Reunion Is Good. Reunion Is Heartbreaking. Both Are True.

August 17, 2007 at 10:18 pm 13 comments


I’ve had a couple people ask me about my own reunion story and history.   I have definitely dodged this topic here since I started writing this blog.  At first I thought that my own reunion story didn’t fit into the story of adopting my daughter.  But, how ridiculous is that?  I mean, it’s all intertwined in my life, so naturally my own history is intertwined with my daughter’s, particularly in how I will parent her. 

 I was born during the period called the ‘baby-scoop’ years in adoption.  This was the time of secrecy, shame, unwed mother’s homes, unbelieveable coercion and abuse and closed records. 

While I was growing up, I always knew that I was adopted and I always felt a certain pain that I knew stemmed from it.  My birthday was not necessarily a happy day.  I have always dealt with a lot of feelings that I would later find out are very common amongst adoptees.  I felt insecure, never felt like I belonged anywhere and still tried to blend into any social scenario as much as possible.   PArt of the problem of going through this when you’re a kid, is that you don’t have the language to put with the feelings.  You need a label-maker and boxes because there are so many little parts to figure out. 

My parents were high school sweethearts brought together by their mutual circumstances and feelings of isolation in their respective families.  They were together for more than a year. In high-school, that’s an eternity.  I think that in that era of youth having a new-found identity and forceful voice against the Vietnam war and with a rising awareness for women, they found shelter and understanding in each other.  I believe they loved each other.

She was pregnant.  She tried to ignore it for a few months but after awhile she had to beat down the denial.  There was a family meeting between the parents.  Everyone nodded and was uncomfortable and angry and ashamed.  Adoption…yes, what else is there?  Apparantly, her parents being the good wasps that they were tried hard to find a doctor who could help.  But, she didn’t want it.  No.  She was standing her ground.  And, so she was sent away.  She finished out her junior year and was sent away for the summer, “to visit relatives.”  The truth was, she was sent to live with people who were employees of the adoption agency.  A kind of unwed mother’s home, except she was the only one there.  She gained less than 25 pounds.  She didn’t go back to high school her senior year.  She studied while waiting for October, for when she was due.  He went off to college.  She went into labor on her due date and I was born.  She was treated with disdain by the delivering doctor and was not given pain medication or anything else that aides women or helps to keep one’s dignity in labor.  Her mother was at her side, helping her push.  At first, he wouldn’t tell her if I was a boy or a girl.  The social worker later told her that I was a girl.  He drove down from college and saw us in the hospital.  There are two different stories of when he showed up and how he acted. 

Anyway, the papers were signed and she went home and back to school.  She was thinner now than she was before she got pregnant.  She broke up with Him or vice versa or it doesn’t even matter.  She graduated with honors.  They both married different people while in college. 

I grew and lived in an interesting family.  I always knew I was adopted and I had my mom tell me my adoption story often.  She didn’t use those annoying stories of being special or chosen or hand-picked.  She told me that some day, if I wanted to, I could search for my birth parents.  I wanted to.  I put the promise of meeting and knowing away in a special place in my heart.   Growing up adopted for me meant that I had a hole in my heart.  I had a good family, though they didn’t truly understand me and didn’t do much to try and bend toward me, but, rather, required me with many unwritten rules, to bend to them and to blend. 

