Reprinted from the Fall 1994 "Birthparents Today" newsletter
I'm not sure mine is the kind of story your magazine wants to print. I am an adoptive mother and my story has to do with minor searches. A particular minor search. The one my son's birthmother did 20 years ago.
Not long after we were married, my husband and I learned for the first time that he had rendered sterile from a childhood disease. His mother never wanted to tell him for fear he either would not marry, or the woman he loved wouldn't marry him. We both wanted a family, and the news was a blow to us and almost to our marriage. I wanted a part of my husband in his child. I wanted to know the miracle of life growing within me, and to nurture what would have been a part of each of us. It was a great time of frustration, resentment, grief, and anger. It was the love we had for each other that enabled our marriage to survive.
For several years we were content with each other. The questions from friends, business associates, and neighbors didn't let us forget we were childless. We discussed adoption, rejected it, and eventually decided we would love a child even if we weren't responsible for giving the child life. We didn't resolve our other emotions; we simply repressed them.
The day we received the call that a baby boy was available was, to both of us, all our childhood Christmases wrapped into one moment. Our happiness knew no bounds. Finally, we were real parents with a baby to prove it! Our only concern was the medical history of the families. Other than that, we made it clear we were not interested in knowing anything about the girl and boy who made our son possible. He was after all, OURS now.
Each of our families welcomed our son, John, with much to- do. As I have looked back on that time years later, their fuss was as much for John as it was to bolster us. My over protectiveness was probably in part, compensating for the unresolved loss of the child we had been denied.
John was a gentle, loving baby who matured into a busy, fun loving child. From early on he was fascinated with talking with words, and when he started school, he excelled in spelling and English. He was enthralled with bugs, worms, and animals, and kept a constant entourage of them in is room no matter what I said. He delighted in being playful, which later became practical jokes. My husband and I loved and adored him. We didn't discuss the fact that John was adopted. He was simply OURS.
The week before John's tenth birthday a letter arrived. There was no return address and the handwriting was unfamiliar. Not in my wildest imagination would I have ever guessed, before opening the envelope, that the letter was from "the girl who had John." At first I was simply amazed. It seemed quite incredible that she even existed! As I read and reread the contents of the letter, my amazement alternated with anger. "The girl" had been 27 when John was born. She was an accomplished journalist from a family of astronomers and physicists. That familiarity was screaming "intruder!" in my mind. I didn't want to know how "the girl" and John were related!
And she expected me to call her or correspond? (Of course, that was how I chose to interpret what she politely suggested she wanted.)
What upset my husband more than the letter was how upset I was. He attempted to calm me, but I remained adamant: NO INTRUSION FROM SOME STRANGER! What my husband did succeed in persuading me had to be done was to tell John he was adopted. He took the news rather well, I thought. No mention of the letter was made. Instead we told him when he came to us we knew nothing about the woman who had him. In the years after John asked only twice more about his beginnings. Each time we gave him the same "know nothing" answer.
I received more letters from "the girl" over a period of years. The last one came when John was 24. My reply was silence. She never called because our phone number was unlisted.
Three years ago, John surprised me by coming over at 10:30 on a weekday morning when he ought to have been in his office. The look on his face was one of pain I had never seen before. I could tell from the swelling he had been crying, and the sight was frightening. Whatever it was, I wanted to hug him and make it "better. " In an ice-cold tone, John told me to sit down in the kitchen. Meanwhile, he bolted up the stairs. I heard him upstairs, slamming drawers open and closed and, finally, the sound of glass breaking-pictures on the wall, lamps, and Lord knew what else. I was too frightened to move. Whatever had upset him, perhaps it was best to let him just
get it out of his system. His steps were those of anger, and then he was standing over me, glaring and furious.
"Where ARE they? WHERE are the letters my mother wrote to you for fourteen years that you never had the decency to answer? WHERE ARE THEY?"
The son I thought I knew better than he knew himself revealed how little I knew - about him, myself, life, adoption, and as John put it, "A very warped sense of what love is." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a letter. "Read this! Now! OUT LOUD!" His birthmother told him the whole story. When I close my eyes for the last time in this life, I will still see the words, " I only wanted to see your precious face one time, to see the happiness in your eyes, to see your face light up with laughter, to hear your sweet voice if only for a moment, my dearest son? I have carried this little photograph of you in this locket close to my heart? My only wish was to see you one more time, and to tell you what I know in my heart you want to hear - I have loved you all these years, and I will love you forever, son?"
John had searched for his birthmother. Our "we know nothing" answers fueled his determination and his natural need to now. He found his sister, and together they visited John's birthmother. I have since visited her, too. Her grave is marked by an angel with arms outstretched.
Diane, John's birthmother, left him a journal and albums filled with the story of her life among many other cherished things. He has the tapes she made, including her message to my husband and me. It was filled with the love she had so much of.
John is polite, calls and visits on occasion, but there is a chilling separation between us where there had once been warmth and closeness. He now understands what made me feel as I did, but we don't discuss "the issue" anymore. He made it clear his birthmother was never an intruder, and his life could have only been enriched by knowing her even in his early years.
He won't desert me in my old age anymore than his mother ever deserted him. He's like her in that way. It was I who was selfish, cold and stupid, not John's mother. It was I who intruded on my son's life by denying his Birthmother's existence, her love for him and his needs. It was my selfishness, which deprived them both of the natural bonds between them. I am not proud of what I did. My heart aches or the lost "moment" a gallant, courageous woman denied, and for the three years she suffered with cancer in which John might have been a great comfort to her.
Several months after the "Day of the Letters," John asked me to see a psychologist - "I want you to know the full impact of what has happened, to confront it, and be able to live with it without the guilt." He is his Birthmother's son through and through, and now I love him for that, too. I also lost something. Diane and I were both journalists professionally; we had much in common.
Perhaps my mistakes can spare another birthmother, another adopted child, or another adoptive parent from the losses each of us has endured. Our children are not a possession, and we are not their keepers. Parenting is a choice, not a job for which compensation can be demanded in terms of respect and love. Parents can only hope they have earned those things. It is far more important that the children we parent become well-adjusted, coping, caring, honest, motivated human beings, and that the individual they were are birth blossoms into being the best of who they are genetically. We have a responsibility to clothe, feed, and shelter our children, but foremost we
must respect them. In the case of an adopted child, we must also respect their genetic bonds and the needs, which grow out of separation from them. To do less is to disrespect the very basics of who they are.