Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Does God Care (about birth mothers) or Is God Dead?

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.
Jane

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.
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http://www.theflowerexpert.com/media/images/aboutflowers/exoticflowers/lilac/lilac-1.jpg“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.
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*Walt Whitman “When Lilacs last in the Door-yard Bloom’d” on the death of Abraham Lincoln.

23 comments :

  1. Lovely piece, Jane. My son is April 9 and I have quoted Eliot a lot as well, his opening lines of The Wasteland on April. Here is another bit of Eliot, from "Ash Wednesday" which is my favorite of his poems:
    "From the wide window towards the granite shore
    The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
    Unbroken wings

    And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
    In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices..."

    Lilacs again, this time the memory comforts. And of course Whitman:

    "WHEN lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
    And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
    I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

    O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
    Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
    And thought of him I love."

    Perfect quotes for the month of April. Finally, here is another one that always reminded me of my son, born during the Vietnam war and his father a draft resister. This one is from Murial Rukeyser who had an illegitmate son she kept in the 1940s:

    "When you have left the river you will hear the war.
    In the mountains, with tourists, in the insanest groves
    the sound of kill, the precious face of peace.
    And the sad frightened child, continual minor,
    returns, nearer whole circle, O and nearer
    all that was loved, the lake, the naked river,
    what must be crossed and cut out of your heart,
    what must be stood beside and strangely seen."

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  2. Jane wrote"and if Mary Anne Cohen who gave up her son in 1968 had known Mirah…."

    It would not have made any difference. Mirah's circumstances were very different from mine, and I never thought that giving up my son was a good thing, and fully expected to suffer for the rest of that I had thought at that time would be a short and miserable life. Who knew I would get to be too old to die young?:-)

    What might have made a difference to me would have been to know some adoptees who were not delighted to be adopted, or who went to less than perfect homes. I did not know anyone who I knew was adopted when I gave up my son, and was shocked when I heard Florence Fisher on the radio talking about adoptees searching and needing to know their natural mothers.

    That had never occurred to me. I always wanted to find my son, but never thought he would need to know me. I did not even know records were sealed to adoptees when I signed the surrender. I thought adoptive homes were perfect. I, less than perfect, did not deserve my son, and felt that made me a worthless human being.

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  3. Wish there had been computers in those days at least we
    could have communicated. I am a Cali girl but lost my son
    in April 14, 1966. Seems like April is a cruel month for
    mothers. Today is my two grown adults dads death day died in VietNam 67 almost to the day of loss of our son.
    I get to have a birthday in the last part of April nothing to
    celebrate that month for sure. I do so love April will be
    spending Sat at aunts funeral. April is a cruel month.

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  4. I wonder if many first mothers from the BSE would have or could have made a choice other than relinquishment. Society hadn't changed, the options hadn't changed and the stigma against out-of-wedlock pregnancy hadn't changed.

    Also, to all those self-satisfied women who say they are CHOOSING adoption and that times have changed, let me remind you that many adoptees are not so thrilled to have been given up!

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  5. Jane, I'll have to vote for May: my son's birth month and also Mother's Day. I absolutely agree that if I had known a mother who had relinquished and told me the truth, I (and my son) might well have been spared the trauma of adoption.

    P.S. "Rosemary's Baby" had a reference to that 1966 Time Magazine article.

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  6. I agree more firstmothers/birthmothers/natural mothers need to tell their stories-if only to show that we are all individuals with different sets of circumstances and to break down the stereotypes of what a birthmother is. For instance, I was reading a previous post from anonymous who said she was a 'Cali' girl and I first read it as 'call girl'. Yeah, my eyes are getting old, but it probably fits a stereotype of who a lot of people think we are. Also,my parents didn't throw me out and go ballistic. I tried to work in a mailroon when I was pregnant after I got past the morning-sickness part. I could do the job except one day there was an exceptionally heavy package and I asked one of the guys to help me because I was 4 months pregnant and he said"If you want to work with the men you have to do the work of a man." Technically,of course, he was right and he had his own packages to lift. Those were confusing times -women's lib and women were often resented for trying to do what was 'a man's job.' So I quit, went home and told my mother I was pregnant. She had taken a day off from her job for something or other. I remember she was eating a sliced apple with lunch and
    reading a book. Without looking up from her book, after I told her I was pregnant, she said'Do you want a piece of my apple?' and then 'When's it due?' It's a long, strange story of how I got from there to here and that's all for now.This happened around this time of year.I guess that's why I remembered it now- all the talk about lilacs and Easter

