Tag Archives: adoption search and reunion

A New Essay in Under the Sun

collage by author

I have a new essay in Under the Sun about losing my first child to adoption.

A writing accident

I never meant to write about any of this. For decades I was a reader, not a writer. Then a terrible thing happened. And I began writing a story about it. One morning my husband went to work and left a legal pad on the kitchen table. I filled most of it that morning, making the terrible thing into sort of a fiction. Over the next weeks, I kept writing, even though I hadn’t done any creative writing since high school. I was processing the terrible thing by making it into a story.

At some point I stopped into one of my favorite coffee shops before picking my kids up from school and saw a stack of flyers about a writing workshop that was going to be held in their backroom on Saturdays. Cool, I thought. Because I think the thing I’ve been writing could be a novel. I folded the flyer in half and put it on my bulletin board in the kitchen.

Without ever unfolding the flyer and reading the bottom half of it with the description of the workshop, I showed up. That’s when I found out it was a memoir workshop. The story of my secret teen-age pregnancy poured onto the page. At the end of this weeks- long workshop there was a reader’s theater type performance. It made me brave. And I found out people wanted to hear the story about the son I had lost.

Writing on purpose

I took the workshop again. And again. At every performance there was always a birthmother or an adoptee in the audience. Even though starting to write memoir had been an accident, the telling of the story became more and more important to me. And it seemed important to other people too.

I also kept writing the story that was a fictionalized version of the terrible thing. When I was 54-year-old empty nester/new divorceé I got into an MFA program, and the novel about the terrible thing became a my master’s thesis. But all the while I was sending out personal essays about adoption and they were getting published. I thought my essays and the other essays I was reading about adoption might change the adoption industry.

Time has passed. I’ll be 70 this year. I am marching forward while the world marches backwards. A new Baby Scoop Era is coming. Amy Coney Barrett as much as told us so when she touted adoption as an alternative to abortion during her confirmation hearing. The recently leaked Supreme Court draft opinion has confirmed it.

I wrote about the loss of reproductive rights on this blog way back in 2012. And here’s a weird and creepy thought. Has the Hulu version of the Handmaid’s Tale been desensitizing us to our dystopian future? I was obsessed with the Handmaid’s Tale for the first few seasons and its parallels to the adoption and the Baby Scoop. You can read about that here and here.

An Essay About Reunion

My essay about reunion has been published in “The Beacon,” the newsletter of the American Adoption Congress. Reunion, as we know, is a really big deal. Probably everyone involved in adopted has some fear about it. And of course after you reunite with your son or daughter, you might also meet their adoptive parents. The meetings and introductions might go on and on. Aunts, uncles, grandparents siblings. It’s a tsunami of emotion. I was super nervous about all of it.  The title of the essay is “How the World Didn’t End and Nobody Died.” Here’s the link.

The target audience for the AAC is mostly adoptees, I think. And some birthparents too.

But I  wrote this essay about reunion with adoptive parents in mind. I would especially like adoptive parents to know that reunion can go well. And that their pre-conceived notions of what birthmothers are like might not be true. So if you know some adoptive parents, maybe pass it on.

Thank you.

I’m grateful to The Beacon for the publication.

Senior Citizen Birthmother

Keeping a big secret is as heavy and precarious as this boulder in this installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Senior Citizen Birthmother might seem like a contradiction in terms, but as the linked article points out, women who lost children during the Baby Scoop Era from 1945-1975 are now senior citizens.

I am senior citizen. I am a birthmother. And a grandmother. But, unlike the women most likely to attend this meeting, I am a birthmother who is reunited with her child. I imagine this meeting will probably draw mostly birthmothers (and maybe some birthfathers) who are not reunited.

Senior Citizen Birthmother! Imagine it. You lost your child 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 (!) years ago. You are still carrying this grief. Dragging the long tail of it with you decade after decade. You are lost. Lost to this baby that hasn’t been a baby for decades. And that “baby” is lost to you.

Keeping that in mind, I think this is a good perspective from which to frame a question about adoption. Let’s ask young women who are considering relinquishing children this question. Forty years from now, do you think you will still long for your child? How about in 50 years? In 60 years? 70? And how do you imagine this might impact your life?

“Fable” –a poem by Louise Glück

Judgemnt of Solomon by Raphael(1)
“The Judgement of Solomon” by Raphael

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. In the poem we read about the suffering of a daughter in a strained relationship with her sister. Loss and grief are deep and primal in this poem. Like the loss and grief in adoption.

