Are you Thirsty? (Originally Posted Feb 2011)

Dear Ms. Feverfew -

“Children thirst to hear where they came from…
they need to know that they were desired,
that their birth was a wonder, and they were always
the object of love and care.”

~ Marcelle Clements

The boys never tire of hearing about the day they were born, how I labored them into this world. They love to hear of when they were still slippery and wet against my bare skin and we gazed deeply into each others eyes for the first time.

Captain Knuckle joins us earth-side

Captain Knuckle full on smiled at me – yes, a real smile that spoke of recognition and joy at seeing each other again. I don’t care what the experts say, this mother’s heart knows that was his first real smile and it was glorious.  And then I cried because my heart was so full of love for this tiny creature. (That’s us above – Captain Knuckle came so quickly the doctor didn’t even have time to put gloves on! What the picture doesn’t capture is me sobbing over and over and over, “It’s my baby, it’s my baby – no one can take him from me!”)

The Professor is born

When the Professor was born, it was about 25 minutes from the first contraction to when he was placed in my arms. When he landed safely in my arms, he looked up at me with a wide eyed gaze as if to say, “Hi there. I love you. Can you please explain what just happened to me?”  And I cried because my heart was so full of love for this tiny creature.

Princess P with mama on the delivery table

When the doctor (the one with the hands of a surgeon but the heart of a midwife) passed Princess P. across the surgical drape nine months and one day ago, she was placed on my bare skin just like all of her siblings. I couldn’t look directly into her eyes because I was on the surgical table, but I wrapped my arms around her as the nurse snapped my gown back together with Princess P. tucked inside and covered us with warm blankets.  I inhaled deeply and breathed in that heavenly scent of peace and wonder that new babies bring with them. She was so calm, so warm – perfect, just like you. We lay there together for the entire time it took to close the incision, our hearts beating against each other. And I cried because my heart was so full of love for this tiny creature.

Every child’s birth was a wonder, a miraculous dance of the oldest kind. Each of you has always been the constant object of my love and care. This mother-love is what innervates my cells and motivates so many of my decisions. I hope that someday you will want to know your story so you can understand you were not just adopted but you were born.

Someday, I hope to have the honor of  telling you of your journey into this world and that yes, you were labored over, bled for, cried for, and above all else – loved.

Much love,

M.

The Fall

The Fall

 Oh she bared her soul alright; it fell from a star cloud
Reigned by Canis Major. They knew it was authentic,
It whimpered like an unknown set loose inside a crowd
Of urban predators: fierce curs and savage sceptics
That roamed in packs. A few select gave shelter in
The telling, clad the naked soul in their protection,
Made suspect bargains to house her in a harlequin
that masked and silenced looked like her, even wore her skin.
But being undressed is like an honest thought, it cannot
Lie with dogs; it is the thing in itself, nothing more.
The truth is beastly but does not wag the tale. No, that
Is the subplot tellers invent when they call her whore.
And though her flesh is marked by canines, they strain to blame
Her first fall; judging original sin her true shame.

The Fall is © Eleanor Hooker

____________________________________________________________

Yes, the truth is beastly, made even more so when one tells the truth and then is subsequently marginalized and disenfranchised simply for telling the truth.

 

 

 

Love is Banishment

What goes by the name of love is banishment,
with now and then a postcard from the homeland.
– Samuel Beckett, First Love

I came across this Beckett quote in my reading earlier this week. I immediately thought of all my friends who are adult adoptees, the ones who have taught me what is feels like to live a life different than the one they were born into, a life manufactured by social workers, bishops, adoption brokers, grandparents, and most painful of all, their own mothers – regardless of how well intentioned she was or how much her choice was motivated by love. These adult adoptees are the ones who, with patience and honesty, have taught me the deep pain of growing up banished to a strange and foreign land, even if they came to love their adopted homeland and its inhabitants with a profound love.

Beckett’s words sting this mother’s heart. They re-open wounds I have come to accept will never fully heal.

It is true, I banished my daughter from her homeland in the name of love. I fell prey to the LDS church’s carefully crafted and well-planned “Adoption: It’s About Love” campaign. You know, the one created by Steve Sunday (currently on the Board of Directors for the National Council For Adoption) in partnership with Bonneville International and their copyrighted “HeartSell”® advertising techniques.

