Sunday, March 22, 2015

Back in Portland - Part 3

So, finally, in my long-winded-way, I get to Part 3. It's hard stuff, and there's ugly truths. I had to talk to Kate about it in person first before I could post it here. I know she wrote her side awhile ago, but I knew some of thing thats were going to come up for me would be hurtful and I wanted to proceed with care. I don't WANT to hurt her. I love her, and she means so much to me. She's a huge part of my life. But, there are things that are true, and are hurtful, and getting those out isn't easy. She listened to what I had to say and my point of view, and it was hard. And I listened to hers, and it was hard. But, we're talking, and we're listening...



The first years of reunion were extremely challenging. I know now that that's part of reunion - your world is turned upside down and has to be made right. It's like a puzzle that's been torn apart and you have to put the pieces back together again - but with all these new pieces that you never had before. Eventually, you put them together as well as can be expected and call it good. I guess every once in a while, something gets bumped and the pieces get out of whack again.

I feel like the reason that our reunion has been smooth for many years is because we were both looking at the pieced-together puzzle and thought we had it sorted out. But I'm starting to suspect that, like with the image above - where one person sees a vase and someone else sees faces - we were both looking at the same thing, but seeing very different things.

For Kate, I am simply her daughter. Once lost, now found, and brought back into her family as though I'd never been gone.

For me, Kate is not my mother. Growing up, it was like she'd never existed, like she was a myth. While I see her as akin to family, it's still not quite the same as family.

On one hand, I LIKE feeling wanted and included in Kate's life. I appreciate being brought into the larger family and feeling like I have a place there.

But, on the other, bringing Kate into my life is more complicated. I have my family and now there is another, someone to find a place for.

We've known all this. We've talked about it. Hell, we did a year of therapy together to air out all those things. We know each other well.

And, for the most part, these differing views didn't have a big effect. But, occasionally, things would come up. Kate would be upset whenever I had travel plans but didn't inform her of them. I didn't understand why that bothered her, or why I should have to keep her posted, but tried to be better about it. If I didn't acknowledge a holiday, I would hear about it. So, I tried to make a point of calling on special occasions. And, then, what sparked this whole kerfuffle...

Kate was visiting Portland a couple weeks before Christmas and was trying to schedule to see us. I was trying to fit it her visit between work, family, MBA, and the kids' schedules. When I finally suggested a time I could make work, Kate responded that while she always put me first, I always put her last, and did I even want her to move back to Portland? 

Kate has an explosive temperament where she will blow-up and then ask for forgiveness. I am more of the festering kind. While normally I would reassure Kate at one of these outbursts, I was at a point of maximum capacity. 

The email had struck something in me. Suddenly, I got a glimpse of what the disconnect was. She saw me as her daughter with all the obligations that come with that role. But, I had my share of family obligation and I didn't need more. 

I snapped an email back, saying not to come by if there was going to be drama. I also made it clear that I did not have the same obligations to her as I did to my family - that she wasn't family, at least not in the way she wanted to be. While I knew saying those things would be hurtful, I also knew they would be true.

Kate has often said that you choose your family. She would explain that for her, she saw her mother-in-law as her mother, as true and deep as her own family, if not moreso.

And, while I understand that, there is a crucial difference. Her mother-in-law didn't give birth to her and then give her to a different family to raise. Kate didn't keep me. She left me.


I know Kate is at the time of life where you get to revel in the children your raised and the family that you created. But I am not the child she raised, and this is not the family she created. It's not that I'm angry, at least not in a red-hot sort of way. There's anger there, of course. She chose to give me away - what's NOT to be angry about that?

But saying that she doesn't get to have me as family in this phase in her life isn't about revenge, it's the natural consequence of relinquishment. It's what happens when you give a child up. She didn't just give up my childhood, but she gave up me being her child, forever. It's not that we can't have a relationship, but, at least for me, it will never be the mother-daughter relationship that she sees us in.

A friend of Kate's who doesn't have children, and never wanted children, once mused that she saw our reunion as ideal - that Kate get to have a relationship with her daughter as adults without having to deal with all the undesirable parts of being a parent.

She saw is what Kate sees - the daughter gone and then returned, reunited. But, that daughter has been raised to believe she is someone else. In a world where someone else is her mother. So, for me, "reunion" feels more like meeting someone from a time long past, but that no longer exists. We come together as two separate people from two separate worlds, getting to know each other from that point only. The mother child bond that was there at birth, was broken. I'm not about to call her to whine about being sick, or needing a loan, or any of the things you do because you're family. It's not that way. I know she wishes it were different.

