' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Part 4: Explaining reality to my granddaughter.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Part 4: Explaining reality to my granddaughter.

Continuing the story of a break in my relationship with my daughter, reason unknown, from a chapter of my memoir-in-progress, Hole in My Heart. For nearly two decades we had a relationship with various breaks, but now, settled into a happy marriage, we had been getting along swimmingly for a couple of years. Then suddenly, she broke off contact without a word. I was in the dark. Previous sections of this are on the blog, starting on August 6.

(Copyright Lorraine Dusky, 2013. May not be republished in any form.)

Fall 2003. Carol Schaefer, author of The Other Mother, is leading a group of us in a healing session at a retreat of Concerned United Birthparents, held that year in Williamsburg, Virginia. I’ve been on a panel, I’ve spoken of taking responsibility for our actions, no matter what. Now as I listen to Carol’s soothing voice, guiding our visualization, I see Jane coming towards me, walking over a bridge, carrying a
small, flat package wrapped in puce tissue paper—I have no idea what’s in the package, or why it’s puce—and suddenly I am engulfed in a tsunami of tears. Cathartic tears? Not on your life. Just tears. At this point, I am way beyond catharsis; once again I am merely wretched. Many women there are in the same sorry boat—we had a reunion and then somehow it went south.

Those of us who have relinquished a child often feel outside of the mainstream of society—we are the pariahs we know we are—and so we rarely speak of our deep and abiding pain. Being among our own kind, where we are not judged, or pitied, is immensely comforting. You don’t have to explain, or apologize, or feel embarrassed by the sudden rush of tears filling your eyes. It is all okay, for the woman sitting next to you who is otherwise a stranger understands. Now I confess to the group that my daughter has rejected me--again--and that's why I am in such pain. But in quite moments when I walk alone that weekend, I can’t help but recall the theory that the people who repress their feelings are the healthier.

Happier times: daughter Jane and our dog, Bo, 1987
Sometime later that same weekend I hear Nancy Verrier, adoptive mother/adoption therapist/author, suggest that we tell our children, at least once, I am sorry. Sorry without caveats. Just sorry that your child is adopted. That you didn’t raise him or her. Sorry, plain and simple. No statement with “it was the times” or “my father/mother/priest/grandmother made me do it” or any of the other million reasons, no matter how true and valid they are. No matter if you were truly forced into signing the surrender papers. No matter if you felt you had no choice. No matter if you were raped and your parents sent you to purdah and said not to come back with that bastard. So what? is Verrier’s argument. No matter how it happened that you did not raise your baby, you can still be sorry, because, after all, aren’t you? The adopted person might rationally understand the mitigating factors at work, but maybe, she explains. to hear a mother say just once, “I’m sorry you were adopted,” would be healing for the child so relinquished. It would not pass on the blame to anyone or anything else. It would be an acknowledgment that no matter how the adoption turned out, good or bad, you are sorry that it happened at all. She adds that a lot of after-reunion relationships improve dramatically once this is said. Do it once, she adds, not a million times. You don’t have to be a whipping post.

A light bulb over my head switches on. Have I ever done this? I am pretty sure the answer is no—otherwise, why would this feel like such a revelation? I would remember, right? On the flight home, I stare out the window of the airplane as a conversation I had with Britt that summer floats by like a passing cloud. She was eleven—old enough to be fully aware of what adoption meant—that I was her mother’s true mother, that I had given birth to her, but that I gave her up. She knew by then that there was both grief and joy between Jane and me, and now she wanted to know: Why did you give Mama up?

She saw that Tony and I had a normal middle-class life, that we lived in a neighborhood of nice houses in a swell seaside town, so how come? The facts of her mother’s life—that she was raised by two other people, why didn’t I keep her—now came into question: Why? We were in her bedroom at our house, it was after dinner, early evening but not yet dark. We had not put on a lamp yet.