A Fable

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.
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.

Burger King Baby Update

A Burger King baby update tells us that things are going well!

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

I like the candidness of the interview of the birthmother and the daughter, known as the Burger King baby, in the update. 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 17-year-old. What I hoped was that I’d have the nerve to take a Greyhound bus to Chicago. I’d been there only once–on a school trip with my high school chorus where we sang in a church with other Catholic high school choirs. I told myself that when I got off the bus, I’d look for a church steeple and go there, hoping to find a convent. I’d ring the bell and ask the nuns to help me–to take me in and let me work for room and board. I would tell them I had amnesia, and that I didn’t know my name. You get the picture….how could this have possibly worked? The Burger King baby–or any number of other things could have happened to me. Desperate people do desperate things.

Birthmothers Everywhere!

Adoptees are everywhere too! Adoption! It’s huge! Everyone drank the Kool-aid.

No matter where I go

This past month I’ve been to Albuquerque and to Santa Barbara for T’ai Chi Chih retreats, and I’ve done some traveling with friends in Hawaii. Whenever I meet new people and strike up a conversation, more often than not, I find out that the person I’m talking to is either an adoptee or a birthmother. Or someone very close to them is. Adoptees and birthmothers are everywhere.

the cover my memoir, published by SheBooks

On the plane to Albuquerque, it was obvious the guy next to me wanted to talk. Business cards were exchanged. He stared at my card (the front image is the cover of my book) and out spooled a stream of questions. It turned out that his best friend is an adoptee. This friend had recently seen a lot of ups and downs with reunion. On Maui, one of the people in our group was an adoptee. Also in Santa Barbara. Adoption is everywhere.

Myth busting

When people in a group setting are party to these encounters and hear that I surrendered a child for adoption, there’s a very common comment. “Oh, what a wonderful generous thing you did,” they say. A few years ago I would have mumbled some sort of sheepish reply and changed the subject. But these days I’m much more comfortable telling people that it wasn’t like that at all. “That’s not how adoption works,” I say. So I tell them that I didn’t give up my son to be kind or generous. I tell them I had to in order to survive. And I tell them what it was like living in a town of 3000 Catholics in 1970, and how my family would have been ruined. More often than not people seem to get it.

Drinking the Kool-aid

It’s not just birthmothers who drank the Kool-aid, brainwashed into believing we were doing what was best. The adoption industry has been really thorough at handing out samples of that beverage to everyone. It always feels good to tell the truth about it.

Multi-Generational Loss

Every adoption begins with loss.
This can turn into multi-generational loss. Without reunion, I would have lost my grandchildren.

Unknown grandchildren

I became a grandmother 13 years ago last week. But here’s the thing. It’s quite likely that I might never have known that I was a grandmother. All three of my grandchildren are my son’s kids, and I relinquished him in a closed adoption as a newborn. Without reunion, I would not know that any of my grandchildren exist. Adoption can result in a multi-generational loss.

Without reunion, this loss would have extended to everyone in my family.My daughters would not be aunts. My mother’s number of great grandchildren would be cut in half. Adoption is a very large stone dropped into the pond of life. The ripples of loss just keep expanding. And with each subsequent generation, the loss expands to include more and more family members. Here’s an essay from the Washington Post where a six-year-old explains it.

Reunion unites a family

Reunion always focuses on the reunion between the birthmother and adoptee. While it may be the central relationship, it’s not the only relationship. Think about your favorite aunt, the cousin who is so close they feel like a sibling, that uncle everyone says you resemble. Reunion unites a family. Not just two people.

I sometimes wonder what my life would be like, had I not met my son. I don’t like to think about it, really. There’s been so much joy in our get-togethers. Four generations of us. Partying, talking, laughing. How would we have survived without each other?

Adoption Uncovered by DNA

We don’t need a crystal ball to uncover the secrets and lies in adoption
collage by author

Secrecy in adoption

A friend sent me this 23andMe story recently. While adoption is not part of it, the element of secrecy  is similar to the secrecy in many adoption stories. This Gazillion Voices piece is a good companion to the 23andMe essay–which is also a how-to on overcoming secrecy in adoption through DNA testing.

Secrets require lies

I think a lot about the secrecy aspect of adoption and how it’s a burden many birth mothers carry. In order to keep our secrets, lying is inevitable. The web of secrets and lies grows larger and the burden gets heavier as the years go by. When I searched and found my son and we decided we would meet, I had to figure out how to dismantle my decades-long accumulation of secrets and lies. I wrote letters to my siblings, told my mother she could tell my aunts and uncles if she wanted. One by one, I told my friends. When someone asked a question, I told the truth.

