The Tragic Story of Lizzie Lou and Frances Irene

My grandmother with her second husband

I’m realizing a day late that yesterday would have been my maternal grandmother’s birthday. Her father died on Christmas Day in 1953, one year before I was born to his first grandchild, who he never even knew. I can imagine Christmas was not the usual kind of holiday for my Stark family but then I don’t really know. My mom was adopted away from them when she was 7 months old.

Relinquishing a child has lifelong consequences for women and for adoptees. Between 13–20% of birth mothers do not go on to have other children. For those in an era of birth control, a few may consciously feel that to have another child would be to betray the first child which they lost to adoption. For many, and especially in my grandmother’s generation, there was either no known reason for infertility or something about their life circumstances precluded having more children.

After receiving the adoption file from the state of Tennessee that they had previously denied my mother, only breaking her heart and motivation to search by informing her that her birth mother had died several years before, it took me forever to make real contact with one of my grandmother’s remaining family members – this one is a niece. She would actually be my mom’s cousin, that same generation of descendants. She is the warmest person and gave to me the gift my heart was yearning for, some intimate, personal memories of my grandmother along with this picture of her with her second husband.

In some belated post-Christmas communication with her today, I felt compelled to correct the seeming misperception that my mom was the child of the couple in this blog. Here was my reply –

My grandmother never had another child. My mom was her only child (and this is not uncommon among women who lose their first child in such a tragic manner). Her father appeared to have abandoned them, at least to my grandmother’s perception of events, though a super flood on the Mississippi River in early 1937 must have been a factor. My cousin that shares him as a grandfather with me, believes he cared deeply about family. So why did he not come to Memphis to rescue the two of them ? There is no one alive now that can answer that question for me and so, there it sits forever unanswered. Of course, once Georgia Tann knew about the precarious situation my mom and grandmother were in, she swooped in to acquire yet another human being to sell. Awful but a definite truth of it all. I am happy that my grandmother found happiness with her second husband after the divorce between her and my maternal grandfather occurred (and it didn’t happen until 3 years after they first married and my mom was already permanently beyond the reach of her original family). 

She later corrected that “seeming” misperception, of course, she knew my mom was not this man’s child.

It is a tragic story. Why my grandfather left her after only 4 months of marriage, causing her to be sent away to Virginia to have my mom, there is no one left alive to tell me. Why my grandfather didn’t respond to the letter from the Juvenile Court at Memphis when my grandmother came back with her baby, there is no one left alive to tell me. My grandmother was so desperate to find a way to stop my mom’s adoption that she called Georgia Tann’s office 4 days after being pressured into signing the surrender papers, under a threat of having Tann’s good friend, Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, declare my grandmother an unfit mother (which she absolutely was not !!). Then, she took a train to New Orleans to prove to Miss Tann that she did have friends there who would take the two of them in resolving at least the issue of stability, even if only temporarily. Everything she tried to do, including taking my mom to Porter Leath orphanage for temporary care – FAILED tragically.

I have all of my original grandparent’s birthdates on my yearly calendar now. I wasn’t able to know them in life but I don’t forget them in death. Maybe someday in the nonphysical realm to which my grandparents (and adoptee parents) have all gone, I will meet them once again and receive the answers my heart cannot acquire in life.

Finding Empathy

Gabrielle Union, daughter Kaavia
and husband Dwayne Wade

I will admit that I have become generally against surrogacy as part of my own journey to understand adoption as it has manifested in my own family. However, in reading Gabrielle Union’s beautifully written essay in Time magazine – Hard Truths – I ended up feeling a definite empathy for her situation and believe the outcome to have been perfect for the situation.

Within my spiritual philosophy it is believed, as also is stated in Hindu Scripture, that “Mind, being impelled by a desire to create, performs the work of creation by giving form to Itself.” Some of my ability to empathize may have also arisen from experiencing secondary infertility in attempting to conceive my oldest son. I believe that Assisted Reproduction is a knowledge granted to man by Mind and so, many children are today being created using these medical techniques. This is a fact of modern life.