I turned 18 while living on my own in England.  I thought to myself, “when I get back home, I’ll search.”  And so I did.  It took about 18 months, the majority of which was just getting names.  My mom got ahold of what was called an ISC, independant search consultant.  She was amazing.  In just a few days, she had the data from my original birth certificate.  Every phone call from her was enough to make my heart pound.  I had an original name, parents’ names too.  From there, she went on marriage certificate hunts and searches elsewhere.  Finally, we had two solid names and phone numbers.  My mother was married and owned a home in the Pacific Northwest.  My father was married and living about an hour away from me.  Both were in professional careers.  I called my mother first.  I waited all morning and figured out what I wanted to say and how to say it.  I heard her say hello and I started in with things like, “You don’t know me, but I’m trying to find some family members and you may be able to help me with that.”  She sounded cautious but curious about what I was asking.  I then said, “I was born on blah-blah-blah in 1968 and I think you’re my mother”  and she started to cry and said, “I think you’re my daughter…”  We both cried on the phone for a few minutes before she asked me, “What was your name again?”  I’ll never forget how sad that was, for a mother to ask what her own daughter’s name was.  We talked for two hours.  We had a lot in common, surely she would want to meet me, right?  At the end, I got my first taste of what was to become a pattern.  I told her that I very much wanted to meet her and she said that she had to think about it, she had to take some time to mull things over and that she wasn’t sure what it all meant to her.  I had prepared myself for this and for total rejection as well, but hearing it was a different story.  We did meet, and we met once or twice a year for a long time.  But, reunion is hard.  We always came to a spot in our relationship where she would feel pressured to be in a relationship with me and then act cold and unkind to me.  Sometimes she wouldn’t talk to me and I’d be the one to put on my tap shoes and dance and sing and try and get her to smile or open up, if only for the short time we’d be together.  She loathed that I looked more like my father.  She talked only about the past and what happened to her.  She couldn’t get beyond what had happened.  All I wanted was to get beyond what had happened.  I certainly understood that her experience had been atrocious and abusive.  I knew that my father had treated her horribly after she got pregnant.  I knew all these things and wanted to support her in all of those feelings.  But, it turned out that holding on to the negative was her only way to make sure that no one would ever treat her poorly again.  So, she put armor on and she never took it off.  Those were her own words.  And, she would never take it off, not even for me.  Not even with me standing in front of her, wanting to just know her and love her.   It really was all too much pain for her.  Over a few years, we’d get together and it was all strained and very uncomfortable.  Don’t get me wrong, there were many times that we were like twin sisters, giggling and shopping and eating lunch and we liked all the same things and hated all the same things.  It was heaven or it was hell. 

After five years in reunion, one visit we had at my house, she became pouty and sullen.  She didn’t like anything I did or said.  She was pushing me away and I knew it.  But, it made me hurt and angry.  I wrote a letter that I wish I had never sent, but I did.  I told her that I was tired of having to feel that I am the source of all of her pain, because I wasn’t.  I told her that I supported her feelings of loss and anger, but that could we please focus on what we DID have.  We were never promised any relationship and now, here we were.  We could do with our relationship what we wanted.  And then, as I was writing that, I felt my stomach drop.  I realized.  She didn’t want it.  She wanted some of it, sometimes and only on her terms, or when she was able, which wasn’t very often.  When confronted with the reality that she had had a daughter and remembered all that she had endured, in the end it pretty much meant that she couldn’t ‘be’ with me.  I fully realized it all.  She wanted.  She didn’t want.  She loved.  She hated.  She felt joy.  She felt pain.  It was all too much.  I wrote that I deserved to know if she wanted to be in my life or not.  I told her I deserved better treatment.  I never heard from her again. 

About two minutes after I dropped that letter in the mailbox, I regretted it.  It is the single biggest regret in my life that I sent that letter.  I was just so mad and confused.  I understood too much and I understood too little.  I was young and idealistic.  I thought love was stronger than pain.  Sometimes it isn’t.  I wasn’t kind in my letter.  For that, I have to live with forever. 

And now it has been 11 years since we’ve spoken.  I’ve written 3 letters asking for forgiveness and explaining how I didn’t know how to deal with any of my feelings of frustration and disappointment.  I told her that I wish I had written a letter that would have preserved our relationship.  I told her that it is so painful knowing that my unkindness had caused her pain as well.   I told her I was married and that I was a mother and that my mom had died.  I told her that I missed laughing with her.  I never got a reply. 

I know that part of me has not given up and I’m not sure if it’s naievete or denial or stupidity.  I just cannot accept that I’ll never talk with her again. 

What I really want to say though, is that for all the pain and the arduous task of sifting through the bits and pieces of one’s past and never retrieving certain parts, reunion is reclamation.  Reunion means that you finally have your label maker and a stack of sturdy boxes, for once.  It’s liberating even though it can also be burdening.  Why?  Because it is truth.  What happened – the good, the bad, the immoral and the fattening are all being exposed in reunion.  It’s not pretty a lot of the time.  People are uncomfortable, angry, sad, depressed, overjoyed, moved, ecstatic, grieving all at once.  So, I say to all of you adoptees and mothers and fathers who are searching  – don’t give up.  There is consecration in finding what belongs to you, your history.  And for those of you who may be found one day – take off your armor.  Rejoice in your serendipity. 

Margaret,  Please.


Entry filed under: adoptees, Adoption, Adoption Blog, Adoption Ethics, adoptive, birth mothers, Children, Daughters, Family, first mothers, Motherhood, Parenting.

