Saturday, November 27, 2010

Finding words is tough today.  I am in the throes of first mother grief and gratitude.  I am in the surreal cloud of reunion.  When does reunion officially happen?  Was it the first day I found my son?  The first photograph?  Phone call?  Birthday email?  Is it the actual first moment of being together, face to face, seeing my son's face for the first time in decades?  Today this seems real and unreal.  When I first found my son in 1998, some of the literature said I could hope to be his friend.  Now the literature tells me I am his mother.  One of them.  Finally the resonance of truth.  Of course, I am his mother!  Some experts say he and others long to find their mother, long to be with her, that in so doing, his life will be better.  I am all for that.  As a birthmother in 1963 I bought what I was told.  I followed.  I did what I was told.  Today I use intuition as my guide.  What will be the next step?  How will I forgive my unknowing, unintentional decision to abandon my child?  One moment at a time.  Breath by breath.  Making peace with what is.  Making peace with that sweet 18/19 year old Jane and her innocent trust in those guiding and arranging an intolerable goodbye.

 from...the gift wrapped in sorrow, 1999

April 21st
The only hope for our finding one another is through forgiveness.
This is my constant wish and prayer.

Dear M.,

Tonight it feels like you are a dream.  Most of my life has been spent without knowing you.  This past year has brought you so close and this has allowed the most incredible joy for me.  But in this moment of so much turmoil in the outer world, I feel as if I have created you in my imagination.

I anguish for the world today.  For the horror of far-away suffering and for the tragedy of Columbine.  I think about A..  Today he's safe.  The world in which he'll become a child, then adolescent, then young man is so frightening.  He is innocent and fragile.  I trust you will teach him to be wise in the world, to watch out for strangers but to trust his heart in matters of love. 

These past weeks have been very painful in my life.  My older sister's son has died.  This was sudden, shocking, frightening and brought deep sadness to us all.  This incident will change, forever, the course of her life.  Surrendering you has changed, forever, the course of my life.
And it has changed yours as well.  I think of my sister, Barbara, and how everyday will be shadowed by the hues of her sorrow.  Every holiday, every special life event will be colored by her son's absence.  She and I are truly sisters in sorrow.  Her joy regarding her son will be found in memories carried in her heart.  I trust that my joy will come.  It will come from your phone call or letter and will spill forth, immeasurably, the day that I see you.

I work daily at forgiving myself.  All healing ultimately is about forgiveness.  It is what will allow our hearts to mend, to become whole, to allow for the joyous expression of our lives.  The only hope for our finding one another is through forgiveness.  This is my constant wish and prayer.

With Love,

Friday, November 26, 2010

Grieving the primal wound

I spent the afternoon rereading Nancy Verrier's material and found that the years do not really bring insulation to the reality of the primal wound.  Even when/if we have moved along on our own healing path as first mothers, acknowledging what has happened to our surrendered child comes crashing back.

I applaud Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor for realizing they had made a mistake in their counselings in those earlier times.  The first time I heard Annette Baran say that it was a mistake I had the first real peace.   My inability to understand this in 1963 can be explained by a compliant, keeping the peace girl.   Not thinking about what really was happening.  Not wondering what the next hour, day, week, year, decade would be like without my son or for my son.  Where were those questions?  No one was there to field those questions.  The numbness, the fear, the trauma, the overwhelm, all kept the door to those questions closed.  Intuition, my deepest knowing as a mother were locked within those closed doors.

I wish I could say that it is all easier to comprehend as a 66 year old mother.  It is not.  I can take in all the information, process it and even understand the cognitive implications, but my heart is still too raw to move past the everlasting grief that will be part of my journey always.

from The Gift Wrapped in Sorrow...

I can never undo our past.  It is etched forever in the annals of sorrow.
  The past contains many bitter lessons… .

Dear M.,

Your silence says so much.  I'm deeply in tune with your pain.  My response has duality.  I respond from a place of great understanding, yet anguish as a mother who cannot rescue her child.  I move between these two responses and sometimes I feel pushed to the edge of my emotions.

