' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Joan Didion's Blue Nights, an adoption memoir revisited on the release of documentary about her

Friday, November 3, 2017

Joan Didion's Blue Nights, an adoption memoir revisited on the release of documentary about her

With the release of the documentary about Joan Didion, The Center Will Not Hold, a repost of a blog written in 2011 after the release of her memoir, Blue Nights, which dealt extensively about her relationship with her adopted daughter.

Joan Didion's adoption of her daughter Quintana Roo has been on my radar ever since I realized she and her husband had adopted a daughter because their daughter was born within weeks of mine, and both girls were surrendered as infants. It wasn't until Quintana was ten or eleven that I paid more attention because one of my best friends in New York, who followed the lives of literati with interest, began insisting that this girl Quintana had to look a great deal as I must have as a child.

It was true. Except for the fact that I was a bean pole growing up, she did seem to me (and most assuredly to my friend) that she looked like I did as a kid. Photographs bore this out. Quintana was often mentioned in the magazine stories about her famous parents, including her age, and just as my daughter turned eleven, so had Quintana.

Now mothers who have surrendered their children in closed adoptions can do crazy things, and eventually it seemed as if I surely should write to Joan Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and find out once and for all if we indeed shared a daughter. To add to the "clues" that seemed to be piling up, I myself had recently come back from the Yucatan, Quintana Roo in particular, and found the Mayan lore magnetic, mystical, mesmerizing: virgins sacrificed to the gods and the deep-in-the-jungle sink hole with water so black you could not see into it. At the ancient temple of Tulum, situated hard on the shore of the azure blue Caribbean, I climbed to the top and sat there alone--that was when you could do that, before there were crowds--for a long time and I remembered wondering that day, as the sun sparkled in a cliche of diamonds on the impenetrable sea, if I would ever find my far-away daughter, my daughter always out of reach, lost in a closed adoption. Was her name--Quintana Roo--indeed, a sign?

I wrote to them; I waited; I got a kind letter back from Dunne telling me she was not my daughter. So I watched from a distance this girl, this teenager, this young woman, who was not my daughter, but had things in common with my daughter: both adopted; both born in 1966. Quintana on March 3; my daughter, April 5. Nineteen sixty-six. It is a year that would be significant. Not 1964, or 1968. Nineteen sixty-six. In Chinese astrology, the year of the Fire Horse.

Written before findng
my daughter, Jane
I've told this story before both at FMF and first in my 1979 memoir, Birthmark. When my husband and I got together a couple of years after it was published some of his circle of friends--really girl friends of his former girlfriend--used this incident in the book as proof of just how crazy I was, how inappropriate I was for their friend's ex, and in fact, this was proof enough that I was nuts! I remember being taken aback and hurt. They think I'm nuts, is an odd way to feel about yourself. There is no way to prove that you, in this instance, are not. I wanted to tell them about the adoptive mother who had called me after she had seen my photograph: she was convinced--until I told her otherwise--that I was her daughter's other mother; I wanted to tell them about the teenager in Michigan who wrote to me believing I was her other mother. Birth mother, how bitter the words sometimes feel in my heart. I do not use them if I can. 

Less than a year later when I found my daughter, The New York Times and Newsday and other publications would send reporters to interview us. She and I were photographed and included in Jill Krementz's book, How It Feels to be Adopted. So would be Dideon, Dunne and Quintana. Did they remember I wrote them, so long ago? Here we were again, meeting in the pages of a book, now.

Stories of adoption from
the children themselves
It was with all this in mind that I sped through Didion's new book, Blue Nights, as it is about the death of Quintana. She died at 39 in 2005. My daughter Jane died of her own hand at 41 in 2007. Jane had epileptic seizures since she was five or six, and took mind-numbing drugs to keep them at bay most of her life. She had all the attendant social awkwardness and neurosis often associated with people who have seizures, that can come at any time, in any place. There is no good time or place to have a seizure that makes you unconscious, that drops you to the floor, that rolls back your eyes and freaks out the people watching.

