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Published Thursday May 21st, 2009 at 9:23pm

Original Article by Lorraine Dusky

The analysis of several memoirs written by adopted women we posted recently has generated a lot of commentary, at our own, as well as other blogs. Some adopted women read the analysis by First Mother Jane as highly negative of them and their role in adoptee-birth mother reunions that go awry. Some have accused Jane, and thus all of us, of "blaming the victim," i.e., the adopted person.

This is a complete misreading of both what the essays contained, and our intent in publishing it. In fact, Jane's analysis largely consists of quoted material from the memoirs themselves, with scant commentary, as the words spoke for themselves. All three of us who contribute to First Mother Forum have read many adoptee memoirs over the years trying to understand why our own daughters ran so hot and cold with us, why we found ourselves rejected for reasons that seemed irrational, and found some of the answers in the writings. The words may not have been comforting, but they perhaps provided some solace in that we were not alone in trying to figure our way out of the emotional morass we were mired in.

As Jane once so aptly said, The natural mothers feel that once we are reunited, we welcome them with open arms--Here is the your family, come be one of us--but the adoptee says, Wait a minute, I've got a family already and I don't feel that same way. I don't know these people and besides...I'm not sure I want to even like you. By examining what the memoirists had to say, we hoped we could provide first mothers with information on how they might best proceed upon meeting their relinquished child, or how navigate the tremulous waters of a reunion.

As for our own stories, first-time readers should know that both Jane and Linda were sought out by their adult daughters, initially had a good relationship with them, but as of today, neither of them have contact with them as we write; Lorraine found her daughter when she was fifteen, and had a mostly on/but sometimes off relationship with her daughter until she killed herself at 41. (Adoption was only one issue in her life; others were physical problems related to epilepsy and severe PMS.)

We thought it might be interesting for the birth mothers who read us, as well as others, to be privy to a back and forth discussion we had about this topic.

LINDA: (After reading a blog criticizing us for publishing the piece about adoptee memoirs): I actually found enlightening what the adoptee who called us on the carpet had to say; it gave me a window into what my daughter might be thinking/feeling.

And the "it's all about them" (that is, birthmothers) statement resonated with me. My daughter told my sister a long time ago that adoption didn't happen just to me, it happened to her too...but she swears she's a shiny happy adoptee (who has cut me out of her life completely, but not the rest of my family) so what the hell am I supposed to think/say/do?

You know I've given up. I've sent cards, emails, tried to call her, sent presents for my grandchildren. But have been rebuffed for four years now, while she maintains contact with my sister and niece and god-knows-who-else in the family. I can't do it anymore.

LORRAINE: Though we had a long relationship--26 years--there would be times when my daughter would decide she was not talking to me for months--even a year--at a time. Lots of tears on my part, lots of second guessing, If only I had said this instead of that. It felt as if she was never going to stop punishing me, no matter what I did or said. The conventional wisdom is that you have to "forgive yourself." Well, that's pretty damn hard when the object of your "sin" is not able to. You keep being reminded that you are not worthy of "forgiveness."

JANE: In only one of the seven memoir-reunions I analyzed did the mother and daughter start with a commitment to be absolutely honest with each other and try to work through any difficulties. That was the Katie Hern/ Ellen McGarry Carlson reunion presented in the book written by both of them, book "A Year in Letters Between A Birthmother and the Daughter She Couldn't Keep." This book should get a lot more attention.

In the other six memoirs, the parties started off with clearly different expectations and understandings. The daughters were interested only in meeting their own needs (as were the mothers except Sarah Saffian's mother). The daughters did not anticipate a continuing relationship and didn't commit themselves early on to correcting any misunderstandings.

I made incorrect assumptions in my own reunion which has resulted in a lot of pain for me, and perhaps for my daughter, Megan. If we had a made an early commitment to work out our differences, things would have gone differently. I don't know, however, if Megan considered a relationship important enough to make such a commitment. I offered to pay for Megan to attend an American Adoption Congress convention and sent her one of B.J. Lifton's books because I thought it would help her with adoption issues and improve our relationship. She refused to go to AAC or read the book. I think she was afraid that she might read or hear something critical of adoption which she would take as criticism of herself and her adoptive family.

