birthmom

Communal Catharsis Aboard the Carnival Cruise

we should not forget why the flowers
decided not to drink the rain
and chose to grow old instead

we should not forget why a small star
quit the glittering night
and died in silence and solitude
— Choman Hardi

For 50+ years, society has succeeded in communicating that my birthmom's trauma journey was not to be spoken of. Virtually no support, counseling or affirmation for her need to place me for adoption aided in her decision to keep my birth a secret. Psychological literature asserts that when traumatic memories are invalidated, one can feel their reality to be different, less meaningful, worthless even. Elie Wiesel's novel, Night, is a great example of the perils in believing ones story unspeakable. After years of living in literal darkness - blinds closed, overhead lights turned off, minimal contact with others & insomnia - I am greatly pleased to know that my birthmom has finally met full acceptance via the Soul Cruise. Her once numbed senses are activated again as she shares a week in the presence of 10 other birthmoms aboard a Carnival Cruise to Mexico. In the few short years since meeting my birth mom I've come to understand that decisions made by the oppressed are typically not made out of fear, but rather necessity. 

                                                                         Deborah and Soul Cruise Founder; Ashley Mitchell

                                                                         Deborah and Soul Cruise Founder; Ashley Mitchell

Ashley Mitchell, the brain-child behind the magic that is the Soul Cruise has worked tirelessly to secure donations for the birthmoms; Old Navy donated flip flops, the Little Cookie Shop donated sweet treats, party supplies were delivered from Knot & Bow, they'll even get to commune around this fun faux campfire. Ashley will lead the women in daily workshops, offering opportunities for these women to bear witness to each others' pain while disallowing the sun, sand and surf to make a mockery of their efforts. These gifts reinforce the truth that happiness and forgiveness (of the self) is possible when supported by a community such as this. 

Ashley and I have emailed back and forth the past few days to make sure all logistics were in place. After a few snafus and unexpected airline woes, Deborah arrived in Los Angeles allowing both of us to exhale a big sigh of relief. While communicating about next steps Ashley peppered in heart-felt text messages like, "I can't wait to meet Deborah and give her a big hug!" and "The other gals are really looking forward to meeting her." I soon began receiving photos of Deborah with the other gals, including her bunk mate, Sonya. The adage, BE STILL MY HEART has been my repeating mantra as I sit in my home hundreds of miles away watching this human display of reconciliation play out. 

Reflecting upon the changes I've seen in Deborah since her secret has come out (and broadcast on Netflix), I recount some of the blessings - her first taste of flavored lattes (she enjoyed the caramel macchiato), first airplane rides (she wondered why airplane travel didn't feel like a rocket blasting through the air), first time stepping foot in another country (she straddled the line of the Canada/US border), and simply the ability to be in daily communication with her daughter. I am pleased to have played a small part in her newfound loves; traveling, exploring the genealogy of her family and gardening. It is with confidence that I can assume this week will be one that she'll wish would never end. This assumption alone is a dream come true, especially when juxtaposed with her days of yore when each painstaking minute was a minute too many. 

I'll be thinking of her often this week (i.e. anxiously awaiting text message and Facebook updates) and am resting assured that her burdens are dissipating at a rate much faster than ever before.  

                My birthmom (far left) pictured with other birthmoms on the cruise ship. What a gorgeous group of strangers, brought together by decisions they made for their children.

                My birthmom (far left) pictured with other birthmoms on the cruise ship. What a gorgeous group of strangers, brought together by decisions they made for their children.

A Poem About Domestic Infant Adoption

While working as a domestic infant adoption caseworker, I'd routinely jot notes in my journal while sitting in my car outside of the hospital. The intensity of my feelings were too great to be bottled up inside me. This is one of my private journal entries, written in 2013. 

 

"For years, we’ve struggled to conceive a child.”

I remember this family had shared this with me months ago, fighting back tears. 

“We are choosing to adopt because we just want to shower a child with love, security, stability and opportunity." 

I wonder if they realized that this is also many birth parents' wish.

 

She’s 14 years old. He’s 15.

Her friends don't yet know, as she hasn't begun to show.

They stood next to their gym locker, discussing their options.

After class, they call the agency to learn about adoption.

 

She’s schizophrenic, and doesn’t understand reality. 

How’d she get pregnant?

She does not cry.

I want to cry for her.

 

We are sipping lattes, hot chocolates and tea together.

Me, pre-adoptive parents, birth mom, birth dad and the pregnancy counselor.

The unborn baby is also there.

Hidden underneath skin, clothing, and shame.

We discuss plans for the baby.

 

What gets to hold her first?

(the hospital social worker asks)

My best friend is a professional photographer, can she take photos in the hospital?

(the adoptive parents ask)

I'd like you to be the only one in the room

 (the expectant mom says pointing to the pregnancy counselor)

 

Who will leave the hospital first?

The birthmom? Wheeled away without the proof of her labor.

The birthdad? Silenced by cultural myths and misunderstandings of his role.

The Adoptive parents? Proudly showing off their newborn, abandoned child.

 

The logistics, the emotions, the questions, the fears.

I strive to advocate for this pre-verbal baby (the soon-to-be adoptee) at the center of it all.

I hold the baby for a little while and tell the newborn,

“I understand this is traumatic for you.

This arrangement is peculiar; however I believe it to be the best option.

These parents have agreed to make sure you know who your birth parents are, and for that I am grateful."

