Monday, December 19, 2011

Forty-five years later, I still regret giving up my daughter.

Jane

Forty-five years ago today, December 19, 1966, I signed the papers giving up my month old daughter Rebecca. It was dark that Monday afternoon when I left the social worker’s office, the lights of nearby businesses and the street lights obscured by the ubiquitous San Francisco mist. Although the streets were crowded with holiday shoppers, I felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness. I had nowhere to go and nothing to do. I knew, though, that my life would go on in some fashion. I wanted to know what that was, to leap forward in time, to the place where my life would resume and the pain would stop. I wanted to know how I would look back on this day.

Rebecca was born November 17, 1966, a week before Thanksgiving. While in the hospital, I gave permission for her to go into foster care but could not sign the papers which would separate us forever. The following Monday, November 21, the social worker told me I needed to make a decision soon about keeping Rebecca. The longer I waited, the lesser her chances at being placed in a good home. The social worker told me of a couple who would be perfect for her, but the couple wanted a child under a month old.

'IF YOU LOVED YOUR CHILD, YOU'D GIVE HER UP'
I spent Thanksgiving week in my rented room in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. The Monday after Thanksgiving I registered with a temporary job agency and spent the next few weeks working at menial clerical jobs, trying to take my mind off the baby. In the evenings, I argued with myself, one voice parroting social worker maxims that I had heard on countless soap operas and read in true romance magazines: “Your baby needs a mother (pause) and a father. If you loved your child, you’d give her up. You’ll forget and get on with your life.” Another voice shouted back, “Do not go gently. Rage, rage at this unnatural act.” Then the questions. “How can I care for her? How can I face my family?” If I can't manage my own life (the baby was proof of that), then I couldn't raise a child. I had cheated by having a baby while unmarried and didn't deserve such a beautiful child. I even questioned why I was struggling. Mothers give up their babies all time,” I thought. What was wrong with me that this is so hard?” I stared at the wall, my questions unanswered. I wrote to the baby's father, begging for help but got no answer.

On Friday, December 16, my 30 day reprieve (as I thought of it) was up. I left work early and called the social worker from a neighbor’s phone. I’ll sign the papers,” I told her. “I’m worried that the baby [I couldn’t bring myself to say ‘my daughter’] won’t get any Christmas presents.” I agreed to come to her office on Monday, December 19. After I arrived, an assistant who was a notary brought in the documents and stood next to the social worker as I signed them without reading them. The assistant notarized them, picked them up, and walked out of the office. My muscles tensed; I wanted to spring up and stop her. I followed her with my eyes and said nothing.

As I got up to leave, the social worker asked. "How do you feel?" "Terrible," I answered. "You're making plans for your baby," she said soothingly. "No, I'm not; you are," I retorted, an small act of defiance giving full expression to my sense of powerlessness as I walked out the door into the mist.  

As 1966 merged into 1967, I thought of Rebecca constantly. I tried to comfort myself thinking of the joy my daughter brought to the perfect couple who I imagined was childless. A child, a blessing, just in time for Christmas. I pictured them taking photos of her propped up under the Christmas tree, wrapped in a soft pink blanket or perhaps a big stocking .

Thirty-one years later, when Rebecca and I reunited, I learned that she had not been placed in her adoptive home until the middle of January and that the adoptive family had three children, two by adoption and one au natural. Rebecca has no photographs of herself for the first two months of her life.

I left San Francisco for my sister’s home in Southern California in January, 1967, about the time Rebecca went to her adoptive home. As the days passed, I was able to think of the future in a concrete way, and a year later, enrolled in law school. The future brought a career, a great husband, and three other fine daughters.

STUCK IN THE PAST
Over the next three decades, I lived in the present for the most part but a part of me stayed on December 19, 1966. I re-played that day over and over. Sometimes I imagined that if I concentrated hard enough, I could change the events. I told the assistant to stop and give me back the papers.

Since my reunion with Rebecca, I am less focused on changing the past although I will always regret giving her up. The reunion allowed me to pick up the fragments of my life left in the social workers office and live more fully in the present. 

Today life is generally good.  I’m going Christmas shopping for the three daughters I raised, my two grandchildren who live nearby, and my husband. I sent Rebecca a Christmas card, but no presents for her or her children at her request. This past weekend, I enjoyed a visit from one of her daughters. Rebecca called to thank me for hosting her daughter and we had a nice chat.

I know that some of our readers are not so fortunate--that their child or their parent has refused contact or ended a relationship. My heart goes out to them.