Trusting, believing, and naive, I was led like a lamb to the slaughter with my daughter in my arms. And then, in the name of love, I sacrificed my own mother-heart when I placed my firstborn child on the altar of adoption, LDS-style.  Twenty-two years later, I am still asking where was our ram in the thicket? Where was our delivering angel? Why weren’t we worth saving?

To some, it doesn’t matter my motivation or what extreme social and psychological pressures I was under at the time to “do the right thing.”  To some, all that matters is I had “free agency” to make my own choices, to which I ask, “Did I *really* have “free agency,” considering what I had been taught growing up and the social and religious coercion that was in play at that moment in time? Did I really have “free agency” when HeartSell techniques were being used to influence my thoughts and actions? Can “free agency” even exist in such a religiously manipulative and coercive environment? Can “free agency” *really* even exist within the patriarchal power differential that exists between a LDS bishop (who happens to also be a social worker well-versed in the NCFA “good mother/birth mother” rhetoric) and a young unwed 20-year old mother?”

But none of that seems to matter to some. The fact (the truth) remains: Regardless of my motivation or the reasons, I banished my daughter to the land of the adopted ones. Consequently, I am a persona non gratis into the eternities, at least according to LDS church doctrine.  My heart tells me differently, common sense tells me differently, but the religion of my youth tells me she is lost to my family for the eternities, because of a “loving” God and the sealing ordinance.

Love is banishment, with now and then a postcard from the homeland.

 

 

 

Booby Traps and Land Mines, Part II: In Case You Were Curious

boobytrapI spent some more time reading through the journal I found yesterday. I say “journal” and some might think it was some leather bound volume with carefully lined pages, but really, it’s just a 70-page spiral notebook I wrote in during that time period.  The entries begin on September 16, 1993 and end on January 2, 1994. Here’s a very small sampling of excerpts.

On September 21, 1993, approximately six months after caving to the pressures of the LDS community in which I lived, I copied Isaiah 49:21 into my journal. 

“Then shalt thou say in thine heart: Who hath begotten me these, seeing as I have lost my children and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro?”

I go on to say, “I am very sad today about Bear (my nickname for my relinquished daughter). Yesterday wasn’t much better. I miss her so much. I miss my little baby girl.  I know the [insert her adopted parents' last name here] will take good care of her and will raise her correctly, but I still miss her. It never goes away, this missing her. “

A few days later, I copy the verses from Isaiah 49:15-16 into my journal.

Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands. . . .”

On October 4, I write, “I got up and cleaned for the first time in a week this morning. I am so sad about all the choices I have made, all the stupid, stupid, stupid things I’ve done, primarily letting Bear go, even if I did it because I thought she deserved better than me. I am filled with pain. I  suppose this feeling will eventually lessen somewhat. I am told it will but I don’t know how I am supposed to get over her.”

October 20, 1994: “I haven’t talked to Bishop F.* in over two weeks but I am going to go stop by his office today to see him. Hopefully I can make it through our chat without crying the entire time. It seems that his office has become my “crying place.” Do I have a ‘laughin’ place’ like Uncle Remus says we all have? I can’t think of one because any time I stop long enough to be still, I cry. It’s been nearly six months and I still cry every day over my Bear. Bishop F. keeps telling me I will be blessed for my sacrifice. He says Bear is happy with the [adoptive family], happier than I could have possibly made her trying to raise her on my own.”  (*Bishop F. is the former LDS social worker, then religion teacher, and LDS bishop who facilitated the adoption of my daughter by his neighbors.)

October 26th, my 21st birthday: “[On Sunday], Sister C. was sitting in Sunday School with her little baby and it made me cry. My arms ached for my child, they hurt. My heart hurt. My head hurt.  I wanted so much just to take him in my arms and rock him. My sweet Bear, oh how I miss you.”

October 27, 1993: “Monday I cried nearly all day. I miss my baby so much AND I had a BAD baby day on Monday, even worse than Sunday. I feel like the worst person sometimes because I can’t be happy about having to let her go. I am so sad and my heart hurts and aches for her. People say, ‘You’ll have another one’ but I will NEVER have another Bear. She was the only one in all of God’s creations and now she belongs to another mother. I am told the pain will lessen, but I will never stop missing her.”

November 11, 1993: “Lately, I’ve been missing my sweet baby Bear something awful. I dream about her, I ‘see’ her with other people, I think about her constantly. I don’t think there will ever come a day when she isn’t with me in my thoughts. I cry a lot, too, lately. I just want a baby to hold for a little while. Maybe someone will let me hold theirs. That would be so good for me.” (Followed by a note to call my friend who recently had her first son.)

