' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Part 5: Why did my daughter walk away? All is revealed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Part 5: Why did my daughter walk away? All is revealed.

Jane and Lorraine, Sag Harbor, in happier times
Continuing the story of a break in my relationship with my daughter Jane, 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, with her 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 for more than a year. 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 without permission.)

Saturday, late October. It is a gray cold day, Tony [my husband] is outside raking leaves. I want to be alone when I make this call. I sit in the kitchen at the table and punch in her number. Bill [my daughter's husband] answers, registers neutral. He says they are working in the yard, he’ll tell her I’m on the line. Would she even come to the phone? But Jane picks up and says, Hello. I breathe deeply and say my piece. I know we talked about this before, and I’ve told you what it was like back then, but I just wanted to say today, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you were adopted. I wait. 

I don't know what to say, she says. 

That’s all right, I wanted to say this once. Like that.

We speak for well over an hour, not about adoption—about how she and Bill are fixing up the yard, painting furniture, her job as a home health aide. We speak like a mother and daughter. By the time I hand up, I think, maybe she’ll talk to me now. Maybe. I knew she had a computer, but she had not given me her email address, or asked for mine, and I had been afraid to bring it up and be rebuffed. Now I was always afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Once again, silence. There is no follow up; she is still somehow, for some reason, gone. I feel as if it might be this way the rest of my life. It happened to others, why not me?  One mother, whose daughter spent ten years trying to find her, says she always finds herself apologizing for something. To us first mothers, it feels as if there are all kinds of ways adoptees punish us. * Everything seemingly is going along fine, and then Phfft! a cloud of smoke appears like on a magician’s stage, and the illusion of a relationship disappears to be replaced by a void. The audience wonders: Was it ever real, or only a phantom?        

I do have a life that is outside of adoption, and Jane. I am otherwise engaged writing magazine pieces, doing free-lance book editing, going forward with my life. Though I no longer serve on a village board, Tony and I are involved in Sag Harbor life. We alternate writing a column for the weekly Sag Harbor Express called The Citizen about local and national issues, politics, whatever we want. Once or twice I’ve written about adoption. Tony and I have a lot of good friends we see frequently for drinks, for dinners, to go to the movies with.

Yet Christmas, I know, will be hard. However Christmas Eve is the usual rowdy dinner in New Jersey with Tony’s brother and wife, his six children, two of hers, assorted spouses, and grandchildren. They do not hate me, far from it. We play this absurd giving game of everyone bringing one twenty-to-thirty dollar present for either sex that involves a lot of horse trading to get the gift you want to take home. It’s silly, highly competitive and animated, thoroughly enjoyable. These Christmas Eve dinners, that Tony and I have been going to for years, remind me of rollicking holidays with my mother’s family, and I feel totally welcome and at ease among Tony’s family. But do I miss my own daughter? Of course I do. I cannot hold back the tears when I go to Christmas mass the next morning myself and leave when we in the congregation turn to shake hands and say Peace to our neighbors in the pews. I have no peace in my heart. I miss my daughter, plain and simple. No one can replace her.

Spring. Several months later, she calls up and says: Hello. How have you been? I do not ask her why I have been in exile, and now why I am no longer. I know there is no answer she can, or will, articulate. We resume as before. Now she gives me her email address. Now we are on good terms again. But now, I am wary. Of saying the wrong thing. Of saying anything that might be misconstrued. Of relaxing too much. She could shut down at any time, for any reason.

It would take a long time to figure this one out. Over the months she let slip, in half-finished sentences, what had been going on: She had been determined to prove to Ann [Jane's adoptive mother] that she, Jane, deserved to be loved. There's no way to explain without telling the story that lead up to her hitting “delete” on our relationship.

At the memorial service for the eldest of the Rhymer’s two biological children over a year earlier, Ann let slip this comment: He was my favorite.

That’s a hard truth to hear in a family where none of the children are adopted; but in a family where there are adoptees? It ate at Jane, for it was irrefutable proof that Ann, the mother she grew up with, did not love her, or her cherished older adopted brother, the way Ann loved the children she bore. Words fail me—what can I possibly say, what excuse can I make? There is no room for lightness here; there is no way to kiss the boo-boo and make her feel better.

