Look Again [Book]

Let us discuss this book, shall we? Have you read it?

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

“When reporter Ellen Gleeson gets a “Have You Seen This Child?” flyer in the mail, she almost throws it away. But something about it makes her look again…The child in the photo looks exactly like Ellen’s adopted son, Will. But how could it be if the adoption was lawful? Everything inside her tells her to deny what she sees. But Ellen  won’t rest until she finds out the truth. And she can’t shake the question: If Will rightfully belongs to someone else, should she keep him or give him up?Ellen makes the wrenching decision to investigate, following a trail of clues no one was meant to uncover. And when she digs too deep, she risks losing her life—and that of the son she loves.” – Amazon Book Description

Comment if you have read it and I will add my thoughts.

Lobby Day Redux – If Only

To my left, past the Young Parent Policy Fellows table, I catch the eye of a young teen father. Red-headed Dad, decked out in jeans, converse sneakers, concert tee shirt and a baby Bjorn strapped across his chest.  There is no infant in the carrier for the smiling equally red haired baby girl is in his arms where he snuggles and tickles and smiles at her. I guess he is not more than 17.

If only.

Surely I look a bit out of place, perhaps like a tourist to the State House, with my head bobbing too and fro, my ears catching audio clips from a conversation between a State Rep and a Program director or a mother and her toddler child. There have to be several hundred people in the room, nearly half teen parents with their baby on their hips or with their hands holding little toddler hands.

I don’t kid myself into thinking these parents are having an easy time of it but I also know that parenting is hard at any age. It is always expensive. Always life changing. I was married when I had my second son. He is now fifteen. I had a terrible pregnancy, gave birth to a 12 pound child after three days of induced labor followed by a cesarean section. I had post partum depression followed by years of a challenging marriage and a third and final child. None of it was easy despite being married and upper middle class. The young parents are amazing. They are facing the challenges I did (and many  I did not) but they do so keeping their children with their family of origin.

If only.

An elected official carrying the same last name as members of my mothers’ extended family takes the podium. I am interested in him for the few seconds I muse over the fact that his name is an Irish one in my mothers’ family. I wonder if he is related. I decide he is not as I am aware Boston has a massive Irish community and I never heard of a single member of my mothers’ family living here. My mind reflects on the movie The Departed and I reflect on the term Shanty Irish.  My mother used that term.  I thought she made it up, I thought it was slanderous. Turns out it was rather common place.  My mothers family never figured out if they were Lace Curtain Irish or Shanty. I am sure many would have considered me shanty, a disreputable person of Irish descent.

My mind returns to the white haired suited official, but only for a moment. I am turned off by the heavy Boston accent and return to scanning the room. A mother looking harried and lost approaches the table, a child with a runny nose and somewhat dirty clothing is by her side.  She asks for directions to check in. I smile at the child, his greenish white snot glistening in the dim lighting, grubby clothes not fitting quite right. Child smiles back. Wide smile. Happy smile. He may grow up poor but he will grow up knowing his mother did her best, she loved him. She wanted him. She kept him. She was strong enough to fight the forces working against her, the forces lusting over her baby and the price he could be sold for.  I smile again at the snot running down his nose. He smiles again. I never got to see my daughters snotty nose.

If only.

The  booming voice of Representative Gloria Fox (D-Roxbury) takes the podium. Strong powerful voice.  I am inspired. I am drawn to powerful strong women. I am interested in what she has to say.  I try to listen yet am interrupted by another mother and her toddler asking me if I know where the restroom is.  I don’t but I offer to help them locate it. She smiles and tells me she can find it herself. I return to Rep. Fox and I hear her say we all have a vested interest in each and every healthy baby brought into the world.  I choke back tears and try to force down the lump in my throat. The only people that had a vested interest in my daughter were the agency that took her from me and the couple that paid a great deal of money for her to become theirs.

If only.

Angel, teen father to twins, takes the stand.  My eyes violently turn towards him. A father? A responsible teen father?  You mean they aren’t like unicorns?

Angel is young, attractive, well spoken. He shares his story of how he and the mother of his twins were both in college when she became pregnant.  I am having difficulty breathing.  I am simultaneously fascinated, angry, sad, moved, touched, and enraged.  Angel is a slight fellow, average height, dark hair, attractive, presumably Hispanic. The dark hair reminds me of my daughters’ father. Angel manned up to his girlfriend. He will have his children in his life. His twins will know who their daddy is.  His girlfriend will raise her children.

If only.

A young mom, now a college student, tells the story of her pregnancy. She shares how a guidance counselor at her high school confronted her and informed her they did not “need” people like her “a pregnant teen” at their school.

Need? WTF? What education professional says that to student? My adult parent self screams inside and then I flash to my own experience.   I was an honor student in high school. I was president of student government. I got pregnant two months AFTER graduation.  I know without question that had I gotten pregnant in high school I would have killed myself (and my child…we would have been together then).  I wonder if my wacky old guidance counselor would have preferred suicide of the president of student government over her becoming pregnant. I want to hug the mom that is speaking. I want to tell her how amazing she is, how lucky her child is to have her.

If only.

A young lady, a mother, a college student takes the stand. She is introduced as a poet.  I think of her as a powerhouse dynamo spoken word artist. She is incredible. She recites, raps, shares, and recites her story in an incredible work of art.  She talks of coming out of prostitution, having her child, going to college. She says, sort of sings that she wants to be a “mentor, an innovator, a trailblazer”. I suspect she is thinking of young people when she says this.  I don’t think she realizes a 45 year old mother of three, parent to two, is finding her to be quite innovative. This girl, this young woman, needs to go national. I wonder if she is on YouTube. I wonder how I can hear her speak again.

If only.

The opening session wraps up and the many teen parents head off to meet with their respective representatives. I look around for a second unsure what I should do next. Should I stay and help the Alliance staff clean up? Where are they going to go? What are they going to do?

I check my watch and realize I should head back home. I have at least a 2.5 hour ride back to Connecticut.  I pack of my things, say my goodbyes and express my thanks to the members the alliance.

As I wander out of the Statehouse I am overcome with emotion.  I am confused. I am awe struck. I am emotionally bleeding. Not sure which way I should go. I cross the street and start walking across the Boston Common.  Tears blur my view as I walk the direction I will later learn is the wrong way.  I will circle The Common in its entirety and panic before I find my way back to the garage.

Many people pass me as I walk, slowly, deliberately,  confused and crying.  The beauty of the city is that no one questions the crazy people.  No one looks at the crying woman circling The Common.

The event is a bittersweet experience for me.  It is inspiring, encouraging, enlightening to see change happen. It is powerful to see press and policy makers supporting the rights and needs of teen parents. It is gut wrenching to see the struggle yet hope and determination of these young parents and the programs that support them.  I wish I had access to, knowledge of, such programs in 1986.  Children understand poverty. They dont understand a mother that gives them away to strangers. I wish I knew of such programs, such adults when I was pregnant and alone. My life could have been different. Very different.  I might have raised my daughter. I might have avoided 27 years of trauma therapy. She might be talking to me today.

If only.

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.