Courage

Dear Ms. Feverfew,

Remember Bishop F.? You know, the one who arranged and facilitated your adoption? Yeah, that guy.

I emailed him a couple of days ago that said,

I am currently taking a memoir writing class and was given an assignment by my teacher, one that I have discovered I need your help to complete. She wants me to write about the *very* night I handed [Ms. Feverfew} over to [her adoptive parents]. I would really be interested in spending some time talking with you about what you remember, what your perspective was on the whole event. Do you have some free time that we might be able to chat over the phone? I would really appreciate it and it would be most helpful in this process to have someone other than me help me recall what took place at that specific moment in time.

He emailed me back and told me he would be happy to chat with me, just call him after 7:00 p.m. Well, it’s after 7:00 p.m. and I am about to pick up the phone. I don’t know how this will turn out…I just know I need to do it before I lose my courage.

Much love,

M.

Spirit Totem

It is early afternoon on a Monday in September 2009. It doesn’t feel like Fall at all, at least not for someone like me who was raised in the Rockies.
 
The air outside is still hot and heavy with the smell of salt rolling in from the York River. This is only my second September in Virginia and I haven’t quite gotten used to the late-changing seasons below the Mason-Dixon line.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the summer heat that lingers like a kiss on the land. I am just not used to it, that’s all.
 
I sit at my broad, white desk in my home office as I talk to my mother-in-law on the old black desk telephone with push buttons and a peeling orange sticker in the middle of the cradle. I weave the corkscrew cord back and forth and back and forth between my fingers.
 
As my mother-in-laws talks, I think about earlier that morning when I made ambitious plans with my Ph.D. adviser. We both agreed I would be ready to take my qualifying exams by the end of October, right before the weather turned cold for the year and the pecans across the field start to fall.
 
~
 
“Melynda, are you pregnant? I always get weepy when I am pregnant.”
 
I look out the window and watch several large turkey vultures making wide lazy circles in the hot September air. “No, that’s impossible,” I tell Penny as I reach for a tissue from the box behind my computer monitor. In unison, the vultures bank left on a rising thermal. “And we all know what it would mean if I am pregnant and that’s just a bridge too far for me right now. Plus, I have comprehensive exams next month and I am graduating in May. I can’t be pregnant.”
 
I hear my voice beginning to fray at the thought of being pregnant, because I know what I would have to endure both emotionally and physically.
 
Outside my window, the thermal drops away and the wings of the vultures flicker as they adjust their flight, the tips of their long feathers testing the air for new wind.
 
She laughs. “I remember feeling that way a couple of times too. In fact, out of my eight children, only one of them was planned! God just seems to have a way with these babies.”
 
“Yes, He certainly does have a time schedule of His own, doesn’t He?”
 
I untangle my fingers from the phone cord coiled around my right hand as we exchange parting pleasantries. As I hang up, I wonder what if my mother-in-law is right?
 
NO. She can’t be right. It is impossible to know this early anyway.
 
My cycle isn’t due for another five days. I can’t be pregnant.
 
Later that afternoon, I leave the refrigerated air of the Food Lion grocery store and step into the ocean air blowing up from the Chesapeake. I smile and relax into the moist heat. It loosens something inside of me, right near where the sinews meet with cartilage and bone. It feels like home.
 
As I pause to wait for the slow moving cars to pass in front of my cart, I look up at the aqua-blue water tower on my left. I count seven large vultures perched along the highest catwalk.
Man, those are creepy looking birds.
 
Across the parking lot is a Dollar Tree store, home to one of the most sensitive and most accurate pregnancy test on the market. Even better, the test only costs a dollar instead of $16 like those fancy ones at the pharmacies. Leaving the parking lot, I make an easy right turn onto Merrimac Trail, heat waves shimmering as they rise from the hot asphalt.
 
I look in my rearview mirror and see the Dollar Tree sign growing smaller.
 
Since I am here, I should get some tests. Just in case. I laugh at the thought.
 
Just in case of what? Just in case I am pregnant like Penny mentioned? Absurd.
 
Then again, they are only a dollar and I know the test will be negative. What would the harm be, right? I could grab a handful of them, take them all and could call my mother-in-law back and tell her she was wrong. We would have a good laugh and continue making plans for our trip to Uganda for the next summer.
Maybe I should get some tests. Just in case.
 
I make a quick U-turn at the next light, turning the small sedan back towards the Dollar Tree. I go in, pick up three tests and pay my three dollars cash, no tax since it is considered “medicine.”
 
When I walk out to the car, I see it with new eyes and realize if Penny is right, we will need a different one. It will be impossible to fit two car seats and a teenager in the back seat.
 
Well, we really need a new car anyway. I guess that wouldn’t be so bad. But she isn’t going to be right, so I shove the thought from my mind entirely.
 
I hurry home, trying to beat my son home from the bus stop. I hustle the groceries in and then step inside the half-bathroom just outside my office door.
 
“I have to go anyway, and since I am already here…” I justify in my mind as I open the first pregnancy test and read the directions.
 
The instructional designer in me coolly evaluates them as I perform the test, detached from what the results will mean.
 
“Well written, easy to follow. Two lines means I am pregnant. One line, I am not. Anything that appears after 10 minutes is a false positive. Got it.” I play Sudoku on my phone as I wait.
 
Two lines appear.
 
Impossible. It is a false positive, right? But it hasn’t been ten minutes yet, has it? I check the time on my Sudoku game. Three minutes, 10 seconds.
 
Impossible. It has to be a false positive. I am only eight days past ovulation. It is in the afternoon and the pregnancy hormone the test detects shouldn’t be high enough to read at this time of day, anyway, especially this soon after ovulation.
 
Impossible.I rip open another test and follow the instructions again.
 
Two lines appear.
 
I sit down on the toilet and stare at my shaking hands.
 
Slowly, I open the last test and follow the directions a third time.
 
Two lines.
 
I take the tests apart, inserting my thumbnail between the two plastic pieces encasing the test strip. I pull out the strips by the dry ends and hold them up to the light to carefully examine them, turning them this way and that.
 
Sometimes false positives on these Dollar Tree tests look different depending on the angle you hold the strip in the light, a slight indentation instead of a swelling.
 
All three tests had the telltale swelling across the second line.
 
Positive. Positive. Positive.
 
I hear the air conditioning unit kick on. I look back down at the test strips. They are still positive, positive, positive.
 
The phone rings. It is my husband.
 
~
 
Estimates are that 40-60% of all women who surrender a child for adoption go on to experience secondary infertility of one form or another.
 
In comparison, about 10% of all women worldwide who have had a previous child experience secondary infertility.
 
No one knows exactly why this happens and why surrendering mothers are so prone to this particular type of infertility. No one knows the exact number either. Few agencies or organizations care enough to find out what many birth mothers already know: losing a child to adoption profoundly affects our ability to get pregnant again, to carry another children to term, and to parent any future children.
 
