Thursday, August 27, 2015

Integration: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 6

Here we share Part 6, the final installment in this series on our blogs sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen, that we originally read at the American Adoption Congress Conference in San Francisco in 2014.

Last week in “Therapy,” we wrote about what it was like to expose our deepest feelings and thoughts to each other, giving us new perspective on the core of our reunion experience and fueling our desire to continue. 

Below is my excerpt from the chapter titled "Integration" (then read Kate's "Integration" excerpt at mothertone).


One day Tracy had found me in the copy room alone, and told me that she found out about a support-group for adoptees in reunion, that she was going to go and would I like to go too. I hesitated, explaining that I had been through it all already: Kate and I had been through therapy, I had resolved everything. Thanks anyway! but I didn’t need any more. The truth was that the thought of doing any more “work” around reunion gave me stomach cramps. Tracy offered that I could be the voice of experience for the group, and that she would like it if I went. I said I’d think about it.

I was blown away that there were enough adoptees “in reunion” in Portland to have a support group for it. My curiosity got the better of me so, I agreed to go, making the disclaimer that I would be more a spectator than a participant.

There was a charge just sitting in the same room with everyone the first night. There were a couple other women besides me and Tracy and one guy. When I’d met Tracy, I was amazed to know someone else in reunion, now I was in a room full of them.

The therapist was a birth-mother herself. I had wondered if that would be awkward – she was on the other side, afterall -- but within the first five minutes of the session I was sold. Sharon said more about the experience of reunion in her introduction to the group, than anyone had ever said to me in my lifetime.

She explained what we were going through so succinctly, so dead-on, that I was astounded at her insight. Then I noticed the others nodding as well and I commented on how great it was to have people know what you’re feeling. The guy in the group explained that it was like talking in short-hand. Having been in individual counseling with the therapist already, he had experienced it before – once you’re among people who all are in the same experience, you don’t have to explain yourself in the same was as you would to someone on “the outside.” Things that seemed cruel or vulnerable to the outside world of people who weren’t adoptees could be talked about openly and freely here.

In Kate’s new house, we would sit down in the tiny kitchen to conversations over tea like we had in the old apartment. Even though the ritual was the same, the content and the depth of conversation was different. It felt like level ground. She didn’t have the responsibility of being my mother and I didn’t have the obligation of being her daughter, we were more equals.

Now, I was able to call Kate out if she did or said something that bothered me, which was something I wasn’t able to do before. And, when I confronted her with it, Kate would listen and respond instead of overreacting and blowing the situation out of proportion.

Whereas before I would push back if Kate tried to do nice things for me, now I would allow it, and enjoy it, knowing that it was an indulgence for her as much as it was for me, and not a power-play or a way of exerting ownership over me.

Life with Kate had settled to a sort of normalcy. We would see each other frequently – get together for dinner, chat about what was going on in our lives.

Being in each other’s lives was beginning to feel more natural; we were starting to become comfortable in the roles we had in each other’s lives. I still couldn’t quite define in a simple word what Kate’s relationship was to me. She was like an older friend, someone I could confide in about what was going on in my life and get direction or advice based on her experience. But because she understood me, that we understood each other, in a way that was deeper than friendship, that arose from our kinship, I knew our relationship was something more.

Another thing that was different is that she loved me in a way that was more than friendship – she loved me like a daughter. She thought that I was just the most fabulous thing on the planet and that of course I would succeed, and of course I was wonderful and of course I could have anything I dreamed of. I let her gush and I let myself enjoy it, and even, sometimes, believe it.

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to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to mothertone


Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?

Please comment!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Therapy: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 5

Here we share Part 5 of our blog series of excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen.

Last week in “Going Dark - Dusk,” we realize we've reached an insurmountable divide in our relationship. In an effort to find a way back towards each other, Kate pushes for us to go to Therapy together.

Below is my excerpt from the chapter titled "Therapy" (then read Kate's "Therapy" excerpt at mothertone).


