Mother’s Day isn’t all cards and flowers

My birthmother lives less than 100 miles from me. I know who she is, where she lives, and she know where I am, too. We’ve corresponded – almost 10 years ago – through an intermediary before we knew who the other was.

She doesn’t want to meet me, and has not contacted me since we stopped writing in 2009. I wrote to her a couple of years ago to inform her that my address and phone # had changed. I’m always hopeful that she’ll change her mind. I received no response.

She has 4 other children and other family in the area. I have 2 brothers, two sisters, several nieces and nephews, and an aunt that lives close by, as well. I don’t know any of them. My aunt showed up as a “Close Family” DNA match on Ancestry.com a few months ago, but she hasn’t contacted me. I don’t know if she knows who I am or not. My birthmother wrote that she hadn’t told anyone other than her current husband when they married in the 1960s. My aunt was probably too young to have been aware of what my bmom was going through then, so it’s entirely possible she didn’t know about me. Apparently she doesn’t want to know.

I don’t understand it. I just wanted to meet her. That’s all. I have a family, and honestly the whole idea of “mother” is fraught with peril for me. That’s not what I want or need, either. I just wanted to hear her voice, see the way she walks, the way she moves her hands when she talks. I wanted to know if I am like her.

I know I don’t look much like her. I have her coloring and that’s about it. My face is my birthfather’s almost exactly, and my guess is that’s why she doesn’t want anything to do with me. He hurt her, and I get that. I’m not him, but I’m sure I’m all wrapped up in those bad memories. Hard to process that I’m an adult with a life now; not the baby she had to leave behind. In our correspondence, I got the sense that she is not that self-aware, and that she put that experience out of her mind – quite literally – some time ago, and hasn’t looked back.

She doesn’t feel like she owes me anything, and I agree. I don’t imagine we have much in common – I know she’s very involved in her church, and she’s very conservative politically. Ditto my sisters, who are soccer moms and live near their mother. My brothers both live out of state, and I don’t know much about them. Thanks to the internet, I know where they all live and what they look like. I’m grateful for that.

My birthfather is dead. He died in 1999, after a shortened, difficult life. He never married or had other children. He died of alcoholism. I have been in touch with his oldest brother, who was very gracious and sent me my bdad’s senior picture. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War, and my uncle said he was never right after he came back. Very sad.

All of my bgrandparents are dead. My birthmother’s mother died just a short time before we started writing. Her brother died a few years ago. He was old enough at the time of my birth to know what was going on, so bmom’s secret died with him and my bgrandparents, except for her husband, who I’m certain she didn’t tell about my recent contact.

So I know alot, and that has been a great thing. Just knowing that there were actual people involved in my birth made me feel more like I belong here, which I didn’t much as a kid. I’m a genealogy nut, so I’ve traced both families back as far as I can, and that’s been cool, too. The DNA thing was profoundly satisfying. As it turns out I really am the whitest white girl in America – 100% England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Knowing that meant a lot to me.

But it’s not enough. I want to meet her. I want to look in her eyes, smell her perfume, see her smile. That’s all. No one needs to know; just an hour or so, in a neutral town where no one knows either of us.

But she can’t do it. She has rejected me once again. This time it’s actually me she’s said “no” to. I’m a person now, not a baby she never saw or felt a connection to (her words).

On the shows like “Long Lost Family” and on the internet people get all dewy-eyed at the thought of a “reunion.” People hug and cry and express love to people they’ve just met and everyone feels all warm and fuzzy about it.

But this is the reality for most of us. No reunion, no happy ending. No cameras rolling.

Just the emptiness of rejection all over again.

 

 

Throw me a line

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I spent most of yesterday at the hospital with my nearly 86 year-old mother. First we were in the Emergency Department, then later she was admitted for an overnight stay and some tests this morning. (She’s home again now and everything’s going to be okay.)

What struck me most about the day when I finally got home last night and thought about it was the waiting. There is no sense of urgency in the ED these days. We’ve been fairly frequent visitors since I moved in with mom 5+ years ago, and it doesn’t seem to me that it has always been as bad as it was yesterday, but waiting is definitely a big part of that experience.

There’s no choice but to gut it out, though, cuz the fact that you’re miserable and that it might be their job to ease your misery as if it were an emergency, clearly does not seem to register with anyone there. It makes me wonder how these people are being trained, and maybe even why they wanted to be in a “helping” profession in the first place. Didn’t they know they were going to have to deal with sick people?

The most helpful thing they did in the 5+ hours we were there was to admit mom into the actual hospital, which was a completely different experience. Thank goodness.

Anyway, that’s another blog. Back to waiting

I had an epiphany sitting in the uncomfortable chair in the little room in the ED in which my mother was on a gurney writhing and moaning in pain, and we were waiting for someone to decide to do something. I realized that I’ve been waiting for my mother all of my life. Waiting for her to let me go. Waiting for her to grow up and realize that she was the parent. Waiting to begin the life I dreamed of, not the life she envisioned for me with her as the center and my own needs secondary (read: non-existent).

There are a lot of dynamics at play in our relationship, adoptee guilt, fear of abandonment and need to please not being the least of them. I take responsibility for my choices – I could have walked away and never looked back, certainly. That’s not my nature, though, and there were other reasons I gave in to the manipulation, so I own my decisions. I spent a fair amount of time in therapy a while ago working through the resentment, so that’s not really an issue anymore, and I am certainly here now with her since my dad died by choice. I have been a good daughter to her and my dad and I feel good about that. I think it matters. 

