The Foundling Notes
I was born to an unwed mother in 1962 and subsequently surrendered to St. Vincent’s Women and Infants Asylum on Magazine Street in New Orleans, where I spent my first year. I was adopted shortly thereafter but left my adopted family at fifteen. I wandered for years looking for, but never quite finding a place that felt like home. I searched for, found, and was denied a meeting with my birth mother when I was 45 years old. She couldn’t afford to re-open the wound she’d carried her whole life, the wound of surrendering a baby. The Foundling is my story.
I envisioned writing a song cycle about relinquishment and adoption, but for years the songs I was trying to write didn’t have an emotional center. When I found my mother, I found the emotional center of the album, as well as the explanation for the “orphan feeling” I’d lived with since I was a child.
All my life I’d carried an emptiness inside me that was painful. “Good-Bye” is a song I wrote about that feeling of emptiness several years prior to searching for my birth mother. Looking back, I can see that I would write about what I called “the orphan feeling” and then run from it. Years would go by, and then I’d write a little more. I wrote “Sideshow” before my search as well. My life drove my work, and my work drove my life. The process of uncovering my own story was a slow one, and it was terrifying. I was caught between the fear of betraying my adopted family by searching for my birth mother and the fear of being rejected by my birth mother if I found her. I wrote the song “Sweet Words” when a romantic relationship ended, and looking back now I can see that it was actually about the mother I’d never known.
Coincidentally, I played New Orleans for the first time a couple of years ago. I found myself driving by the orphanage where I’d spent my first year and without intending to do so, I stopped and entered the building only to be haunted by the experience. It made my orphan feeling real, it made my birth mother real and it opened my eyes to what was going on inside me. I became determined to write this album no matter what.
I hired someone to help me find my birth mother. She was located in three days, but it took me 6 months to muster up the courage to call her. There were moments when I did not know if I had the courage to continue what I had started. My fear had me frozen, too scared to go forward, unable to go backwards. When I finally did call her it did not go well. What I found when I located my mother was a woman who was filled with shame for having gotten pregnant without a husband in 1961. She was filled with remorse for having given her baby away, and terrified of the stigma involved in what she’d done. She later married a man, adopted his two kids and was with him for 24 years before he passed away but never told him or anyone else about me. Almost fifty years later, I was still her shameful secret. She had no desire to meet me. It was too much for her. “March 11, 1962” is a spoken word song I wrote about the conversation we had.
After speaking to her, it was too painful an experience to talk about for quite some time. Once again my writing and my life pulled each other along and resulted in the title track, “The Foundling.” The song cycle was coming together now, and so was my understanding of who I was and why I felt the way I felt.
“Blood is Blood” is an adoptee identity crisis song, and “The Orphan King” was written on a pilgrimage back to New Orleans and St. Vincent’s. I was determined not to let my mother’s inability to embrace me defeat me and repeating, “I still believe in love” over and over again in the song is my way of saying so. “Mama Here, Mama Gone,” the story of the infant’s trauma after being left behind also came from my journey back to St. Vincent’s.
“Another Day Borrowed” became the coda for The Foundling; the epilogue.
As I look, listen and reflect on what I’ve learned by writing this record and completing the search for my birth mother, I’ve discovered we are all wanderers of sorts, looking for meaning in lives that contain no guarantees. My birth mother and my adopted family loved me the very best they could and I am grateful for their sacrifices. I do have a good life. It has been a long road and it’s taken me longer than I am proud of, but these days I find myself at peace, grateful for each borrowed day.
- Mary Gauthier, 2010