Quintana had no epilepsy, but her life was no less tortured. Her death came after a litany of illness as long as a menu: pneumonia, septic shock, pulmonary embolism, hematoma (bleeding) in the brain. She was in a medically induced coma when her adoptive father, Dunne, died; Didion wasn't able to tell her for weeks and then held back the memorial service for months so Quintana, I've read, could stand there in a black dress and later laugh with her cousins afterwards at dinner. Two days later, Quintana, who had gone to recuperate in the Malibu sun with her husband, collapsed at LAX and never really recovered from a massive bleeding in her brain. She was dead in five months. How could I not feel sympathy for Didion? Of her daughter's "quicksilver changes," she writes:
"Of course they were eventually assigned names, a 'diagnosis.' The names kept changing. Manic depression for example became OCD and OCD was short for obsessive-compulsive disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder became something else, I could never remember just what but in any case it made no difference because by the time I did remember there would be a new name, a new 'diagnosis.' I put the word 'diagnosis' in quotes because I have not yet seen that case in which a 'diagnosis' led to a 'cure,' or in fact to any outcome other than a confirmed, and therefore enforced, debility."
Dideon and Quintana
Didion writes of excessive drinking, of depression, of suicidal despair, of a diagnosis of 'borderline personality disorder,' of Quintana saying as a very little girl, Just let me be in the ground and go to sleep, of a "Broken Man" who haunts her dreams when she is very youngWhen she was five, she called a mental hospital to find out what she needed to do if she was going crazy. Another time, she thought she had cancer; that turned out to be chicken pox. Didion continues:
"I had seen the impulsivity.
"I had seen the 'affective lability' [ED: unstable, rapidly changing emotions], the 'identity diffusion.'
"What I had not seen, or what I had in fact seen but had failed to recognize, were 'her frantic efforts to avoid abandonment.'

"How could she have ever imagined that we could abandon her?"
Oh. I thought--doesn't Didion get it? How can she be so obtuse? Nearly 70 pages later, we get an answer:
"All adopted children, I am told, fear that they will be abandoned by their adoptive parents as they believe themselves to have been abandoned by their natural. They are programmed, by the unique circumstances of their introduction into the family structure, to see abandonment as their role, their fate, the destiny that will overtake them unless they outrun it.


"All adoptive parents, I do not need to be told, fear that they do not deserve the child they were given, that the child will be taken from them." 
Over and over Didion returns to the subject of adoption; if Blue Nights is about her adopted daughter, it is about the very idea of what that means, not only to her, the adoptive mother, but to the adopted, Quintana. It is obvious that no matter how much Didion tried to be a good mother in the sphere of her life as a celebrated writer and wife whose social set was the rich and famous, she understood adoption was "hard to get right," as she put it, and later: "We had...no idea that 'recovery,' like 'adoption,' remains one of those concepts that sounds more plausible than it turns out to be."

...more plausible than it turns out to be. From that you would think that Dideon understood the full nature of what adoption is, but she undercuts that insight because there is so much else where she proves totally oblivious. It is as if she had not read a single book about adoptee psychology--and there is now a bookcase full of them--about their deep longing to know one's whole identity, about their desire to feel complete. Didion is representative of all those mothers and fathers of that era who felt they need not know anything about the effect of being given up--which to the adoptee registers as abandoned--but instead are sure that they just need to take the child home and love her. With this mindset, Didion misses the repeated clues about how being adopted is affecting Quintana, though Quintana is practically begging to have them noticed. Didion's resentment of the girl's natural family also comes across clearly. Yet despite this, Didion gets it right a great deal more than all the I-am-so-happy-to-be-an-adoptive-parent books that come out one after another. Adoption may seem to be the only solution to a temporary problem, but adoption is hard. On everybody.

Didion does not pretend that adoption was not much more complicated than she ever imagined it would be when it was first suggested to her by a friend in the movies, Diana Lynn. Diana was adopted herself, and discovered it late in life--"when for some financial reason" it was necessary that she learn the truth of her origins. Diana found out when her parents told her agent, and her agent took her to lunch at the Beverly Hill Hotel Polo Lounge and told her. There is so much going on there that is wrong--was she getting less of the family pot in the will?--but that is a side story and not of Didion's making, and I'm glad she told it. Quintana, on the other hand, always knew, and Didion and Dunne wisely rejected any advice to not tell their daughter.

