I have done a lot of reading and listening to stories of all sides of adoption. So many of these stories have the same back story and trauma to them. It is the generation of birth moms that were pregnant in the era between WWII and Roe vs Wade. Back then, birth moms were whisked away to a home for unwed mothers. There was shame, guilt and so much emotional pain. You were looked down upon. Women weren’t really given the “choice” to keep their baby and parent it. They were told adoption was the only way, you wouldn’t see your baby again, there would be no contact, and to “forget about the child” go on with your life and pretend this never happened. No counseling. No support. So many woman believed this to their core. They closed that chapter of their life and moved on. The BELIEVED that door was closed. They would go on with their live, marry and have children of their own – while keeping this secret from everyone they knew – including their spouse and children. I often think about these scenarios when the child now an adult wants to search for their birth mother…if they could understand the back story and how things were back then, it would help them understand. So many birth mothers were “brainwashed” for a lack of better words – into thinking they would NEVER see this child again. They went on with their life, carrying that pain and BELIEVING it. They felt shame and never talked about it. There is a wonderful book that tells such stories and really helps you see into the life of a birthmother in those years. I wish all adult adoptees looking for their birth family could read this before they search – so they could “feel” the process of the times.
In this interview, you will see and understand that pain and thought process of the times…I’d like to introduce you to my friend – she wishes to remain anonymous. I met her through our support group and have learned so much from her. To know someone (altho a different generation) who gets it – who understands the feelings of a birth mom is priceless. I spent 20+ years trying to find peace and once you find a group that understands that journey…it is so healing.
Tell me a little something about yourself – year you were born – your family life – what times were like and your family now. I was born in 1953, the second of three kids. We were a middle class family and because my father was ambitious we moved around a lot in my growing years as he moved up the corporate ladder. The most notable experience was three years that we lived in India; we moved there when I was five. Before then, we lived the typical white suburban middle class existence. In India, I quickly learned about extreme poverty and racism. Don’t get me wrong, we still lived the good life in India, but it shaped me more than I could imagine. As we three kids got to be middle school age my mother insisted we stop moving. We settled in a small outlying suburb of Minneapolis, put down roots, and had wonderful years in high school. Today, I have been married for 37 years; have two children with my husband – a daughter who is 34 and is married, and a son who is 31 in a serious relationship. No grandkids yet and I’m not holding my breath.
How old were you when you found out you were pregnant? What was the relationship with the birth father? I was 22 years old, just graduated from college and looking for a teaching job. I had been dating Nick for about 6 months and we had plenty of fun times, but I don’t think either of us thought it was a serious long-term relationship.
What options were available to you at that time in life – what was offered for women with unplanned pregnancies? What made you choose your decision and did you have a choice? I went to a free women’s clinic after I missed a period to have a pregnancy test. In those days there was no such thing as a home test. I remember it was embarrassing just to walk into the clinic and ask for a test. Then I was mortified to have the test be positive. How could I have been so stupid? This was not how my life was supposed to go. Abortion was newly legal but that decision took me about 2 seconds – no abortion for this good Catholic girl. So, the clinic referred me to a social worker at Catholic Charities. She told me I had no options — put the baby up for adoption because “no kid should grow up being a bastard.” Those were her words to me. Talk about a guilt trip! How could I possibly think to keep this child and put that stigma on it – what kind of mother does that to her child? She said I had to give the baby up and forget about it, wipe it from my memory, and get on with my life. The baby would not be mine anymore and I would have no right to be a part of it’s life. Besides, my child’s very future depended on me giving a “nice married couple” a great anonymous gift and walking away. Nick was in agreement. He didn’t want to get married nor be a father yet. At home, my parents were in the middle of a horrible divorce; it was the scandal of my home town. My mother was devastated with my news and begged me to keep it a secret. She couldn’t deal with another scandal. So my social worker arranged for me to live in a “wage home.” I lived with a single mom and was a nanny for her three children in exchange for room and board. I was also given prenatal care at the county hospital under a program for unwed mothers with no health insurance. I gave birth to a beautiful healthy boy, left the wage home, went home to mom, never talked to Nick again.
