Joni Mitchell’s Daughter

Joni Mitchell reunion in 1997
with Kilauren Gibb

Adoptee reunions with their birth parents happen almost daily it seems to me in the adoption related groups that I am a member of. My adoptee mom wanted such a reunion but sadly hers never happened (when she tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, while denying her that information which would have brought her so much peace, they told her that her mother had died several years earlier).

This morning I’ve been tracking down the story of the daughter that Joni Mitchell gave up for adoption because she wrote song lyrics about that experience in Little Green a song on her album Blue which is 50 years old today.

~ lyrics

Born with the moon in cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who’ve made her

Little green, be a gypsy dancer
He went to California
Hearing that everything’s warmer there
So you write him a letter and say, “her eyes are blue.”
He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you
Little green, he’s a non-conformer

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green

Like the nights when the northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed

Little green, have a happy ending
Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow

Just a little green
Like the nights when the northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Both mother and daughter were searching for each other when a series of coincidences finally brought the two of them together. It would be a very typical adoptee search and reunion with her birth mother if her mother had not been so famous. Most adoptees do not have to deal with that kind of media frenzy. It would be a typical adoptee reunion with her birth mother leads to a reunion with her birth father but for all of the fame involved. And it would be a typical adoptive parent anxiety about losing the child they raised if not for all the media frenzy that followed. On Joni Mitchell’s own website you can read the details in Joni’s Secret: Mother And Child Reunion and fully appreciate the complications.

My all things adoption group seeks to encourage young, unwed mothers like Joni Mitchell was to keep and raise their children. This is because, like Joni, adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Joni’s problems were poverty and the baby’s father being unready to parent and so abandoning them. Within 3 years, Mitchell had a recording contract, a house and a car, and could have raised her child but it was too late by then. The adoption was closed and so when the daughter began her search, she was only given non-identifying information, which is typical as well.

Things actually went surprisingly well considering it was way back in 1997 when the reunion occurred. Like my good luck in uncovering my own original grandparents, something of their stories and connecting with biological/genetic cousins and an aunt, it was as though one door opens and the pieces begin falling into place. And as like attracts like and as intentions seek to fully fulfill the desire that gave birth to them, sometimes in the adoption world we get lucky.

It is somewhat interesting and all too typical that the adopted person also has their own struggles that somewhat mirror their birth parent. Kilauren claims that she did not find out she was adopted until she was 27. “She knew when she was a teenager,” her adoptive mother, Ida Gibb says. “Her friends told her. But maybe the full significance didn’t sink in.” Kilauren’s adoptive father, David Gibb says, “The mistake we made was in trying to say she’s not adopted, that she’s one of us and let’s forget the whole thing and put it away somewhere, because we wanted her to be part of the family.” Then he adds: “People are born. They are a life. They belong to nobody.”

Kilauren’s biological parents, Joni Mitchell and Brad MacMath, were both art students in Calgary when she was conceived. They moved to Toronto during the pregnancy and discussed settling down but as he says, “We were not communicating.” and he moved from Canada to California. Mitchell says her main concern at the time was to conceal her pregnancy from her parents. And what would her parents have done ? Mitchell’s mother, Myrtle Anderson says, “If we had known she was expecting a baby, we would have helped. I’m sure we would have encouraged her to keep the baby, but we didn’t know anything about it until several years later when she and Chuck (Mitchell) separated and she was home and told us about it.”

Like many birth mothers, Joni Mitchell regretted losing her child for 30 years before the reunion finally occurred. Like many birth mothers, she might see a couple with a daughter about the age hers would have been at that time. Toronto music manager Bernie Fiedler who was a friend of Mitchell’s remembers being with her at the Mariposa Folk Festival about four years after Kilauren’s birth. “There was a couple with a little girl wanting to speak to Joni. We went over and talked to the girl, who must have been 4 or 5, and afterwards Joni turned to me and said: ‘That could be my daughter.’ I will never forget that. She was obviously suffering tremendously.” Kilauren (at the age of 32) ended up separated from the father of the son she is raising. Broken relationships seem more common with adoptees, and often with their biological parents as well, than within the overall population in general.

