My biological mother, Kate, was diagnosed with liver cancer a few days ago. So I drove down to St. Luke’s in Milwaukee to see her today. It’s rare for me to be in the car by myself so for the first hour I just enjoyed being able to turn up the radio full blast. Then I played one country song after another since husband and children claim their ears are bleeding when I try that with them in the car. The next hour I tried to prepare myself for seeing Kate. But if there is a manual on visiting a terminally ill birth mother I didn’t get the copy. So instead I pretended I could sing like Allison Kraus rather than wondering what she would look like when I got to the hospital.
Kate has Hepatitis and Cirrhosis from alcoholism and drug abuse. She sobered up in her early 30’s but has had to deal with the physical fallout ever since. She went into St. Luke’s ER thinking she had a back ache and didn’t get to come back out. It turns out that she has a large, cancerous tumor on her liver. Something that is a fear and probability for people with her conditions.
From what I understand most of Kate’s family shut her out after she gave me up for adoption. Any remaining ties she had with her sisters were cut off a few years back over a land dispute. So there was no immediate family visiting the hospital. But Kate is a vibrant, charming and very spiritual person so she had many amazing friends that were coming in to see her.
While I was in the hospital Kate wanted to introduce me to all of her Doctor’s and nurses as “my daughter”. I was glad that I could do that for her. And the doctors seemed more willing to share information about her prognosis thinking that her daughter was there to care for her. Especially since Kate was asking them where she would recover after her liver transplant. And the staff was trying to tell Kate that her white blood cell counts were very low and that they still needed to see if the cancer had metathesized before they could plan any more treatments for her.
She was confused, and scared. And alternately wanted to talk about what was going on and tell me stories. Like how she went on a date with a guy from her community care center. They both use walkers and he wouldn't help her lift hers into the car. Then he confessed he read Playboy "And not for the articles either" over dinner at Red Lobster. Kate says, "I could tell he was going to go in for goodnight kiss at my door. It's hard to be subtle about that when your rolling towards someone in your walker!" But she avoided the peck and politely told him and his "wanky magazines" to take a hike. She thought it was hilarious that even Sr. dating was fraught with assholes.
I was relieved to hear a good story as they can usually go either way. She can be hilarious and funny one minute and then toss out a doozy like “Your biological father tried to punch me in the stomach so I would lose you.” the next. Since meeting 5 years ago our relationship has been a strange dance. Kate needing intimacy and trying to force it with disclosures that I don’t want to hear. And my retreating into a neutral emotional stance so I’m prepared for the shocks.
I’m still not sure if I was supposed to find Kate for her or for me. I did get to find out that I’m third generation Dutch (we now understand my obsession with cleaning products) and English. That my biological father is from South Carolina (which may explain my love of all things Southern) and his family owned a trailer sales lot (which absolutely explains my appreciation for all things white trash). My biological great great great grandmother was psychic, as were most of the women in Kate’s family. I found out that Kate loves books just like I do. And that we both have tattoos on our shoulders.
And I also heard a lot of stories I wish I hadn’t. About Kate being abused by her stepfather, Kate being drunk while pregnant with me and all sorts of other things I don’t ever want to hear out loud again.
I'm not sure what's next. I'm going to keep in touch with her nurses and try to visit her again next week. But I got to tell her that I was proud of her, and that I think she's a really cool lady. And she got to have a daughter for the afternoon. So I think it was a good visit.