Didion mentions in brief that over the years they had received periodic communications from women who had seen mentions of Quintana and "believe her to be their own lost daughter, women who had themselves given up infants for adoption and were now haunted by the possibility that this child about whom they had read could be that missing child." Ah, hah, there were crazy ladies other than me who wrote to them.

This memoir is incredibly sad, lugubrious, all blue, no relief. Didion's prose, as usual, is pared down, full of short one sentence paragraphs stacked like pancakes. It is short--only 188 small pages--and you can read it in an afternoon. It is honest but maybe not in the way she intended, because my sense is that in some cases she did not quite grasp what she was imparting: the otherness of being an adoptive mother; one doing her best to be the "perfect" mother but nonetheless, an adoptive mother. She repeatedly refers to the "perfect child" that Quintana was supposed to be, in what seemed an attempt to convince herself that a girl/woman with myriad emotional problems was "perfect." What I read was that Quintana, this child they adopted, was supposed to be "perfect," not the bundle of complexities and contradictions they got. Such a person that Didion described is difficult to live with, has psychopathology issues that are off-putting, that make you crazy as you are drawn into their vortex. Borderline personality disorder? Perfect?


Only a mother who did not give birth to the individual in question would call such a person "perfect." Natural parents do not call their children "perfect." Numerous times Didion notes of the many illnesses that befell Quintana: "This was never supposed to happen to her." What I read: This was not supposed to happen to any child we adopted. Where is that "perfect" child we assumed we were getting, that we could shape with our privilege and knowledge, with all the fine things in life we could give her, such as triple lamb chops and private schools? 

We learn that both Didion and Quintana's natural mother, through an accident of fate, a "bureaucratic error," knew who the other was; that the girl's mother was from Tucson. That when Didion and Dunne were in Tucson working on a movie, Didion became agitated once this fact bubbled up to her consciousness. Halfway through a noisy dinner with the movie crew, she got up immediately and found a pay phone with a phone book and looked her up. There she was. She showed it to Dunne. Without discussion, she writes, they went back to the crowded table at the Hilton Inn and told the producer of The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean that they had to speak to him privately. She continues:
"It was imperative, we said, that no one should know we were in Tucson. It was especially imperative, we said, that no one should know Quintana was in Tucson....I asked him to alert the publicity people. I stressed that under no condition should Quintana's name appear in connection with the picture.
"There was no reason to think that it would but I had to be sure.

"I had to cover that base.

"I had to make that effort.

"I believed as I did so that I was protecting both Quintana and her mother.

"I tell you this now by way of suggesting the muddled impulses that can go hand in hand with adoption." 
The followup to Birthmark,
after reunion and a lengthy
Quintana would have been four or five. It was the times, I suppose; it was the early Seventies then when the world was such a very different place, when adoptions were supposed to be closed. I was sorry that she made such an effort to keep Quntana's other mother away, but understood. Didion was trying to be a good mother in a difficult time. She was operating under the mistaken ethos that no contact between an adoptee and her original mother was best, or, at least, desired. Best for the mother, however? Didion is celebrated for her rigorous intellect and insight; I had a hard time believing that she truly thought she was actually "protecting" Quintana's birth/biological mother, but in writing it that way found a way to excuse her own behavior. Only a woman who had not given birth would think that. Didion was "protecting" herself, but can't bring herself to acknowledge that.

If Didion's impulses were muddled, Quintana's reactions were crystal clear. Didion writes about them but seems to be blind to the distress signals the girl was sending out. In more than one instance, Didion notices things, but mostly does not acknowledge how they relate to Quintana's sense of abandonment or dislocation in a family other than the one she was born into. When she was thirteen or fourteen Quintana began a novel "just to show them," fine enough, but the novel involves a young girl named "Quintana" who gets pregnant and her parents say they will provide for an abortion, but "after that they did not care for her anymore." The novel fragment concludes: "On the next pages who will find out why and how Quintana died and her friends became complete burnouts at the age of eighteen." Didion muses whether the whole plot was just "narrative inventiveness" or a "manifestation of extreme emotional distress."

