I met Maureen at work. A growing bank chain had begun to acquire some other banks nationwide. Maureen, who was from Long Island, was asked to move to Texas. She had worked for her bank 15 or more years when she relocated to Texas. She had experience, expertise and vast knowledge. She was well respected, attractive, and witty. She was an asset and the new purchasing bank wanted her on their team.
Maureen knew about both of my sons. I had pictures of them on my desk. And I had even brought up Noah and his family to the office one time. Jaren had been up there many, many times. I had talked about both of my sons in the office. So I wanted my coworkers to meet Noah and I wanted Noah to meet them. It was a proud moment for me to have both Jaren and Noah at the office.
I always wondered who was judging me. It was a mind game, whether real or imaginary and I am certain it was a little of both. I felt like my diverse family made others feel awkward. My family was not neat and tidy. There were complicated pieces. This contributed heavily to my emotions and imbalance at times. It’s why I understood that sometimes it’s easier to just move on as best you can and put the birth and the adoption behind you. And when I say, “behind you,” I mean to not speak of it. Birth mothers can never totally forget or put giving birth nor their child behind them. They keep it reserved in a portion of their mind and their heart, hiding it carefully as if they are protecting a small child from a scoundrel.
After Maureen began to reconnect with her lost daughter, I learned she was a birth mother too. She and I had other things in common. We were both from the upper east coast, both raised Catholic, both with Irish roots. So finding out that she too was a birth mother made me feel closer to her. Besides that, her New York accent reminded me of my grandmother, especially when she said my name.
Previously, she was private about her adoption experience. Maureen was regal and conservative. She was not at all open about her choice to relinquish her daughter. I say choice but I doubt she had many options or choices. She was young, Catholic and not married; the perfect recipe for the adoption industry. But when she reunited with her daughter, things changed. I don’t think she confessed to everyone about finding her daughter. But she felt safe with me and another birth mother who also worked in our department.
Maureen, who never had any more children, was so happy to meet her daughter. She proudly showed off her pictures. Her daughter looked so much like Maureen and just as beautiful. They began to connect on Facebook. Then, they arranged to meet; secretly at first. Her daughter didn’t want her adoptive parents to know. She didn’t know how they would take it. Maureen flew back to the east coast. Her daughter was recently engaged. So Maureen got to meet her daughter’s fiancé as well.
After their first meeting, they stayed connected. It was not always easy. Her daughter was having a difficult time with the reunion too. Maureen felt her daughter would retreat from the relationship sometimes.
Maureen would talk to me about her feelings. I would try to share as best as I could. Although she had been a birth mother much longer than me, I seemed to have more experience because of my open adoption relationship with my son and his family. Maureen was unprepared for the emotional toll this new birth/adoption/reunion was about to take on her. While my situation was a little different than hers, we were both still women who gave birth to a child and relinquished our parental rights. We have a similar experience. That, in itself, is enough. I had gone through with the reconnecting and disconnecting a couple times. That’s what it felt like whenever Jaren and I got together with Noah’s family. I had to say good-bye over and over again. It’s a very strange feeling because you don’t know who you are to your own child. Or who they want you to be. You don’t want to be too aloof and give the impression that you don’t care. But you also don’t want to overly show love and give the impression you are trying to take over. You have this natural instinct and need to mother and to protect. It can feel as if your every move is being judged and nothing will come off as appropriate, as if you are on trial without a character witness for a choice you made and nothing will erase what happened and there is a consequence that every person amidst you will consciously or unconsciously bestow on you. It’s an emotional tight-rope. And you feel as if one wrong move could end drastically and possibly severe the relationship for good.
For the first time, Maureen’s emotions began to show. This very cool, collective, admired soul began to show insecurities and self-doubt. The beautiful woman, who walked with her head high, began to take a second-class position.
Maureen got invited to her daughter’s wedding. Maureen took her mother, the birth grandmother, to the wedding. And they even stayed with her daughter’s adoptive parents. Maureen shared some of her feelings about that experience. I understood. We shared our stories and our feelings. I wanted her to know that what she was feeling and experiencing was very normal. Birth mothers don’t always know that unless they talk with other birth mothers. We can feel as if we are weird or strange for feeling a certain way. And if we are not careful, we can have family or friends convince us of the same. It never seizes to amaze me how many people will try to counsel another person without having a similar experience, no education or degree in the field, no work experience, nor any research done on the subject matter. And yet, they will speak as if they are the expert. If we are not careful, we can lead a person down a deadly path.
After the wedding, Maureen and I got a little closer. She gave me a Willow Tree Angel, called Friendship. I treasured it. We went out for happy hour a couple times with some co-workers. And we even made plans to go to the movies. We saw October Baby.
However, Maureen, who now had almost twenty-five years of service, seemed to be changing more. I had worked with Maureen for nearly five years so I knew her work behavior fairly well. She had begun to appear intoxicated at work. I never knew for certain. It was a feeling. I thought maybe she was taken some medication. Her eyes and her speech were sluggish. I wanted to help her but I didn’t know what to do or say. I mean, what DO you say? “Hey, Maureen, are you drunk? Is everything okay?” I didn’t want to make false assumptions or offend her; especially during this difficult time in her life. But I also didn’t want her to feel alone. At the time, I didn’t know of any birth mother support groups. I didn’t find one myself until 13 years after my son was adopted out. That’s a long time to go without any counseling or support. I had to figure it out on my own, as did so many other birth mothers.
I ended up resigning from that job. I lost contact with mostly everyone. However, I did send Maureen a link to my blog in hopes it would help her. And a year later, when I found the birth mother support group, I tried contacting her to see if she wanted to go with me sometime. I don’t think she ever responded. Four years came and went, and I decided to check in on her. This was last year. I sent a text. No response. Then just recently, I decided to send her another text. She had been on my mind. I still worried about her and wondered if she was healing. When I got no response, I thought maybe she changed her number. So I sent a text to another coworker that I keep in touch with about once a year. I thought maybe she knew how she was or had contact information. I told her that I had been trying to contact Maureen. She told me that Maureen had gotten fired and she believed it was due to the drinking. Then she said, “Sorry to be the one to tell you, Maureen passed away from Liver disease.” Maureen had passed in 2015.
I was shocked. And deeply sadden. She was only 49 years old.
I sent a message to Patti, my coworker at my current job and told her the story. She knew that Maureen’s death shook me. She could feel it in my typed words. She offered condolences and said, “She died of a broken heart.”
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. – Psalm 147:3