Monday, April 7, 2014

First Read - The Truth

Writing my truth about reunion has been exceptionally difficult. Surprising, even. When I go to write about something painful, I find that although I can remember how I felt, describing how I felt is a whole lot harder. I have the benefit of working with a writing critique group and their help has been priceless. Whenever I think I've really "gone there" emotionally in my writing, my critique group comes back with comments that it's not enough, I need to go deeper, and get all my gory, icky innards on the page in order for the reader to be able to feel what the narrator (i.e. "me") is going through. 

Part of my issue was that I knew Kate would be reading my writing. That was the point - I would tell my side, she would tell hers. We would write it separately without reading the other's part, but then eventually put it together. And, a few weeks ago, that's what we did. Because of the conference presentation, we had to read each other's side to coordinate the presentation.  
I had my trepidations about what Kate had to say about me. After all, I was 22 when I first came out to Portland to live with Kate. At that age, I was that ever-so-desirable combination of being both self-absorbed and clueless. Not the best part of myself that I want to project to the world. But, I know that is true, it was who I was, and I wouldn't be who I am now, without having been there then. In order to tell the story, Kate needed to write the truth of who I was then.

Finally reading it was surprising. I wasn't offended by the less-desirable descriptions of my behavior or my embarrassing actions. In fact, I found those were the things I wanted to hear MORE about as a reader. 

But I was more afraid for Kate to read what I had written. Thinking badly of someone else or feeling hurt by them is not something I like to talk about. But here I had to lay it all out there. I was afraid it would hurt her. When we met she was in a phase that was anything but motherly - staying out til the morning hours playing music, having the party come back to her apartment afterwards... you can get the picture. It was great in the terms of a college-grad coming out to stay in Portland with someone fun, but maybe not the best set-up for a reunion with your mother. 

So when I read it my sections for the presentation for Kate, she listened, and she didn't fall apart. In fact, she seemed rather serene about it. She was annoyed at some of the things she had done that I had described, but didn't seem bothered that I had put it out there. 

I started to understand what my writing group had been telling me. Describing the experience externally - telling the reader what happened, describing the scene, even getting into what you thought, is nothing if you can't get to how you felt. And not just surface feeling, you have to get to the deep dark ugly feeling that you don't want to admit, even to yourself...and then you have to tell it to the world. 

But, now that I know Kate can handle the bad things I say about her, I think the world will be able to handle the bad things I say about me. I just have to get there myself, first. I think our final round of revisions will be about getting down there, into the dark matter. And, that will be what makes the story good. 

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

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Kathleen~Cathleen Present in San Francisco

In just nine days, on April 10, 2014, Kate and I will be presenting sections from Kathleen~Cathleen at the American Adoption Congress Conference in San Francisco. I am really excited to share our story, in person, with other people from all corners of the adoption world. I am so eager to know how people will react.

As we mentioned in our previous post,"The Quest," the first AAC conference we attended in 1997 was where the idea of our memoir was conceived. Now it's come full circle. 

The American Adoption Congress is a group committed to adoption reform and promote honesty, openness and respect for the lifelong process of adoption. I feel like our story is at home in this community. 

We are doing a workshop on "The Birthmother Experience vs. The Adoptee Experience in Long-Term Reunion." We will take turns reading from our chapters that reflect mutual turning points in our relationship in long-term reunion. 

We'll let you know how it goes!

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Quest - The Ten Words that Started our Project

I didn't except going to an adoption conference to change my life. It sounds so hokey. But, it wasn't due to profound insights learned at the conference (though there were some) or the bonding with other adoptees and families (though that had its part). What changed my life was a brief conversation in the bathroom (huh, I wonder how many bathroom conversations have changed the course of a life? More than one would expect, I'd wager).

Kate and I decided to go to American Adoption Congress conference at the last minute. We only knew of it because we'd both been attending support groups for people in reunion - she in a birthmother's group, me, an adoptees in reunion group. 

The groups were both run by the same woman, a birthmother who had been in a long-term reunion with her relinquished daughter. It seemed long-term to me then, but thinking back they probably had known each other only a few years more than me and Kate.

"In reunion," like "in therapy," it was more about helping people handle the experience of reunion, a process that had very little support, resources or even just simple information. The only source of information I knew of, other than the group, were Betty Jean Lifton's books. She wrote several books on adoption and the psychological impact that it has on the adoptee. Like those outside of adoption and reunion, I had believed all that I had been told about adoption: that who raised you didn't matter, as long as you were loved and raised in a good home, that adoptees were no different than children by blood, and that there didn't have to be issues with being adopted as long as you could accept the world you were given and just forget about the lost world, your unknown exile. 

Lifton's books took those assumptions and slapped them silly. She said that being an adoptee was like being a dog with a missing leg, you were unstable, there was something missing that you could never get back. She pointed out all the issues that adoptees, disturbingly citing depression, violence and suicides in adoptees. 