_____________________________

The following day, I stopped by Bishop F.’s office at the Institute of Religion again. According to my journal, I went there specifically to ask him about Ms. Feverfew and how she was doing. I guess I spent the entire exchange with him crying and later that night, I wrote in my journal, “I am going to write a letter to Bishop F. about how I really feel about losing Bear. I feel like my center cannot hold for one more minute, that I am rapidly unraveling, and I am dying inside. I miss her. I am desperate for her. How can he not know this about me? Why does he act like this is going to go away? She will never go away – I have the stretch marks to prove it.” I don’t know if I did or not – I suspect I didn’t based on the conversation we had a year or two ago in which he said I “blossomed” after I relinquished her for adoption. Blossomed????? I was stunned – still am – that he perceived my slide into a deep depression as a “blossoming.”

I have to admit though, I can see why he might have gotten that impression. I did a *very* fine job of hiding the searing pain from every one, and acted well the “part” of the fallen-but-now-redeemed-through-adoption Mormon birth mother.  I am left wondering, did anyone in my life at the time see what a hot mess I had become emotionally and spiritually? Did anyone care? Why didn’t my bishop or some other trusted person tell me to get the hell into a counselor’s office STAT? Why was I offered a band-aid for my wounded and suffering heart when what I really needed was CPR?

_____________________________

December 17, 1993: “Today has been nine months since I last saw my baby. Can you believe I have been without her for as long as I was with her? I still think of her and talk about her daily. She will always be with me, always in my heart. I often fantasize about getting her back from the [adoptive parents], but only if that is what the Lord desires for her. I love her. I miss her. My arms ache to hold my happy little girl again.”

December 18, 1993: “Joe & John turn 19 today [they are two of my brothers who happen to be twins]. It is also Bear’s 1 1/2 year old mark. I can’t believe she is that old. My heart hurts today more than ever for her. I miss her. What did I do to deserve this? Will I ever feel any kind of peace longer than a day or two about this? I am struggling to keep it together, to keep the strings tied, to keep the facade upright.”

_____________________________

From that point, I begin to really spiral downward into an inky dark place and then the journal ends on January 2, 1994. By virtue of the fact I am writing this today, I know losing my daughter to adoption didn’t kill me entirely, though it came very close to doing so. Somehow, by sheer determination and grit, I was eventually able to dig myself out of the deep depression adoption had brought into my life. If adoption taught me anything, it is that I am far more resilient and tougher than I ever imagined I could be.

There is much more in those 70 pages I have not shared here – so much more, but I think this is a pretty representative sample of my state of emotion and mind at the time. In case anyone ever wonders if this was ever “easy” for me or if I ever felt “good” about my “choice,” the answer is right here in my journal.

It hasn’t been easy and I have never felt “good” about it, regardless of what carefully-crafted mask I have presented to the world. Am I resigned to my loss? Yes. Accepting of my reality? Yes. Hopeful to find healing? Yes. But do I feel “good” about losing my daughter this way? No. Not for one moment since she left my arms in 1993.

Booby Traps and Land Mines

I had one last drawer of files to go through to complete the project of sorting through every box, drawer, and folder in my entire home. One. Last. Drawer.

What I didn’t know was this last drawer of files was booby trapped. Today, I opened the files and stepped on the first land mine, a journal I kept during the time period after I relinquished my daughter for adoption in 1993.

Land mine number 2: the petition for divorce I filed exactly five years after my first daughter was born. Somehow, across the years, I have repressed *that* particular memory but when I saw the yellowed papers, neatly stamped with the date of filing on every page. . . .the shame of my failed marriage and being left a single mother (again!) so soon after relinquishing Ms. Feverfew came rushing back to me.

Land mine number 3:  the restraining order issued against my bio dad when he got out of prison. Always such a joy to be reminded my first dad was a complete yokel. *le sigh*

Land mine number 4: a file of artwork and photos sent to me by my relinquished daughter’s adoptive mother. Dear God in heaven, Luke looks just like her.  Along with the drawings and photos was a short, half-page letter from her mother, the last I would receive until I attempted to reestablish contact with them many years later.

I am feeling a bit shattered at the moment.

