Would We Be Friends?

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

A week or so ago, my mom called and asked me, “Would we be friends?”

“You know, if we weren’t mother and daughter and didn’t have all this history between us? Like if we had just met in a class or at church or something, would we be friends?”

I told her that I thought we would be – I think she’s a pretty neat person, in spite of our history.  And I really mean it.  She’s an incredible woman who has overcome things in her life that I simply can’t fathom – she has a steely resiliency that is a wonder to behold. I tell her all the time, “Ma, I don’t know why you aren’t sitting in a corner drooling right now because anyone else who has been through what you have been through would be!!!”

She and I – we – are too much alike to not be friends.  If we had met in a classroom, she would be one of the ones I would want to have in my study group. She would be one of the ones I would want to meet up with for lunch after statistics.  She definitely would be the one I have read over my papers and give me feedback as she is a writer of unparalleled brilliancy in her field.

We would be friends not because of our shared history, but because of the intangibles: our love of the turn of a well-crafted phrase, our love of books (non-fiction, thank you very much), our love of God, our desire to understand the deeper meanings of our daily interactions with our world, our uncanny (and sometimes troublesome) need to always know why and where is it written? In short, there is a sameness about our souls that resonates to the same frequency.

And her questioning led me to wonder about you and me.  If we weren’t mother and daughter and didn’t have all this history between us, would we be friends?

Much love,

M.

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Confessions: A Rose by Any Other Name (Or In Other Words, a Happy Adoption Story)

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I must confess something. I am an adult adoptee.

But not in the usual sense. Oh, I had the same parents “parent” me until I was 27 or so. When I say that I am an adult adoptee, I mean that I am literally an adult adoptee. As in, I was adopted when I was an adult. In fact, February 24 marked the 10th anniversary of my adoption – the day this Rose got a new name.

Without boring you to death with details, here is how I ended up being adopted at 27 years old:

I have seen much affliction in the course of my days, but unlike Nephi, I was not born to goodly parents. My parents where what you could politely call “dry” alcoholics – to the outside world, they appeared to have it all together but on the inside, things were rotten to the core. My biological father (also commonly referred to as “Dad DOS” or “bio-mass”) was abusive in every sense of the word. And horribly so. I will never forget the time when it really hit home how terrible of a person he was is.

It wasn’t in the middle of one of his late night visits to my room to “teach” me how to “be a real woman.” It wasn’t during one of the beatings with the buckle end of his belt (being careful to never leave marks where they might show from underneath my perfectly pressed Sunday dress). It was when I was in school and my drama teacher gave us an assignment. She wanted us to write down on a slip of paper the one piece of advice we remembered our father’s giving us the most when we were growing up.

I sat there. And sat there. And then started crying.

I couldn’t decided what to write down on that slip of paper.

Should I write, “I wouldn’t pee on you if you were on fire, you filthy pigs and dogs!”

Or was the piece of advice he gave me the most “Get out of my life – I wish you were dead, you puking whore of an animal!”

I left that class and went and sat in my car and cried for nearly two hours. This is the kind of “advice” my father gave us. Day in and day out from the time we were tiny until we were old enough to just laugh at him for his stupidity. But really – Who says those kinds of things to their tiny children? WHO???? It was like the scales had finally fallen away from my eyes and all pretense and hope for what could have been was stripped away.

I saw him for what he really was: A small-hearted, mean, cruel man treated his children like chattel and used them for his own perverse pleasures. He would never be the father – the daddy – I prayed for, that I thought “if I am just perfect enough, maybe then he will love me.”

I realized then that he would never love me because he was incapable of love.

So back to the main story: When my older sister was killed in a car accident there on I-15, my mom and I went to her apartment to collect some of her things before the funeral. While there, my mom came across her most recent journal. Inside of the journal was a letter written on paper from a yellow legal pad, cleanly creased into two folds. I remember my mom sitting on the edge of my sister’s bed there in the apartments at College Terrace, the tight Berber carpet under her feet as she unfolded the letter and began to read.

I stood there paralyzed…I knew what the letter was.

I watched my mother’s grief stricken face crumble into dust. The letter was my sister’s first attempt at confronting my father about the abuse she had endured at his hands. It was her voice from the grave, shattering the walls of the whited sepulcher my parents had built.