Gabrielle suffers from adenomyosis in which endometrial tissue exists within and grows into the uterine wall. Adenomyosis occurs most often late in the childbearing years. So in reading the Time magazine article I found poignant her experience of multiple miscarriages and various medical interventions in her many attempts to conceive. Many women then turn to adoption and it is often noted that the infertility itself must be dealt with in therapy before even considering adoption because an adopted child will never be that child you would have conceived and carried through a pregnancy to birth.

My objection to surrogacy is my awareness of how the developing fetus begins bonding with the gestational mother during pregnancy. Gabrielle writes of her awareness of this disconnect with clarity – “the question lingers in my mind: I will always wonder if Kaav would love me more if I had carried her. Would our bond be even tighter? I will never know . . .” She goes on to admit that when she met her daughter, they met “as strangers, the sound of my voice and my heartbeat foreign to her. It’s a pain that has dimmed but remains present in my fears that I was not, and never will be, enough.” She ends her essay with “If I am telling the fullness of our stories, of our three lives together, I must tell the truths I live with.” It seems healthy and realistic to my own understandings.

As the mother of donor conceived sons, I can understand the complex feelings. I can remember distinctly feeling less entitlement to my sons than my husband since it was his sperm that created them. I am also aware of adoptee trauma from that separation from their natural mother. Both of my parents were with their natural mothers for some months before they were surrendered for adoption. I think I see this issue in a couple of photos I have managed to obtain from their early years.

My mom held by a nurse from the orphanage she had been left in for “temporary care,” while my grandmother tried to get on her feet. My mom appears to be looking at
her mother in this photo.
I notice this expression on my baby dad’s face.
I wonder if my grandmother was there and was
he puzzling about her presence ? I can’t know
but it has caused me to ponder.

I will add that Union’s surrogate was of a different race. Another issue with surrogates is that they often become emotionally attached to the baby growing in them. Gabrielle describes her surrogate and the surrogate’s husband as “free spirit” people. She says at the time she met her surrogate in person, “The first thing I noticed was a nose ring. Oh, I thought, she’s a cool-ass white girl.” The surrogate wasn’t bothered at all – there was an excitement to her voice when she said, “This is such a trip. I have your book on hold at four different libraries.” She must have been referring to Gabrielle’s first collection of essays, We’re Going to Need More Wine, which sparked powerful conversations by examining topics such as power, color, gender, feminism, and fame through her stories.

Carrie Thornton, Dey Street’s (the publisher) VP and Editorial Director says of the new book, You Got Anything Stronger?, that it is “a book that tugs at the heart, feels relatable, and . . . you see her for exactly who she is. . . ” I would agree having read this story.

Actually Birth Mother Fits

Me and my Sons in 2009

I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic recently and having learned that today is National Sons Day, I decided it was appropriate for me to just go ahead and write about my thoughts.

In adoption circles, “birth mother” is no longer the preferred term for a woman who gives up her child to be adopted by strangers never to see that child again. These women increasingly prefer first or natural mother for their role in their birthed children’s lives. For many, some kind of reunion takes place after the child has reached an age of maturity. Such reunions are becoming common place. Some are happy and others are heart-breaking.

When I embarked on my journey to discover my own genetic roots back in 2017, I really didn’t know much about adoption. In fact, it was the most natural thing in the world for me and my sisters because both of our parents were adopted. They really had almost no idea of where they came from and varied from one to the other regarding how they felt about the situation. Now I know what my parents didn’t know the day they died, I know who their parents were and a bit about each one of them.

Back in 1998, when my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, he surprised me with the announcement that he wanted to become a father after all. I had become a mother in 1973 within my first marriage. He had always been glad I had been there, done that, no pressure on him. Now he was instigating the unthinkable and it proved to be almost undoable as well. We tried all of the advice and used ovulation predictors but could not achieve success. A nurse practitioner in my GPs office referred me to her own OBGYN who delivered the good and bad news to us. I had an egg developing that would prove to be my very last. He gave me a shot of something or other to give it a boost but to no avail. At that same initial meeting he told us there was another way for us to become parents – donor eggs.

