Albert, Julie, Raoul & Me

“Hi. I wanted to meet you. Susan told me I should introduce myself to you…I was wondering…are there any other birth mothers here?” my new friend says.

“Uh, well, me…and uh…I think there are a handful of older moms…from the baby scoop era…I think they are with CUB?” I respond as I bobble my head around the room looking for the moms I reference.

“Oh, no younger ones? I was hoping to meet some younger ones. I was hoping we could all get together for lunch” friend says with a mixture of a surprise and disappointment clear in her tone.

“No that I know of.  I don’t usually see many younger moms at conferences…at least not the ones I go to… but I will keep a look out for you and let you know if I meet someone new” I offer.

“Okay. Thanks. Excuse me I have to use the ladies room before the next session starts” she says as she squeezes between me, a group of strangers and a wall.

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“She asked me if I knew of any other birth mothers here. Do you know anyone?” I ask my friend Psychobabbler and another conference attendee, a social worker from Illinois. 

They didn’t.  

Some one asked if Claud was in attendance and I indicated I had not seen her. I wondered to myself why it is so often me and Claud. Where are the other younger mothers? I know they are out there.  I know they are blogging. How do we get them to conferences, particularly one like St. Johns that is full of critical thinkers about adoption and not individuals promoting God’s plan to needlessly separate mother from child. How can we make them feel safe to speak, if that is even possible for us to do? What is unique about me, Claud, Bernadette, the many senior moms that seem to always been present?  Ego? Good therapy? Socio-economic status? All? Or none of the aforementioned?

I feel like a bit of an island at times. I wonder what message it sends. The one bitter birth mother whining about the Illinois baby brokers (someone actually referred to me that way years ago) floating in a sea of social workers, policy makers, adoptive and prospective adoptive parents.  This conference is well stocked in adoptees (primarily trans-racial, given conference topic that makes sense), social workers and even adoptive parents. Seems like a critical voice in these conversations is continually and painfully absent.

“Is it possible they are not here because there just aren’t any younger ones – or at least fewer? Maybe that is a good thing? Maybe we are making progress and after 1986 there is just less of you….therefore less presence” friend questions.

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” I respond with a confused tone as I look down at my roast beef sandwich debating if I should eat the bread or not. I am thinking more than I am listening when I hear Social Worker from IL speak up.

“It is likely important to note the price of these things.  While the registration for this one is affordable, sort of, travel, meals, lodging, etc. in New York certainly is not.” she says.

A conversation concerning the cost of conferences, social worker wages, birth mother income and more ensues.  I am listening and engaged, yet not.  A piece of my mind has been sliced off and is having its own conversation. Some part of me is a teeny bit offended. While I don’t believe it was intended, it may have just been suggested that birth mothers cannot afford, haven’t achieved the social status to pay for such conferences. Am I projecting? Being too defensive?

I decide to offer an opinion.

“You know, even if it is true, even if the numbers are down, and that would be a good thing, it is critical we keep talking, we keep showing up. Let me tell you a story about my grandmother…..” I begin.

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Returning home following a long day of high school and working full time at Burlington Coat Factory, I arrive at my grandmothers’ small home at nearly nine o’clock at night. Although I noticed the grey blue television glow through the front bay window suggesting Gramma Julie was awake, I entered with deliberate caution careful not to make noise. If she was not awake, she would surely be asleep on couch underneath one of her multicolored hand crocheted afghans.

I open the door, step in slowly even though the soles of my Bass shoes make little noise. My grand mother is awake and lying flat on her back on her mothball smelling couch. Her hand crocheted afghan is  pulled up under her chin and she is sobbing deeply and staring at something on the television. Startled at the sight of her, I quickly spin  on my heels toward the television.  It is  at that moment I am  introduced to Raoul Wallenberg or at least the Richard Chamberlain version of Wallenberg.

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat celebrated for saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust. An Aryan Christian and son of wealthy Swedish bankers, Wallenberg despises the anti-Semitism of the Hitler regime and vows to help as many victims of the Nazis as possible.

My grandmother and her family, well, really my family, were victims. I recall stories of my grandmothers’ family being labeled Righteous Gentiles. I see the image of the firing line Grandma once talked about. I reflect on the family legends of my grandmother conceiving my father out of wedlock during the time she worked as a maid to a German officer. My own mothers voices echoes in my ears with stories of my father’s father, my grandfather, and the relationship he had with my grandmother, a relationship that produced not a marriage but rather my illegitimately born father on June 7, 1941 in Lubacz, Poland. My grandmother gave birth, likely alone, without the father of her child nearby. (In 2012 I will find his concentration camp release records but will be unsuccessful in tracing him beyond his camp release). With this knowledge in mind, and nearly six months before I will experience my own crisis pregnancy, I rush to turn off the television.