Kate had given me Lifton's, "Journey of the Adopted Self," after reading it herself, during the period in reunion, after the honeymoon, when I started pulling away forcefully and angrily. I didn't know what was going on with me. Reading Lifton's book was like a secret tome into my psyche. It didn't fix everything, but it gave me markers and guides to help explain what was happening in me. 

By the time of the conference, Kate and I had been in reunion for years, and had mostly been living together in the same town, and for several of those months living together in the same tiny apartment. We had been through honeymoon, going dark and had starting integrating our lives in a new way that included each other in them, which felt to be uncharted territory. There just didn't seem to be much information out in the world about adoption, very little on reunion and nothing on long-term reunion. 

So, when we ran into Betty-Jean Lifton at the conference, in the bathroom, I asked if she could write a book on long-term reunion. I introduced myself and Kate, explaining we had been in reunion now for so many years and that we went through the drama of it all without guidance or experience to help us and that it would be huge to have that out there. Betty Jean replied, "You are the ones who should write the book." 

It stuck with me, with us. I didn't feel qualified. But, after some time, I realized there was value in just telling our story, our history, as we experienced it. Maybe it could help someone who was just going into reunion and didn't know what lay ahead, or someone who was afraid of reunion and what it might bring up. Even though everyone's experience is different, if we shared our experience, maybe it would provide some insight. 

And I realized that by writing it I could explain how after having my adopted sense of self shattered by reunion, I built a new self a self that was more complete. In telling the story, I could put it in words, understand it for myself. 

It was serendipitous that the conference and Lifton's comment happened during the time that Kate was going to a birthmother's group and I was going to an adoptees group. Kate and I would come together over dinner or drinks every couple weeks and talk about what we were learning, unearthing, and how powerful it was to be surrounded by people who understood. It was something we couldn't do together - she had her path as the birthmother, and I had mine as the adoptee, it wasn't the same path, but it led to the same destination. 

I think that's what gave us the idea that it would be better, more complete, to write our experiences separately, but together, she to explain her experience and me, mine. And that putting them together then would create a story bigger than the two of them alone. 

We realized that the only way to convey the truth, our truths, was to say our experience without the other listening. I knew I would hold back if I was writing to Kate, or the birthmother in general, as my audience. So I wrote as if explaining my story to a friend and ignored that Kate would read it at some point down the road. Kate did the same. 

We wrote our story. We're mostly done. But, I realized when getting critique in the confidence in my writing group that I still wasn't telling the whole story. I was still holding back. So the last part for me to be able to release and say everything was TO have Kate read it. I needed to see that she could take it, that it wouldn't break her, that it wouldn't hurt us. 

So, we finally did. Last week we read sections from each other's chapters in preparation for the second AAC conference we are going to. The one we're going to in order to share what the previous conference had inspired - our story. It wasn't easy, but it was good (more to come on that in upcoming posts). 

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

Monday, March 3, 2014

Our First Magazine Article

Kate and I have an article coming out in Adoption Constellation. It's a magazine that addresses all the people involved in, and affected by, adoption. The theme of the issue is on Secrets and Lies.

It's interesting in a way. There's so much secrecy at the heart of closed adoption so now I realize that it's ironic that Kate and I have kept our writing secret from each other. Or, not so much a secret as choosing not to share just yet. Until now.

The intent of the secrecy is so that each side of the story - the adoptee's experience vs. the birthmother's experience in reunion - is kept unaffected by the other's side. We're nearly done, so we're close to sharing the whole book with each other. Almost. 

In the process of doing this article, where we were pulling excerpts from the book, was the first time we've shared our writing with each other. We've been writing for nearly ten years and, aside from a couple of trusted readers, we have been going solely on faith that it would work and that we wouldn't crush each other in the process of revealing what we really thought. 

From my side, the first reading of Kate's side came as a huge relief. Not that I didn't think her writing would be good. It was more that I didn't know if it would work - us both telling two sides of one story. And, okay, sure, I was worried that it wouldn't be good, and was relieved that I loved her writing and was enlightened reading her side, even for this tiny part. 

For me, one of my biggest fears is sharing the story at all. Part of being the good adoptee is blending into your surroundings. Standing out, calling attention to myself, to our story, is not my nature. Or maybe not my nurture, I'm not sure which. 

I am plagued by self-doubt throughout this process. The inner voice can be harsh and judgmental, saying that writing a story focused on me, on my experience, is selfish and egotistical and vain. 

But, then I realize that it's not about calling attention to myself, but to the story. I am transparent, not blending into my surroundings, but being able to show others what I see, and hoping that through me, they can see. 

