' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Adoptees making contact with natural/biological/birth family in the time of Covid-19

Friday, July 17, 2020

Adoptees making contact with natural/biological/birth family in the time of Covid-19

Lorraine
Has the coronavirus pandemic changed your feelings about searching? In the midst of a life-and-death crisis, adoptees and the mothers and fathers who relinquished them certainly have thoughts about whether this is the time they should delay search or contact.

We've said it before, but we will say it again. There is no right time, nor wrong time to reach out, there is only time. When I read Joan Didion's Blue Nights, she wrote of how inopportune it was when her adopted daughter Quintana was contacted by her biological sister by mail that had to be signed for on a Saturday. I thought: What better time? It's not a work day; she's likely to be home; she's likely to have time and space to deal with the flood of emotions. Yet somehow, Didion found this unacceptable: ...[O]n a Saturday morning when she was alone in her apartment and vulnerable to whatever bad or good news (italics mine) arrived at her door, the perfect child received a Federal Express letter...."


As I write the world death toll from Covid-19 is approaching 600,000. One could say, if one were not adopted, or had not given up a child, that searching or, even better, making contact, is wrong during this time of worldwide crisis. But then that leaves one with the question: What if the person I am seeking dies?

A few weeks ago I had a lengthy phone conversation with an adoptee who
Jane and Lorraine, 1982
wanted to ask if he should seek out his siblings that were borne of his birth mother, a woman who meets him secretly, but does not tell her family of his existence. The shame and humiliation of announcing that he exists to her family--perhaps she has never even told her husband--was too much for her to bear. At one point, she forbade the adoptee to attend her funeral, so that even in her death she wishes to disavow him. The woman had married into a Jewish family, and likely that intensified the fear of disclosure. This occurs to me because I once briefly lived with someone Jewish whose family was having conniptions over our relationship because....I was not Jewish. In fact, his father came in from Pennsylvania, checked into the Waldorf-Astoria, and invited us to lunch there for the express purpose of telling us we had to break up. Although I was wearing a gold Star of David around my neck that his son gave me, in truth, there never even a slim possibility that I would convert; nor did I expect him to become a Catholic.

But understand, at that point, we spoke to each other as if we might stay together forever.

We didn't break up immediately, but within months it happened.

So I understand the weight of the Jewish pressure to keep the family customs and bond strong, and it's likely that the woman feels she's never been fully accepted anyway, and this revelation would be more strikes against her. Suzanne Bachner, in her outstanding and revealing one-woman monologue, The Good Adoptee, comes eventually to not being welcomed into her original paternal Jewish family. Her birth father is deceased, and Suzanne receives a goodbye and good luck letter from an uncle. It's utterly heartbreaking. And it feels so cruel.

But we are going up against an outdated system of closed adoption today--a misguided and failed social policy--and no matter what religion one is, there is no reason in god's green earth why the man I spoke to on the phone should be denied knowing his siblings if he chooses to. I told him that contacting them might not have the result he wanted; that it might turn his mother away from him even further, and that his siblings might reject him and be angry he upset their mother; but that he had a human need and right to reach out to his own kin. I suggested that if he were set on contact without her involvement, he give his mother fair warning, give her a set period of time to tell them (I proposed two weeks), and then go ahead and do what he wanted.

Just before we hung up, he added: "I was on a ventilator for 14 days."

If not now, when?

I write this hoping that birth mothers and fathers in the closet, or those with secret relationships with their children, find this and consider the cruelty they are unleashing into the world, and particularly upon their own child. To the adoptees, I remind them that it might not turn out the way they want it to, but everyone has a right to their own history, their own story, their own lineage. And I fervently wish that adoption were not so damned fraught.

One final note: Didion refers to Quintana several times throughout Blue Nights as the "perfect" child. It's an odd choice of adjective, for I've never heard a natural parent refer to their adult child, even if they win the Pulitzer Prize, become a doctor, lawyer or titan of industry or junk bonds, as "perfect." I think Quintana was not just perfect, but a "good" adoptee, in all that it means. Quintana died in 2001; she was 35 years old.--lorraine

4 comments :

  1. I am an adoptee from the scoop era. I found my birth family using DNA testing. My birth mother rejected me. I wrote letters of introduction to my brothers last December, I included all ways to contact me, both of them wrote me a email the same day they received my letter accepting me, we have been in contact at least weekly for seven months.
    I would say to any adoptee reading this and putting off making contact to be brave and write a regular letter, I placed mine in a card along with a picture of myself and my son.
    Like Lorraine said you might be rejected but like me you might not. The only time any of us have is now. I hope you write your letter today and mail it!

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  2. To me, a reunited babyscoop era first-mother, reunion seems so important I'd not advise anyone to put it off. True that a time when one is freer to hug and to hold and to cry together would be better--far better--yet against that fact (a very important fact, since in reunion we crave touch and connection, and lack of it may feel like being rejected or like rejecting)there is the other important, frightening fact that the pandemic makes more likely that any person, even a person being sought, may have died.
    On another point, as a Jewish mother and first mother, I feel very sad at the experiences, cited by Lorraine, of a couple of persons with intolerant families who were, sadly, Jewish; I would reassure you that no Jewish first-mothers I've ever known or known of would *remotely* think of rejecting one's child for (anything, including) his/her being raised non-Jewish, or having married someone not Jewish, or the like--and no matter what the views or religion of anyone we might have married.

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  3. I am extremely grateful that my son was united with his sister right before Thanksgiving last year. He was able to meet her in person twice - after that, sadly, COVID-19 got in the way. My son is 12 years old (11 at the time) and extremely shy. For him, meeting in person was the only way he was going to even start getting comfortable writing / texting his sister, so I am glad that happened. Having said that, however, I absolutely agree that it's very easy to isolate oneself emotionally (and not just physically) during these times. It is important that the pandemic not get in the way of establishing essential family connections.

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