' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Life lessons from Downton Abbey

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Life lessons from Downton Abbey

It's New Year's Day and I've been hearing from first mothers and adoptees who had a difficult time this holiday season, but then...all major holidays can be difficult for us because we are either missing people, or a whole family, in our lives; or we are alienated from someone we don't wish to be at odds with.

You know the drill--should I make that phone call? Will I be rebuffed again? Can I talk to my mother without the daughter she lives with (my half sister who sent me a wretched email) listening in? If I send a card/gift to my son/daughter will they acknowledge it? If I call my 15-year-old daughter will I be able to talk to her, or will this upset her adoptive parents and make life more difficult for her? Will she be cold if I call? What if she doesn't answer the phone? Should I contact a cousin, the only one in my biological family who is willing to be in contact with me?

Or even worse: Where is my birth mother/father? Twenty years of searching has led nowhere. Why doesn't the woman I am pretty sure/positive is my mother respond to my letter? Phone call? Why won't my son/daughter even acknowledge my existence? It goes on and on.

As I've written before, when I didn't know my daugher--and even when I did--I couldn't get through Silent Night with having to squelch back tears until the sensation in my throat felt like a lump of coal, nearly suffocating me.

Enough of this. Life isn't fair. We know that. Whether natural mother or child lost to adoption, we know that we didn't deserve the hand we got. What to do? We can carry on and cry and moan and make ourselves miserable (been there, done that) or eventually pick ourselves up, dust ourselves, off, etc. and get on with life. I don't mean to sound like a pack of Chinese fortune cookies here with bromides one, two, three, but it is true that the only way to go on is to make the best of our lives and try to find some way to use the sorrow that adoption has meant to us. Try to help someone else understand they are not alone. We understand their grief because we share it. And because we have this grief, we can be more emphatic, serious people. As a friend of mine says of lightweight people: He hasn't been cut.

Cut. Had some sorrow enter his life, turning him into a more compassionate individual. Since that is our fate--that we have all been cut--let us accept it with grace and use it with alacrity, wherever we can, whenever we can. I've been gorging Downton Abbey this weekend as PBS has run all 52 episodes, and periodically I weep over some of the same scenes I did before, or note the wit of the lines given to the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet. I see that my own life could be configured to make the one of the sad stories. (Lady Edith without the happy ending.) But my point here is how finally the haughty, imperious and often nasty Lady Mary gains compassion by the end, but to do so, she had to be cut by tragically losing a husband. Only then, and several seasons later, did the writers give her character empathy and fellow feeling--especially for her normally luckless-in-love sister, Lady Edith.

Let us all be our own Lady Marys. The grief of our neighbors or a someone who might be a friend may not be the same as ours, but having been cut, let us extend our understanding and compassion to them. We could not do that, but why not? It might be an opportunity once missed we will never come again.

Of course I wouldn't mind if in doing so, we got some of Lady Mary's fabulous outfits.--lorraine

Downton Abbey: The Complete Collection Wow, that would be like too much dessert, eventually overkill but what pleasure getting to that point. Someone gave me Season Four but that's it.


Downton Abbey: Once again dealing with the scandal of a 'bastard'


  1. Happy New Year!

    Lorraine, I disagree with your friend. Everyone has been cut, and a lot of us walking around have been cut many, many and several times. It is efficient to hide a lifetime of sadness and sorrows. As they say, the less people know about you, the less ammunition they can use against you. Please, let's not dismiss anyone who seems lightweight. Also, as they say, everyone has a story.

    An acquaintance once said to me, "you look like you're well taken care of." She assumed that although she had problems in life, I haven't. It is not a responsibility of mine to convince her that she was wrong. It IS a responsibility of mine to buck up, and bear it.

    I hope your friend will consider her comment. It is not a contest, and, as Tony Soprano's therapist famously said, "People see only what you let them see." Suffering and intelligence can go hand in hand, but to assume that they do is a folly.

    1. There are many way to handle it. I once had a fur coat from a thrift shop, a good purse that was a couple of years used, and boots on and went to the gym. Someone there once said rather snarkily to a friend--who's the debutante? This was after my baby, after divorce, after...but I think you can tell deep down when the individual has a certain attitude to life that comes from some hardship. When I was a senior editor at Town & Country (as I was during the episode above) no one knew anything about my life until I came out of the closet as a mother who relinquished a child. You can be "cut" as my guy friend said, without broadcasting the particulars.

      So we will have to agree to disagree.

  2. A first New Year's baby was born here in RI at 12:05a.m. Mom said, "you bond instantly." Well, not so much when you are in the throes of denial, shame, fear, punishment. Every new baby is a repeated cut in my heart. Scars show up whether we are stoic or otherwise. I would not wish this curse on anyone.

  3. Great post!

    I don't think anyone reaches the age of 35 without going through some kind of sh!t, a car accident, an illness, death of a loved one, a huge disappointment. For some of us, our sh!t comes early--like me losing my entire blood family as soon as I left the hospital after birth. But I think there is a huge difference between adoption loss and other types of losses. Those of us with adoption loss too often find so little support or compassion. Adoptees are told things like "Your mother gave you up because she loved you. You were unwanted and she did what was best for you by giving you up for adoption. Your APs love you very much and they are your REAL parents." And first mothers get told how brave, selfless and heroic they are, and that it was a sign of their love to give their child up for a better life. But so few outside of those who've lived it ever seem to get it.

