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.

“The Absent are Ever Present”

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

Way back in junior high school, I learned a really cool trick from my home economics teacher (do they even teach that class any more? What is it called nowadays, anyway? Certainly not home economics – that phrase must have gone out of a favor for something more politically correct by now, yes?)

The cool trick? Crushed up candies melt in the middle of sugar cookies.  (These pictures are from a year or two ago – I forgot to get the camera out this year!!!)

bighearts_2They’ve never failed me yet – these are cherry Life Savers and some flavor of Jolly Ranchers. Year in and year out I can trust them to deliver gorgeous results. And the sugar cookie recipe I have is to DIE FOR, but I promised my niece I would never share it because it is the one she developed for her business, Snickety Snacks.

bighearts_5I’ve remained faithful and never shared it, even with the darling 12-year old who wanted it from me today!

bighearts_3Today has been a good day – lots of sugar cookies with the small ones and then a party with other home-schooling families from church. Tomorrow I head to University of Alabama to visit the pain management clinic there to see what they can do to help me…well, manage the pain caused by this craptastic medical device I have inside of me. (Thirteen weeks until it comes out, yahoo!!!)

lifesaverheartAnyhoooooo, as I wandered through today, I couldn’t help but think of you. I hope your mom helped you build family traditions, whether it be baking sugar cookies every Valentine’s Day or something else, like making Valentine cards for all of your older relatives. I am sure she did things like that. Well…at this point, I have to choose to believe she did – it’s my own version of fairy-dust and adoption-mythology, as it were. This fairy-dust is the only way I can endure a day full of Matthew, Luke, and Poppy laughing and giggling and carrying on like siblings do. It is on days like this that your absence in our lives is so noticeable to me.

Much love –

M.

National Adoption Awareness Month ~ Day 18: J’avais rêvé d’une autre vie

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

Last night, I dreamed  I had another life.

It was a life that included meeting you for lunch between your classes. It was a life that included you playing Call of Duty on the Wii in the family room with Captain Knuckle as The Professor practiced the piano and Princess P sat babbling by your side. It was a life that included all of my children around the dinner table, laughing at little Princess P’s surprised look as she tastes a new food for the first time.

It was a wonderful life.

Don’t get me wrong, the life I have now is good too. I have an amazing husband, two incredible sons, and a baby daughter who delights me with every look, laugh, cry, giggle, coo, and sigh (oh, and she has green eyes like her daddy!!!). My husband is well employed and his income allows me to stay at home and be a mom. I am within months of finishing my PhD (not to shabby for a girl who dropped out of high school, eh?). I have good family and friends who make me laugh frequently. I have a great ward and fulfilling, meaningful callings within the ward. I live in a lovely home in a lovely setting in perhaps the safest location in the United States. Seriously, living here is like living in a national park version of Mayberry with the security of Fort Knox. I have a year supply of food. I have enough water stored for our family to survive for a month if needed (darn those hurricanes!).   I have two very well maintained vehicles at my disposal. A closet full of clothes and shoes. Bookshelf upon bookshelf of books.

But…I don’t have you in my life.

And in case you are ever wondering, even though I have carved out a corner of happiness and success in my life, I would be even happier to have you in it. I have had a good life but if would have been better if you had been here too.

Much love,

M.

National Adoption Awareness Month ~ Day 10: Why Princess P.’s Little Head is Covered in Tears Right Now

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

Today  your little sister Princess P. turns 6 months old. At the moment, her 18 1/2 pounds of squishy, snugly adorableness rests comfortably in my lap as she bats at anything within reach, grabbing at the mouse, and trying taste anything she can put her mouth on.  The desk, my watch, a CD case, the remote control – she’s a non-discriminatory taster.  She squeals with delight whenever I talk to her, her chubby arms and legs waving madly as a smile makes its way through her entire body.

In short, she’s perfect.

I lean down and rest my lips against her warm peach-fuzz covered head. And I start to cry, anointing her head with the tears of a mother’s heart.

Oh how I miss you in moments like this.

I know you are a grown woman now and not a baby but you were a baby once. I should have held you on my lap and kissed your peach-fuzz head instead of giving you to strangers, all in the name of love.

Adoption awareness isn’t just a month in my life, it is woven into the sinews and fibers of my soul. And sometimes…sometimes my awareness hurts like hell.

Much love,

M.

The Waiting Place

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

Dr. Seuss was right. The Waiting Place is “a most useless place.” It’s a place…

“…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.”

That’s where I am right now. Though I am not waiting for my hair to grow or for my Uncle Jake, I am waiting for the phone too ring. I sent you that message over a month ago, which is nothing in the grand staircase of Time, but still…it feels like an eternity.

I dreamed of the grown-up you last night. When I woke up, I found a text message on my phone. My heart leaped and I thought, “Oh, it’s her!!!! She sent me a text!” Needless to say, it wasn’t from you. (But hope springs eternal in this mother’s breast).

I am not sure how to navigate here in the Waiting Place or how to even find my bearings. Most of the time, I am strong, confident, and have a clear vision of where I am headed but sometimes, like this morning…I am hopelessly adrift.

Much love,

M.

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Seuss, Dr. (1990). Oh, The Places You’ll Go!. New York, NY: Random House.