Poetry: it inevitably relates to -- among others -- identity, history, culture, class, race, community, economics, politics, power, loss, health, desire, regret, language, form and genre disruption, love ... as well as the absences thereofs. The same may be said about Adoption.

Monday, April 4, 2011



My adoption experience is one I profoundly wish I had never had. Not that I wish I never had my firstborn son, who was and is most wanted and loved, but I wish I had walked out of the hospital with him and had no further need to ever think about adoption. My story started as the usual cliche, college student with first true love--I thought he was going to marry me, but he thought different once he knew I was pregnant. His breaking up with me when I told him, and saying he had another girlfriend and no longer loved me, shattered my world. I was immature, naive, sheltered, a spoiled suburban nice Catholic girl who thought that having sex meant that surely you were going to marry. I was going with him for over a year when I got pregnant, and we had dinner with his parents or mine every Sunday, so that was not totally wishful thinking on my part.

I went to live with married friends of my boyfriend and to the maternity clinic of an inner city Catholic hospital, and they sent me to an agency for "counseling." Labor and delivery was a horrible experience, and I was moved to the mental ward without explanation and could not see my child after the first day. My son was born April 9, 1968. My baby went into foster care. I went home to my parents and developed what I now know was post partum depression but at the time was treated as depression with no outward reason. The treatment I got was bad, the counseling was worse, and eventually I gave up all hope and signed a surrender. At that point I just wanted to die.

But I was lucky not to die. I got married eventually, had 3 more sons, but never forgot my first or "got over" losing him. As soon as I heard of adoption reform groups I joined, when my son was just 7. I found him very young, contacted his parents when he was 13 which was a mistake, and contacted him at 16, another mistake. For many years he had no interest in a relationship with me and I thought I was permanently rejected. I continued to be active in CUB, AAC, and other adoption reform groups, despite my personal misfortune.

                                                                                                                                                Mary Anne

My son came around and we began an email relationship after almost 20 years of little contact. He sent me his wedding web page which was beautiful, and after several years offered to meet me for dinner. I met him and his wife, and it was lovely. After that I did not hear from him for two years, but kept up occasional emails and eventually he responded again. We now have a good email relationship. I hear from him often and he sends me many pictures of the activities he and his wife participate in, and his cats. We are both cat people. We also have a similar writing style and taste in some books. He did not have a great adoptive home or mother, but has come out of it all ok and is a fine man--I am as proud of him as the sons I raised. It is just in the past several years that I have been able to put some of the trauma of surrender behind me and begin to look to the future and better days. But it has been a long, dark, hard road. I do not recommend it to any mother when there is an alternative.



The majority of the poems I have written for the last forty years have been about adoption, so the effect has been huge. They began as poems to my son as I could not communicate with him in the real world. I began writing poems to tell him how it was, how I feel, what I wanted him to know. I am probably fortunate that giving up a child for adoption was the biggest tragedy in my life which affected my writing and everything else, but sadly mostly in a negative way. I am a decent writer but never had the confidence to do anything with it outside of the adoption reform movement, and have battled mild depression most of my life. I am a classic underachiever and giving up a child did nothing to help that, and destroyed what little self-esteem I possessed. Writing helped me stay alive, partly as witness to what I and many other surrendering mothers have experienced, partly as a legacy for my son.

When I started sending the adoption poems to adoption newsletters, it was with the hope that others in the same situation would identify, and the rest of the world would see how devastating adoption could be to a birthmother who really did not want to give up her child. The imagery is dark, ominous, bleak, but there are also sparks of light, hope, the promise of reunion and reconciliation that I never totally let go of, even when it seemed my son would never come around. I am profoundly grateful for the relationship we now have, and for being allowed to be even a small part of his life. Finally, I no longer grieve. Hallelujah!




