From the upcoming memoir, A Hole in My Heart
by Lorraine Dusky
Copyright (c) (2009 Lorraine Dusky
Juno, the 2007 movie, made the title character’s learning she was pregnant into one long hip joke. Juno, the teenage character, takes a pregnancy test at a convenience store, and wisecracks with the store owner who responds with a rhyming couplet when it comes back positive, pre-go rhyming with eggo. Ha ha. To Juno, and the storekeeper, her pregnancy will be seen as a minor inconvenience, that’s all, the storekeeper and he knows she will deal with it in her usual wise-ass manner.
If that is the normal reaction today, how can I expect young people, say, my granddaughter, to comprehend what it was like back when her mother was born? When abortion was illegal and having a child “out-of-wedlock”—the phrase even sounds archaic, does anyone even use it anymore?—was a major scandal? Reviewers and the public loved both Juno, the character, and Juno, the movie, which played for months at a nearby theater. Or maybe it seemed like months, I wanted it so to go away. Because I couldn’t bear to sit through what I knew would be emotionally wrenching in a theater, I saw the movie on DVD, alone in my bedroom, tissue box at hand. It made me alternately livid and tearfully upset, as oh-so-clever dialog made light of one of life’s most traumatic experiences. Or at least, my most horrific experience. It made giving up the child on a par with learning one has not gotten into the college of one’s choice. I wanted to throw up, yell at the writer, shoot a missile at the television. The next day I came down with a cold. Compounding the distress the movie caused every single birth mother I know, the writer, a young woman and former stripper who took the uber cool name of Diablo Cody, won the Oscar for best original screenplay the following year. She said she wrote it imagining what it would have been like if she had gotten pregnant in high school. No comment.
Can giving up a child ever be so flippant and amusing as Cody/Juno makes it seem? The character Juno stays in school, wears tight t-shirts that show her belly button popping through as her middle expands, flirts with the adoptive father-to-be before he takes off. She picks out the parents of her baby from a penny saver. Drives over and meets them. Tells them, and the lawyer—their lawyer, she doesn’t need one—she wants the adoption, “old school,” no ties, that way, it goes without saying, she won’t have any responsibilities or expectation to visit. But it’s not going to be old school anyway because—hey! She knows who the mother is! She’s picked her out! The flirting father has split by this time. Yes, there is one tearful scene at the hospital after the birth, but mostly it’s all chillingly unemotional, cheeky instead of devastating. The final scene shows Juno and her callow, maybe boyfriend—someone with the emotional depth of a kiddie pool—singing together, lah-de-dah, life goes on as before.
Then, it was so different then, when I got pregnant with Jane. I came back from Puerto Rico and quit my job within a week. Made up a flimsy excuse that I had to return to Michigan because my father was sick. I had to leave the paper before I showed, nobody would have wanted a pregnant woman—single at that!—working at the newspaper. It was too scandalous to contemplate. Besides, for Brian’s sake, I could not be waddling around pregnant.
At first I cried, feeling oh-so-sorry for myself. But ultimately one has to stop and I pulled myself together and slowly but surely the “problem” became a baby. My baby. “It” became “he.” Our baby. Made from our love. We said, What a great kid he will be. In retrospect that sounds like two blowhards congratulating themselves on the great genes they’ve bestowed on their progeny, Hey, this kid’s lucky to be born. We couldn’t imagine anything but a perfect child with a good brain, an inquisitive mind, a long, lean body. A star pupil! An athlete! Surely someone wonderful. And once that bump in my belly become a real live baby—someone not a “mistake” or a “problem,”—I could not fathom how I was going to give him up. How anyone could give up a child.
Brian and I always called the baby a “him,” as if there were no doubt about the sex. For me, it was obviously wishful thinking. I can’t recall the exact moment when I knew I wished I’d been born male; it must have been during that argument with my father about girls and college. If I’d been born male, I told myself, everything would have been easier. I only saw demerits to being female. Boy or girl, if before I had cried and thought about killing myself because I was pregnant—yes that was the easy way out and my mind went there—now I was crying because there seemed no way to keep him.
Brian said: You need to call the adoption agency.
I recoiled. How can anyone do that?
He said: You must.
And eventually, I did.
So by February, I was sitting with a social worker, a fortysomething woman named Mrs. Mura, pouring out my heart and liberally taking tissues from the convenient pop-up box on her desk. I could not see how we could keep him, I could not see how I could give him away to strangers, however nice they might be. Giving away a baby was a deplorable, terrible act. Unforgivable. A sin against nature. You know those documentaries on PBS that show animals who stick by their young after one is injured, downed by a lunging predator but not quite killed, and the mother needs to run with the herd if she is to save herself, but she stays anyway, pawing the ground, nudging her offspring, trying to make it stand and run away with her? Remember how the mother stays long after it is safe for her to be there? I would be the doe who cut and ran. I would be the doe who repudiated her mothering instinct, who left her fawn there to be eaten by the lions. Today when I see such a scene anywhere memory plunges into me like an ice pick wielded by a madman. I say nothing of course, not to anyone. I simply feel.
Then, I wept. Oh, I wept and felt sorry for myself, and for my baby. Yet I went forward, filling out forms on family medical history, his and mine. Going to the pre-natal checkups Mrs. Mura arranged free of charge. Religiously taking the vitamin pills the doctor prescribed. Eating little and not gaining weight—no one told me that I needed to. Like today’s hippest movie stars, my belly grew, my thighs became miraculously thin. As the months passed, I hid under heavy sweaters and sweat shirts when I went to the market. I did not walk baby proud with my belly sticking out. I stooped slightly, all the better to hide the bulge. And everywhere I turned there were women in the street with babies. In their bellies, in strollers, all coming at me like rocket fire.
One day, after I came back from my meeting with Mrs. Mura, I said: I can’t do this. Let’s find a way to keep her. I don’t think I can….
Brian said: No, we can’t do that. You have to do this. Give her away went unsaid.
There was no room for argument.
A daughter was born three days before Easter. More tomorrow.
Easter has always been a difficult time for me.