The thing about adoption is that it changes trajectories. Joni Mitchell may not have become as famous as she did had she kept and raised her daughter. Her daughter’s life would have been different had she not been raised in the well to do home that she was. Both mother and daughter suffered and that is always the case (whether acknowledged or unconscious) when that separation takes place. It is always the case as well, that no matter how loving the adoptive parents are or how good of a childhood that adopted child has, a yearning to be made whole again is universal. Not all reunions go well and this one has been bumpy like many of these are.

Typically, the adoptive parents feared this as well. Losing Kilauren to her birth mother “was our greatest fear,” her adoptive mother Ida Gibb said. “It was a nightmare that this would happen to us when she was little and when she was a teenager. Now, it is easier to take. But it’s still hard.”

Bridging A Detour

Still raising awareness about Foster Care issues.

A request for guidance or advice – my wife and I have 4 foster kids. We get along great with the biological mom and they’re actually going to be reunified in the next month which is a huge win.

The biological mother has come to us and told us she is pregnant again, this time with twins who are due in December. At 25 years old, she is doubting he can handle 6 kids. She is asking us to adopt the twins.

We said “yes” of course but are wondering now what ?

Differences of opinion – focusing on the biological mother’s motivation to reunify with her children. Being pregnant with twins and faced with a total of 6 children, could feel overwhelming. This coming from an adoption reform and family preservation perspective.

This person wanted to know what the barriers were for this biological mother to keep and raise ALL of her children.

Yet, the group where this occurred, is made up of hopeful adoptive parents who offered the usual pro-adoption narrative line – “She is making a loving choice.” They were more focused on offering advice related to pursuing the adoption.

I really liked this response –

Of course, she is overwhelmed. I’ve been there. At 28 years old, I have 6 kids. Yes, it was hard but we’ve made it work.

Another person reflected on why this story is disappointing.

The foster parents have been doing everything correctly with the biological mother and have been supporting the reunification of the foster care children with their original family.

One can understand the foster care parents believing that this person they care about, needs their help – by adopting these twins she hasn’t met yet.

And I agree with the suggesting that this expectant mother needs counseling before she choses a permanent solution which in the moment is a temporary situation because change truly is constant.

And here’s the suggested response to be truly supportive of this young mother – “It’s going to be hard but you can do this. How about we help with babysitting, meals, grocery pick up, we can watch them overnight a couple times a week so you can sleep.”

Glitter Birthmoms

This is a new term for me this morning but I will admit I struggle with this now. At one time, I wouldn’t have but I have learned too much related to all things adoption to go along with the denial or self soothing perspectives that the adoption industry puts forth and way too many mothers who surrender a baby to adoption absorb and then believe it. These birthmoms speak about adoption as some win/win scenario.

Someone asked the obvious question – What are glitter birth moms? And here was the response – Someone who is glad they adopted out their child and doesn’t regret it.

One woman talked about the ones she sees that are proudly proclaiming their child is in a closed adoption for their own “privacy” but are also Extremely Online, using their full name and photo, IDing themselves as biological moms. Uh, that’s not really how privacy works but they’ll find that out when the adoptee does DNA and matches with close relatives. (And this does happen increasingly these days – in fact DNA and matching has revealed to me my adoptee parents’ – both were – genetic families).

Just recently, I saw one like this from a Christian agency and the woman has gone into counseling unwed mothers to surrender after getting a degree in some social work area. I just couldn’t . . . Here is how someone describes a similar situation – The ones whose stories adoption agencies/adoptive parents trot out in adoption circles to reinforce the narratives they want. They usually talk about how young they were or what obstacles they had, how they picked the adoptive parents (blogger’s note – and I actually supported my youngest sister during a pregnancy where she sent me the profiles to give her a second opinion but that was before I learned all I have learned), what wonderful people the adoptive parents are, how they have thrived since then, sometimes how their child is doing, and saying they know they “made the right decision.” They paint adoption as “giving my child a better life than I could offer.” All of this is very typical.

