Would you rather have people gossip about your life challenges or ignore them by pretending they don’t exist?
This question came to me over the weekend after a conversation I had with a life long friend. I will explain.
On Saturday, my fiance and I had a fabulous 80’s themed party to celebrate my birthday, my mothers, step sons graduation from HS and other stepson’s birthday. Party involved dressing in 80s attire (not hard for this 80s girl to do) and included 80s music and karaoke provided by a DJ. The weather was fabulous, the turnout even more so, all had a great time. The party started at 1pm and ended around 1 am.
Late in the evening I was talking to a family friend that I have known since she was born (she is 28 – keep that in mind, as the age is likely relevant). We were chatting about family memories and swapping war stories about some shared challenges between siblings. At one point in the conversation, friend says “When did you move to Chicago?”.
Move? I could tell by the sound of her voice, tone of the question that she was under the impression I went willingly.
“Move? Well, my daughter was born in May of 86. I flew out to the maternity home January of that same year.” I respond.
Utter confusion flushes her face. I can see something short circuiting in her brain. There is an awkward pause during which I suspect she is reflecting on my two sons that she knows and wonders what the flock I just said about a daughter.
Finally, she speaks.
“Huh? Daughter?” friend utters (a bit under her breath as if not to be heard by others sitting at our table. Others, I should add, that know about my daughter. One other sitting at that table in fact was at the maternity home with me in 1986).
“Come on. You seriously did not know?” I ask a bit incredulously. Friends family has been VERY close to my family for years. My mother and her mother have a regular girls night out. I babysat friend and her two older sisters for years. They lived behind my parents for even more years. We practically shared the same backyard. How is it possible that this person was never told of my daughters existence or the REAL reason I “moved” to Chicago.
Thus began a lengthy conversation about my pregnancy, coerced adoption, finding my daughter and present day status. Friend could barely speak as she tried to process how so many years had gone by and no one in her family had shared this with her, how they had lied to her for years about my “move” to Chicago.
Near the end of the conversation, friends sister joins the table and I ask her.
“H, you knew about my daughter, right?”
“Yeaaaaah” she says with a hesitant, yet sad tone to her voice like she is sad she knows and uncomfortable that the question was asked.
“WHAT!” screams her sister sitting next to her. “How come I was never told? How is it that Mom and Dad and you and sister B knew this and I didn’t”.
Sister H begins some sort of explanation to her and while she is talking my own mind wanders off. It is all too familiar to me, this keeping of family secrets. I reflect on my own younger sister who shared a room with me when we were kids. She listened to me cry myself to sleep for months before I went to Chicago. No one told her why I was crying. No one told her until AFTER I was flown to Chicago that I was pregnant. Those days of me crying, inconsolably, for hours on end, in the dark, laying next to her, still feels like yesterday to her. She speaks of it often. It is imprinted on her soul. Me and my tears disrupting her sleep. No one comforted me, no one explained to her. We were both left to our own sad devices. Even after I was flown to Chicago and my mother told her why, there was no further discussion.
I am uncertain if I am appreciative of the fact that my mother and friends parents kept my scarlet letter status a secret from the 28 yo friend sitting next to me or if it angers me. I realize friend is 28, only a few years older than my own daughter. Surely, at the time of my daughter birth, they would not have told her. She would have been three. However, other family events in my family, and even her own, would have indeed opened up the door for that conversation.
Today, two days after the party, I am still unsure how I feel about it. There was once a time when discovering that my daughter and I had been kept in the family dirty laundry basket would anger me. Those were the days I was desperate for validation, for acceptance, for someone, anyone to see me, the mother. Those were the days the person that most needed to see me as mother was Me. Once I began to accept my own role, status, experience, I found myself needing less and less validation from others. I am my daughters mother. What was done to me, and by extension, to her, was wrong. For anyone (including my daughter and her adoptive family) to dispute that says far more about them than it does about me. I don’t seek such validation any more. Yet, there remains, some eensy weensie part of me that still dislikes being taken out of the dirty laundry basket and wrung out when I least expect it.