As some point that evening, my mother took me aside and asked me if my father had done “anything” to me. Still terrified of the man (I still lived under his roof after all and he threatened to kill my mother and me if I ever told anyone), I only said, “Well, there was this one time…” I didn’t have the courage to tell the whole story at that point. She proceeded to go to each of her other daughters and each of them had something to add (Remember, her oldest daughter is not yet buried and now she has just found out that her husband of 20+ years has been molesting her daughters – I don’t know how she endured that time period in her life…)

Late that same night, she confronted him and he admitted to it all. After the funeral, my parents legally separated but my mom tried to “make it work” for the sake of her temple marriage. After another two or so years, she filed for divorce. It was a supreme act of courage if you ask me – she still had 8 children under 18 and no education whatsoever but she knew she could no longer be married to this monster of a man. My father proceeded to spread rumors about her, about me, and about my sisters that poisoned our entire community. After all, he was a prominent church member, businessman, and volunteer in the community. We were just a bunch of “lying, thieving women.” It all came back to bite him in the proverbial butt though when my mom turned everything over the authorities and he ended up in the big house at Point of the Mountain, doing the time for the crime.

A few years later, my mother moved to a new community and was working on her Ph.D. when she met an incredible man. Through a curious turn of events, they ended up getting married (an equally supreme act of courage on his part. After all, when they married, my mother had 12 children AND an ex-husband who was  in prison for child molestation!!!) But this man…oh, this man. I wish I could clone him a million times over so every one could have a Papa like him. From the moment we became a family, he was most assuredly my father – the daddy – that I had longed and prayed for. In the shelter of his expansive love for me and my siblings, I finally felt like I had roots and wings.

The idea of him adopting me had never really crossed my mind until one day I was at an electronics shop and was picking something up. I said to the young guy behind the counter, “My name is M. Schmo and I am here to pick up the aforementioned electronics” (or something like that).  He quickly looked up and said, “Ooooh, are you related to Joe Schmo, like the Joe Schmo in Happy Valley?” The tone in his voice made it painfully obvious that he knew my father was in prison.

Ugh.

At that point, I knew I had to ditch the last very-uncommon-in-Utah yet very recognizable last name.  I didn’t care how, I knew it had to go. I simply did not want to be connected to that man or his evil deeds again.

A week or so later while I was over at The Parents for dinner, I told them of my experience. It was then that my mom casually said, “Hey, maybe your New and Improved Dad (my name for him) can adopt you and you can legally change your name!”  It was a decidedly brilliant suggestion and one we promptly acted on. Within a short time period, not only had my New and Improved Dad legally adopted me but also three other of my adult siblings. We all changed our surnames to our New and Improved Dad’s surname (even my married brothers did this!)  and went out to eat Mexican food to celebrate our new family ties. It was awesome.

I hadn’t realized how terribly important it was for me to shed my growing-up last name until I got those adoption papers. It was….it was freeing. Liberating.  I know is sounds horrible but I absolutely LOVE seeing his name on my amended birth certificate. (Yes, I got a falsified document,  just like you! Hey – now we can be twinners. Difference is, I have my original one tucked right behind my falsified one. You probably don’t. Well, at least not yet – I have a copy of your original birth certificate and will give it to you when you want it.)

I personally think that my adoption story is one of the best ones I have ever heard.  I decided as an adult what family I belong to. I decided what my name would be. I requested an amended birth certificate with my New and Improved Dad’s name on it. It was all about empowering me as a person instead of disenfranchising me and erasing my identity.  All of this was my choice and that, IMHO, is a happy adoption story.

So that is the story of  this Rose got a new name. And let me be the first to tell you – life by another name smells even sweeter than I imagined.

Much love,

M.

My Daily Measure

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I had to take a few days off from writing…I needed a break from all of this adoption stuff.

I needed some time to regroup, rethink, and recenter. There is a recent post over at First Mother Forum that really causes some serious introspection about what our future relationship might be like. The title of the post is “Why Don’t I like My Birth Mother” and it describes the “dance” that natural mothers and adoptees sometimes go through during the years after being reunited.

Reading what the author said stung. Reading the comments left by mothers and adoptees stung.  Is this what my our future holds? And if so, how am I ever going to navigate through it?

