' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Memories of the missing child you can't erase at Christmas

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Memories of the missing child you can't erase at Christmas

My holiday amaryllis taken with my Sony 
Like everyone else I've been busy with holiday stuff--I'm a dinosaur in some respects and send cards to a smaller number of people every year, but send them I do--adoption friends from years past, friends and family I won't see this Christmas, girlfriends who have migrated all over the country, a girlfriend from high school whose political point of view has diverged from mine. But we were best friends in the fifth grade and stayed close all through high school, even when she was the pretty popular one, and I was the one who only managed to get a date for the senior prom because there was someone I could ask--a neighbor's nephew from Germany.

There are presents to send back to Detroit to my granddaughter and Jennifer, the daughter of the man I might have married and then NOT given up a daughter, as she is nearly that daughter. Christmas Eve will be with my husband's son and family, as well as his nieces and nephews and their families in New Jersey. It's a huge raucous affair, with more than 20 at a sit-down dinner, followed by a ever-more-raucous exchange of gifts (everybody brings one) that involves blind luck and a lot of horse-trading--make that stealing--in the hopes of coming away with  the gift you really want, no matter who brought it. Christmas Day involves driving back to Long Island, and making the pumpkin pies for a traditional dinner with friend we've shared Christmas Day with for the last decade. In short, I'll be occupied and have a good couple of days.

But I remember.

The Christmas morning mass with my mother and brother before I told her about my missing daughter, and how the strains of Silent Night--such a haunting melody, such familiar words to me--would bring me to tears, no matter how hard I tried to beat them back.

That glumness would continue through the tearful family dinners when I still held onto my secret--where is my daughter? I should be with her, she should be at this table. And then, after I found her, the year she wasn't talking to me.

I'm hearing from adoptees who are dying to write once more to their first/birth mothers who haven't responded to an initial letter--maybe it was too oblique, they write, do I have to wait until spring, as I'm hearing from other mothers that I should? I've written six pages, and I could go on...my birthday is this week and....

Or: The state of Wisconsin/Michigan/Etc. found my natural mother, she's in her seventies/eighties and doesn't want contact. Not only do I hope to meet her someday, I could really use some medical history...my son has fill-in-the-blanks and it's not from his father's side of the family. This year someone from my extended family (not blood) has turned up as a first mother in her eighties, and it's not clear yet if she is willing to connect with the daughter she gave up for adoption in 1965.

Or: My son/daughter hasn't talked to me for several years and I wonder, do I send a card? Can I call? Send him a message on Facebook? An Express letter someone has to sign for?

Or: My daughter (who found me and was thrilled to have done so) walked away six years ago and she stays in contact with my sister (!) the snake, and my sister has taken up the role of  "the good aunt" to my daughter, who acts as if I'm dead. So that cuts out having Christmas dinner with my sister and her daughter and family and the new baby I'm crazy about, because I just can't stand it, and it's just my husband and me and it gets pretty grim, trying to pretend I'm fine.

Or: You are a first mother celebrating with your family and no one mentions the lost member of the family because--really, it's painful for them too. But as the mother who lost the child, you have the option and, even, the right to bring her up. Someone at that table who hears you speak of your feelings about your missing child may, in fact, be the very individual your lost son or daughter contacts first. DNA leads to connections you didn't dream of before. You don't want a reunion quashed because you never said anything, and your brother/aunt/sister/cousin/father thinks you don't want to be reminded. How many times has someone said to me--I've never heard anyone who gave up a child say anything before...yet I am willing to bet that they indeed know birth mothers and fathers who remain silent. After years of silence, your speaking up may shock some people, but that will pass, and the condemnation you felt at the time will be diminished.

The list goes on.

