Tag Archives: women

Dear Birth-father: Woman up. Please.

This is a copy of a letter I wrote almost 23 years ago to my birthfather. Literally half a lifetime ago, before marriage and children. I wrote it after the adoption agency which handled my placement and had received a court order to contact him did so, by registered mail. His response was to call the social worker charged with fulfilling her legal responsibilities and yell at her for sending mail to his home. No denials, but he did ask for all of my identifying information, which she gave him. Afterwards, I noticed a rash of hang-ups on both my work and home answering machines (this was before VM, though after the Internet).

Not surprisingly, my birthmother was waiting for me to contact her, and had left her information in my file at the agency in case I wrote to them with questions. It was she who gave me his name, and his address. His college class. I gave all of that information to the adoption agency, as they had no intention of contacting the father. I had to tell them that it took two to make me, and I wanted to have information from both. (I think they couldn’t believe how lucky they were with my birthmother that they thought I should have been satisfied.)

In reading this, I realized that in spite of my youth and what others would consider an abrasive, obnoxious personality, I really like the woman who wrote this letter, and I love how clear her heart is. I love how she invited him to do the right thing, not because she had an exclusive on it, but because it was well within his abilities to do, and perhaps it was a matter of his just not knowing. Of course, much of what I wrote here was incorrect – over time, more things reveal themselves, or perhaps I just learned how to recognize them. But also in transcribing it, I realize how I was trying to convince myself as much as him, that I was worth getting to know – or at least meeting. I want to hold this young woman in my old lady arms and tell her she’s wonderful, that not belonging is real, but so is loving yourself without pre-conditions, and that the latter is something she can control.

I also remembered that, as I read it aloud, I felt so vulnerable. It was so clear what I was pleading for – accountability, acceptance, apology, acknowledgement – and the closer to my heart I got in the prose, the more I realized it would take me nowhere good. Instead, I kept it in a manila folder.

For laughs, it’s worth noting that when my dad read it, his eyes welled up and he said, “Jan, you need to become a lawyer.” And my response? “Dad, being argumentative doesn’t mean you have what it takes to get through law school.” I think we were both right.

1 August 1990

Mr. John W. Caputo, Jr.

address known, but withheld

Dear John,

“My Name is Janet X and I am Information Officer for Project Athena. I schedule visits to Project Athena and am responsible for presentations as well as the dissemination of written materials.”

This is the way I begin any one of a hundred letters every month. I tell people who I “am”. It was only four months ago that I began to really understand who I am and how many people it took to make me.

Each person had a different role. Two people created me, literally. Two new people worked with the raw matter and molded me, shaped me, and then removed their hands. There was part of each creator that was visible in me – my adoptive mother’s speech patterns, my adoptive father’s irrepressible personality, as well as their shared sense of ethics and morality were “givens” for as long as I can remember. No one knew where my height came from, my bawdy sense of humor, my voice, my artistic abilities, much less how I learned to read at age 2 1/2.  No one even knew so much as my ethnic background. Two of the four creators were lost behind a curtain of vague allusions, and it was assumed to remain that way.

You cannot understand what that is like. We as human beings base much of our self-perception and identity on belonging – looking to where we “came from”. To not be able to point to a person and say something as simple as “This is who I came from” impacts your sense of identity. The impact becomes stronger even as you age and begin to think of creating children yourself.

I have always known about the shadowy “other” creators. Because my parents told my brother and me from the start that being adopted meant that we were chosen, we grew up without social stigma concerning our origins. Yet, the faces, the tangibles of our starting points remained unknown… always shrouded, veiled from light. And as I grew older and learned where babies came from, the tangibles became veiled in shame and I felt the drape of guilt become leaded, impenetrable, as if I had destroyed the life of another person.

After years of not knowing, I have found you and (my birth mother). And regardless of your feelings and decisions at the time, you must realize that I am now a living, breathing adult, who is fully entitles to know her origins. You can refuse to see me; that is by law your right. However, by denying me access to to essential information about my medical history, you are clearly denying me my basic rights. You may be afraid to see me, to acknowledge that you are, in part, responsible for my existence, because I represent a point at which you were irresponsible in a time of need. John, we are all adults now and all adults make mistakes: those of us who face our mistakes are more adult than others. Those adults who forgive are more human.

