I’m trying to unpack my defenses, figure out what they are or where they came from. The first time I told my raised children about Joy they were 5 and 7. We had moved 2000 miles from California to make new friends and learn that sunny days don’t mean shorts in the winter and you don’t hose the frost off your windshield in the morning. We’d moved from a three bedroom house to a two bedroom apartment. Ezzy was in childcare for the first time ever. She was ok. I cried discretely.
The thing was I was trying my damnedest to make good — to love and care for these children — to deserve them — to be good for them — to be sure they were getting what was best for them. I had pretty much blocked adoption out of my thoughts after they were born.
The first couple years after losing my baby I told everyone. It was part of getting to know me, you had to show compassion for me and listen to my sad story. Very few thought I’d ever see her again. It was near the end of the BSE. A few suggested that someday my daughter would want to meet me. I treasured the implication that I was worth knowing.
A few told me I’d go on to have other kids as though I would be a worthy mother. I wanted that very much, IF I was in a committed relationship with their father.
So nearly eighteen years later there I was; with my “snug little family”, my security, my pride and joy — and I had to break the news to these children that my I have another, older, child; my firstborn had been given away to strangers at birth. Shit. That was not what I wanted to tell them. I don’t think we’d ever talked about adoption apart from the animal shelter.
When I got married I dove deep into the fog. I loved it there. I kept my sweet thoughts of loving my mystery child private. I didn’t want to burden anyone with sorrow and explanations they could do nothing to change.
When relatives campaigned against abortion clinics, I suggested their energy would be more useful in helping pregnant women get the supplies and support they need to take care of their babies– as if it had nothing to do with me.
When I told Buster and Ezzy that I had another daughter, a grown daughter with a child of her own, I was still slightly in shock. They must have felt it. Once they understood the bare facts of the matter they were silent. Would they wonder if I could give them away as well? They were just learning that I was the kind of mother that could walk away from her baby. They didn’t ask me any questions, probably waiting for me to recover my equilibrium.
Meanwhile I was baffled by the unfolding realities of reunion. Up to then I had buried my thoughts and feelings. Suddenly I was obsessed and mystified by our budding relationship. For years when we talked on the phone I shook.
It got more complicated. So much hurt and shame surfaced. Joy’s anguish scared me. I tried to keep the ugliness of adoption from Buster and Ezzy, from anyone else actually. It seems foolish now, trying to look like I was handling everything just fine, convince everyone around me that it was just fine. Oh yeah, I can handle this. There were always plenty of issues to redirect people’s attention away from what I was going through.
The shame that I had abandoned my first child grew. The first addition was hearing that it hadn’t worked out the way it was supposed to. She left her forever home in her midteens? WTF? It seemed to me that everything went wrong and it was my fault. I was her mother. I was the one that signed the papers and went on like everything was taken care of. I’d done my part, right? It hurt like hell but I’d done what I was” supposed to do”.
Hell no. Everything was not taken care of. She was hurt, wounded and abandoned over and over and over. And there I was pretending everything was going to be ok. Oh, yeah, just fine. Yes we’re going to see each other. Well no things didn’t go the way I expected. Oh, well yes she seems to blame me for abandoning her of all things. No. I know. I put her up for adoption. I placed her carefully with a public agency that selected an ideal home for her. Well things went a little rough, there were some problems. She tells me she’s an adult. Yeah, I guess she’s grown isn’t she? I mean she has a son of her own.
I kept my image, the impression I was making on my “smug little family”, foremost. I didn’t want them to see me falling apart. I didn’t want them to see her pain, the pain I created, the pain that was a reflection of my own. And I kept repeating it and repeating it because just like when I signed the papers; I didn’t know any better.
The shame of relinquishing her in the first place stung deeply. The shame of being abandoned by my boyfriend and by my parents was in there too. My raised children were an answer to that. I remember meeting the church pastor who hadn’t seen me since my first pregnancy. He had just performed my brother’s wedding and I was holding my baby on my hip. He said, “I never thought you’d turn out this well.” A real conversation stopper for me.
I did turn out this well. I turned out this damaged and this well. Acknowledging that this is how I turned out has been hella hard. I’ve seen myself get defensive so many times because I thought I was being blamed/shamed. Every time I get defensive I’ve perpetuated the shame. This is how well I’ve turned out. I’ve hurt the ones I loved.
A while back Joy blogged that I sent her This is to Mother You by Sinead O’Connor. I sent her Bird on the Wire by Leonard Cohen at the same time.
This one is for me. If I have been untrue, it was to me.