Although I’d been reluctant, I agreed to go along with weekly therapy with Kate. It wasn’t that I was hoping to patch things up with Kate, I just wanted to have someone on my side, and I hoped the therapist would be it. I’d come to realize that I hadn’t had anyone to talk to about what I was going through, who could empathize. Hell, I didn’t even know what was going on with me.

My relationship with my birthmother wasn’t something that I talked about with my parents or my friends. Even though everyone knew I was living out in Portland with Kate, I would try to play down her role in my life. Having a relationship with Kate, even just living in the same city as her, felt like a betrayal. A betrayal to my parents first and foremost but also even of my friends back home - that I was chosing this life over the one I’d had. I didn’t want people to think that. I didn’t want to hurt my parents or be judged by my friends. I was eager to have someone to help sort out our situation and, hopefully, understand it better than I could.

I surprised myself that, in therapy, I was able to find the courage to tell Kate things I hadn’t been able to before. Having Kate and I both looking ahead at the therapist, talking to the therapist, instead of directly to each, freed me. It allowed me to say the truth without actually facing her. Finally, I was able to say that I hadn’t yet decided whether I even wanted a relationship with her.

Feelings I‘d never known were bubbling up and tumbling out of my mouth. I had realized that I was irritated with Kate, but I couldn’t point out why. Here, the therapist was telling me that even though I might understand logically “why” Kate did what she did, that didn’t have to correspond to how I was feeling. Her leaving me when I was a baby hurt. Emotions didn’t understand logic, feelings had their own mind. I was still hurt, and angry and that it was okay for me to feel that way. After a lifetime of being told to be grateful that I had been given up, at last I had permission to be angry about it. I relished it.

Our therapist had told us that the next session would be devoted to Kate telling the story of giving me up for adoption.

While she had told me the story before, about how she wanted to do ‘what was best for me’ and give me a good life, this time, she was telling the same story, but from a completely different perspective, the perspective of who she really was and what she really felt under the mask of bravery. Not the beneficent hero, but a scared, overwhelmed young girl in an awful situation.

As Kate described being in the home for unwed mothers, she was composed, rational. She described the large house in suburban New Jersey. She talked about the group of young girls, all pregnant going to the corner store together. But, as the story came closer to the time of my birth, her affect shifted. She was visibly uncomfortable, her face taking on a blank expression. . She talked about seeing me for the first time. She talked about giving me a bottle. She cried throughout the telling of the story, as I did along with her.

It was the first time that I didn’t have to be the brave adoptee, happy to have had such luck in being given a better life. Now I was able to connect to who I was at birth - the poor, innocent infant deprived of her mother. I could imagine how alone, confused and afraid I must have been. I was allowed to grieve for what the baby, what I, had gone through.

I realized that for all of Kate’s good reasons for giving me up, that, for me, there was no excuse for her leaving me. Rationally, I knew Kate had made the mature decision. She was able to get back to her life, and I could be raised by people who wanted me. But that’s what had always nagged at me quietly in the back of my head: She didn’t want me, why didn’t she want me, what was wrong with me?

Even if my life was better because she gave me up for adoption, I still wanted her to regret having done it. I wanted her to have wanted me, even if it wasn’t wise or “for the best”. I didn’t want to think I was so easily discarded.

And, for the first time, I felt I had permission to acknowledge all the things that I’d missed by having not been raised by my first mother. If I’d been raised by Kate, I would have grown up with music being as natural to me as walking. I would have had art and creativity. I would have had people that looked like me, thought like me, reacted like me. Growing up, no one ever mentioned the things you would miss by being adopted, only what you would gain.

And hearing her deeper story was powerful. It was the first time I truly felt like I was Kate’s daughter. She wasn’t my mom – it wasn’t the same thing. But I was irrevocably her daughter.

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to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to mothertone


Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?

Please comment!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Going Dark - Dusk: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 4

Below is Part 4 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen.

