Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg is the author of EDEN: A Novel, a story which portrays a woman who introduces the child she gave up for adoption fifty years earlier to her assembled family on the Fourth of July weekend. Below, Jeanne shares her husband’s story.
I told my husband that it sounded worrisome, like one of his parents might be terminally ill. Why else would his mom go on and on, trying to find a date we could all convene for a meeting. Whatever it was she and my father-in-law needed to tell us, it had to wait until we were all assembled together, anxiously gathered around their living room.
It took them a while to get the whole story out. Or maybe it just seemed like it, the way time slows and your senses pulse at pivotal moments, expecting something grave. I’d been a part of the family only five years, without enough experience to forecast what direction this was headed. Finally, my mother-in-law found her voice, and my breath stopped as she explained what had happened, but mostly I watched the confusion wash over my husband. His mom was worried about what he’d think of her. “Times were so different back then, giving the baby up for adoption was my only option.” The major emotion she expressed was relief, relief she wasn’t being judged, but mostly relief to have finally made contact with her child.
Twenty-three years ago, my husband met his brother. Not a half-brother, but a full brother lost to adoption, a brother resembling him so much, people on the street have remarked about it. When this brother’s investigations uncovered my mother-in-law, his birth mother, he had no idea his biological father, as well as two full brothers, and a sister-in-law would be waiting in the wings to meet him as well.
My mother and father-in-law had already spent a weekend alone with their son, but they invited him to Boston to meet his two brothers. He came with his wife, my mother-in-law serving a beautiful dinner, as was her talent. Thank goodness for the rituals surrounding a dinner party, giving us some protocol, something to do with our hands, “Can I help in the kitchen?” I asked right away. My father-in-law poured wine, and plenty of it. My husband zeroed in on what his new brother wore: blue blazer and grey flannels with a button-down shirt, all quality fabrics, an outfit that spoke to his accomplishments and prosperity, but also choices my husband could have made out of his own closet.
My fair-haired husband and his darker older brother grew up somewhat like opposites both in personality and coloring. But now, here was this new, eldest brother, an interesting combination of them both. It was almost like the discovery of the missing link. Besides appearance and dress, other similarities between the three brothers were uncanny in terms of posture, gestures, and voice. I recall the dinner going remarkably well, ending somewhat in drunken laughter and hugs, the three brothers having talked, asked questions, and started the impossible task of catching up.
I remember lying in bed that night asking my husband, “What now?” I was convinced the evening had been so much more than just a curious one-off, surely the start of something greater. But he was tired, couldn’t promise anything, pointing to the demands of his career, and our newborn son to name a few. “When do I have time to devote to a new relationship?” An only child myself, I used to dream of having siblings, there was nothing more in the world I desired, and here was one handed on a platter that he was not dropping everything for? I was perplexed by his reaction. And he was possibly confused by it too, but that meeting in the flesh definitely created some discomfort. I can only imagine being faced with the fact that your parents had kept such a truth from you, that your place in the birth order, or perhaps even in their hearts might not be what you had assumed.
And so he buried his head in work, claiming stress as well as an instinct to follow his father’s lead as reasons to keep to ourselves. He even lost his temper with me when I asked for the umpteenth time what our next steps might be. Then one day my new sister-in-law reached out. She explained that while there were similar emotions on their end, theirs bordered on pain and frustration. She asked when we planned on being in touch again? Why had it taken so long? I’d read enough to know that an adoptee does not need to be dealt any further rejection from a birth family. Without checking anyone’s calendar, I booked tickets for us to go to Washington, D.C. for a weekend. We met our niece and nephew, spent more time talking and astounding over all the commonalities.
There were fits and starts and it took the prodding of two well-meaning sisters-in-law. Ours wasn’t like the instantaneous emotional reunions you see on television. It has been a dance where nobody quite knew the steps. In the beginning we stumbled, there was the expected sizing up, but an undeniable bond prevailed as well as a desire to spend time together and to be a part of each other’s lives and our children’s lives. It’s been wonderful but we’ve had challenges such as knowing at what point a new brother goes from seeing the family only on its best behavior to hearing the insider’s version, replete with side-taking and editorializing? Or, how does one introduce his brother with a different last name at graduations and bar mitzvahs while sparing his parents’ continual recrimination.
Being a birth mother is something that forever changed my mother-in-law, just as being adopted is an indelible part of my husband’s brother. So time and time again, our compassion extends to them. Their grace throughout our lengthy reunion was our example and eventually, they showed us all how to waltz. The dimension of love their reunion brought us all has been a blessing.