I'm appalled at my decision to surrender you.  As I listen to conversation about adoption and observe the complexities, I feel myself moving to that place of what I now call  "the silent scream."  The strange part of this is that there is some peace, some comfort about traveling to that place.  It is completely solitary.  I must go alone. It is there that I find myself and I find you.  As I attempt to share about these feelings, I become lost in the impossibility of stating my truth.  I become lost in the place of a home for unwed mothers, lost in the hospital delivery room, lost in the knowledge that I did not hold you and comfort you in the first hours and days of your life.  I'll spend the rest of my life trying to understand that I allowed this.  I'll spend the rest of my life searching for ways to forgive myself.

Your silence shouts out your hurt.  I'm told with great certainty that I have inflicted a great wound.  I know this intuitively and I know this through the teachings of Nancy Verrier and others who have delved into the emotional and psychological aspects of abandonment.  In The Primal Wound, Ms. Verrier tells about the everlasting nature of the wound of separating from one's first mother.  She brings to light how the adopted person has stored the memory of abandonment and separation.  She even tells about the trauma and drama of birthdays, as this is a time that stirs the early pain of separation and sadness.  I don't know how life has been, for you.  But one fact of Ms. Verrier catches my attention.  The best replacement mother in the world cannot erase these memories.

This information is shocking to me as a first mother, in the sense that I have caused such trauma.  As I tune into myself, as your mother, I know all this to be true.  And as a professional, a doctor, a teacher, a student of prenatal and perinatal psychology, I clearly understand Ms.. Verrier's premise.  How can I comfort you?  What could I do now to foster healing for you?

I've had chest pain throughout the day.  Several times during the day I noticed these sharp and stabbing sensations.  I felt certain this was not a cause for concern.  But it did occur to me that I am vulnerable to death.  That I could die before seeing you.  These past few days were spent with a friend who cared for me during my recent health crisis.  We talked about this episode and how critical it had been.  During that time I was too ill, too weak to acknowledge personal concerns.  As I regained strength and health, I realized that you were not going to call or write even though you were aware of my serious health condition.  Your silence says so much.  I have been truly disappointed that you haven't called.  I know that my call to you last October was not welcomed.  I had hoped that my call, to wish you a happy birthday, could have paved the way for further contact.  I had hoped you would feel the breaking of ice and want to share another call.  Instead, it seems that you are even further away.

I have been disappointed by this and also by T.' distance as well.  He has not answered my email messages for the past several months.  I feel T. has closed the door to our sharing and to keeping the lines of reunion open. This has been a great loss. I have not spoken to T. for about eight months.  I regret this silence.  Talking with T. brought hope, information that has been truly cherished and a feeling of joy for the possibility of our meeting.

  I realize that you are determined not to let me in.  At least not now.  I believe that you are relating to me on a mental rather than an emotional level.  This precludes connecting with me.  This prevents the sweetest of moments to happen.  This keeps you locked within that space of pain and abandonment that Ms. Verrier, Reuben Pannor and so many other professional clearly describe.  I wish you would not choose to remain there.  I wish you would allow even a small space for possibility.  Even as I share my wishes, I also feel a true understanding for your distance.  As one of your mothers, I want your life to proceed as you wish.  So although I stand close-by, vigilant, prayerful, your choices and your decisions are held with great respect.

I can never undo our past.  It is etched forever in the annals of sorrow.  The past contains many bitter lessons; those of a young girl following the dictates of parents and disallowing the magnanimity of the maternal bond.  My awareness came too late.

There are many levels to this experience.  I understand this with great clarity.  There is the level of my sorrow, my anguish, my inconsolable regret.  And there is the level of acceptance and absolution.  In the space of intuition, of my higher self, there is peace. I wish you could join me in this place of profound realization.  Throughout time, elders have paved the way for growth and knowing for their children.  As one of your parents I could share with you.  All you have to do is ask.  I would do anything for you. My offer, three decades later, is earnest.

