Tag Archives: reunion

shaken and stirred

My DD took offense at an impersonal pronoun in my last post. I screwed up. I was tired when I read her comment and should have left it alone. But I was going to be offline for at least five days and didn’t want to ignore her. So I jumped in and said something really stupid and hurtful.  I’ve been re looking at it for the past 5 days.

That would be HER, not IT, thank-you.

At first I didn’t read carefully enough to distinguish between her comment (above) and my own words (below) which were posted along with her comment.

“Or if they really loved their first grandchild they sure had a strange way of showing it, huh? If they loved that baby unconditionally they would have clung to it and kept it safe themselves rather than cast it out to the unknown world of people in better circumstances, better able to provide for this healthy white infant. That’s what some people say.”

It was late and I was shaken by the  capitalized pronouns, (representing a frequent accusation that I’m thoughtless and lack empathy).  I reacted foolishly. In the morning I quickly edited the post without grasping what I was doing before leaving town.

In a rush and feeling awkward and misunderstood, I had changed that paragraph from talking about my parents and an abstract baby, to be more directly about her. I hadn’t intended to be that personal.  Becoming more personally about her, I took it personally too, which can be quite troublesome. I hadn’t wanted to touch into the rawness of my reunion.

That is exactly what I was  looking at when I started the previous post. How to love unconditionally and personally? How do I love what is just the way it is? DD, just the way she is? Can I love my whole family unconditionally? Without getting confused trying to suit other people’s desires or distracted by conflicting requests?

I know from long experience feeling *guilty* is more disabling than motivating. The burning regret that I had misunderstood her and reacted inappropriately again was overshadowed by getting my feelings hurt too, feeling ignored and  insulted when I thought reaching out to her would be easier than it is.  I keep moving to find the sweet spot where I can see what’s going on and interact with compassion rather than guilt.

It takes a lot of attention. I have to stop comparing myself to any measure of reasonableness – stop  justifying choices made out of fear, jealousy or greed. Being afraid of losing her means I’m losing myself. She will always be a part of me. I just have to be open to who she is, whether she *likes* me or not.

When I am secure with myself, I see her with compassion. When I’m out of balance, the shaking wakes me up to how far I’ve drifted. I have to steady myself to look and see who my daughter is, to accept our reunion as raw and awesome and changing. Our differences, our similarities are all valuable. The beauty of who we are stirs me. And I can see her more clearly.

Reaching out and touching no matter what, that’s part of it. There is something about shaking it off and getting up and getting going that is refreshing too.

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In and ex clusion

I wish there was a guide, a handbook, a Miss Manners for reunion. Some thing to refer to when everything is upside down. I wish I had the presence of mind to realize no means yes and what we say about each other reflects what we think about ourselves. Maybe some of my mistakes can clear the way for someone else.

A couple years into reunion, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Two years to live. Those next two years were rocky ones for DD and me with a lot of mixed up memories– trying to look like we were handling things and mistrusting each other. Our families thought we should have one meeting and put it behind us. I suppose Joy was quite frustrated; trying to bring me out of my “fog” about the way adoption worked.  I was preoccupied with Mom’s stoic and optimistic outlook.

Looking back I see the foolishness of expecting Joy to trust me. She had a lifetime of feeling abandoned by me.  I hadn’t proved  trustworthy. She withdrew from her mother/stranger, cut off contact for periods of time, and accused me of neglecting her. Last fall she described it as not having anyone on her side, as though we were opponents.

The first summer Mom was sick, Joy and I had a very unsatisfying visit.  I was bewildered with grief for both my firstborn and my mother.  I had expected Joy to accept the complications of my family with grace and ease, which was ridiculous. Joy had PTSD. Mom had cancer.  I just crashed into it.

After our “visit” I holed up in my folks guestroom until morning, scaring my dad into talking about adoption for the first time.  I listened as he explained his views on family loyalty. His views from the Great Depression as well as being drafted into WWII. He knew @#$# happened to women and children. DD and I had been protected. He had dealt with considerable family upheaval due to emotional/mental depressions.  He didn’t want to lose me again. I appreciated his concern and continued to feel disconnected.

Joy said “She’s not really dying.” I thought she meant mom’s illness was just an excuse, diverting attention away from her. (She later explained that she didn’t think Mom acted like she was dying.)  Knowing that I wasn’t going to get to spend much more time with Mom hurt. That my daughter resented my focus on Mom hurt.  Joy’s skepticism was still on my mind when Mom died.