A unfortunate comment, yes; but we humans are always coming up short. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles in unbroken families don’t intend to choose a favorite, but it happens, almost always without the chosen one having done anything deserving of the place of honor. The roll of genetically coded dice has seen to it that this one will closely resemble a parent, or a grandparent, in face, physique and faculties, and there you have it. What was regrettable was that Ann gave voice to her feelings. And all her children heard it.

While the adopted son who lived far away was fuming, Jane let on that her own hurt gave way to proving that she was a good daughter, worthy of her Ann’s love. How to do that? Ignore her first mother as if she too had skied off a cliff. That would be me.

As I’m writing, I am reminded that in a moment of candor Jane once said: “If I move close to you, then I have to move away from the other. I feel like a magnet torn between two poles.”

It ain’t easy being adopted.

Not long ago I came across words that appear to have been sent by the gods of wisdom. This is from a blog called Fugitivis, written by a feminist and an adoptee, Harriet J:
“This is not to say that everything about adoption is wrong, but everything about adoption is painful. For our modern, legal concept of adoption to exist, families must be broken. Adoption is not, and can never be, a best-case scenario. It relies upon the worst-case situation having already come to fruition. From there, you’re working with what is instead of what should be. That should be will never go away. For the entire lifetime of everybody involved in adoption, that should be exists, and it hurts. What is can still turn out to be wonderful, beautiful, incredible, but what is will never be what should be. It is that should be that necessitates education, sensitivity, and trigger warnings, because it never goes away.” **

*Because I can hear adoptees saying: Wait one minute! My mother won’t even talk to me and she pulls all kinds of stunts, let me say that I know that is true. I’ve heard enough stories about recalcitrant first mothers, disappearing first mothers, first mothers who write letters saying DO NOT CONTACT ME AGAIN, but I’m talking about what happened to me and writing from the viewpoint of mothers who have been cut off and know not why. I’ve heard many, many unhappy mothers talk about trying to maintain a relationship, but everything they do is somehow all wrong.

**Adoption Sometimes Gets All Fucked-Up, 101, Fugitivus, April 20, 2010.
Earlier 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.
Part 4: Explaining reality to my granddaughter.

Adoption: Uncharted Waters (Order by clicking on title or book jacket)
A controversial book for what it says about the state of being adopted and what it does to some, but I found it extremely illuminating for understanding the psychological impact of being relinquished by one's family and raised in another. Other reviews:

"A courageous, ground-breaking book. We are not stigmatizing adoption when we open ourselves to this subject. As Kirschner--who has treated hundreds orf adoptees--says in this work, only by understanding the why of these cases can we effectively treat and prevent such tragedies in the future." --Betty Jean Lifton

"Very powerful. It is good to have a clear syndrome named and legitimized. The case histories were lucidly written and whilst the sample is small and a clear minority of adoptees, the analysis of why some adoptions go so badly wrong is terrific. Once again, many thanks David" --Anthony Douglas, Chief Executive of CAFCASS, England and Chair of BAAF, UK (British Association for Adoption & Fostering) 

"A must read. I found the book interesting, intriguing and well-supported by well-known members of the adoption community." --Adoption Today Magazine


  1. Thank you Lorraine. For these postings. For sharing it. For articulating so well what so many of us feel. Thank you.

  2. I am so sorry, Lorraine. I can't imaging how painful those words were for Jane to hear or how painful the repercussions of those words were for you to live through. (((Hugs))).

  3. My son never heard those words as far as I know but he did know he was the non compliant adoptee his older adopted sib was the first one adopted, the adored, the one who his adopter seemed to just favor.

    I do remember when I found my son. The first adopted sib told my son he would never search. He saw how his adopter was hurt by my finding my son. She hated it in fact and tried everything she could to relay that message.

    I hate it that my son had to go through that it wasn't right. I found him and thankfully he was truthful and told her that he loved her but he wanted to know his mother she knew hers. This was only after she had given him so much grieve and even taking my son's child when she should have been visiting him and not telling him his child was with her. Ex wife and adopter co conspired to keep him from his child. I guess that was his punishment.

    Wrong, way to go but not unusual in reunions. It wasn't like she didn't have time without me interfering for 26 yrs. She had her time to build what she felt was a great relationship and life with him. But he wasn't compliant.

    I do love that my son wasn't compliant probably a lot more like me than she liked marginalized because we didn't comply adding a lot of hardship to our lives.


  4. My daughter's adopted brother did not want to search at the time I found Jane, when it would have been easily possible. I believe I was criticized for suggesting it, but Jane kept that from me.

