Mirabai Starr in Wild Mercy

Mirabai Starr with daughter Jenny

I am in the midst of reading Mirabai Starr‘s book – Wild Mercy – and today learned she adopted her children. Hers is a multiracial family. She had made the decision in her youth due to a concern about overpopulation (a concern I shared at one point in my own life). The looming shadow of the climate crisis was another motivation.

Between them, Mirabai and her husband, Jeff, have four grown daughters and six grandchildren. Mirabai’s youngest daughter, Jenny, was killed in a car accident in 2001 at the age of fourteen. On that same day, Mirabai’s first book, a translation of Dark Night of the Soul, was released.

Mirabai writes – I am a mother who has lost her child, Jenny Starr. In the midst of terrible beautiful unbridled mothering I am suddenly childless. I cannot find my way through a world that does not have my girl at its center. I do not understand. I don’t get why you did not make it through the hurricane season of adolescence, why the vessel of our love, of our ferociously devoted love, did not carry you safely back to me.

Her book Caravan of No Despair is the story of her journey through the grief of this tragedy. She has written in an essay Why Mother’s Day Is Still Special To Me that she found her daughter on her thirtieth birthday. “It was early May and we drove to Albuquerque from our home in the mountains of northern New Mexico to meet Jenny at her foster home in the South Valley. I had been prepped for the encounter, and had cultivated a degree of reserve so that I would neither overwhelm the child nor give her false hope in case it was not a good fit and we wouldn’t be following through.”

She continues, “Most children in the adoption system have been abused, neglected, abandoned, and have serious trust issues. I envisioned Jenny as a wild bird landing for a moment in my hand. I must not scare her off. We pulled up to the dilapidated adobe and parked at the curb—my soon-to-be ex-husband, my older daughter, Daniela, whom we had adopted two years earlier on her eleventh birthday, and me. I stepped out of the car and there she was, a toddler on a tricycle, peddling toward us with a shy smile. Look, Mommy, her face said to me, I can ride my bike.

A week later, on Mother’s Day, we brought her home. Jenny’s social worker met us halfway, at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Santa Fe. Jenny clutched the paper bag containing all of her possessions—a couple of pairs of pants that were too small and a flowered blouse that was too big (the new jacket conspicuously missing). She had a “memory book” put together by the staff at her foster home. It contained a picture of a little black baby cut from an ad in a magazine because Jenny did not have any real baby pictures and the Gerber child looked a little, but not very much, like her (and not a thing like me).

Jenny herself dubbed Mother’s Day as our “anniversary.” Every year on that day we celebrated with cake, mostly on our own, as the man who was supposed to be her father never was, and her sister became a teenage mother early on and left home.

The year I turned forty, Jenny turned fourteen. One night in a fit of teenage rebellion, Jenny took my car for a joy ride and never returned. She crashed on the downward slope of a steep mountain pass and died alone under a full moon. It never crossed my consciousness that I would outlive my child or that Mother’s Day would become an unbearable reminder that the daughter into whom I poured the full cup of my love would leave this world, and that I would shatter.

On a personal note – my then teenage daughter once went for a joyride in the middle of the night with a sleep-over friend and they wrecked her step-mother’s car. She called me wanting a plane ticket to Missouri. I knew that her dad and step-mother would look here first and that she needed to face the responsibility for what she had done. It took my parents intervention (who were still in the same city) to keep her from running away (which was my primary concern). I am so grateful upon reading this that she at least survived. It could have turned out tragically.

Fears Related To Reunions

It is understandable really. There is the gulf between you, the elapsed time living different lives and yet, you are unmistakably and without a doubt springing from the same DNA tree – and that matters. Yet, I see so often the fears. Stories today as examples which reflect typical experiences.

From a birth mother – I finally met my son! He contacted me on Mother’s Day and said he wanted to meet. He just turned 19. We met last Sunday and it went well. He said he wanted to plan another visit soon. I know after meeting it can be overwhelming for an adoptee. It has been very overwhelming for me. To be honest, I’m a mess. I can barely function. He is already pulling away, maybe, I think. He just kind of stopped replying to texts. He is bad at texting anyway – according to him. I am trying to give him space. But I have also heard adoptees say they don’t like feeling like they have to do all the work in the relationship. I did text him last but it was one that didn’t necessarily need a reply. Would sending a “thinking of you” text be too much, if you are overwhelmed? I don’t know if he is or not. I’m in the dark trying to navigate this.

