Me and Bobby McGee…well, no…Me and Kate Mulgrew

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Me, just a few months after giving up my son.

The actress Kate Mulgrew and I were born in Dubuque, Iowa. She went to New York to become a successful actress. I went to L.A. to act with less success. The both of us Catholic girls, our lives were unhinged by our pregnancies. Hers, not so secret at 20 in 1977; mine, buried in secrecy at 17 in 1970. We both searched and found the children we relinquished for adoption–her daughter at 22. My son at 21. We both wrote memoirs. I plan to read hers, Born With Teeth. If you’d like to read mine, you can find it here.

Years ago when I was struggling to make ends meet in Los Angeles, my mother would frequently advise me to contact Kate. Not that our families new one another. My family moved out of Dubuque to a smaller town. And Kate was, after all, in New York, not L.A. Still, my mom knew that she was famous and I wasn’t. I scoffed every time my mother mentioned her name. I wasn’t a soap opera fan and never saw a single episode of Ryan’s Hope. If I had watched it, maybe I would have tried to contact her. Her pregnancy was written into the script. She returned to the set just a few days after relinquishing her daughter while her character on the show was raising a baby. On her first day back on the show, Mulgrew had to hold a stunt baby and deliver a monologue about how she’d love the child until the day she died. If I had witnessed that, I might have hitched a ride (cue the music: “Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just before it rained…”) to New York. Given what I’d already been through, it might have been me who’d given her advice.

Connecting the Dots: Birthmother Shame and Postpartum Depression

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I recently received the good news that an essay of mine will be included in an anthology called Mothering Through the Darkness. My essay, “My Face in the Darkness,” explores the link between the relinquishment of my first child for adoption and the postpartum depression that I experienced with my subsequent children. All these years later, I still feel unmoored when I ponder how close I came to a  breakdown after the birth of my second child.

Somewhere in the timeframe of writing and submitting the essay, I came upon this survey. I took the survey, realizing anew how completely abysmal my first experience of childbirth was. Mind you, my son was born in 1970, and there has been a fair amount of reform since then, but the survey questions did not evoke a single memory of support or compassion. Every interaction with the nurses and doctors in the hospital before, during, and after my son’s birth  was tainted with shaming and judgement. I know that this story is not an unusual one.

Women and girls are subjected to a lot of shaming in our society. As a mother of two daughters and grandmother to two granddaughters, I think about shame in the context of their lives. You can read more about shame  HERE. Or watch THIS. I’m looking forward to reading the other essays in “Mothering Through the Darkness.”  I wouldn’t be surprised if, in some way, shame figures into each and every story.

And speaking of surveys, have you seen THIS ONE?

“Fable” –a poem by Louise Glück

Though the poem, “Fable” by Louise Glück is not meant to be about adoption,  it resonated with me nonetheless. But not in the way you might think. Not pitting adoptive mother against birth mother. For me, it cracked open the suffering of the two daughters, which might be an element in an adoption reunion story (though this is not the real-life situation the poet is most likely drawing on from her own childhood.) The pull of loss and grief is strong in this poem, deep and primal. A piece of the story perhaps for many in the world of adoption.
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A Fable

BY LOUISE GLÜCK
Two women with
the same claim
came to the feet of
the wise king. Two women,
but only one baby.
The king knew
someone was lying.
What he said was
Let the child be
cut in half; that way
no one will go
empty-handed. He
drew his sword.
Then, of the two
women, one
renounced her share:
this was
the sign, the lesson.
Suppose
you saw your mother
torn between two daughters:
what could you do
to save her but be
willing to destroy
yourself—she would know
who was the rightful child,
the one who couldn’t bear
to divide the mother.

Edith and Me

 

UnknownI binge-watched the first season of Downton Abbey after coming down with a horrible cold/flu. I’d heard about it ad nauseum, and finally succumbed while feeling a bit nauseated myself. I got hooked, and then avidly watched the next couple of seasons until I grew weary of the problems of the English upper class. This year, well, here I am. Dan is gone, and why not sit on the couch for an hour and escape to the manor?–or whatever a grand house like that is called.