Gramma Julie sits up right and bellows loudly in her thick Polish accent.

“LEAVE IT ON.”

Doubly frightened that I have now further upset an elderly woman already visibly upset, I freeze in place and look at her.

“But, Gramma, it is making you cry. I know this story. I know what it means to you. You shouldn’t watch it.” I say.

Still forceful yet also still sobbing, she responds.

“I will watch and so will you. Come. Sit.” She says as she pats the couch next to her.

“We must all watch. We must keep telling these stories. We must keep crying. The instant we stop, it will happen again. IT CANNOT HAPPEN AGAIN.”

I am now crying.

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Six months after that conversation with my grandmother, I experience my own crisis pregnancy.  I am not in WWII Poland but I will experience my own type of personal holocaust. Oh, there is no mass murder or genocide, not really. In my case, only one was lost. While my grandmother walked out of Poland eight years after my fathers’ birth with him holding her hand, I had no such luck leaving the State of Illinois.  I want to say that my loss pales in comparison to the massive losses of others, and logically, intellectually I know it does, but part of me, the emotional immature part of me that cares only about my loss, my pain, my grief, my child, feels somehow related to those from that terrible time in history.

With that memory tattooed in black ink on my soul, I realize why I need to be okay with being one of the few moms here, why it is okay if I am the only one telling the stories. Someone has to.  Even if at this time, now, it is just me.  For all those lost, for those that may be lost, for all those that were “saved” through open adoption or parenting. We must keep telling the stories of mothers like me and those before me. As my grandmother says, the instant we stop, it will happen again.

Thought to myself, but heard in my grandmothers thick Polish accent, IT CANNOT HAPPEN AGAIN.

27 Thoughts.

  1. I am a mother of adoption loss (1990) and cost has nothing to do with why I don’t attend these conferences. I am not at a place and may never be that I can stomach being at a conference with baby brokers and their paying customers, giving spiels about how wonderful adoption is and how god wills it all.

    Perhaps those who offer an opinion of why many of us are not there (and I am not speaking of you, Suz) can get off their high horses and realize not all of us want to be in their company. Just my 2 cents…

    • Oh gosh, Mom422, please accept my apology if you felt I or anyone else was judging negatively. Quite the contrary. I was missing your voice, the voice of other mothers, I was musing over the pain and sadness that prevents us from sharing, wondering what I could do to help, feeling as though there is power in numbers and yet at the same time I was feeling down on myself. It was definitely about me and how I was feeling. Not at all about judging the trauma of others mothers – rather wanting you there.

      • Suz, I was actually referring to the Social Worker in IL who made the comment that we may not attend because we were not “well off” enough. Just another way to malign natural mothers and make them seem less than. Like you, that offends me. Moreover, some of us can’t stomach being in the company of them.

        • Understood and as written I really wasnt sure if she was suggesting that or if I was being defensive. It just struck me as odd as the conversation went from “where are the other mothers” to “lets not forget the cost of these things” which to me felt a bit slippery slopish in suggesting mothers dont have financial means. Seemed all too familiar to why we could not, should not keep our own children.

          • I think I would have come to that conclusion had she made that comment to me. The undertone is always there, that we were not good enough for our own children because of financial restraints when we were young, among other things, which carries into our whole lives (regardless of our current situations). Seems all to familiar indeed…

  2. Oh, Suz. So powerful, so true. Hugs, again dear sister for your courage and strength. You will never know how much I love and admire you.

  3. I completely agree with Jeanette ~ so powerful, so true. You have courage and strength that I only dream of. Even if I had the time & money to go to a conference like this, I don’t know if I could. I should make it possible though… For we must keep telling our stories…

  4. I guess I could be considered a younger birthmom. Although I am also an adoptee born in the 80’s.

    I would love to attend conferences. I am a full-time student who can barely afford rent for the most part so until I graduate and become a ‘real’ adult, I will have to wait. I do plan on attending though. As a social worker, an adoptee and a birthmom.

    • Elle – You are an interesting perspective. One of the moms (in fact the at the top of this post) is also a mom, adoptee and social worker. Wow what challenges she navigates as she lives as a member of all three groups! She really made me think how hard it can be to have dual or triple membership into adoption. You ladies also bring a very unique perspective that needs to be heard.

