Thursday, September 6, 2007
Birthmark by Lorraine Dusky (1979)
NY: M. Evans and Company
Review by Mirah Riben
Released in 1979, Dusky broke new ground with Birthmark, as the very first book by someone known as a “birthmother” to tell her story.
“The call me ‘biological mother.’ I hate those words. They make me sound like a baby machine, a conduit, without emotions. They tell me to forget and go out and make a new life. BUT I AM A MOTHER.”
Sadly, every bit as relevant today as it was when it was written nearly thirty years ago – Birthmark poignantly spans her life from the time of her relationship that led to her pregnancy, through the birth of her daughter, and her inability to forget and get on with her life and despite having the career she thought giving up “the child” would allow. It will be most relevant for those who thought they could give away a child and pick up the pieces of their educations and careers…and for all those who told us we could or should.
“The child was everywhere. True, I stopped thinking about her every hour, and maybe sometimes several days would manage to slip by…But then something…commercials for gentle Ivory Snow, safe for baby…
“I would always be a woman who gave away a child.”
Sprinkled with touching and revealing flashbacks to her youth in Michigan, her hopes, her dreams - fishing with her father…Birthmark is not just the first, it remains to this day far superior to other memoirs written by mothers who have lost children to adoption.
“I may look normal, but there’s something a bit off. I cry much too easily, for starters.
“I am a mother without a child.”
Dusky, a freelance writer who has written for many magazines and the New York Times, is bold, brazen and holds nothing back. With an astonishing depth of honesty she describes her her adultery and attempts to abort are exposed in raw truth – bare naked - for all to see. No more secrets; no more lies. Allowing the truth to set her – and us all – free at last. She shares her secrets as with a close and dear friend, allowing the reader to feel compassion for the young woman trying to find her way in a world that is unkind and judgmental to women.
She chides herself as she checks out her flattened post-delivery stomach:
“I wonder how much I weigh.
“Selfish slut, all you care about is yourself”
She opens her heart, soul and lets us traverse into her deepest inner thoughts, revealing her all too human frailties and self doubts, making the reader a confidant. We are privy to it all: The self-doubt, the self-loathing; the pain - the pain that never subsides - even as she gets strong enough to fight back. The irony of her loss for the sake of secret-keeping leading to her becoming an activist is profound. It is an intensely personal and intimate tale, and yet universal. Not in the details of the experiences, but in the aftermath of never forgetting.
It also makes a very strong and powerful political statement as she describes the scene in a courtroom where experts - who have never spoken to a mother who had relinquished testify as experts as to what is best for mothers and their adopted children.
I hope that Dusky reprints this out of print book. Until then, look for used copies. It's a book you can't put down until you've finished and then wish it hadn't ended. This will be true for those who have never thought about adoption every but as much as for those who live it every day....and share her pain, anguish, frustration, dread and anger.