Foster Care

Foster care was the UP part of being put up for adoption.
The up-for-grabs, up-in-the-air, upsy-daisy part. The part in the story that was neither here nor there.

The long Hail Mary that took me from lost to found, relinquished to claimed.

It was a blank that my mother filled with gratitude, a) for the foster family, who took such good care of me and put me on a schedule and taught me how to smile at strangers and b) for the agency, especially that nice Miss S. who handled things so well. The way my mother talked about foster care made me feel special, pampered, as if I’d been at a spa. For this I am grateful. Maybe I should’ve just stayed in foster care my whole life with all those adoring fans.

Smile baby!

Foster care was cloaked in mystery for a good reason. It was the place where all the magic happened, where I was transformed from a curse to a blessing, from a nightmare to a dream come true. It was in foster care that one story was erased and another written. You see, in order to be adopted, all traces of the Other Family had to be washed away. The good and the bad. With each bottle, each diaper change, each nap on my tummy, I became less who-I-might’ve-been and more who-I-was-going-to-be. The centuries of genetic desire and frolic that went into making who-I-might’ve-been were null and void. Thrown out with the bath water. More suitable parents would be found. They had probably already been found! They were probably waiting by the phone, their hearts on stand by, arms at the ready, for their baby to arrive.

But it was in the best interest of every one involved to make the future parents wait just a bit, four months to be exact (six for my sister), until everything was secure and all previous claims banished.

Of course the window was kept open during those four months, just in case the Other Family had second thoughts, blood being thicker and stickier than the ink of adoption. Yes, if they chose, for what ever reason, not to relinquish their claim, the window would remain open, but not forever! Each day it closed a little more.

Hello, baby!
Here’s your bottle, baby!
Upsy daisy, baby!
Smile, baby!

Foster care was the slow severing of the umbilical cord— are you sure you don’t want to change your mind? Last chance….Because once the window was shut and the papers signed, the baby would be G.O.N.E.

Bye bye, baby.
With the finality of a death.
Only there would be no grave to house the grief, no little sprig of hair in a locket to hold, no christening dress to clutch to your heart, no little bonnet, no scent of new born scalp, no photos even, because adoption is not a death, it is life! It is hope! It is love!

Bye bye, baby.

A window shuts. A door opens and in come Mom and Dad.
We got the call from that nice Miss S. and she said, she had a baby for us, a baby girl… and here’s were the story begins. Again and again. Forever and ever, amen.

Scan 4


This Little Girl

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Here’s where the story began, The Boston Children’s Service Association, 1 and 3 Walnut St., Boston, MA. I was a full fledged four month old at the peak of Gerber baby cuteness.

“There you were lying in your crib, you smiled up at me, Gosh, it was something. We took you home that afternoon. I told my friends I was the very nervous mother of a demure little baby girl.”

I’d had my first shots, I’d been cleansed of original sin through baptism, been tested by a psychologist, was developing at an accelerated rate, my ears were clear and I came with instructions: 7 AM Bottle; 9 Am Bath; 1/2 jar rice cereal, Bottle; 2 PM Jar strained vegetable Bottle; 6 PM 1/2 jar rice cereal, Bottle; 7 PM Bed sleeps till 7 AM. Sleeps on back, naps on tummy. Fed with coffee spoon.

By all accounts I was a happy responsive baby.

Before my arrival at 1 and 3 Walnut St. I’d lived in a kind of purgatory called Foster Care.

“They must have have given you a lot of attention because you were very social.”

Around the time I got my first period, I suddenly wanted to know everything! Why? Who was she? What were the circumstances? Why did she give me up? Why couldn’t you have children?

My mother, who had told me I was adopted when I was 31/2, because they were about to adopt my little sister, was ready for this day. She led me on a scavenger hunt. First, we went upstairs to her bedroom, I remember snow melting off the roof and cardinals and chickadees at the bird feeder outside. In the top drawer of her bureau nested amongst the soft white gloves and scarves, the jewelry pouches and jars of Ponds beauty crème, was an amber prescription bottle filled with an array of random keys. She didn’t throw things away easily. One of these keys went to the file cabinet in the guest room, where she kept her important papers. Inside the top drawer of the file cabinet was an envelope with EBC DAC (my and my sister’s initials) written in my mother’s round loopy hand, inside that envelope was another key, wrapped in tissue. That key went to the safe in the cellar underneath the stair landing. The safe, I think, was from my father’s childhood home in Bangor, ME. It was the kind of safe you would see in a TV Western in the Sherif’s office. In the safe was a box of even more random assorted trinkets from past generations, her grandmother’s wedding band, gold lockets with braided hair of children who had died, hat pins, cameos, an array of single earrings, letters, a family bible with a family registry going back to early 1700’s England. And in the same box, was this piece of paper that described my background. She gave it to me as if it had real definitive information and I treated as such. I carried it through my teen years, on to college, all around the country. Every where I went this piece of paper went with me, folded into my journals. I actually thought it was a door that could lead somewhere. I actually thought that it had answers. I read it and re-read it, stared at it much the way I stared at my own face in the mirror, hoping to see through to the other face, to the truth.

