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.
Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?