You see, I already have one birthmark that required cancer screening when I was fourteen months old. Next month I must have a number of lesions biopsied. If they prove malignant, I will require major surgery – skin grafts, possible chemotherapy, etc. In the last five years, already there has been a genetic pattern determined for skin cancer. This is only one example I choose to cite in this short letter. The questions I face each time I make a visit to the MD seem endless, because I am unable to answer them.

John, I am not unaware that you ahve gone on and created your own life and family. I assume that you did not tell your partner about the people you left behind. I can even understand that you may not want to see me, and by ignoring that court order, you can deny my existence. The information you can choose to keep from me, what is referred to as “identifying information”, is no linger an issue. I did all the investigative work myself, and in fact, was the one who provided the adoption agency with your name and address. I accessed information available through public records, and am aware that you have a family.

The straight information I need regarding medical history is invaluable to me, an adult about to engage in the full breadth of activities of adulthood. But equally important to me is removing the veil, the shadow from your face, seeing who had a hand in making me. Aren’t you interested in seeing your mortal legacy as well? An observation that in any other circumstance would be forgettably minor: when I met my birthmother face to face, she remarked that I have your smile and teeth. I cannot articulate how I felt at that moment, hearing that your hands, your contributions to me are palpable, tangible.

I am not asking to be part of your family; I am asking that you give me a chance to meet you. I am giving you a chance to realize that your greatest “mistake” did not spoil what may be one of your greatest achievements. And, more importantly, to thank you for the gifts you have unknowingly bestowed on me.

You can either write me at the above address (ed note: this was on my work letterhead) or call me at work after 5pm. I know you may feel as if you have a great deal at risk. I do sympathize. Please realize that I am also risking more than I’ve ever had to in my life. I believe my efforts will be worth it. I want to assure you that  making a courageous effort at this crucial time will be worth the risk as well.

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Why I nearly hate Boden

Okay, I said it. That catalogue full of playful, colorful clothing for women? I am almost at the point of hating it. Not because I don’t like the clothes – no, they’re lovely pieces. What I don’t like is how they came about, and the guiding philosophy of its founder, Johnnie Boden.

Johnnie wants us mommies (or mums) to know he really cares about us, and our bodily insecurities . He wants us to feel pretty, to feel like we’re not “mutton dressed as lamb.” So he makes delightful, not-too-threatening clothing in terms of silhouette, palette, and implied intelligence, with the idea of making happy, pretty wives, happy to stay at home with children, or if we deign to work and deprive our children of the healthiest possible family structure, to communicate a sense that we’re really not all that important. We’re decorative, and we’re happy to be that way.

His career in helping slummy mummies began when Wall Street kicked his sorry arse back to the UK. And yet, he remains enamored of American capitalism. Evidently, a welfare state is to blame for people not picking up after their canine pets tend to their business streetside. What I wouldn’t give to see the trigger of his ire to be pure Tory.

Yes, I have flab, Johnnie, and yes, I don’t feel good about it.

But I feel a hell of a lot worse about being dismissed because of my gender; that there is nothing more threatening in our english-speaking culture than a woman who knows she is intelligent and isn’t so interested in hiding it, particularly if it might hurt some man’s feelings. I feel much worse about living in a neighborhood where placing priority on feeding your mind, particularly if your mind is awash in estrogen, might be about as evil as starving a baby. I feel much worse that your business is based on the premise that a pretty empire-waist frock will make me forget the things that genuinely vex and trouble me most.

In the end, I don’t hate clothing, and the catalogue itself has become better since they dropped the child-playmate q & a descriptors for each model in each layout. But I hate that it’s offered with a pat on the head and a “there, there” from someone I could easily think under the table.

p.s. this essay owes a great deal to Blue Milk’s dead-on Yummy Mummy post; here’s hoping to approach its thoughtfulness and writing.