We found our donor and everything was simply agreements between the three of us. The first son was the only successful pregnancy out of 4 that the doctor tried to assist that year. We had no idea he had so little experience. We also never anticipated that inexpensive DNA testing would come along or prove so popular and accessible. While still in the maternity ward, recovering from a necessary c-section due to me being positive for hepC to prevent transmission to my baby, my husband was already saying – “Let’s do it again.” We had some leftover embryos and tried that but it failed.

We weren’t certain our previous donor would agree to “do it again” but to our undying gratitude she did and we were by then at a very experienced clinic in Las Vegas with a doctor who’s reputation for success was very reassuring and we did – succeed. We now have two sons that are fully genetic and biological siblings and they are wonderfully close and appreciative of each other. Each one has some of my husband’s traits but each one is also very individualistic. The older one has an artist’s soul and has gifted us with many dvds starring himself and his brother as reminders of their childhood days. The younger one turns out to have a genius IQ and a natural aptitude for composing music and takes to all things computer oriented like a fish in water.

Thankfully, we never hid the boys method of conception from them but we never made a big deal about it either. We have visited with the donor on more than one occasion but distance and financial constraints have prevented us from getting together for quite a few years now. Enter Facebook. Thanks to social media I remain in contact with her and the events that take place with her and my son’s half siblings born to her. I show my sons photos of them when appropriate.

One day, I discovered she was doing 23 and Me. I had also done that DNA testing as had my daughter and my nephew and assorted relatives from my original grandparents that I have since made contact with. So that year, I gifted my husband with a 23 and Me kit. Then with the older son turning 18, I gifted him with a kit and decided to go ahead and gift the younger one as well, so that all was reconnected on a genetic basis. This also allowed us to reiterate the boy’s conception stories to them now that they were mature enough to understand them fully.

So, this brings a unique circumstance into all of our lives. At 23 and Me, the egg donor is shown as the boys “mother”. Neither myself nor my daughter nor any other genetic relatives of mine are shown as related to my sons. Only the younger one has expressed any sadness that we are not genetically related but the truth is, they simply would not exist nor be who they are any other way and they have a happy life as near as I am able to judge that. We have a happy family as well. Generally, I’m not very public about this because I don’t want people to be cruel to my sons but it is the truth and I am able and willing to face that. The egg donor is available now to each boy privately via the messaging system at 23 and Me, if the boys want that, and I’ve told them both she is willing to receive any contact they wish to initiate. She has always shown a caring perspective about them, while understanding with phenomenal clarity about her limited role in their lives.

So where does that leave me as their mother ? Birth mother fits pretty well because by golly I carried each boy in my womb for 9 months and they each nursed at my breast for just over a year. We have never been separated as mother and child such as occurs in adoption. I am the only “mother” they have ever known and I love hearing them refer to me as “mom”. We are very close, I do believe, though the older one is now 20 and forging a bit of independence. We did not fully foresee all of the ramifications of our decision to conceive them at the time we made that decision – we were not inclined to adopt someone else’s baby – and so, we used the only method available to us and I am grateful we were successful because from what I know only about half of all couples who try this method are successful.

While I may not have been fully aware of all the effects of our decision, having these two boys has been a tremendous gift. When my genetic, biological daughter was only 3 years old, I was forced by financial hardship to allow her to be raised by her dad, who subsequently remarried a woman with a daughter and together they had yet another daughter. My daughter has half and step siblings in a yours mine and ours family. I was unable to give her a family life during her childhood and by the time I married this husband she was well along into high school. Never-the-less we are as close as most mothers and daughters may be but without very much childhood history, which I recognize I have lost and can never regain.