So we sit now in this mess of these blown up puzzle pieces of our reunion. We're trying to put them back together. My hope is that when we do, we'll both be able to see the full picture. Just like the picture of the vase and the faces, we may revert to seeing the image the way we always have, and have to shift to see it from the other point of view. But, that's the things with those pictures - once you see the difference, you never un-see it. Both exist, both are true, while being completely different. 

***

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

***

Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?

Please comment!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Back in Portland - Part 2

I've been told by some readers they think there's more to it. That they can tell that there's something lurking beneath the surface of the writing. That is gets deeper, darker ... and that I'm not quite getting there.

I agree.

I had the same reaction when I first read Kate's perspective in a couple chapters of the book. "Come on!" I said, "I know you had to think worse of me than that!" (after all, I was a self-absorbed 22-year old - I know what I was like - and it wasn't pretty).

So how to get there?

This is an attempt.

Kate and I are in a rough patch right now. We're kinda letting it all hang out on the page.

There's a danger to writing while things aren't resolved. When you're still working through stuff, the writing can come out abstract or, worse, ugly and petty. But, part of the experiment of "writing in the raw" is to get at the deep, dark stuff that's hard to access when things are all honky-dory.

Actually I can't speak for Kate - I haven't read her side of the posts yet. I'm trying to keep mine clean and uninfluenced at this point, so I won't read hers until I'm finished saying whatever it is I have to say.

It leaves you, the reader, if a more awkward spot. One we've put you in before, where you know more than either of us. But, that's kind of the point - for the reader to get the honest experience from both the birthmother and adoptee side.

So, I have a request. Tell me what you think. It doesn't have to be long. It doesn't have to be nice. But I want to know if I'm getting across what I'm trying to. And only you can tell me that. So ... thanks.

Here's Part 2...

~~~~~~~~~


Something about Kate moving away for a few years, and then coming back, has unsettled me. I can’t explain it. Reminiscent of when I was first in reunion, I feel invaded, threatened, that somehow my boundaries have been crossed. 

My mom had an adoption story she would tell me when I was a child. Her grandmother had adopted a child. An infant, her baby. But then months later the birthmother came back and took her child away. Laws were different then, nothing could be done.

I’ve never forgotten that story.

I know where I belong in my adoptive family. My footing is firm. There’s no question that I’m their daughter, that they’re my parents.

Ironically, with Kate, who is my blood, I don’t know where I fit. Or, rather, it is clear from her where I fit in her life. But, for me, I don’t know how I fit.

From the moment we found each other when I was 18, Kate claimed me as hers. That first day she invited me to call her “mom.” Weeks later, meeting a couple of her sisters and their family, she proudly introduced me as her daughter.

But, I wasn’t. It was true that I was her daughter, technically, but it was equally true that I wasn’t. I was someone else’s daughter. She was a stranger.

The years have gone by and she is no longer a stranger, but we still struggle with who we are to each other. I have accepted her calling me daughter. I silently qualify it as I hear it,
“I am her daughter but she is not my mother. She was, once, for a moment, but she relinquished that role to someone else, and relinquished me to them. I am their daughter. I may be her daughter as well, but she is not my mother.”

We actually debated this very topic last year at this time. It was our celebratory dinner after presenting together for the first time at the American Adoption Congress Conference.

“I am your mother. It’s a biological fact,” Kate said.

“But, you didn’t mother me,” I said back.

We sat there unmoved by the other’s argument, Kate sticking to her noun, me to my verb. Both were true, and the truth we held was the one that was most important to us.

Years ago, when I first dated the man who would become my husband, I had to regularly and painfully push back his affection. I didn’t want a serious relationship, and he did.

Early on, when his sister was visiting town, he wanted me to come with him to his mom’s house for dinner. I shifted in my seat uncomfortably, saying I would rather not. When he asked why I didn’t want to go, I explained that it would make it look like I was his girlfriend. Although we had been together for a few months and were seeing each other exclusively, I didn’t accept the title of girlfriend. I wasn’t comfortable with it. It implied more than I had decided to give.

I eventually agreed to go to dinner on the terms that he would not introduce me as his girlfriend.

Many months after that, I was decidedly smitten but still refused to commit. We went to a party at his work and he was greeted by a pretty co-worker. He introduced me as “his friend.”

“You’re friend?” I mocked him. He shrugged his shoulders with a smile. Not his girlfriend.

I realized then that I wanted to be his girlfriend. Not out of jealousy or insecurity but because I wanted to be claimed. I wanted to be his, and he, mine. Before then, I felt the term was being forced on me because of external circumstances – because we were intimate, because we were exclusive, because we were in love. To me, that didn’t make me his girlfriend. What made me his girlfriend was my claiming that I was.

Relationship terms can’t be put on from the outside. It had to come from within.

I don’t know what it means for my relationship with Kate right now. I still don’t know what to call us.

But, I know the feeling. It’s the same one when my boyfriend tried to get too close, too fast. 25 years certainly isn’t fast, but I still have my boundaries of what feels too close. 




***

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

***

Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions? Tell me! 

Please comment. 

Like Pandora, I hate talking to an empty room. Let me know you're out there. Tell me if you think I'm nuts (I often do), or if I'm off-base, or if you just don't see things the same way - it's okay.  And if something resonates, I want to know that too. Whatever you want to say, I'm here to listen. 



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Back in Portland














I haven’t been this puzzled by reunion in over twenty years.

This past Christmas, Kate and I had a big blowout. The thing is, it may have blown out unintended truths from me that I hadn’t known were there. I'm still trying to sort through them, so my blogs will be in parts as I go through it. This is part 1. 

