I don’t really have a year-end wrapup because it doesn’t yet seem like the end of a year. I could write about hair, because it’s the anniversary of the coils I made in Lee’s hair that have almost all almost entirely grown into locs. I could write more about Ezra and the conversations we’ve been having about him and what we think will happen once we see his file. And both those thoughts bring me to adoption photolistings, how I’m disturbed by how much whitewashing is involved in styling black kids’ hair and in describing all the children’s interests in gender normative terms.
Instead, though, I’m going to stick closer to home. Lee talked to her birthmom Leah a few nights ago and asked if I could call Leah to talk about their family history and the story of Lee’s adoption and get to know Leah. Tonight I plan to make that first phone call. I’m excited, but a little bit scared.
Because of the barriers Lee has put up over the years, she doesn’t want anything more than a casual relationship with Leah, but she also simultaneously wants more of a connection especially as we get closer to actually adopting. Lee’s always told Leah about me, sent my regards, but we’ve never talked and our plans to meet up this fall fell through and have been postponed until spring sometime. Lee and Leah talk every few months but haven’t seen each other in many years.
The thing I can’t really ask about or can’t ask about directly is how it felt to Leah to be part of a coercive adoption, because no one involved denies that it was one. It wasn’t anything like baby buying and it’s clear that Lee wasn’t being parented appropriately and needed something else, but there was an agreement by all of Lee’s bio grandparents that if Leah would relinquish custody they’d help facilitate (via money and more coercion, I assume) the divorce she wanted from Lee’s birth dad. I’m sure there was more to it than that, but maybe not. I don’t know and I may never know. I don’t think Lee wants to know, but she’s said she wouldn’t mind me knowing. It all gets very complicated.
I wasn’t alive then. I don’t know how hard it would have been for a (young, black) woman to get a contested divorce in the early ’60s. I don’t know whether the state would have considered neglect reason enough to separate Lee from Leah and if so whether familial care would have been considered appropriate or foster care would have been her only option.
I’m not sure Leah knows these things either and I know Lee doesn’t. I know Leah is glad to have a relationship with Lee, though, and excited about talking to me and knowing me directly. I’ve always let Lee mediate the relationship because I don’t want to overstep her boundaries. I’m glad to have the go-ahead, though, to finally get to know the woman who gave her her cheekbones and (according to Lee) her sense of humor and about half of her love of socializing and networking, which apparently came from both sides and is utterly alien to me.
I’m a researcher and data gatherer professionally and my nature is to keep mental data files on everyone and everything. It’s going to be hard not to fall into that mode when talking to Leah, but not too hard, since I mostly want to let her drive the conversation. I’m glad that I’ll be able to talk to her not as a researcher but as the woman who loves her daughter, as a hopeful potential parent looking for advice and information. I’m not just going to be learning new parts of a story I’ve wanted to know for a long time, but growing my family in the process. And I’m glad of that, but also glad that now that she’s 70+ I’ll be getting some of her stories into the mental databank so they can someday be passed on even when she isn’t around to tell them. Any suggestions from here would be welcome, though.