' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Meeting anger over coming out as a birth mother head on

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Meeting anger over coming out as a birth mother head on

The conversation about the previous post led to me saying that it could best be answered by posting what preceded that in the memoir I'm working on, Hole in My Heart. This segment is about what happened before I found a publisher for Birthmark, the memoir I wrote in the late Seventies. It was published in 1979; the first scene below would be in the summer of 1978. Plus, as I am trying to finish this draft ASAP, I do not have the time to post much original material, so I hope in this next month you bear with me.

(Copyright, Lorraine Dusky 2013. May not be reprinted, copied, etc in any media with  permission)

The guy is red in the face and so angry he is practically spitting at me as he talks, his voice getting loud enough to attract attention from nearby tables. He’s just found out that I am one of them—a mother who gave away a child—and furthermore that is the topic of the manuscript his boss, Don Fine, an editor who
runs his own eponymous publishing house, and I are there to discuss. We are at The Algonquin, the hotel bar of which still had a certain literary patina in 1978 even if Dorothy Parker and the other denizens of the legendary Round Table are long gone. I’m in the same dress that I wore to the first trial I testified in. Oddly enough, it works here too. Until this guy Arnold starting yelling at me, I was feeling pretty swell, more like a writer than a crusader. 

The veins in Arnold’s forehead are bulging as his tirade continues: I was one of those women? What gave me the right to write about this! Who in the hell did I think I was! What gave me the right to even imagine that I might someday know my daughter! The very idea that I might write about this sickened him! Who in the fuck!!!!$%$# did I think I was?! 

Fine is stunned, I run off to the ladies room, Jesus, what is going to happen when this is published? Why is Arnold so mad? 

Arnold is gone when I return. Fine apologizes, saying he had no idea that Arnold grew up without a mother and in an orphanage. Fine passes on my manuscript. A dozen rejections later, Birthmark finds an enthusiastic home with a small publishing house, M. Evans, where the decision to buy it was made by a single male editor-in-chief whose decisions were not subject to the predilections of a committee that would surely have people on it who figure that, should they need it, adoption will be available to them. Adoption, among the middle and upper class America is invasive, like kudzu in the South. Mothers who supplied the children were unpleasant reminders of its unsavory roots.

That summer I take a share in a house in Sag Harbor for the summer with my friend Judy and a few others. Her cancer had been stayed for another year. Judy is Judy Klemesrud, unquestionably a star at The New York Times, where she turns out sassy profiles of sports figures and celebrities, as well as covers the emerging women’s movement. Both of us are Midwesterners, and we share a certain outsider vibe, a fondness for country music and horses. Manhattan still has an operating stable, and in all kinds of weather Judy and I ride Sunday morning in Central Park and go to brunch afterward. We met and became fast friends during the short time I toiled (and was a sad misfit) in the “Food, Fashion, Family, Furnishings” section of the Times, which is to say, the dread penalty box of a women’s department. Someone on the copy desk wanted my job and sabotaged me, I didn’t want to be in the women’s department anyway, and we parted company in short order.

Before the summer began, I blow ten thousand dollars, a third of my advance for the car of my youthful dreams—hey, I’m from the Motor City, remember?—a cream-colored convertible MG-TD in mint condition, quite suitable for Isadora. I name the MG Esmeralda for reasons unknown and drive her out to Sag. My dirty blonde hair is highlighted, I am hardly dowdy, and I drive that car. Men stop to talk to me about Esmeralda at stop signs, gas stations, parking lots. A penitent I do not resemble, which is what is assuredly expected for someone who wrote that book. Who had furthermore, done that. I needed an image consultant to help me choose a hair-shirt; instead I had Esmeralda. Mistake. Big mistake.  

She must have gotten a mint for that book, and that’s the only reason she wrote it! Look at those wheels! She doesn’t really care about that kid, she only wanted the money—and wasn't she an editor at T&C before? Right. Now all the people who were shocked by the message had more reason to loathe the messenger.

Judy is circumspect about the car, she hears what people are saying—but by then it is  too late. I am already that woman in that car who wrote that book. To complete the image of the unrepentant harlot, I usually wrap a red chiffon scarf over my hair when the top’s down, and it usually is. Judy is invited to just about everything in the Hamptons, and she wants me to be her sidekick, like Robin to Batman. I quickly become aware that publishing a book bestows cachet simply because one’s words wouldn’t be wrapped around tomorrow’s fish. I enjoy being taken more seriously than a frivolous T&C editor, but controversy is, well, controversy and it can blow up in your face anytime. One summer evening in someone’s backyard, cocktails flowing freely, the sun going down, a woman I do not know hands me a folded piece of paper on which is written: “Never forget for a single minute/You grew not under my heart/But in it.” She takes a few steps, turns back, stares defiantly. Exactly what does she mean? Is she an adoptive mother? Adopted? If I move quickly maybe I can avoid the hatchet she is throwing at my back. 

Just before the book comes out in the fall of 1979, I write a “My Turn”[1] for  Newsweek stating my hope “that she has a mother and a father who love her and give her all the things that daughters need….” Nevertheless, further fury ensues. Friends say that when my book came up at a dinner party, Ben Gazzara,[2] who had a house in Sag Harbor, pounded the table in rage. “Pounding the table?” I ask. Surely they exaggerate. He couldn’t have read the book, it isn’t even out yet.

Yes, pounding the table, Marilyn and Ed agree. I am a harridan with an vile request—that I might know her one day, and that was enough reason to pound the table in rage. What right does that woman think she has? The very idea of a that woman interfering with a perfectly contented adoptive family, why that is outrageous! All those adopted kids were fine, just fine, better off without her! What right does she have?!

