Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace;
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go;
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for its living;
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.
-“Monday’s Child” by Mother Goose
Joni Mitchell secretly gave birth to a daughter and gave her up for adoption in 1965, and then they spent 32 years apart. During that time, she wrote one of her most famous songs (and, I think, her most beautiful), River, about that adoption, though everyone assumed it was about a romantic relationship. Listening to the lyrics again with a new understanding of what she was feeling is a really profound experience. Before my wonderful first daughter and I were reunited, I remember all those Christmases, all those birthdays, walking around feeling like there was a giant piece of myself missing. It’s miraculous that Ms. Mitchell had the talent to turn such a crushing, soul-sucking thing into something so heartbreakingly lovely.
“I made my baby say goodbye.” –River by Joni Mitchell
I was fortunate (a gross understatement) enough to have my relationship with my birth daughter strengthen over the years since our reunion. Unfortunately, Ms. Mitchell was not so lucky. After a few years of strained relations, she and her daughter parted ways, and they have been estranged since 2001.
I wish them both peace.
I read all the articles. I watched all the interviews. And even though it ended badly for her, after all this, I got up a little nerve, and last night I sent a note to Joni Mitchell on Facebook. Here’s what I wrote:
“I am both an adoptee and a birth mother. Today, I watched the video of your interview “Joni Mitchell on Q.” Then I read accounts of how your relationship with your daughter became strained and eventually fell apart. It was all my best memories and worst nightmares in one place. Having been both the mother and the daughter, I identified with both of you in this story, and it left me very conflicted.
First, because it cost me the most, my birth mother experience. I was reunited with my daughter a few months after her 18th birthday. At first, we had the tearful, fairytale reunion. But shortly thereafter, as I have told people, the “Oprah Effect” wore off. I wasn’t who she’d pictured, and she wasn’t who I’d imagined. It was a number of very hard years before we were able to really understand each other. Either one of us could have given up at any time, but somehow we hung on through all the disappointments and misunderstandings and hurt feelings. After everything, I now consider her not just my daughter, but one of my closest friends. I know how lucky we are that we survived it all. We are close now, but it took years. A lot of years. She had to grow up, and I had to calm the fork (not really the word I intended) down. We both had to evolve. And we eventually got there. I am endlessly grateful that I can be part of her life and rejoice (and weep) with her.
Now, my birthmother (non) experience. I have spent my whole life feeling inadequate. People who know me, even people who know me really well, very likely do not know this about me. But I have avoided looking for my birth mother, not because I wasn’t interested in who she was, but because I was afraid that who I was would be a disappointment. At every point in my life, I have considered looking for my birth mother but every time have decided the time wasn’t right. Here are the reasons. I was (am):
- Not good enough*
- Not pretty enough
- Not successful enough
- Not thin enough
- and generally, not worthy.
Ms. Mitchell, your story inspired me, and has maybe, maybe given me courage to try and find my birth mother. I am 50, so she would be 69. I know I may have waited too long. But I hope that if she’s still around, she is as interested to meet me as you were to meet your daughter, and as interested as I was to meet mine.
I don’t want anything from you. Just please wish me luck. Your music sustains me. Much love, Donna”
Good luck to us all.
*IMPORTANT NOTE: I am not fishing for compliments. Thank you for all your kindness, but can everyone please stop telling me how great I am? It’s making me itch. Thank you!