BOTB: Top Ten

Thank you to all who defined their Best of the Blog for me. I appreciate your taking time to share your thoughts and dig through my archives. I even surprised myself when I started poking around in the back of my blog closet. I have been blogging for many years and it is fascinating (and a bit disturbing) to me to see how my thoughts, voice, etc. has changed over the years.

Below is the list of the Top Ten nominated to date.  If you have not read, or want to read again, please click the links below. Be sure to read the comments. Many of them are more useful than the posts.

Feel free to continue to share your other favs as well!

The Nose (2006)
A post explaining my shock at finding myself in the same room as my college  age daughter and my inability to reach out to her to say hello, hug her and hear her voice.

Forgive You Father For You Have Sinned (2009)
The text of a letter I wrote, and mailed, to my mothers Catholic parish priest after my mother boasted to me how the priest welcomed females who had lost children to abortion to the altar.  He did not welcome women who had lost them to adoption.

White Flag Realities (2008)
A purely fictional post detailing a conversation between an adoption placement coordinator and Janie, an expectant mother, considering adoption.

Telling Children (2006)
The story of how I told my son, now age 15, then approaching 7, about the existence of his older sister. His childlike questions and my responses are contained therein.

Claimed (2011)
My experience of finally being claimed by a man who loved me after so many before him had failed to.

Just Sit There (2009)
A bit of a rant by me directed at random blog commenters that email and tell me my story is “oh so sad but it doesn’t happen anymore”.

About That Note  (2011)
My painful confession of the fact that when the agency casewrecker threatened me with that promissory note my mother signed, I gave up my daughter for the first time. The second would be three days after her birth.

Paying Debts (2007)
A five-year old post talking about the need to teach surrender mothers how to pay back what they “owe”, questioning if it is even possible.

Care To Play A Game (2008)
A challenge to my blog readers to play an adoption game.

Emma (2008)
Overhearing two adoptive moms discussing their Asian adoption experience.

Processing Winterson

I read the Winterson book overnight. Yes, literally overnight. I do that, at least with certain books.  There are books that I take more time on (things like oh, War and Peace) and there are books that I can read quickly due to both the authors writing style and the subject matter. Such was the case with Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal.

I do not want to say I enjoyed it but that is the word that comes to mind. Enjoyed seems the wrong descriptor considering the triggering and often painful story line.  The author, an adoptee, essentially wrote about her adoption experience leading up to and ending with the search for what she calls her biological mother.  I realize some shudder at those terms (finding them akin to sperm donor) but that is the authors term and her reality so I use it.

I highlighted many passages in the reading of the book (I do so love that features of the Kindle app for the iPad).  I am reflecting now on the passages. I will share a few with you.  I am not necessarily going to explain why they touched me, for in some cases, what it touched was a very personal part of my reunion or my daughter’s life. Not only do I not feel comfortable sharing too much, but I do not want the adoption blog police to issue me any kind of citation (joking…sort of).

If you are considering reading the book (or perhaps avoiding it), these passages may help you make a decision.

All pages noted are as they appeared on my app, I cannot be certain what the exact page is in the printed book. All are taken from Jeanette’s book Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal.

The title – The title is a reference to a conversation the author has with her adoptive mother. Adoptive mother, a religious zealot, is strongly opposed to the authors lifestyle, that of a lesbian woman.  When defending herself to her adoptive mother she states that being with women makes her “happy”. Adoptive mom  responds with “why be happy when you could be normal?”.  Later in the book, upon finding her biological mother, author notes the stark difference in her biological mothers views on her sexuality compared to her adoptive mother. Unconditional love is a new and difficult thing for her to experience and accept. Since my daughter identifies as queer, this entire thread in the story really touched me. Much like Winterson’s biological mother, I cannot imagine being phased, in the least, by a gay/lesbian/queer/insert their word here child.

Page 9 – “We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer; there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We get our language back through the language of others.” Yeah.  Exactly. This passage reminded me of this post.

Page 9 – “I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence.  The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself”.  Yeah, about that silence, that person who breaks it? That was, and still is, me in my dysfunctional family.  It’s interesting to read such a passage in a book. I am still speaking out against the silence and it is still not appreciated.  I can vividly remember so many times my siblings or my mother telling me to “just be quiet”…”Just do what he says”…”don’t talk back”.  I never listened to them and I always spoke out. Someone had to stop the insanity.  Most importantly, I am confident my outspoken demeanor preserved my own sanity. These days I am told I am “rude” when I refuse to buy into the party line.