I considered myself a failure as a mother and though I’ve done a lot of soul searching over the years, I still do feel that way in regard to my lack of mothering her. I failed her and the effects have been somewhat similar to what adoptees experience within her own life. I am grateful she doesn’t hate me for it. She seems to understand the situation I found myself in at the time. What these boys have given me is proof that I am not a failure as a mother and for that I will always be grateful. It is my hope my sons will always be grateful for the life they have. Some donor conceived persons struggle with their reality. I understand this now, though I didn’t know then what I know now about so many of the messy complications of life.

Preferences

Birthmother – heroic, damned and judged. Believe me, these women have ALL of my sympathetic compassion. They are too often exploited. My preference would be that no mother who birthed a baby would ever be separated from them. That these women and their babies would be supported – if necessary in comfortable surroundings with no other demand upon them than the baby makes. Sadly, that is not the society we live in. Dominated by the search for profits – babies are taken from their birthmother and given to whoever can pay the price. This is just plain wrong.

What does it mean to attempt to move forward in a life after a woman relinquishes her baby to adoption ? For myself, though my daughter was not relinquished to adoption, she was surrendered to her father to raise, in effect – it isn’t much different. Diminished. Somehow a failure. Less than. Some kind of monster person. I’ve lived with all of those feelings.

Often in this blog, I do choose to spend a lot of my time and energy pointing out the more negative aspects of adoption as I have come to understand the institution. I feel entitled to do this because both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption. At this point, it is fair to label me as “anti-adoption” because honestly, for the most part, I am. I would like to explain what the words, anti-adoption, mean in my perspective.

I believe that it is wrong that there is profit being made in the adoption industry. The transferring of parental rights to a child, that we call adoption, is a $13 Billion dollar annual industry. Every day we hear more and more about corruption in adoption and many adoption experts agree that we need to get the profit motive out of it. There is just too much income motivation and not in the best interest of the child – most often in the interest of hopeful adoptive parents. Money matters – not the child’s welfare. In addition, the high cost of adopting makes it completely out of reach for many prospective adoptive parents. These people, in desperation, take out second mortgages or hold adoption fundraisers. I do not think of this acknowledgement regarding the influence of money as “anti-adoption.” I see this acknowledgement as looking for efforts that are pro-child welfare and not focused on turning babies into commodities.

Birthparents face a lack of follow-up services. Whoever has the prize (the baby) has won the battle. The one who gave birth no longer matters. If there are any mental health professionals involved, they are often uneducated about the long term effects of relinquishment on the birth parents. I see this as being a strong advocate for the continued support of the people directly affected by adoption, including the adoptee who never had a say in what was being done to them.

I believe that the marketing and promotional aspects of adoption need to be seriously overhauled. I do think there is something wrong with an adoption agency spending thousands of dollars in advertising or using crisis pregnancy centers to recruit mothers, simply to ask them to consider adoption as the outcome for their babies. Adoption websites must discuss both the positives and the negatives, the risks and possibilities, when providing adoption information to all of the parties involved. People should not be told what they want to hear in order to seal a deal, pay a fee, or relinquish a child. I see this perspective as demanding “truth” from the industry and honoring that spirit by demanding honest information be conveyed.

We must change adoption practices so that the expectant parents considering adoption have enough information to make an informed choice.  An agency cannot tell potential birth mothers that they are strong and courageous, promise them relationships with their children and expect them to find peace and heal.  Adoption professionals must present, however scant, the known research about the consequences of long-term grief, the true statistics regarding of adoptee outcomes, secondary infertility rates, and the legal truth about open adoption agreements (they are un-enforceable).  Adoption counseling should be from a true unbiased source and must ensure that mothers considering adoption have other real options – plans for parenting their baby and realistic bail-out, change of mind/heart time frames available.  It is wrong to ask mothers to “choose” adoption unless they do so with truthful knowledge, of their own free will and knowing the realities they will face the rest of their life related to their choice. I can not count how many birthmothers QUICKLY regret that decision to surrender their precious baby to adoption. “Informed” must be truly informed and not based on some pretty descriptive version of adoption fantasyland.