She almost made two years after diagnosis.   She planned to visit us in Kansas in the springtime. I called to wish her Happy Birthday three times on April 19th. The tulips were blooming. When she couldn’t come to the cordless phone, I figured out she wasn’t going to make the trip. My brother and I were standing by her bed in the early hours of the 27th as she passed over. The day before her scheduled trip to KS.

Dad’s blood pressure was sky high and he had two herniated discs. There was too much to be responsible for at that point. I drew a picture of amaryllis blooms for the memorial program cover, borrowed a dress to wear and picked a song I’d been listening to throughout her illness, You are a Flower by Greg Brown. I love that song.  My brother, the Golden Boy, and I both did eulogies. I didn’t even call Joy.  She had not been able to make the trip to visit when Mom was alive and I didn’t realize her death was more significant than her life. But mostly I didn’t want to deal with criticism of the mother I was saying goodbye to.

A month or two later, when we did talk about it, Joy was indignant that she hadn’t been informed/included/invited. I mistakenly took it as interest in her grandmother.  I thought feeling left out meant she wanted to know what happened. So I sent her a program and a cassette recording. It wasn’t until this year that I finally grasped that  her indignation was at not being included as part of the family. She wasn’t interested in my mother, her grandmother, as a person. That was me.  She wanted to be recognized and treated as a granddaughter at a family gathering.

She wanted to know why I didn’t do that.  Simple incompetence is my answer; or lack of awareness, as my grandson so eloquently said. Spring of ’95 I was self absorbed and clueless and on my own. The internet has it’s pitfalls but it’s the closest thing I’ve got to a mentor re reunion.

The Best Mothers Day Ever

That’s what I had yesterday. Disclaimers first. I did not receive flowers or gifts, go out to brunch or see my kids, all of which I would enjoy tremendously. I applied a third coat of drywall mud to my re done laundry room. I went to the big box store for a new dryer vent and Bliss Blue exterior semi gloss paint for the door.  In the outer ways it was a pretty run of the mill day. Both my raised kids called. We usually talk on the weekends anyway. DD left a phone msg on Saturday.

*side bar*(Buster called this am to wish me “Happy Mothers Day again”. I momentarily swooned.)

What made it the BEST EVER was that I was feeling more at home in my particular body, emotions and mind, my particular manifestation of life.  I love celebrating anything ~ a brilliant idea, a new word, a smile, with dance and song. It was Sunday so my drywall work was accompanied by the local blue grass radio show, so there were also fancy footwork and shimmies.

Looking at and expressing my residual feelings  around MD freed up the energy that I’d been bottling ~ out of a sense of shame for letting myself be hurt/wounded. I still see remnants of a puritanical view of the holiday. But I’m looking at changing that too.

I’m looking at not holding back. Kind of a “Take Back the Night Mothers Day” experience for me. Robin Westerbrook’s story of missing her mama helped.  That and receiving the most inclusive Mothers Day wishes from a few other first mothers clued me into the idea that I contribute to what Mothers Day is for everyone. And the first thing I heard when I set up my boom box at the worksite was the song I’d been singing to DD in my dreams.

Face to Face

Weird how much time I spend wondering about the next time I’ll see, or talk to Joy again.  I entertain a sense of  unfinished business, that I should do something for a greater feeling of peace between us.

Reviewing Joy’s and my first face to face still gives me goosebumps.

My grandpa died a couple weeks after our first phone call.  A memorial was planned for sometime in March, meaning I was going back to California and would be able to meet Joy in person!  In my memory she wanted to meet me too.  (Sometime this past year she corrected that misinterpretation.) We met  at a place of her choosing.

I worried about what to wear, desperate to look respectable, comparing myself to her description of her adoptive mother, petite and sharp.  When I was skinny dipping in college a friend “complimented” me on my fertility goddess appearance, which I was hoping to camouflage because Joy had mentioned the importance of a slim figure.

Atypically I wore lipstick and curled my hair for the memorial service and to meet Joy. I remember checking out my pink shorts and white sweater in my mom’s mirror after explaining that I wanted to borrow their car so I could go meet my daughter that had contacted me and lived nearby and  that yes I was sure I wanted to meet her.  Yes I am.  I don’t know when I’ll be back.  At a coffeshop near the freeway.  Thank you.

