On the 20th Anniversary of a Daughter’s Passing From a Mother’s Life and Into Adoption


It was Wednesday, March 17, 1993. Not more than two months before, all 50 states celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for the first time and then inaugurated one of the youngest Presidents in its history, Bill Clinton. In Los Angeles, four of the five officers accused of beating Rodney King were on trial for the second time.  Whitney Houston’s version of Dolly Parton’s country classic “I Will Always Love You” had just finished a 14-week run in the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 playlist.

waco_fig06aThe siege at Waco, Texas was 18 days old. On February 28, a gun battle had erupted between the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) and the Branch Davidians, a Seventh Day Adventist splinter group. Four BATF agents and eight Davidians died during the initial raid. FBI authorities had been in negotiations with them for nearly three weeks but the leader of the sect, David Koresh, and his followers at the Mount Carmel Center showed no signs of backing down. The news reporters said there were women and children in the compound – Koresh had asked for milk for them.

I watched the events unfold on the nightly news, riveted to the story that gripped the nation. Perhaps it was because I could imagine what those mothers must be going through, under siege and trapped within a religious community that values conformity more than compassion.

~

I am ashamed to admit I don’t remember with any extreme precision what words were exchanged that night in Bishop F.’s office.

In fact, for many years I have struggled to remember if I even have the date correct. Was it March 16th or March 17th? Tuesday or Wednesday night? Or another date entirely? A deep shame rises up from the seat of my soul. How does a mother not remember with unyielding certainty the exact date she last held her daughter in her arms? Intellectually I understand the psyche’s need to repress such events and I have worked tirelessly to forgive myself for this all too human reaction to the trauma of losing a child, but still…the question lingers.

I have carried a heavy burden knowing I may never be able to pinpoint the exact moment in time I last saw her, what she was wearing, or how she physically got from my arms to G.’s. Did she crawl to her? Did I hand her to her soon-to-be adoptive mother? What did I say to her as I stood to leave? What did I say to my daughter? I know what I felt as I am feeling it all again at the moment I write this, but what did I do? Did I place my lips to the downy soft curls on the crown of her nine-month old head and bestow upon a Judas-kiss? What did I do in those last moments with her?

Dear God, what did I do?

As I try to write about my last hour with my daughter there in Bishop F.’s office, I can find very few landmarks to help me recall the order of how things unfolded.  Those minutes have stretched into an eternity and are a vast and empty desert, the salt flats of my life. Memories struggle to put down roots in the alkaline soil.   For the past two decades, I have not allowed myself to linger in this parched and blinding landscape. This is where the bones of my motherhood were picked clean and left to bleach white under the intense heat of the Great Basin sun.

Bonneville Salt Flats 3When I do visit, I am like a driver at the Bonneville Speedway. I only catch brief flashes of landmarks as I race onward at the speed of sound. The color of the thread in the hem of my pants – orange against a weathered blue.  The small scrap of paper that has fallen underneath the edge of Bishop F.’s desk. The dusty leaves of the artificial plant on the shelf just behind him.  The dense weave of the Prussian-blue fabric on the chairs.  The small hairline crack in the cover for the electrical outlet to my left.  The smudge of a hand print on the dark brown door frame. The unimportant and trivial visual minutia surrounding me that night are the things I remember.

It is strange what the human mind will do to ensure our survival, and stranger yet is what trauma across the decades does to a person’s mind, how it distorts and plays with patterns, colors, sights, sounds and memories. Clearly, the thread in the hem of my pants, the dust on the leaves, and the weave of the fabric posed no threat to my psyche. However, those are the things my brain paid attention to that night.  The fact I remember those things but cannot remember the vital events – the more threatening event of discussing the plans to hand my daughter to these strangers – is because my amygdala took over, a residual survival trait left over from tens of thousands of years of ancestral women living in fear of annihilation. This phenomenon is a testament to the extreme amounts of stress under which I functioned that chilly March night.

I can not remember leaving. My mind will not allow me to go there, even two decades later. My memory always skips ahead to five miles to when I am in the parking lot of the LDS chapel where Carolyn’s funeral was held three and 1/2 years before.

I sit slumped over the steering wheel, sobbing in deep guttural gasps while the windshield wipers struggle to push away the late winter rain, thick with the chill of the Rockies in March.

~

Today, on this perhaps-anniversary of that day, I am fasting. I am fasting that I might finally allow myself to be in that moment of exquisite vulnerability when we were last together. I am fasting to have that moment revealed to me with mindfulness, clarity, and most of all, compassion. I am fasting for the ability to attend and befriend the deep and hidden grief of that evening. I am fasting for wisdom to know how best to take action to offer up some recompense to the world for my wrongs.

Most of all though, I am fasting for my once-upon-a-time daughter, that she may find support and healing on her own path through this social experiment called adoption.

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20 thoughts on “On the 20th Anniversary of a Daughter’s Passing From a Mother’s Life and Into Adoption

    • While I feel I do have some margin of peace at this point, Christine, I want to remember, in exquisite detail, what my last moments were with her. I deserve to realize my full motherhood, not just the portions my mind or my culture allow me to claim, if that makes sense at all.

    • Thank you, everyone. I know you and I don’t know each other from Adam, but I read your blog and think of you often, of what you are going through there in the shadow of those everlasting hills in Utah. *sigh* I wish we lived closer to each other could meet up for lunch sometime. I think we would find a lot to talk about.

  1. Melynda, you will be reunited and hold her in your arms again. I can’t tell you how I know this, adoptee intuition perhaps? The day will come when she has the strength to follow her heart back home. God bless you for leaving the porch light on.

  2. Beautiful writing and visualizations…

    My son was born in March. When I started feeling the contractions coming on, I wished like everything to stall it. It was ahead of the scheduled delivery date, which as sometime in April (do not remember what day), but even then I’m sure would have been too soon. I wasn’t ready, wasn’t ready to lose my baby yet. A lot of women are like, “get this baby out of me already!” Perhaps that’s yet another thing that sets birth mothers apart from their non-relinquishing counterparts.

    A lot of details went foggy for me too. We (my son and I) were a year ahead of you. By the time you were going through it, I was in the throes of severe trauma and sitting in a toilet of deep shame. I know it’s necessary to do, but I still have not been able to find it within myself to forgive myself. I need to – want to. It just hasn’t come yet.

    • Freebairn – What year was your son born? My daughter was born in 1992, though I didn’t relinquish her until 1993.

      This forgiveness of ourselves…that’s a tough one and I cycle through it, though I am in a much better “place” now than I ever have been. Perhaps the most useful construct I have encountered on my path is one from Buddhism, metta – or loving-kindness. This loving-kindness extends even to ourselves, as hard as it is sometimes to believe (or accept, for that matter). It doesn’t undo what was done or make it the pain go away, but it does make it bearable to be with one’s self, to be able to look in the mirror with love instead of loathing.

      Sending love your way –

      M.

      • Thank you so much, Melynda. I think my spiritual path has led me toward getting closer to a similar place, but, as you pointed out, it is definitely a process, and it seems to morph and change as revelations and truth come to light.

        My son was born in March of 1992. He was with me for 5 days before I relinquished him.

        Sending much love to you as well.

      • My daughter was born in June of the same year. I had her eight months & 29 days before the adoption machinery wore me down and I relinquished her.

  3. Just came across this post. Beautifully written. When I got to the end and saw it signed simply M, my heart jumped a little. We gave our son the middle initial M (instead of a full middle name) in honor of his birth mom whose name begins with M. A little cosmic coincidence maybe. I hope you find peace and remembering.

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