Pro-ethical accountability. I want to see children’s needs come first.  I want fathers’ rights upheld. I want legal accountability from all parties involved.  I want more than a patchwork of state laws that allow people to cross state lines, get a new license, and work around regulations.  We must restore to adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.  Currently adult adoptees are the only classification of US citizens that are denied the right to access their original birth certificates based on the fact they were adopted.  This issue touches on their right to know their true identity. If the adoptee desires, it is normal to want know the story of their own birth. Adults should have access to their actual genetic history and genealogy, as well as their detailed medical information. Sometimes even the ability to get a passport, a driver’s license, vote or to have health insurance is dependent on true identity information (and not some made-up identity, as in adoption). The state governments are still stuck in a past created on a perception of shame, defending secrecy regarding adoption details and supporting the lies necessary to accomplish this. My perspective is anti-discrimination and in support of adoptee civil rights.

(M)otherhood

As I was reading a review of this book, it struck me that these are issues that come up frequently in my all things adoption group. I am also personally familiar with secondary infertility and abortion. Looks like a good read. Here is the review by Viv Groskop in The Guardian titled – Motherhood: A Manifesto; (M)otherhood; The Motherhood Complex review – calling time on the cult of the perfect parent. Yes, she reviews 3 books, I’m only highlighting one here – (M)otherhood by Pragya Agarwal. You can read about the other two at that link.

In (M)otherhood, behavioral scientist Pragya Agarwal wonders if a book questioning the parental self and society’s attitudes to that self needs to define itself either as memoir or as political writing: “Does it really have to sit in a box?” Here is proof that it really doesn’t: this is an exhilarating, genre-defying read. Unsurprisingly, coming from the author of Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias, Dr Agarwal is especially concerned with issues of identity, which makes this a thoughtful, anthropological journey. What does it mean to want to be a mother? What will others assume about you if you choose that – and if you don’t? What do these assumptions tell us about who we are as a society?

She frequently wonders about the role of the judgmental words we use around female bodies. She is told she has an “incompetent” or “inhospitable” uterus. She writes movingly of the ambiguities of motherhood, secondary infertility (being unable to conceive after giving birth in the past), surrogacy and her personal experience of abortion as a single mother: “A contradiction: I was a mother, but I couldn’t be a mother. Not then.”

All these moments are seamlessly interwoven with statistics, quotes and scientific evidence to clever narrative effect: the personal and the universal aspects of motherhood are illuminated as interchangeable in a way that is reminiscent of Olivia Laing’s writing on loneliness or the body. The science writer Angela Saini sums up (M)otherhood perfectly in her cover quote as “a step towards a literature that acknowledges the breadth and the variety of the parenting experience and its cultural meanings”. The whole thing adds up to the most thoughtful, empathic and inspiring science of the self. (Not that I can see Waterstones – a bookstore in the UK – adopting this as a shelf category. But perhaps it should.)

The reviewer ends with these thoughts – Overall this trio represents a side-eye question: “Haven’t we all had enough of trying so hard?” As Eliane Glaser points out in Motherhood: A Manifesto, many of the current stereotypes of mothers “symbolize our failure to improve the experience of motherhood.” See TV’s Motherland, books like Why Mummy Drinks and endless “hilarious” jokes about wine o’clock: “The only suggestion we can offer is to just drink through it.” Melissa Hogenboom’s conclusion in The Motherhood Complex? We are so obsessed with being “perfect parents” that we set ourselves up for failure. Better to be “selfish” (actually, sensible) and leave children to their own devices more often. I’ll drink to that.

What does this have to do with adoption ? If we can address what drives EVERY woman to believe she needs to have children, we can lower the demand by infertile women for other women’s babies and perhaps address the core issue of providing financial support and encouragement for mothers to keep and raise their own children. So yeah, it IS relevant.