The article will be out any day. I hope it is clear and that our story serves a purpose. We've been doing this so long, sometimes I feel the purpose gets muddied. But, the intent is that by sharing our story, others will be able to see their way through difficult paths towards self-discovery, whatever that path is for them. That something about what we've been through, will resonate for them. And, in order to do that, we have to reveal our secrets. 

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lifecycle of Loss

I feel like there's been a lot of loss in my life lately. A year ago, my dad died - my adoptive dad. It was the most profound loss I've had. Then, a few month's ago Annie died - my birthmother's husband's mother. She had become part of my life when Kate married Steve. We both considered each other family, even though the lineage was complicated.

While it's common wisdom that you don't know what you've got til it's gone, for me, as an adoptee, I didn't know what I'd lost until I was found.

Growing up adopted, my family was my adopted family. There was no other family. What I hadn't understood was that I was really, truly, from another family. While I knew I was born from someone else, that there was a man and a woman who were my birthparents, it hadn't sunk in that they were my first family. Their families were my families. With relinquishment, I thought about being severed from my birthparents, but hadn't thought about how the disconnection rippled farther.

So, I was put into a different family, a family foreign to me. Placed into an unknown world. Growing up there, I believed that was where I was from.

My child self didn't know that the world outside didn't match the one I had grown in for nine months. My rational, developed mind doesn't remember. They say a child's memory develops at three or four. I'm not sure if that's true of emotional memory.

When I decided to search for my birthparents, it wasn't because I thought something was missing. I had a family, had parents who loved me, a brother, a normal, imperfect, but loving life. I thought searching would be interesting. A story, an adventure.

Instead, finding my birthmother rocked the foundations of the world I came from. Suddenly, brutally, everything that I took to be MY world was revealed as an impostor. While I never felt that I truly fit in to the world I was in, it was the only world I had.

I knew the ways I was similar to my adoptive parents, but I didn't know if the ways I was different were uniquely mine or if they were traits that came from my birthfamilies. When I first met Kate, I thought the similarities would jump out at me, but instead I was left wondering if we had much in common at all. It was in getting to know not only Kate, but also my half-sister and my aunts and uncles and grandparents that the similarities started to appear. Small, seemingly insignificant things that weren't obvious but were shocking - I never had these genetic similarities to anyone before. Ten years later I my birthfather and then went through the same things again - what was the connection? What part of me came from him?

Finding out where I came from challenged everything I had known. It took years to sort it all out. Like the Tower card in a Tarot deck, everything had to be destroyed before I could build it up again. And now all the missing parts, even the parts I hadn't realized were missing, are filled in and I have new parts (like my birth-step-grandmother) too. It makes for a much more solid foundation so that when I do go through a loss, even one as significant as losing my dad, that I can remember my life was started with loss, and although it will take time, I can build it back up again.

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

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Letters - Mother's Day

This July, it will be twenty years since I came out from New Jersey to Portland to live with Kate for the summer. For Mother's Day, and our third-year anniversary of doing these blogs, we decided to post the letters back and forth that precipitated the whole event. 

Keep in mind, my letter was from when I was 22, so I'm still rather dramatic and annoying. I can't help but roll my eyes at a lot of my comments, and yet there's also a lot there that are issues I am still wrestling with today. So if you can make it through the self-obsessed twenties drama, there are some nuggets of truth there as well.

December 4, 1992

Dearest Kate,

I don’t know, life is just so crazy for me right now. I feel like I’m in a stalemate. I read your letter and see that you’ve wanted to go back to school. What’s ironic is that I’d love to be in your place. I guess I never told you, but I look up to you. You are what I wish I could be. You’re creative. And it’s not for money or glory and anything like that. It’s not even to publish, it’s just for you. No, it doesn’t even seem that it’s for you - it is just in you. And you live the creative life and are filled with spirit.

That’s what I crave, because I feel that in me, but I am just so entangled in the world and so detached from life. I feel so stuck. I’m in such a rut, and I don’t even do anything about it!  I promised myself that once I got back from England that I wouldn’t let the American lifestyle get to me. But it has. And I promised myself that I wouldn’t take North America for granted, that I would find wonder in it, like I found wonder overseas. No, I haven’t done that either. I have been immersed by the New Brunswick smog and made weak. It’s my own fault, I know. I just don’t know how to get out of it. I have no money, I need a job, and school takes up most of my time. 

But that’s not even the main thing. The thing I’m most afraid of is not living a creative life. I’m so afraid of just having a normal life, a nine-to-five job, a family, and kids. Those things aren’t bad in themselves; I just don’t want society to dictate to me what to do. I want to live, really live and experience. You have a job and a family and kids, but you’re your own person and have such an active mental, spiritual, creative life. I’m just afraid I’m not capable of that. 