I have no idea why all of these things were in the same drawer of my filing cabinet, other than they are roughly from the same time period in my life. My divorce and subsequent wrangling over custody of Matthew, the last time I heard from Ms. Feverfew’s adoptive parents for over a decade, my first dad going to prison.

I shredded all the divorce and custody paperwork (THREE bags full!!!), kept the restraining order, and put the artwork, photos, and letter from Ms. Feverfew’s mother in the scrapbook I have for those kinds of items.

I haven’t looked at the journal since I wrote it 21 years ago. I read some of it tonight and then spent a good portion of my evening crying for the 20-year old childless mother who wrote the heartbreaking secrets of her soul in such an elegant cursive script. I might put it away and not look at it again for another 21 years. Maybe 42 years. Maybe never.

 

“But The Proclamation says. . . .”

Recently over on Facebook, one of my friends (whom I will call Jennifer) posted a link to a blog written by an adoptee. Jennifer then invited her friends to read it and truly listen to what this particular adoptee says about their experience of being an adopted person.  Subsequent to Jennifer’s impassioned plea for more listening to and less telling adoptees how to feel about adoption, one of her friends (whom I will call Maria) countered with the LDS-knee jerk response of, “But the Proclamation* says children are better off with a mother and a father!”

Here’s what I wrote in response to Maria:

I agree that a mother and a father who are sealed to each other and neither partner has ever cheated on the other *IS* the ideal situation in which to raise a child. The Family: A Proclamation to the World clearly states: “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” However, we live in a fallen world where sometimes, we don’t get the “ideal” or even that to which we are entitled (to use the language from The Family: A Proclamation to the World). Sometimes, a parent dies. Sometimes parents get divorced. Sometimes parents who are sealed in the temple and married fail to live up to other covenants.

Do you have any of those situations among your own family and friends? Do you have any siblings, cousins, parents, uncles or aunts, or friends who passed away or got divorced, leaving behind the other parent to raise children as a single parent? Have their been any cases of infidelity in your family? (You don’t have to really answer those questions in this public space, I am just asking you to relate this to your own life).

If we, who claim to be God’s people, are to fully implement The Family: A Proclamation to the World with absolute exactness, then the LDS church should urge *every* parent who is single for whatever reason (death, divorce, etc. – not just single expectant parents), parents who are not sealed to their spouse (part member families), or a parent who has cheated or been cheated on by their spouse “do the right thing” and place their child(ren) for adoption in a home that has a mother and a father who are sealed in the temple and and have never participated in infidelity of any kind. After all, it clearly states children are “entitled” to this kind of home.

However, both you and I both recognize this to be a laughable suggestion, that EVERY parent who is single, not sealed to their spouse, or has been cheated on should relinquish their child(ren) for adoption to a sealed-in the temple couple. The push (social coercion) for single expectant parents to live to a different standard than all of the rest of the LDS membership is indicative of the black and white thinking our culture tends to engender. “There’s a right and a wrong to every question” sounds great in a hymn, but real life is a bit messier. There tends to be grey areas in which we have to use common sense, compassion, and our judgement.

Socially engineering a substitute “ideal” through the removal of a child from their biological kindred is NOT ****always**** the answer. Indeed, even the LDS church recognizes this. One of their primary arguments against same-sex marriage is, (as they state in their recent amici curiae), “Both social science and our own experience have taught that children thrive best when cared for by both of their biological parents.” This position is rather ironic considering the LDS church’s stance on urging single expectant parents give their infant non-biological people to raise.

I love this church with all my heart, but this is one of those areas where efforts to socially engineer a substitute “ideal” comes in conflict with some of our fundamental beliefs about the centrality of family and the importance of family preservation through genealogy and temple work.

I don’t know how this Gordian knot will be unraveled, what I *do* know is it is duplicitous of us, as the Lord’s people, to say “Biological family matters!!!! They matter so much we spend MILLIONS of dollars a year helping people seek out their biological kindred dead. Family matters, except in the case of those girls who get themselves pregnant, then biological families don’t matter to her, the father, OR their baby and she should give their baby to a couple who is sealed in the temple because, after all, that child is ‘entitled’ to parents who are sealed in the temple and don’t cheat on each other.”

Family matters. Mothers and fathers matter. Children matter. None are interchangeable, even when a parent is single (for whatever) or not sealed to their spouse.