From an adoptee – I’m 20 and JUST started texting my biological mom the day after Mother’s Day as well, I’m not ready to meet her and I’m not ready to text her all the time. Getting those thinking of you messages really are nice though because I get in my head and can’t text because it’s overwhelming. I also have a lot of fear that she is also pulling back – so knowing she is thinking would help. I encourage you to tell him exactly what you are thinking. We are adults now and I personally want her to speak to me as an adult and not as the child she lost!

From another adoptee – I would love for my birth mother to contact me more often. She never just contacts me. It’s always me emailing her, and she does reply to some of my emails. If I were in your shoes, I would send him another text message and perhaps mention that you don’t want to bother him with too many text messages, but you’ve just been so happy to have met him. Be ready to answer questions and even ask if he has any.

And yet another adoptee – My first mom knows I have issues with texting her back when I’m dealing with stress AT all. She texts me every once and a while and says she loves me or says she is thinking of me but never expects a response. Mother’s Day wasn’t that long ago, and it’s the first time y’all met? Give him some time to adjust. He’s probably processing it all – just like you are. I don’t think it would be invasive to send a text that shows you are thinking of him and he is in your heart and mind. I know that always makes me feel happy, even when I cannot reply.

This from an adoptee in reunion as an adult – At that age I would have just put up walls, and stayed quiet, if things started to feel overwhelming. I didn’t know why I felt how I did, most of the time. Every one is different though. If you haven’t already, consider reading The Body Keeps The Score. You have probably seen this book recommended before. It may be helpful in understanding your behavior/feelings/reactions and possibly his.

From experience – It took my mom and I years just be comfortable enough to have the conversation of – “I wish you’d call me more often.” I am sure he is hesitant because he does not want you to walk away again and he is likely dealing with guilt over loyalty to his adoptive parents – even if they are supportive. The guilt just comes with the fear of rejection that every adoptee lives with. Take it slow. If you don’t hear from him for awhile – it’s ok to text him. I would have loved for my mom to be more active in communicating. She said she didn’t feel she had the right and she didn’t want to scare me away.

And this is a good perspective as well –

Now you begin the slow process of fiquring it all out, what works for you together.. so you can definitely acknowledge what you want- “I’m so thrilled to be able to check in” and what you fear- “but I don’t want to overwhelm you or add any stress. I know this is really a lot to deal with.” And “If you want, you can totally tell me to just chill and I’ll totally understand! It’s totally normally to need a break.” It’s like building the framework of a space where you are able to accept the full range of his experiences, centered on his needs. It is important to make certain he knows that space is being held and that you are inviting him to help shape it.

Spiritual Godmothers

When I was a child, we had godmothers. It was actually a religious thing, associated with the infant baptisms that were part of being raised Episcopalian. I never really knew my godparents. I got a gift or two early in my life but when I was old enough to actually know I received it and from whom.

However, today being Mother’s Day, it occurred to me that adoptive mothers are like godmothers who are present all the time. One could also put step-mothers in that category if the were the “good” kind and not the evil kind. For some people, aunts or even mother-in-laws are like godmothers (mine certainly was and treated me like a daughter the many years, decades really, we were together).

While the wound that adoptees suffer in being separated from their gestational mother is serious and primal, and while much not appreciative nor grateful can be said about any woman who takes a child in that they did not give birth to, I think that on a day like today, when mothering in general is celebrated, it is fair to take a step back from reform interests, just for today to acknowledge “god” mothers. These are mothers sent to us by the spiritual heart of Life itself to assist us in one way or another. Foster mothers fit into this category as well.

The all-pervading, all embracing, unchanging, and unceasing Love that evolves, supports, nurtures, protects, and provides space for its children to reach maturity. Some religions have made the effort to move away from concepts of a male god or they conceive a wholeness of the duality mother/father god. During my later adult years, for some extended period of time I entered into a practice called the Gaia Minute. In doing this practice, twice a day, I came to think of the Earth herself as my mother, the Sun as my father. Larger than the human entities that provided for us during our childhoods and for some time beyond that, indeed while we were made of these, this continues to be true throughout our human incarnation.