It has almost one year since I have known about you.  Next Wednesday will be the actual anniversary day.  I'm thinking about some special way to honor and observe the day.  Tomorrow I'll purchase some yellow ribbons.  I'll place them in my home and place of work.  Throughout history, they have symbolized the unshakable faith in and trust for the safe return of a loved one.  I'll keep my vigil with the utmost trust.  Each time I see these ribbons I'll whisper a prayer for your safety and your return.

With Love,

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Baby Hughie

It has been a very long time since I have thought of Baby Hughie.  The mother/infant system is obvious and completely visible in orangutans.  Birute Galdikas continues to be my teacher from afar.  I studied Anthropology in depth as a college student.  Much of what I studied didn't sink in, as I had just relinquished my son to adoption.  I wonder what happened to Hughie.  I will have to find out.  Just a few days ago a new mother that works in my local market told me that her pediatrician said not to worry about leaving the baby when she returned to work.  The mother was beside herself with grief in leaving her baby.  The doctor told her that this will help the baby deal with the separation inherent in life.  I enlightened her.  I told her about the mother/infant system and to be with her baby as much as she wants and can.  She was relieved.    I see that some professionals are still disseminating false information.  Hughie needed to be with his mother or surrogate mother around the clock.  I am waking up to the tragic, subtle coercion of adoption as it occurred in my life.

Here's the entry for now:  from The Gift Wrapped in Sorrow, 1999

May 22nd

Relinquishing a child sets the stage
 for a lifetime of longings and sorrow

I think back to the conventional wisdom of the sixties. It didn’t support our humanity. It’s not within the scope of our humanity to separate children from their parents without first exploring every possible alternative. I like to think that both my son and I could have weathered the challenges facing me at that time. I could have dealt with the trials as well, especially if the social system supported those areas that were not in my realm of experience.

Relinquishment is inherently distressing to all involved. It does not support the natural unfolding of the life process. It interrupts the most significant bond that exists between humans. Anthropologists and primatologists have spent lifetimes delving into the bond between primates. Recently I had the opportunity of watching one of the most eminent scholars of primates,Birute Galdikas, (Orangutans,In The Wild, May 20, 1999 PBS). She provides surrogate parenting for orphaned orangutans. Watching the exchanges between mother and infant show us the magnificent cord that unites mother to child, regardless of the specie. These primates clearly illustrate the depth of the maternal essence. If, as speculated, we are truly evolved, advanced beings, would it not then follow that we would acknowledge and protect the most sacred aspect of our humanity?

Relinquishing a child sets the stage for a lifetime of longings and sorrow. This is the natural and normal human response. We are among the few groups of living beings who spend our entire lives intertwined with our children. Each Mother’s Day, one of my very dear friends celebrates her family. Four generations gather together to honor mothers, children, and their precious gift of loving one another. Great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and children come together to express the joy of sharing life, love, and one another. Those of us who have relinquished a child have severed the thread that ultimately weaves, whether with intent or not, the most exquisite fabric we call family.

I regret my unawareness. I regret the moments lost. I’m thinking of baby Hughie, the orphaned orangutan. He is so vulnerable, so dependent. Watching these primates lets us really understand the maternal bond. These beings, mother and child, are inseparable for four years, but for the first six months the nurturing is constant. It seems the sole purpose of existence at this time is for the mother primate to protect and provide for her child. I watched Hughie as he reached out to the human surrogate. I was so sorry he couldn’t be with his mother. The deprivation was so visible. So many Hughie’s in this rain forest. My heart is heavy with the knowledge of these infant primates separated from the most natural and sustaining part of their lives. I am filled with the grief of my separation from my infant son.

The surrogate mothers who nurtured Hughie were so loving and giving, but I wanted him to have the gift of his mother’s love. With rare exception, I believe that is the best of all possible choices. For Hughie, and for us all.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Relinquishment Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of the relinquishment of my first son.  It is a somber, tragic remembrance, a time when I unknowingly, deeply hurt a child, my child.  The piece I have selected in tribute to the day, the time, the loss is Jane G.