Really, you wondered? A story about a girl who gets recklessly pregnant? Do you not now, in fact, relate the list of psychological diagnoses listed elsewhere to this story line? And that maybe her sense of abandonment by her original mother might have been the root cause?

Elsewhere we learn that Quintana did a paper on Tess of the d'Urubervilles, a bleak story if there ever was one, of moving between social class (as Quintana almost certainly did). In her paper, Quintana focuses on the character Angel--the very one who made such a choice of where he belonged as he is intent on becoming a farmer and marrying a milkmaid, giving up the privileges of a Cambridge education and a parsonage. Didion mentions the paper in a list of stuff of Quintana's she comes across, but the connection to the dislocation common to all adoptees--and certainly her daughter--is lost on her. She writes more about the black wool challis dress she bought for Quintana when Bendel's was on 57th Street and Geraldine Stutz (thus those who remember know it was a really cool place to shop) was running it. Huh?

Didion reports that Quintana is taken to see Nicholas and Alexandra "when she was four or five" and after watching the "story that placed both parents and children in unthinkable peril," after seeing the harrowing execution of the whole family of Romanovs, Quintana matter-of-factually declares the movie will be a "big hit." For starters, Nicholas and Alexandra was a questionable movie choice for a four or five-year-old, but Didion merely hears in Quintana's reaction a precocious assessment of "audience potential," a result of her hanging out with their crowd; I thought: the little girl, uprooted from her own first family, has just witnessed the death of a family. I read: She thinks it's going to be a big hit: People like me can relate.

Despite Didion's attempt to keep Quintana apart from her original family, they do find her--that bureaucratic slip-up--when she was, as Didion writes: "...alone in her apartment and vulnerable to whatever good or bad news arrived at her door, the perfect child received a Federal Express letter from a young woman who convincingly identified herself as her sister, her full sister, one of two younger children later born, although we had not before known this, to Quintana's natural mother and father." Who had later married. Ouch, I reacted; this is a child who did not really have to have been relinquished and spend a life dealing with issues of abandonment and dislocation.

We are all vulnerable to life's unexpected exigencies at any time, but Didion emphasizes the "alone" and "Saturday" as if there could not have been a worse time. Would Sunday at brunch been better? I mused. Monday at work? Tuesday evening when she's having dinner with her husband? Saturday in fact seems the absolute best time, when one is not likely to be at work, when you can be alone with your emotions, when you have the time to absorb this huge hunk of your heart's puzzle. In fact, I imagine that the expensive Saturday delivery was chosen precisely because it would seem like the best time for a life-changing letter. 

Didion heralds the news as if it is obviously bad news--a reflection of her own feelings, almost certainly. But to judge from their own words, a great many adoptees are waiting for just such a package to arrive, Federal Express Saturday delivery, as Quintana's did, a fact she repeats over and over. Federal Express Saturday delivery by itself announces urgency and importance. Didion does tell the story dryly, without overt rancor, but the bitterness is embedded in the prose, even as she finds she cannot easily express what she thought about this, even though the day was expected; yet she says. "it now seemed too late." Too late?

Earlier, when Quintana was a child, she had made every effort to assure that it did not happen sooner, when it might not have been "too late." When would it have been not too late, I wondered. Probably never, I answered. She writes: "There comes a point, I told myself, at which a family is, for better or for worse, finished." Of course Didion is not talking about her family; she is talking about Quintana's first family, the one she will always be related to by blood. In some cold intellectual way I understood why Didion felt that way--she was fearful she would somehow own less of her daughter--but the heart of me responded: Quintana will always be related to both families: one by blood and birth, the other by adoption and time. In the heart of an adoptee, there are always two families, often diametrically in opposition despite everyone's best efforts. Even with all the conflicts that emerge at FMF between adoptees and natural parents, I see them struggling with how best how to accommodate all the complexities and conflicting loyalties universal to those of us--and I do mean all of us, adoptive parents too--caught in the web that is adoption.

