (try to read this in a voice dripping with sarcasm).

  2. Hi Lorraine,
    As usual, a gutsy post. I'm working on a memoir about losing my daughter to adoption. And, even though it is now 2013, I still sometimes hear that voice in my head, "who gave you the right." I tell myself that I have decided to speak out and that I refuse to be silenced. It's definitely not an easy or popular position, but I think if I - a writer, a self-reflective person, an assertive woman - can't speak out, who will?

  3. I love that I can count on you to tell it like it is. Perspective is everything and you've offered it here ... in spades.

  4. Was called to serve jury duty this week, and as the lawyers were asking personal questions of each juror, a "Mr. Jenkins" was asked about the legal history of his four children. With much sadness and pain in his voice, he stated flatly: "All four of my children are adopted. They all have mental health issues. My two oldest boys - aged 17 and 19 - have been in trouble with the law and are currently in Juvenile Detention (and he stated which ones). My oldest son sexually assaulted my 8-year-old daughter." Truly, the poor man looked deeply sad and defeated.

    I hope all adoptees and birthparents continue to tell their stories and eventually maybe the truth will be recognized by the rest of society. All is not well in adoptionland! No matter the good intentions and genuine love the adoptive parents might have, it is not enough to counteract the "demons" an adoptee might suffer.

    Think about it, people. Think about it. The family down your street might be living it. Do we really want to perpetuate pain and alienation?

  5. I am going to hijack your blog for a moment because this is important and I wanted to add this comment to the most current post.

    The Dusten/Veronica Brown case is not over yet. It is up to Oklahoma to decide if they will comply or not with the South Carolina order.

    Please contact your local, state, and federal representatives. And contact the Oklahoma Attorney General at publicprotection@oag.ok.gov

    Let's get a big email campaign going.

  6. @anonymous Aug 1 1:51 PM I have jury duty next week(I hope I don't get picked for a case- I cringe every time I have to go through the "voir dire" and get asked personal questions} I get called so often(never picked for a case-probably because my answers are so evasive they know something's not right} Seriously no one I know gets called in as much as I do-federal, county-you name it,although it's been a while now. Last time they asked me if I knew anyone in law enforcement I said"My son's mother's brother is a retired correction officer" Did I get some strange looks. I really think they keep a file of girls who gave up babies and check in with us, maybe they know our kid needs to be found or something and they're trying to give us a nudge in that direction- or else we're all just a part of some weird experiment It's so much fun being a "birthmother" Yeah,right

  7. Robin:

    This is what I do not understand? This "loving father" refused to support the mother and was willing to not pay child support?

    Also, the case was delayed because he was going to Iraqi. If so, then why did he leave the child with the AP's instead of with his parents? Was it because he did not want to pay his parents to support the child, like he did the birthmother?

    I think the court saw through all of this man's deceit and ruled in the AP's favor.

    Let's be honest, his signing of those papers showed his character and intent.

  8. @anon 6:13 pm. I think this the BSE was an experiment (and now promotion of adoption is a tool for cultural change).

    When I considered joining the Daughters of the American Revolution (on my birth father's side I am a DAR, but his name is not recorded on my OBC), after a 2 hour search, I was accepted with no hesitation. When I said I was adopted and his name is not on my OBC, they said "that doesn't matter".

  9. Anon 10:08 ,Why do you make such an asinine comment on a page written and read by informed people ? Perhaps you think this is HufPo or Yahoo news.

  10. Dusten Brown wanted to MARRY Christy before their child was born. I'm hard pressed to see how he could have been any more committed to the mother-to-be or the child than committing to MARRIAGE. So many seem to conveniently forget that it was Christy who called off the marriage and refused any contact from Dusten. He began fighting for his daughter as soon as he learned adoption was in the works, when she was four months old. He is hardly the deadbeat and all-around jerk that people like Anon 10:08pm are trying to make him out to be.

    I have read innumerable comments about this case and am sickened beyond belief that 99% of them never mention anything about the fact of Veronica being an ADOPTEE versus being raised in her natural family. It's all about the adults. With the occasional mention that anyone who thinks it's not exactly the same for an Indian/Hispanic child to be raised by a white couple is a racist. But maybe Veronica does not want to be raised in a family with people of a different race. Maybe she will need and want genetic mirroring. And that stink about the fact that she is only 2% Cherokee. So what. I'm a mix of several heritages also and none is more important than the other. Being Native American is a part of her (no matter what the percentage), it is part of her bloodlines, her heritage, her ancestry. Being adopted is nothing like being raised with one's own biological kin. And I am sickened and disgusted by our complete denial of that fact in this culture. From everything I have read and seen, Dusten has been an exemplary parent to Veronica.

    Also, I have noticed that in pictures of Veronica with the adopters (I refuse to call them adoptive parents) she looks so disconnected. Yet, in every picture with her father she looks happy and at peace.

    I hope and pray that this legislative insanity will be stopped by Oklahoma. I, for one, will always think of Veronica as Miss Brown and not Miss Copabianco.

  11. @Anon 10:26pm,
    How were you able to join the DAR? Do you have your original birth certificate but it just doesn't have your father's name? I can find my ancestor on their website but never tried to join because I have no legal documentation that proves I am who I am. I should also be entitled to membership through my paternal line. I was born in a closed state and doubt that I will ever see my OBC in my lifetime.

    @Jay Iyer,
    I just wanted to say "hi" and that I am very much enjoying your comments. I'm glad to see an adoptive parent who gets it.

    1. Hi Robin, I'm in the same situation re: DAR. Found out I would be eligible through my birthfather's line, but no way to prove he's my father. I read somewhere else a woman petitioned the court for her OBC for this very reason but was denied several times.

  12. @Robin - I have a copy of my original OBC, and the amended one. They are from PA, and have the same file number. My birthparents were legally married when I was born and I have two older full brothers. That might have something to do with it, not sure.

    I know the original DAR contact. She is a genealogist. She turned it over to the regional DAR person/researcher. She contacted someone else, and all was well.

    I don't really know anything other than that. There was a period of time in PA in the '80s where you could write and get a copy of your OBC. I did ... that is how I have it. I probably couldn't get another one.

    1. So your birthfather was listed as your father on your OBC?

    2. Lisa, as this is on old past you may not get any responses. We try to close down the comments after a month but I have no mechanism for doing so and our topic is very... deep and so we do sometimes allow comments on old posts. However, you are likely not to get a response from anyone as this post is coming up on two years.

  13. Thanks for writing this. I'm a 43-year-old adoptee and I'm meeting my birth-mother this week. I had no idea what it must have been like to give up a child at that time. I appreciate that added perspective you bring to this story because it's so easy, as an adopted child, to only think about our own experience.



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.