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. JustEnjoyHim/Judy  |  August 18, 2007 at 7:27 am

    Oh, Tina.

    How heartfelt, and in the end, heartbreaking. I’m so sorry that you’re not in touch with your mother anymore.

    Thank you for sharing this story with us.

    *hugs* and prayers to you.

  • 2. Susan  |  August 18, 2007 at 7:29 am

    Oh man. Reading your post took my breath away. This is so, so much a mirror of my own ‘reunion.’ I think many birthmothers experience this same wild ambivalence, and it causes them to act in hurtful ways, because of their own deeply mixed feelings (understatement). I found my own birthmother 27 years ago. For the first five years, it was pretty honeymoonish, we were those laughing, shopping, many-things-in-common friends. I also became friends with my half sister, her daughter. The two conditions on our relationship were that I could not tell anyone in her life who I was, and I could not ask about my birthfather. (she told me briefly about him on our first visit, then never again) In the beginning, I was willing to do anything in order to have this relationship. I would have walked on broken glass on my knees. But as I had children and got older, I began to want more dignity. I wrote a letter VERY similar to yours. I didn’t hear from her for six years. Maybe eight. Then slowly she re-entered my life. Now we have a very cordial, very formal relationship. I feel like I’m watching her life through glass, very Little Match Girl. She controls every aspect of our relationship. Now I have to decide (again) — is this worth it? Is it better to have nothing, or to have this bizarre little shard of a relationship? To say she is armored is an understatement. It is painful because we DO share so much in common, and on many levels she is an amazing, wonderful person. But I don’t know how long I can do this.

    Thank you for your post. I am so sorry for your pain. Know you’re not alone.

  • 3. Jackie  |  August 18, 2007 at 9:10 am

    I was touched by your post. While I have not experienced anything like this, through your words, I feel your pain. I hope in time you will once again come together. Sending hugs…

  • 4. thalia  |  August 18, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, it’s quite a story, and really helps give some insight into what you’ve been through.

  • 5. ungratefullittlebastard  |  August 20, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you for writing this. You’re right, Reunion is reclamation no matter what the outcome. No matter what, I have my name and I have my truth. I have the things the state of Pennsylvania says is illegal for me to have. And no one can ever take it away from me again.

    I’m sorry about your mom. I hope for you and with you.

  • 6. imhelendt  |  August 20, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Not to make light of this, because you made me cry again, but to make you smile: You can have my mom. 😀

  • 7. Margie  |  August 23, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    Tina Tina Tina, this breaks my heart. First, a (((((hug))))). Then, a hope that some day Margaret realizes what a treasure you are and finds the strength to get beyond her pain.

    It makes me sad to think that my children might have the same experience some day. We humans just complicate things way too much.

  • 8. Louise  |  August 29, 2007 at 9:21 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am hoping that there will be more to come in this journey for you.

  • 9. justenjoyhim  |  October 3, 2007 at 2:49 am

    Wassup, girlie??

  • 10. Mala  |  October 13, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    we miss you!!!!

  • 11. Andrea  |  October 15, 2007 at 4:38 am

    Just wondering how your girls are doing?

  • 12. Coco  |  December 22, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    Goodness. How do I miss these heartfelt posts for so very long?

    Oh, Tina. I wish I was your mother, just for a moment, so I could offer the love and hugs and togetherness you so, so deserve. You’ve done nothing to merit coldness and stony silence, please believe me.

    I just wish I could hug you. Oh. This made me cry.

    I swear, I would make it all better if I could.

  • 13. 2B True  |  January 8, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    My story is similar – I was in the process of reunion through Catholic Charities…long story short, she wrote me a vehement letter, ending it with her phone number, which frightened me, and upset me, because after all that unloading and saying that she was forced into the reunion, she was handing me the means to continue ‘the abuse.’ So I wrote back to her apologizing, that I didnt mean to cause her pain, and here, here was my phone number, why dont you call me?

    I never heard from her, and one attempt I made to send a card to her resulted in getting that letter back saying ‘no such address’ when I knew it was the same one she’d been using.

    And that was back in the 80s when there was none of this ability to really get to the heart of the triad and no books to identify the adoptee experience. All I ever got out of anyone was how I should be grateful and try to see things from her point of view. Well I had a point of view too.

    Anyway, I wanted to say I know of what you speak.


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