Thursday, July 9, 2015

Needing Space in Reunion

Reunion is never easy, but it's more complicated when your birthmother lives down the street, and your adoptive mom lives at home with you.

My 9-year old took this photo last week. This is the view of Mt. Hood from the airplane as we were coming home to Portland, back from Florida, with my 84-year-old adoptive mom who is living with us for the summer.  My birthmom also lives in Portland. 

I've been in reunion over 25 years, since I was still a teenager. After I graduated from college in my home state of New Jersey, I came out to Portland to stay with my birth mom in Portland, Oregon for the summer. Summer turned to fall, which changed to winter. By the time Spring came, I had moved out of my birth mom's house, but I'd found I was staying in Portland. It wasn't planned. It was something that evolved. 

In meant that I was living in the same town as my birth mother. It meant that I couldn't easily retreat, as I had done previously in our relationship when things got hard or confusing. It meant we were entwined in each other's lives.   

Since then, my birthmother has been part of my life. I found my birthfather. And, for the most part, both their families accepted me as their kin. And my adoptive parents are okay with my birth families being part of my life and my birth families are comfortable with my adoptive family. 

But, somewhere in the middle of all that is ... me. 

Who am I? 

Reunion caused a seismic shift in who I was. I would no longer be the independent, feisty Jersey Girl I was before reunion. I would find I was the artistic altruistic love-child of my birth families. 

But, I was still the Jersey Girl. 
And I was the Love Child. 

How is that the same person?

I feel like for the last 25 years those two parts of myself have been coexisting peacefully. When I was with my family and friends from Jersey, I have been the Jersey Girl. When I was with my birth family and those who were a part of my Portland life, I was the Love Child. 

But, I feel like the Jersey Girl and the Love Child aren't getting along anymore. It seems they're both vying for power. 

Something about my adoptive dad's death and taking care of my adoptive mom has made me reconnect with who I was before reunion. It's made me retreat from my birthmom. Any retreat makes her freak out for obvious reasons. But, I can't help it. 

I need space. 

I need to figure out - 25 years into reunion - who I am. 

I miss the peaceful coexistence of the two sides of myself. I wish they would just get along. 

But, I don't think they will anymore. 


I'm reading Percy Jackson to my two sons. We're on the fourth book, The Battle of the Labyrinth. I find the process of reunion similar to the challenge of the journey of the hero going through the labyrinth, which I've written about before. What is interesting to me now, is that I find myself relating to Janus, a two-headed lesser-god. His two heads argue with each other, yet they are the same person. He guards the gate - looking into the future and the past. The doors are open during conflict, closed during peace. 

After decades of peaceful closure, the doors are wide open. Conflict is afoot. But I am ready to cross the threshold into what's next.


Cathy Heslin is a reunited adult adoptee of closed domestic adoption in New Jersey. She met her birthmother when she was just 18 and moved out to Portland after graduating college to live with her birthmother. She has been in reunion with her birthmother for nearly 25 years, and with her birthfather for 15 and has a complicated extended family that includes all sides.

She writes about adoption with a focus on long-term reunion. She has written a memoir in partnership with her birthmother called Kathleen-Cathleen where she and her birthmother write alternating chapters sharing their experience of reunion from both the perspective of the adoptee and the birthmother (not yet published). They also write parallel blogs on shared themes: Cathy's blog is Follow Cathy on Twitter @CathyHeslin.