That fall, I was not quite 38-years old and counted among those mothers who had relinquished a child for adoption, only to discover later that she didn’t have as many chances to be a mother as she thought.
 
After Luke was born, my husband and I were told we were done adding to our family, and not because we wanted it that way.
 
I had always wanted a large family.
 
Then I had Luke and all of those plans changed.
 
In the years between Luke’s birth in 2004 and the fall of 2009, I had come to terms with the reality of my body’s inability to sustain another pregnancy safely.
 
It was a hard journey, one that I didn’t share much of with anyone, even my husband. I was finally at peace with my life and was eager to welcome in the next phase. I had plans to take my comprehensive exams at school in the fall, write my dissertation and graduate the next spring.
 
My life was full of happiness with my two wonderful boys. The older one, Matthew was all knees and elbows, braces and disarming dimples. He was a five foot, ten inch tall 13-year old who showed no signs of slowing down his growth any time soon. My youngest, Luke, my newly minted five year old with Ghirardelli eyes and a rigid inborn code of morality and justice, had just started all day kindergarten exactly one week before.
 
I was just getting used to the seven hours of daily solitude when the pregnancy tests turned positive.
 
~
 
“Hey, I know you wanted to find out about more life insurance for me. We have the chance to enroll in another $500,000 if we get the paperwork turned in within the next month. The premiums are pretty affordable, too, especially for an old guy like me.”
 
Jeff laughs at himself and the joke about his age. He just turned 49 two months and three days before.
 
“Jeff?”
 
“I think this policy doesn’t exclude acts of war, either, like the other one.” Usually, this is an important detail to me as he spends a lot of time in dangerous places around the world in his job for the Department of Defense.
 
Jeff?
 
“Yeah? What is it? You sound a little distracted. Did I catch you at a bad time?”
 
“No, no. Not a bad time. I am a bit distracted though.”
 
I hadn’t had the time or inclination to dream up some way of telling him. The words just tumbled out. “Um…well. I’m pregnant.”
 
“Oh my gosh, Melynda! Really? Are you kidding me?! That’s awesome!!!”
 
I am silent.
 
I stare at the neon orange sticker on the black melamine phone base, the corners peeled back from years of wear. It reads, “In case of emergency, call base police at 6-1-1.”
 
Does this constitute an emergency because it sure feels like one?
 
“Oh my gosh,” Jeff says again, this time with a bit less enthusiasm and a lot more concern in his voice.
 
Over the phone, I can hear reality setting in as he realizes what a pregnancy means for me, for him, and for our family. I imagine he remembers he was the one who emptied the supra-pubic catheter for two weeks after the surgery to repair the damage of a precipitous delivery. He was the one who took care of everything at home for the long twelve weeks post-op when I couldn’t lift anything heavier than three pounds, drive a car, or do any housework.
 
I hear him sigh deeply on the other end of the phone, the air making a baritone hum as it escapes, his joy momentarily tempered by his memories.
 
“When did this happen?”
 
“It had to have been at the Outer Banks.”
 
He chuckles. “Oh, yes. That makes sense.” In his voice, I hear his eyes crinkling up around the corners. He smiles at the memory of our recent family vacation to the string of coastal barrier islands in North Carolina.
 
“But what about comprehensive exams? What about your dissertation? Are you still going to graduate next year? Is this safe for you after the surgery?”
 
“No. Graduation is not going to happen.” I reply. “I think I am due just a few weeks afterwards and there is no way I can meet all the deadlines. I don’t know if it is safe. I haven’t talked with Dr. Welgoss yet. I know what he is going to tell me and I don’t want to hear it.”
 
“Wow, babe. Just wow. So when are you due?”
 
I quickly search online for a due date calculator and type in the date of my last cycle. “I am due May 26.” Two weeks before my first daughter was due.
 
~
 
Fourteen weeks later, I am hopped up on a handful of gummy bears and 16 ounces of orange juice. My hands are jittery and my left foot thumps at a steady pace against the floor. Jeff and I are waiting for an ultrasound to find out the sex of the baby I am carrying.
 
I had wanted to come by myself and then surprise Jeff with the pictures on Christmas morning two weeks later. I chickened out though. I had a hunch I would need him there with me and not at work teaching people how to shoot guns.
 
“Hi, Ms. Fitt?” says a middle-aged woman with roller-set hair and frosted peach lipstick. I smile wide. I love it when people call me Ms. Fitt. If they say it fast enough, like she just did, it sounds like “misfit.” Most of the time they don’t even realize the joke. This morning I find it particularly humorous as it diffuses some of my growing anxiety.
 
I rise from my chair as she extends her hand to me. “My name is Sandra and I am going to be doing the ultrasound this morning. This must be Mr. Fitt.” She offers her hand to Jeff. “Well, come on back here with me and let’s get started.”
 
We follow her down a long hall that gets darker as we get closer to the room. “So is this your first baby?” Sandra turns to ask as we reach our destination. My husband and I look at each other and laugh.
 
He will be turning 50 next year and I just turned 38.
 
It wasn’t a question either of us was expecting. This baby wasn’t something we were expecting, either.
 
I climb onto the table, the tissue crunching and tearing as it catches on the back pocket of my jeans. I lay back, unzip my pants and pull them low around my hips. I mindlessly brush the stretch marks low on my belly and immediately think of my daughter.
 
They are one of the few physical reminders I have that she actually exists, that she isn’t a beautiful dream I once had.
 
Instead of saying, “I have two boys at home” I say, “No, I have had three others.”
 
When people ask about my children, I usually don’t tell them about my third child, their older sister. It just leads to messy, difficult, and almost always awkward conversations.
 
It is my way of preventing people from saying things they might otherwise regret. However, I always try to be honest with medical personnel about my number of pregnancies. It usually isn’t good to lie to them about those kinds of things.
 
“Oh wonderful! So this is baby number four for you then? Are the others boys or girls?” Sandra squirts a generous amount of warm gel onto my abdomen and places the transceiver firmly at my navel.
 
“A girl and two boys.”
 
“How old are they?”
 
“Oh, well…” my words trail off slightly as I try to figure out what to say. “My daughter is 17 ½.” Jeff gently squeezes my hand when he hears my voice catch. “The boys are just barely thirteen and five.”
 
“Wow. That’s quite an age spread! And now another one on the way? I bet your older daughter is a lot of help around the house.”
I laugh nervously.
 
“Well, you know teenagers,” I say.
 
I don’t tell her my daughter isn’t living with me. That I don’t know teenagers. That I don’t know own teenage daughter.
 
The words sounds like gunfire to my ears and the unspoken truth smells of burned cordite. It lingers between my husband and myself.
 
I look at him and with a small shake of my head and a shrug of defeat, my eyes say, “I am sorry for not telling the truth. I can’t win in this situation and I really don’t want to go there this morning.”
 
He rubs his thumb across the back of my hand and silently mouths the words, “It’s OK. I love you.”
 
