|Jane, Hiram, and friends|
We describe our relationships by the language we use. We also create or deny relationships by the language we use. And so while I gave birth to Megan, many would deny me the right to call myself her mother. That official title belongs to the woman who became her mother through a paper signed by a judge. And to tell the truth, I have not been all together comfortable in referring to her as my "daughter." When she was born, someone at the hospital asked me to sign a paper authorizing routine medical care for her. The space next to the signature line said "mother." The word startled me. I did not think of myself as a mother. Her mother was a perfect somebody else selected by an omniscient social worker. The person who prepared the paper surely knew that. I felt the the wording was mocking me.
Shortly after our reunion in 1997, I attended a conference of the American Adoption Congress. I was surprised when first mothers referred to their lost children as "my son" or "my daughter." That did not seem right to me. Perhaps it was my legal training or brain-washing by the mid-century culture, but I felt strongly that these children were not really their children. Although I grieved from losing her, it took some practice before I could refer to Megan as my daughter.
Early in our reunion, I told my husband, Jay, that my lost daughter had three children; he chuckled and said "Congratulations, Granny." I mentioned that to Megan, and she made clear that only her adoptive mother and mother-in-law were her children's grandmothers. I didn't argue; I didn't want to erect a wedge between us, and frankly, I thought she was right. I learned later that was not an uncommon reaction from adoptees.
Adoptee Jean Strauss wrote in her memoir, Beneath a Tall Tree that when her first mother sent Strauss's son a valentine and signed it "With love from Grandma Lenore," she threw it in the trash. Adoptee Zara Phillips became enraged when her first mother Pat signed a birthday card for one of Phillips' children. "Grandma." "What right does she have to that title? She lost that privilege." Lorraine writes that the first time she introduced her daughter Jane as "my daughter," it led to a conversation about what she was to call Jane, and if "daughter" could be avoided, that would be best; however Jane felt no compunction calling her "my mother" when she felt like it. Eventually, Jane came up with Maraine (Ma+ Raine from Lorraine) but usually just called her Lorraine.
When they were teenagers, Megan's daughters, Rachael and Chelsea, visited me in my home in Portland, Oregon. When I checked them in at the airport as they were leaving, the ticket agent chuckled "Ah, you've been spoiling your grandchildren, and now you're sending them home to Mom and Dad." I started to correct him, but thought better of it.
While I felt uncomfortable referring myself as their grandmother, Megan's children didn't seem to have a problem. When I accompanied Rachael to Peru six years ago to visit friends she had made when serving there on a Mormon mission, she introduced me as her abuela, Spanish for grandmother.
As time has passed, I have been able to reconcile my relationships even though the right words don't exist. I am a birth mother, I am a first mother, but I am also a real mother. While I have never been Megan's mother in the sense of a being a dominant figure with a dependent child, I do have a fine relationship with her. We are good friends, as I am with my raised daughters. There are some differences in the relationships I have with Megan. My history with Megan is shorter and she has another family as well. She calls me "Jane", not "Mom" and "Jane" is how I sign email and cards.
When I tell friends I went to Omaha, Nebraska on my recent trip, they look puzzled. "What's in Omaha? I could answer "a fascinating museum in a restored railway station, great steaks." Which is true but, of course, these are not reasons I went to Omaha. I came to visit my granddaughter and meet her new son Hiram, i say. I don't wince. I don't offer an explanation, even though most think that all my daughters live nearby and my Portland grandchildren are too young to have children. If pressed, I would tell the truth: Hiram's mother Rachael is the daughter of the daughter I surrendered for adoption over a half century ago.
And let the surprise on their faces--if they don't know my story already--sit there. I've already answered their question about how I could possibly have grandchildren in another state.--jane
"Birth" grandmas are still grandmas
Am I grandma or ...(Birth Grandma) Lorraine? Someone not quite connected
'Preferred' adoption language is bunk
Who can call herself a mother?
Birth mother, first mother, biological mother or relinquisher? Framing the language when we talk about adoption
Natural and Real Language
Beneath a Tall Tree
by Jean A.S. Strauss
Chasing Away The Shadows: An Adoptee's Journey To Motherhood
by Zara Phillips
An enlightening read for anyone affected by adoption