There was a reunion, a sister who arrived in New York and looked so much like Quintana that when her (adopted) cousin arrived, he greeted the sister as "Q." Wow. Knowing how powerfully emotional it is for adoptees to meet someone who actually looks like them--someone to whom they are related by blood and ancestry--I understood as well as anyone who has not been in those shoes what it had to have been like for Quintana to have a sibling who resembled her that much. There was a whole family who accepted her as one of them, a family that Quintana "was now calling her 'biological family,' strangers who welcomed her as their long-missing child." I could only read Didion's comment as an unwelcome reaction to even hearing the words, "biological family." Adoption is hard, sharing a child is hard, harder than anyone can imagine before they are somehow in the middle of sharing themselves. She also writes with distaste of Quintana's use of the language, being found: "Quintana who referred to the shattering of her world as 'being found.'" Didion does not reveal what language she would have preferred.

But reunion, we as know too well, is fraught. Later, when Quintana was back in New York and had a job as a photography editor at Elle Decor, her mother would call her in the morning as she was about to leave for work. Eventually, Quintana had the reaction of so many adoptees to "being found" that we are all too familiar with: she needed time to step back, that frequent morning phone calls are too much, and that she needed to "catch up for a while" with what she still considered real life. She wrote her mother and asked her not to call for a while.

We mothers know how much this letter might hurt--we want everything, we want a relationship, we do not want to be told a child we have been waiting and praying for has to "step back," we usually cannot even handle such news without our own internal collapse--but from everything we should have learned about reunions from the adoptees who write their comments here and the memoirs we have read, we know that reunion to the adoptee is mind-boggling, an emotional explosion, just as it is for first mothers who long to know their children. We know that meltdowns are common, and that for a great many the need to "step back" is overwhelmingly real. Quintana's mother then did something--yes, I'll say it--crazy: she sent Quintana a letter saying she had her phone disconnected. Didion realizes that Quintana's mother is as "muddled" as the rest of them. Which is a reasonable way of stating how muddled everything about adoption is in real life.

Lorraine and Jane, 1983
Though there is much for a mother like myself to digest in Blue Nights, when I finished, I wanted all those thirty-and-forty-something actors and writers who blithely talk about adoption as if it were as uncomplicated as apple pie to read this book. As a writer named Kate Bolick says in the November (201l) cover story of The Atlantic: "...if he and I decide we want a child together, and if it's too late for me to conceive naturally, I'll consider whatever technological aid is currently available, or adopt (and if he's not open to adoption, he's not the kind of man I want to be with.)" An actor from Private Practice made a similar comment the other morning on The View, something to the effect of, I'll either waddle around myself pregnant, or I'll adopt. They should all read Blue Nights. They might all learn adoption is not as easily digested as a life choice for either adoptive parents or adoptees as the world seems to think.

There is more to Didion's memoir, of course: her own impending demise is on every other page. One gets the sense that at 76, this will be her last book. But that is not what sticks to you. This is her adoption memoir, even though she and John Dunne wrote about Quintana many times, and from what we can know, Quintana did not mind, and in fact, according to an interview of Didion, liked being a star, liked the attention. I know the same was true of my daughter. Within weeks of our meeting she wrote a book report for her high school sophomore English class on Birthmark, and announced she was the daughter in the book. Not surprisingly, her teacher did not believe Jane, but her parents confirmed that she was indeed, that girl. 

Earlier I referred to the year 1966, the year of the Fire Horse in Chinese astrology. It only comes around every six decades; the next is in 2026. But it is said that people--girls especially--born in the year of the Fire Horse will cause great trouble and discord not only in the house of their birth, but also the one they build for themselves. Or the converse--they will become quite well known and successful. I read somewhere Asian countries have an uptick in abortions during a year of the Fire Horse. These years are bad not only for people born in the year of the Horse--as I was--they are troubling for families who have a Horse in the house. This is because the Fire Horse's influence can change from beneficial to malign, and during these years Horse families will become subject to illness, accidents and bad luck in general. A Chinese astrologer, an American woman who later adopted a Chinese girl, once did my horoscope and without knowing anything about me began the conversation with this question: Did I lose anything in 1966?