I drop my gaze from his, ashamed that he is part of my lie now, too.
 
“Alright then. Let me just get a few measurements first. According to the records you are 15 weeks and six days, right?”
 
“Yes.”
 
Most of which have been spent prostrate on the bathroom floor as I try to curb the rising tides of nausea and heartbreak. When that doesn’t work, a trip to the emergency room to be rehydrated and intravenous meds usually does the trick.
 
“Looks like baby agrees with us! This little one is measuring right on schedule. Now let’s get to the business of finding out if this is a boy or a girl.”
 
Sandra flips a switch so we can see the baby in 3D. The transceiver glides over my stomach until it finally comes to rest just above my pubic bone. I wince in pain as she pushes against it, trying to get a better angle of the baby. I can feel it is already out of joint, tender and broken where it should be strong and straight.
 
“Oh, Hi there little one! See that right there? It looks like you have a snuggly little baby girl. See how she is laying there against the placenta like it’s a big pillow? Congratulations Mom and Dad – it’s a girl.”
 
“A girl? A girl.”
 
I study the picture on the screen carefully. She is facing my spine and moves her hands over her ears as if to block out the sound waves from the ultrasound. Her delicate ribs sprout like new grass from the strand of pearls that is her spine. Her hipbones are smooth shells. She moves her hand a bit and I see her ears. Her nose. A girl.
 
Sandra moves the transceiver, trying to get the baby to turn towards the screen. She is looking for a clear shot of the baby’s face but has to settle for a profile.
 
I have seen enough.
 
I turn my face away towards my husband’s chest. Every time he shifts, I can smell the cedar wood warmth of his body rising up from the collar of his sweater. He is leaning forward, intently gazing at the ultrasound screen, enraptured with this tiny baby girl. Silent, hot tears slip from my eyes. A girl. Jeff leans down, kisses my hand and then lets his lips linger near my wedding ring, never taking his eyes off of her.
 
I retreat into myself. I am numb.
 
Eventually Sandra is done. She prints some pictures and hands them to Jeff. I stand, woozy on my feet. I fumble with the zipper on my jeans. I can feel the teeth scraping against my nails as I search for the pull. I grin mechanically at Sandra. I thank her. Jeff leads me to the car and helps me in. His chatter fills the void between us.
 
Isn’t she beautiful? That was amazing! Did you see her nose? Oh my gosh, she is gorgeous! Do you still want to name her after our moms? My mom will be so excited to find out its a girl! It’s a girl, Melynda. We are having a daughter.
 
As we pull out of the parking lot and make our eastward way towards I-64, a silent but deep cry begins to well upside of me. It starts where this baby rests against my spine and snakes it way up into my throat. Tears begin to fall as I gasp for breath.
 
Jeff looks over at me quickly, trying to gauge both my emotions and the speed of the traffic as we merge onto the northbound lanes. “Oh wow—I didn’t realize you are so happy you are crying, Melynda! Can you believe we are having a baby girl? A daughter!”
 
A daughter.
 
I don’t know what to say. Actually, I do know what to say, I am just scared of saying it out loud, scared to hear the answers to my questions.
 
I don’t want Jeff to think I am ungrateful for this baby, because I am grateful to have another chance at being a mother, I just . . . I just don’t know how to raise a daughter when I gave away my first one.
 
The vibration of the tires increases as they pick up speed on the Interstate. It unwinds my resolve. What starts out as a small whine grows into a lioness’s roar as I kick against the floorboards and hit my fists into the door panels and dashboard.
 
A primal sound escapes my mouth as I scream, “I am not crying because I am happy, I am crying because I am terrified I am going to lose this daughter, too! Why would God send me another daughter? Didn’t His church leaders already determine I am not worthy enough to parent a daughter? How could He do this to me? To her? To all of us? Why didn’t we matter to His church? Weren’t we a family, too?”
 
Somewhere along Willoughby Spit, somewhere near where my maternal ancestors carved out a life from the wilderness in the 1620s, the roar in my heart and throat falls back to a whine and then fades away.
 
When my anger and tears are spent. I lean my head against the window and stare out at the naked forests for the rest of the ride home.
 
I am those trees, stripped bare of any pretense, my arms reaching towards an empty sky.
 
My throat burns as Jeff takes my hand. “Melynda, I am so sorry you are hurting. You know that God had nothing to do with you losing her, right?”
 
“Yes. I know. I guess.” The words escape me as a long drawn out sigh.
 
~
 
I had known from the very start of this pregnancy it would be a girl who would be named after her grandmothers. I was not shocked the day the ultrasound technician proclaimed, “Its a girl!” Somehow, my soul already knew.
 
And my heart began to shatter all over again into a million tiny shards.
 
Raising two boys had insulated me from losing my first-born daughter to adoption. After all, I had been able to white-knuckle my way past the sea of pink hair bows, barrettes, leggings, ruffles, and tutus in the girl’s clothing section to make it to the boy’s.
I had been able to breath deeply and reach past the sweet little patent leather Mary Janes for yet another pair of light-up Thomas the Tank engine sneakers.
 
I could keep the boys’ hair short and not worry about battling morning tangles and ponytails. There had been no baby dolls, princess dress up clothes, or Polly Pocket pieces to step on in the dim morning light. Just Legos, cars, and trains. Lots and lots of trains.
 
In short, raising boys had allowed me a bit of breathing room and distance from her because I was not daily reminded of what I had lost.
 
Well, that isn’t entirely true.
 
Once Luke came around with his eyes the same deep shade of brown her’s, it became impossible to suppress the memories of her any longer. Every time I gazed into his eyes, she was there.
I thought I had been doing “OK” with managing the disenfranchised grief most mothers who relinquish a child for adoption experience. After all, I had a solid and well-functioning marriage, was a wonderful mother to the two boys I had with me, and was about to finish a Ph.D.
 
Mothers who are deemed unworthy by their culture of raising their own child as a single mama don’t do those kinds of things, do they?
 
However, the day I found out for certain this last baby I was carrying was a girl, I was plunged into a pit of grief too long ignored and subverted. I discovered I was not doing as well as once assumed.
 
I will be the first to admit I drank the adoption Kool-aid, sucking it down like it was the nectar of life. I had to because otherwise, the horror of what I had done to my daughter would have consumed and destroyed me in those first early years post-relinquishment.
But eventually the anesthesia wears off and I was left wanting answers.
 
The most pressing question weighing on my mind was where had God been in all of this? I had been struggling for nearly eighteen years to sort out the theology of the church from its brutal cultural practices, especially in regards to single mothers. I was finding it very difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile the God of the Restoration with the God of the Mormon culture.
 
Perhaps I could not reconcile the two because the God I have come to know and worship would never require me to sacrifice my own child and my motherhood on the altar of adoption to justify my redemption.
 
Perhaps it is because I had come to understand no amount of good works, not matter how “unselfish” or “heroic” or “loving” my church and culture claim them to be, can qualify me for a place in God’s house.
 