But I realized yesterday that now instead of waiting and hoping she will change, I am waiting for her to die. I think about the changes I’ll make in my life after she passes and that makes me feel hopeful about the future in a way I’ve never experienced before. Being tied to her and her needs has always been a given, a limiting factor in my life, and the end of that is in sight now. I’m not wishing for her death, and it is most likely years away, but it’s no longer a lifetime away.

It seems a little ghoulish, but I’m making plans for my life without her and Iooking forward to that time, much the same way I’m looking forward to retirement. To me both those things represent the freedom – the liberation – I’ve been hoping for all of my life.

I felt a little guilty last night when I realized I was thinking in those terms, but there it is. It’s probably just rationalization, but I feel like I have done my time, and it’s not horrible for me to be thinking about my mother’s demise as a good thing. My parents have lived good long lives, and in a lot of ways I eased the way for them, certainly for my mother. I served my parents well and when that service comes to an end, I will be free and clear. All debts paid, and a clean slate before me on which to write the rest of my story.

No more waiting then – for anything or anyone. I have a lot to catch up on!

 

Apples and trees, near and far

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I was adopted as an infant, so there’s a lot I don’t know about my genetic medical history. I was in touch with my birthmother via letters for a brief time, 10 years ago or so, so I do know a couple of things about her medical history – she had breast cancer – but nothing more current.

I know my birth parents’ names and being a genealogist, I have traced back those family lines as far as I can. So I also know the cause of death of immediate relatives on both sides, but nothing more than that medically – just what killed them. I did a DNA test several years ago, but that doesn’t tell me much beyond what ethnicity I am. The upshot is that I don’t know what specifically lurks in my genes; what I should be watching out for medically as I age.

So I’m proactive about regular doctor visits and screening tests. Doctors always ask me about my family history, and I have to tell them beyond my mother’s breast cancer, I don’t really know. This is frustrating to them and to me, but that’s just the way it is. I’m lucky I know my bparents names. (That’s a story for another time.) There are so many adoptees who don’t have the first clue about their genes, and what might be hiding in  there waiting to pounce.

Today I went to the skin doc for the first time. I have a million freckles and almost as many moles – lovely Scots-Irish skin. They, of course, asked me about my family medical history, and I told them I was adopted and didn’t know much. The young woman who was giving me the once-over, paused as she was looking at my back, and said, “I know you don’t know your birthmother, but I can tell you that her back looks exactly like yours.”

It threw me for a minute. What a thing to say! So I said, “Why?” and she said that most of the moles on my back were genetic, that in fact, a predisposition to a certain type of mole and just being mole-y in general is a genetic trait. I didn’t know that, did you? I had never really thought about it, actually.

On my way home I thought I should have asked her how she knew it was my bmother’s back I got and not my bfather’s, but I think she’s probably right about which parent passed down that gene. I have a picture of my bfather and he has really nice smooth, non-freckled skin.

I got his crappy eyesight and allergies, but the skin was all hers, apparently. I have pictures of her, too, and while my facial features and blue eyes are my bfather’s, it’s clear to me as I get older that with those exceptions, my genes are trying to turn me into my bmother – a short fat woman with whiter-than-white freckled/mole-covered skin. Lucky me.

So in addition to the other gifts heredity has given me – high blood pressure and high cholesterol, a higher risk of breast cancer, as well as the aforementioned crappy eyesight and allergies; thanks gang – now I get to worry about melanoma, too. Yikes!

Well, we all got something from our folks, right? It could have been a lot worse. I’m not complaining. I have been spared plenty of other really horrible hand-me-down stuff. What does bug me is that I don’t know my own genetic/medical history. That’s just ridiculous. We know now how profoundly we are shaped by our DNA, and it’s just not right that adoptees don’t always have access to that information. Pretty barbaric in this day and age, if you ask me.

Well, you didn’t ask me, but there it is. Most people who don’t have an adoptee in their lives don’t know that for a long period of time, and still in some cases today, original records were sealed at the time of the adoption, and most adoptees don’t have access to information about their birth parents or their medical history.

The idea was that the child was to be considered part of a new family, her “past” erased, as though she just sprouted one day fully formed, in the arms of her adoptive mother and father. Not only was she given the family name, but she was to take on all the family characteristics, too. My house is your house, my history is your history.

For lots of reasons (another time) that was just a stupid idea that has caused untold heartache around adoption for decades, but the most ridiculous notion was that genetics wouldn’t matter and that the child would never need to know what kinds of diseases ran in his/her birth family. Cuz here’s what they failed to consider: that child would not always be a child! Just as in the storybook this practice was modeled after, the child was to grow up and live happily ever after, no problem, see ya, good luck!

Of course this wasn’t a story. This was a human being, with a real life and real feelings and real concerns about health, and what genes he/she would be passing on to her own children. Did anyone consider that before they tied everything up in that pretty pink and blue bow?

Nope. Oh well.

For the record, I’m not anti-adoption, or bitter about my experience or on a crusade of any kind. Being an adoptee is just one small part of who I am. Adoption was and is a small detail of my life. I’m grateful to be here; the logistics of my arrival are water under the bridge. Every once in a while, though, like today, it pops up and kicks me good, and reminds me that I can’t take some things for granted. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it makes me more vigilant and I’m better off because of it.

Maybe. Maybe not. Either way it still bugs me.