How to explain what it was like in 1966, what my situation was then, what it was like to be an unwed mother? The phrase “single mother” had not been invented yet, they were so rare; back in my day, there were divorced mothers, sad struggling creatures. The rare “unwed mother”—I knew of one—had whispers clinging to her like pollen in the fall. But kids of Britt’s generation knew kids who had single moms, and by the way, she herself had not seen her father since she was two, and until Jane married, her own mom been a single mother. Britt had been absorbed into the family of Jane’s other parents, so why hadn’t that been the way with Jane and my family? She was determined to get to the bottom of this mystery.

But didn’t you have an uncle or someone you could have asked for help? she wanted to know. Someone who would have helped you.

Not really, No.

Couldn’t you have gone to the bank and explained to the man why you needed money?

No, that wouldn’t have worked. They would not have given me any money. You can't get a loan just for living. I was not married. It was really different then, I tell her. I can’t think of a good way to explain further that the mores of the times dictated: that my daughter be given up to two people, a mother and a father, that society was telling me I was doing the right thing. Finally I say, women who had babies and weren’t married were, uh, scorned. Like hos. I knew she had recently learned the word.


But I knew she wasn’t buying what it was like in the old days, long before she was born. She was silent. I knew she was thinking: There must have been a way. I turned on the light. I waited. She was pensive, unconvinced, letting me know she didn’t get it. What was I hiding? 

“I made a mistake,”  I finally said. “A terrible mistake. I shouldn’t have done it.” I raised my eyebrows and stared into her bright blue eyes, aware at that moment how much like Patrick’s they were. My granddaughter Britt is an old soul. She is young, but she is wise.

Ah, now she got it. A mistake.

Mistakes she understood. Grandma Lorraine made a mistake. That she can accept. It was a doozey of a mistake, but still: a mistake. She said nothing more.

By the time the plane lands, I know what I must do. I would make that call. I would simply say: I’m sorry. No caveats added. Said or unsaid would be this: I made a mistake.  TO BE CONTINUED.  Next: The question is resolved.
 Previous sections of this story:
A relationship with my daughter goes awry. Reason unknown.
Part 2: A relationship with my daughter goes awry. Reason unknown.
Part 3: A relationship with my daughter goes awry. Reason unknown.
The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child
"As an adoptee, I could not have written this book better myself. It is an extremely insightful book which opened up a world of understanding to myself and also to my loved ones. It helped me understand why I am the way that I am, why I do some of the things that I do, why I struggle with love in my life, and why I have this subconscious fear of abandonment and trust. This book is a definite "must read" for all parents of adopted children. I know that as a parent you will resist believing in the Primal Wound but you must for the benefit of your children. You will learn to understand your adopted children and will be able to help them throughout their lives--sometimes even in the smallest way, i.e. the simple reassurance that you WILL return home after work."--Coco Ventura, Amazon

The Other Mother : A True Story "In 1965, as a pregnant, unmarried 19-year-old member of an image-conscious, Catholic, southern family, Schaefer found herself unusually hemmed in. In this emotional memoir she describes the harsh conditions imposed on her--she was sent in secrecy to a home for unwed mothers where she gave birth and atoned for her "sin" by relinquishing her newborn son. Although Schaefer married and had two more children, her longing for reunion with her first child did not abate. On his 18th birthday, she began the arduous, frustrating process of making contact with her first born, named Jack, and his adoptive family in the Los Angeles area, finally arranging a successful meeting that involved the birth father as well. This wrenching account, covering a range of adoption issues, is a moving testament to the bonding power of motherhood."--Publisher's Weekly via Amazon. Order either by clicking on title or picture of book's jacket. Thank you for your support.



  1. I love hearing the insights and inquiry from your grand daughter about her mom's adoption. The innocence and forwardness of children is quite awesome and I think shows a lot of truth when it comes to adoption.