A Gaelic Blessing

Dear Ms. Feverfew -

In my undergrad days, I was a vocal music performance major. I sang in all kinds of choirs, and in several of them, we performed A Gaelic Blessing by John Rutter. Every time I performed it, I imagined this blessing reaching out to you across the years and heartaches that separated us; I imagined it finding you, then settling on your head like a crown spun of gossamer thin gold strands.

As today is St. Patrick’s Day, I honor our Irish heritage and share this Gaelic blessing with you again. Nobody does it better than the Cambridge Singers under Rutter’s direction. Nobody.

Much love,

M.

_____________________________________

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ,
of Christ the light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you.

Tornado Warning

Tornado Warning Okaloosa

I am already an emotional train wreck this morning and have not stopped crying since the second stanza of the opening hymn of Sacrament Meeting. And when I say crying, I don’t mean the polite tear or two running down my cheek. I’m mean the unabashed crying that is making other people around me uncomfortable.  My hands shake each time I reach for the trays in which the sacrament is passed to the congregation, unsteady and weak with the knowledge of today’s anniversary.

I know my loss is not unique, but part of the larger fabric of human experience. This morning, I am acutely aware of not only my suffering, but that of those around me, too. Sitting behind me is Sharon and her four daughters. Last July, she held her mother in her arms as her mother died from injuries sustained in a tragic boating accident that also took the life of Sharon’s younger sister and injured several of her own children.  In front of me, Melody snuggles her darling baby girl who was born with several defects, smashing any hope she had of a healthy, normal daughter – we’ve talked frankly about the struggles she went through to accept the loss of her dream of a “perfect” baby girl. To my left is Vivian who never married and who lost the dream of children and a husband when she reached her 60s.  Two rows ahead of me is Betsy, who mourns the loss of her 23-year marriage. Three rows ahead of her sits Maddie and her nephews and nieces. They live with her part of the time because they have lost their mother to a long jail sentence for her role in a fatal hit & run accident. Up towards the front of the chapel, I can see Elaine with her five children. She’s dealing with the loss of her husband’s job and the reality they are going to have to move in with his parents.

It is within this river of loss I mourn my oldest daughter lost to adoption this morning. My grief is at an apex when my phone buzzes to life beside me. The tornado watch issued this morning has been upgraded to a warning.

Whatever unsteady earthen dam I have erected in my heart this morning breaks and splits wide open, leaving me awash in a current of muddy water. Thirty-six minutes of church is all I can manage today, and so I leave before the deacons have even been dismissed from passing the sacrament.  I run to my car in the gathering storm, the rains already pelting me at a 45 degree angle. I post this raw and honest statement on Facebook:

How fitting to have weather that matches my emotions on the 21st anniversary of the last time I held my daughter in my arms. Excuse me while I go seek shelter somewhere other than a LDS chapel. If I’m going to die today, it’s not going to be among people who believe my soul-crushing loss is “God’s will” and that my precious daughter is “better off” without me. #adoptionloss #stillwaitingforthosepromisedblessings

I can’t go home in my condition – my other children don’t need to see me in such great distress.  I drive to the beach and find it deserted – no one else is willing to brave the ferocity of this storm.   I know I am exposed to extreme danger sitting in the empty parking lot with no shelter nearby, the winds whipping around me, and lightening crashing between clouds overhead, but the winds and rain scour the edges off my suffering, and so I stay. Sitting here, vulnerable to the forces of Mother Nature feels like an authentic expression of my inner state. For for nearly six hours, I watch birds chase the roiling surf and listen to the rain pound the sand as the ferocious storm rolls across the emerald waters of the gulf.

Eventually (with enough deep breathing, mindfulness, and tear-stained writing), I collect enough pieces of myself to “pull it together.” Tears still fall as I watch the ominous grey-green clouds move off towards Tallahassee, but I have been granted a reprieve from the worst of the grief. I turn on the engine and head for home. Home,  where Jeff, Matthew, Luke, and Poppy wait for me.

______________________________

Right now I am having an tea party with my sweet Poppy. After stirring in three (!) lumps of sugar and some cream, she sips the fragrant Nutcracker tea and exclaims, “This makes my heart warm, Mommy!” I look down at her lovely little face full of light and joy, reach out to tuck an errant curl behind her ear, then offer up a silent prayer asking forgiveness of the daughter I gave away and giving gratitude for the one here before me. I lean down and whisper in her ear, “This makes my heart warm, too, sweet Poppy girl,”