Looking back, my folks handled it ok.  It came out of left field for them. They didn’t know Joy and I were “in reunion”, or any idea of such a thing as reunion. They were in the midst of handling a death in the family, hosting their children, grandchildren, inlaws and visiting with guests from out state.

I left all that  behind and arrived at the coffeeshop.  I don’t remember if we met inside or in the parking lot.  I do remember looking across the table and being stunned to see her father’s eyes.  Ok, that should be normal.   I look like my father.  She says I talked a lot.  I probably did.  But the only things I remember saying are things she’s reminded me I said.  I’m sure I talked about her blue eyes.   My younger children’s father had looked for his blue eyes in his kids but they are hazel and brown like mine.

I also know I made a rude comment trying to cover my embarrassment at not having a gift for my baby grandson.  It was surreal. I remember (?) that.

Learning that Joy had uncertain feelings about even meeting me makes sense as I recall our interaction.  I plowed ahead with unprepared enthusiasm despite self consciousness and doubt about my worthiness.  She was more hesitant and held back, perhaps more thoughtful.

What I most remember was being stunned by our differences. She was my daughter but we’d lived differently. She was also her father’s daughter and he was a stranger to me now.  She was her afamily’s daughter and their influence was so unfamiliar to me.  She was married– husband and child to boot.

She didn’t want to touch me. Although I was accustomed to my family of origin not touching; hugging and cuddling have been constant with my younger children. I wanted it, but didn’t push it on her.

I went back to my folks house and started wondering about when I would see her again.

Conditioning, expectations, misunderstandings and fears  interfered in our communication.  I am most rewarded when responding from my heart, because at least then I get it.

First Contact

I’ve botched  answering my daughter’s questions in the past.  It is harder than asking and has greater responsibility.    I’d like to start at the beginning, but I’m not sure where it is.  That  could be several posts.

Birthing Joy was the highest point of my teenage life.  It seemed like the room filled with  delicately pulsing gold and white light.  It was transcendent.  The lowest point in my life was relinquishing her.  No question.  Nothing has impacted me like that.  I learned that emotional devastation isn’t going to kill me by itself.  I’m not going to waste away in a quiet room waiting to die.  I  get up and take another step.  I took a lot of missteps and wrong turns.  I tried sex drugs and rockandroll. They didn’t replace anything.  I came back to me.  Alone.

Searching to make sense of living I made lots of choices.  Some choices  strengthened me and provided a loving feeling.  I didn’t bounce back from losing my firstborn the way it had been predicted.  I crawled.

Twelve years later I gave birth to my son.  It was not a magical experience like hers had been.  This time the magic was that I got to take him home.  His father changed his first diaper while I watched with my head in the pillows.  Three weeks later, when I left the house for the first time, my baby was strapped to me.  The longest I left him for the first year was two hours — in the next room.

I only wanted to be a good enough mother.  Everything I did was trying to be that or to prove that I was.

We lived in sunny So Cal.   only a few miles from Joy.  A third baby, a little sister was born, who worshipped her older brother.

Then we  moved 2000 miles away, two weeks before Joy’s son was born.

My idyllic domestic bubble was popped by the move.  For the first time I had to leave my youngest, at four years old, in daycare.  I went back to teaching school, started getting to know the kids new friends parents, find new sources for the special foods to prevent the ear infections and learn how to live in the snow and ice.

In the middle of my first Midwestern winter, in the evening, my husband brought me the phone. Joy had the info on me for a while before she used it.  I think new motherhood was her impetus.

I wish I had a recording of that first phone call.  I was shaken physically as well as emotionally.  Lying on the bed I grabbed a pen and started writing on the back of some paper.  Her name.  The town she grew up in.  She told me she left home and got married when she was 15!  Trying to imagine how that could have  occurred in the conservative and upright adoptive family I assumed she had been raised in I asked her how her parents handled  an elopement to Mexico.  My guess was they would have had it annulled.  She said they threw a very nice wedding reception for her and her 16 year old husband .  She assured me they were very nice people.  There were a couple other life stories that felt like bombs dropped into my ignorant fantasy, which I wrote down without commenting.

She told me she was put into a special program in elementary school because of her gift of creativity.  She is very creative.

I was confused, feeling chided for hinting disapproval of her aparents, like a ball of confusion exploded with thoughts and feelings flying.