I guess what I found so startling is that in many ways, I could have written the post but titled it, “Why Don’t I Like My Birth Mother?” You see, I have acted those same ways towards my own mother many times over the years.

I mean, I love the woman now – don’t get me wrong. She is a completely different person than she was during the 17/18 years that she raised me. I can recognize and appreciate the woman who is my mother today is not the same woman who gave birth to me 37 years ago, if that makes any sense.

We have a peace treaty of sorts in place now.

But…but our family history looms in the background, a constant scythe ready to cut through any happiness we might be able to broker.  Even all these years later (and countless therapy sessions) the abuse at the hands of my biological father – physical, emotional, sexual –  still affects my relationship with my mother in profound ways.

I fear her abandoning me again. Of turning her back on me while the wolves devour my soul. Of leaving me to my own defenses to make my way through a dark and threatening childhood. And sometimes that fear makes me angry. Spiteful. Mean. Petty.

I know that fear is irrational. It is unfounded in our current reality and relationship. But it is still there. Each time I decide to interact with her, I have to sum up the courage to lay those fears at the foot of the cross and to walk a new path with her in faith.

It has been a long journey for me to even reach this point. Zero hour came for me during therapy one time about nine years ago when I was kvetching about (what appeared to me) my mother’s reckless abandonment of me, about her failure to protect me from my biological father, about her part in the abuse heaped on me throughout my childhood.

My very wise and loving therapist said to me, “M., but your mother has apologized to you, hasn’t she? Repeatedly if I remember…”

This was met by several minutes of stony silence on my part, my heart and face set like flint.

Very gently, but very firmly he said to me, “At what point M., do you become the adult and take responsibility for your reaction to your mother’s parenting choices? You can continue down this path or…”

He paused here as he handed me the box of Kleenex as tears started streaming down my cheeks.

“…or you can chose compassion for yourself. For your mother. You can chose to forgive her. She is genuinely sorry for what happened and for not protecting you.  At this point, it is what it is – what happened then cannot be undone. But it can be over come – it is your choice. She has done what she can to make amends. Now it is your turn.”

I wish I could say I was immediately enlightened at that moment, that transcendent clarity filled my mind and compassionate forgiveness for my mother’s stupid choice to stay with my biological father for 23 years filled my soul. But it didn’t. It took time. It took a lot of time. But it was at that moment I began to see my mother through new eyes and I began to understand my responsibility in mending the brokenness between my mother and myself.

She was doing the best that she thought she could at the time with the limited skill set and knowledge that she had. Had she known differently, she would have acted differently. As a mother myself – and not just your mother, but the mother of two sons and a soon-to-be-born daughter – I can see that now.

So, I guess I am trying to say that I understand both sides of the equation – I can feel compassion for the adoptee who feels the need to lash out at his or her natural mother because of the cavernous feelings of abandonment and betrayal. Been there, done that, have the T-shirt, unfortunately. But on the other hand, I can also feel compassion for mothers (my mother and myself included) who truly believed they were doing the best thing they could do for their child but it turned out to be the worst choice instead.

It is a strange feeling – this looking backward and forward at the same time.  I marvel at the daily measure of grace I am given to walk in peace with my own mother. I hope that eventually you and I can come to that same place of grace in our own relationship. Just remind me when things get hard between us that it took me a good 32 years to finally reach that point with my own mother.

Much love and belief in the marvelous creation you are –

M.

LDS Adoption Policy

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

In an effort to make sure that I was recalling the events surrounding your relinquishment correctly, I searched out the actual policy regarding the LDS church’s stance on unwed parents.  And here it is, in all it’s glory. (Sidenote: I guess I am a bad Mormon. I googled this and found it in it’s entirety on the internet in PDF format.  This particular document is supposed to be read only by the priesthood leadership in the LDS church, not the lay members such as myself. Bad, bad, bad Mormon, but a curious one too.)

Here is the LDS church’s adoption policy for unwed mothers from the Church Handbook of Instructions: Book 1 Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics 2006.

Unwed Parents (p. 188-89)

The First Presidency has stated:

“Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by parents who provide love, support, and all the blessings of the gospel” (First Presidency letter, June 15, 1998).

“Parents and priesthood and auxiliary leaders are encouraged to teach members to live chaste and virtuous lives and prepare to receive the ordinances of the temple. Children sealed to parents have claim upon the blessing of the gospel beyond what others are entitled to receive.