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  7. No one could say what they would have done, or not done, in a different time. We all had our reasons at a time when it seemed as if the world conspired against us and the only possible route was for us to relinquish our children. Sexual mores were changing but society still very much condemned single motherhood.

    A girl in my high school got pregnant and kept her baby. What a scandal it was at my Catholic high school! From this distance today, I admire her and her family's courage. The year was 1960.

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  8. It's strange, since reading this, I realized that a lot of late May and early June I spend being very busy. June 7, 1981 was the day they made me sign the papers - after three years of fighting.... I have no idea how to tell my story, since, as it has been said, it is very different from the BSE Mothers and the mothers that followed - I was a foster child/mother (in foster care when I got pregnant). My particular subgroup is one of the largest in the country and the most likely to lose their child to adoption... even today. How do you convince people that being a foster child doesn't mean you are a bad kid or a crappy parent - it means that you had either crappy parents or nosy neighbors. Sigh..... we are the largest industry targets in the US. And we are the only group that is not represented or respected in any part of the community.

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  9. Lori:

    I am sure what you say is right about your subgroup of birth mothers. But here, let us at least extend the hand of sympathy and understanding.

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  10. I think for many of us the decision to give a child away was purely financial. It happened for me in Feb 1965. I was a student. Even after I had finished a BA and MA I was still being asked if I could type. I had an older friend who went to Harvard Law in the 50s and was asked the same. It was very hard for women to make a living wage, much less one that could pay for child care, rent, car payments, and all the rest. This was pre-credit cards also. I didn't make decent money until the mid 70s. In the 60s they rarely even gave scholarships for women except in women's colleges. I sometimes had trouble getting loans with a 3.6 average. I think people forget or don't know just how hard it was.

    I felt defeated before I started. I was on my own, couldn't go home, and could expect a fight over child support if I kept my son. Not one person in my life even entertained the possibility. I lived through a concerted campaign to make the "right" decision. I'm sure we could all sing the chorus for that one.

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  11. Like Maryanne, I too thought that adoptive homes were perfect. I wanted my child to have the best life had to offer so I bought into the whole adoption line of thinking. As soon as I found out about ALMA, I became a member and had renewed hope that I would be reunited with my child some day. I also thought that reunions were perfect, or nearly so. The newsletters I would get always featured stories of happy reunited families. As a matter of fact, I used to package them up and send them to Ann Landers in my unsuccessful attempt to alter her thinking about adoption in general.
    Gail

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  12. Kitta here:

    There were some "unwed mothers" who kept their children in our time, as there always were. The ones I heard about had help from their families, or they were movie stars or were independently wealthy...or had "common-law" marriages.

    I asked my parents to help me, begged them actually...but they refused. They had sent me 3000 miles away, put me under guardianship with relatives, and told me not to come home with "any baby." I was underage, and had nothing.

    Perhaps I was unusual?..but I did know some adopted people who were searching and I knew that records were sealed to them. And I didn't think adoption was "the right thing to do" but I didn't think adoption was "bad" either...I just wanted to raise my child and I thought the right thing was for him to be with me.

    When my son was born I signed him into temporary care(supposedly an offer of agency help) while I continued to try to convince my parents to help me. The agency then told me they would terminate my parental rights 'involuntarily' if I didn't surrender my child.

    The social worker kept calling me and threatening.

    That law is actually still on the books. They were not kidding....once a child has been signed over into temporary agency care the clock starts ticking against the mom.(I am talking about California..don't know if all states have the same situation)

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  13. I really relate to the comments our readers have posted. I too believed that adoptive parents were golden, white picket fence and all that. I also believed that adoptees settled into their families with nary a problem.

