Sunday, May 10, 2009

Caught Between Two Mothers

I was 22 years old when Mom adopted me. After my dad was killed in the plane crash, Mom and I talked about adoption, for reasons both practical and sentimental. As Mom's adopted daughter, I would be exempt from inheritance taxes on her estate. But there were reasons of the heart as well. We loved each other; we were family.

Six months after my dad's death, I got married and moved to California. No more was said about adoption until a year later, the autumn of 1963, when Mom suddenly needed surgery. She petitioned the Orphans' Court of Crawford County to adopt me.

Did this sit well with my birth mother? It did not.

My birth mother, who had moved to Florida with my sister when I was six, had returned years before to northwestern Pennsylvania with her husband, my sister and two half-sisters. Her work as a court reporter often took her to the court house in Meadville, where a helpful clerk told her about the petition. Why didn't I tell her myself? I don't know. Perhaps I was afraid to tell her. Perhaps I thought there was plenty of time, because the adoption would not be final until September 1964. Perhaps it was because I was preoccupied with other things. We were expecting our first child in November.

A scathing letter arrived from Mother shortly after she learned about the petition. She was furious. She said that some people would do anything for money. She said that the adoption would make it as if she had never borne me and that my stepmother's name would replace hers on my birth certificate. Furthermore, she would not be the grandmother of our baby and my sister and half-sisters would not be the baby's aunts. It was a "Good-bye, forever" letter. She signed it "Mary."

I was furious in turn. I was ready to reply with a scorching letter of my own. My husband said, "Oh, no, you don't. Don't write while you're this mad. Send a baby announcement. Send a card at Christmas. Keep writing letters the way you always have."

That's what I did. I sent cards and then letters. I addressed them "Dear Mother." I didn't bother to make excuses or explain, because I thought nothing I could say would have made any difference. Besides, she'd already figured out that money was one of the reasons, and she probably didn't want to be reminded of the other.

Eventually Mother let it go. She answered my letters, but at first she signed them "Mary." After awhile, she took to signing them "M." Finally, she reverted to "Mother." No matter what a piece of paper said, we both knew that she was and always would be my mother.


Xanadu said...

I didn't know you were adopted. Those letters from your mother had to hurt, when she didn't sign them as "Mother". She evidently came to terms with the fact that you had been adopted. Hugs.

Lena said...

I can only imagine how angry that letter must have made you feel.

What a wise husband you have and how wonderful that you took his advice.

It took time, but she came around.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

This is an amazing deep and personal story. Thank you for sharing it. I agree with what the other two said.