I'm sorry for each and everyone who is suffering the wages of adoption in her and his own personal way. And I'm not going to pretend that this rejection doesn't hurt like hell; it does. So I can only tell you what I did those lonely, terrible holiday seasons when the rain never stopped:

I tried to make plans with other people whose families were far flung or absent. You may think it's too late, but really, it's not if you are reading this tonight. There are other lonely people out there, and by cheering them up, you'll find that you will feel less sad too. If a holiday meal is out of the question, go to the movies--with someone or alone. The theaters are full. Not everyone is celebrating Christmas. I've seen many a movie on Christmas Day. However, DO NOT PICK MOVIES YOU  KNOW WILL MAKE YOU CRY. Three movies I particularly like that should be still around are The Favourite (mordant comedy, great theatre, a largely true historical story); Green Book (an old-fashioned black/white buddy movie with unexpected poignance), and Bohemian Rhapsody (an absolute killer of a film about the rock group, Queen).

If you can't find anybody to be with, find a place you can volunteer. In the movie Brooklyn, on the first holiday the Irish heroine is in America, she ends up serving Christmas dinner at a parish soup kitchen. Someone gets up and sings a haunting Irish song that has the roots of Enya in it. A first mother friend of mine in another state--whose parents and brother have all predeceased her--has volunteered at a church kitchen like this for many years.

Even if you don't go to church regularly but think you might like it--Go! There is always a first time. Truth be told, though I am (mostly) agnostic, I try to find a place to celebrate Mass on Christmas morning, no matter where I am. There's likely to be Christmas caroling and the service will be beautiful, and it feels familiar and inclusive, even if I don't know a soul in this particular church. I will beat back tears and turn to the person next to me and behind me and in front of me and shake their hands and say: Peace. Peace be with you.

And most of all, remember this: Christmas is only one day. One day. Surely you can survive that. Put on music you like, cry if you must (been there, done that). As for the conundrums above, there is no single answer. Send the letter if your heart tells you to. Make the phone call if you really really want to. Send a message, even knowing you may not get a response. We can only control what we do, we can't dictate what others do. These simple words have been a guide post for me: The people who want to be in your life will be. You don't have to go chasing after them. So, love the people you are with. Love and appreciate your friends and whatever family you have.

I haven't mentioned her lately, but many of you know I have another granddaughter, other than the one I am close to. Since a rather brisk email telling me to leave her alone, she was in a good place, and I responded, we have not been in touch. That was several years ago. She wrote a particularly nasty essay that was on line about white women who give up their babies; it's now been taken down, but the memory lingers. Time and distance has dulled whatever ache I felt initially when she walked out of my life after what seemed like such a good beginning. Many of you know from either reading the blog or my last memoir, that my daughter and I went through a lot of ups and downs. But the difference here is: I did not give this woman up. She was not in my body. I tried to talk my daughter out of her adoption. She has her life and I am content knowing that I let her know who she was when she was born, and whence the aptitudes she has built on came.

No one gets off easy.

So, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or whatever holiday you are celebrating. The pagans celebrated the winter solstice, which will be in Friday. And that, Dear Reader, is the origin of the "Christmas" tree.

No one can make our troubles magically go away, but let me share with you a song from the TV show Nashville that I found particularly poignant. And may peace be with you.--lorraine

THANK YOU all for ordering anything from Amazon through this portal...Just click on the bold type or the images of the books to get there.


The Adoption Reader: Birth Mothers, Adoptive Mothers, and Adopted Daughters Tell Their Stories
Edited by Susan Wada-Ells
Lesbian women, multi-racial families, and a variety of socio-economic backgrounds all lend to this book a wealth of perspectives. The contributors are thoughtful, often in emotional pain, honest about their experiences, and each one is a talented writer. The one thing that did emerge most clearly from this work was the overall tone that adoption was an incredibly painful thing for all parties involved. The more positive essays were from the adoptive moms --birth moms and adopted daughters were obviously struggling to make sense out of their experiences. 

Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
By Lorraine Dusky
I came to this book looking for adoption memoirs. I was given up for adoption as an infant and this singular act has cast a shade over my entire life. My longing for answers, my curiosity about the woman who made that decision and how her life could ever just continue on without ME.