Last week in “Going Dark - Deepening,” we shared an excerpt that described the challenges as we navigated our inexperienced reunited relationship and grappled with the distance that grew between us.

The alienation in our struggle comes to a peak in "Going Dark - Dusk," and forces us to face what we fear most.

Below is my excerpt from the Going Dark chapter of the memoir, titled "Dusk" (then read Kate's "Dusk" excerpt at mothertone).


By October, I was done. We had had our “Summer of Reunion.” As the sunshine gave way to the gloom of Portland’s autumn, I, too wished I could so easily transition, out of my relationship with Kate, and onto the next phase of my life, without her. While in the warm months I would gladly dash off to meet Kate for a spontaneous lunch in one of the lush green parks of Portland, now I found myself plotting how to get out of the the grey rain, and into my apartment, without her noticing me.

We were still living in the same building, but now in separate apartments. A couple months earlier, Kate had said that she felt my stay had run its course. It stung. I felt like I was being rejected by her once again.

And, I wasn’t ready to leave. I had unintentionally fallen in love - both with Portland, and with a handsome young Irish musician. Not ready to leave Portland, but not knowing where to go or what to do, I accepted the apartment upstairs as soon as it came open, moving in with the musician, now my boyfriend of two months, as a way to afford the rent.

Since I was still in Portland, Kate seemed to think that I was here for her. But that was over. This was my new life. Yet, Kate’s ceiling was my floor. I felt stuck like a fly in a spider’s web, having flown directly into it by my own choice, without knowing I wouldn’t be able to get back out.

As I came home from work one evening, eager to relax into the arms of my boyfriend, I crept into the house like a teenager coming in after curfew. I opened the heavy wooden front door, grimacing at its creak, and shut it silently behind me, turning the handle as it closed so that there would be no “click”. But, the staircase was just outside of Kate’s living room, so, when the step squeaked, Kate popped out like a jack-in-the-box triggered by the stair.

“Hey, there’s a concert at the Clinton Street tonight, I thought you might want to go.” Kate said cheerfully, acting as though nothing had changed between us. I didn’t know why this person that I had found so enthralling, now repulsed me. Nothing about her had changed, but how I felt was completely different.

I didn’t want to go to the show, it was the last thing I wanted to do. Music had been one of the most magical aspects of my reunion with Kate. Seeing her play songs she had written, surrounded by a vibrant musical world, had felt like stepping into a world that had previously been invisible to me. But now the music just glared a spotlight on how different we were. She was a musician, I wasn’t. My adoptive parents weren’t musical so I didn’t grow up around music. And although I had taken piano lessons, it was like being taught a language different from your parents native tongue. I hadn’t known that it was part of my heritage, so I had no clues as to how to pursue it for myself when I was younger and could have made it part of my life, too. Now I had a different life, the one she chose for me.

I told Kate that I didn’t want to go to the concert, but said I would drive her there. A month earlier, Kate had given me her car, an old red datsun hatchback. It was such a generous gift, exactly what I needed for my new life in Portland, but it also infuriated me. It was a gift I couldn’t say no to and it made me feel like she had a claim on me, and yet her generosity endeared me.

It was already dark when we left, and still pouring rain. I didn’t bother making small talk and was glad that Kate was unusually quiet as well. As we pulled up at the theater, Kate turned to me and asked what was going on. She said I was being distant, that she never saw me anymore, that I was closed off.

I was going to say she was imagining things, that everything was fine, but I couldn’t, it would be a lie. I was still sitting there waiting for a response to rise up in me when Kate got out of the car. I just couldn’t find the energy to tell her to, please, just leave me alone.

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to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to mothertone


Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?

Please comment!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Going Dark - Deepening: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 3

This is Part 3 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen. Last week we shared an excerpt from when we were first transitioning from Honeymoon into a harder time in "Going Dark - Sundown." Here we go darker, and realize there's more to reunion than meeting and going our separate ways.

