After Rob and I met my birth mother for the first time in an airport terminal in Jackson, MS, the three of us left there to go meet my social worker for lunch. She wanted to help facilitate our first visit and try to make sure we got off on a productive foot. As we drove to the restaurant, Dixie told me about her – that is, our – immediate family, but I found myself getting more stressed out as the list grew. On top of my jangled nerves making it hard to concentrate, it seemed every family member was named after an ancestor with a long, distinguished name, but they all went by nicknames. I’ll just have to take notes to study later.
I was still so gobsmacked by the fact I was sitting there with my birth mother that the idea of more family was almost too much for me right then. Quit thinking about how you’re coming across, you dork. That always makes you act all weird and not like your real self. Opportunities for every one of my neuroses to blossom were abundant.
I also worried about the fact that, when Dixie found out I was married to a minister, the social worker said she almost decided not to meet us. Apparently, she’d had some bad experiences with Christians. Rob and I decided that, with everything else we wanted to accomplish – getting to know her, learning about the family, getting a more detailed medical history, etc. – we would just try to be really safe to talk to, love her well, tell her about ourselves, and trust that her apprehension would somehow work itself out.
Dixie wasn’t the only one with preconceived ideas. Adoptees often develop idealized, storybook ideas about their birth mothers. When I found out I was going to meet mine, I had written her a long, sappy, idealized letter of gratitude and love. I went on and on about what a loving a choice it had been for her to give birth to me and give me up so I could have a better life, and how I had always thought of her on my birthday, etc. Well, I could tell before we arrived at the restaurant that any such sentimental drivel had been completely off-base. She never had any other children, and admitted she had no clue when my birthday was. She seemed like anything but a nurturing, motherly woman.
I quickly tried to regroup and get to know Dixie for who she was, without the preconceptions. She was extremely invested in social activism, above anything else. By the time we arrived at lunch, I was glad the social worker was going to be there to help out. As soon as we ordered our food, Dixie picked back up on her litany of causes she was passionate about, including a religious belief I’d never heard of called called Liberation Theology, which she explained originated in Latin America. I am really going to have to do my research to keep up with what she is talking about. Would it be offensive if I started taking notes? She went on for the better part of the meal, discoursing passionately about social injustice in our country and around the world.
At some point, the social worker gently redirected Dixie, suggesting that I might have some questions I’d like to ask her. She quickly apologized, apparently realizing she had been dominating the conversation. That’s when it dawned on me how nervous she must have been about this day, too. From that point forward, Dixie was open, relational, and completely forthcoming. She patiently answered all our questions about family and medical history. My own neuroses continued to pop up as the weekend unfolded, but she remained gracious and warm and completely approachable, despite being sick with a sinus infection.
When we said goodbye the next day, Dixie said, “You know, getting ready to come here, I figured you guys would be the dogmatic ones, but I’ve realized now that I was.” We took that as a hopeful sign that maybe we had accomplished our goal of being safe and loving her well. Despite the complete absence of any storybook elements, I decided to chalk that first visit up as a win.
photo credit: http://www.dinagoldstein.com/fallen-princesses/