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Chapter 5 - Losing Sylvia

In the months following the reunion between Vicki and I, information was revealed to the family by my youngest sister which put all of us in the position of having to choose sides. I chose to support my sister, although I felt at the time that it didn’t mean I couldn’t still have a relationship with my birthmother and her husband. Unfortunately, they didn’t see it that way, and her husband in particular waged a very hostile phone and email campaign against my sisters and I, to the point where I had to block them from my email and Vicki felt compelled to have her number changed and unlisted. It seemed to me then and now that the concept of being reasonable wasn’t going to work.

Sylvia and I had been going through our own, personal struggles. I was (and to this day remain) upset about not being able to find out who my birthfather is. This need became even more pronounced when, in the fall of 1998 as I was in the process of moving across the country, I discovered a lump in my breast. And I do mean literally as I was moving – I discovered it in Utah while driving and pulling a U-Haul trailer behind me. Subsequent tests upon my arrival on the east coast revealed it to be a cyst, but it completely unnerved me. Breast cancer does not run on my birthmother’s side of the family.

There had been speculation from other members of my family that my birthmother had not been completely truthful with us about her relationship with my birthfather, and unwilling to let go of this issue, I pressed it with her, which only served to cause her to retreat deeper into silence. Combined with the other family problems, our relationship became very strained.

Over the Christmas holidays, I tried to ease the tension that had built up between us, knowing that a part of it was my fault. I made a point of sending letters and a card, pointedly ignoring the unhappy family climate and honestly wishing she and her husband peaceful and joyous holidays. Christmas – and my birthday – came and went with no word from her. By late January of 1999, I was really upset and hurt. I wrote her a letter expressing how painful it was to be ignored by her over the holidays, and told her that I wished nothing more than to be able to have a relationship with her, but that in light of her withdrawal, I felt the next communication would need to come from her, as I was unwilling to intrude on her life if a relationship with me was not what she wanted. This letter was not responded to.

I began at this point to wonder if my birthmother would ever be someone that I could be friends with. The level of dysfunction in my birthfamily has honestly taken my by surprise, but my sisters and I have been finding ways to talk and grow through it all. I have always hoped deep in my heart that this would be the case for Sylvia and I. Although a good deal of the pain my siblings underwent came from Sylvia’s own hands, I felt it was forgivable when looked at in the light of her alcoholism and her own problems with abuse as a young girl. I have always felt that if someone truly wants to make a change for the positive that they can, and felt that Sylvia was truly capable of making an effort to become a mother to her children, as she had not really been one in the past.

About a month an a half after my letter to her, an identical letter arrived in the mail to Vicki, Jennifer and I from Sylvia. It was pretty bad - and I won't go into too much detail except to say that it was accusatory, nasty, and really upsetting. It was directed at the three of us both individually and as a group. In regards to my relationship with her, she told me that “effort has to come from both sides” – as if my attempts to reach out to her and her refusal to respond had never happened, as if the lack of communication was somehow my doing.

It almost seemed that rather than pick herself up and really act like a loving mother after all of the lost years, Sylvia would rather drive us away than work at a relationship with any of us. My initial reaction to the letter was anger, and then, as the realization sunk in, deep hurt and sorrow. I sunk into a depression, crying for days and feeling anxious and alone. My partner, who was still searching for his birthfamily, was also strongly affected by the situation. His fears over what he might find at the end of his search were increased by the possibility that he might find a situation as difficult as mine. I was feeling rootless and disconnected again, as if I had never come from anywhere. There were many moments where I wished that I had never been born. At the same time, I developed an even stronger appreciation for my parents and their love, strength and wisdom. I had always felt very lucky for having been placed in my family; now even more so I felt that I had received an amazing gift in these wonderful people.

I felt worse for my sisters. I have always had a loving, supportive mother and father, where my sisters never did. What I had kept hoping, and what I had always hoped during my search, was that my birthmother would, if nothing else, at least be someone I could like and respect. Instead, I found someone who cast off responsibility for her children and left them to fend for themselves at a very tender age. I found someone who, rather than try to heal the hurts of the past by forging new, strong bonds with the children who are reaching out to her, would rather be done with them completely than accept any role other than martyr and victim. I mourned the loss of a dream, if not the actual person.

I never want to give up hope that someday Sylvia and I can have a relationship. I have never been sorry that I found her, and I never will. Despite the struggle, I have learned some awesome truths about my past and my future, and she has given me gifts of the spirit that can’t be measured by material value. My hope for Sylvia is that she will understand that love is always here for her, and that if she can only forgive herself and reach out to her children with love, her children are waiting to reach back in kind. But until she can be part of my life without causing such stress and dysfunction, it’s better for me to let her go.

I have been extremely fortunate in my life to meet online and in real life some very special birthmothers who have “adopted” me and whom I have “adopted” as my “other mothers.” They have given me a vision of what it could be like to have a relationship with my birthmother, they have given me a priceless glimmer of understanding into the birthmother experience, and they have not allowed my experience with Sylvia to cause me to paint all birthmothers with the same broad brush. I have learned that our experiences are as varied as the color of our hair and the features of our faces. Search and reunion is not something to be feared; it is a process that can open doors and give us a greater understanding of ourselves.

I can’t tell you how good it has been to put this story in black and white. Sharing it with you has enabled me to see it in a constructive, healthy way. Honestly, I don’t even wish that I had a “sunshine and flowers” reunion story to share with you. I have shared what my life is, and even when it has consisted of sleepless nights, tears soaking my pillow and the endless question “Why?” it has been my story. I’m happy with who I am today, and I have hope for the future. I have my sisters, I have my parents and my brother. I have a birth grandmother who has not been mentioned in this story, but who is a wonderful, loving, solid woman. There are still brothers and other relatives yet to meet, and there is always, always the chance for a better relationship (or any kind of relationship at all) with Sylvia. Who wants perfect, anyway?

Reunion Road Home
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Angel on a Harley - Doug's Page

© Mary Hunt Peret 2000, 2001, 2002