A Birthmother, Awaiting Reunion
Jane Guttman

     Jane G.  Pain.  Dark.  Alone. Lost.  Afraid.  Memories stir. I have no resistance, only sorrow.  I watch.  I wait.  I wonder. 
     Jane G.  Who is she?  Someone in my present life shares with her friend about me, about my work, about my gifts.  She asks, "Do you know Jane G?"  I smile at the warmth and appreciation for me, who I am, what I do, what I give.
     Jane G.  I remember.  No one has called me "Jane G" for over thirty-five years.  I shudder in recollection.  I cringe at the memories.  I feel the silent and stunned acknowledgment of that time, that anguish and that grief.
     It is 1963.  I am at St. Anne's Maternity Home in Los Angeles.  Eighteen and pregnant.  Married but single.  Passive and perplexed.  Frightened, abandoned.  In the midst of this darkness, I prepare for the ultimate tragedy. Relinquishing my child. 
     The nuns circle with rules and condemnation.  Unwed mothers shuffle in that late pregnancy walk.  There are no sounds of life here.  All souls are subdued by the harshness of the nuns and by the truth of our collective tragedy.
     The housemother likes me.  Everyone has always liked me.  I follow the rules.  I comply.
     The peacemaker.  For eighteen years I have given up myself to please others.  Now I prepare to give up the most precious thing of all, my child.  To keep the peace.  To do what is right.  To do what is best.  To reclaim the favor of my father.  To align with the rules of society.  To clear the mark I have cast on my family, to ease into the place of respectability and honor.
     I am Jane G.  The name singes.  The name scorches.  A nurse screams at me.  I am walking a urine specimen to the area as is required.  It is   She screeches out her disapproval.  I am in the wrong hall.  "Someone" from the world may see me.  My "cover" will be destroyed.  I will be seen.  "Someone" will know.  My sin will be revealed.  In this moment of fear, confusion, sorrow and despair I am shattered.  Her words rip through me, tears sting, my throat tightens.  What can I do?  Shall I disappear?  I continue to the designated area, drop my specimen off and walk back to my room, diminished and degraded.
     It is 2000.  I can walk down any hall, unafraid.  I can speak my truth, clearly and compassionately.  I still value peace;  but not at the expense of my integrity.
My life is respectable.  It is honorable.  My father would be proud.  His daughter has claimed her place in the halls of achievement and acceptability.  A teacher.   A doctor.  An author.  I have measured up to the standards held with a clutching hand by my parents.  They would be pleased.
     The cost has been great.  I look at the photo of my grandchildren beside my desk.  I feel the yearning stir.  I want to see them.  I want to hold them.  I want to let my eyes rest on the face of their father.  I want this more than anything I have ever wanted. 
    One dark November day, in 1963, Jane G. signed a document that would forever interrupt the flow of love between mother and child.  All my longing will never bring him back.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reflections on Relinquishment...