Sadly, some children lose their mother so early, they have no clear memories of her physically. That certainly happened to my paternal grandmother, who’s own mother died when she was only 3 mos old. That certainly happens to adoptees who are given to adoptive parents within hours or days of birth.

The maternal nurturing energy of the feminine is not bound by birth, nor even by gender (my husband is surprisingly nurturing as a human being). Our spiritual godmothers, however we obtain them, whenever we obtain them, help birth our soul’s journey by their grace. They encouraged us when we were down, they were they for us when our heart and soul ached (my own human mother could sense me in distress when I was in a different room).

The Divine Feminine of mothering energy is there to remind us that we are never alone in this thing called Life. Happy Mother’s Day to each and every person who has ever fulfilled that calling to serve another human being with the energy of Love, compassion, nurturing, safety, provision and presence.

There was something complete and nebulous

Which existed before the Heaven and Earth,

Silent, invisible

Unchanging, standing as One,

Unceasing, ever-revolving,

Able to be the Mother of the World.

~ Tao Te Ching

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius

Patterns speak to human beings. Watching the movie, The Goldfinch, built around a real painting by a Dutch artist who tragically lost his life at the age of 32 in an explosion in Delft in 1654, sent me on a journey through my own relationship with this bird and it connects to both my mom’s adoptive mother and my in-laws and this bird. Our Goldfinches are much more brightly colored than the one in this painting.

I didn’t know what those yellow blobs on the bushes were until my grandmother visited me and drew my attention to them. She had stayed the week hosted by my in-laws which provided her with more comfortable accommodations than I could. I was driving her to visit her friends in Joplin but we had stopped in Branson and she wanted to buy my in-laws a thank you gift. She selected a pair of Goldfinches and said they reminded her of the two lovebirds. She had seen expressions of love between my two in-law’s during her week stay. Interestingly, though I was already married to my husband, she bought a single Goldfinch to give to me. Strange that I do not at this moment know where my own is.

And so last night I was reflecting on why my grandmother only gave me a single bird but my in-laws a pair. It was as if she was giving them her seal of approval for in essence “adopting” me into their family. My in-laws, the parents of 3 boys treated me as the daughter they never had. They stood by me during a legal tussle with my ex-employer going with me to the sheriff’s office to help me retrieve the car (it wasn’t free and clear but had a lien on it making it officially not mine for my ex-employer to take). My dad was on the board of the credit union I had borrowed from. When I called my mom about my trouble, she could only say to me, “Don’t let your dad find out.” My in-laws also went with me to the hearing the in judge’s chamber. Just one example out of many of their kindness and support for me as their adopted daughter.

I reflect on my own mother. In the movie, all 3 of the main young people depicted had lost their mothers, just as both of my own natural grandmothers had. Like the bird in the painting, my mom was trapped by the fact of her adoption. Prevented from knowing the true details of what happened to her by the sealed adoption file the state of Tennessee refused to give her. Details that I now know, that would have done no harm at the time she asked for it because her natural mother and natural father were both dead but she could have known aunts and uncles who could have told her about her mother and half-siblings on her father’s side. Seeing the photo of her mother holding her for the last time would have brought her so much peace. My mom struggled with body image because she could not achieve her adoptive mother’s trim form but my mom had the genetic big boned body of her natural mother.

I believe my mom’s adoptive parents would have sent her off to have and give me up for adoption when she turned up pregnant, unwed, a high school student had my dad’s adoptive parents not intervened to get them married. In my own particularly defiant manner, I chose to be born on my mom’s adoptive parents’ wedding anniversary. My adoptive maternal grandmother was a painter. Today I have a painting of a large oak tree in Autumn hanging on our wall that my grandmother painted. She also painted an oval bust of my infant self and this hung on her own bedroom wall all the years I remember her living.

Therefore, I was close to my grandmother. She once took me to England with her. During the visit that caused her to buy the Goldfinch figurines, the Wild Azaleas were blooming. She decked herself out for a portrait of herself surrounded by them. She had grown up in rural Missouri and her visit here was a trip down the memory lane of her own origins. We even visited her childhood home as I drove her to visit her friends. That photo of my grandmother started my own tradition of taking photos on Mother’s Day and me and my boys.