I expected this, I really did, I remind myself—but expecting is one thing, and feeling the full force of the wrath unleashed is another. From my agent I learn that James Michener, who did not know his parents or exactly where or when he was born, has reacted quite vocally when asked to give Birthmark a blurb. Not on your fucking life!

Another night, another party in Connecticut. Almost Relationship Man [you get the idea, right?] and I are planning to spend the night there, the host is a good friend of ours, it’s quite a long drive back to his place. All goes well enough for the first couple of hours, but near midnight, someone there—a man I’d never met before—asks me, quite alarmed himself, if I know what our friend’s girlfriend (at whose house we are) is saying about me. No, I do not. It turns out she is going around the room excoriating me for having written that book. Whether it was too much booze or the book of buried resentment, it is time for us to depart.

Curve balls are thrown even when I think everything is set. The night before I am to be on Good Morning America, I am in my room at the Mayflower Hotel on Central Park South. Around eight-thirty that night, in the middle of a room-service dinner, the GMA producer calls to ask, quite breezily, You wouldn’t mind going on tomorrow morning with someone who has a different point of view, would you? We think it will make for a better discussion. You don’t mind, do you? His name? Oh, Bill Pierce. 

The enemy as surely as Shad Polier [an attorney for Louise Wise agency who testified against unsealing birth certificates with venom] had been up in Albany at a public hearing. Bill Pierce is the ring leader of the opposition to openness in adoption. As I had heard the story, when he was not named head of the Child Welfare League, he formed his own lobby organization, the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), the umbrella association of adoption agencies that are adamantly opposed to the search movement. The vast majority of the member agencies of NCFA are agencies under the auspices of evangelical Christian churches or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints[3] Florence Fisher has taken on Bill Pierce on television before, I have seen the fireworks, he is the enemy of all that I hope to topple. Would I object to being interviewed with Bill Pierce?

Almost instantly I surmise that GMA does not have a hook to be chatting with Pierce without me; why discuss mothers emerging from the closet unless one is there sitting there? And the producer is springing this on me at eight-thirty at night? That’s because she correctly assumes that if she had run this by my publicist, she would not agree. Furthermore, I quickly grasp that Pierce works out of DC, this has been pre-arranged, he is already in town somewhere, probably at another hotel. Screw this. “I don’t think so,” I say as demurely as possible.

“Are you sure?,” the producer says. “We…think it will be more interesting. You know, to have the other point of view.” But the other point of view owns the day, birth records are sealed in nearly every state of the union.

“Unmm….You could have me on another day.” I say, wondering if I am over playing my hand.

The producer caves. I’ll do the segment alone. 

continued at the previous blog:

Confronting the shame upon admitting I gave up a child

[1] “Who Is My Daughter,” Newsweek, October 15, 1979, p. 27.
[2] American film, stage, and Emmy Award winning television actor and director, now largely unknown by anyone over forty.
[3] LDS adoption agencies are anti-open records, despite that they make such a fuss over genealogy and maintain the best and largest repository of records making tracing people possible. It is no surprise that Ancestry.com, which claims to have billions of records, is based in Utah, the seat of Mormonism in America. Despite the fact that Ancestry.com traces genealogical records, that is, biological heritage, the church emphasizes the family you are “sealed” into over your original family. Of course if there is no break in family, you are sealed into your family of birth. Church policy also encourages adoption in all cases where the parents are not married; and consequently, Utah, with its large Mormon population, has regulations that have promoted unscrupulous adoption agencies that foster questionable adoptions when there is a willing biological parent to claim and raise the child in question. 


  1. I am in awe that you were able to speak about losing your daughter in that era. I lost mine about the same time and was in deep shame and denial until she found me in '95. So I want to thank you for all that you've done to inform and educate. Mary stevenson

  2. Mary, thanks, but I felt it was my karma to do this. I knew I could write, and I knew I was strong enough to take the grief. Like I said yesterday, it wasn't always easy, didn't roll off my back. But I felt it was my life's path, my tao.

  3. Wow. I would love to know what was going through James Michener's mind when he was asked for a blurb on "Birthmark." I feel sorry for him - that seemed to have been an unresolved issue in his life.

    It is very interesting to get a picture of historical views of relinquishment through your very detailed personal accounts.

  4. ".....Adoption, among the middle and upper class America is invasive, like kudzu in the South. Mothers who supplied the children were unpleasant reminders of its unsavory roots...."

    This is flat-out brilliant! And if things continue as they seem to be going in this country lately? Well as a first parent from the CE, I fear history just might repeat itself.


  5. Michener's a great author maybe where he gets his writing abilities from his family. I guess he never found them. A little late considering his age. That's the unresolved issues that get buried in a person's heart and mind. It plague's one's life not to know the truth. Even if the truth hurts I feel its better to know the truth.

    I always, knew I would search for my son and hopefully find him alive. I found him and am glad he knows the truth. He now has the pieces of his life that were missing.

    anon, yes we are unpleasant reminders but our unsavory roots are our children's roots. Facts, of life.

  6. CE: Current/common Era

    BCE: Before Common Era

  7. Hi Lorraine,
    Yes, I really admire your courage! I am stalled on my own memoir because my mother is dying. That makes it hard to focus on other things. But reading your blog always fuels my determination.

    Keep on blogging Sister.


  8. Hey Lorraine,

    CE - Closed Era (of adoption)



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