Below is my excerpt from the Going Dark chapter of the memoir, titled "Deepening" (then read Kate's "Deepening" excerpt at mothertone).


Things with Kate were starting to get tense. It had been over a month since I arrived in Portland and I wasn’t finding work. I could tell that it was starting to wear on our relationship. I had come to Portland with only the $300 that I had gotten from my graduation party and that was nearly gone. I noticed that Kate would stomp out on her way to work in the morning, making it clear she wasn’t happy that I was still asleep. But I reasoned I was no more guilty for sleeping in when it was both of us at the tavern til all hours.

So the day that I went out and finally found a job bussing tables, I practically skipped back to Kate's apartment, filled with relief and eager to share my downright glee. 

It was 9 o’clock by the time I reached the front door. The apartment was dark and the doors that separated the front room from the rest of the house were shut. I figured Kate had gone to bed early, catching up on her sleep after the night before. As I quietly put down my bag, I found a white card envelope on my pillow with “Cathy” written on the front in Kate’s handwriting. It reminded me of our years corresponding by letters when I was in college. I was touched that she would leave me a note when, here, we saw each other every day. I hoped that - like the new job-  it was a sign that things were getting better.

I opened the envelope to a card with a goldfinch on the cover. As I turned to the inside of the card, I found that this was no love note. I read in the card that Kate had just received the phone bill and it had over a hundred dollars in calls back to the east coast. She went on to say that she didn’t have the money for this, pointing out that she had given me money on more than one occasion, and that I needed to pay her back at once.

I sat staring at the words, my head swimming with it’s implications. Yes, I had been calling back home... to my boyfriend, my parents, my friends. I had been lonely, and the calls back east grounded me. I had always asked permission to use the phone, explaining that I would pay her back as soon as I got a job, and she would wave me off, saying it was no problem.

Over the past month , she had loaned me money here and there, and I gratefully took it, not realizing it was a hardship on her. It was the kind of thing parents, or even a fond aunt or uncle, do. I hadn’t thought much about it. My parents had always paid for everything. When I accepted the invitation to come to Portland, I had no concrete plans on how I would pay for things, I just trusted that everything would work out. But here my trust was being broken. I knew that things weren’t working out between us at all.

I was horrified that I was a burden. I wouldn’t have taken her money or made the phone calls if I’d known it would be a problem. Why hadn’t she just told me?

I put the card down and started getting ready for bed, trying to push down my feelings of shame. But, as I turned out the lights, I felt anger building up in me. Why was I being punished for breaking rules I didn’t know existed? Here I was with the verdict in hand, for a crime I didn’t know I had committed. Why had I trusted her, why did I think this would work? It was obvious she didn’t want me there - after all, she had never wanted me - and this was the proof. I tried to put the card aside and go to sleep, telling myself I would sort it all out in the morning, but I couldn't reconcile the feelings of shame mixed with fury.

The next morning, I heard Kate close the back door on her way to work. I got out of bed and used Kate's phone once again. I called my parents to ask for money. I didn't tell them why I needed it, what it was for. I tried to keep my voice steady. 

I was disappointed that I had to fall back on them, that my maiden voyage to independence had sunk, but I felt immensely grateful that they would take care of me without question. I was free to make mistakes with them, knowing they would love me no matter what.

Later that morning Kate called, asking innocently if I had gotten her note. Steeling my voice, I said that I had, that I had gotten a job the day before, and that I had also asked my parents for a loan, so she didn’t have to worry. She apologized then, explaining that she’d had a bad day and had just gotten the phone bill. I said it was fine and hung up.

When my parent’s check arrived a few days later, I immediately brought it to Kate, signing it over. She took it without apology.

Now I didn’t owe her anything.

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to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to mothertone
Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?

Please comment!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Going Dark - Sundown: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 2

Below is Part 2 of our blog series sharing excerpts from our memoir, Kathleen~Cathleen. Last week we shared an excerpt from "Honeymoon," which gives a glimpse into the joy of coming together. However, all honeymoons come to an end. In "Going Dark - Sundown," we take the first steps into the darkness and confusion that are an inevitable part of reunion.  