I know these things now, but I didn’t know them those many years before when I had faced a stern bishop, urging me to relinquish my daughter for adoption or face excommunication. I know this now, but I didn’t know it those many years ago when I was urged on every side to “be a good mother” and “do the right thing.”
 
And it was this knowing as a 38-year old woman and not a scared 20-year old that fueled the fire of my rage on the way home from the ultrasound.
 
~
 
As we turn onto the wide lane that sweeps in front of our home, I see a group of turkey vultures on my rooftop as they sun their wings in a regimented line.
 
For some reason, my house has become a veritable day-spa for vultures. It all started in September, around the time I discovered I was pregnant.
 
Every morning a kettle of ten or more of them congregate on up there, their wings spread wide to the morning sun as they stack up like B-52s waiting for take-off. Some days there are too many for the roof and so they roost in the trees outside my bedroom and office windows. When there are too many for the roof and the trees, they simply stand around the front yard and lounge about like a flock of Thanksgiving turkeys.
 
One time I counted forty-two of them on the roof line, the trees, and on the ground.
 
When I give people directions to my home, I tell them, “Look for the home with all the turkey vultures hanging around.”
 
Damn it! Those creepy birds are back again, Jeff. Why don’t they just leave me alone?”
 
I took their presence as a personal affront, like they had some elaborate plot to unnerve me with their bald, wrinkled heads. Over the months, their droppings that made our roof look like the losing side of a paint-ball fight and it felt like a punishment of some kind from the Universe.
 
“I don’t know, Maybe they just like your cooking?” Jeff tried to cheer me up with his attempt at humor, his way to help us both move past what had just happened in the car.
 
“Don’t worry, I’ll go get the sling shot and chase them away.”
 
When the turkey vultures first started hanging out at our home, we called Wildlife and Resource Management on base. Jeff wanted to use his .22 on them but it turns out turkey vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The most lethal thing he could do was ping them in the butts with a plastic BB shot from a slingshot.
 
As I slowly navigate my way up the stairs and to my bedroom, I hear my husband rummage around the cabinet and pull out the slingshot. The front door clicks shut. I imagine him crouched low like a panther as he draws on all of his commando skills to make his way towards the back yard where he can get a clear shot. A few BBs ping against the siding as he misses the first couple of times.
 
Then the BBs find feathers and bird flesh and the vultures fly across the field and take refuge in the century-old pecan trees at my neighbor’s house.
 
The pain of seventeen stairs has left me exhausted and in this exhaustion, the nausea begins to well up again in my stomach. The nausea has overwhelmed me this pregnancy and has moved from a mere inconvenience to a medical diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum. In spite of the anti-nausea medications, I have already lost 18 pounds and had at least one visit to the emergency room.
 
I find myself in the bathroom, leaning over the sink. I look into the mirror. Eyes the same deep brown as Luke’s and her eyes stare back at me. I fall to my knees, my hands grip the sink as I press my forehead into the wood grain of the cabinet door.
 
Something breaks loose in my soul.
 
What feels like liquid betrayal begins to ooze out of my bones. This pregnancy feels like a betrayal of my first daughter, the one I gave away to be raised by strangers, my last touch a Judas-kiss on her perfectly formed lips. It feels like a betrayal of this second daughter who will grow up not knowing her older sister.
 
The tears that fall on the tile floor ask the universe again if God and His church didn’t think I was worthy then, then why I am worthy now? I am the same person, the same mother. If I wasn’t good enough for HER, then why am I am good enough for this one?
 
~
 
In recent days, I had learned of fetal-maternal microchimerism, where a fetus’s cells pass the placental barrier and mingle with their mother’s and embed deep into her bone marrow and liver. Through this incredulous fact of biology, my children’s unique DNA lives on in me, rubbing and bumping up against my own.
 
It is my daughters’ cells mingling in my bloodstream that tastes like iron when I exhale, it is their DNA crying out at the injustice adoption has brought into all of our lives. This deep physical ache for both of my daughters is a fresh and widening bruise, emanating from the matrices of my bone marrow.
 
Eventually, I make my way to my bed and fall into a heavy sleep, dreamless and without movement.
 
When I wake a few hours later, the vultures are back.
 
I see their shadows on the grass outside as they circle my home. I hear their claws grip my roofline as they jockey for the prime spot in the weak December sun.
 
My neighbor, half Chippewa by birth, a zoologist by training, and a mystic by nature, tells me turkey vultures are a most auspicious sign. They mean rebirth and regeneration. They consume the old so new life can come about.
 
Vultures are good, she tells me.
 
Nekhbet, the goddess of childbirth and feminine energy in ancient Egyptian culture is depicted as a vulture. In fact, the Egyptian hieroglyph for mother is the same as the one for vulture. They are clever and resourceful and actually have quite a sense of humor, “as far as scavengers go,” she laughs.
 
Vultures are fierce and protective mothers, and are impeccable caretakers of their young. Apollo believed them to be oracles, prophets in their own right.
 
Vultures are a very good sign, Melynda, she tells me again. Stop trying to chase them away.

“Found: A Memoir” by Jennifer Lauck Book Tour

"Found: A Memoir" by Jennifer Lauck

"Found: A Memoir" by Jennifer Lauck

Welcome to this leg of the Found: A Memoir book tour.  If this is your first time dropping by Letters to Ms. Feverfew, it may be helpful to know it is not like a typical blog. Rather, it is series of letters I have written to my daughter, relinquished for adoption in 1993. I decided to stay with this convention when I wrote my book review and answered the questions posed by other book tour participants. You can read more about me here and why I write these letters here.

Thank you for stopping by. I hope you find something worthwhile during your stay. ~ M.

_________________________________________________________

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

This is going to be long so grab a cup of tea, make sure your laptop is fully charged, and find a comfy cozy corner in which to curl up. Be certain you are well situated before diving in.

~

It was the peak of summer season and I was between homes, neither here nor there. Rootless and wandering between where I had been and where I was headed. All of our household effects were stored somewhere in a warehouse in northern Virginia and we were living in temporary housing that butted up against the York River. I had just graduated with my Ph.D. and my life was stripped bare of all the trappings of domesticity and academic study. And so I read. A lot.

I read Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search For Self. I read Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience. I read The Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness. I read Adoption and Loss: The Hidden Grief. I read 20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. I read The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. I read Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption.  I read The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption. I read Adoption Healing: A Path to Recovery. I read Coming Home To Self: The Adopted Child Grows Up.

And I spent a lot of time crying.

Immersed in the literature of adoption recovery, I was awash in a river of grief. What had I done to you? I was drowning, choking on the question, “Dear God, what have I done to my daughter?”  The literature was confirming what I already knew at a cellular level: adoption, at least for us, was wrong. Completely and totally wrong. Utterly and absolutely wrong. It was my culture’s permanent and brutal answer for the temporary crisis in which I found myself.