Page 53 -“It took me a long time to realise there are two kinds of writing; the one you write and the one that writes you.  The one that writes you is danger. You go where you don’t’ want to go. You look where you don’t want to look.”  This explained to me perfectly why I have been hesitant to pick up my own novel again.  It was definitely starting to write me and I wasn’t prepared for that. It also speaks to the commentary on my last post between me and Von.

Page 57 – “Freud, one of the grand masters of narrative, knew that the past is not fixed in the way linear time suggests.  We can return. We can pick up what we dropped. We can mend what others broke. We can talk with the dead.”.  Love the sentiment expressed here. Not sure I agree. Still pondering.

Page 145 – “Jung argued that a conflict can never be resolved on the level at which it arises – at that level there is only a winner and a loser, not a reconciliation. The conflict must be got above – like seeing a storm from a higher ground”. Oh hell to the yes. This is something I see in the reunions that have gone well.  The parties involved have to come to some sort of agreement, they have both admitted the adoption was shitty for all concerned, they yelled and hollered and railed but agreed, together to move past it. There was no longer a need for one to win, one to be punished, one to proclaim themselves right and the other wrong. They realized there is no winning in adoption and to win in reunion you need to find a new way to move forward. I envy my friends who have found this way.

Page 145 – “I understand, in a very dimly lit way, that I would need to find the place where my own life could be reconciled with itself.”  This has also been my recognition.  I once thought finding my daughter would provide some sort of reconciliation. It didn’t. It doesn’t. It wont.  So I continue to work on reconciling my life on my own. It is probably the best and healthiest way…at least for me.

Page 155 – “I never wanted to find my birth parents – if one set of parents felt like a misfortune, two sets would be self-destructive. I had no understanding of family life. I had no idea that you could like your parents, or that they could love you enough to let you be yourself.  I was a loner. I was self-invented. I didn’t believe in biology or biography.  Parents?  What for? Except to hurt you.”  I found these very profound even if it is so very obvious in so many adoption stories.  Perhaps it was the way Winterson worded it in relation to her life.  I suspect this is a feeling permeating lots of reunions. I am reminded of a friend  who said she has no desire to find her first family and find more people she is “obligated” to love. How said is that?

Page 156 – “Flash forward to 2007 and I have done nothing about finding my past.  It isn’t my past, is it? I have written over it. I have recorded on top of it. I have repainted it. Life is layers. fluid, unfixed, fragments.  I never could write a story with a beginning a middle and an end in the usual way because it felt untrue to me.  That is why I write as I do and how I write as I do. It isn’t a method; its me.”  This reminded me of my daughter, her tattoo, and the time she preached death of the author to me in relation to well, me. Read this post for an explanation.

Page 160 – “But mother is our first love affair. Her arms. Her eyes. Her breast. Her body.  And if we hate her later, we take the rage with us into other lovers. And if we lose her, where do we find her again?”  Gulp. This made me cry…hard.

Page 172 – “This is the most dangerous work you can do. It is like bomb disposal but you are the bomb.  That’s the problem – the awful thing is you. It may be split off and living malevolently at the bottom of the garden, but it is sharing your blood and eating your food.  Mess this up and you will go down with the creature…And — just to say — the creature loves a suicide. Death is part of the remit”.  While not her intent or part of the passage that this is found, this reminded me of mothers and adoptees who refuse reunion.  I have always said that those that reject their other parties are really rejecting the pain and that the mother or child is the physical manifestation of that pain.  I myself did not get too caught up in feeling all rejected as a person by my daughter. She does not know ME, how can she reject me? She is rejected what I represent to her, what she would prefer to avoid. It is bomb disposal for many. They view their reunion counterparts as the bomb but in reality the bomb, the awful thing is inside them and they don’t want to set it off.

Page 180 – “Adoption begins on your own – you are solitary.  The baby knows it has been abandoned – I am sure of that. Therefore the journey back should not be done alone. The terrors and fears are unexpected and out of control“. This reminded me of my friend J. when she met her mother, she brought her boyfriend along. I was a bit annoyed by that (as a mother who would want to be alone with my child) and I told her so. She responded by telling me “he is my life raft. If I find myself adrift in a sea of emotion he can pull me to safety”. That made sense to me. It also reminded me of the same couple, the same boyfriend, who told me years later that the way to get past trauma is to experience it again, in therapy, in a safe place, with a person you trust will bring you back.  As for the rest, more crying on my part.