__________________________________________
A First Mother remembers: My Adopted Daughter's first Christmas gifts.

35 comments :

  1. Jane, a story all too familiar with many of us here. Unfortunately we can't go back.

    But after reading the first comment, I am looking for the "like" button.

    Thanks, Jane and Megan. You are both awesome and have made my Christmas a little brighter.

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  2. Thanks for telling your story...which is sad for me but good to hear. I was born Nov. 16 relinquished and spent my first Christmas...somewhere. I don't know who I was with.

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  3. I remember those days as well... only I spent them falling completely apart. I get it. Holidays are really hard.

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  4. Jane, thank you for sharing your story. Reading it was heart-warming and gut-wrenching all at the same time. I could feel your emotion in my heart and know the love you have for your daughter.

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  5. Thank you for your post. I will have the 45th anniversary of 'the signing' in March. We are reunited and have a 'good' relationship, but it will never be 'fixed.' Knowing my Marc is a blessing.

    Holidays are super hard because we never get to be part of theirs! Thank you for helping us through.

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  6. Boy, Jane - you had me back on June 2, 1969... That's exactly how I felt when I signed those papers!!
    But, unfortunately, my daughter wants no contact with me, since I contacted her in 2007. I have "gone on with my life" since then, but still have hope she will change her mind!
    I wanted to wish all FMF posters and readers a Very Merry and Bright Christmas!!

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  7. I'm listening to Lady Antebellum while reading this post and crying my eyes out. I'm so sorry for your pain and for all the pain that adoption causes.

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  8. I don't remember the exact day. I just remember it was spring and a lot nicer outside than it was supposed to be--blue sky, sunshine, the works--while inside I was a pea soup of fog and depression.

    And I too soon after got a job through a temp agency. I bet a lot of us did. While I looked for a job as a reporter I worked as a receptionist at an office-furniture outlet in Rochester. The first job the temp agency offered was as a proof-reader at the very newspaper where I had been a reporter before I showed, five months earlier. Talk about irony.

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  9. I don't remember the date. My daughter was born in April 69' and they said they would do me a favor and waive the 30 day waiting period because I was from out of state. Big favor.
    A few months later I lost my stepfather to lung cancer. I had already lost my father when I was 1 1/2 during the Korean War.
    If I remember right I first worked as a waitress. Then I ironically or not worked in the same hospital in which my daughter was born. I didn't leave the state until the next Spring. My boyfirend had dumped me the prior Christmas Eve when I was pregnant. I had a new boyfriend (still together after 42 years) and we left for California. Never told my Mom until we got there. I was hoping to leave it all behind. We all know how well that worked.

    My daughter and I are reunited and in a strong, thruthful relationship. But like Jane the regrets are still there everday.

    Wishing you all peace and love this season and thanking you all for your part in my healing.

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  10. Hi Lo,
    Like you, I,too, do not remember the exact day; nor do I recall any details related to the signing and I don't have a clue about what the weather was like outside. Everything is just a big blur. Shortly after the fateful day, I moved back home with my dad and grandma as I didn't have a way to support myself and I got a job working as a waitress at a nearby restaurant.

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  11. As an adoptee, I thank you for this post...really.

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  12. I adopted my son two years ago. Since then, I have read more about what birthmothers go through. This particular post moved me deeply. I always have intended to honor my agreement to send photos and updates to my son't birthmother twice a year, but I am now even more determined to do so. In fact, I am going to send updates more frequently than twice a year. I am sorry you have suffered so much, Jane.

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  13. Only sending more updates? From the context I assume that they are not for the nurses in the orphanage.

    So what stops you from deciding that you do no longer accept the validity of the relinquishment, what does stop you from trying to reunite your son with his bloodkin now?

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  14. This probably doesn't have any relation with the actual thread, but if I may ask; I am an adoptee, I would prefer NO contact with my birth mother. We tried to have some kind of relationship several times and I still don't feel comfortable with it. I got married, had children of my own and to be honest all I cared about was getting medical information and medical history. My birth mother refused to accept that and still wants to be a part of my life even though I have told her no. She sent gifts that I didn't want or like, call and message me about her family and her feelings. I have a wonderful family and although my adopted parents and I don't see eye to eye all the time they love me unconditionally and I love them. My birth mother has told me that I was "stolen" from her, but I don't see it that way in any shape or form. I feel as if she gave up on me. I am having a really hard time trying to have a relationship with someone that I feel let me go. Now my birth mother feels that I am miserable and I'm just lying to myself about who I am. How can she say that when she doesn't even know me? I am furious with her because she came to this conclusion on her own. She constantly bad mouths my adopted parents and that infuriates me to no end. She says that I have hurt her by saying no to her, but she has failed to see what she did to me. She asked me if I was ok with her taking in other children and although I understand there are children that need a loving stable home, I felt jealous because I felt that she wanted to replace me, I felt that she wanted to give the other children something that she should have given me. Even though I am some what over it now, I'm still upset that she continues to bad mouth me making me seem as the ungrateful B**** that stomped on her heart, yet she fails to notice the scar of her heel on my heart that she left many years ago. I didn't tell her all this because I didn't feel it was my place to say anything to her.