“When a man and woman conceive a child out of wedlock, every effort should be made to encourage them to marry. When the probability of a successful marriage is unlikely due to age or other circumstances, unwed parents should be counseled to place the child for adoption through LDS Family Services to ensure that the baby will be sealed to temple-worthy parents. Adoption is an unselfish, loving decision that blesses both the birth parents and the child in this life and in eternity.

“Birth parents who do not marry should not be counseled to keep the infant as a condition of repentance or out of a sense of obligation to care for one’s own. Unwed parents are not able to provide the blessings of the sealing covenant. Further, they are generally unable to provide a stable, nurturing environment which is so essential for the baby’s well being.  Unmarried parents should give prayerful consideration to the best interests of the child and the blessings that can come to an infant who is sealed to a mother and father” (First Presidency letter, June 26, 2002; see also “Adoption and Foster Care” on page 173).

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (2006). Church Handbook of Instructions: Book 1 Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics 2006.  Salt Lake City: UT.)

Is it any wonder that with this kind of policy that I felt as if I had no other option than to relinquish you?   My Bishop and the cultural rhetoric told me that relinquishing you for adoption was the single best way to “repent” of my sins and to qualify for the healing power of the Atonement in my life. By relinquishing you, I was showing that I was repentant and willing to accept God’s will in my life. Adoption was portrayed as the portal to redemption (spiritually, financially, socially, and physically) for someone as “fallen and lost” as I was.

And I bought into it lock, stock and barrel. I wanted so desperately to qualify for God’s love in my life, to be approved of by my mother, and to please my priesthood leaders. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but in my set of circumstances, they were both toxic and tragic.

Four years later, I found myself an “unwed” (newly divorced) mother yet again.  This time though, I had a self-righteous ex-husband pressuring me to relinquish my parental rights to Captain Knuckle.  After all, I had done “it” before he argued and more importantly, he was remarried and he could provide Captain Knuckle with both a mother and father who were married. He quoted to me from “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” to emphasize his point of children being entitled to a mother and father who were married. He told me I was being selfish – abusive – and that I really didn’t care for the best interests of Captain Knuckle because I was “forcing” him to be raised by a single mother.

It was during this time that the absurdity of his comments really hit home.  I don’t know why I couldn’t see as clearly four years before, but this time around, it was as plain as the nose on my face.  And then the irony of the moment began to sink in.  I knew that my priesthood leaders would have never counseled me to relinquish my parental rights simply based on the fact that I was now “unwed” and my ex remarried (not that I bothered asking this time around…) I also knew that the Handbook of Instructions didn’t contain any direction on this matter either.

So…I began to ask questions. Questions like, why is it now OK for me to parent this child as a single mother when four years ago it was looked at as being  wrong? Aren’t I just as single now as I was then?  And what about my friend whose husband had passed away just after finding out they were expecting but before they had been sealed in the temple? Why was it somehow noble for her to parent her new baby instead of relinquishing him for adoption so he could be raised by a mother and a father who had been married in the temple? Wasn’t she just as single and her child just as un-sealed to his parents as in our situation? And if children really are “entitled” to be raised by parents who honor their marital covenants, then why doesn’t the LDS church recommend adoption for all children from marriages where there has been infidelity and try to find them homes where the parents do honor their marital vows? Or what about children in part-member families? They aren’t sealed to their parents – why doesn’t the LDS church put pressure on those parents to relinquish those children to more “qualified families” (read: one man, one woman sealed together in the temple who pay their tithing, hold a current temple recommend, and as a general rule have a higher socio-economic status than the relinquishing parent)?

Something just doesn’t make sense…if parenting is a viable option for people in those circumstances, then why wasn’t it for me and you?

I still haven’t sorted out the answers to all of that yet. I don’t know that I ever will be able to. It wasn’t as if four years later I was magically a fundamentally different person with a new set of skills and a new support system. I still had the same flaws, the same weaknesses, the same proclivities as before. I still loved God and I was still a damn good mother. Why it was culturally acceptable for me to be a single mother to Captain Knuckle and not to you, I will never know.

Real life is calling and I must go. I am sure you will hear more on this subject later.

Much love and belief in the amazing creation you are –

M.