Page 183 – “That was the one thing she could give you. She gave you what she could.  She didn’t have to do that and it would have been  a lot easier on her if she hadn’t.  It is such a bond – breastfeeding. When she gave you up at six weeks old, you were still a part of her body”.  Winterson is quoting a social worker here. The social worker has Wintersons papers and is telling her about her adoption. Winterson notes that she cried at this point. She did not want to but she did.  I did too.  I remembered, trying to breastfeed my daughter, holding her to my breast, knowing we only had three days and that it would likely be harmful for her yet like the social worker said, it was all I could give her.  I know now I was wrong. I could have given her me, her original identity, her whole self. It is why I tell expectant mothers considering due to poverty that the most precious gift they can give their child is themselves. Others can parent, raise, love the child, but only one mother can give the connection and sense of identity that is so important.

Page 185 – Same social worker as above “I have counseled so many mothers over the years who are giving up their babies for adoption, and I tell you, Jeanette, they never want to do it.  You were wanted – do you understand that”
I agree with the social worker here. It pains me that adoptees feel to their core they were not wanted when in reality it was the mother that was not wanted. We think we are sparing our children that pain when what we do unknowingly is pass it on to them much like infertile women pass their pain over a child they cannot have to the mothers of the children they adopt. Its a big nasty game of pain roulette.

Page 190 – “The lost loss I experience as physical pain is pre-language that loss happened before I could speak, and I return to that place, speechless.” Wow. Profound. Think about that in relation to our children who cannot, will not, refuse to speak to us.  Do they know how?

Page 220 – “My mother had to server some part of herself to let me go. I have felt the wound ever since”. Yeah. As we learn later in the book, her mother did to. As I have, as every mother I know has.  Why do we continue to do this to mothers and children?

There are more notes, more passages that touched me.  This post is lengthy already. Hopefully you got a taste of Winterson and why I say I enjoyed the book.  I found it honest, raw, painful, fair, balanced, etc.

More later.

photo credit: Joanna Fisher

Reading Becoming Patrick: A Memoir

Becoming Patrick: A Memoir

It was a combination of the excellent writing and gut wrenching honesty that impressed me most. I will admit to being triggered approximately five times to the point that I started to cry and had to put the book down.  This is not a bad thing and it should not cast a negative reflection on the author or his story. Quite the contrary, it should show the rawness of the story and the incredible writing skills of the author. He got it. He gets it and he does so not only due to his adopted status but his ability to convey that in compelling, gripping words that enable the general public to get it as well.

The book I am referring to is titled Becoming Patrick: A Memoir and was written by adult adoptee, author, artist Patrick McMahon. I have met Patrick twice over the years. Our contact has been minimal and frankly I am not certain he would even remember meeting me.  In both cases, our contact was limited to an introduction, a smile, or standing around in the same conference space.  This lack of conversation is likely rooted in my introverted, socially anxious personality that abhors crowds and the requirement for idle chit chat. I much prefer intimate gatherings with intellectual discussion. I have also followed Patrick online due to his adoption themed greeting cards and his activism. We are “friends” on Facebook.

Patrick announced the availability of his book a few weeks back. Upon learning of it, I immediately downloaded it to my iPad Kindle app.  I read it from the first page to the last in a matter of a few hours.  Below are my thoughts, in no particular order. I wish I could formulate a professional review of sorts.  Quite frankly, when it comes to adoption themed books, I am usually at a loss for words.  The stories tend to hit me so deeply I am sent into an emotional tizzy that takes me some time to come out of. Until I come out of the emotional death spiral, I am unable to articulate clearly. As such, I ask that you (and Patrick) accept the limited commentary below. I may update it in the future.

Spoiler Alert: Finally if you intend to read the book, you may want to avoid my commentary below.