One adoptee said about such women – my guess is denial and a way to deal with guilt, they can safely live in the fog. I hate the way adoption is always about the parents, adopted or biological.

Another adoptee shares this –

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I don’t **know** this is how my birth mom is for a fact… but at least on the surface she fits the bill on
paper;

She had me at 16, before her 17th birthday

& Because she placed me for adoption

(and that she escaped the stigma,
as she didn’t show and no one knew she was pregnant)

She was able to easily graduate high school

Get her bachelor degree

Married the “love of her life”

And have two well behaved sons at the appropriate time deemed by society

She is a pillar of her community, a kindergarten teacher

She is head of PTA and very active at fighting for kids rights and services in her community (ironically)

It hurts more because I was always
fed the narrative “she did this for me” “she wanted you to have a better life”

No.

It was always about her

She wanted a better life

She wanted to escape stigma

It was never about me

Another adoptee shares – My “unfit” biological parents both went on to have more children and raised them in stable, loving families, unlike the adoptive one I got. Like we always say, placing your child or adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and nothing to be proud of. My biological parents can insist they did it out of love for me all they want but all I would ever hear is “we couldn’t be bothered to get our shit together in time to keep you in the family but look at all these lucky siblings we did do that for!”

And this was an important piece of advice – Please don’t start framing adoptees as either having a “negative experience” or “bitter and abandoned.” This will only silence your child and make them feel they cannot share complex feelings. The best thing I ever did for my daughter was tell her she had every right to feel however she wants over a situation she had no control or say over. Its quite possible for adoptees to love their parents but find parts of their adoption traumatic or challenging. For Example my daughter mourns not growing up with her siblings I get to raise. That doesn’t make her bitter or negative – its a completely normal response to an abnormal situation.

Someone shares this, which I alluded to above about a Christian agency – There are glitter birth moms who make a career out of it, by becoming an “adoption professional” and are paid by agencies to speak at events, promote adoption to other expectant mothers, etc. I follow them closely. It has a two fold impact – not only is the birth Mum able to turn their relinquishment into an income stream but it continually reinforces to them that they made the right choice. And this is far easier to live with than being open to considering the alternative. I have seen one of them do a complete change – she was actually featured in national articles supporting adoption. I’m not exactly sure what happened – whether the openness reduced, the reality of what she had done started to sink in as her child got older, however I have seen her talk about how her she has really struggled with her mental health. She hasn’t come out and owned her past but I have seen her commenting against adoption now.

And this very honest assessment that has some balance integrated into it – I don’t know if I’m considered a glitter birth mom, I don’t regret placing my daughter given the circumstances of my life at that time and the circumstances of her current life. However, I wouldn’t preach that it’s the greatest thing ever either. I just feel it was the best choice out of the ones I had at that time. I didn’t do it all for her, yes she was definitely a consideration but I’ll admit my choice was selfish too.

That’s part of why when I see women being praised when they are considering adoption that it irks me so much. It’s not selfless and brave and giving some couple a chance at parenthood. It’s hard, and emotional and traumatic for everyone and people don’t want to hear that. My daughter is 9 and it breaks my heart a little. She told me she never wants to be pregnant and have biological children. She wants to adopt children like she was and I wonder if this is her way of reacting to her trauma. I see her often, I’m pregnant with her little brother and first biological sibling, and she’s so in love with him but I worry how she’ll feel when he’s here, the relationship that they could have had, if she hadn’t been placed.

Lastly, in the realm of Welfare Queens exploiting a system, I need to include this sadly misguided perspective on it all – There is a glitter birthmom in my life. She was a former foster youth who aged out and has been having children since then. Her oldest is 24 and she is pregnant with #12? now. She has raised none and actually believes she is doing good by giving infertile families babies and encourages her biological children to do the same with her own grand babies.  I believe it is a survival narrative. She knows how to get housing and WIC and medical care and all sorts of benefits. She does not see the impact of her decisions on her children – even those who have been vocal with her about it. And the trauma of knowing they have siblings all over the country that they may never meet. It is a sad cycle being repeated by the next generation.