Yes, I said. I did. My daughter, my home, my job, my love--my life as I knew it before.--lorraine
The pictures I'd like to use I do not have permission for. 

TO READ (and thank you for ordering through FMF. Just click on the title or the book jacket) 
Blue Nights
There are many--most--positive reviews from Didion fans; I can appreciate some of her writing, but not about her daughter, or adoption.
on August 8, 2017
I tried to like this book. I failed. I found her entire tone so hard to relate to that any of the sweet imagery of her 
daughter was lost on me. This annoyed me more and more, page by page. An alienating experience of 
motherhood, told by a cold aristocrat. Yawn. 

How It Feels to Be Adopted
on January 2, 2012
As someone who loves to sit back in the mall and watch people pass by... sitting thinking about who they are,
what brought them to this point in their life, what their vast list of experiences may be or their hurts may be.. 
This book captured me.
It is a very honest and appealing look at adoption from a child who was adopted.
How did it feel?
How did it hurt?
How was it worse or better?
I loved the inner approach or seeing it through a lens not of a psychologist, not of a text book, but a first-hand 
glimpse...As many who have adopted can attest to, each one is different based on the child's previous 
experiences or hurts. These can cause issues later on that when not dealt with create tension and hurt 
in the families and spring back the old feelings of loss and neglect that these children have experienced.

f 5 starsan easy solution, best for mother and baby (Weird head, but she means it NOT)
on October 23, 2016
Format: Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Superbly written, Birthmark takes the reader on an intimate journey of the experience of a natural mother in the 1960's. A time when unmarried pregnant women had little choice but to relinquish their babies and face a lifetime of pain and longing. Little was known about the feelings of a natural mother in 1979 when this book was penned. I gather some of the same sentiments are held today by the general population; relinquishing a baby is a neat affair, an easy solution, best for mother and baby.This book is an important and relevant read in the current climate of gender politics and reproductive rights. Dusky's writing is lyrical and beautiful despite the seriousness of the subject; a book not to be missed. 

Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
on March 6, 2017
I read Hole in My Heart in less than a week. I couldn't put it down. I'm a mother who relinquished a child to adoption. I'm nearly two years into reunion with my daughter, who has also read the book and entered a giveaway to get an autographed copy. She was one of the winners and gave that copy to me. My story begins nearly 20 years after Lorraine's, but the fight some adoptees face to access their records such as birth certificates are still happening. I thank Lorraine for her courage to be so honest about this.


  1. I find this post fascinating, seeing a situation from a first mother's perspective and intuiting the adoptee's perspective. Early in my blogging career, about 11 years ago, I was reading Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, and when I got to the part about Quintana Roo, I was fascinated with a photo of the 3 of them and wrote a post about face watching. From the perspective of the adoptive parent (of course). I've learned so much since then, and I love the way you walked around these issues with a 360 degree lens.

  2. Your description of adoption fallout Lorraine is the most openly honest way to tell what it feels like to be part of the mess. Especially the cleanup of relationships afterwards. It reminds me of a tragic curse hanging over each in the triad which can not be shaken but only repressed. I have always wondered what parts prior family and friends of both first and adoptive mothers played in each of the circumstances that led up to adoption. After witnessing mothers and adoptees being caught up in so much turmoil surrounding relinquishment and abandonment, it seems to me like some one along the way would have said let's stop the craziness here and step back and look at this another way. Which is what your post today definitely describes to me. But I am not an unbiased spectator.

  3. When I first found my family, almost 7 years ago, I read every adoption book in my county's library system. I devoured them, the book "Blue Nights", and your book too.

    I loved your book. Your attitude was one I wish my own mother shared, true sorrow and regret for a terrible mistake.

    Joan Didion's book, however, left me cold. It was full of ownership, entitlement and superiority. Not the right traits for any parent, particularly an adoptive parent. Adoptive parents often feel superior to the women who bore the child they adopted.