As an adopted child I have met many other adoptees and we have shared our feelings and desires, but rarely have I ever met a mother so willing to open up and share this experience with me. I found this book to be SO important to me on many levels. I was gratified (as perhaps as shallow as that may sound) to hear about how difficult it was. I never wanted to think giving a child away was easy despite the 1960's era of "putting it all behind you" and I was so grateful she allowed us on this journey to connect with her daughter. Connecting isn't easy, even when you share DNA, but you DO connect on levels you never expected. The similar way your hair falls, the way you wrinkle your nose when you laugh together. What takes longer is the easy banter, that gets more difficult over time, not less.... now where do we go? Ms. Dusky handles this with honesty and compassion. I am forever grateful to hear the mother's side. This book opened my eyes and my heart.


  1. The wages of adoption such an appropriate phrase indeed for all of us in the triad. I am an adoptee who was rejected by her first mother before DNA then I found her again through testing a couple of years ago. I find great comfort in the relationships I have formed with my maternal cousins. That would be my advice look for other relationships in the family if you have been rejected by your first parent. Growing up our cousins are often our first friends.
    Also, I agree with Lo if it is in your heart or on your mind to try reaching out again do so. You really have nothing to lose if the person still doesn't respond then you won't be surprised or as hurt since you have seen this behavior before.

    I'm not crazy about this season either, I keep reminding myself its only one day and this to shall pass.

    Thank your for your comforting words Lo, and Happy Holidays to you and yours from your friend in Florida.

    1. Why is it that it is it that those of us who want to reunite often find the ones we lost do not?

      I know your mother's pain. But, what I wouldn't give to have my own daughter want to reunite and have some relationship. But, now that I have been rejected, that door has closed. There is no need for it.

    2. My cousins are the only ones that responded to me. They took the DNA test. They tell me merry christmas. Cousins are awesome.

    3. To the first lady that replied to me I want to say don't give up hope completely your first daughter might change her mind some day if not her then her children may want to know you and their roots. Until someone dies its not over. In spite of how painful it must be make yourself "easy" to find through DNA and family trees, and registries. I hope your daughter comes around some adoptees wait until their adopted parents pass to search/reunite.
      To Yosemite yes cousins are awesome. Don't give up hope sometimes it takes a long time for people to accept and process that they have been found by their relinquished child. I hope someday you get a close family match where you took your DNA test at.

  2. I am a reunited adoptee. My birthday is very close to Christmas. And I remember...oh how I remember...the rain pelting the windows on Christmas and on my birthday and I would look through the rain and ask to the wind does she remember me? Does she remember this day? Is it remembered as a relief that she was rid of a problem and could move on or is it with some small regret? And we met. Over time I found that although she cares about me, it is not like a daughter. I am something else. The children she raised she refers to as "my kids" or "my family". I am not sure what I am to her.
    But her voice calls to my heart, as familiar as my own. It is almost easier to not be in her presence, to just hear her voice.
    My parents never celebrated my birthday. It was inconvenient being so close to Christmas. They celebrated the day they got me, in February. Some years they might remind me on my birthday that they would celebrate in February. And later they might remember, my mother might forget. Daddy always remembered.
    So much of Christmas is about loss to me. My first mother's other daughter does not like the idea of me, she wants to be the only daughter, and so my first mother still hides, although everyone knows the truth. It is an unhappy weakness in my first mother.

    So yes, Merry Christmas to you all, and to her and to them. She really did give me away.

  3. Have a lovely holiday Lorraine. I'm spending mine with family who I know love and appreciate me. And I'm holding in my heart the family whose hearts are strained and stained from this experience. And I'm finally learning to let go, not chasing and accepting that they are not in the same place as I am and so must make the journey at their own pace. I spent time with lovely and dear friends last night at a house party that included the aged, the infirm and the young and hopeful with music provided by a choir that first sang at her family's home 59 years ago - the Temperley Singers - which actually included one of the original members and his daughter but now includes new generations. Regeneration it's called, and from our wounded hearts we can reach out to others, as you suggested, and help heal their hurts and at the same time help to heal our own.



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