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. 


  1. Not an empty room. Reading this, reading the portion you haven't read, recently reading the NYT magazine story about Korean adoptees returning to Korea, having different experiences and having made different decisions, having different adoptive and birth parents, it is hard to say anything sometimes because it strikes me as so individual and personal, and maybe all you know about me would influence how you feel about what I have to say about this. there are more differences than similarities but the similarities are striking and come down to a few words sometimes. Like "between." In many ways the experience of being adopted describes a "trans" space. It is interesting to hear your birth mother describe a similar feeling, but from another angle. It's a space that your children and your husband are shielded from, but you sort of have to deal with. Is that space something to endure, celebrate, suffer, navigate? pretend isn't there or doesn't matter? It's awkward for you, and me, because it feels like we're the only ones who inhabit it - and then sometimes it feels like the space itself is the obstacle, and we have the power to remove it , not live there, not keep traveling through it, but for whatever reason, we can't/won't/don't. Pretty abstract, I know.

  2. but I get it. :) and love this project!

  3. You are so right ~ Kate didn't "mother" you in the day-to-day parenting of you. It is that lack of parenting that has you withholding that "mother" title from her. Like you said, "mother" to you is a verb. Kate's mothering of you that was a verb happened before you had explicit memories. You have no memories of when you were conceived in her, when she nurtured you in her body or when she gave birth to you. She loved you before you were born and has loved you deeply and always as a mother ever since then. You, however, were born and grew up with no way of "knowing" that.

    Kate, on the other hand, does and always has remembered that. Birthing you changed her life, forever. She, as an adult, has that memory. She gave birth to you ~ the very definition of being a mother. When she signed that piece of paper relinquishing her rights to any future parenting of you, that's all it did. It took away her future mothering of you. Your conception, your growing in her body, the birthing of you did not become null and void; signing that paper didn't take her back in time to un-birth you from her.

    I would imagine Kate (and the majority of mothers who have lost a child to adoption) feels as I do, six years into reunion with my own son lost to adoption. I am Christopher's mother, he is my son. I feel that in my heart, my soul, in every cell of my being. As a matter of fact, there are studies now that show that mothers do indeed carry the cells of the children they have conceived within their own cells for decades afterwards.

    So. I completely understand and accept the many possible reasons for Christopher to not consider me his mother ~ which are probably the very same reasons you state that for Kate.

    Is there a way to blend these two very different experiences (as mother with the memory & as child without) together? I'm just six years into reunion with my son and I've come to think that the answer to that is no.