Then I read Found: A Memoir by Jennifer Lauck and I stopped crying as much.

In her tale I found a way forward. I found hope. It isn’t so much of what she said, but how she said it. Found: A Memoir is a profoundly moving story of an adoptee’s journey to find her first family and ultimately, to discover herself.  What makes her story different is that Found: A Memoir is infused with a level of generosity and self-awareness rarely found in adoptee memoirs.

This generosity is like the finely aged Tahitian vanilla I have secreted in my kitchen pantry. Sweet, warm, floral, and delicate but never cloying. When used in spicy or acidic savory dishes, vanilla cuts the heat and acidity by half while imparting the warmth only vanilla possesses. In savory dishes, it is harder for the pallet to distinguish the vanilla, but it is still there, lifting and lightening the dish. This is the quality infused throughout the majority of Ms. Lauck’s book, rendering an otherwise acidic and difficult story more edible.

And edible it was. I devoured it both times I read it. The first time through I didn’t even stop to sleep or eat. I just read, like a mother newly delivered of her babe and starving for something of substance, some thing more than the ice chips that had been parsed out by Attila the Nurse during labor. I was hungry and it was hope that wafted up from the pages of the book. It was vanilla scented hope that allowed me to digest the difficult and dangerous passages where Ms. Lauck spoke plainly of hard truths, truths that only adoptess can know and tell.  It was vanilla scented hope that tasted of forgiveness and healing. It was a flavor, which, for the first time, helped me understand that perhaps you – my own daughter – might forgive me for what I had done to us.

~

This last fall, a call was sent out by Lori at The Open Adoption Examiner for participants in an online book tour for Found: A Memoir.  I eagerly offered to participate. As I reread the book in preparation for the tour, I was taken at how many of her words could be my own as I made way towards healing and wholeness. I didn’t remember them from before, but now they stood out like a bas relief to my own journey. For example, Ms. Lauck writes:

“In the way that Spencer’s birth began my awakening process, Jo’s birth continued to unfold my psyche and reveal the many dimensions of truth….My first mother felt very important to me in light of Josephine Catherine. Jo was a link in the lineage of woman that connected me to my mother and my mother to her mother and on back through the generations. I wanted to tell my mystery mother, that troubled young girl from so long ago, that Josephine was here—a granddaughter. I wanted to say, “Come look!” (p. 41)

As I read that passage for the second time, I saw my own experiences in her’s:

In the way that Luke’s birth began my awakening process, Penelope’s pregnancy and birth continued to unfold my psyche and reveal the many dimensions of truth…My first daughter felt even more important to me in light of Penelope Rose. Penny was another link in the lineage of women that connected me to my mother and my mother to her mother and on back through the generations. I wanted to tell my mystery daughter, that eight month, 27 day old baby now grown into a woman, that Penelope was here—a sister. I wanted to say, “Come look!”

And so with wonderment at the synchronicity of an adoptee’s experience with my own as a mother who relinquished a child for adoption, I answer three questions asked by other tour members.

I know what I write will make some adoptive parents extremely uncomfortable and perhaps even angry.  And also I know by writing these things, I run the risk of being labeled “bitter” and “anti-adoption” even though I am neither of those things.  But the truth calls me out; I have the luxury of writing with the freedom of one already marginalized by the dominant culture, of one who can risk everything because she has already lost everything.

Q1: On pp 17-18, Jennifer talks about a baby searching for her mother after being born. How did this sensory-rich passage strike you? What thoughts did it trigger about the role you play in adoption?

Trigger would be the right word. One of the hardest things for me has been to come to terms to with how adoption may have affected you from a life-long developmental point of view. I first became cognizant of the potential negative affects when I was in a human development class and we were studying attachment theory across the life span. Disrupted attachment bonds can profoundly affect a person’s willingness to explore their environment, thus reducing exploration and help seeking behaviors and ultimately impacting learning. Reading the original writings of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth convicted me and set me on a path to seeking a deeper understanding of what loss, particularly early parental loss, can do to a person.

It happened again when I took a human physiology class and the professor talked about the experiments he was running about newborns recognizing the scent of their mother’s milk and even more importantly, preferring it above all others. They also prefer the taste of things that the mother ate when she was pregnant with them. And yet more awareness came when I started pulling primary research articles from medical journals detailing how a newborn’s language center in their brain lights up and their heart rate quickens when they hear their mother speak – not the nurse, not the doctor, not their father – but their mother. And articles about how babies in utero prefer their mother’s voice to any other voice or sound. And articles about fetal-maternal microchimerism, where your cells crossed the placental barrier and now reside in my bone marrow, liver, and blood. And articles about mitochondrial DNA – the stuff that powers life and how it is passed only through the mother to her child. And yet more awareness came when I learned of the specificity of a mother’s milk for the individual child and how it changes across the nursing relationship.  And yet more awareness when I read primary research detailing the impact a mother’s touch and voice on infants in the NICU.*

And on it went.

Taken alone, each puzzle piece is interesting but when examined as a composite…dear God, how could I have been so foolish to believe you didn’t need me? And how can this culture go on thinking that somehow, magically, an adopted infant’s brain and body are exempt from these same physiological responses?

But back to us: I wasn’t a crack whore. I wasn’t abusive. I wasn’t neglectful. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I wasn’t sleeping around.  I was simply single mother, going to school, trying to build a life for our little family. How and why did I buy into the NCFA’s glossy literature that you deserved more than me? That you would be better off being raised by people who didn’t smell, sound, or move the right way? Yes, you adapted, but at what cost to your psyche and your soul?

So as you can see, trigger was the right word to use in that question about how those pages affected me.

The next question was a bit more involved, so I broke it apart into sections:

Q2, part 1: Jennifer writes a lot about the first moms biological bond with her child. She writes of this bond as primal, almost as if adoptive moms will never be able to completely bond with their children… Adoptive mothers have to be honest with themselves: they will never have the same deep biological connection with their adopted child their child’s first mother. Irrespective of the depth of her love for this child,  her mitochondrial DNA does not power every cellular process in her adopted child’s body. Her heart does not beat to the same rhythm within a second of locking eyes with her adopted newborn, her voice will not cause the language recognition centers in her adopted newborn baby’s brain to light up like the Milky Way.  She will not smell right or taste right or move right to a tiny babe. They will never share the bone-marrow deep connection that a first mother has with her child. This primal bond is a gift the first mother is given.

These are hard truths for some adoptive mothers to accept, but that doesn’t make them any less true. However, in spite of these hard truths, adoptive mothers can bond with their children. With love, time, and consistent responsive care-giving, a mother can forge powerful bonds with her adopted child, bonds that can be just as strong as the primal ones. This is the gift that adoptive mothers are given.

