It can be awkward, this birthmother/ first mother thing. The other night I attended a birthday party, and chatted with a couple I hadn’t yet met here in my rather large condo building. They passed their 4-month-old back and forth between them as we were introduced. I knew from our building’s private Facebook group that the baby had come into their lives unexpectedly. This little boy, with the face of a wise old man, had surprised his bio parents too. His mother denied her pregnancy until she was rushed to the ER, and the father was even more surprised.
Denise is a writer, someone said as they introduced me. “What do you write about?” the baby’s mother asked.
“Adoption,” I said, trying not to pull any punches, as I gestured toward the baby.
They might have flinched a little. I might have mumbled a half-hearted qualifier. But then I told them my story, and they told me theirs. “There won’t be any secrets,” the dad said. “He’s going to know the whole story.”
“He’s going to know everything,” the mother said.
“It was so different back in the day,” we said simultaneously, meaning the Baby Scoop Era. “Secrets,” we muttered. “Lies.”
And then neither of them said what I dread most. You were so generous to give up your baby. No one gives up a baby out of generosity. Here, have mine, says absolutely no one. Really, take him. I insist. C’mon, you know you want him. The most wonderful, kind, intelligent people utter this generosity line. They say it because they don’t know what to say. They say it because they want to be kind. They say it because they know that saying, “How could you do that?” is the wrong thing to say, and they are desperately searching for the right thing to say.
I have so many thoughts about adoption. So many thoughts about what we could say. Thoughts about how we could change things. Here’s a short story (fiction) that I published on Medium.
And here’s an essay (a true story) about giving up my son, also on Medium.
National Adoption Awareness Month is two-thirds over. I’m going to keep posting on Medium until I turn the calendar page. I’ll take a break then, but I’ll be back. Follow this blog. Or follow me on Twitter @demanuelclemen
I have another piece that was featured on Medium yesterday.
I haven’t blogged here for a long time. Consider the previous post the post that could have been repeated every day all this while. Children and parents are being separated. Many of them will never be reunited.
This weekend I’m at a small writers’ retreat. There are five participants, not counting our retreat facilitator. Around the fire next to the lake over our first glass of wine, we discovered that our group includes a birth mother, an adoptee, an adoptive parent, and a grandmother of a newly adopted infant. Ten years ago I would have probably alienated myself from everyone. It’s not that I feel any differently about adoption in general. It’s not that I feel any less pain about my own experience. I guess what’s different is that I’m more able to listen to the experiences of others and take in their feelings. I’m hoping I’ll leave with friends.
Here’s the link.
The target audience for the AAC is mostly adoptees, I think. Some birthparents too.
I wrote the piece with adoptive parents in mind. So if you know some adoptive parents, maybe pass it on.
Nonetheless, I’m grateful to The Beacon for the publication.
In my morning scroll though Facebook, I stumbled across a post that had to do with The Adoption Museum. The what? I said. The what? The initial exhibit back in May of 2013 had to do with birthmothers (yes, there was an ensuing controversy about the term) and I had no idea that the project existed or that the event occurred. I missed it.
In 2013 I was still adjusting to my first year as a caregiver. In May I was obsessing over my mother’s CPAP machine. All of that–my life as a caregiver, living with my mother, weekends with the man who loved me visiting us, doing what I could to support my younger daughter as she worked on her master’s degree–all of that seems so long ago as if the four of us here together in this house was a dream.
I suppose there are plenty of days that the memory of giving birth to my son and then giving him up resides in the background too. But some days the experience lives inside me close to the surface–not just his birth and the subsequent relinquishment or even the two decades of secrecy or the visceral memory of shame and grief. It’s that girl, the girl I was then. She comes to live inside me. I was a different person then. The other big events– the deaths, divorces, estrangements– happened to the person I now know to be me. But that girl. A visit from her is like time travel and space travel rolled into one. She’s an alien and she is me.
Anyway, there are still ways to get involved and a newsletter you can subscribe to. They are open to feedback.
So I’m just shouting it out. And thinking about what feedback I’d like to provide–where to begin, actually. I am nothing but feedback when it comes to adoption.
I’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.
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.
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
drew his sword.
Then, of the two
renounced her share:
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.
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.