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When the phone started ringing, I grabbed it and ran out of the house for more privacy.  I had left Kendra a message a little earlier.  She was calling me back. Finally.  

What did I feel at that moment?

Relief, of course, because I was desperate to connect with Lily's natural mother.  I imagined that a sustained relationship with Kendra would make everyone feel better.  For the rest of our lives.

But there was something else--I don't think there is a precise enough word for it--as there is no one word to describe that first moment one speaks to a birth mother, the woman who no longer holds her own baby, but you do.  Meaning I do.  Or as is the case here:  I did.

And the fact of the matter is that there are no words to describe it because there are no useful words for the conversation itself.  For, what can one say to such a woman?  Thank you doesn't quite cut it.  How are you?--surely, she could not be feeling well!  And anyhow, I was feeling neither thankful nor well myself; in fact, I felt sad and unreal.  But I couldn't actually tell her that either:  

Hi ya Kendra!  Sure you're feeling like total shit, having just given away your baby and all, but guess what?  I feel like total shit too!  I feel sad for the baby and for you and even though I'm supposed to feel grateful and happy that you've picked us, I really think you ought to take back Lily--no, Holly!--because that seems to make the most sense.  

When Paula (the social worker) and I had spoken earlier that day, she had given me some advice:
"When you talk to Kendra, you need to utilize your therapist background.  You don't want to unload what you're going through onto her.  I'm here to help you with whatever hard feelings you may be having, but when you speak to Kendra, well, she's just done the hardest thing she will ever do in her entire life.  You need to support her.  You cannot put your own sadness upon her.  Jennifer, imagine you are working with a client.  You wouldn't dump your own issues on a client going through a hard time--you wouldn't make it about you.  Just put on your therapist hat when you speak with her--really, if every adoptive parent had your clinical background...well, it would be a lot easier.  It's been such a pleasure to work with you--someone from the same professional background."

As I listened to Paula, I felt my face grow hot with shame.

Was I really that selfish?  How could I even fantasize about having such a conversation with Kendra?  The woman had followed through on the hardest decision of her life--who was I to question that now?

I could hear Paula take a deep breath on the other end before giving me her instructions:
"You tell her concrete things about the baby.  You tell her how well the baby is eating.  You tell her how well the baby sleeps.  You tell her things like that.  Simple, concrete facts.  Not too much detail.  This is the time when a birth mother is suffering the greatest, missing the baby.  You need to help her through this.  You need to support her.  You can do this!  You are so personable!  So very likable!  Kendra is lucky to have found an adoptive mother like you.  Trust yourself, be yourself, but remember to keep it about how the baby is doing--eating and sleeping and pooping.  Birth mothers love to hear that their babies are good eaters.  Tell her how well the baby is eating.  She'll be pleased to hear it."

And now.  Right now.  This very moment as I type this blog entry.  I cannot deny what I feel right now:

Like an idiot, like a pawn, like someone who was made to doubt herself and instructed to act otherwise.  But I couldn't see it then--and honestly, I doubt the social worker intended to treat me as a puppet.  The attorney--yes--but the social worker?  No, it seems unbelievable to me.  She was so warm, so nice, so smiling (you could even hear her smile over the phone).  She surely was doing what she thought was in everyone's best interest.  Sociopathic traits are common in lawyers, but in a fellow therapist?  I would like to think that she gave me that "Script For Talking to Your Baby's Birthmother" because she truly believed in it.  

And what the hell can I presume to know about adoption, even now?  What would have happened if I answered the phone with Hi ya Kendra!  Guess what?  I think you should take the baby back?

I will never know.  Because I didn't do it.  Instead, I told Kendra what a great eater her baby was.  How she didn't even spit up.  She slept well.  She peed and pooped.  What a good little baby!   

And Kendra was, in fact, pleased.  "What can I say, I make great babies!" she told me.

She went on to share that she was suffering from a breast infection--mastitis--from too much breast milk and no baby to feed.  Her obstetrician put her on antibiotics that morning.  "It's so painful."

"That sounds painful," I said in return, reflecting words like a dull mirror that one glances at quickly without really seeing one's image.  A reflexive habit. 

Also, Kendra told me, she was upset with a close friend.  The friend had recently had an abortion.  When Kendra told the friend about the breast infection, the friend replied not with empathy but with an accusation, saying:
"I think this is God punishing you for what you just did.  For giving away your baby."
And Kendra had been indignant, "At least I didn't kill my baby!" she'd yelled back at the friend, who was suddenly, not a friend anymore.

And then there was me, a mindless mirror, trying to reflect everything back to Kendra--perfectly, with great empathy, trying to put myself in her shoes so I wouldn't say anything wrong or bad or God forbid accusatory!  