Transforming the Sea of Sorrow

     October 1963. I gave birth to my first child at St. Anne's Maternity Hospital in Los Angeles. There were no family members present, no flowers, no cards, no well wishes and no welcome for my son. Within the first week of his life, I signed preliminary relinquishment papers Five days after his birth; he left the hospital, his abandonment and loss unacknowledged.  I returned to the home of my father and this event was never spoken of again.
      Since finding my son 2 years ago, I have begun to open the door to the tragedy of his relinquishment and have met a sea of sorrow.  I have sought to find significance in the tragic events of my live.  Sorrow has been an eloquent teacher.
          In the course of finding my son, I have found myself.  Peace has been elusive in my life.  I have lived my entire adult life, with the exception of these past 24 months at the edge of both sanity and living. A birthmother lives in the constancy of a fear state.  No moment is truly peaceful. 
     How, then, has this sorrow, this tragedy, this despairing event become a true gift?
Our sorrow brings us to the gate, the door, the path of forgiveness.  All healing is ultimately about forgiveness.  As we move to the depth, to the core of our pain, we allow a space to be formed in which new insight, new thinking, new perception can be born.  We give rise to a higher thought form.  We align with thoughts that bring us closer to peace and wholeness. 
     Last year, I received an e-mail from someone beginning his healing journey.  His words to me, "I am searching for my mother's heartbeat" seared my heart.  I understood what I had been resisting for 34 years, what I have been searching and longing for.  As this young man shared his heartfelt thoughts, I realized that my own heartbeat has longed, always, for my relinquished child.  I felt this, in the dark of the night, in the silence of my solitude, and in every baby's face.
     My path, the mother's path has brought me to the depth of despair and sorrow, and to the height of joy.  As I moved into the space of my darkness I began to sense the knowing that in my shattering I would emerge and become whole.  I didn't know the form my healing would take.  I didn't know all this sorrow could be transformed.
     Last October, on the night of my son's 35th birthday, I experienced a medical emergency…. in the course of this urgency, in the relinquishment of my uterus, in the medical measures taken to save my life, I purged the core layer of this grief.  I was swept into a river of pain and release; I came close to death's door in mind, body and spirit.  In symbol and in figure I completely surrendered my memory of this sorrow and this loss.  I walked through these shadows and emerged in light and in joy.  Each moment became enlivened with gratitude, grace, joy and hope.  Each fragment of time became a gift to be cherished and embraced.  I felt whole. I felt joy. I felt life.  I could sense, for the first time, the ability to feel happiness.  I touched, as never before, the depth of a moment.  Colors were brighter, sounds were clearer.  As each day passed, as each week became a collection of gifts, I felt released from the throes of pain that have stolen my entire adult lifetime.   
     My son is out of reach, for now and possibly forever.  He has chosen to not reunite.   My healing has come from knowing he is safe, he is well, he is living the life he has chosen for himself.  My healing has come from facing, embracing and celebrating the pain of all my yesterdays.
     The western path encourages us to retreat from our pain.  I've celebrated the life of my pain.  I've moved into the very core of it, met it in a place of surrender.  I've melted into its fury, let its sharp edges soften, crumble in the face of determination and devotion to its closure and resolution.
     As I ease into the present moment, I welcome both the sorrow and the joy.  I understand that the "core of this sorrow will be mine forever."  I know that as the waves of grief wash over me I will be guided to peace and to joy.  At long last.

- Jane Guttman  
© 2000

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Some Adoption History of the 60's

Note:  My gratitude to Reuben for his insight, wisdom, compassion, incredible expertise in adoption concerns.


BY REUBEN PANNOR    (To Gift Wrapped in Sorrow)

