29 Birth Mothers

The dog hair is back. As is the anxiety. The panic. The terror.

Well, not so much the terror. It’s Monday morning, after all. Maybe it’s just the blues. Then again, what’s a Monday on sabbatical really?

Considering I just realized it’s actually Tuesday. Huh.

We will nonetheless begin with someone else’s writing.

–Excerpt from “Photo of the Author in Kangaroo Pajamas,” by Judith Baumel, which you can read here.

Judy Baumel manages to write my whole project neatly in one stanza. I am on page something-like-352. But.

My birthmother refuses to be written, recovered, to be. Both theoretically and literally. Theoretically I’ve explained. And literally. I know. I’ve tried. I’ve written 29 versions of her.  Yes, 29. Count ‘em. And they’re all in an essay that is written in the form of 29 possible letters the adoption agency could have sent me to tell me about her. Twenty-nine possible birth mothers. Twenty-nine possible subjects. Twenty-nine possible identities. And yet, I am not one word closer to knowing her.

The biography Angel Guardian sent me fails. It falls apart upon close examination. Oh, at first it seems like a sudden windfall of information. But when you look closely, there are gaps. There are silences. There are wounds. There are agendas.

And this letter, therefore, is a prime example of the failure of biography as a genre. It’s nice and short, too, which helps, because I can tell that no amount of additional “facts” added to it will lead it toward representing an actual complicated, flawed, outside-of-convention human being.

The letter feeds the system. It smooths over the broken narrative of the unwed, financially- and emotionally-unsupported mother. It repairs the narrative of American Family Values by returning, neatly, my birthmother to her previously unpregnant state, unharmed, her secret kept, protected; she is ready to reenter society, get properly married and have children of her own. And it hands me over, through God’s Will, to my poor childless parents. It makes the denatured, natured. Political, social, economic and cultural authority are reaffirmed.

Huh.

I guess, depending on what side you’re on, the letter could be a prime example of the total success of biography as a genre, if, as genre, it’s job is to manage and contain our subjectivities within ideologically appropriate spaces. To present a nice, seemingly-coherent story. the gaps and silences abducted.

I, however, am sticking with failure.

3 Responses to “29 Birth Mothers”

  1. I feel a sharp pain in my chest on your behalf, but also, as an adoptive mother, for the potential future pain of my daughter. I want to protect her from all of this, but since I won’t hide anything, the possibility exists.

  2. chateaucone Says:

    Laurel, my parents were always totally open about our adoption, and I think the reason that I’m writing this dissertation is that the narrative of how we became a family was so successful that it points to the strength, the extraordinary power of narrative, of story, in our culture. So there’s a lot of write about. I feel the pain for my birth mother–not so much missing her as feeling bad for what she went through and how I didn’t realize it for so long–how our story erased her pain–every time I learn something new about attitudes toward unwed mothers in the 1960s. But maybe that’s not something you can share with a child. I don’t know how my parents would have integrated her real, complicated story, even if we knew it, and their own values and beliefs about unwed mothers, into the story of how we became a family.

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