Now, Edith and me, we’re like this. Edith got pregnant after her first (so it seems) tryst with Michael. The same thing happened to me. She  had to keep her pregnancy secret and went away with just her aunt as her confidant. (Somehow Granny finds out, but I missed that part.) In my case, only my parents and boyfriend knew. My siblings were in the dark just like Edith’s. Shame and ruination figured mightily in English society in 1924 as it did in my small Catholic town in Iowa in1970. Edith manages to keep her secret, as did I, and returns home with her reputation in tact. Life goes on. But the sadness overtakes everything. Edith can see her little girl, while my son was adopted in a closed-records adoption. I’m pretty sure that if some relative had been brought in on the secret and claimed him as their own, I would have done what Edith did in the last episode.

I don’t really care about Mary and her exploits. She seems to get away with everything. I don’t care about Cora and her pouty Robert. Rose can have her Russians. Cousin Violet can marry whoever she likes, and Granny can form a menage å trois with the prince and his wife (if she’s found,) just give me Edith and Marigold. Show me how they manage. How Edith makes it work. How she loves her little girl and keeps her as her own.

Burger King Baby Update

Of all the adoption stories out there on Facebook, this one has certainly captured my heart. I blogged about it a while ago, and here I am again with the update.  

I like the candidness of the interview. I like that there’s so much redemption in the story. And I’m humbled. I didn’t exactly have a solid plan when I was a pregnant seventeen-year-old. The Burger King thing could have happened. Desperate people do desperate things.

The Pregnancy Resources List/How to Change the World

 

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I’ve been working on the California Pregnancy Resources List at the behest of Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy who is a major force in the world of birthmothers. Click on that link and scroll down to her map. More help is needed. She’s got a nifty template where, with a bit of googling, all of the resources can be plugged in for a particular state.

Imagine you are pregnant. Imagine you are desperate. You want to keep your baby and somehow be the best mother you can be despite your lack of money or support, but you don’t know where to start. Claudia is envisioning an online Crisis Center for Pregnancy Options that will lead to pages of resources other than to links that promote adoption.

Claudia’s resources list for New York state looks like this.

I just Googled “pregnancy help.” The results page three top links are all paid adoption ads. Let’s change that. Please check Claudia’s map and pick one of those white states that hasn’t been spoken for. If you’re a birthmother, you could perhaps choose the state where you relinquished your baby and create a comprehensive list of resources for women and girls who need it.

National Adoption Month Draws to a Close

Today is the last day of November, also known as National Adoption Month, and I feel like pouring myself a glass of champagne and then maybe crying into the bubbles. Originally created to call attention to plight of children in foster care, National Adoption month is a particularly harrowing time for birthmothers who are bombarded by media accounts of adoption that don’t reflect the birthmother reality or perspective. National Adoption Month was never meant as a platform for touting infant adoption or foreign adoption or crowd funding for adoption, and I dare say that anyone involved in the foster care system is unlikely to be so delusional as to promote adoption as one big happiness fest. Yet, all of that has somehow elbowed its way onto the stage of National Adoption Month.

And now it’s over. Of course as the media spotlight dims, all of adoption’s worst practices will carry on behind the curtain and the fight against them must continue. Education is key. I’ve only recently found my voice as a birthmother, and in the coming year, I hope for the courage  to speak out when the opportunity arises. I’m most grateful to Carrie Goldman and her series 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days as a venue to tell my personal story.  “Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series featured guest posts by people with widely varying experiences,” and there’s an awful lot of good reading to be found. My essay, in case you missed it, can be found here.

Oh, and did you know that tomorrow is National Pie Day? I think I can get behind that pretty wholeheartedly.

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Identity. Who am I, really?

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“The Importance of Being Earnest” is, at it’s heart, a play about identity. I saw a production of it Saturday that was a perfect confection. The play is a classic, written by Oscar Wilde and first staged in London in 1895. Chock full of wit and humor, it mocks social conventions AND though the word is never uttered, it’s also a play about adoption.

The plot is immensely complicated with one farcical turn after another, but suffice it to say that the play’s main character, Ernest (a.k.a. Jack Worthing,) lives a double life and uses his obligations to a fictitious younger brother as an excuse to avoid certain social obligations. As the play opens, his best friend, Algernon, good-naturedly traps him in his lies and things begin to unravel most comically.