    My adoptive mother said my mother seemed much, "lower than me". How on earth can my mother be "lower than me", if I am part of her very body!!! What a sick, sad attitude to have. I suppose A-Mom thinks my elevated standing is a result of her upbringing.

    This woman's attitude towards her adopted daughter seemed the same as my A-moms.

    How can an adoptive mother love a child, and look down on that child's own mother? To me, that cannot be love at all. It's just pretense. And we can tell the difference.

  4. Iv not read the book but i thought I'd let you know Lorraine that I am a fire horse and they are known as social revolutionaries. I also have my third child named after the XelHa ruins, also near the Yutucan river.

    I find the competitiveness and the hostile abductress behaviour (her fervently looking for the phone number bad forebading the identification of her adopted daughter)disappointing and dishonest. Dishonest to herself that she is a harboured of someone elses child and that she continues to isolate this child from belonging through her own need to possess. No adopter would ever admit this but it is at the heart of her behaviour and the heart of her lie. The lie that so much effort is put into avoid, forever skirting around that truth and speaking louder and louder to drown out hearing it.

    1. Kim--Xel-Ha is gorgeous! When I was there in the late Seventies Cancun was just opening up--most hotels where not finished yet, there were hardly a local town, and there were absolutely no crowds.

      "Social revolutionary" certainly fits. In my daughter's case that turned into upheaval. While I can't speak for the children born in 1966, I have noticed that a great many of the mothers who are among the early leaders of unsealing the records had the children they gave up...in 1966.

  5. Ugh, Joan Didion! What kind of insensitive idiot would name an adopted child Quintana Roo?? I bet that went over big on the playground on top of all her other problems, even in posh private schools. I will not be reading this memoir. Selfish bitch.
    Didion says, "All adoptive parents, I do not need to be told, fear that they do not deserve the child they were given, that the child will be taken from them." I have news for her, many surrendering mothers, including me, have lifelong fears that any subsequent children will be taken from them, because they do not deserve to be mothers. My children are all adults, and I still struggle with this and it goes on with grandkids.

    I never thought my son was adopted by famous people, but believed and hoped at first that he was adopted by people smarter, more educated, richer, more stable; in all ways better than me. Sadly that was not the case on any of these counts, and they even looked bizarre, morbidly obese mentally ill mom, tiny skinny little old dad who drank. My son deserved much better.

    As to Didion. she deserves to feel lousy in her old age for how she kept her adopted child away from her natural family and demonized them.

    My son was born in 1968 (yikes, he is almost 50 but still looks young) and He is an environmental activist, and I was one of the early mothers working for adoption reform in the 70s, shortly after Lo. Maybe there was more than one year for this!:-)

    1. Of course there is more than one year for the early activists! like us, Maryanne, but you would perhaps be surprised how many of us fall into the Fire Horse rubric for our children. Of course since the Chinese New Year's is different than the western one, the year starts in late January or February and ends around the same time in 1967.

  6. Well, I looked up 1968 and it is the year of the Earth Monkey. Sounds pretty grounded. I'm a wood rooster whatever that means. I am rather horrified that anyone who believes this stuff would have an abortion rather than have a child born that year. Also rather horrifying to consider one's child cursed from birth. In that case superstition kills,it is no longer speculative fun like a fortune cookie or the daily horiscope in the paper.

  7. Yesterday in going through papers and books regarding the move, I came across the letter from John Gregory Dunne regarding my note to them. It was kind, longer than one might expect, and stated that they had shown the letter to Quintana, but that she knew her mother's actual name, and had recently gone from referring to her as the "other mommy" to using her name. She was now 13. Quintana's birthday and my daughter's were almost exactly a month apart in 1966.

    "It was so odd receiving your letter because for so many years now we have have been half expecting one like it from Quintana's "other mommy. As it is apparent how much it would mean to you for find your daughter, I will give you the pertinent data..." and then he does.

    "...It would never occur to us to think of you as a 'crazy lady....On this particular subject, all of us involved, children and parents, both natural and adoptive, are too sensitive to every single nuance...."

