' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Psychological triggers after stuff happens

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Psychological triggers after stuff happens

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was a movie I wanted to see the moment I heard about it--a woman covering the war in Afghanistan was a movie made for me. I love journalism, I have loved the whole business of it since I figured out what my father was doing every day when he read three newspapers, and set about immersing myself in its craft at age 14, when I had my first byline in my hometown's weekly newspaper.

I came of age in the generation where covering a war was a near impossible assignment for a woman to get, unless she could get there on her own dime and send dispatches back. My own dime was pretty slim, and so that was out of the question. But take an assignment to cover a war, if I'd been able to? I would be home packing to go before my boss heard my YES.

I didn't bother reading a single review before I corralled my husband into going because I knew I had to see it. Many male reviewers I read after I saw it put the movie down because they expected more of a hee-haw comedy from Tina Fey. Me? I loved Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (WTF in military phonetic spelling) from the opening scenes in a cable newsroom where Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is writing about sucrose to the final scene when she in back in the States, now in a much better job. But what I didn't expect was that I would spend the last 15 minutes of the movie crying.

Triggers. They are everywhere in life and this movie was full of them for me, and one I sensed I knew was coming--spoiler alert here but it won't detract from enjoying the movie--was when Baker goes to visit a Marine she'd interviewed who later has his two legs blown off.  Now he's on a farm somewhere back in the U.S., it looks like he brought home a wife with him, and he's doing just fine. I don't have the dialog down but he says something to the effect of--What are you going to do when this shit happens? You either lie down and die or you keep on going--what else are you going to do?

Well, Okay, that is what unleashed a torrent of tears in me. Sometimes we first mothers have written about how losing a child was like losing a limb, and last Sunday in that theater, I felt the rush of everything in my life overwhelm me, from identifying with the woman (though I hadn't covered any war) to the soldier with the prosthetic legs.

While I continued to think about triggers, today's New York Times has a story about how some women professors are discovering that it's difficult to talk about certain subjects in their classes because--Hey, someone will be triggered unpleasantly if say, rape, is talked about. Or sexual deviance. Some professors have been castigated for writing about sexual paranoia on campus.

Now look at us--we all have family and friends who have babies, but we can't go around saying--Don't show me a picture of your new baby! Even if it is a trigger that reminds us of the worst thing that ever happened to us. We live with triggers all around, and have to learn to cope in spite of them. We welcome new babies into our lives. But I have to say, I probably won't ask to hold him or her. Now, that is too much for me, but I do this discretely and no one has to notice. Or be reminded that this new baby or toddler reminds me of what I missed.

And yes, I did feel differently about my granddaughter Britt (as I call her in Hole In My Heart), when my daughter Jane brought her here as an infant. I loved holding her, having her stay with us for most of the summer when she was a kid. And maybe for some first mothers, maybe for those who had other children, other people's children and grandchildren aren't the reminder that they are for me.

Other triggers for me? Anything connected with the first few days of April, as my daughter's birthday
I planted this bush in our yard for my daughter. 
was April 5. It and she have been on my mind frequently already. Forsythia, which was in the full shock of yellow bloom when I was being driven--quickly!--to the hospital to have her, the bushes flew by my in eyes.  Fellow blogger Jane said that whenever she saw the 11x17 option on a printer, she thought of her lost daughter, born on November 17, or 11/17.

And what about the word: Adopted. The legislature adopted a bill. The county adopted a new budget.  Adopt a pet. I will say that perhaps because I covered the legislature in Albany as part of my beat on a newspaper in the New York's capital and saw the word all the time, and used it myself, I became inured to its usage. However Adopt-a-cat/dog still reminds me.

We can't cut ourselves off from humanity, nor can we avoid all the triggers in our lives, Philomena was a trigger certainly, but it did a lot of good in bringing our issue to the forefront. Juno was a trigger too, of course, and I waited to see it until I could at home so I could be pissed off in private! Ditto with books and my lord, I've just written one that I hope helps move the dialog more about the awful injustice of sealed adoptions and sealed records. And the only way it does that is if people from our cohort read it, triggers and all, and feel the urge to write a legislator, lobby at the state capital, or simply tell their neighbor about their secret or how they really feel about the fact of their adoption.