The no secrets, no fear campaign

When  my son came  to visit for the first time, I had  to tell my daughters that they had a brother. They were two and five years old, and my husband thought the news would be too confusing. “Tell them he’s a relative,” he said, “but not that he’s their brother.” I broke down, sobbing that I couldn’t tell any more lies, that I’d been lying for half of my life, and I’d had enough. My husband relented.

American Adoption Congress has a campaign called, No Secrets No Fear. You can read about it here.

The Search for My Son

Grain Haystacks at the End of Summer
by Claude Monet
The search for my son would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack without a very big piece of luck.

Nancy Drew, girl detective

From the beginning I knew I would search for my son. I never let go of the idea that I would find him, but I had absolutely no idea how I would do it. At first I imagined myself as Nancy Drew, the girl detective who would sleuth and sleuth and finally break the case. There was very little reality to this scenario since the adoption records were sealed, and I didn’t have a single clue. Some years later I imagined that serendipity or coincidence would allow us to meet. In a way, that’s how the search for my son began.

Two young mothers

I made friends with a mother of two little girls who were about the same age as my own daughters. One day at a park playgroup when the two of us were sitting away from the rest of the mothers, she told me, with tears in her eyes, that she had gotten pregnant as a teenager. But she had given that baby up for adoption. I stammered my way through my own confession about giving up my son. She told me she was going to search for her daughter and invited me to a Concerned United Birthparents support group meeting. At one of those meetings, I met a woman who told me she had some connections. She might be able to make arrangements with someone who could find my son. To this day I have no idea who this mysterious connection was. But he/she found my son two decades after I’d given him up.

A series of coincidences

I made a new friend two thousand miles from where I’d relinquished my son. She happened to be a birthmother, and the two of us happened to connect on that day in the park. She took me to a meeting where I met someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. And that someone found my son.

My First Contact with My Son

Collage by author.
How would I manage my first contact with my son? I’d said good-bye to him in Iowa 20 years earlier.

Post Adoption Contact

I was not entirely sure how to initiate my first contact with my son.

As a regular attendee of the monthly Concerned United Birthparents meetings, I picked up some tips there. How to have modest expectations. How to approach the situation with an open mind. How to put myself in the shoes of my son. I didn’t want to shock him or frighten him. Most importantly, I didn’t want to lay my grief on him.

And there’s also this more recent guidance from American Adoption Congress.

After a lot of thinking, I found my path.

The letter

Not long before Christmas I decided I was ready to make my first post-adoption contact with my son. I wrote a letter to him, detailing who I was and how I’d come to place him  for adoption. And I enclosed a faded color snapshot of his biological father and me dressed in our pastel evening finery at our senior prom. What would my son think when he saw those two innocent smiles? Would he realize that he was in the photo too?

Christmas was just a couple of weeks away, so I put the letter in a red envelope, hoping to pass it off as a Christmas card. If he doesn’t write me back in a couple of weeks, I thought, I’ll call him.

The mail fell in heaps through the slot in our front door during the week before Christmas. I’d hear our dog bark, and I’d race to the entry hall to contemplate the holiday envelopes strewn on the rug. Examining each one, I hoped for a return address from my son, but there was nothing. At the meetings I’d heard adoptees say that reuniting with a birthparent could make the adoptive parents feel abandoned or threatened. I told myself my son was just taking it slow out of consideration for his family. But even ten days later there was no response.

A phone call

When I first received information about my son, I learned some basic details. That he lived at home with his parents. That he had a sister. That he worked as an information operator for the phone company.

The searcher had given me my son’s phone number and pointed out that the line was separate from his parents’ line. Consequently, I began working up the nerve to call him. But first, I wanted to find out if my son shared his phone line with his sister. This would be important if I called and left a message.

One afternoon shortly after New Year’s, while my daughters were napping, I sat on my bedroom floor with the telephone in my lap. Because I knew his sister’s name, I could call information to get her number and see if it was the same as his. I dialed information for Mesa, Arizona with my pencil at the ready. “Hello, this is C***. May I help you?” said the operator. I gasped at hearing my son’s name and slammed down the phone. I lay flat on my back on the cool oak floor of my bedroom. Was it possible that I had just spoken to my son?

I would find out later that I had.