I’ve had two mothers in my life. Ruth, the one who gave me life, was 28 when I was born. Dorothy, the one who raised me, was 32 when I was adopted. They knew of each other, in a general way, but they never met. I think they both wanted it that way. It made things easier, I guess.
Knowing nothing of the other woman, it was easier for Ruth to fantasize about the better life and exciting opportunities her child was having with his new parents, fifteen hundred miles away. Perhaps not knowing helped soften the pain she felt, when she decided to give her child up.
Was that pain intensified, or was it made easier to bear, by the two-year-old son waiting for you back in Pennsylvania?
Dorothy didn’t know anything about Ruth, which made it easier to be critical, and to feel self-satisfied about raising a child someone else didn’t want. It made it easier to feel possessive, and not want him to go looking for that other woman who, after all, had given him away.
Did that sense of moral superiority ease your insecurities, in a time when so many babies were coming into the world, yet you were unable to have children?
Fate has a fine sense of irony. The mother who surrendered me to an adoption agency in 1947 really did want me, while the mother who adopted me the following year became disappointed in her choice.
If I had grown up with Ruth, if Dorothy had never become a mother – would we all have been happier?
There are no answers, and in any case, both of my mothers are dead now. I still ask the questions. I still want the answers. But my need to know is met only with silence, and the empty places remain unfilled.
(A version of “Questions for Dead Mothers” was published on the website “Run to the Roundhouse, Nellie” in June 2014.)