Wednesday, September 9, 2020

"Better Times Will Come" (Janis Ian), by an Adoptee and Birthmother

This song is "Better Times Will Come," by Janis Ian, sung by my birthmother and myself. Janis Ian wrote the song at the beginning of the pandemic. One article described it, "For those of us who are losing sleep, worrying about the death count and financial concerns—and feeling restless from the isolation of social distancing—the song is a welcome relief." The artist shared the song with the world, encouraging others to sing it and share it. She shares the many renditions on her Facebook page. It's been covered by famous artists, out-of-work musicians, and people like us just needing to feel hope right now.

The feelings of isolation, yearning to connect with family, and the hope for better times resonated with us as a birthmother and adoptee in reunion.

About once a week, my birthmother and I play music together. We've been in reunion over thirty years, since I was eighteen. We now live in the same town, only a few miles apart. Although people on the outside may see our relationship as the ideal of reunion because we are part of each others families and integrated into each other's lives, the truth is that our reunion has been—and will continue to be—a struggle throughout our lives. Reunion means coming to terms with the loss and trauma that is so carefully hidden away in the adoption and relinquishment stories we are told. 

Music has always been part of my birthmother's life. Music was like a member of her family, and she went on to become a professional musician. But music was foreign to me. Despite piano lessons when I was young, I just couldn't get past insecurities and doubts. The thought of singing in front of anyone was horrifying. My adoptive parents weren't musical, it just wasn't part of our lives.

When I met my birthmother, I wondered if I might have a spark for music myself. But despite being given a guitar by my birth-grandfather, my birthmother and I couldn't quite sync up. I was too shy to learn, she seemed too uncomfortable to teach me. Under the surface, I think it was just too hard. Music brought up what we'd lost in such a concrete way that it was too painful to get too close to.

A couple of years ago, we shared our stories of reunion with each other. We'd been working on a book about reunion for years. We wanted to tell the story from each of our points of view, but wouldn't read each other's side until the draft was done. We finally finished the draft and read our story as a whole, and suddenly, that weekend after we read, we were able to play music together. Something that had been forbidden for so long had opened up to us mysteriously, magically.

What I heard was strange. I had loved my birthmother's voice but never considered myself a decent singer, so I was shocked to hear our voices were the same as we sang together. Singing in unison, it was impossible to discern whose voice was whose. Singing in harmony was like singing different parts on the same voice.

We still hope to finish the book one day, but for now music has been our focus. It's been our primary way of connection, more healing than anything we've ever done and something we both cherish and enjoy.

Only now we play music at least six feet apart and outside. But it's something. And it's real.

Better times will come.

Cathy Heslin is a reunited adult adoptee of closed domestic adoption in New Jersey. I've been in reunion with my birthmother for 30 years and with my birthfather for nearly 20. I have been working on a joint project with my birthmother involving a book, blogging, and music called Kathleen~Cathleen. I am a freelance writer with a focus on adoption, reunion and reconciliation.