Secondary Infertility

Thinking about my birthday as the day I separated from my mother understandably led me to think that my mom was separated from her mother twice – when she was born and at approx 6 mos old when she was taken by Georgia Tann for adoption. My grandmother tried to get my mom back 4 days after the papers were signed but was blocked in her efforts by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. My maternal grandmother never had another child, though she doted immensely on her two nieces. I’m certain that she must of thought of my mom when she was with them. Though they called her Aunt Lou and even though I have seen in a communication post-surrender from my grandmother to Georgia Tann pleading for the photograph taken the last time she was with my mom (which I happily now possess), she signed her name Elizabeth.

However on my mom’s birth certificate she is named as Lizzie Lou Stark and she appears by that name in many of my mom’s adoption file papers, she seems to have dropped Lizzie and simply went by Lou. I’ve always called her by the double name – Lizzie Lou – and I am told she was a fun person. But she never had another child.

In learning about all things adoption (huge interest since there are 4 adoptions in my immediate birth family – both of my parents, a niece and a nephew were all adopted), I have learned that secondary infertility after relinquishing a baby is not all that uncommon.

Secondary Infertility and Birth Mothers by Isabel Andrews – Abstract in Psychoanalytic Inquiry (there is a paywall if you care to read further) –

Relinquishing a child has had lifelong consequences for women and for adoptees. This article explores a little-discussed aspect—secondary infertility, birth mothers who did not have other children. To my knowledge, this is the first study to research the incidence of secondary infertility and its impact on the women concerned. I discovered that between 13–20% of birth mothers do not go on to have other children. For a few, this is a conscious decision; however, for the majority there was either no known reason for infertility or their life circumstances foisted it on them, i.e., lack of suitable partner. Relinquishing their child has meant losing their only opportunity to parent a birth child, and that has bought tremendous anguish. Women considering relinquishing a child need to be made aware that secondary infertility is a real and present possibility.

The Declassified Adoptee wrote a blog about it that you can read – Should Secondary Infertility Rates of Birth Mothers be Disclosed in Adoption Counseling? – in which she refers to the article I linked above. The blogger writes – “Andrews was extremely respectful to mothers and recognized the deep loss that many of these mothers feel and expressed it eloquently in her article.”

Nancy Verrier who’s book The Primal Wound I have read, is referenced with this note – Andrews read that 40-60% of mothers who have lost children to adoption did not go on to have other children – that prompted Andrews to conduct this study.  She too found that 40-60% of the original mothers seeking support from Adoption Jigsaw did not go on to have other children and wanted to determine if this percentage was accurate.  She conducted a study that recorded (1) secondary infertility of original mothers seeking support from Adoption Jigsaw (2) secondary infertility reported from data recorded during the search and reunions conducted through Adoption Jigsaw and (3) information that was returned on questionnaires sent out to original mothers.

Andrews feels that in society, original mothers may not necessarily be regarded as being “mother” to the children they relinquished for adoption which may cause a more profound feeling of loss if they have not experienced motherhood and parenting by having more children. My mom’s cousins when I was finally able to communicate with them did indicate a knowledge that my grandmother had given up a child for adoption. It is true she signed the surrender papers. However, reading between the lines in the approx 100 pages I received as her file, it is clear my grandmother was exploited for her desperation caused by poverty and a lack of familial support to offset that.

Losing a baby is one of life’s greatest traumas; losing a baby to adoption is just as traumatic, if not more so.  When a baby dies, the parents receive enormous support, love, and understanding,  A funeral is held, cards, flowers, and visits recognize their devastation.  When a mother or couple lose a baby to adoption, particularly in the past, there is no recognition of birth, and thus none of loss” (Andrews, 2010, p. 91).