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38w6d: long, closed, contemplative

Yesterday, at the OB’s office, there was a moment where I felt less like an expectant mother and more like my purse – the ob rummaging through me to find a cellphone, or in this case, a cervix. What she found was long, quiet and closed – not unlike my cellphone by the time I find it. No sign of labor, or of the tenant’s plans for moving day.

After some earlier emotional arguments at home, this news was a little less than welcome. I had whispered to her that this would be a great day to come out, that Mommy had already driven to the hospital, she had the keys and her baby bag in the back seat, and we could get this squared away in no time. Just mommy and baby.  But in a disturbingly familiar display of stubbornness (wow, does that spelling look wrong), she has decided to prove all qualified and certified medical professionals completely wrong. “I won’t make it to term? Well, induce THIS.”

Admittedly, the stress of my mother’s visit is a contributor to her reticence to exit. My mother came to “help”, but she is a rather frail 79 who has nearly lost her hearing completely and refuses to wear a hearing aid. Parenting issues and flashbacks abound. I had thought I was big enough to follow through on letting her come – she is doing this as much for herself as for me – but I’m faced with the ugly reality of my rather unforgivable smallness. (Don’t tell me I’m not. This is not false modesty.)

So self-directed trips alone to the hospital give me time to be with little one, and with my son, focused on things that matter to me. I can reassure myself that I won’t be in housewifery exile forever, though the economic conditions of this region may conspire to make that feel like the reality. I’m quietly excited both for her arrival, her growth, and a new real job. I’m better prepared for what will mostly be a solitary parenting experience, regardless of marriage license and/or marital status. I line up documents and questionnaires, prepare for sleeping places and nursing stations throughout the house, pry out of H whatever it was I last did to piss him off so he’ll drop the silent treatment, and get familiar with 42, mother of two.

The catch is how to get everything else done smoothly, incurring the fewest number of complaints, while allowing myself the space and brain function to imagine and execute the next steps so important to take. If I get 6 hours a night, I think I can pull it off.

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what is great about being pregnant, 30w+

This pregnancy has been full of uncertainty and worry; only recently have I been able to enjoy it more fully.

Even though I am having more trouble getting around (hah), it’s a pleasure to be out and about. Generally speaking, I think people treat pregnant women pretty well. Strangers smile, offer congratulations and well wishes. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if that were standard operating procedure. My own social experiences are usually pretty positive, but it would be even better to have that sense of good will more often than the days I’m visibly pregnant.

But if I recall my own behavior, expectant moms get top of the list treatment. They’re brave, whether they know it yet or not. They are making a visible, good faith commitment to a world that has no explicit interest in their well-being, and offering the most precious and vulnerable effort they will likely ever make in their lives to that apathetic (at best) place. So who among us, especially parents, wouldn’t smile, with their hearts in their eyes, hoping that future mother wouldn’t find a better place than we may know to date. That maybe this time, with this mother, it will be different, better, the changing point.

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maternity store chats, the economy, and voting

Last week, in search of pants that would accommodate the biggest belly ever to house a petite powerhouse, I ended up in discussions about the economy, neglect of veterans and their families, and the struggle to find good skilled workers.

The new boutique in our increasingly upscale mall is a bit of a surprise – independently owned, unique merchandice, totally upscale. Lots of moms from the Eastside are going to beat a path to their door with the glamorous choices they offer. There’s no discount rack here, so I would look at the pretty items and figure by the time they have such a rack, Little One will be out, kicking ass and taking names.

The owner was at the desk of the little gem, helping me with bras that clearly were not up to the task in spite of their sizing and beauty. We talked a little about the new shop – I had seen her original place and thought it was great – and she started describing the challenges of finding staff.

