My book, Everything In Its Own Time, came out in the Fall of 2010. It won a few awards over the next year and I was able to sell some books at various appearances and readings. Now, almost two years later, the momentum has died down. I made a “last call” marketing effort a few months ago, sending letters to several hundred United Methodist churches in my conference, offering myself as a speaker and hoping for the opportunity to sell some books to raise money for the Baobab Home. The letters generated some responses, and I’ve been to several churches to do presentations. I even got to preach a sermon!
This morning, I made an hour and a half driving trip to a small church east of Atlanta to speak at a United Methodist Men’s Breakfast. Sweet Journey agreed to get up at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning to drive with me – as a Mother’s Day gift. In every talk I give, I try to educate people about fully open adoption and the many different types of families. But, because it was Mother’s Day, I had decided to focus my talk on mothers – biological and adoptive.
On this rainy morning, Journey and I set up my display and sat down with the small group that had assembled to eat eggs, biscuits, and sausage before I was introduced to speak. The presentation went smoothly and there were follow-up questions. In addition to selling a few books, the church made a donation to the Baobab Home, so I was pleased. As usual, there were people who wanted to speak to me privately afterward about their particular situations and issues related to adoption. I try to be sensitive and offer a listening ear or advice, depending on what they need.
After most of the audience had moved on to their next activity, I began to pack up my books and other materials. Just then, an elderly woman approached me and began to speak. I continued packing while murmuring “uh huh.” At first, I wasn’t clear why she was talking to me. She said she was 87 years old. She was one of eight children. She was the mother to seven children. She mentioned grandchildren as well. She said she was “Maw Maw” to the whole congregation who treated her as their mother and advisor.
I stopped packing books and looked at her. Her lip was quivering and her eyes glistened with un-spilled tears as she pulled out a chair to sit down. Something in me said, “Sit down with her. This is important. Listen.” The woman began to tell me about her younger sister by twenty years. Forty-two years ago, her sister had placed a baby for adoption. Her sister didn’t know where the child – now an adult – was. The sister had married, but never had other children. Her sister tried not to think about the adoption and had never told her husband about the baby. The 87-year-old woman said, “It’s hardest for her…” I completed the sentence, “…on the child’s birthday.” “Yes,” she said.
During my talk, I had spoken about The Girls Who Went Away – the young women who, between the end of World War II and Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, had placed babies in closed adoptions under what we would now label coercive circumstances. The woman I was sitting with now was describing one of those adoptions.
It was clear that this had been a deeply buried secret in her family for a very long time. When I broached the subject of reunification, the older sister quickly dismissed the idea that her younger sister would be interested. But, the longer we talked and the more I shared about what other mothers in her sister’s circumstances had done to find their children, the less defensive the older sister became. Perhaps, she thought, her sister might want to look. Perhaps. She took my card and contact information. I offered to be a sounding board, a listener, if her sister wanted to think through her options.
My new 87-year-old friend had talked about the blessing of children. She had been a competent mother to her many children and grandchildren, and to an entire congregation. But, clearly, she felt humbled and powerless in relationship with the hurting, child-less sister she loved so much. I thought I had come to church today to educate others about open adoption and diversity in families. But God had other plans for me – less public, less grand. The most important work I did today was private and quiet. My job was to create a space where old wounds could peek out into the light and begin to heal.