Holy the silence, this day
Holy is sibilance of breeze
through trees, nearly blooming,
almost singing, spring
soon be here

I keep my heart open
through force of will
and prayer—brick
in a door, open
like first flowers
stubborn petals
fearing frost, braving snow

Dreadful the silence, long still night
Dreadful the rain, needles
of pain, blue moon, cursed sky

It is falling, falling…

into cracked jug, labyrinth
flawed wall
It is flowing

Spring pouring back into earth
elemental, primal, fierce—
an orgy of green

I did not tend my flower, that black spring
I did not sing the songs
a mother should, did not
keep him—now he keeps me

In blue silence, sacred, knowing
what I know: Hearts left open break
bleed, ache, cold wind blows through
Sometimes, bright face of morning
never comes, nor blessed voice—just
its ghost, in dreams…

this is not the worst

Closed hearts die
They turn to stone, to ice
Nothing grows from noise

My open hands, open heart
hold. Nothing, make a space
for spirit, silence, hope

I turn and face what waits
(or does not wait)
outside gaping open door…..

Pussy Willow

Strange that it should matter
after all this time
Shopping for a card
to greet my second cousin’s son
Grandson of Tim who died and was buried
under December snow
without seeing him

Another Firstborn Son—
how biblical that sounds,
sonorous, linked with sacrifice…

A card with pussy willows, delicate
pale blue, fragile
first fruits, first bloom
my eyes fill
with unexpected tears

Long ago, troubled spring
I drew maidens
with flowers in their hair, with pussy willow
in their hands, dream girls
whose dreams had not been ground to dust
like mine

When he abandoned me
to gather first flowers
for our spring son alone
When I left our son, in my poisoned grief
to grow wild, to flourish or to die
without me

He was small and soft as pussy willow catkins
silent, solemn, pale as china doll
with eyes of ancient blue, looking in dismay
at my face, soon gone, who brought him to this place
When first flowers bloomed, and candles burned
for love as cold as stone

Now, in another voice, he tells me, gently
we cannot go back, change fate, cheat time
make the dead to rise, to sing again
He is a strong oak, tall flower, a tree in foreign soil
No more china doll, pussy willow in my yard,
in my arms…..

Wild blue skies
of Galway blaze behind his eyes
strains of Bartok’s tunes
that his father played for me
beat within his heart, unknown

We walk a hard way, separate paths
Each must make their peace alone
Great wheel grinds fine, consumes another spring
grinds grief to sand, all deaths, all births, all risings and all fallings

Heart that weeps
at pussy willow gone to seed
takes hope, feels joy
in Oak’s mute strength

Sea’s indifferent, constant ebb and flow

All stones worn smooth with time


My son sends me pictures
Digital dreams float on screen
Water, water everywhere
splash of streams, sparkle bright
Hudson river flows, sweeps on
to lakes of deepest blue
a mystery

Paths through dappled green
magic sunlight, mystic trees
by warning signs

So many layers of stone
ancient mountains worn
to smooth hills, sleeping
Lush velvet summer, late gift
blue haze on the Catskills

Bridge that passes to another day
Trails to heaven, roads and ruins
no human face or hand
but his, in rare frame

He sent me this
to let me see
the sacred space
a window

On all the camera catches
that soothes his soul
that heals my soul
that speaks like water
precious word



Mary Anne Cohen is a reunited birthmother and adoption reform activist since the 70s. She is the mother of 4 sons, the first surrendered for adoption, the others raised. She is married, lives in N.J., loves cats and books. Her poetry has appeared in the Communicator of Concerned United Birthparents and other adoption reform publications and the anthology Perspectives on a Grafted Tree. She will have a poem in the upcoming ASAC journal, and has presented at ASAC, AAC, CUB and other adoption conferences. She is the author of a collection of adoption poems seeking a publisher and titled Exile.



Lorraine Dusky said...

Your poems are lovely, Mary Anne. Thank you for writing them.

Jess said...

Maryanne, you are such a talented poet. I hope this exposure leads to good things and I'm glad to see you represented here.