    The funny thing is that my own experience told me differently. My aunt adopted a boy and divorced within a year. The adoptive father had little to do with the boy and she struggled financially.

    I recall several instances when I was growing up where a child misbehaved and the adults attributed it to his being adopted.

    I also believed mothers got over losing their child within a short time. I knew a few women in college who had given up a baby and never discussed it which I took to mean they didn't think about it.

    I also knew how difficult it was for women to have jobs that paid enough to support themselves, let alone a child. Pres. Johnson's Great Society programs had just gotten started and there was some help available but I was unaware of it. The social worker didn't even bother to discuss with me ways that I might keep my daughter. Medicaid which was brand new did pay all my expenses in delivering my daughter.

    When I was a freshman in HS, a senior I knew got pregnant. The baby was born about six months after she graduated and she kept him. The scandal was her keeping him, not her pregnancy.

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  14. Exactly, Jane. I knew two women who kept their babies and both killed themselves. It wasn't as if there was information out there about any sort of choice. Nor was there any support available for another choice. No one talked at all except about how wonderful adoption was.

    I went off to the home for unweds. In itself, it wasn't a bad place. The most horrible thing that happened was the so-called Axillary which consisted of already Amoms. We used to joke about showing our teeth and other attributes like the heifers we were. I just refused to deal with them. My roommate and I left on those days.

    Years later when I was in reunion people (who knew zip about it) kept saying I should thank the APs. It outraged me. It was the other way around. They only did themselves favors. It was just so insane.

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  15. I can certainly relate to what it was like back in the day of the Sixties. I was breaking into what had been an all-male field--daily journalism--and the bias was prevalent and the acceptance, if any, was slow and grudging. I had worked so hard from high school all through college to get to my job--the only woman working cityside (and not in the women's department or some specialized beat such as the arts or religion) on a medium-sized daily newspaper when I became pregnant. I was less than a year out of college. It felt like the end of the world for me; I considered suicide but only briefly. And yep, I bought the whole deal about a perfect family behind a white picket fence with a dog. That certainly was better than anything I could offer my baby.

    But I knew then exactly how horrible what I was doing to myself was; I knew I was never going to "get over" this.

    Gail: Loved that you sent those ALMA newsletters to Ann Landers! I of course got them too and saw the pictures of the reunions. They might never have actually gotten to her, but someone on her staff saw them. Every effort has some impact.

    Same Old, loved you skipped out on the "inspection" of the livestock days; that is how I felt when I first met my daughter's mother: that she was looking me over to see where I had defects. She might now have been doing that, but that is how I felt. I walked into her living room with her husband, the father, and she did not stand up to greet me. Yes, I felt like a piece of meat being inspected before being stamped USDA approved.

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  16. I am sorry I wasn't strong enough to keep my son,didn't fight harder and jumped through whatever hoops they wanted me to(gone to court,etc). I didn't know what would ensue. I was very scared and felt like he would die if I kept him(babies seem so fragile-I still feel like that when I hold a baby) This time of year always brings back weird memories. It's the time my boyfriend kicked me out when I told him I was pregnant and I was sleeping in my car. It's also the time,more recently, when my mother died. My mother and I fought like cats and dogs most of my life, but after I found my son we finally became friends,went on trips and she seemed to understand what I was going through. She also took the blame(sometimes undeservedly) in trying to explain to my son why things happened the way they did. He understood(I didn't at the time)and he kept saying'It wasn't my fault,it wasn't my fault' after we all went out for dinner for the first time.I have to be careful and post as anonymous because my son really wouldn't like me talking about him. As tactless and awkward as I am in dealing with people, he's the opposite- very tactful -hard to believe he's my kid sometimes-also-he's too good-looking to be my son! So,in summation, surrendering,relinquishing,giving up a kid to adoption sucks!