Later I learned  she perceived my lack of questioning her as lack of interest.  The irony was I thrilled with every bit of contact we had.  I perceived her as uncomfortable with questions.  My efforts to be sensitive and grateful for what I got were read as lack of interest.

We were both in the midst of more upheaval than we acknowledged — aside from reunion.  I knew she was a new mom.  I didn’t know she needed a place to live.   I was supposed to be “together”, the mom, the adult — which I was, to an extent.  I thought I was a good mother to my two raised children.   I was also stressed emotionally and financially while my husband started a PhD program.

Buried emotions from the most painful experience of my life erupted along with the sense that no one would, could or should help me.  I wasn’t deserving of assistance when she was born.  Unfortunately,  I still didn’t believe I deserved assistance.  I felt I was cheating the system to have contact with the daughter that I had let go. If I wanted  reunion  I had better handle it on my own, as an adult, in addition to being a good wife and mother.  I was desperately trying to prove I was worthwhile and didn’t dare ask for help.

She told me she wasn’t angry which barely scared me into realizing she might have reason to be angry.

I was unwavering in my commitment to  communicating with Joy.  I craved the sound of her voice as though she had awakened me, brought me out of a cave of denial.  I had a firstborn daughter.

She told me she was a grown woman (teen mother)  herself — out of her parents’ home for years.  She was independent and didn’t need me.  She didn’t want me to be a mother.

I was anxious to be whatever she did want me to be.

Sometimes I still flounder in a dilemma of not living up to expectations. She is always in my mind.  Sometimes more in the background than now.  But always, whatever I am doing, and wherever I am, I carry her around with me.

I was revisiting the traumas of our reunion recently and my deodorant wasn’t working.  Life goes on and people put up with my stink. Everyone that gets near me will appreciate it when I get through this.

My Mistakes

I’ve been inspired by several people lately asking questions about what makes reunions work vs what doesn’t.  The idea that is strongest for me is for the mother in a closed adoption to get help BEFORE reunion, to anticipate and prepare for the resurfacing emotions.  Learning about real adoptee issues ahead of time seems like it would be invaluable.  Living in denial doesn’t pay off well at all.

I was in half denial.  I never accepted that adoption was best for me.  There was no blocking out that it hurt like hell and interfered with everything I thought about myself and everything I did.  But I comforted myself with the notion that it was best for my daughter.  She was supposed to be getting the good life without me.  A part of me didn’t really believe it.  But I didn’t know how else to go on, so I played along with that scenario.

Reunion started out with a continual series of missteps.  We were both shaken out of our ideas of who and what we were.  And we both tried to fake it, to pretend that we were just fine.  Part of the BS that returned to me was the belief that I didn’t deserve any help.  The conditions of  losing her in the first place were that I didn’t deserve help from anyone.  So I figured if I was going to reclaim her it would have to be on my own, without asking anyone for anything.

That was dumb.  That was a big mistake and I made it.

I made another big mistake.

I tried waiting until things evened out with me and my daughter before getting to know her son, my grandson.  So much self doubt that I didn’t want to risk initiating a relationship with him,  in case she rejected me.

That was DUMB.

I might have avoided that one if I had enough self respect to ask for what I wanted –  to ask for help reintegrating my daughter into my life.

I told myself that he might get hurt by the pain his mother and I fought our way through.  And that I should try to keep him out of it.  That was a mistake.  I thought he should have the opportunity to contact me when he was old enough to do it himself (!?!)  That thought should not have been allowed residence in my mind.  It certainly wasn’t my own.  But I let it hang out in my head.

So just in case anybody is wondering, I’d say those are the two biggest mistakes I made in reunion.

I suggest get help.

Ask for what you want.

Be sure to let little kids know you love and care for them, no matter what goes on in other relationships.  Little kids deserve to know all the love they can.

Another Mother’s Story

Phillipa shared this on the AAFC forum and it really touched me.  I’d like everyone to see it, for people to know her story.  It’s in two parts, each about 6 minutes from a  TV interview of her and her husband.

Part One:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OY8unxfo6LE

Part Two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sC8wEvSixo0&feature=related

I am also kind of astonished at the new TV show Lie to Me.  They keep featuring stories about adoption that are subtly in your face.  The name of the show is so appropriate for the secrets and lies of the adoption game.