Q2, part 2: “…and I wonder what advice she would give to  adoptive parents, particularly, women who want to be honest with their children about their birth stories.”   I can’t speak for Ms. Lauck, but here is my take on it: Start by setting aside any me-I-tis or I-deserve-its and read the letter linked at the top of this page, “An Open Letter to APs and PAPs.”

One can only surmise what Lillie writes is equally hard for some adoptive mothers to read as it was for me but still…but still these are the testimonies of those who adoption is supposed to be helping. We cannot continue to dismiss them and marginalize their voices while paying lip service to adoption “reform”. We must listen to them. We must learn from them.

An adoptive mother can begin to honor and respect their child’s need to mourn the loss of their first family by doing the same for now-adult adoptees.  Learning how to listen and honor adult adoptees’ voices now may be one of the best things an adoptive mother can do for her child in the future. After all, her adopted child is going to grow up in a few short years into an adopted adult. If anything, it will give them a lot of practice in letting others tell their truth and not taking it personally. As the adopted child grows and matures, she can help them find ways to honor and respect their original family (even though this can be very hard in situations where a child was available for adoption due to abuse or neglect – I know this first hand, but I also know it can be done). She can tell them the truth, with love and compassion for their hearts. Respect their humanity. It’s all any parent can do for their child, adopted or not.

Q3: What did you believe was the take-away message of this memoir?  Did that idea change for you when you read the afterward?

Adoption is hard. Reunion is hard. But there is hope for healing and eventually the ability to move through the experience.

I believe things will not and cannot improve until we start listening carefully to what adult adoptees are saying  – even the difficult, upsetting parts – and extracting lessons from what they can teach us. This idea did not change upon reading the afterward. In fact, if any thing, I believe Ms. Lauck lays out a fairly humane and comprehensive agenda for reform when she says, “Adoptive parents must be better informed. Birth mothers must be better informed. Adoptees must be better informed” (p. 264).  The only way we can become better informed is to listen – truly listen – to others stories. Especially adult adoptees.

“Adult adoptees are a primary source for knowledge about adoption as an institution. Their perceptions are unique, for adult adoptees are actually the only persons who can tell us what it is like to live adoption in a society in which most people are not adopted.” —Child Welfare League of America [emphasis mine]

~

After reading Found: A Memoir last summer, I had to walk around for a few days and let it ruminate in my belly.   I was satiated and couldn’t read anything else for about a week. No adoption related books. No academic articles about learning theory, attachment, or problem-based learning environments. No memoirs, no classics, no slim volumes of poetry, no micro-histories about the color of mauve or the writing of the Oxford English dictionary, no books about pre-War II Germany, no histories of our founding fathers.

It was just me and Ms. Lauck during those final days of our stay in the temporary housing.

The high summer heat broke our last day in the Tidewater. Early that evening, before the sun had slipped entirely behind the treeline, I laced up my pink and grey New Balance shoes and took myself for a walk in the opposite direction along the river. As I rounded the last curve before the beaver pond, I saw a pregnant full moon beginning to bloom over the Atlantic. She moved carefully and slowly around the corner of the horizon, taking her time to not upset the balance of the gravitational forces tethering her in her fixed path. I audibly gasped at her sheer beauty when she finally broke free from the curvature of the earth. She slowly cleared the span of the Gloucester Bridge, releasing me from her spell, and then I turned for home.

When I got closer to the temporary housing, I could see your youngest brother dashing home from the pool behind his father. I hurried to catch up to them, my feet falling on the wet footprints left by my husband on the warm sidewalk. Did you see that moon rise!? It was – it was breathtaking! I mean, it almost made me cry!

“Gorgeous,  a lot of things make you cry lately.” My husband’s caterpillar eyebrow wiggled knowingly above his eyes.  “So that isn’t surprising but no, I didn’t see it from here. The trees were in the way.”

“I missed it too, Mom. I was too busy playing to see what happened.”

Oh man, you guys really missed out on one of the most spectacular things I have ever witnessed.

~

Much like my husband and son missing the moonrise, I realize readers’ reaction to this book may be the same. It will affect each person differently, dependent on their position in the adoption constellation and whether they are paying attention or just hanging out in the pool we call life. And you know what? That is OK. We are all at different points on this journey and sometimes it is nice to just float on our backs and enjoy the warm water. But I’ll be honest, it sure was nice to have witnessed something so beautiful.

Much love and belief –

M.

*All research claims will be addressed in subsequent letters, providing references and a brief discussion of how the study findings might impact an adoptee.

To continue to the next stop of this book tour, please visit the main list at The Open Adoption Examiner.

To learn more about Ms. Lauck and her writing, please visit http://www.jenniferlauck.com/

Jennifer Lauck, author of "Found: A Memoir"

Jennifer Lauck, author of "Found: A Memoir"

I Should’ve Chambered a Round

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

About two months ago, Princess P. was snoozing upstairs in her bedroom and I was down here in my office doing whatever it is that I do. From the garage, I heard a loud sound, like a door slamming shut. It startled me, as Mr. Amazing Man was away at work and the pool lady wasn’t scheduled to come until the next day. However, I didn’t think much of it until a loud banging came from the laundry room.

Then I thought something of it.

While our neighborhood is normally an extremely safe place (like one of the safest in the state), there had been a spate of unsolved home invasions over the previous three weeks where the yokels would break in, tie up the people that were home and then proceed to rob them of all valuables. I was fairly certain I had locked all the doors leading to the outside, but I wasn’t absolutely certain.  Then I heard some more banging from the laundry room and I sprang into action.

For a split second, I thought, “Go grab Princess P. and then run for it!” But then I realized that to get upstairs to get her and then get out of the house would alert whomever was in my laundry room (if there was anyone). Essentially, there was no safe way to get to her and get out of the house. Immediately, my next thought was, “Then Melynda, you had better get the handgun and stand your ground.”

And so I did. As I dashed by the kitchen,  I grabbed the phone, dialed 911, and put it on speaker phone so my hands would be free. Then I pulled the handgun out of its safe location, chambered a round, and cautiously made my way to the base of the stairs that led to Princess P’s room. And there I waited, all the time talking with dispatch.

911, what’s your emergency? “I live in BWB and I think I heard someone in my garage and laundry room.”

BWB? What’s your address? I gave it to him, along with my name. Have you been out there to check, ma’am? “No sir. I didn’t want to open the door to the laundry room on the chance that someone might be in there.”

That’s understandable with what’s been going on recently over there in BWB. You did the right thing by calling us. Where are you now? “In my living room at the base of the stairs that lead to my daughter’s room.”

Is she home? “Yes, she’s 17 months old and sleeping right now.”

Do you have a weapon in the house, ma’am? “Yes sir, I have a hand gun with me.”

Is it loaded? “I believe I chambered a round, sir, and the safety is off with a full magazine.”

OK – I will let the responding officers know you are armed. “Thank you.” And then we waited with him periodically letting me know where the officers were.

Within a few minutes, I could see them out the front window. “Sir, I just saw them pull up. What do you want me to do?” Just stay put until they have made sure everything is clear. If you want, you can put the safety back on your weapon now. “OK.”