At that time who knew you were pregnant – who was with you at the birth? My mom, my dad, my sister and my brother and his wife knew I was pregnant. Also, my best friend. My dad was living out in California, pending the divorce and his reaction to me was “Shame on you, you little shit. You’re on your own.” Nick and I kept in touch by telephone about once a month and then he came to the hospital after the birth of our son. My mom was with me the whole time. She totally agreed with the social worker’s advice to place him for adoption. She thought it was the best decision for me. I see the irony there….mom is advising me to do what is best for her child (me) and I am making the same decision to do what is best for my child
When did you first feel you wanted to search for your child? How old were you and what were the circumstances around it? I didn’t want to search for him at all. I was still brainwashed that I had given up all right to call him my son and that it was best for him that I stay away. I didn’t even know if he knew he was adopted; things were so secretive in those days. My daughter was the one who pushed me. She was 22 years old when she found out about her half-brother (my sister told her in anger at me) and my daughter became obsessed with two things. First, being angry that I deceived her about his existence and second she had to find him. By then he was 31 years old. But first she and I had to resolve some bad feelings. She felt betrayed and lied to because I hadn’t told her about her half-brother. After many years, and having many many counseling sessions trying to repair my relationship with my daughter, I gave in. I finally called Catholic Charities and inquired if my daughter could access his information. The answer was no. It was during that conversation with CC that I was informed about a support group that might help me sort through some of my feelings. I decided to give it a try and it changed my life forever.
Regarding above question, who now knew about the search? My husband knew about my birth son (he knew long before we were married). My daughter and her husband and my son of course know about my birth son and also were supportive that I started going to support group. My daughter is still intent on the search and my younger son is happy to do whatever will make me happy. (My daughter and I are still dealing with trust as an issue and it breaks my heart that we are no longer close.
If you had advice for an adoptee today who is the same age as your child, what advice about searching would you give them? Go slow and be respectful of the choice the birth parents made at the time. We all thought we were doing the right thing, the best thing for the child, and were brainwashed to deal with the loss as a part of our past and to keep it in the past. I have a large extended family, but none of them know about my first son. My social circle of friends do not know. I feel it is a part of my past and is private. Then there’s the issue of feeling ashamed. I still feel like I did something really bad and will forever be judged. So the fewer people who know the better. I am a logical person and when faced with difficulty, try to look at things from all sides. Who will be affected by this knowledge? Who will benefit? Who will be hurt? Since I am not in reunion, the answer is still to keep it private.
What helps you deal with the pain and heal from the trauma of loss? When I signed the papers in 1976 giving away my parental rights, I made a solemn promise to myself that in the future if I was to become a mother I would be the best mother I could be. It would take priority over all else. My husband and I used to talk in our early marriage years that we had the same goal….to be vice president of the corporation we worked for. Me in Corporate Communications and him in Information Technology. However, after our children were born I realized I needed to make a choice and set my priority. Children came first so I quit the quest for corporate advancement. Later on when my daughter opened this private part of me, the support group came to my rescue. It has been a tremendous comfort to find birth mothers who “get it.” It has been a huge benefit to hear adoptees talk about their lives, their loving parents, their love of life. Their perspective has certainly made it easier. But there are times…..when it hurts so much that I have a whole other kid out there somewhere that I don’t know and may never know. I hope to continue counseling with my daughter when she moves back here. I know I have made mistakes with her but she just doesn’t get it. I gave her a copy of The Girls Who Went Away, by Ann Fessler. She found it interesting but her main issue is being “lied to.” Recently I started meditation as a path to mindfulness but can’t say if it will help yet. I am not a religious person so prayer is not helpful, but I choose to believe in the goodness of humankind and put my faith there.
What have you learned from your journey? We were told to put the birth child behind us and were misled that we could forget such a thing as having a baby. Every year on his birthday I think about my birth son. I wonder when I see a young man who is his age… what my son is doing? Is he happy? Does he hate me? Does he have a family? Does he ever think about me? When I finally decided to search and my birth son was contacted, I had a lot of those questions answered. He is happy, has a wonderful family, is thankful to have given life, doesn’t hate me. He also doesn’t feel any great need to meet me or his half siblings. I am content that I know he is alive and well. My heart is finally at peace with the decision made so many years ago.
Anything you would like to say to young women today? Try to forgive yourself for mistakes made in your youth. Learn from them and then share what you have learned to make you stronger. In all things, be the best YOU, you can be.