|April 8, 1966|
“Is God Dead?” asked the cover of Time on Good Friday, April 8, 1966. On that day, when my co-blogger, Lorraine was grieving over the loss of her daughter Jane, born three days earlier in Rochester, New York, I was 5000 miles away in Fairbanks, Alaska embarking on a path which would bring us together decades later. If I had known Lorraine in 1966, I would not be a first mother.
On that day, I flew from Fairbanks to Anchorage, 400 milesaway to see a doctor to determine if I was pregnant. A week before, I had told my former boy friend and sometime lover, Millard, that I thought I was pregnant. A lawyer, Millard contacted a lawyer friend in Anchorage explaining that a client might be pregnant and needed to see a doctor to be sure. Millard explained that his client wanted to avoid the scandal that might ensue if she saw a doctor in small town Fairbanks. Millard did not disclose that he was this maybe baby’s father. Using a fictitious name for me, the Anchorage lawyer arranged for me to see a doctor on Saturday, April 9, 1966.
I went to the clinic at the appointed time. The clinic was normally closed over the weekend and no one was there but the doctor who performed an exam--and confirmed my pregnancy. That same awful day Lorraine was leaving her daughter behind in the hospital.
As I was looking for a cab to take me to the airport for my flight back to Fairbanks, I ran into an acquaintance who was driving to Fairbanks and asked if I would like to come along to keep him company. I tossed my return plane ticket and hopped into his car. I did not want to hurry back to Fairbanks; I needed time to think. Perhaps, if I thought hard enough, I could think my way out of this jam. I knew marriage was unlikely. Millard did not want to marry me. His relationships with women had always been short-term affairs. Further, I had too many questions about his character to feel comfortable with the thought of being his wife. Adoption--or suicide were the only answers.
We arrived in Fairbanks Saturday evening. I cannot recall if I subscribed to Time then (I was a regular reader) or if I saw the magazine in a nearby drugstore but I shall never forget the cover “Is God Dead?” I located Millard in the bar where he hung out. We went back to my apartment and I told him the sorry news. I did not cry or beg. I expected nothing and he offered nothing. I was already frozen, preparing for the trauma that I would face alone.
If I had known Lorraine in April, 1966, I’m sure she would have warned me of the pain I was to endure when I gave up my daughter in November. And if Lorraine had known Carol Schaefer, author of The Other Mother, who gave up her son in January of that year, Lorraine would have kept her daughter. And if Joyce Bahr, of New York's Unsealed Initiative, who had a son a month after Lorraine had been able to talk to her... or if Mirah Riben, author of shedding light on...The Dark Side of Adoption, who gave up her daughter in 1967 had known all of us, and if Mary Anne Cohen who gave up her son in 1968 had known Mirah….
Mothers need to tell their stories, still largely unknown in spite of many fine memoirs and historical accounts.
“It’s different today,” adoption agencies tell young women. “Don’t listen to those mothers from the Baby Scoop Era,” from the Forties to the early Seventies, when birth control began widely available. True, much is different, but the pain remains. Even the self-satisfied women proclaiming proudly that they gave away their infants willingly--as we read on other blogs--admit to inescapable episodic pain.
“April is the cruelest month,” the poet T.S. Eliot tells us, “breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire.” It’s lilacs that I think of every April. I love the smell of lilacs. When I was little, the lilac bush in our backyard bloomed every year. My grandmother cut off a few stems and I proudly brought them to my teacher. She thanked me and put them in a vase. I looked at the lilacs every day until the flowers fell off and my teacher tossed them out.
My husband and I had a lilac bush in our yard in Salem, Oregon where we lived for 23 years and raised our three daughters. Every April, the bush stood “tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green, with many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love”* reminding me of that Easter weekend when I accepted the loss that was to come.
*Walt Whitman “When Lilacs last in the Door-yard Bloom’d” on the death of Abraham Lincoln.