    On a recent episode of "I'm Having Their Baby", it showed a mom telling her two kids they were planning on adoption for their yet-to-be born brother. The two year old had a look of pure confusion on his face and said "but he's OURS!". The eight year old straight up said "I don't wanna hear anymore talk about this". It was wonderful. Happy ending too, she didn't go through with it in the end. Also since I'm on the topic, I wanted to share that this season of "I'm Having Their Baby" is completely awesome. Season 1 featured only 2 moms keeping their babies. Season 2 has a mom keeping their baby pretty much every episode (they show two moms per episode) so it's quite literally been a 50/50 rate. It's amazing watching them say no to all the things the adoption industry wants them to believe. So many awesome moments where they stand up to the coercion. I definitely recommend watching this season for the success/no-placement stories.

  2. Anon, I will record the episodes. Sometimes it is all more than I can take.

  3. Well Lorraine there's definitely still a trigger warning since as I stated, about half of the women still go through with their "adoption plans"... so maybe read episode guides online so you know which parts to skip over if you're going to watch. The ones with the happy endings are worth it in my opinion. I've literally found myself cheering and throwing my first in the air alone in my living room couch at some of the episodes. I'm thankful for what they teach people... it's okay to say no to the big adoption agency! You don't owe them anything!

  4. Makes sense to me. Regardless of the circumstances, the adoptee very rarely is a participant in the placement choice. I could see how for some adoptees, a simple, unadorned "Sorry" might be much needed before an understanding and/or acceptance of the circumstances is possible.

    And the very interesting read continues.....thanks for sharing, Lorraine

  5. Oh what a tangled web we weave...

    We were deceived into this in the first place. Then lived with that deception, along with our families for way too many years. I think it is the lies that are so hard to overcome. It's hard to have a relationship and try to express the truth when it is so tangled up in deceit.

  6. Did anybody else ever have the same experience, or having to explain "why" you relinquished your baby to a youngster?

    It is breath-taking. I know that Carol Schaefer had a similar experience.

  7. I became pregnant in 1967, and was forced to surrender my son in 1968. My very religious family sent me across the country to live with relatives. My parents told me never to speak of my pregnancy, but I had already told many friends.

    My father, an attorney who had worked for Catholic Charities in the past handling the legal aspects of adoptions, had placed me under guardianship with my relatives in a distant state. He had told those relatives they could adopt my child...but they must not tell anyone who the child really was..

    I had, of course, NOT agreed to any such adoption arangement but was underage and had nowhere else to live.

    I told my relatives "no"...you cannot have my baby.

    I fought to keep my son. I sought help from local "family welfare" agencies...there were 3, and one of which offered temporary foster care.(the others did not offer anything) I placed my son in the temporary agency care and continued to try to get help from my family to keep him(his father was long gone and there was no legal way to get help from him then).

    The temporary care was a scam. The agency began calling me at my relatives' apartment and was threatening me to sign a surrender or they would terminate my parental rights in court anyway. It was no empty threat. It was then and is the law today in that state.

    And I know mothers who did get terminated in court... when they refused to sign the surrender.They fought the battle and lost. One came to our CUB meeting and told of her court fight after she had placed her daughter in agency temporary care in the late 1960s.

    She lost. They terminated her on the basis that she "had left her daughter too long in temporary care" even though she had not relinquished her.

    I was also denied public assistance due to the fact that I was not a resident of my son's birth state, and the state where I was a resident counted my family's income against me, so could not get assistance there.

    When we are asked "what happened?" I think we should tell our story.

    My granddaughter knows the above details and much more, about the treatment of women in this country.

    She has always known me, as I found my son in the 1980s, when his wife was pregnant with her.

  8. Thank you, Kitta, We should all tell our stories.

  9. Kitta, I just read this part of the story again and it hit me like a brick:

    "I was also denied public assistance due to the fact that I was not a resident of my son's birth state, and the state where I was a resident counted my family's income against me, so could not get assistance there."

    Welfare today is a vastly different situation than it was in the 60s, something that most people do not realize. You were screwed, no matter which way you turned. Everything in society was pointing us toward giving up our children to adoption. I was so shamed that I really did not feel that I had an option.



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