This current pregnancy (in which surrender is being considered) may be a mother’s only opportunity to parent and it is unethical, as is so often done in counseling, to tell her she is guaranteed to be able to parent other children in the future. (Amanda Woolston, June 26 2010, in her blog)

The Wild Track

I often review books in this blog related to adoption or foster care that I have actually read. I’ve not read this one but will share bits and pieces from a review of this book in The Guardian. I’ve pretty much completed my related reading for now. There is an unlimited number of related books and I’ve moved on to other reading interests such as racial inequality (have pretty much completed that one) and now mental illness with an unusual emphasis on spirituality (now that’s something I can and have really gotten into to!!).

The review begins with this insight – wanting to have children and deciding to have children are acts of imagination that border on egotism. To be a child is to be a particular child but to want a child is not to know who that child will be or how to grant it agency. For Margaret Reynolds these issues were unusually complex because she started grappling with them aged 45 when, single after the breakdown of a relationship, she suddenly experienced the urge to be a mother. She was longing for purpose and joy, for a “commitment that tries and shapes the self”. Yet this was not an urge to procreate. She had already undergone the menopause and wasn’t invested in reproducing her DNA.

And I do get this. In my case, I had already procreated when I was 19 years old. A beautiful daughter who has given me two equally beautiful grandchildren. However, my second husband thought he was happy I had “been there and done that” already when we met because he didn’t particularly want children and didn’t feel financially strong enough to have any children, being the responsible kind of guy he was. When I met him, I knew he was the kind of guy I would be willing to have children with. It took him 10 years to decide that he wanted to and like the author of the book I’m highlighting today, I was also 45 years old. Turns out I had gone past easily becoming pregnant like I could when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Enter medical technology into our picture. That wasn’t the path Margaret Reynolds decided on however.

It took Reynolds 5 years to succeed in adopting a child and becoming the mother to a troubled six-year-old daughter is described as a painful pleasure. Actually – troubled or not – being a parent is sometimes that – honestly. The book is actually about the British adoption system and not the American one that I know more about.

To the book’s credit as an adoption related journey, it is an unusually thoughtful take on becoming a mother, enabled by removing babyhood and biology. Though Reynolds begins by desiring a child, the motherhood that results is a gradual, open process, in which she makes herself available as a mother and waits for Lucy to claim her. At first, they don’t hug and kiss. Reynolds just rubs her daughter’s back at night and it’s Lucy who initiates the process of kissing and cuddling, and finds her own way to calling her “Mum”. I found this moving partly because Lucy is given an autonomy that we perhaps all want our mothers to be capable of giving us and should allow to our daughters.

The question of fatherhood is rightly raised here, given Reynolds was setting herself up as a single mother (a fact that, combined with her previous lesbian relationship, prevented her adopting internationally). There is a long literary history of foundlings – it is peculiarly convenient for children to be orphaned at the start of a story. There’s a touching scene where she reads Anne of Green Gables to her daughter, crying alongside Marilla when she realizes what Anne means to her.

One thing that sets this book apart from other adoption related books is that at the end there are two chapters written by her daughter Lucy. Having heard about their early months together from Reynolds, we hear about them from Lucy, learning, shockingly, that she didn’t yet know when she was driven, crying bitterly, to Reynolds’s house from the foster parents she had grown to love, that this was a permanent move. Lucy’s sections are a testament to the joy of finding home and belonging, but also a reminder that the pain of early separations is perpetual. A few days before collecting Lucy, Reynolds had to remind herself that “my happiness is her sadness”. One of the strengths of the adoption system is that it sends potential parents on courses to think through how to parent children who have trauma ready to be reignited at any moment.

Parenting And Maturity

I’ve been known to say that I think Nature got it wrong to make us so fertile in youth and have that period of reproduction end so early in life.  True, the body ages and there are impacts to that.

Yet, I find that men who are ready to become parents do a better job.  Even when we are ready, as I was at 18, we may not really be mature enough to understand the difficulties of life well enough to avoid unfortunate outcomes.

When I became a mother at 19, I could lay down on the floor and color with crayons in a coloring book with my daughter.  I also did foolish things like partying with her in tow and we are both fortunate she survived my immaturity.

