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
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But we are going up against an outdated system of closed adoption today--a misguided and failed social policy--and no matter what religion one is, there is no reason in god's green earth why the man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