The Writing – The writing overall was stellar. The story wove together very well and it was easy to feel like you knew Patrick personally and were there with him. I particularly enjoyed his descriptive inclusions of his life, his daily happenings, friends and “sub plots” going on in his life (like job loss, financial challenges, love life and more). The inclusion of these items made him far more human to me and the overall story much more emotionally impacting. I really enjoyed simple things like his description of his long hair, getting his ear pierced. It was at this point in the book I scampered over to Facebook to check out if he still had long hair and piercing.  I squealed with delight when I saw an older picture of him with this long haired look. He wears it well (although I must admit to a personal affinity for men with long hair).

Honesty – Patrick was very honest in sharing his feelings.  I felt he provided a realistic view of his compassion for his first mother and family of origin and his conflict with them. He clearly took issues with some parts of the story (like his first mothers surrender of not one but three children to adoption). I really appreciated this fact as in other adoption memoirs I have read (Ithaka for example) I was left feeling as if the author was not being sincere. Something was either being sugar coated or completely avoided.  Patrick did neither. He did not paint a good or bad picture of his first family or even his adoptive family. He painted a very real picture complete with alcoholism in both families, job loss, and abuse.

Letters – The sharing of the text of the letters sent between him and his mother Barb was much appreciated. Again, this aspect provided a very human, real touch to it.  Surely he could have alluded to them but instead he included them word for word. As a result, I got a good feel for Patrick, Barb and the joys and challenges associated with their reunion.

Photos – I found myself wanting to see photos of his families once I got about a third of the way into the story. I am so glad he included these at the end! (I must admit I crept his Facebook to see if any were there!). Again, the ability to put real human faces with the characters I read about further humanized them all for me. I believe this is so critical in adoption (one reason I use my real face and name in adoption circles). Adoption does a nasty job of dehumanizing the family of origin and the adoptees.  Photos help make us real.

Chicago – I had no idea till I read the book that Patrick was born and surrendered in Chicago. This is likely one of the major reasons for my triggering. I knew so many of the places he referenced. I walked, even lived on, streets he talks about in the book (Ravensood). My roommate worked at Illinois Masonic. I saw a therapist there less than three months post surrender. The constant references to Chicago, Illinois, Illinois adoption organizations and search resources sent me spiraling backward into the dark abyss of my own painful past. It never ceases to amazes me that I can be sent back there so easily. No matter how far I think I have come, how good I feel I am doing dealing with adoption trauma, a certain word or memory can erase all the progress and take me right back to May 19, 1986 when I handed my daughter over to strangers with the blessing and admiration of society.

Ambivalence – I found myself feeling rather ambivalent about his first mother. Like Patrick I found myself rather disturbed by the information that she surrendered three children to adoption.  I do not want to sound judgmental. I know it is not uncommon for mothers to become pregnant soon after relinquishment; I could not wrap my brain around three surrenders. What must that do to a mother’s soul? I know what one did to mine. Three? I am confident I would have killed myself. That being said, part of me liked his first mother. She appeared very open, self aware and considerate, particularly as someone who was completely surprised at being found and totally unprepared to deal with reunion. Her first comments were harsh but she seemed to realize and restate that later on.  She did not seem to be too pushy (as many mothers often are in reunion) and seemed to genuinely try to be considerate of Patrick, his feelings and his adoptive family. If Patrick was trying to illustrate his own conflict with her, I must tell him he succeeded. I liked Barb but felt unsettled by some parts of her.

Gay and adoptedAs I have written about here, I learned, via the internet that my daughter identifies as queer. Having Patrick write about his own experience of coming out, living as both a gay man and adopted person, struck me very deeply. This was another point when I put the book down.  To read about Patrick’s fear of being rejected by his first family for being gay brought tears to me eyes.  I was so glad to see it was a non issue for his first mother (as it is for me).  His anxiety and fear of rejection was palpable to me.  I sat and thought at length about my own daughter and wondered how she came out to her adoptive parents, wondered if she is aware that I am aware of her sexual orientation, wondered what kinds of conversations, if any, we might have about it in the future. I greatly appreciated Patrick sharing this very personal but oh so important aspect of himself and his reunion.  Kudos to Barb for her acceptance. (Random data point: I have reunited several alternative lifestyle adoptees with mothers.  None of them faced rejected upon sharing that news.)

I encourage all to read Patrick’s memoir.  You can get it on Amazon and other locations. While I read the ebook, I intend to buy the hard copy to add to my collection. I also intend to TALK to Patrick the next time we occupy the same conference space.