    At the end he concludes: "We hope everything turns out for the bet, happy for you and the child and its father and its adoptive parents."

    I was relieved to get it, to at least put an end to that question. It is doubtful I would have written at all if I had not noticed that her birthday was so close to Jane's from magazine pieces I read about them. Dunne had written a lengthy piece about the adoption in a piece in Esquire, which was later expanded to a book called Quintana & Friends. I found the letter tucked into the book when I was shelving it. The letter is dated June 8, 1977. Birthmark was published two years later.

  8. Lorraine, if you remember I too was born in 1966. My parents also took me to see Nicholas and Alexandra. Cut to 2003 I'm in the ER with my sixteen-month-old son, and he's bleeding, and it's been going on for 24 hours by then. The questions start: Do you have any brother's with hemophilia or cousins? How about your grandfather? I tell them I don't know; I'm adopted. Blood is drawn, and we wait. The next morning, even though it will be a week for the tests to come back, a pediatric hematologist is sent to our hospital room. She asks what I know about hemophilia. I tell her when I was 5 or 6 my parents took me to see Nicholas and Alexandra and I remember their baby bleeding from his umbilical stump and them being unable to stop it. I remember, at age five, thinking having a child with hemophilia was the worst thing that could happen. That's what I told the doctor. She looked at me in disbelief and asked: "What kind of parents take a five-year-old to see Nicholas and Alexandra?" My son does have hemophilia, and it further illustrates the separateness I feel from my adoptive family but it is not the worst thing in our lives. What feels like the worst thing some days, is being adopted. I can't believe I feel this way at my age, but at times I do. It can be a very lonely and isolated life. Even the fact that I know my first mother could not keep me and I know I would not have lived a comfortable life in my home country, it still feels like a missing life that I’m only beginning to mourn it now.

  9. Hi Lorraine - I somehow stumbled on this today. Very well thought out perspective on the various complexities of the adoption relationships. I am very close to the Quintana situation, and I found the book to be obtuse, possessive and exaggerated. I feel sorry for Joan that she is unable to be honest and is more caught up in name dropping and Hollywood parties than she is dealing with the sad and harrowing consequences of addiction (in both the birth and adoptive families.) The situation is much more nuanced than she portrays it. Maybe it's impossible, as it's only one person's perspective. I did, sadly, sense the idea that Quintana didn't quite live up to her expectations to fit Joan's self aggrandizing narrative of life. Maybe I'll read it again to see if I feel differently this time.

    1. Hi Erin, She's right about the Dunne/Didion's being upset their child didn't come out as one of them. Somewhere I remember reading about how upset Dunne got when he read one of Quintana's school papers. The story has an elevator in it, maybe throwing the paper on the floor, whatever. But to me it was about Q not living up to the expectations of any child they, two writers with reputations, would have.

  10. Hello Lorraine, apropos the death of Joan Didion, I read your piece. I'm sure I have read it before but I do remember having a similar reaction as yours to Didion's work. What hurts me more than anything is adoptive parents' sense of entitlement to our children. My daughter turned 50 this year but I didn't wish her a happy birthday. I have now adjusted to the rejection and know my place.

    1. It's nice to connect to someone else who understand why Didion left me cold, and why this book made me turn off to all her anemic, harsh, nihilistic view of the world. I tried to explain to a friend last night, but...she called me myopic.

  11. Beautiful piece of writing, Lorraine. Thank you. I have my own adoption stories, which only seem stranger as the years pass. What we accept as children can appear as shocking life choices as we age. Stories for another time. A writer myself, I have always appreciated Didion's diamond sharp sentences and clarity. As a mother, as a woman who leads with her heart, I have found her cold. Years ago, reading The Year of Magical Thinking, I thought her relationship with her daughter very odd, and off putting. More grist for the literary mill than a child to nurture. That Didion would seemingly brag about Quintana's reaction to Nicholas and Alexandra was tone deaf - she should never have been there. In the end, despite the awards and all the accolades, I wonder if she didn't live with a great internal emptiness.



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