Bernice Dittmer

Oh, the patterns of our lives and how these can inform our hearts at the most surprising kind of emotional trigger, like watching a movie . . . and then seeing the movie of our life reflected back to us.

With my boys in 2010

Second Chances

I not talking about what is known as second chance adoptions as sad as that reality is.  I’m talking about the second chance life gave me and I hope those who have suffered their own failures at parenting will take heart.

This Sunday, we will go out into the forest among the Wild Azaleas and make a photo of myself with the two boys I am lucky to have in my own life.  We have done this every year without fail since the older boy was born.  You see, when I was young, I gave birth to a daughter who was and remains very dear to me.  Yet, I struggled to support us and in doing so, inadvertently lost the opportunity to parent her and have her in my life during her childhood.  I remember as the years went by looking for birthday cards for “my daughter” and that causing despair because they did not describe the unique kind of relationship I had with her.  Thankfully, we are close and I am grateful for that much.

When I remarried late in life and after 10 years of being with my husband who never wanted to have children – he changed his mind.  Over Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant he announced to me that he actually did want to become a father and it wasn’t easy for us because I was too old to conceive without medical assistance.  To conceive, I had to accept the loss of my genetic connection to my sons.  They would not exist any other way and they would not be who they are otherwise.

Yet, they grew in my womb and nursed at my breast.  I have been in their lives 24/7 with a few minor exceptions.  Parenting boys has been challenging because I grew up the oldest of three girls.  I was unprepared for the boisterous behavior of male children and through it was far from perfect – they and I survived it.  I was told as I struggled in their younger time that boys are more difficult when young and girls more difficult in puberty.  I don’t know if that is true but the boys are a joy and easy to live with now.  Whatever has caused that blessing, I am grateful.

I am also grateful to know I can actually parent.  It is a life-long sorrow that I lost that time with my daughter.  Children don’t stop growing and you can’t recover what is lost in your absence.  Happy Mother’s Day to all moms.

A Sad Holiday

For many adoptees, Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday.  For many children in Foster Care it is the pits of unhappy reminders.

All my life, Mother’s Day has been a happy one.  When we were young, we made my mom breakfast in bed.  When I had my oldest son in 2001, that next Spring during the month of May in celebration of Mother’s Day, I began a family tradition of taking my children out among the Wild Azaleas that are at the peak of their annual blooming for “see how you grow” photos.  It is cherished by me that we have not missed a single year with my oldest son now 19 years old.

Truth be told, it was my mom’s adoptive mother who started the tradition.  She had grown up in Missouri.  Her childhood location is some distance to the west but is very similar in rural wildness to where I live.  One year she came to visit me before our sons were born and I took her on hikes around our farm.  She cherished the experience because it brought back memories of her own childhood in Missouri.

When she learned the Azaleas were blooming, one morning she dressed up (though she was always fully dressed with jewelry and make-up before breakfast).  She chose a pink blouse to wear and a spot to sit framed by the Azaleas blooming all around her.  Later during that visit, she took me to see her own childhood home and I was surprised to see her farmhouse was very much like our own.  We were fortunate because the owner of that house allowed us to go inside and my grandmother shared with me what remained the same and what had changed over time.

As an adoptee, my mom yearned to have a reunion with her own mother.  She knew that Georgia Tann played a prominent role in her own adoption story.  When news of the scandal resurfaced in the early 1990s, she contacted Denny Glad who lived in Memphis and helped the victims of Georgia Tann’s questionable adoption methods.  My mom learned about her from watching a 60 Minutes special about the scandal that had aired on TV around that time.

Adoption records were still sealed in Tennessee as my mom tried without success to learn about her origins.  Devastating news was delivered to my mom that her mother had died several years earlier and they would not release her adoption file because the status of her father, twenty years my grandmother’s age, could not be determined (in truth he had been dead 30 years but the state didn’t try very hard at all).

Mrs Glad was instrumental in getting adoption records opened late in the 1990s for Tann’s victims but no one ever told my mom.  My mom died believing she had been stolen based on anecdotal stories she read or heard.  That wasn’t far from the truth but in reality Tann’s network of suppliers made her aware of my mom and my grandmother, through only the best motivations of a caring mom, got trapped.

