Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thoughts on Relationships

Finding my birthmother was a bit of a shock to me. Even though I had searched for nearly twenty years and had thought a great deal about what it might mean to find her and believed myself ready for any reaction she might have, I had never thought about the days, months and years AFTER I found her. Like a bride who is only focused on the wedding day and not the marriage, I had given zero consideration to what the consequences, possibilities, difficulties and oddities that are inherent in creating a relationship with another adult who has baggage (intense, scary, upsetting BAGGAGE) that is deeply associated with me and my birth.

My birthmother, who from now on will be referred to as L, just because it's easier, is a wonderful, loving, effusive, ebullient woman who has enjoyed her life to the fullest. She is also a widow who deeply misses her husband, who has lived with shame, guilt, anguish and regret over my relinquishment, and who has had a cascade of medical problems in the two years since I found her. She is easy to talk to, witty, a great listener, fiercely defensive of those she loves, melancholy, sometimes forgetful, and occasionally guarded. She and I are essentially linked by my birth but we were strangers to each other. She had hopes, dreams and aspirations for me that I could never have known about and I envisioned her life to have unfolded in a myriad of different directions without once guessing the real story.

It's work building a relationship with someone that expects to KNOW you. We have commonality of world view that sometimes is too eerily similar to just be coincidence, but we haven't known each other for years. We give each other space in an attempt not to be too pushy, and we tread carefully around things that might cause pain or anger.

In the early conversations, I worried a great deal about vocabulary. How to refer to L, what to call her besides just L, would talking about my parents, my grandparents, my brother be painful to her? We pushed through it, she reassuring me that it was all okay, that these were my family and they were the ones who raised me, who were there for me, who took care of me when times were good and when they were bad. We settled on me just calling her L. I didn't ask if she ever had another name for me. I couldn't bear to ask. It seemed too presumptuous, too pushy.

I learned about her sisters and their children (my cousins), L's parents and grandparents and all of the funny stories that families tell when they are just getting to know new friends. I began to know a great deal about L's late husband who had been the love of her life and who had died quite suddenly right in front of her at the kitchen table. I recognized the names of her friends, some going back 40 years, who she still loves, cherishes and depends on today. I did not ask any more questions about the situation surrounding my conception. Knowing that it was incredibly painful for her to have learned that it was not XXX, it opened wounds that it was clear to me that she was not yet ready to deal with.

I talked. I told funny stories, heartwarming stories, sad stories. Memories from my childhood, from college, of broken hearts, funny trips, crazy jobs, my grandparents, my parents, my brother and his snakes, my friends, my life with Eric and our assorted menagerie of animals.

From time to time, we stray into uncharted waters. Things I ask that elicit a reaction that I didn't anticipate, stories that end in tears.

We're working on this, day by day, week by week, year by year. First, becoming friends so that eventually we can consider each other family.

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