If we are trying to change life as we know it, we have to let those triggers into the world. Shit happens. We got a big dose of it when we felt compelled to give up our children. Others lose limbs, loved ones at an early age, or are in the wrong subway in Brussels at the time a bomb goes off. We go on, because really, what else are you going to do?--lorraine

On another note: Happy Easter everyone. Love the ones you are with.

And speaking of that: Husband liked the movie to. The male reviewers weren't looking for a movie about a strong woman.

Professors’ Group Says Efforts to Halt Sexual Harassment Have Stifled Speech

Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
"I loved this book and recommend it to anyone who wants to read a fascinating and honest memoir about a time when women and girls got everything but a scarlet letter on their forehead for adultery, but for anyone who wants the truth about adoption and it's aftermath. I would love to see this made into a movie. Please someone out there who does screenplays, contact Lorraine Dusky and get a contract! It would be as compelling as Philomena and help the youth of today understand a time when most unwed mothers felt pressured to choose adoption for their babies."--J. B. Greens at Amazon

Next Thursday, 3/31, Lorraine will be speaking and reading from Hole In My Heart at Spence-Chapin in Manhattan. 6:30 p.m., 410 E. 92nd St. Registration suggested: Click here.


  1. Great post! Out of the blue, boom. Watching a new tv show Catch. Woman enters her new home to discover her fiancé stripped it clean. Trigger....41 years after that day.

  2. Just found your blog. I'm glad to see it. And as I'm sure you know, we adoptees have as many triggers. We're all in this together, as (Rumi?) said, we're all just walking each other home. Boy would I love to have access to my records. Even at the age of 51 I still wonder if my "first" mother has these triggers...throughout my life I've bitterly and then compassionately hoped so. My greatest fears is that I was forgotten. On the upside, at 51 I have so much growth and expansion in my own journey that (most) anger is dissipated.

    So thanks for your forum. I'm glad I found you.

    1. Like New and Old says, you are not forgotten. You don't have someone in your body for nine months and then forget.

      She may be in hiding, she may be looking for you, she may have told everyone in her life, she may have not. But it is insane that at 51 you cannot have access to the information that would tell you who she is.

    2. It's worth noting also, Peggie, that for the most part birth mothers have always been expected to skulk away into the sunset, and never darken the door of their child again. If she were to reappear or even inquire, it would be seen as messing with a vulnerable child's mind, and pouring salt into the wound. At least that's how it used to be, attitudes today are changing about that. I mention this as a birth mother, hoping it will help or at least may make you feel a little better. I think adoptees may not be aware of this aspect, or what may be going through a birth mother's mind. Society really sends a message that the decent thing, and the kindest thing, is to stay out of your child's life, since you obviously didn't have what it takes, and you have failed them. First mothers' and adoptees' perspectives are so different. Hopefully this blog will help you, as you will at least hear a few voices you otherwise may not. Best wishes.

  3. There are so many triggers, it seems they are everywhere and can't be avoided at all. I've recently been watching a French series and also a Swedish series, they are fantasy stories, they both deal with separation of family members, people who haven't had an identity or sense of self, people who are not really aware of what their situation is or what has happened to them. It all relates to the issues in adoption that are discussed in this forum, and elsewhere. It's very disturbing and sad-making, but these fictional series actually mirror the unhappy side of society, meaning birthrights - and civil rights - being taken away from a person.

    Lorraine, I did purchase your book and read it (several months ago). It has helped me through many a terrible time, as does this forum. I really noticed the part where you (reasonably) assumed that your daughter would be able to access her OBC when she became an adult? I did, also. I was quite shocked and surprised when my younger son said that he had looked for me for years, without success (we are in reunion after 35 years). Perhaps there are many other birth mothers who thought the same, or didn't understand. The laws are so wrong-headed, and the issue needs to be more visible in the public mind - that a person can be old enough to vote, drink, serve in military, etc. but never old enough to know their origins. It's really hard to believe.

    Peggie, as a birth mother I would venture a guess that your first mother has NEVER forgotten you. No woman who has a baby forgets about that baby, no matter what the circumstances. She may have a lot of sadness, fear, and perhaps overwhelming guilt. I hope that you can locate her. I would also say it's OK to be angry and bitter, and even have rage, there's no reason why not. The circumstances dictate it. I hope that you can find your mother, and at least have the chance to communicate with her. We can never know what another person's thoughts are.