Since my mom was deceased before I began to learn so much about adoption overall, I can’t ask her the questions that weigh heavily on my own heart about how she honestly felt about a lot of the issues related to her adoption.  She didn’t speak about it to anyone else in our family beyond acknowledging that she had been adopted.  That is, except with me and with me her feelings about it were definitely conflicted.

 

The Eternal Mother

~ artist, Mark Missman

More than Mother’s Day, the holiday season celebrates the hope of humanity in two symbolic persons – a mother and her baby.  A quiet calm image of nurturing and the infinite possibilities represented in any single person.

In discovering who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adoptees), I never expected to learn so much about the impacts of adoption or the deep often unconscious wounds that are left behind when we separate a child from their natural mother.

For nine months, the fetus nestles in the cozy warmth of it’s mother’s womb.  As close to her as her very breath, hearing her heartbeat, feeling her emotions and sharing the culinary tastes she prefers.  It is now known that the baby is not fully developed at the time of its birth.

For at least the next year, that bond between mother and infant will be a core and deep sense of security, of love, of responsiveness and gentle care that will have a profound effect on that child’s well-being throughout their life.

We owe every single mother the support and encouragement to raise the child conceived within her womb and help her create the next best yet to be human being as we continue to evolve into better and better, more caring always, kinder human beings.

May we all know someday that it is so.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day 2010

Ever since my oldest son was born, we go out every year to take photos among the Wild Azaleas we are fortunate to have an abundance of here on our Missouri farm.  Only in one year, were there no flowers and we had to settle for a waterfall backdrop.  This year, I can no longer endure a long hike due to knee issues and so my husband has suggested I drive our John Deere tractor while he and the boys walk alongside to area where he knows there are a lot of blossoms.  He also wants to collect a couple of large rocks in the bucket that are on his mind while we are there.  The last time I drove the tractor I got it stuck in a wetland.  He reassures me that will be impossible in the area he has in mind.

Mothers are very much on my mind at this time.  No surprise.  Yesterday, I struggled with a lot of sadness about my maternal grandmother.  I have this awful paradox.  I was never able to know my original grandparents because both of my parents were given up for adoption.  Yet, if that had not happened, I would not exist at all.  Therefore, it wasn’t ever possible to have both – a relationship with them and life itself.  Of course, if it weren’t for the disconnect adoption causes, maybe my parents could have enjoyed reunions with their original parents in adulthood and maybe I could have known these people.  But it was not to be.

I also miss my mom a lot at Mother’s Day.  I would have had a wonderful long conversation with her had she been alive.  She died two months before I expected to see her again (we were separated by 1,200 miles).  Her death changed my life.  Discovering my original grandparents did as well.

Happy Mother’s Day !!

Azaleas

Bernice Dittmer 1989

It was my maternal adoptive grandmother who first made a big fuss over our Azaelas when she visited me in Missouri in 1989.  She wanted her picture taken with some.  She grew up in this state a bit further to the west.  When my oldest son was born, I began a tradition of Mother’s Day photos with my sons among the Wild Azaelas.  Yesterday, I saw my first blooming bush so there should be some still in bloom come Mother’s Day later this month.

As you can see, even in old age, my grandmother was a stylish woman.  She adopted my mom and her brother from Georgia Tann, who became embroiled in a state investigation shortly before her death.  Initially, it was simply that she was overcharging adoptive families and pocketing the extra money but as time went on, it became clear there were much worse accusations of exploitation of the adoptees original parents.

I received my mom’s adoption file from the state of Tennessee in October of 2017.  My mom had tried and was denied in the early 1990s before the laws changed but no one told her when that happened and so she died knowing nothing about her origins.  She had said to me that as a mother herself, she would have wanted to know what happened to her child but when she was trying to get her file, she was told that her mother had already died.  The end of her hopes for a reunion were the reality.

Georgia Tann lied to my adoptive grandmother about my mother’s origins.  That is plain in the record (which thankfully is mostly accurate except for some fudging about my mom’s original parents that was decidedly not true).  It also seems that my adoptive grandmother got her children according to her exact specifications and I think it is likely that she paid for them in some manner.

Like many adoptive parents, she was very happy to have children and become a family.  When she visited me in 1989, the story she told me was still not accurate.  My mom was already 52 years old by that time.