Always There

One more year. There isn’t much to say or share with the silence of another birthday. Forty years. I should be used to it. But somehow it is more difficult. Perhaps the milestone. The marking of time passed. The truth is it never changes. The truth is, I always want to go back. Go to the moment just before we were separated and change the script. Rewrite it so we end up together, the way it should be. The way, I’m sure, God intended. That would have been better, right, perfect. Instead I count another year, accepting that the unnatural act of separating a mother and child happened to me twice, and yet, I was the recipient of the blessings of my other two children, both separated from their birth mothers. None of this could ever make sense. No sense except that somewhere under all of this is love. Love for all of us who were injured and broken and came out on the other side not whole but human. And the love continues, never broken, never given up, never separated. Always there.

The Reunion

The reunion. A magical moment in time. A terrifying moment. A moment relived over and over in my imagination. A moment I never dared to hope for. And then it happened. A cyclone. The world I once knew swirled and dropped me into another, and I didn’t recognize that world. When I met my birth mother, suddenly I had a birth story, my birth story. I had only lived on the fringe of my truth. A truth that was told to my parents all those years ago that became a sort of tale, with missing pieces and made up lines, sewn together and woven with my parents and siblings creating our family’s story. Those first days of knowing her, the first days I didn’t have to wonder what she looked like were blips in time. Hours felt like seconds and our conversations were downpours of facts, learning, catching up. That is how I remember the beginning of my life with my birth mother. But for her, I was fixed in her memory. For her time slowed down and went back and suddenly she was a new mother again.

What Connects Us

Early morning, I sit alone sipping coffee, chatter of the birds, bugs, warning of the crows, memories of my mom. This is my church, the cemetery. This is where I go to remember her. She died last month. I knew she would, expected her to for more than a year. Each time she didn’t I was left with a sense of relief and regret. It would be easier to not go through this time and time again, watch her in pain, visit the prison that was now her body, but there were moments of laughter, stories, new and old. In those final weeks I read to her, mostly about animals, both of us escaping to another place, our place, fear free, pain free. So, to sit with a dog at my foot, with the sound of squirrels breaking limbs, is a communion with my mother. The butterfly I see in the afternoon, the dragonfly that hovers, remind me of her. It comforts and saddens me and that is probably all I can hope for. So as these summer mornings slip away too quickly, I hold on to them with the knowledge that they are not to be taken lightly, rather honored, acknowledged and remembered. I'll continue to listen to the animals, read about them and think of my mom. 

No Choice, No Voice

I had a brief conversation this morning about adoption, the fantasy, the reality and somewhere in between with someone who is very interested in adoption. Because I am an adoptee, birth mother and adoptive mother, this conversation lingered in my thoughts well after I hung up the phone. This person had always thought of adoption in pretty simplistic terms. He believed everyone was happy, the child, the adoptive parents and the birth mother. He believed that until recently reading a blog written by a birth mother, who had felt powerless and hopeless, so with no other option, placed her baby for adoption. This was my experience too, powerless, hopeless. Unlike my experience, nearly forty years ago, this young woman’s story is current, and she was not a teen mother. But what is similar is the vulnerability of a birth mother, particularly when professionals are steering young women toward adoption.

As an adoptive mother, I presume my children’s birth mothers probably made their decisions, in part, based on pressure from society or family or circumstance. I don’t know for sure. I do know that I am a good mother, but I also know that I am not a better mother then they. It is necessary, urgent that all birth mothers be given the opportunity to keep their children, supported by the agencies and professionals who once deemed adoption the best option for their babies. It is only when we, birth mothers, have a choice, a voice without guilt or shame or lack of support, will we be able to make a decision, a parenting decision.

Adoption is not a beautiful state for everyone involved, a perfect solution. For a birth mother, the loss continues, throughout the child’s life. They will never get back the time, the moments that matter. For an adoptee, pain will manifest in other ways. For the adoptive parent, they will come to know that their love can’t fix that pain. Yes, adoption is messy, it is not just about love. It is time we, those affected by adoption, begin speaking to one another, recognize each side of the triad and have compassion for all involved. There are no bad guys or martyrs on the adoption triad, we are just people trying to live good lives. It is the system that lied to us, told us we would be better off, or happier or that love would conquer all. Those of us in the adoption community must begin to tell our truth about adoption, the fantasy, the reality and somewhere in between.

Identity

Identity. A big topic for an adoptee. Am I the sum parts of my parents, birth and adoptive? Are my children the sum parts of their birth parents and their father and me, adoptive? If so, why so? Is it that they only are who they are because of their genetic link to the past and the family that we have created for them, as my parents did? Of course there is more to it.

 This morning I had a conversation with my daughter (adoptive) who mentioned that she read somewhere that middle names are usually reserved for getting someone's attention. She recalled that when I used her middle name or her brother's, something was brewing, but it always got their attention. That isn't the reason why I'm telling you about our conversation. The point is that my son has two middle names. His first middle name is his birth father's name and his second is the name his birth parents, together, chose for him. This is so meaningful for both him and me. For an adoptee, a "first" name is something we often fantasize about, Susan, Cynthia, Scarlett, were my top three. And there were times I visited the painful thought that I may have once been nameless.  As much as we "identify" with the name our adoptive parents have given us, it probably was not our "first" name. For this reason, I am grateful that my son can consider all of his names important to his identity. The name his birth parents gave him, his birth father's name, the name his father and I gave him, after my father. That is, I think, how identity is made clearer and more cemented into time and place for an adoptee. I don't know if my daughter's birth mother had named her. I know it would mean the world to my daughter to know her "first" name. Maybe the name her birth mother never shared with anyone. I hope she learns it one day.

When I read my non-identifying information from the agency for my own adoption and my eyes rested on, "She named you Donna," I felt the cement of myself, once tethered by fantasy, identified. That my birth mother named me, that I learned of it, gave me an identity rooted in my birth and not just my adoption.

My Father's Eyes

I saw my father’s eyes yesterday. I hadn’t seen them, truly seen them, for two or three years before he died. My father had Alzheimer’s and so the eyes I looked into were not his for quite some time, stolen by the disease.  But yesterday, I saw them. He was there, in my cousins’ eyes.

I attended my father’s first cousin’s wake. A woman of ninety, whom at one time was the baby of the family, surrounded by her family and friends who will forever love and miss her. My dad always loved Eileen, so it was for him that I made it a point to honor them both by attending.  I only really knew one cousin well. As with so many families, everyone is spread out by time, obligations, lives. But within moments I was surrounded by people, my father’s people, my grandfather’s people who remembered them, had stories, history, connections.

As an adoptee, it has always been a challenge for me to find that sense of lineage that those who are not adopted enjoy freely. I have come to understand that for me lineage can be complicated. For me it doesn’t include blood, and bones and features of a face, but stories by my grandparents, my parents and in this case, the memory of my grandfather, my father and his cousin Eileen. Good memories, proud memories. I learned that my grandfather had handed out candy at his grocery store to Eileen’s nieces and nephews and that my grandfather was her favorite uncle, Uncle Willie. My cousins delighted in the knowledge that I had the scales from the grocery he started in Port Chester, NY as a young man in the 1920’s upon his arrival from Ireland.  There were stories about the house where they once lived as an extended family and their time spent at Oakland Beach.

It is the stories that connect our lineage, our family, our heritage. That is how I see it. That is how I saw my father’s, my grandfather’s and Eileen’s eyes yesterday. I think my cousins saw their eyes in mine.

Special Announcement

She Named You Donna will be featured at the Book Expo America, hosted at the Jacobs Javits Convention Center in New York! May 27 to the 29