Ernest, who is known as Jack (his actual name) while at his house in the country where he maintains his ward Cecily and her governess Miss Prism, frequently excuses himself to travel to London ostensibly  to rescue the fictitious brother he calls Ernest (keep in mind that he himself is known as Ernest to those who keep company with him in the city.)  Cecily has a mad crush on the fictitious brother Ernest and longs to meet him. She gets her wish when Algernon, in his plot to unravel Jack’s lies, shows up at the country house impersonating Ernest–whom Jack has, moments before in an effort to simplify his life, announced as having suddenly died while in Paris.

Algernon and Cecily fall in love. Jack gets a visit from Gwendolyn, the London girl to whom he’s engaged, (remember she knows him as Ernest–oh, and she finds the name Ernest irresistibly attractive.) And in the ongoing investigation of Jack’s suitability as a husband, Gwendolyn’s mother, Lady Bracknell, (who is also Algernon’s aunt) prods Jack into revealing that he was a foundling, his parents unknown to him, thereby jeopardizing his standing in London society.

A few twists later we learn that it was Miss Prism who accidentally left Jack, as an infant, in a large handbag in a train station when she was in the employ of Lady Bracknell’s sister…..Are you ready for it? Yes indeed, the friends, Jack and Algernon, are really brothers. And when Jack investigates further to find out what his original name was before he was re-christened after he was taken in by a benefactor….you guessed it….Ernest.

Most adoption/reunion stories I’ve heard are full of amazing co-incidences. They’re just not as funny. You need somebody like Oscar Wilde, I guess, to pull that off.

I love “The Importance of Being Earnest” and I’ve seen it at least a half-dozen different times over the last few decades. I love how the audience always gasps when Jack finds out who he really is and what his original name was. Every time, I think about all those strangers I’m sitting with in the dark. How many of them are adopted, how many might have brothers or sisters they don’t know, how many would give anything to know the name they were given at birth. And how, in real life, that’s not funny at all.

Crowd Funding for Adoption

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This being National Adoption Month, the topic of crowd funding for adoption has popped up here and there and everywhere.

I went to Catholic grade school in the 60s. It was customary to forego one’s morning carton of milk that, I believe, cost two or three cents and instead give over your pennies to the pagan baby fund. When we had raised the required amount of money, Sister would announce that the class had enough money to “adopt” a baby from Africa. These babies were not really removed from their families, but were baptized and given Christian names. We children voted on the names after several nominations were placed on the blackboard. After a show of hands, Sister would count up the hash marks next to each name. Some weeks later a certificate with the baby’s new Christian name would arrive and  be proudly displayed in our classroom. I have no idea if the children were really called Christine Mary, or David John, or whatever it was that we chose. I don’t know if the money was an honorarium for the missionary priest who did the honors–or if maybe the money was used to bestow gifts on the child’s family as an incentive for converting to Catholicism, or if it bought fancy white baptismal gowns.

This practice seemed unbelievable when I recalled it years later as a grown-up former Catholic. It felt archaic and colonial, full of presumption and perhaps even harm. Crowd funding for foreign infant adoption makes the pagan baby racket feel like child’s play.

 

 

Why I’m Wearing Black

 

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What I would like to say to everyone who is happily celebrating National Adoption Month is this: You are happy. Good.

But.

Some of us are dying inside. This piece in the Huff Post by Mirah Riben explains it rather succinctly in rant-less fashion.

You might also want to read this.  Tarikuwa Lemma is as eloquent as a poet about her own adoption.

And as if a National Adoption Month and a National Adoption Day are not enough, there’s now 4 million bucks  recently crowd funded for an International Adoption Day (which was yesterday.) Here’s a quote from the article in Forbes just in case you’re too busy eating your Happy Adoption Day cake to read the whole thing:  “The main obstacle to adopting a newborn child is the cost.” Checking out their website, I’m willing to concede that maybe these folks aren’t  dealing exclusively in newborns, but where is the original focus of National Adoption Month?  According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children, there are currently over 100,000 children in foster care who cannot be reunited with their original families. Is this crowd funding effort connecting families with those kids? Maybe, but it looks like international infant adoption is the focus.

So while you’re toasting to your happy family, know that I’m happy for you if you’re all happy. I know that some adoptions are good and necessary and healing adoptions. I’d just like a deep breath, a pause, a nano-second of silence in which  the happy consider the gravity of the loss also associated with adoption.

Now party on.  Festoon your house with balloons. I’m going to change my brightly colored clothes and find something black.

photo credit: New York Times