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.

All Rights Reserved ©2015


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!

Friday, April 3, 2015

American Adoption Congress Conference 2015

This past weekend I flew to Boston to be part of the American Adoption Congress Conference. I've gone three times now. The first time was eighteen years ago when Kate and I were just coming out of reunion's honeymoon and stumbling through the chaos of the dark phase. The second time was last year, where we read from our memoir together for the first time.

This time was my first time without Kate. It was still connected to writing, but with my fellow adoptees in Lost Daughters.

There were a few things that were the same. Every time I've gone, the morning of the the conference I've felt uneasy, even a little queasy. It's one thing to understand why my experience has been, but coming together with others who've had similar experiences, having it all out there, exposed, is a little terrifying. Each time, I start with questioning why I'm there. What am I hoping to get out of it?

In everyday life, adoption is just part of my story. People may know I'm adopted, but for the most part, that's not why we know each other. We might work together, or share a hobby, or have someone in common. At the conference, it's the one thing you know about everyone there - adoption is part of their lives. Most attendees are adoptees, then there are birth moms, a couple birth dads, few adoptive parents, and then people who work in adoption. Adoption is front and center.

Having gone with Kate in the past provided a bit of a buffer. We could be separate, retreat off by ourselves. This time I didn't have that. I had my fellow Lost Daughters. And, while I'd never met them before, I knew their writing, and so knew a little about them. It gave me a new level of connection.

But I missed having Kate there. I missed having that buffer, our unique story, our connection.

I've realized, that I may go to the conference without knowing why, but with the trust and understanding that there is something that will come out of it. And it's okay if I don't know what that is when I go. In fact, it's a lot like being in the dark parts of reunion, actually. It's at that time that you don't know why you're doing it, but you're going to come out the other side as something more than who you were when you went in.

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


Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?

Please comment!

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