    Martha. best wishes, and I hope things will look better for you. Sadness and regret are part and parcel of our experiences.

    Happy Easter or Purim to everyone.

  4. Lorraine wrote:"And maybe for some first mothers, maybe for those who had other children, other people's children and grandchildren aren't the reminder that they are for me."

    As mother who did have other children and right away, I was drawn to babies and children, did not avoid them but gravitated to them. I have always loved babies, I was the politically incorrect little girl who had lots of dolls and my first job was babysitting. I think that the aversion to babies as a reminder is more common with moms who never had another child. Some mothers I know went even further and worked as obstetrical nurses or in daycare so were surrounded by babies. That can go either way.

    Lorraine, the forsythia for your daughter is lovely. My Michael was born April 9 so the same reminders of spring flowers, Easter, and warming days apply, lots of that imagery in poems I wrote when Mike was not communicating with me. Now it is more something to look forward to and think about what to get for his birthday.

    I never tried to hide the fact I had a son I surrendered and thought about it all the time, so I am not sure the concept of "triggers" as applied to people suffering from PTSD or trauma apply to me. Certain things would annoy and make me mad though, like adoption movies, so I just avoid them. I have never seen Juno and do not intend to. I have also turned off TV shows when the adoption plot got stupid or gruesome. It is surprising how often adoption pops up as a plot device. I've pretty much given up reading adoption books. Personally I do not identify or feel my experience or loss is analogous with that of a combat veteran who has lost a limb, but some do see it that way.

    I do not think that censorship is the answer to people being upset by some references or subjects, one cannot go through life being protected from everything. We each need to know what we cannot handle or find upsetting, but we cannot expect others to know that or to never bring up those subjects.

  5. My first job ever was minding the neighbor's kids for a short time--I was paid a dime and my parents taped it to the inside of scrapbook. I still have it. Then I babysat for two little girls across the street on a regular basis--one was in the throes of the terrible twos and that was a nightmare.

    But the more interesting thing about my very young being is that when I discovered where babies come from--women's bellies--I insisted to my mother that I would die if I had a baby. She insisted "that doesn't happen anymore" but I went on and on, until I realized--at about five or six--that I would stick to my sense of myself but I was not going to convince her, and so stopped saying it. But I never forgot the moment we had this conversation--in the kitchen of our house. What did I know then?

  6. Maryanne and Lorraine, my youngest son was also born in April, very close to the birthdates of your children. Lorraine, I wish you the best and am so sorry about the loss of your daughter. You are very open and honest about everything in your book. I wish that things had been different for all of you.

    Maryanne, I'm glad that you have a good relationship with your son and you had other children. I did not, and never would have. And so through the years even to see a photo of a baby or children was very upsetting and scary for me. Going through the grocery store and seeing the childen's cereals, sandbox shovels and toys, upset me very much. After reunion with my younger son, I went to Babies R Us to get a birthday gift for my grandson. Wow, I felt dizzy and like I was going to faint, and had to leave. A year later I was able to buy a gift for him at Baby Gap, although I must say - it was not without difficulty, but I did it! I'm now doing a portrait of my grandson, which I will present to my son as a birthday present in 3 weeks when we go to visit - I wasn't sure I could do it, but it's getting done. My husband has said all along that I never mourned the loss of my children and come to terms with what was done to me. I am still working through that.

    Unfortunately, my mother did not talk to me at all about boys, sex or birth control. Consequently I slept with a boy, came home - to which her response was that we could not live under the same room and she was moving out (which she did a day or 2 later)! I was 18 and and of course became pregnant very quickly. My boyfriend (later husband and father of my 2 kids) said he was wearing a condom when he wasn't - it was dark and I was too dumb to check, and was naive and trusting. I feel sorry for my mother, but she really didn't have a clue as what a mother should do. Still, later on she helped me when I really needed help - as to what to do regarding my children - and she was the only family member who was there for me. She deserves credit for that.