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  15. Theodore, you wrote, "So what stops you from deciding that you do no longer accept the validity of the relinquishment?"

    My son's birthmother did not want to keep him and did not want to have any future contact with him (other than photos). Her own lawyer told me, "If you don't adopt him, she'll put him in foster care until someone else adopts him." I insisted that her lawyer press her about the possibility of visitation, but she said she did not want to see her son again.

    Advocates for birthmothers lose credibility when they suggest adoptive mothers simply return their children to sender.

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  16. Thank you for checking back in, Anon, and responding. The world is made up of all kinds of situations and people. You sound like your heart is in the right place and your are doing the best by your child.

    Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah.

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  17. Dear Lorraine, thanks for the nice post in response to my post. Merry Christmas to you, too!

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  18. Thank you Jane for this post. I remember the day I signed the papers, not through a social worker, but at the Los Angeles County Courthouse, like it was yesterday. It was early July, sunny and hot. My son never went to foster care because I refused to sign him out of the hospital until his a-parents came for him. I envisioned him languishing in foster care, while the attorneys sought the highest bidder. It was my only act of dissention during the process.

    If only... those words have run through my mind constantly for 41 years. And yes, I have always regretted that I didn't find a way to keep him.

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  19. I was going to stay away from this forum for awhile-need a break. It is dredging up all the painful negative feelings to the point I have been sick. My son still isn't talking to me, but his wife sent me a Christmas card with the cutest picture of my son,her, and my adorable little granddaughter at Disneyworld(She looks just like my son) I remember the day I signed the f'ing papers- an evening in February. I had been asking for my son back for almost 4 months and the social worker finally got me by saying that if I didn't sign the papers soon my baby was going to remain in foster care and not bond with anyone. That-combined with my fear and insecurity about being responsible for another person and general feelings of worthlessness led to my signing. It was just me and the social worker in an empty office in an empty building over the Dept of Motor Vehicles-not a good place to sign relinquishment papers-at 7:30 or later one evening. No witnesses-no copies of the papers. My car battery died on the way there and a man jump-started me. I should have taken that as an omen saying"You don't want to do this. Don't do it!" I'm having trouble forgiving myself. My only excuse is I was never and still am not good at handling stress. But I'm trying to channel all the energy from this into some research I am doing-it is truly a great escape from all the pain.

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  20. Jane,
    "How can I face my family?”

    Did your family not know that you were pregnant?

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  21. OK, Anonymous, I would rather see myself as an advocate against birthmother-hood. The good news is that there is a good chance your son's mother will have a change of mind in the following years.
    Taking adoption a bit Roman style, or to try and re-unite the bloodrelatives, is not the same as returning children to sender,but not everybody shares the same philosophy and view of adoption.

    Other Anonymous, maybe your son would agree to have you as grandmother for his daughter?

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  22. Robin,
    When I became pregnant I was living in Fairbanks, Alaska near my aunt and uncle who had paid for me to go to college there. They were aware of the pregnancy but did not want me to tell anybody including other family members. I also did not want anyone to know.

    My father was dead. My mother, two sisters, and my brother lived in Illinois where I grew up. My oldest sister lived in Southern California. My mother passed away in 1988 without ever knowing about Rebecca. My siblings learned about her in 1998 after we reunited.

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  23. To Anon who doesn't want a relationship with her birth mother,

    Thanks for sharing with FMF.
    Although you didn't ask for advice, let me tell you what I think may be going on with your birthmother and how you might improve the situation.

    I urge you to have some patience with your birth mother. She likely means well but doesn't know how to go about developing a relationship with you. She gives you gifts to get your attention not realizing that this turns you off. She bad mouths your adoptive parents because she sees them as rivals and wants to have you for herself. She thinks that if you understand that she was forced to give you up, you will not hold the adoption against her and you will be more sympathetic and responsive to her.