I hand the baby back to the birth mom, who snips off some hair as a memento.

 

The nurse asks me to sign on the dotted line, where it says “Legal Guardian.”

I sign as though this is a transaction and I’m the middle man.

I go home mired by confidentiality,

my mind is doing backflips

I settle in to my bathtub and close my eyes,

when I receive a text message:

"Birthmom 'K' is in labor. Likely to deliver tonight. Call pre-adopt parents to let them know. See you at the hospital."

All in a days work.

 

Amidst the chaos of creating an adoption plan in the most respectful and thoughtful way for all parties, I remember that none of us really had a choice in our birth. Adoption or not. What is it that those without the ability to speak our language wish they could say? I work so hard to advocate for these adopted newborns, but who is advocating for the babies born and raised by their biological parents? Hopefully, their biological parents have their best interest in mind. However, I know this is not always the case.

 

Birth is complex. Perhaps it's the complexity that makes it beautiful.

Anticipating My Birthmother's Visit

Tomorrow my birthmother will be in town. Last night I watched Rain Man. Today I clearly see the correlation between these two happenings. This poem used to served as my desperate plea:

"I wish I could turn away and move on with my life

but my heart won't allow it when I try

That sounds so weak coming from me

a woman who overcame extreme adversities

If you don't want me to find you

whatever the reason may be

do me a favor and sign up to the registry

Send me a few pictures, a reason, and my medical history

give me some closure and set me free."

I used to wish that I could turn away from this search and reunion madness and move on with my life. I used to wish that I didn't need to fulfill this selfish curiosity of learning more about my roots. I waited for the magical moment when her name would match up with mine on the registry. I thought - if only I could see what she looks like, if only! Now I no longer need to fantasize, or try to wish away intrinsic desires. Now, I can simply ask her all of the 26 years of pent up questions.

While watching Rain Man last night, Charlie (Tom Cruise) attempted to convince his brother Raymond's court appointed psychiatrist that he should have legal custody of his brother so they could be together, as a family. Charlie said "I just don't understand. Why didn't dad tell me I had a brother? Why didn't anyone ever tell me that I had a brother? Because it'd have been nice to know him for more than just the past six days."  This statement cut to my core as Charlie no longer cared about the lure of a multi-million dollar inheritance, or his limited understanding his brother's autism or the extraordinary differences between his own self-centered living in Los Angeles and his brother's confined reality within the walls of the mental institution. He simply wanted to be with his brother. I'd imagine many adoptees can understand the beauty in seeing this seemingly incompatible duo spend these six days together.

I echo these thoughts of the convoluted and difficult to understand relationship. I find it to be superbly beautiful, uniquely refreshing and a clear definition of family. With all the differences between myself and my birth mother I nervously/contentedly await her arrival tomorrow, and look forward to allowing her to spend a few days with my family and I, AKA, her new family.

5 Statements That Prove Adoption Discourse Is Happening. Yay!

Mid-January, Bryan and I traveled to the Northeast to do a short tour with the film, meeting with adoption professionals, writers and others prior to the screenings of Closure. Thank you to the many folks who played a role in allowing these memories to be made, wonderfully challenging and respectful conversations surrounding the ethics of transracial adoption to be had and new meaningful friendships to have been forged.

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We are so grateful for these experiences, but find even more meaning in knowing that the film is affecting others and is spurring on conversation. Fellow transracial adoptee, Susan Harris O'Connor mentioned to me before we went on stage for the Q&A that in all of her years speaking about adoption, she'd never been on a panel made up exclusively with transracial adoptees (myself and April Dinwoodie - pictured below). What a success! On a daily basis, I receive wonderful messages from so many folks from around the world - making it clear to me that many folks are ready to further the adoption discourse. This makes me so proud to be a part of this film that allows space for these conversations to be had in mature and meaningful ways. Here's an anonymous sampling of notes that come our way:

Thank you so much for your inspiration. Seeking truth and pushing past old secrets brought pain to the surface, encouraged release, and relief. Your love, for each other, for all members of your whole family, led to more love. Thank you, thank you, thank you.  ---anonymous

I have now watched this film three times, and each time I do I am amazed by something more that I have taken away from it. Last night, it was your adoptive mom...and her gracious, warm, open and loving heart. Watching her love and support you though this was touching and I was very struck by the part of the film where when talking with your birth aunt she deflected away from the negativity and brought the conversation back to you, and your purpose in your search! Go mom!!  ---adoptive mother

One of the most poignant for me is how really amazing it is to see this sort of story told in this way. The participants put themselves on the screen and allowed all those of the world a peek into this incredibly emotional journey. In the past couple of months I’ve drawn away from blogging, the only way I can describe what I’ve been going through is that my world of adoption has had a growth spurt of sorts, and much like how I always responded to physical growth spurts while I was growing up, I’ve turned inward and gotten quiet. This movie was a reminder of the power in using my voice to tell my story.  -- A birthmother

I was very impressed by how gracefully Bryan handled the camera and his presence in so many intimate (and tenuous) family moments. I'm amazed that this is his first film and that he's never had any formal training.  ---A filmmaker

As I get older, the pain of my closed adoption grows more because I now have children of my own, who want to know as well...because I don't know from whence I came, I feel like I am not as completely here as I should feel. Good or bad, the need to know has not diminished for me, and neither has the sense of grief and loss. --- An adoptee

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