    Of course, later he did search but as far as I know has not been successful. Though I had to pay four months rent at the time--1981($1,200)--it was nothing compared to the joy I knew when I got her name and address. Meeting her was the highpoint of my life.

  5. As a first mother, I have just woke up within the past 10 months to the joy of meeting and hugging my son and only child and the horror of what adoption does to our children. The fact that we will never have a relationship that doesn't have that aura of illusion when it should be solid is poignantly described in your story. We were lied to by the experts and they should be sued for malpractice by us and our grown children for the damage.

  6. as suggested, I have waited out the final chapter of your story. First of all, I'm SO sorry. It's a shame that Jane simply cut you off rather than actually explaining what was going on in the first place. Had she done so and you understood what was going on, perhaps you could have helped each other through it.

    However, I was correct on my initial point of it being because she was "just the adopted kid".

    I don't think that she handled it well but I do understand her actions. People throw around the word "rejection" but I think it's deeper than that. The words that I would choose are "worthless" and "expendable".

    You say "it ain't easy being adopted". That's probably the biggest understatement I've ever heard. Yes I realize there are some exceptions where people are elated about it, but to me.. the old school version of adoption is a criminal offense. Not just to the children but their mothers as well.

    I was struck by something my mother said - that when she was in the home, the woman who ran it was an adoptive mother. She went on and on to the girls there about how wonderful it was and what a great service they were doing to their children and to families who wanted children. Well talk about being brainwashed from only one side of the story! I often wonder... had those girls been given the full picture, heard from other mothers what it's truly like to give up their babies, and from adoptees allowed to speak freely about what it's really like to have that happen and grow up that way... would any of those girls sitting in the room changed their minds? In my case I doubt it. My mother has shown zero compassion for me either past or present. But I suspect many of you would have and tried to find alternate solutions.

  7. I met my son 5 years ago and after he drove the 50 min. back to his adopted family full of happiness of finally knowing who his Mom was he was hit with such hurt and anger he shut down all communication with me as well.

    I was used to pain so I kept writing letters about loving him and missing him and not having all the answers at 20 and maybe more now but still not ALL.

    It was a very hard last 4 1/2 years. I kept distant never sending him birthday cards why should I they were his parents so hurt and torn that there was a me. He was 32 full of rage and hurt sadness too guess he thought I was having a ball lol now he is 37 not a child but still so messed up though getting his act finally together. I could go on and on but this is your story I just wanted you to hear enough to know you are far from being alone with so many questions. They had their own daughter after they adopted my son wish now he had gone to a couple that truly could never have their own as I had been told then maybe he would have been loved as much as I loved him.

  8. Uni...sad story you tell, and as someone once said to me: You didn't deserve that. You didn't.

  9. Dear Lorraine, your final post in the series about broken communications with your daughter is extremely beautifully written. Not that the others weren't, but with this last post, I almost feel as if I am experiencing your emotions, Jane's emotions, as I read your descriptions. Really powerful, really thought-provoking, very soul-baring. I am so glad you got some insight as to what might have prompted Jane to distance herself from you. Thanks for sharing that very difficult period.

    As someone who is in the odd position of feeling "first mother-like" to my former foster Nina, your writings help me gain some understanding of the complexity of our ongoing relationship. Thanks again.

  10. Thanks Lorraine sadly none of us did :(

  11. Thank you for writing about this - how it feels when adoptees 'go dark' on their first parents. I know that I have a problem of cutting ties and walking away from relationships when I can't handle them emotionally. I'm in reunion with my first father and there are so many painful reminders of the 'shoulds' as described in the book quote above. I don't have a place in his life, just in his heart, and I can see him trying to keep me in his life and the more he tries, the more it reminds me that I've no place in it. The more it reminds me of what I've lost and ever fiber of my being tells me to cut my losses and walk away. I learned to close myself off to emotional hurt because my a-mom was dysfunctional and used to remind me of my adoption to make herself feel better about herself. I left her house when I went away to college and never went back to live under her roof. She died several years ago. I haven't walked away from by first father yet as I know he would be devastated but it has been hard, hard emotional work for me to stay connected and I truly empathise with the adoptees that do shut down and stop contact.

    1. Crystal, I am so sorry. Since at some level you recognize the need to stay connected to your first father, I urge you to do so. At the same time, find friends who understand and build a community of connections to others. Many hugs, I know you need them.



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