    I'd guess too that she has no one else to talk to about the pain she has suffered so she lays it on you, thinking you will or should understand. At the same time, she likely does not understand that adoption takes its toll on adoptees as well as on birth mothers.

    Although you say you don't want any relationship with her, I suspect you would accept a relationship if she changed her behavior. And, unless you stay in contact, you may not be informed when serious medical issues come up.

    I suggest that you tell her how you feel. You might even send her what your wrote here. The two of you might agree to explore adoption together. Start by reading books by adoptees and birth mothers--one of B. J. Lifton's would be good--and agree to discuss the books. You might suggest she join a support group where she could learn from other birth mothers and adoptees.

    If you're not comfortable with any of this, tell her you want a breather but don't lock the door.

    Perhaps other readers could offer suggestions?

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  24. Jane and Anon

    Jane, I am a birth mother (first mother) and I thank you for your explanation. I think you explained how I feel, perfectly. It's so hard to know how our children feel, we only know how we feel, and it's so true, I have never sent my daughter gifts but do not think I haven't thought about it or wanted to. I have never bad mouthed my daughters Aparents, i want to think of them as wonderful people but there is always going to be some feelings of discomfort for me.
    I have not met my daughter, however we have been writing, for a few years now. So many mixed feeling, but After reading Anon letter, I understand her feeling so much more clearly, except for a few difference, Anon sounds so much like my daughter. We were having a great letter writing relationship, then she put on the breaks. I am not saying that I didn't push at times, asking her about feelings or telling her mine which may have been a mistake but I had no one to get advice from.
    I am taking things day by day and not a day goes by that I do not think about her, I have backed off. She has not closed the door completely or locked it but I do not have a good feeling that this will move forward any time soon. I really appreciate this blog as it has helped me read the feelings of other birth moms and children. I see there are so many other moms like me, that share the same feelings, I also get to see the feeling of children, this helps me to understand my daughters feeling, she may not have shared her feelings with me but reading what other children have written, It as though she has written the blog herself.

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  25. I never for one moment thought I could keep my son. I had no way of supporting him and his father didn't want him (early pregnancies are so socially tacky).

    I lost a lot of weight early in my pregnancy and so the day I signed my papers was thrilled I could get into my clothes with room to spare. It was a beautiful day in Texas in Feb. I signed the papers in the drawing room at the agency (old home). It was very civilized. A week later I flew 1500 miles home.

    I numbed myself and stayed that way for the next 30 some years.

    When I found him we emailed and phoned for over 4 years. Then I went to where he lived for a week, staying with a cousin. It was very intense. The last day I was there, I knew I would never see him again. And I haven't.

    At first I was torn apart and angry. Now I can understand a bit and am resigned.

    I think it is very hard being an adoptee and trying to deal with all these emotions, personalities, and histories that are only partially and tangentially yours. Suddenly there are people in your life who are emotionally explosive and confused. I had to learn to grieve in the middle of this. It was horrible.

    As a professional woman, my standing and position were hard won, not to be crapped on by some younger male who wasn't doing so well himself. There were lots of nasty triggers for both of us.

    He had worked hard to have independence and was marrying a woman disliked by the apars. He still needed them financially.

    The pain of it all led me to walk away from the whole adoption scene (who can forget Kim at Pitt) until a year ago. I think I am about ready to go again. Now I have a better appreciation for where he was (maybe is) and can accept it.

    This isn't easy.

    I thank all the people everywhere who are willing to talk about their adoption as a human process and experience instead of a fairy tale or a stream of denial. May we all learn and grow.

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  26. "Mothers give up their babies all time,” I thought. What was wrong with me that this is so hard?”

    Wow, what a mindF***. It's hard for me coming from a later generation to really believe that society made you think it was so easy for women to give up their babies. Effing unbelievable.

    Also, I want to comment on the fact that I have noticed from several of you first mothers that you think you were somehow weak for capitulating and relinquishing your children. I don't think you were weak, I think you were incredibly strong. Being dumped by the father of your child, in many cases not even telling your family and facing society's scorn. I don't know how anyone could get through something like that.

    P.S. I hope you understand what I am saying here. I am not saying you were so brave, heroic, etc. the way the adoption industry uses those terms nowadays to try to get a surrender.