~~~~~

Family is a complicated thing. More complicated for those of us adopted and in reunion. My mother chose to give me to another family, to be raised as their child. For better or for worse, that became my truth. My adopted family was all that I knew. At that moment of exchange, my birthmother and my original families ceased to exist. With no tie to the past, I only had the present.

Fast-forward eighteen years. I am the same child, now grown, and my world looks much like it did when I first became aware of my surroundings – I had my mom and dad, my brother, my childhood home, my friends, my neighborhood, my life. My world was solid, as real as the nose on my face.

I had known I was adopted since I was five. Finding out I was adopted didn’t change anything about my life. I still had my mom, my dad, my brother, my world. It just added a tidbit of information to it.  It was like finding out my adoptive mother was half German. Interesting maybe, but of little relevance in the day to day.

I thought it would be interesting to find my birthparents, to know where I came from. So I did.

And that changed everything.

Everything I knew about my life, my world, was a lie. I wasn’t a quarter German, I was half Polish. Suddenly, that mattered to me.

The original family I had been born into, and then removed from, was a large family of musicians, artists and adventurers. My grandfather had graduated from Harvard – or Yale – I forget which. They were boat people who enjoyed playing music.

The family I was put into was a small family of second-generation Irish immigrants. My dad was the first of his family to graduate college. They were more middle-class with working class values of a traditional family where my dad earned a living and my mom raised the kids. They were city people who enjoyed fancy dinners, wit and theater.

Neither family was better or worse, but they were decidedly different. Now, somehow, I belonged to them both (with more on the way when I would meet my birthfather ten years later).  

My birthmother was as much a stranger to me as anyone I would meet on the street, yet in a moment, we had become blood.

I felt invaded. I would swing between two extremes. There was euphoria in finally being connected to the earth, having confirmation that I had really had been born, and to people, and that I was part of people; and there was panic in the realization that who I was didn’t exist anymore. I wasn’t that person. I wasn’t this new person either. I was something in between.

Over the course of the next four years during college I absorbed the new information from that first meeting and waded into an interchange with my birthmother through letters, getting to know each other slowly, manageably.

The four years following that, I plunged into a relationship with my birthmother by moving across country to live with her and truly get to know her, and through that, get to know myself.

The years passed and we reached a buoyancy. It wasn’t always easy, but it was grounded. She was now part of my life. She wasn’t my mother, she was “Kate,” and that meant something, if only to me. I couldn’t explain what she was to me, but she was important to me. She would call me daughter, even though I wouldn’t call her mother, and that seemed to be okay, a kind of hard-won compromise.

We lived in the same town, and had our own lives, but were a part of each other’s lives. It had evolved into a normalcy that we felt it would be good to share our story with others who were new in reunion, or those who wondered about the effects of adoption, or people who struggled with their identity, or were trying to make up for past losses.

We’ve been writing our story for many years now, but I’m finding it’s still evolving, and change is hard.

Reunion is complicated. Even now, 25 years later. I don't know why it's still hard to sort out my feelings around it, but things flare up and it becomes clouded. I have to sort through it. 

Transformation is ugly before it turns beautiful.


***

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


Friday, December 19, 2014

What We Share


Sometimes I wish I could just take a break from adoption and reunion. The holidays are hard enough, family drama is inevitable. When you're in reunion with all branches of your family, your chances of some kind of chaos are inevitable. 