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  17. There wasn’t anyone to tell me how horrific walking away from my son would be, and how the feeling would always be there. I spent years believing there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t forget him like I was told too. In fact, told I would.

    I believed, because I needed to, I had to, that adoptive homes were perfect and loving. How else could I bring myself to sign the papers and leave the hospital without my son? How else was I going to get through each minute afterword?

    As the years went on I allowed myself to accept that some homes were happy and safe and others weren’t. And that that included adoptive homes. This one realization set me on a course to search and find my son. It set me on a course to put my name on the long roll of birth mothers. It set me on a course to face the impact surrendering my son had on my life, and still has. It set me on a course to reckon with the impact surrendering my son had, and still has, on him.

    Thanks for reminding me about lilacs. They don’t grow here and when things blossom, as they are now, I reflect on lilacs and their scent and see myself as I was before adoption claimed my life, skipping down the street and sneaking in Mrs. Mysiak’s yard to claim a small bunch for myself.

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  18. My daughters birthday is April 16.
    I too believed the crap that her adopted parents were going to be perfect. My social worker never suggested I keep my baby and I was paying all the expenses myself from money I received at 18. My father was killed in the Korean War and my Mom had saved some the benefits for my sister and myself.

    I have dreaded this time of year ever since I left her in the hospital. I recall being wheeled to the door with a huge box on my lap that looked like a kids toy block. The letters on it spelled BABY. I felt like throwing at someone. But of course just sat there in silence. That has always been the hardest, the silence. Even now after reunion my sister says I didn't ever want to talk about it. Maybe if she had started the conversation it would have been different. But who wanted to start that conversation?

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  19. @Gail If you wanted what was best for me, then I would think that you would call me. I would think that you would answer my calls. I would think that you would answer my emails. I would think that you would keep your word.

    Mother's Day is just around the corner. We will spend it together this year? The choice is yours.

    I remember you writing to Ann Landers. I did the same.

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  20. My baby was born Dec. 1964. I remember looking out the hospital window...so gray, so cold and snowing. It would be the same, a few days later when I left the hospital. For years and decades, no matter where I lived..I would have sad, depressing dreams about walking, searching the streets of Chicago in winter. Everything gray, no leaves on the trees...just walking and searching, for what I didn't know in those dreams. Going thru all the city blocks I once knew, even into buildings and houses I once had been in. And in those dreams..the bleakness was felt at soul level..and I was always cold in those dreams. Never wearing a coat, most times walking barefoot on ice and snow. Once I found my daughter, back in 1999...those "Winter" dreams stopped.

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  21. Chris,
    Having grown up in Chicago, (Hyde Park HS grad.) I know how bleak those winters are, leafless trees, incessant winds, frozen skys.

    Until my daughter and I reunited in 1997, I had recurrent dreams of misplacing a baby.

    I'm happy for you that you found your daughter.

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  22. I recently found out my mother gave up a son in 1970. I was born in 1974. At the age of 15, I became pregnant and rather than comforting me and helping me work through it, my mother insisted that I give the baby up. She was being backed by the nuns at my high school. I went so far as to pick out a couple, but once I held my daughter in the hospital, I refused to give her up. My relationship with my mother has been strained ever since then and I always felt guilty about keeping my daughter, as if my mother was disappointed in me. Here I am, 20 years later finding out that she had in fact experienced the pain of relinquishing a child. I came to this blog while in search of information about birth mothers and adoptees. I am also reading a book called "The Girls Who Went Away" in an effort to try to understand what my mother has gone through over the past 40 years. I am desperate to find my missing brother. She wants nothing to do with it. I believe it will be healing to her. Any insight from you wonderful women?

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  23. @ Lori, I was forced too and it's only been 7 months, September 28th, 2010 that's the day I surrendered. They said, you sign the papers or we will take your rights. That is also the day, I had seen him in 4 years (he's 7), his father had and lost custody to the state, he was in foster care and they refused to let me see him in 4 years. I guess I should count my blessings, I get pictures and updates. The thought still lingers though, were the two people that told me she beats her kids telling the truth, what am I supposed to do if it's true?

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