You wrote in your letter that I’m amazing and bright and beautiful, and that meant so much to me. I just don’t feel that way about me. I feel dull and incompetent and ordinary and mediocre. I want to be creative, because I think that may be the most valid thing to be in life, but I feel like I don’t have a medium. I’m OK at a few things but I’m not good at any one. So I don’t know what I should pursue, if I should pursue anything. Sometimes I feel like giving up and giving in to the plain, uncreative life. I don’t feel capable of achieving anything. It’s not necessarily talent, I feel like I may not have the spirit dwelling in me and that’s what I need most of all. And if the spirit is there then I feel like I may not have the talent to express it. Do you understand?  I figured if anyone in the world might understand it would be you.

I hope you don’t feel that I’m making unwarranted presumptions about you. I know I don’t know you well enough to tell you what kind of person you are. But you seem to be the way I’ve described and I both admire and desire those qualities. I guess what I’m saying is that I would like to be more like you, but I don’t feel adequate

I feel so mixed up. I feel like I’m betraying my parents for even saying these things. I’m not saying that they weren’t good enough. They are wonderful parents and I feel they encouraged me in every way. But I feel like no one knows me. I feel split, I feel like one person that everyone knows and sees, and another person that dwells inside wanting to come out. And these two people fight it out and they need to come to reconciliation and love and respect each other. I must sound crazy

I feel like there’s a part of me that’s like you and guess I just want to get closer to you so that I could recognize and understand that part of myself.

Then I’m so scared that I’m going to react badly. After our first meeting I was so confused and overwhelmed I just couldn’t handle the situation at all and that’s when I didn’t write for so long. I don’t want that to happen again. I want to be able to absorb this all calmly and completely.

See, I guess I’m writing to you about this because I feel like I have a unique bond with you, that of mother and daughter. And I feel that maybe the silent creative voice that’s been screaming inside of me has carried over from you. I’m just so confused. I don’t know who I am. It’s not that I feel that I can’t have both you and my parents, it’s that I don’t know how to have all of you as a part of me and also whatever’s uniquely me, and combine all of those into a whole.

to read Kate's letter in return, view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to:

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Right to Know, No?

A couple years ago a big kerfuffle broke out in my original mother's family when one of her brothers emailed me this picture on my birthday:

It was actually a very sweet email that included family photos and history and humor. I was touched, as I always am, when members from my birthfamilies reach out and treat me as their own.

When I saw this picture, it stopped me in my tracks for just a moment. But then I knew it couldn't be me, that it must be my sister, and I left for the weekend. When I came back and checked my email, there were a couple dozen heated emails between Kate's siblings. The gist was basically that it should have been obvious that it wasn't me, that my birth was a secret affair. Re-reading those emails tonight still makes me quiet inside. Something about hearing about my birth and the switch from one family to another makes me step back and observe, not wanting to participate in the discussion.

It might seem strange that I wasn't more upset or upended by seeing this photo, but I had come to take for granted that there is no record of my coming into the world. At least, not one that is available to me. I was so used to NOT knowing, it wasn't something I questioned.

A birth certificate. It just gives you the simple facts - your mother's name, your father's name, when you were born and where. A record that gives you proof that you came into the world. It must be important if the government thinks it is something that should be tracked, right?

I grew up not knowing my ethnicity, my history, my roots, my inherited past. It was implied that it wasn't my right to know. That it didn't matter. That my life began when I was adopted.

Thing is, my life began before I was adopted, and I still have no history or record of it. That I now know the facts about my birth and have a good relationship with both my birthmother and birthfather and that they don't want anything hidden from me gives no weight to me getting my birth certificate.

It is so engrained in our society that this somehow makes sense, that a lot of people don't question it. I try to imagine telling non-adopted people that they have no right to know who they are. I imagine that the pictures of their birth, the stories about it, the facts about it are all sealed away. I imagine they are only allowed to know from when they were two months old onward. They don't get to know who their parents are, where they were born, when they were born. That they are forbidden from having that information. Forbidden. When I think about it that way, it seems really bizarre. Of course you have a right to know who you are.

The story of how we came into the world is one of the most fundamental stories we tell our children, one they never tire of hearing. I think one of the reasons is because we, ourselves, can't remember that moment. Having proof gives us security that we really exist. Because, really, when you're told that your birth is forbidden information, it kinda makes you start to feel like maybe there's more to it. Maybe you're an alien. Maybe you weren't really born. I know, it's not logical, but neither is hiding someone's identity from them. You can't just toss someone into a new family and say, "this is your identity now" like a baby witness protection program. I was born (I think - there's no evidence). I just want the facts about it.

Now, when I look at the picture above, I don't feel indifferent anymore, I feel angry. I am being told I can't have that, I can't have a record of my birth. I feel like going all 'Borne Identity' and fighting for the right to know who I am. I deserve to know and no one has the right to tell me I don't.

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