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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Haunted by Loss: My friend's adoption story

My book reading at the Pequot Museum
At lunch with a friend, as we ate our enchiladas, our discussion veered to my collecting stories for the new anthology "Two Worlds."  I was just starting to say something about birth psychology and the impact trauma on a newborn when my friend started to tell me how she lost a baby to adoption when she was a young woman.  I never knew this; suddenly I could not stop my eyes from filling with tears.
Even with our friends, we might not realize what are or were their defining moments. As she spoke, I could see how her loss defined her entire 50+ years.  (I know every story has the power to heal the person who tells it and the one who hears it.)

I was so very glad she told me about an adoption conference in Boston she attended years ago and how the women broke off into groups. She chose the group discussing women who relinquished. The facilitator closed the door and asked the women to raise their hands if they had lost a child to adoption. All hands went up.  Some of the women had never told a living soul what had happened. (Shame can silence you this way.)
One woman in her 70s was so overcome with grief, she wept in my friend's arms.  One young woman, a college student who was truly stunning, described herself as useless and ugly; she shared her deep remorse over her decision to give up her baby. (She didn't see it was threatening her future.) 
It was like this group gave the women the chance to see how their loss was deeply affecting their self-esteem. They had been shamed and even isolated by their decision. (Many were forced by their family or society pressure.) This group offered each woman time to share her experience, which turned out to be very healing for my friend.  (Support groups are essential but sadly, not everyone knows this.)

I've heard adoptees describe their isolation, too. I know adoption is an isolating experience for both mother and child; adoption separates us from each other. (With sealed records, our isolation was meant to be permanent, made by laws and expected by the adoption industry.)
As my friend was recalling this experience, I felt I was in the room as these women told of their unspeakable pain. I imagined my own mother Helen not being able to share her loss with anyone. (I wish I had had the chance to tell her I forgave her years ago.)

Finally my friend shared with me how she'd found her daughter. I was expecting a happy ending and a good reunion story. Sadly this didn't happen for them. My friend wrote her daughter a letter and hoped she was doing well. Her daughter wrote back she was doing fine but didn't open any door for a reunion. It ended before it began. (My friend sent a few birthday cards over the years but there was no response.)
As stunned as I was to hear this, I do know some adoptees are still in fear of meeting their first mothers. It could be the adoptees don't see the point of meeting birth parents or they don't want to hurt or disappoint their adoptive parents. (I encourage everyone to have reunion, to meet as many family members as soon as it's possible.)
My friend told me she read my memoir One Small Sacrifice to get an understanding of what an adoptee goes through.  If she never meets her daughter, at least she knows its possible to get through it and she knows I survived my own low self-esteem, slowly over years.
Weeks later, I am still haunted by my friend's loss of her daughter and the loss of their reunion.
My friend never had another child. 
I still feel her pain.

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