I've been in reunion for over twenty years and it's still hard for me to have my various families come together. I don't know why it is that way. It should have normalized by now. But, it hasn't. As I plan my holidays, I'm trying to get everyone in. But it's not working. 

This has been one of the busiest times of my life having just finished by first term of my MBA while working full-time and having my family responsibilities. Aside from my kids and my husband, my family responsibilities also include taking care of my 83 year old adoptive mom. She's doing great - she's healthy and strong. But, I'm in charge of bills, business and planning. It's a lot. 

So when I try to fit in my birthfamilies, I get stuck. There's not time, there's not space. Not enough, not for everyone. I can understand that family and friends may feel left out of my life right now, that I'm neglecting them. I get it. I wish I had more time than what I have to give to my immediate family, my work and my school. But that's all I have right now. 

I know I'm fortunate. I know I'm lucky to have so much family that loves me. But sometimes it ends up feeling like a weight and a burden. I am not enough for everyone. 


***

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


Thursday, December 4, 2014

The “M” Word


The florist asked what I wanted the card to read for Kate's birthday flowers. "Happy Birthday..." I said, and paused. 

I'm usually terrible with birthdays and planning ahead to send a gift. Flowers were a great solution, but the card...

Kate and I have not come to a good solution of what to call her in terms of her relation to me. My relationship to her is simple enough - I'm her daughter. But, referencing her is more challenging.

We've been in a limbo of birthmother for a long time. Neither of us find that satisfying. There's so much more to our connection, our heritage. She didn't just give birth to me. She and my birthfather are my blood, my lineage, my people - but is she my mother?  

On one level, yes. Last year, over dinner, Kate argued that technically she is my mother - that it's a biological fact. I said I understood that, but that there was more to it. We left the dinner unresolved. There was no tension, it was a pleasant, well-intended conversation, and we left dinner happy. But the content of the discussion has stuck with me ever since.

By being part of a writing group with adult adoptees, this is not an unique question. We all struggle with what our relationship to our first parents ("first" happens to be one of the terms used) are, should be, what we want them to be. What to call them is an issue in and of itself.

Some of the adoptees I know are passionate enough to take action to re-form the break that happened at birth and legally change their names to include their birth names. The first time I heard of someone doing that, I felt electrified.When you're taught, as adoptee, to accept your adoptive parents as your only parents, taking back your birthname seems like a shocking and rebellious act. But, really, it just makes sense. We all come from somewhere - and telling adoptees that they don't really screws with the mind. I believe children who are relinquished for adoption should keep their birth names. They should never have to lose them. Taking our original names away is cruel - it's a severing that is equivalent to a lie. You can add on your adopted family name, but you should still get to recognize where you came from. Even if you're not in contact with your first families (yet another term sometimes used), having the name at least keeps you connected to the earth.

I love the idea of taking back my family birth names. I would love to do it. I picture doing it with ceremony, including Kate and John as part of it - and fully recognizing just where I came from. It would be emotionally huge. But I won't do it. Not yet, anyway, I won't put my mom through that -my adoptive mom.  I'm not brave enough for that.

But, I thought, maybe I could be brave enough to at least recognize Kate as my mother on her birthday flowers.

My birth-sister refers to Kate as Mama. I always thought it a little out of place for an adult to call their mother, "Mama." It's a baby's term. Maybe that could be it, I thought. There was more to us than just birth. For a day or so, I was her baby, and she was my mama. For a day.

"Mama," I said to the florist. "Happy Birthday, Mama" I said. My heart was racing. I felt like the florist would call me out, would know that it wasn't right, would hear my hesitation, but she took the information without comment. Such a small thing, but I felt empowered, emboldened. I did it! I recognized Kate as my mother.

Later that night, Kate called and left a gushing thank you voicemail about the beautiful flowers. She didn't mention the card, but I knew that was included in the gush. She was happy. I was happy. It was perfect.

I was going to class, so I didn't have time to call her back. As the night progressed, my delight started slinking into something else. Something darker. Something like guilt mixed with doubt mixed with sadness.

I did it, but I couldn't do it. Not yet. Something is still not right.


***

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What It Means to #FliptheScript


I wrote my first ReunionEyes post on 5/22/2011. This was my first post:
This is my first post to this new blog. I want it to be a space where adoptees in reunion can talk about their experience...
... as adoptees in reunion - we still feel a little in the dark. It's uncertain, and we all just plod through it on our own. But, when I talk to friends who have had similar experiences as they try to adjust their lives to fit this new, strange, blended family, I am amazed by the reassurance I feel. We are not alone. There are things about this that make sense, that are predictable, that are "normal."

