A Focused Mind, A Bursting Heart

Karen Pickell’s story “The Letter,” in Perpetual Child: Dismantling the Stereotype (Adult Adoptee Anthology), takes the reader on an emotional ride through the narrator’s mind.

The scenario is simple, chronicling the trip to mail a letter.  The narrator is an adult adoptee with children of her own. Through a “Search Angel,” she has found the name and address of her original mother and has carefully composed a letter to her. The story begins when the narrator is getting dressed in the morning, the letter already sealed, stamped, and addressed.

The narrative is addressed to this mother, the intended recipient of the letter. In one beautiful rushing movement, like a wave that dissolves into another wave which then dissolves into another, the narrator shares her varied thoughts about the letter, her mother, her adoption, her own needs and wants, and the politics of adoption.

If that sounds like everything including the kitchen sink, it doesn’t feel that way. It’s all so seamless, so intense, and so well thought out.

The narrator is understanding about the reasons her mother wouldn’t have been able to keep her. She understands about being a Catholic girl, about what it might have been like in 1968, about how her grandparents could have had a hand in the turn the story took.

Her mind worries through a list of all that can go wrong with the letter itself. It could fall under her car tire if she throws it in the mailbox. It could be opened by a man in her mother’s house–someone who will throw it away.  Her mother might throw it away herself, without even reading it.

If her mind sounds a little obsessive, that makes sense. The narrator has been waiting 37 years for this moment. She’s nervous, and it shows in her thinking.

Underneath all that thinking is her bursting heart.

As the waves move forward, each one breaking gently into the next, the suspense builds.  Will she actually be able to mail the letter?

I guess you’ll have to read this story yourself. Did I mention that it brought me to tears? I suspect it will bring you to tears, too.

Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey through Grief to Gratitude by Linda Hoye

Read Sherrey Meyer’s review of Linda Hoye’s sensitive book about adoption and search.


What is This Article Saying?

Here’s a 2011 Psychology Today blog article: http://www.psychologytoday.com/em/58035

Why Adoptees Need To Find Their Biological Parents

Being adopted isn’t so bad…is it?
Published on April 3, 2011 by Stephen J. Betchen, Ph.D. in Magnetic Partners

I can’t speak for all adult adoptees but I can say—after interviewing several of them over the years—that many of us have trouble feeling completely comfortable wherever we are—no matter how welcomed we may be. At times our discomfort can manifest in distancing, indifference, or even rudeness, but we usually don’t intend to insult anybody. We just seem to have an internalized nomadic notion that we don’t belong anywhere in particular. Even when we do settle somewhere we often work our asses off to prove our worthiness—just in case anyone gets any ideas about putting us back up for adoption. While watching my oldest daughter play at a neighborhood park, I thought to myself: “Wow, she looks just like me. What a miracle!” Well, to me it was a miracle. It was thrilling and heart-warming, but it was also a little strange—I almost cried. For the next several months I had to work on emotionally claiming her as my own.
Some of us who were adopted in “closed states” (or states that don’t allow for the free exchange of even the most vital information such as a health history) have a lingering fear that we might drop dead at any moment. I just love filling out the medical history questionnaire at a new doctor’s office; the one that asks what diseases your parents suffered from. How about the question: What age was your father when he died? How should I know? The great state of so and so…won’t tell me. Not knowing one’s medical history is especially annoying to those of us adoptees who have biological children. What am I passing on? Will I be around for the weddings?

By the time I hit my forties I was tired of the intrigue. My adopted parents were deceased and I felt it was time to explore what I came to see as a hole in my life. The research indicates that many adopted children feel this way, and may embark on a biological search even if they’ve had a positive experience with their adopted parents. I also wanted to explore the fantasy that my biological father was Al Pacino and my mother was Candace Bergen (Don’t laugh…she and I both went to Penn).

The search process, as it is affectionately known, was not for the faint of heart—but it was fascinating. By calling in a few favors and hiring a private investigator, I was able to have bio mom tracked down within a few days. Apparently, PIs don’t just sit in cars with a zoom lens; they now use powerful computers to find people. Initially, bio mom was reluctant to speak with me. The PI said she was afraid that I was looking for money. But after convincing her that I was more interested in my medical chart than her portfolio, bio mom allowed me to charm her. No, bio mom wasn’t Candace Bergen—and she assured me Pacino wasn’t pop—but she jokingly told me that as long as I continued to exercise and consume my share of bran muffins I would have a better than even chance of dancing at my daughters’ weddings.

I also discovered that bio mom had some significant attachment issues—go figure. She told me that she was ashamed of putting me up for adoption. Apparently bio dad (deceased by this time) was less than thrilled about being a father at 50. But I got a stronger sense that these two antiseptic, orderly people were thrown off course by the emergent threat of yours truly…and headed for the hills. By the way, bio parents actually had me, put me up for adoption, and then married. More often than not a pregnant teenager is the bio mom and the father is some long-lost guy she barely remembers.

Bio mom and I continued our telephone relationship for the next several years, but sadly enough, it just plain wore out. I got tired of playing in a fixed pursuer-distancer dance and so I did what a lot of adopted kids might do in a situation like this—I disappeared. I took my medical history and a few more tidbits and I faded with a new appreciation for my adopted parents. They weren’t perfect, but neither was I. As for bio mom, I hope she lives forever. She wasn’t a bad sort, and my kids could sure use the good genes.

Stephen J. Betchen

Stephen J. Betchen, Ph.D., earned his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice with a specialization in marriage and family therapy. He subsequently completed fellowships in sex therapy at The New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Medical College of Cornell University and psychoanalysis at The Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia. A licensed marriage and family therapist as well as an AAMFT and AASECT supervisor, he supervises in the graduate program for Marriage and Family Therapy at Thomas Jefferson University where he is a Clinical Assistant Professor, and in the post-graduate program for the Council for Relationships. He is the author of numerous professional articles, chapters, and magazine/newspaper columns on relationships as well as the critically acclaimed book, Intrusive Partners-Elusive Mates (Routledge, 2005). His latest book is Magnetic Partners: Discover How the Hidden Conflict That Once Attracted You to Each Other Is Now Driving You Apart.(Free Press, 2010)


What do you think this article is saying about adoptees

finding their birth parents?

And what does it mean for those who cannot meet their birth parents?

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