At least my social worker at Northaven Terrace, Mrs. Mura, and I spoke straight. We never said I was there to “make an adoption plan,” the genteel language preferred today that obfuscates reality; I was there to arrange giving up my baby. Make an adoption plan? Sounds as if you are choosing a college curriculum: Political Science or Creative Writing. Engineering versus the Humanities. I like the harshness of the words, Give up a baby. It excuses nothing, bares all, tells the painful truth.
I’ve argued with people over these words, because adoptive parents are likely to wince when they hear “give up a baby.” They do not want to imagine that a woman is giving up because she has no other options, that she is surrendering to forces greater than her resources, but that is what she is doing: giving up as surely as if she were drowning in an ocean. I imagine they want to think giving up a child is a decision calmly entered into after considering other viable options. But no mother gives up a child without giving up.
In the large tree-filled backyard of the house where I live now, various birds set up housekeeping every summer, and when there is an attempted poaching of an egg or a fledging, all hell breaks loose. Others of the same species of the baby in the nest hear the crisis calls and fly in from hither and yon to enter the fray. The squawking, the attack, goes on for as long as it takes to send the intruder packing. I’ve seen robins beat back a jay with amazing ferocity and determination. I wish I could have been like that, a fighting robin-mother; but I felt defeated at every turn. I was not strong enough to keep my baby. I failed her. You can say that I did what was best for her, in a time when life was so very different and single mothers were treated like pariahs, that to give her a stable home with two parents was the best for her, but it has never felt that way to me. It has always felt second best.
I accept that I did this, that I did not find a way to keep my baby, and it has been the worst thing I ever did, my greatest failing. It doesn’t matter that social psychologists and cultural historians point out that women in my position did what I did in great numbers, and 1966 seems to have been a plentiful year for out-of-wedlock births, and adoptions. Born in 1966, her adoption finalized the following year, she was one of the 72,800 children adopted that year in the United States by non-relatives. Many of the women who are leaders in the movement to open birth records for adopted people have children born this year, or very near. We got caught in the blur between the onset of the sexual revolution and the era when condoms are carried in women’s wallets.
Today women like myself would have been more astute, recognized the pregnancy earlier, and had an abortion, regardless of the stupid movies coming out of Hollywood that indicate otherwise, or kept the child. Some in that generation had illegal abortions, of course; but those of us who did not by and large did not keep our children. Plain and simple, we signed the papers, we gave them up. Without resources, with the scorn of society, as well as my Catholic upbringing hanging around my neck like a scratchy St. Teresa scapular, having a baby alone and announcing it not only to my family, but to the world, and finding the means of then raising that child, was simply more than I could fathom. It did not seem possible.
Mrs. Mura, and the bureaucracy she represented, may have been making an adoption plan. I was drowning in the zeitgeist. I was giving up.
Giving up a baby is always a plan of last resort. --lorraine