    I mention this only as some of the things you wrote about, Lorraine, provided some triggers for me, but not damaging or anything like that. I don't want to say MEN! - But young women must protect themselves, thank goodness times have changed on that front for women, who are more self-aware of sex, birth control, and have true options available to them. A man may be a wonderful person, but if he doesn't want to protect a woman from getting pregnant - sadly it speaks for itself, he does not know, neither does the woman, the pain and sadness it could lead to. It really upsets me that certain politicians are trying to roll back all the progress that has been made. What happened to me, I wouldn't wish on any young woman, and some women get NO information to protect them from their parents, the only info is at school or from the government.

  7. I do not know a single woman my age whose mother talked to her about "sex boys and birth control" except to say "don't do it until you are married" so you are certainly not alone in that. I always wanted kids, and am very fortunate to have had them. I doubt I would still be here had I not had my kids. As to warning young women about men, yes they should be taught about birth control and have access to it, but those warnings go out the window when one is in love. we all thought "my guy" isn't like that.

    I guess the things that I consider "triggers" which I find upsetting enough to force me to leave a room are cruelty to any animal but especially cats, and terrible things happening to young children. I cannot deal with that.

    I have no problems at all with using the word "adoption" in relation to pets because I consider pets part of the family so the word fits.

    Lorraine, did you hear awful gruesome descriptions of childbirth when you were very young? You say your mother tried to convince you otherwise, but did you hear her and her friends telling old wives tales? That is a pretty extreme reaction for such a small girl. I think I was considerably older before I even knew how babies were born and just thought they were like pretty dolls but alive so even better. I remember the first time I held a new baby, I was around ten and it was my aunt's friend's new grandson, and it was magical.

    1. Nope. Never heard anything about childbirth until that day. And my mother never said anything that made it seem gruesome. I believe people know things from an early age about what it to some in life. What I said just popped out unbidden.

      PS: I still have my Toni doll.

    2. OK, I'm jealous. I still have a couple of dolls but not my Toni Doll or Ginny Doll who were my favorites:-)

  8. Just stopping by to wish everyone a Happy Easter!

    No contact as of yet, but no - I'm not holding my breathe! LOL!
    I'm still here and reading - but that "last" "LEE" that posted here was NOT me... Maybe I'll change mine to Lee2 :)

  9. I heard from all my kids for Easter, and heard about my grandkids so that made it a very happy day. All is well.

    1. That's great! I spoke to Granddaughter Kim and Jennifer my Alternate universe daughter. And had 12 close friends over for a big midday meal. It was ecumenical--Mazel Tov!

  10. Upcoming Mother's Day ads are already triggering first mother sadness and loss. I can be an "ordinary" and "normal" person most of the year except on Mother's Day and the days leading up to it. There is nothing ordinary or normal for this first mother on Mother's Day. Too bad Mother's Day doesn't honor all mothers, just the legalized (and as if born to) mothers. Painful day for this first mother...

    1. Oh yes. I may be going to the dinner for mothers at Spence-Chapin this year on the Tuesday before Mother's Day. All first mothers are welcome. I used to think these were bad ideas, now I am wavering, for the dinners allow us to come together in our shared feelings and acknowledge that Mother's Day for us sucks!

    2. My problem with going to these events is that it gives the impression you support Spence-Chapin's primary business, which is infant adoption. S-C may use the event in promotional materials, conveying the message that "birth mothers" are mature wise women who made "an adoption plan." The event shows "it cares about its "birth mothers" and serves to encourage vulnerable mothers to give up their children and assuage the guilt of adoptive mothers.

    3. Janie, the industry holds "Birth Mother's Day" on the Saturday before the real mother's day to honor "birth mothers." These are in truth adoption promo days, celebrating the wise women who loved their child so much that they gave him to biological strangers. It's great for mothers to come together but they can do it without feeding at the table of those who make their living from adoption.

  11. Adoption agencies take the view that they own the families they have worked with ...for life. Of course, we are "welcome." The more contact we have with them, the more data they can get.

    I wouldn't touch their dinner/meeting/ celebration with a ten foot pole.

    And, there is nothing that says we cannot celebrate Mothers Day on our own in our own ways, and with caring people/friends/relatives who understand what it means to us. I always have.



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