Because a birth mother, they will tell you, is very fragile.  Handle with care during that first conversation post-relinquishment!  Of course, earlier, they tell you that a birth mother is very strong--only the strong (the very opposite of weak or delicate) choose adoption over abortion.  Strong yet easily damaged!  They will say both these things about birthmothers--but never at the same point in time.  And it will feel kind of familiar--like other feminized contradictions--the virgin/whore for instance, and that familiarity will enable the dichotomy to work its way inside you.  And it will slide into your awareness with some ease, but not enough ease that you don't sense an odd bump (what the fuck was that?) as the paradox wedges deep inside your idea of reality.  But don't dare speak of it!  If you try to expose the paradox--for how can a birth mother be both the strongest and the most fragile at the same time?  Or wait--was it strong only before relinquishment and fragile afterward?  What obfuscation!  The adoption mythology will torment your intellect; there will be no logical way out.  Instead, it will melt around your brain, forming a hard stubborn surface, not unlike a helmet, adamant on keeping you from bleeding out the truth when it comes to adoption. 

And Kendra, just two days post-relinquishment, already suffering the downside of yet another birth mother paradox:  the selfless giver/selfish abandoner.  And what would the social worker suggest I say to that?  Forget your mean friend, Kendra!  Your baby just downed four ounces like a champion!

In reality, I tried to respond to Kendra as I would to a loved one, or close friend:  
"I'm sorry to hear that," I said.  "What a terrible thing for someone to say to you.  Sounds like she's just projecting her own guilt about her abortion onto you.  Perhaps she even envies your choice, the strength it took not to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.  I've never been through what you're going through Kendra, but I've had to give up some friends along the way too in this life.  It's not easy.  I think you need to surround yourself only with people who are able to love and support you right now.  And who knows, maybe your friend will even apologize someday."

But in saying this, even though I went with my heart and abandoned the social worker's script, I thought I sounded ridiculous.  And I could hear the effort in my tone of voice.  I could hear the hint of affectation as I struggled to communicate with Kendra.  For what was the purpose of my communication?  There is no band-aid for grief.  There are no words.  Just like when somebody dies.  Except in this case, someone hadn't died, at least not yet, and things could, in fact, still be reversed.

But I would not ask Kendra the question on my mind--Do you want her back?  We love her but we understand if you want her back.  

I didn't think I could.  I didn't think it would be fair to Kendra, who was, according to the social worker, "a grown woman who made a thoughtful decision, the most difficult one of her entire life, and to question it now would be disrespectful."

To Be Continued...


LisaAnne said...

Before I relinquished my child, I was a brave strong thoughtful mother who wanted the best for her child.

Now that I have terminated my parental rights, I am someone that my child should not have to know. I am someone she may just despise some day because I "gave her away".

Yes, how quickly the perception of the strong selfless birthmother changes.

lucrezaborgia said...

Those same social workers will say that a child will be irreparably harmed if moved from the adoptive family, yet children are resilient if they want that child moved!

Myst said...

Even before Amber was eventually literally wrenched from arms, I was voicing the fact I wanted to raise her... It was made very clear to me: Adoption meant I was a good mother who loved her baby and only wanted her best; keeping her was selfish and meant I was a bad mother and would destroy her life ( not sure how given I was a great Nanny by then) and she would hate me (unlike all the other kids I had taken care of). If I wasn't pregnant, isolated and feeling under attack, I think I would have worked out how much of a contradiction they were saying but by then I was effectively brainwashed enough not to question... Until she was born and then that is when all the real drama started and the rest as they say is history. My daughters adopters however didn't give a toss about me or even Amber as became evident. Female adopter had greed all through her eyes... It was gross to witness and they outright treated me as an incubator and had no problems lying to me to get what they wanted.
Looking forward to the next instalment... You had/have a conscience which so many don't. This must have been so difficult and yet that made you the best adoptive mother for Lily as you cared for her natural mother as well, something so absent in many adoption stories where our existence only serves as a hindrance and an annoyance.

Susie said...


"The adoption mythology will torment your intellect; there will be no logical way out. Instead, it will melt around your brain, forming a hard stubborn surface, not unlike a helmet, adamant on keeping you from bleeding out the truth when it comes to adoption."

Wow. Just... yeah.

For me, that helmet formed before I even gave birth. The helmet cracked shortly before reunion which ripped the helmet off and the bleeding was indeed profuse.

Anonymous said...

This post has driven home the realization of how the industry is so entwined in the deal. The level of input/direction that they tell APs what to say, what to do, it just infuriates me to realize that there never was any chance if this turning out any differently than it has. Our family cut off indefinitely.