LINDA: I agree with you, Jane, I had a lot of unresolved pain and guilt that definitely impacted my relationship with my daughter. But my daughter was never one for sharing her feelings, particularly with strangers, so a mediator/counseling was out of the question for us. And as I've said before, my daughter just dove right into the deep end of the pool without any thought...her father had Fed Exed her personal records (she was 23, it was time apparently), she read the file, saw the letter that said I was receptive to contact, and phoned the agency. All in a matter of a day or two. She was living in a strange city and was alone; I filled a void. I've often said I felt used. Clearly we had different needs...and I can't turn the clock back.

LORRAINE: My situation was quite different because when I found my daughter at fifteen she had a low self-image, due to both being relinquished and having epilepsy, and her adoptive parents were actually somewhat relieved I came on the scene. They and their doctor had tried to find out more about me because her epilepsy was severe, but the agency was non responsive. The killer is that because I had taken birth control pills after I had conceived but did not know, I wrote the Rochester (NY) agency and told them the adoptive parents ought to be so informed, and by the way, could I find out if my daughter was all right? Their doctor's letter was never answered. Mine said that she was happy with her new family. This is how NY's sealed-birth records law works in reality.

Given all that, my daughter's adoptive mother was both welcoming and leery of me. The fact that I was not a Midwestern housewife but a writer (who had written a book about relinquishing my/their daughter, Birthmark) living on the East Coast complicated matters --it made her more anxious and critical of such a "career gal." However, her parents were what could only be called amazing for the times (1981). I met our daughter in Madison, Wisconsin right after Thanksgiving, and her parents let her come to Detroit during Christmas break a few weeks later to meet my mother (her biological grandmother) and the rest of my immediate family; and in the spring she spent twelve days with me and my husband on Long Island. We mostly got along swell, even though there were signs of her issues that we talked about. But overall, the visit went well, so I thought, Hey, this is great, this is how it will be! She and I will be whatever, but we will be.

Not so fast.

My daughter, also named Jane, later admitted that she thought she would find out what she needed and then just walk away. By the time I had heard that, fifteen years had passed, and we had been through several periods when I had been on the Do Not Call Ever Again list for months. There were times it wasn't even anything I said; I'd later find out it was related to something her adoptive mother said, and Jane would feel she needed to prove to her that she was worthy of her love, you know, a good daughter. A good adopted daughter.

Understand, my daughter Jane had a lot of issues and emotional damage, many of them unacknowledged and many related to the effects of her epilepsy, which was severe. Since she could at any minute decide to walk away,
I think I was always somewhat unhinged around her, waiting for her to walk away...again. I also think after I came on the scene her adoptive mother (with an older adopted son, and two natural sons who came after Jane) sometimes gave the vibe of, well, you take over now. Actually, she more or less said that once in a letter.

I'm reminded of what Betty Friedan once said to me and others within earshot: adoptive parents are fine with everything about their child until something big goes wrong. Then it's, Oh, he's adopted, he's not blood, he didn't get that from us. Then they blame the birth parents. Maybe that's off the mark in terms of what we're talking about--difficulties in relationships after the reunion--but it did seem to be true in my daughter's case. And of course that impacted my daughter's relationship with me. I'm getting off the track here.

But for all first/birth mothers who have had a reunion but then felt rejected for reasons they do not understand, we will end on an upnote. About fifteen years ago, maybe longer, I heard from a distraught birth mother whose daughter had sent her a letter saying: Please do not contact me ever again. Every birthday is an occasion of fear that I might be receiving a card from you. Please leave me alone. It took me a long time to answer the birth mother because I did not know how to comfort her. The copy of the daughter's seemingly cruel letter fell out of a book about a month ago--I always kept it as a reminder bad things could be--and I wondered what happened to both of the women, mother and daughter, as I no longer had the accompanying letter from the birth mother and did not remember her name.

Through Facebook, the birth mother contacted me again last week with an amazing story: Her daughter, after decades of no contact, called her. Her parents had been adamantly opposed to any contact and were afraid that she might be somehow snatched. No wonder she didn't want contact with her birth mother. But now mother and daughter have met and the birth mother is being very careful. But so far, that's one story of found/rejection/reunion that has to date a ...well, let's call it a "good" ending. I'll wait for "happy."