Below is my excerpt from the Going Dark chapter of the memoir, titled "Sundown" (then read Kate's "Sundown" excerpt at mothertone).


I had just started telling Kate a story about getting caught sneaking out of the beach house when Kate suddenly broke into tears. She jumped up from the table and walked from the table into the kitchen, shaking with sobs. She came back towards me, struggling for words, but would then turn away again, too upset to get the words out. I was baffled. What had I said? I replayed our conversation in my head and found nothing in it that should have upset her. We were talking about my family, the Jersey shore, nothing special.

“I’m sorry,” she said, choking the words out through the tears, putting her hand on the stove for support. “Even if your child were raised by angels, it’s still hard to let them go.”

I was stunned. It was the first time I had seen Kate express any regret. Up until then, she’d always discussed giving me up as being the best decision -- not only for her, but for me. She had been so young and she’d wanted to give me a better life. It made sense.

I had accepted her explanation. After all, it was a familiar chorus from people while I was growing up: “It was for the best,” they’d say - whether coming from friends, or relatives, or strangers. I was raised by two loving parents in a stable household without divorce. My dad was a chemist, my mom a housewife, and I had an older brother, also adopted. We were the ideal nuclear family. We would go on family vacations, I was a girl-scout. We never moved, I never had to change schools, I had the same friends all my life.

If I had been raised by Kate, my life would have been unstable. After all, she had been so young, certainly not prepared to raise a child. She would have been a poor, single mom, or with a man that wasn’t my father, or living with her parents bringing shame to the family. I should be glad I didn’t have that life.

Yet I started to realize that I wasn’t glad that she didn’t keep me. Hearing Kate’s confession and seeing her tears, I felt loved. Rationally, I knew that Kate had made the mature decision in giving me up for adoption. She was able to get back to her life and I was raised by people who wanted me. But that’s what had always nagged at me quietly in the back of my head: She didn’t want me, why didn’t she want me, what was wrong with me?

Even if my life was better because she gave me up for adoption, I still wanted her to regret having done it. I wanted her to have wanted me, even if it wasn’t wise or “for the best”.

All the things that I’d missed by having not been raised by Kate started floating up in my mind. If I’d been raised by Kate, I would have grown up with music being as natural to me as walking. I would have had art and creativity. I would have had someone understand me better than anyone else, just by being part of them, having the same genes. I would have had people that looked like me, thought like me, reacted like me.

Growing up, no one ever mentioned the things you would miss, only what you gained. It was as if that, by not mentioning the obvious loss, the child wouldn’t know what they were missing. After all, it’s just a baby. What do they know? I was starting to suspect that a baby knew a lot more than it has words for. By the time the ability to form words finally develops, they’ve already been told what to believe.

I went over to Kate and gave her a hug. I hoped the hug held the words that I wasn’t willing to say outloud. I would have liked to say, “Good. You should regret it.”

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to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to mothertone


Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?

Please comment!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Honeymoon: Excerpt from Kathleen~Cathleen, Part 1

As we work on finishing our draft of Kathleen~Cathleen, we wanted to do something new on the blog. For the first time on the blog, we are sharing excerpts from the memoir's original manuscript with you, our readers. We hope to hear your thoughts, impressions and questions. 

The intent of our memoir is to share the true story of reunion in all its complexities; the heights of its joys, the depths of its sorrows and the perseverance it takes to journey through the thrill of the initial meeting to get to the grips of a real relationship. There are many stories that share the experience of separation and reunion. Our book explains what happens next. 

As we do with the blog, we have written from the unique and contrasting experiences of both the birthmother and the adoptee through our individual viewpoints. The excerpts we are posting here are the only parts of the book that we have shared with each other. While we have an outline that we created together, we have not yet read each other's chapters. We want to keep the purity of our personal recollections and impressions uninfluenced by the other's point of view. 