The pattern of mall employees is often migrant – traveling from shop to shop, not much in the way of wages, often young, often somewhat unpredictable. She knew that she would need to work closely with any new staff and not just train them. The whole issue of getting them invested in working in the store, in a similar way to herself. She was already looking for ways to make it easier for women who already had small children to be able to work and have the baby around. Or to find other flexible ways to accommodate good workers, but it was tough. She was building the business entirely with her own money – a big gamble especially in this economy – and she needed to make sure it would work.

I also went to the chain maternity store. Their merchandise runs from Target pricing to midrange. All kinds of women come here to shop, and there are always markdown rounders for both the bargain and more professional-level clothing. (I know those rounders intimately.)

The women working there are wonderful. Almost always young, many young mothers themselves. From the ones I have met and talked to, it’s often not their only job.

The young woman I met today – let’s call her Mrs 4, for her 4 children (including a niece she adopted) – is like many women with young families. She and her husband struggle to make ends meet – to get their children the things they need, to do well in school, to do well for themselves. Both she and her husband are from military families – her husband enlisted at 17, and did two tours of duty in Iraq.

Tour 2 was devastating. He lost 5 men in his unit, and it took a tremendous toll on him. When he ended his tour, he was in desperate need of psychiatric care. So, after he was placed in a psychiatric inpatient facility, the family received a letter telling them that since he would require more than 6 months of inpatient treatment, they would no longer qualify for military housing. They would need to find a new place to live, stat, but the army would pay to move their things to wherever they managed to find housing. Is this supporting the troops?

Walking away from the register, she kept saying “Go vote! You’ve got to vote! Do you know who you’ll choose?” When I told her there was no question, she smiled and whispered, “Vote Obama! Vote Obama!”

These aren’t people who have time to watch conventions or get bloggy. They are (over)working mothers, trying to make ends meet. They want to see a change in the economy and in the world their children inhabit. It was Mrs. 4 who said “I don’t care what anyone says. We’re in a recession – I see it here in the store.”

With all the media coverage, it’s easy to lose track of what is really at stake in the election. The antidote to tabloid politicking is talking to a real person about what’s going on in their lives, and figuring out what needs to be done, or at least, which direction to take.

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“It’s a woman! It’s a baby woman!”

Many moons ago, the birth of Joanie Caucus’ newest child was greeted in this way in a Doonesbury strip. Our baby woman has yet to arrive, but the tech and the Ob explained the meaning of the three parallel dots/dashes – a kind of visual morse code communicating her emerging femaleness.

And unlike the feelings I had for my first born who happened to be a son, overwhelming love permeated with the sense of his vulnerability, I imagine my daughter coming out fully formed and upright, a smiling Athena without the gladiator sandals who would know how to request the things she couldn’t yet make. I reflect on this grueling first trimester, which resulted in my regular OB prescribing a migraine-preventative cup of coffee each morning, to be her request for the true mother’s milk for this would-be daughter of mine. I see her arranging her wisps of hair together with a pencil from my desk the way her mother did, a coiffure homage to Catharine Mackinnon and expediency, except she will be more accomplished and patient, less judgmental and furious.

All the things I can see for her, all that I wish for her, can’t begin to compare with what she will do once she is on her own. Still, I can’t help but think she’ll already have it done. After all, she’s a baby woman. She’ll decide what she wants, and then she’ll go get it. I wish I was like her already.

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showing, telling

It’s been a long time since I last posted. 24/7 sickness (as opposed to morning sickness) has kept me from writing much of anything. Added to that has been mild dehydration and bedtime at 7:30pm. But today, at officially 13w, I feel as though I have a little bit of energy. Three consecutive days of sun. Lily of the valley and lilacs perfume the backyard. A medicinal glass of iced coffee (taking the edge of a migraine) and gorgeous birdsong, along with an earlier viewing of little one, swimming and paddling away from the ultrasound transducer is helping with the discomfort and fatigue.

I put on a spring maternity dress and was amazed at how pregnant I look. Dimensionally, I’m close to where I was at 5-6 months. Strangers are starting to be nicer and more courteous in the supermarket, smiling women and people gently getting out of the way of the widening load I’ve managed to become.

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Filed under Motherhood, pregnancy, pregnant after 40, women