  5. Suz wrote:” I recall stories of my grandmothers’ family being labeled Righteous Gentiles.”

    That is something to be hugely proud of, not a derogatory label. It is actually an award from Israel for those brave Christians who tried to help their Jewish neighbors in the Holocaust at the risk of their own lives. Your grandma and her family did the right thing in the face of terrible danger. They are genuine heroes and I can well understand why she had to watch the Wallenbourg movie and why she was crying and wanted you to watch as well. I do not know if I still have relatives left in Poland as my grandparents came here in the early 1900s, but if I do, I would be so happy to know any were designated as Righteous Gentiles, and fearful that any were Nazi collaborators. My son’s Hungarian grandfather was a Nazi sympathizer during the way, something his son was profoundly ashamed of.

    As to conference and who attends, I am one of the old moms who was there, but would love to see more younger mothers speaking out as you have about what happened to you. I do not find the differentiation of “baby scoop era” helpful in speaking about our losses. It is divisive rather than uniting and leads to the mistaken notion that coercion stopped happening years ago, when the truth is it continues until today. Young moms should be invited to speak at these events, and their way paid if needs be. Those voices are really important and must be heard.

  6. Another younger mother here. I relinquished my daughter in 1988, in Illinois. It was a private adoption arranged by the doctor who delivered my child though so I don’t have any experience with Easter House or any of the more organized baby brokers.

    I would most definitely like to attend one of these conferences. Right now there are a few main reasons that I don’t. One is that I only know one or two other mothers in “real” life and I am a bit intimidated to show up at a conference on my own. Another is that I am just under 3 years into my reunion and still feel a bit unstable at times, if that makes sense. Every day gets easier, but I stil find myself being overwhelmed by grief and depression occasionally and I worry that attending a conference like that might be incredibly triggering. Also, since my reunion, I find myself wanting to save most of my days off from work for visiting with my daughter since she lives in another state. Hopefully in the near future I’ll be able to figure all this out and attend one of these conferences, because I would love to!

    • That is great news Eileen. Totally understandable. FTR, I am unstable nearly every day. I have to reconcile the pain every single day and force myself to f unction. I am NOT kidding. Are you still in IL? I have some really great mom friends there if you ever want a local contact/friend that you can talk to and vent to and know you will be understood.

      On conferences, I am personally selective. St. Johns is very good as it is policy makers, social scientists, critical thinkers, etc. It is small and academic and NOT pushing adoption. I have attended many others that are larger, pro adoption focused, where I am not comfortable. (But even those I do feel the stronger of us need to venture into).

      • Oh, I know you’re not kidding Suz. I have been there and will be there again. I have been really lucky in that I found an amazing therapist that I have been seeing since shortly after my reunion and I have about as good of a reunion as can be expected. And I still have those days too. A big hug to you! And way to go for getting out of bed every day and trying again! 🙂

        I do still live in IL. I’m in the Chicago suburbs. I’d love to meet other mothers nearby. RIght now I only know one in my area but we are not on the same wavelength about adoption at this point.

        Maybe I’ll look into attending a conference next year. I’m pretty sure I’m not up for one of the pro-adoption conferences just yet but I totally agree about there being a need for us to attend those too. I just have a hard time even reading blogs about how adoption is so different now, etc!

        • Eileen – Message me at bluestokking at gmail dot com and I can share some names. If you are on facebook friend me there, and you can meet them there! I keep a private adoption friends only facebook list

          I have friends in the Burbs (northern and southern) and a few in the City.

  7. Eileen, your number one priority should always be spending time with your daughter, not adoption conferences. The recent one Suz and I were at happened to be the day before I was seeing my surrendered son and his wife for the first time in person in 8 years. Believe me , if I had not committed to be on a panel I would not have been there, and had the day of the panel been the day my son invited us, I would have blown off the conference in a minute! I’ve been to a lot of them, but even after all these years don’t think I could take one that was really pushing adoption.

    I am one of those old moms, found a too-young adoptee, many years of being ignored and I thought rejected, then many years of a good but email-only relationship. The visit last Sunday was wonderful, comfortable, happy…a real family visit at last, me and my husband and my son and his wife and very cute kitties and puppy. I kept pinching myself to see if I were really there or it was just a dream. Of course there was sadness in leaving, and for all that was lost that might have been, but also hope for more contact in the future, more real life to wipe away the fantasy and fears of so many years. Hang in there with your daughter, we are all in this for the long haul.

