©2011 Celeste Billhartz
I’m old … 71, to be exact. I was adopted by a nice Catholic couple in 1939 and had a good, middle-class, Catholic life. My parents were generous and supportive. I loved them and my adoptive family of aunts, uncles and cousins. They were all I knew, for much of my early life.
In 1976, I found my first mother. She had been told I died. The shock of that was overwhelming to us … we both pulled back, and wrote letters for 16 years. Then, I got a letter, telling me she was dying. I flew to her bedside, at a Hospice facility, and said hello, goodbye.
What I didn’t do was touch her, hug her, hold her. I said, hello, goodbye and I …. left. I left her there … untouched … in a Hospice in Missouri. I will never recover from that omission. I am so sorry for that — my own mother … and, I never touched her!
Why? I’ve asked myself that a hundred times. I think I just had no clue about her loss … and I had no compassion. I didn’t get it about the lies told to her, and I just didn’t know about the reality many of our mothers experienced.
And, my mother didn’t go a lifetime wondering where her baby was …. she thought I had died. So, our letters, over the years, were fairly lacking in emotion. I, of course, had that attitude of “Hey, you gave me away, etc….” and, I just didn’t have a clue. She was outraged by the deception.
Also, she wrote to my father as soon as I found her, in 1976, and he never wrote back. She suspected that his wife never gave him that letter. She said he was such a nice guy, he would have written back. They were very much in love, but, she was Catholic and he was Methodist … son of a Methodist minister. There was no way my grandmothers would allow that marriage! So, they colluded with the hospital to tell my parents that I died. Actually, they told my mother if she wanted me baptized Catholic she’d have to sign a paper. It was a release for adoption.
To add insult to injury, I recently got all my adoption documents and was horrified to read that I was placed in the care of a social worker/orphanage because ” … said child does not receive proper parental care or guardianship and … the said mother is unfit to take care of said child and that it is for the interest of said minor child … that she be declared dependent and taken from the custody of her parents and placed under the guardianship of some suitable person or persons … and committed to an institution for dependent children.”
How dare they???? Well, they did. And I’m not the only one, and my mother wasn’t the only unmarried, young mother told her baby died.
So, I must say this, to every adoptee, from every decade/generation: Please, find and reunite with your first mother and first family.
Are all reunions successful? No. Does every first mother want to be found? No. Most do, trust that, please … most do want to reunite with their sons and daughters. Most were horribly mistreated/disrespected by their own families and churches and cultures … it was terrible to be single and pregnant, for many decades.
And, yes, a few women are mean and screwed-up and will be your worst nightmare. God, I hate that. I hope your mother isn’t one of those few. Just … well, just go into search and reunion with care, respect and patience. Some very lovely first mothers have been grossly mistreated by their found children, too. It does happen, and it’s a shame.
Still, I urge every adoptee to contact a reputable Search Angel (they do not charge fees!!) and find his/her first family. You don’t have to stay in contact if there are safety concerns or you just have nothing in common, but … please, have the grace and courage to let your first mother know that you want to have contact with her. Most first mothers never got over the loss of their first baby; never. We owe them the peace of mind in knowing who and where we are, now. And, keep in touch, even if you don’t want to have a close relationship.
And, if your reluctance to get close has anything to do with your adoptive mother’s insecurity … well, maybe it’s time you grew a backbone and reached out to your first mother, anyway. Maybe you just need to put on your big girl panties or big boy boxers and just reach out to her! Contact her, be sweet, keep in touch.
So, peace be with you as you deal with your own adoptee angst. However large or small, It’s probably there, somewhere, underneath that veneer of a good upbringing, among good people who love you and want what’s best for you. The thing is, you must, now, do what’s best for your first mother, before it’s too late; before she’s gone.