Through the sliding glass doors, I could watch them circle around back of the house, past the lanai that encloses our pool, and over to the gardenia bushes by my bedroom window. They made their way back around then came in through the garage door and into the laundry room. Nothing looked amiss to them, even though none of us could explain the noises. They checked everything thoroughly and assured me I had done the right thing by calling and by being prepared to defend myself and my daughter in our home.

Strangely, I was calm through this entire ordeal – like preternaturally calm. When Mr. Amazing Man got home from work later that evening and I told him about my day, he asked me, “Were you scared?” I told him I was when I first heard the sounds in the laundry room, but not once I made the decision to stand my ground and protect Princess P. with lethal force if necessary. “Do you think you would have actually shot an intruder?” he asked. “Absolutely, without at doubt,” I responded. “I have already lost one daughter. I am not willing to risk losing another one.”  My mind was perfectly clear and perfectly decided that morning: No one was going to get past those stairs to reach my daughter, and I mean no one.

In the weeks since this incident, I have had a lot of time to replay the scenario in my mind and digest its meaning. I have come to see this event is one of the things that woke the tiger in me and unleashed a fierceness with the Truth in my life. It came 19 years to late for you and I, but that morning I finally found the courage to stand up for myself and my children in a way I never thought I possibly could. I didn’t run and hide in a closet. I didn’t duck underneath my desk. I didn’t allow other people to make decisions for me. I made a decision to protect my daughter and I acted on it.  And ever since then, something has shifted in me. I think this is why, after all these years I was finally able to “out” myself on Facebook, why I finally have done the hard work to find a therapist who is at least trying to “get” what adoption means to me, why I am willing to stand up for myself to my mother.

I don’t know why exactly I am telling you this story. What I do know is that I owe you an apology for not being that kind of mother for you, for not fighting for you, for trusting other people’s advice and opinions even when it didn’t feel right to me. I should have chambered a proverbial round and stood my ground for you, too. I hope you are able to find that resivor of courage in your own life before you have to suffer too much heartache and sorrow. It is somewhere inside of you, I promise – just keep looking for it.

Much love,

M.

P.S. Looks like a young mother did just what I was ready to do: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57352344-504083/okla-teen-mom-asks-911-for-permission-fatally-shoots-intruder-on-new-years-eve/ (Edited to add this on 01-12-12)

I’m All In.

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I just posted this over on Facebook in response to the comments some of my LDS friends have left on my posting about the open letter to potential adoptive parents. It marks the first time I have publicly come out of the closet in such an overt manner. It is the first time I have ever told my LDS friends at large what adoption has done to me and my family.  I don’t know what will come of it but I do know it is going to make the ward Christmas party tomorrow night very interesting.

Much love,

M.

You know the hymn that says, “In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see”? Well, that’s me. I have a universe of sorrow I have kept hidden from the vast majority of my church friends because I have feared the exact reaction that has just occurred.

Look, I am just going to lay it all out on the line.

I am a mother who lost her oldest daughter to adoption.  After parenting her for nearly nine months, I was finally worn down by the dominant cultural rhetoric in the LDS church that told me I was being “selfish” by parenting her and that “good mothers” make “adoption plans” and “place” their children for adoption.  My bishop at the time also told me the only way I could take the sacrament again was to “prove” my repentance by relinquishing my daughter – the daughter I had nursed and loved and mothered all those months. He believed that adoption was a redemptive act on my part and would not let me partake in that sacred ordinance until I gave her away.

I now know how wrong he was in his treatment of me and my daughter.  I now know that I was forgiven of my sins INDEPENDENT of relinquishing her for adoption.  I now know the Atonement didn’t stop short of my front door simply because I was a single mother. I now know that I was relying on the arm of the flesh instead of my own personal revelation when I made the decision to relinquish my daughter. I know these things now, but I didn’t know it then.  I trusted him. He was my bishop. As a woman who loved God and wanted to please Him, what else should I have done?

However, I didn’t know the potential affect adoption can have on my daughter even if she grew up in a fabulous, amazing, incredible adoptive family. It still hurts. And it can hurt badly. If I had known the truth about the toll adoption could extract from some people, I would have never made the decision I made. My daughter would have remained with her people, the people that GOD sent her to. But I wasn’t told the WHOLE truth because NO ONE was willing to tell me the whole truth about adoption, about disenfranchised grief and the continual marginalization of “ birth” mothers and adoptees alike, about the primal wound and the adopted psyche, about sealed birth records and falsified birth certificates, about what the loss of my daughter’s Polynesian heritage would mean to her and her Samoan grandmother and aunties.

Consequently, my daughter paid the ultimate price for my mistake. And yes – it WAS a mistake for me to relinquish her for adoption. God and angels did NOT rejoice that day – I believe they wept for two of His precious children, needlessly separated by cultural practices.  The ONLY “crime” I had committed was being single. That’s it. I wasn’t abusive, I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I was actually in school and had a job, much like many other LDS mothers that were my age. I went to church every Sunday. I did my visiting teaching. I held Family Home Evening with her. But none of that mattered. My single-ness was enough to bring down the wrath of my culture upon me and my daughter.

Yes, she was adopted by a good family and has had a good life for all intents and purposes, but God sent her to me. He trusted ME to be her mother. *I* am the one who didn’t trust God enough, I am the one who trusted in the arm of the flesh instead of trusting God’s grace and mercy for me.  In the end, I have to live every day with the fact that I chose my bishop’s approval and the LDS culture over my own daughter. This shame and sorrow is something I will carry with me until I die, perhaps longer. I have to live with the attitudes of well meaning people who believe that adoption is a “miracle and blessing” to my family and me into the eternities.  I have to live with people telling me that angels rejoiced when I lost my daughter and that the destruction of her first family is something to be celebrated.

However, nineteen years in to the eternal sentence of being a “birth” mother, I have yet to see one single moment when adoption has been a miracle or a blessing to my family or me. I challenge ANY of you who think it is to look into Luke’s eyes and tell him that NOT knowing his sister is a blessing to him, to tell him that angels rejoiced when he lost his sister. I challenge them to look into Matthew’s eyes and tell him his life has been blessed by adoption, a social practice that has rendered his older sister a complete stranger to him. I challenge them to convince him what a “miracle” it is that his sister wouldn’t recognize him from Adam if they were to ever meet. I challenge any of them to take my sweet Penelope into their arms and tell her that her life is blessed because her mother gave her only sister away to strangers.  There are no more chances for me—I can’t have any more children. She will never have a sister because of what I did—what adoption did—to our family. Remind me again—how is this a blessing and a miracle?