    I love DA, too. I always liked Lady Mary, and I thought she and most of the characters showed a lot of growth over the years. I watched season 5 over the holidays and thought of you, Lo.

    Happy New Year Everyone!

  4. The hardest for me was the story of the maid, Ethel, who has to give her child up for an assuredly better life to the wealthy but horrible grandfather. I related to both Ethel and Edith.

    Of course as a journalist and magazine editor, etc., who fought the glass ceiling int he Sixties, I totally empathized with Edith when she took over the magazine.

    1. I think Ethel got the best hand she could possible have gotten in her situation, given her social status and education. It's in no way great and Charlie should have gotten to stay with his mother, but it could have been way worse. Especially considering how kind Charlie's grandmother is.

      Of course, it would have been nice if Ethel could have reclaimed her son (and I think she actually could have? Excluding strong influence the Bryants might wield, by the time Ethel went away to her new employment near the Bryants there was no official adoption in the UK, and I have read of cases where biological parents were able to simply take their children back after a certain time), but of course if the Bryants went with the story of their son having had a wife who died of the Spanish Flu then that would have raised a lot of eyebrows. (Although their son having had no wedding should have too...)
      Still, it could have been worse. Edith got a better ending because she was born into wealth and status, and I was so glad when she got her better ending. But Ethel didn't have Edith's advantages.

      I would like to know, though, if, had Kemal Pamuk not died from sexytime with Mary, and Mary would have gotten pregnant out of wedlock... how would she have acted?

    2. Maybe the sext Pamuk would have married Mary? Can't see her being very happy with that. He didn't seem like reasonable marriage material.

    3. I doubt her parents would have allowed that, or Mary been able to survive that. They're progressive for people of their status, but a Turk would have been too much to handle and would have lead to social death, probably.
      And if I recall correctly, he said something about his family not tolerating such a thing either, so it would probably have been a mutual dislike.

      I think Mary could have had an abortion without much of a problem, but if she didn't want to, I think she would have married someone else to pass the kid off as her husband's child.

  5. Love this, Lorraine: "Let us all be our own Lady Marys. The grief of our neighbors or a someone who might be a friend may not be the same as ours, but having been cut, let us extend our understanding and compassion."

    Wishing you and Jane much fulfillment in 2017.

  6. I agree with all of you, every human being has had their trials and tribulations, so they have some sort of grief and burdens to face in their lives. But...

    As a birth mother especially one who had the adoption of her child forced on her and I was supposed to hide it and never to speak of it again, I can tell you the grief NEVER leaves you.

    These are extremely heavy burdens birth mothers carry. As a birth mother, and one who has lost my only and beloved brother, I know what happens as a human works through the stages of grief.

    I will tell you, that when you face grief in the death of a loved one, you are allowed and expected to dwell in that grief for as long as it takes you to go through all the stages.

    But after giving up a child (at least like I did), you aren't allowed to face that grief, except alone and in private.

    Then there is also the anger stage, during the death of a loved one, you will have anger. Anger at the person for dying and leaving you, and anger at God for taking them away. But if you are a Christian, somehow God helps you to work those feelings out and to know that He took the loved one away because he has bigger and better plans for them on the "other side," so your anger eventually subsides. You finally face the fact that you have lost them, but they are much better off for it. You don't miss them any less, you just become resigned to the loss.

    When you have given a child up for adoption, you start through the stages of grief, but you can never finish going through it. You get to the anger stage and you have either no one to blame except yourself, or your parents or who ever made the decision. In my case I was angry at my father for making the decision behind my back, then at the doctor for allowing it and actually encouraging it, and mostly at my mother who knew what it felt like to be a mother, and allowing the doctor and my father to do that to me. I stayed angry with my parents for many years. Just when I felt like some of the anger was over, it would rear up it's ugly head again! Then my mother got alzheimers and became the child instead of the mother, and my father got cancer and pulmonary fibrosis and then had a heart attack! How can you stay mad at them, when you know you may lose them at any time? But I do, I just have to keep repressing it!

    I think even worse was that my friends and family thought I was crazy, I had no reason to be so angry and hard to get along with. There must be something seriously wrong with me. I had no right to be angry and depressed all the time and I should just "get over it." Which was what my father had told me in the beginning, "get over it, forget it!" And you can guess what that caused, even more anger and pain for me. It is a vicious cycle constantly.

    Then when after 30+ years into the adoption we were finally re-united. My child could also see my anger and depression. She assumed at first that it was directed at her! She in turn got angry at me and then she wouldn't speak to me for the better part of a year! This in turn made me even angrier and more depressed! I had finally found her, and then lost her again! How much more can a mother take?

    I'll also never forget the time when I slipped and told her I loved her. Boy was this met with an onslaught of anger, from her! She told me I might love that baby that I had given up, but there was no way I could love her, because I didn't know her. Again, not speaking to me for a long time. I kept sending her messages and emails telling her that unless or until she had a child of her own, she would never fully understand the love of a mother for her child. Born or unborn, adult, or infant, it doesn't matter, once a mother always a mother!

    Anyway, enough of my soapbox, this isn't my blog, but I just wanted to express my opinion as a birth mother. Hope you all have a wonderful new year!

  7. Possibly the worst case is after forcing a relinquishment and being lied to by CC telling a mother her child will be given a note and gift at 18 and find her then.......
    Low and behold marrying and delivering two more babies premature, and God takes them both.......a very good reason not to believe anybody of any faith ANYMORE!



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