    • Hooray Maryanne! I was thinking about you and that visit! So glad it went well! Made me smile! Thanks for sharing.

  8. I’m an old mom, too, Maryanne, and I appreciate all that you, Suz, and others like you have done and continue to do for adoption reform. Fifteen, twenty, even thirty years ago I would have loved to have attended an adoption conference. Now, I feel “old” and worn out from the ups and downs of the reunion relationship ordeal. Honestly, it’s taken its toll. Perhaps when I retire I’ll be able to do more as I feel that my experiences could help others find their way with the relationship issues involved in adoption.

  9. Adoption conferences can be emotionally brutal. I haven’t been to one since 1998, when PACER hosted the AAC in San Francisco, although I have been tempted to go many times, depending on how far away it was. I’m hoping to attend the AAC in Cleveland next April. Will probably be freaked out after so much time out of the fray. (Not like I’ve been totally out of it… with all my memberships in adoption organizations and my blogging/reading blogs.)

    Just wanted to say, Suz, that your comment: “I am listening and engaged, yet not. A piece of my mind has been sliced off and is having its own conversation” struck me. I get that. When someone says something that strikes me as wrong, I’m off in my own head, trying to figure it out, make peace with it, or decide how to respond.

    Example: I can’t remember if I blogged about this, or just told my friends… when we were in California earlier this year, and one of my dear friends’ son and DIL had just given birth to a baby daughter, everyone kept saying “she’s a keeper,” as a way of saying she was beautiful and sweet and loveable, all the things that babies are. I bristled at that. As if my son, and all the children who have been given up for adoption weren’t “keepers.” As if they weren’t good enough to keep. As if ALL babies aren’t keepers.

    As you said, a piece of my mind sliced off and I was no longer hearing them, I was having a conversation with myself. I didn’t say anything at the time. Later, I felt compelled to email the friends involved about how that phrase affected me, how it might be constrained as hurtful. They understood.

    But it’s different when we’re in public, at a conference. And we end up taking that stuff home with us to process later.

    • Adoption conferences can be emotionally brutal.

      Indeed. For many it is like walking into a room full of your attackers, being on the witness stand and having to recant the horrors. In my earlier days attending conferences would send me spiraling into an abyss of dark stuff. Emotional tar that I could not shake. I would have to take time off of work and plan for the detoxing and processing. It would be mind numbing at times. Had to be. Ripping a band-aid off a wound and sticking a poker into it every time.

      Since attending and speaking and being selective about attendance, I have found ways to manage the after effects.

  10. For me, this piece illustrates, not only Suz’s, gifts as a writer, but why it is SO important that all voices have a seat at the table (no pun intended). I was literally sitting at that particular table, but that take on what the social worker said blew right blew right by me. If Suz had not shared her experience of that comment, I would not have recognized it as a microaggression. This is not to suggest that Suz’ fears that her response was “too defensive” are in any way founded – only to acknowledge my own limitations in perspective, coming from a very different set of life experiences. Sometimes we don’t know what it is that we don’t know, and it’s only after having the opportunity to see something from another’s lens that we are able to broaden our view.

    BTW, I believe said social worker said she works primarily with foster care, is an adoptee activist, and also a single mom.

  11. Interesting, because me and Erika Klein (“younger” moms) attending the Origins Canada conference, and we were the only ones there. Maybe its cost? It is super important to me, so I start saving up early in the year when I know its coming. Plus difficult.

    But I also wanted to let you know about the new Open Adoption Legal Project that I am heading up. It’s to hold lawyers and agencies accountable to their coercion of open adoptions. More is at my blog, and feel free to contact me for more information. It’s time for this corruption to end. And, if you could send a message to your followers, or put up a link, I’d be very appreciative.

  12. Suz, this is a great article. I’m a male adoption social worker in the foster care system, and the biggest aim of my trainings in the last several years has been to encourage new, sometimes idealistic foster and adoptive parents to be open to openness. I know that my venue is different from domestic adoptions and voluntary relinquishments. I don’t understand being a mother (I don’t even understand being a woman), but I do understand being the person saying true things that aren’t always popular or well-received when it seems like everyone else wants to be purely celebratory. I’m glad for your piece here, and for your presence at adoption conventions. People need to hear all sides.

    By the way – my ears also perk up any time I read about Polish folks. A few years back I was in a training where the trainer said “nobody is ‘just’ White, or ‘just’ Black, or ‘just’ anything.” That had my look into my roots, and I’ve found it really enriching and rewarding and powerful to learn about being Polish.

    thanks for your post. Addison

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