I challenge them to look in to the eyes of my husband—a man who would have adopted my daughter as his own, a man who stands witness to nearly two decades of the marginalization and poor treatment of his wife by members of the LDS church, who has held me for countless hours as I have wept for what adoption has done to all of my children, who has cried with me—I challenge them to tell him that adoption has blessed me and will continue to bless me into the eternities. I challenge them to tell any one of my sisters, who lost their oldest niece and long for her nearly as much as I, that adoption is a blessing. I challenge them to look into my mother’s eyes, the woman who sat next to me as I labored my daughter into this world, who held my hand and was the first to hold my daughter after she was born– I challenge them to tell my mother that angels rejoiced over her losing her first granddaughter.

How is that God’s plan?  Does the God of your Universe and His angels look at the sorrow stitched into my family’s hearts, woven into our very existence and rejoice over it? If so, then I want no part of your God. The God I believe in is full of mercy and grace. He is full of long-suffering and love unfeigned. He believes it is wrong to pluck the fatherless from the breast of their mother and he believes that TRUE religion is to care for the fatherless in their need. The apostles of my God quote prophets when they say, “You devoted sisters who are single parents for whatever reason, our hearts reach out to you with appreciation. Prophets have made it clear ‘that many hands stand ready to help you. The Lord is not unmindful of you. Neither is His Church.’ (Quinten L. Cook, “LDS Women are Incredible, Ensign, May 2011; Gordon B. Hinckley, “Women of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1996).”  It shouldn’t have mattered why I was single. Me and my daughter were just as deserving of the love and compassion of the church community as any other mother and daughter.

My heart was shattered into a million tiny shards the day I finally caved in and “placed” my daughter with her adoptive family. I became a dead woman walking from that moment on. It has only been through extensive counseling and the unending love and patience of my husband that I have been able to carry on in any semblance of normalcy. Most of you would agree I have done a damn fine job of acting “as if” I was just fine. But the drive to excel at everything I do is firmly rooted in the reality that the LDS culture convinced me I was not good enough and would never be enough.  I struggle each and every day with my self worth and my belief that I am worthy and capable as a mother because I allowed myself to believe I was such a horrible mother that my daughter deserved to be raised by other people.  I struggle each and every day to believe I am worthy and capable of parenting the three children I have with me because honestly, I am the same mother to them as I was to my daughter and if I wasn’t good enough for her, then why am I good enough for them? My faith in God and in the Atonement have been shaken to their very core by the wreckage adoption has left behind in my life, in my parented children’s lives, and in my relationships with my sisters and mother.

In my life, adoption was a permanent solution to very temporary problems. It has not turned out to the great panacea that I was promised it would be. It has not been a win-win-win. I did not “move on,” I did not “forget.” I had other children but they will never, in all of the eternities, replace the one I lost to adoption. I know that sometimes, in the case of abuse, neglect, or drug use, adoption is a necessary thing. I accept that fact. But none of those were present in my life 19 ½ years ago and have never been in the intervening years.  Adoption was an unneeded and unnecessary social practice that I allowed to enter in to my family system. It has robbed my parented children of their sister and it has robbed my daughter of her true heritage.

In the past five or so years, I have had the distinct “pleasure” of discovering that adoption may not have been all it is cracked up to be for my daughter either.  I started reading accounts of adopted women and books written by and for the adopted person—not by and for adoptive parents, not by and for first families, but by and for adopted people. I discovered that regardless of my intentions or purest motivations, I inflicted a wound on my daughter which my culture tells her (a) to be grateful for and (b) doesn’t exist in the first place.  And this is even in the *best* of circumstances—the ideal outcome. I have come to witness firsthand how those who have the MOST to teach us about what it feels like to be adopted are the ones who are told to shut up and move the back of the bus, over and over and over and over again. I have witnessed first hand the rampant discrimination against adoptees, the ONLY class of U.S. citizens who are denied access to the full and factual accounting of their birth simply because the ADULTS in their life made choices that preclude them from having that access, even if they are now 65 years old themselves.

I have stood mutely by until now.  But I can’t any more.  My intent of sharing that link to the letter written by an adoptee was simply to give them voice, to allow the ONLY ONE in the adoption transaction that had NO CHOICE in the matter the ability to speak to us about adoption, to teach us what it means to be adopted from her perspective.

I know I am going to lose friends over this post, but it is what it is. I am tired of hiding this hurt, of pretending that I am OK with a culture that rejoices over the destruction of families under the guise of the “miracle and blessing” of adoption. And yes, my daughter and me were a family.  A family that the Lord was mindful of regardless of the reason I was single, a family that church members should have stood by with hands “ready to help.”

Instead, my culture used my cellular deep maternal instinct to protect my daughter from harm as a battering ram to convince me that I was not good enough to raise my daughter and that she deserved “more.”  My love for her was used as a tool to pry her from my arms.  The idea that my culture—that sisters in the gospel—rejoice and celebrate this loss? Well…it sent me to bed weeping afresh last night and kept me up into the small hours of the morning. It follows me around the house this morning, no longer the little dog yapping at my heels that it usually is, but a full-grown wolf, ravenous and dangerous, shadowing me as I move through the necessary daily routines of motherhood.

I Am Your Mother’s Worst Nightmare

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

Well, actually I don’t know if I am your  mother’s worst nightmare or not but I certainly know I am a nightmare scenario for some adoptive mothers out there. Maybe a more appropriate title for this would be “I am Some Mother’s Worst Nightmare.”

Why, you might be wondering?

Because I am a mother who has found her voice. Because I am writing with the “freedom of those who are marginalized to the establishment” and “with the zeal of those who are creating and affirming themselves by writing” (Rainer, 1997, p. 28).  Because I write with complete abandon. Because I have already lost you, I have nothing to lose by risking it all.

Not only have I found my voice, but I have found my backbone. The truth is it is was there all along but the lies of my parents and my culture were a scoliosis of the soul.  I am no longer the scared 20-year old mother who kowtowed to her culture and priesthood leaders.  I am a fully mature woman, intelligent, articulate, and well-read. I am a woman who has plumbed the depths of her spirituality and discovered a spine straightened and steeled by the Father’s love for her.

Not only have I found my voice and my backbone, I am not going away. I am no longer willing to sit in the back of the bus. I am no longer going to hold the coattails of the adoption industry. I will tell my story until it is all told.  My hope is that in telling my story – in speaking my truth – it may be a pathway for other mothers and adoptees to tell their parts of the story we call Life.  Each of us has a unique and valuable contribution to be made to the Truth–the world needs our wisdom, our life experiences, our truth.   “Although each of us gets a different life story–a different piece of the puzzle–our tribe needs the wisdom of us all for the truth to emerge” (Rainer, 1997, p. 36; emphasis added). The long arc of justice demands the scales be balanced–telling my story is part of the balancing.

There is a certain raw, unbounded beauty in the liberating experience of “becoming fierce with the truth” (Rainer, 1997, p. 97).  I hope you can discover this beauty yourself someday.

Much love,

M.

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Oops. Forget the reference. Here it is.

Rainer, T. (1997). Your life as story. Penguin Putnam, Inc: New York.