When my husband and I had sons late in life (he was 48 and 52, I was 47 and 50), we definitely had the maturity to put our children’s interest ahead of selfish preferences on our part.  I have seen that my husband has been an excellent father and will drop whatever instantly when one of his sons asks for his attention.

Me, not so much.  I’ll also admit I have had less patience with what seems utterly un-necessary than I did when I was so young.  I have more wisdom too – for which I am grateful.  I do think the hardest thing for me as an older parent has been learning to let go of that instant urge that mothers develop in answering their infants cries and let my sons “wait” a little bit as they get older for gratification of their demands.

Health considerations certainly were not given enough weight when we decided to have children late in life.  It was a shock to realize I will be 70 when my youngest son turns 20.  And my body is changing in the ways that aging brings, though I do my best to maintain the best health I am capable of.

For my second husband, he waited until we had been married 10 years to decide he wanted to have children.  By then, we needed a lot of help and thankfully medical advances gave us enough to succeed.  My husband needed to feel financially secure before he could commit to parenting.  It was in 2001 and 2004 that our sons were born and our business was thriving then.  Along came 2008 and the financial collapse and we’ve yet to recover.  We have tightened our belts as much as we can as we have had to.  We do worry about our future ability to adequately support this still young family (our sons as 15-1/2 and 19).

I suppose we have good management skills and we do about as well as most people in the parenting skills department.

A Lifetime Of Regret

Adoption narratives rarely focus on the original mother from whom the child was taken.  I do believe both of my grandmothers experienced regret over giving up their babies.

I believe the one to suffer the most was my maternal grandmother.  She was honestly victimized by a lot of different factors, the Great Depression, a charity fatigue caused by the response in Memphis to a SuperFlood that sent thousands of refugees, many from Arkansas, into the city as well as a husband with conflicted loyalties (to the children of his deceased wife and to a mother who he was always the favored son of) who was WPA and fighting that same flood and not responding to her dire calls for help.

In my mom’s adoption file it is clear how hard she fought, though she lost, to keep my mom.  She suffered a secondary infertility which is not uncommon among women who give up a child to adoption.  Her childish nickname for Elizabeth – Lizzie – was on my mom’s birth certificate and though for much of her life, she would sign her name Elizabeth and nieces and nephews called her Aunt Lou – on her gravestone is the exact same name that she gave birth under.  I think it not a coincidence.  Just as my mom yearned to know her original mother, I believe her mother never gave up hope that my mom would find her again.

It was left to me to find her grave near the small town area that my grandmother grew up within.  So sad and tragic.

My dad’s mom also lost him though it seems to have been less damaging in some ways than the exploited pain of my maternal grandmother.  It is believed that she did sorrow for her firstborn son but she went on to have 3 other children.  It does not appear she was as devastated though certainly carrying regrets, I think especially so, as she raised other children and probably believed it should have been possible to raise my dad.

There is a shift in adoption thinking that it really isn’t a beneficial choice.  A variety of reforms attempt to make the situation better.  Family preservation is probably the best – where caring individuals seek to support and encourage an intact family.

Second Choice

It could be the worst thing about being adopted.

Everyone’s first choice is to pass their genes down to a biological child.

Even before I knew so deeply about all the complications of adoption, my husband and I considered adopting when he wanted to become a father (I had already become a mother at age 19).  We rather quickly rejected the idea and never seriously pursued it.  We chose a novel method that is not without its own complications now that DNA testing is so inexpensive and matching sites out the truth, at least privately between the affected individuals.

Adoption has often been the solution for a couple when their first choice died young and subsequent efforts to conceive have failed – known as secondary infertility.  Whether the woman has previously had a successful pregnancy or never could, some of these couples decide to adopt when all else has failed for them.

Just last night in a Season 6 episode of The Simpsons about the conception of their youngest daughter, Maggie, Dr Hibbert says to Marge – a healthy baby can bring in $60,000.  Yes, the comment did not passed but caught my attention.