The result is that it is you, the reader, who brings the stories together, creating something new, something greater than the sum of its parts. 

Over the next few weeks we will share sections from the memoir that highlight crucial turning points in our relationship: Honeymoon, Going Dark, Therapy and Integration. 

Below is my excerpt from the Honeymoon chapter of the memoir (then read Kate's Honeymoon excerpt at mothertone).


“Want a cup of tea before bed?” Kate asked.

“Sure,” I said. Having still more questions than answers, it seemed neither of us were quite ready to let the night end.

Unlike our first meeting, now there were no limitations on our time, no need to leave after our appointment was over. Our conversations felt limitless as well – there was so much to talk about, so much to learn. I recalled how I imagined meeting my birthmother might be, back when I was a teenager. I thought I would learn everything about her in the first meeting and then go back to my life, contented with the knowledge gained.

As I settled into my seat at Kate’s kitchen table, Kate put on the kettle for tea. As she poured the boiling water over a blend of peppermint and camomile cradled in a metal mesh sphere, I realized I'd never had tea other than Lipton's before. Having a pot of herbal tea might seem like a small thing, insignificant; but for me it felt like it was just one of innumerable magical things that I was being introduced to by Kate.

She was a musician, independent, living on her own. She was creative and bright and her home reflected that with its whimsical details - the batik cloth hanging as a separator between the music room and her bedroom, the painting of the pepper that hung in her kitchen, the two small parakeets who kept chorus in the corner of the room. 

In talking with her, it I felt like she understood me instantly, that she could relate to my own, unique way of viewing the world, who understood that world as well, and maybe could even lead me in it. I wasn’t alone. I hadn’t realized how alone I had felt for my entire life until that moment. Having someone understand me in such a complete way that incorporated beliefs, point of view, an understanding made me discover that I could know things without it having been taught.

I wanted to know everything about her, understand who she was, know everything about her life.

I was reminded of Sleeping Beauty, raised by strangers away from who she was, unknowingly being hidden from her home by her own parents for her safety, to protect her from a witch’s curse. My curse of hiding had finally been lifted and I was back to my origins, to a world that I never knew existed, but that I could instantly recognize ... as home.

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to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to mothertone


Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?

Please comment!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Wish List

For those of you who have been following the blog, you know that Kate and I have been going through a challenging time. A blow-out at Christmas unearthed misunderstandings about our relationship that we've been trying to sort through. It hasn't been easy. She sees our relationship one way, and I see it in another way.

I've had to say things that I know are hurtful (though I hate hurting people) and we've had discussions that are hard. I've had to set boundaries. Kate has too. It's meant that we've had to put some distance between us.

At the same time, we set a goal of getting the final draft of the book done by the end of summer. It means being steadfast in working on the book even though we're in an uncomfortable place between us. But, if anything, as the book shows, we've been there before. It's not the first time we've had to have hard conversations or figure out where we stand with each other. The writing is a reminder of that.

So, as Kate and I were writing together at the bar last night we decided that for our first blog back after these months should be about what hope our relationship to be. A Wish List.

As the adoptee in reunion, my wish is to be the whole of who I am. That means being unapologetic about the different sides of myself that make me who I am (I also write about adoption at The Lost Daughters, and wrote a post about identity that's was inspired by all of this).

My wish is that Kate and I will be able to talk and connect again at the same level of intimacy that we've had in the past. I think back on times where we've sat in her backyard with a fire going, sharing sips of whiskey, and talking into the hours of the night. It's not something I would do with a mom. But, it is something I do with Kate.

I want to get to a place where things feel normal again. Our normal, anyway. We've never gotten to a place of unencumbered comfort. There are always triggers, there are always sore spots. But we were settled in that space. I'd like to be there again.

I hope I am able to untangle all the feelings of guilt, obligation, confusion that fuses into feeling that I don't meet Kate's expectations. That what I'm able to give is enough.


to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to mothertone


Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?

Please comment!