News from the Homeland

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http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2016/03/11/iowa-supreme-court-denies-alcoholic-woman-seeking-open-adoption-record/81664750/

Here’s a news story that will break your heart. Or maybe just make you swear a blue streak.

Thirty-some years ago I begged the agency that handled my son’s adoption to help me. Begged. And was shown no mercy. I petitioned the court to no avail.

That was then. And sadly,  it’s also very now.

Oh, Iowa. 

Breaking the Silence

 

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The painting, Silence, by Odillon Redon

This story highlights the aspect of secrecy in adoption. A secret weighs heavy on the heart. A secret can be found out. You mind your tongue, look over your shoulder, scan the room for a face with a knowing look. Your heart begs you to lift its burden.

Not long ago I was having lunch with new friends when someone asked the ages of my children.  The answer to this question always elicits raised eyebrows or a comment. “I had my son when I was a teenager,” I said. “He was given up for adoption, but I reconnected with him.” I always keep the answer short, but people want to know more. When I say that I searched for my son and found him, people think that I’m Nancy Drew, or that I’m super courageous, or a ballsy political activist. My answer is just, I had to.

And sometimes we feel we have to tell our stories. Here’s the link to Caitriona Palmer’s book.

10 Things to Say to a Birth Mother on Mother’s Day

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The comfort of shared experience is a good gift for a birthmother on Mother’s Day—Available on Amazon .

1. I know you’re a mother, so I’m thinking of you.

2. Is there a way I can bring some comfort to you today?

3. Wanna talk about it?

4. Would you like to go for a walk, or out for some coffee, or maybe see a movie?

5 .Do you ever think of searching for your child? or  How is your reunion going?

6. How do you think your life would be different if you’d kept your baby?

7. What would you do if your son/daughter contacted you?

8. What’s the hardest thing about Mother’s Day for you?

9. What do you think of Birth Mother’s Day? It seems kind of hard to celebrate, right? And do you even like the term birthmother? Do you prefer natural mother, bio mom, or what?

10. I really appreciate your friendship, and I want you to know I’m here for you.

Sunday is Mother’s Day. And there’s also the controversial Birthmother’s Day, “celebrated” the Saturday before Mother’s Day. This addition to the holiday calendar was initiated by a group of Birthmothers in 1990. Even though its heart is in the right place, It  does not inspire balloons, flowers, cakes, or presents. If you know a woman who lost a child to adoption, reach out to her on Mother’s Day or the day before. Don’t let her spend the weekend unacknowledged.

Horace and Pete and Downton Abbey

UnknownI’m not much of a TV watcher or a movie goer these days. I missed the boat that left for Game of Thrones and it seems like I’d just be late to the party–or regatta–if I want to avoid mixing metaphors. I’ve tried to get into Big Bang Theory, Burn Notice, the Family Guy, and Modern Family, and while I’ve enjoyed these shows I don’t need to watch them.

In fact, I’d grown weary of the upper crust goings on at Downton Abbey until Edith got pregnant and had to keep it a secret after her beau disappeared without a trace. That’s all it took to reel me back in. Will Edith manage to keep her secret? Will she pine away grieving for the loss of little Marigold while the local tenant farmer and his family pass the child off as their own? For those of you who are not in the know, Edith gave the baby up and suffered profoundly from the separation, eventually “adopting” her daughter as a ward and bringing the child to live as her own amidst all the upper crust splendor that is Downton. The Marigold plot continues to captivate me this season. Edith’s parents know Marigold’s true origins, but Edith’s uppity sister, Lady Mary, does not…yet. I’m guessing the secret will be revealed to Mary in the next episode.

Last week I watched the first episode of comedian Louis C.K’s new show, Horace and Pete. It’s set in a bar (I love bars), Alan Alda is in it (I love Alan Alda), and it’s staged more like a play than a TV show (I love the theatre), so I had to give it a try even though I couldn’t figure out how to stream it on my TV since the show comes directly from Louis C.K.’s website and not through Amazon or Hulu or Netflix.

The show is both comic and tragic, very nicely written and performed. And I’m hooked. The big reveal toward the end of the premiere episode: three supposed siblings find out that one of them is not like the others. He’s not a sibling at all. He’s a cousin. “I don’t like kids,” the Allan Alda character says as he justifies why he gave his son to his brother to raise. He goes on to reveal that his son’s mother died when the boy was two. The siblings are all well into middle age now, and this revelation is a bomb dropped in their midst, shattering the foundation of what they believed to be the basic truth of their family

So the secret is out in Horace and Pete, while at Downton Abbey the secret is still under wraps. Either way it makes for compelling drama.

This is the world of adoption. And even in the usual modern version of adoption, wherein the adoptee knows he/she is adopted, unless the adoptee can meet and speak, and hopefully get to know  the biological parents, that cloak of secrecy is a weighty thing to drag through life.Unknown

Mothering Through the Darkness

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I have an essay in this anthology about postpartum depression just out from She Writes Press. Postpartum depression was my personal sequel to adoption loss. If you know someone who has recently had a baby and things don’t seem quite right, help that person get help. You’ll be helping a mother and a baby. Maybe even a whole family. Talk about it. Do something. The book   would be a great conversation starter and a fine resource.

What to Say to a Birthmother on Mother’s Day and a Thought or Two on Birthmother’s Day

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There are millions of us. For every adoptee, there is a birthmother. We’re your sisters, your friends, your aunts, your cousins, your teammates, your co-workers, your wives and girlfriends, that person next to you on the plane who’s flying home to see her mom and tells you everything after her 4th rum and coke.

Each of our stories is unique and they’re all the same. What you say to the particular birthmother(s) that you know probably depends on the story. Think about what you know. Step into her shoes. Is she still keeping her secret from others with you being one of the few in her confidence? Is she happily reunited with her son or daughter? Has her child refused to meet her? Is she searching? Does she have other children? Maybe you invite her over for coffee or take her out for a drink. Maybe you tell her you feel enriched by knowing her story, or you give her a card or a take time for a conversation. Maybe you ask her what she thinks of Birthmother’s Day, which is today, by the way, in case you didn’t know.

I don’t exactly hate the idea of Birthmother’s Day, myself. But I don’t really love it either. The phrase Happy Birthmother’s Day pretty much gets stuck in my throat. I’d rather cough up a carving knife than say that, but the idea of commemoration is a good one. We’re here. So, I’m thinking of us and all of our stories.

“Birth Mother” is now available on audible.com

 

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My memoir, “Birth Mother,” published last summer by Shebooks is now available on audible.com. I’ve listened to the sample, and while it’s kind of strange for me to hear another voice reading my words, I like the reader’s voice a lot. She sounds, well….kinda like me.

There are other fabulous books by women from Shebooks on Audible too. Check them out.

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.