My goal with Kate was to bring the birthmother and adoptee experiences of the same topic out to the world. Having a blog was a way to keep it current, in "real time," vs. a memoir where the focus is mostly on the past.

But, in writing about my adoption experience, I found myself going to my friends who were adoptees to get their points of view. There was so much value and richness in the shared experience. It made it richer and deeper than when I was just talking about it on my own. I had wished I could have that kind of experience for the blog. 

Then, I found Lost Daughters. The original intent that I had for my blog was already
out there in the world - I didn't have to create it. Here was a group of women who were all talking about things that I was passionate about, sharing things inherent to the adoption experience that non-adoptees just don't get. And it was such a range of experience and demographic and history.

So, it was about a year after starting ReunionEyes, that I wrote my first post for Lost Daughters. It was thrilling to get a quick response in comments to posts I wrote. It was fascinating reading others' stories - whether it was someone who was still searching for the birth families, or someone who was starting that path, or someone who was struggling in the midst of it all.

What I didn't expect though, was how much being part of that group would change me. Suddenly I was around people advocating for adoptee rights, people who were speaking out against the societal misconceptions about adoption, women unafraid to speak their minds and tell their stories - even if their stories weren't what society thought was acceptable.

Adding my voice to a collective of adoptee voices together transformed my unique, particular experience into a harmony of experiences that expressed the adoptee voice. The whole was greater that the sum of its parts.

One of the Lost Daughter writers decided to #FliptheScript on what society was pushing out into the world about National Adoption Month. She wanted to get the adoptee voice out there too. The adoptee voice needs to be part of the conversation, and she got it out there. Now #FliptheScript has been mentioned in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, along with countless tweets and posts. Now, they're on T.V., on the news talking about #FliptheScript. And ... people are listening. 

One of the posts I wrote for #FliptheScript on Lost Daughters was about Loki as an adoptee. It was a post I particularly enjoyed so I decided to share it with my regular facebook friends, not just the adoptee-centered blog connections. Suddenly I was getting responses from people I've known for years and years who said, "I never thought about it that way before." 

That's when I started to get what the effect of Lost Daughters can be. What #FliptheScript is doing. It's not just about telling our individual stories, as I've been doing here with Kate. And, it's not just about sharing it among other adoptees - which was what was what I found so exciting about Lost Daughters. It's really about sharing our stories with the world, with everyone, and by doing so reframing the understanding of adoption as a whole.

And that is a pretty cool thing. 

Click on Lost Daughters, to read more ...


***

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Thoughts ... #flipthescript on holidays and adoptees



What happens when families separated at birth come back together later in life? Well, it makes for confusing holidays. 

My holidays are traditional. My mom is up from Florida, we're taking her and the kids to my mother-in-law's house for Thanksgiving dinner. My husband's mom is going to make the turkey and stuffing, we're going to make the pies. This, after all, is my family.

My birth-families are there in the backdrop, not quite a part of things. It's not that I intentionally leave them out, it's more that I don't understand how to fit them in. They have their families, their traditions, their lives. I have mine. 

At other times of the year, our reunited life can feel normal-ish - a summer barbecue, for example, where we're all together feels simply ... easy. But, during the holidays, there is a spotlight on the separation. 

Although other families have to deal with their family vs. the in-laws and different families from divorce, those are situations of balance - which family do you visit for which holiday. This is different. I could never NOT spend the holiday with my family, opting instead to spend one of the holidays with my birth family. Maybe others can do that, I cannot. 

When it was looking like Kate was going to be back in Portland by Thanksgiving, she had planned a large extended family gathering to take place that weekend. Not on Thanksgiving itself, but the Saturday after. It was a way for us to celebrate the holiday together. But through no one's fault, plans changed - both on her end and on mine. Now Kate's extended family Thanksgiving is happening on Thanksgiving itself, and without me. Just as mine is without her. 

The results of relinquishment run deep and continue on. Although we are part of each others lives and call each other family, it is still not quite right. Not quite blended. There is segregation - together, but separate. We're looking over into each other's lives. I see the family I should have been a part of, but I am not part of it. It's not that I am unhappy being in the family I am in. It's just a strange experience to be able to see the other life - the one you don't have. We live the natural consequence of a choice made 43 years ago. A choice I had no say in. 

And that's just what it is. This is normal. 

Grateful for what we have, but bitterly aware of what we're missing. 


***

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