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At a loss for words…

Starting a blog is a little like writing to your Birth Mother for the first time. What do you say? What photograph should you include, if any? Will you find recognition and acceptance or rejection and misunderstanding? You don’t want to risk exposing too much. And yet…and yet?

Almost 25 years ago I used a special fill-in-the-blank template especially for writing to birth mothers. Here’s the photo I enclosed in the envelope- me and my one year old daughter Dominique. Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 3.31.49 PMThe agency whose job it was to open sealed records and gather names and addresses gave it to me, along with the request that I never, under any circumstances, tell her or any one else how I got her name. What they were doing was illegal and required bribery and stealth. Who knows how they did it. At first, I resisted using the template- I mean, this was going to be one of the most important, pivotal moments of my life, right? I was writing to my birth mother, for goodness sake, the woman I had fantasized about since I was three and half. I would use my own words, thank you very much.

But when I sat down at the kitchen table, pen in hand, my resolve and ability dissolved. The task was too huge. What could I say?… There were no words. So I opted for the template. It was brilliant, like a secret code. All I had to do was fill in the blanks.

Dear _____, (birth mother’s name)
You may not remember me. The last time we saw each other was _______(date of your birth) in _______(city/town you were born in). My name then was ______ (birth mother’s name) but now it is ________(your name). I hope this finds you well and it is not too much of a shock. I now live in _______ (your town/city). I am planning to be in ________(place where birth mother lives) next week. (make a date a soon as possible so she has to contact you immediately, either out of joy or fear, it doesn’t matter, she needs to contact you). I would love to take you out to lunch and catch up….

The idea was that no one but the Birth Mother would know who wrote the letter. No husband or child happening upon the letter would have a clue. For she could have kept it a secret all these years, you just didn’t know.

Yes, there was a reunion. It was successful, even easy, with both Birth Mother and Birth Father, I will tell you more about that later. I’ve been telling the story for almost 25 years now. How I Found My Birth Parents has become in itself a kind of template. I seem to use it as a calling card, it is my introduction. Hello, my name is Emily, I was adopted, and this is How I Found My Birth Parents. It always elicits oohs and aaahs and goose bumps from listeners, filled as it is with miracles and coincidences. They inevitably say, Oh you should write about it! I say, I know. I should.

Instead, I’ve continued to just tell people, over and over and over again, my happy story about How I Found My Birth Parents.

But after all these years of telling the story and living in the reunion, wasn’t “I” supposed to feel better inside?  I mean, where was the closure? Isn’t there supposed to be closure once you find your Birth Parents? I mean once those nagging questions about your identity and the circumstances surrounding your birth are answered, all the blanks neatly filled in, aren’t you supposed to feel better? Aren’t you supposed to be able to function more successfully? Or at all? Isn’t your sense of self supposed to be more solid and reliable? Aren’t the feelings of despair, rage, grief, emptiness, sorrow, existential loneliness and thoughts of suicide supposed to go away?

That is what they tell us. That is what I believed. But I have found the opposite to be true. The reunion with my BP’s was on the outside very successful, but on the inside a ship wreck. All these feelings bobbing around inside me, no way to grasp them, no words to express them, no way to tolerate them. Inside the happy reunion crouched the fury of the outcast. Even as I sat at her Christmas table the first time with friends, hers and mine, next to her son, my half-brother, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, all our words flocking together in celebration, part of me fled further into exile. The part of me that needed most to be included was more profoundly abandoned.

The dark side of Adoption has always been banished from the proverbial table. The baby has continued to howl as if locked away in some inaccessible room.  Yes, something was missing from the How I Found My Birth Parents story but I couldn’t find it.  I got married, had children, went to graduate school, got divorced, moved, took workshops. joined therapy groups, women’s groups, private therapy.  Searching, searching. Inside: numb. Outside: smiling. Inside: terrified. Outside: courageous.

The true story does not have a happy ending. It has no ending. There is no getting rid of it. The story is messy, confusing, and repetitive. It is also, full of joy and despair, flashes of insight and dense fog. It just is. And it is me. And all of it deserves to be accepted.
This blog, I hope will be a place where I can express the complexity of being adopted and share stories with others. I think the fluidity of the venue, the give and take, the potential for dialogue will match my need to be in relationship through story. I think healing comes in the creating, no matter what form it takes, not necessarily the outcome, anything where the muscles of the self can be flexed. Making art is making self. I have found theatre, improvisation in particular, writing, yoga, dance, anything that involves embodiment helpful.   It has been and continues to be a long, long circular road.  Soul collage, painting, dance, pottery. What else? How do you heal?

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Derek Walcott