“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.