Most Sundays, the New York Times’ Modern Love column makes me smile, or cry. Today’s sent me straight to the keyboard.
Elizabeth Foy Larsen’s “Untying a Birth Mother’s Hands,” gets points for having the right instinct — to connect her adopted 6-year-old daughter to her roots — but what it has in heart it lacks in understanding.
I’m not qualified to speak about the extra challenges connected with international adoption or the prevalence of open adoption today in the United States, but I do take exception to Ms. Larsen’s comment that, “In the United States, the overwhelming majority of birth parents meet and choose their child’s adoptive parents.”
Open adoption may be more likely today than in the past, but Ms. Larsen’s assumption doesn’t apply to me or the millions of adoptees and first parents desperately trying to find each other in the U.S.
Many of us will spend years wondering about the circumstances of our birth and the truth of our identities. We will struggle to fit in, learn to go with the flow, but a vast number of us will simply never know who or why or how.
I was 43 years old before I learned that my ethnicity is English and German. Not the Italian of my adoptive dad or the Swedish of my adoptive mother. Not the Irish we always guessed based on my dark hair and hazel eyes.
And while I have a bunch of other clues, I simply don’t know who I think like, where my love of the written word is rooted, if my social awkwardness is inherited or a subconscious defense mechanism, my medical background, my family history, or a whole host of other things — not even who I look like.
I continue to search for Patricia Clark, who gave birth to me in Yonkers, NY, on Feb. 15, 1966, and baptized me Jennifer Elaine Clark 10 days later in the chapel of St. Faith’s Home for Unwed Mothers, the minister of Christ Church in Tarrytown presiding.
I don’t know if she is looking for me. I don’t know if she’d like to be found. There are far too many things I don’t know.
The story is no less sad for first parents who live their own pain of wondering. I imagine Lorraine Dusky pounding away on her keyboard this very minute writing a response to Ms. Larsen that neatly captures the birth parent perspective.
As a former longtime journalist, I know that Ms. Larsen didn’t write the headline for her column. And the editor who did write the hed doesn’t seem to have grasped the whole story.
Reading the final graph, it’s clear that Helen, the woman who gave life to Ms. Larsen’s adopted daughter, hasn’t been freed, but — like far too many people affected by adoption — remains shackled by the emotions of her experience:
“I wanted to walk in the street holding hands with her,” Helen said. “But I was so ashamed to ask, because I saw her walking with you.”