                This is the story of Jane Guttman’s journey.  Eighteen, away from home, in college, embarking on a professional career, Jane discovers she is six months pregnant.  The year is 1963.  What to do?  Where to go for help?  She is lost and alone.  Her journey takes her through a hasty marriage that is quickly annulled.  She describes her parents as “devastated” by her pregnancy.  No one but the immediate family is to know.  Jane is sent to a maternity home to further ensure that the shame of the pregnancy will be kept secret.
                In the maternity home, Jane feels lost and frightened, separated from her family and any support system she might have had.  She feels like she is with strangers living in a space that is decorated with shame and guilt.  The year Jane relinquished her baby, the country was blanketed with maternity homes that primarily served to hide and protect birth mothers from the shame and lack of acceptance of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.  Years later, when Jane contacted the maternity home, she learned from them that most homes have ceased to exist and that many have changed their functions to helping birth mothers to find ways of keeping their children.
                Her journey continues as she goes through the physical and emotional trauma of giving birth.  As she vainly struggles with her options, she finds that adoption becomes her only solution.  Thirty-four years later, Jane searches and finds the son she relinquished, only to discover that he is not ready to meet with her.  She must continue her long wait and hope that a time will come when she will have a reunion, knowing that the years lost can never be recovered.  Hence, the title Jane gives to her book, “The Gift Wrapped in Sorrow – A Mother’s Quest for Healing.” 
                In order to understand her dilemma, one needs to know the climate of the times and the theory and practice of adoption when Jane relinquished her son.
                The reunion that Jane sought was the product of the closed system in adoption, characterized by secrecy, anonymity and the sealing of records.  By the late 1940’s, not only had closed adoptions become the prevailing practice, but statutes were passed to provide for the sealing of all adoption records and for denying everyone access to these records.  In these statutes, the identity of the birth parents and the adoptive parents were to remain secret, even from each other.  Social agencies during this time would rigorously adhere to this practice, justified by the widespread acceptance of psychoanalytic theory following World War II that led psychologists, and ultimately social workers, to conclude that birth parents were emotionally disturbed and therefore, were not to be trusted with information about the whereabouts of children they had placed for adoption.  Birth parents were also to be shielded from the stigma of illegitimacy and promised secrecy and anonymity.  Adoptees who wanted information about their origins were instead referred to therapists to work out their problems. Birth parents were also discouraged from contacting agencies for information following the relinquishment.  In effect, this meant that adoptive parents received only brief descriptive information about the birth family that they could share with their children as they asked questions about their adoption.
                As a result of these policies, birth parents, like Jane, lived with continuing pain and feelings of loss and emptiness.  For Jane, thirty four years have passed with no information from the adoption agency about him.  Jane asks questions buried in her heart that kept surfacing.  What kind of person did he grow up to be?  What kind of life has he had?  Is he married?  Is he alive?  These are questions that birth mothers ask who relinquished children under the “closed system.”  Is this not fundamental information that every human being has a right to have about oneself.  Yet they have been denied to birth parents and adoptees.
                It was with these feelings in her heart that Jane decided to search for her son, but was not prepared for the magnitude of the event.
                Many birth parents who have had to wait years before a contact could be made, found the reunion a bitter-sweet experience with a great deal of happiness at the beginning combined with unrealistic expectations.  This was followed by a more sober, realistic appraisal as more time elapsed.
                Jane speaks for many birth parents as she describes the joy and happiness she feels as she exchanges pictures by mail with her son and his family.  She is grateful for the knowledge that he is alive and well and that she can picture him as a real person.  Yet, they have not met and Jane fears that this may not come to pass, although she has not given up hope.  To further understand reunions, we need to see how adoptees experience them.  In a study of reunions that Dr. Joe Davis and I recently completed, the overwhelming majority of adoptees expressed satisfaction with being able to have medical and genetic information about themselves and to fill the empty gaps in their lives.  Yet many spoke of the pain and sadness their birth parents must have felt not knowing what had happened to the children they had relinquished.  They would have wanted to be able to tell them that they were alive and well and had been raised in caring families.  A number of adoptees felt that the reunion meant more to their birth mother than to them, while others may carry deep feelings of anger and hostility for being rejected and abandoned.  Most adoptees who searched were not looking to replace families they already had, but to hopefully build new relationships with their birth mothers.  The adoptive families, on the other hand generally acted casual, but felt apprehensive and threatened about reunions.  This is not surprising since adoptive parents were usually told that it was not important to have information about birth parents, that the birth parents would move on to a new life and put this experience of the pregnancy and relinquishment behind them.  The adoptive parents would then raise the child as though the child had been born to them.  The adoptive parents were not expecting, nor were they prepared for, a reunion.  Post adoptive services to help adoptive parents to understand the many complex issues in adoption were non-existent.
                Jane’s remarkable journey took place in a time when little was understood about the many complexities inherent in the practice of adoption or of the long trail of emotional and psychological problems that were subsequently left behind.  Yet, we must acknowledge as we enter the 21st century that we have witnessed and participated in bringing about important changes in the institution of adoption, changes that practice openness and honesty and thereby permit a healthier and sounder adoption practice.  In this book, Jane moves us a step further in that direction by helping us to understand feelings that are shared by many birth mothers.  The reader who embarks on this journey will also be rewarded by the richness of her prose and poetry and by her insights into the very depths of the adoption experience.

Reuben Pannor...Author, Adoption Reform Advocate, Social Worker, Humanist