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  27. Thank you Robin. We were brave. We were strong. But it was like the strong bravery of a Nazi soldier. Taking orders. Being true to our country (families). Marching, marching, marching. Only looking ahead.
    I was told this was best for my child and was willing to do anything for the one I loved most in the world.
    I wish our children realized that we didn't give up on them, we were told to give up on ourselves.

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  28. Hi Jane,
    Thank you for sharing, Jane. Yes, I always felt like relinquishing my daughter was WRONG, even though everybody told me it was the right thing to do. About a year and a half ago I "reunited" with my daughter's father and we have been able to talk about the day I went to court to sign the papers, etc. I have blanked most of that day out and only remember being in a large room and a judge saying that I would not be allowed to contact my daughter again FOREVER. That word forever crashed into my mind and lodged there and, really, that's all I remembered about that day. Nearly 40 years later, my ex-boyfriend told me that when he asked me about the court (he wasn't allowed to be there), I said, "It was horrible, and I don't want to talk about it." Not long after that, I got the papers from the agency that showed my relinquishment and my mother - who was with me - told me that the judge called her into his chambers twice to ask if I was being coerced - which of course I was - because I seemed so distressed. No one ever spoke to me about that or told me my legal rights. I didn't understand, at the age of 17, that I had a right to say no. Like you, I have replayed that day many times and imagined myself jumping up and screaming no, when they asked if I agreed to relinquish my daughter for adoption.

    Today, I am in a "silent" period with my daughter. She hasn't communicated with me in over a year. I have hope that this silence will end some day, but if it doesn't, at least we had 9 years in reunion, however challenging that reunion was at times.

    Thank you again for sharing your story. If only more people would listen to all of our stories, then maybe, just maybe, this institution of adoption would be reformed or abolished.

    Angela W.

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  29. Yes, Robin,
    It was a mindF*** The sad thing is that women are still drinking the kool-aid with the added sweetener "with an open adoption, you'll won't suffer the way women did in the dark ages."

    I was in a support group about ten years ago and a mother who had surrendered her son a couple of weeks earlier came to the meeting. She had been referred by the adoption agency "to get over the two-week hump." "What about the forty year hump?" we blurted out.

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  30. Aoril 14,1966 at the moment of his birth the Dr cut his cord
    and nurse rushed him out of the delivery room. The Dr and
    hospital were paid by my private insurance (stepdads). I am assuming the worker was called when I entered hospital. How else would they know to take him from me sight unseen. I also never held my baby. I saw him again 26 years later for the first time! I was stayed on a floor away from nursery. I delivered at 2 am the following morning worker was at my bed when I opened my eyes. She had a paper that needed to be signed giving Loa Angeles County of Adoptions the right to put my baby in their care. I was NOT told he would be fostered. I was NOT asked or told that I had a chance to keep him. That the worker could help me his mother so we could stay together. She was NOT helping me but the woman who adopted my son. Also, I was alone in my room when she took my underage signature. Only her and I no notary, no nurse not even my legal parent. They knew they had to get me signed while still under the anesthesia. Talk about fraud and coercion. There was no court, no judge, I guess having my son at sixteen made me legal to sign life altering papers. When I think how underhanded and deceitful this social worker was and allowed to do this without me being represented by counsel.

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  31. Thank you Anonymous and everybody who has posted here BECAUSE IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO TELL OUR STORIES. Because we have hidden ourselves and our experiences, no one knows about them. To not be the forgotten women of the Baby Scoop Era we need to make a big noise, and put down our experiences so that adoptive parents, prospective adoptive parents, social workers and legislative aides can find them when they do their homework.

    Compared to the stories I read about relinquishment, mine was at least handled by a comforting person who did not seem anxious for me to give up my baby, or urge me to do so. She understand the awful situation I was in; she called the father at work to tell him I had delivered a daughter. So while the outcome was the same--I gave up my precious baby--it was done at least without the kind of horrors that some have related here.

    I hope at least some of you will take the next step and if you live in a state with sealed birth records, please take a moment and write to your state senator and representative. We can move mountains, but it takes a lot of us.

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  32. Jane, I just wanted to say a belated thanks for sharing your story and for continuing to blog about your perspectives on adoption.

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  33. Jane: "Mothers give up their babies all time, I thought. What was wrong with me that this is so hard?”

    Robin: "Wow, what a mindF***. It's hard for me coming from a later generation to really believe that society made you think it was so easy for women to give up their babies. Effing unbelievable."


    I think, with a new empathic pain for him, that this is what my son must also think.

    Looking back now, at 50, to my younger 16 year-old pregnant self, I'm aghast at the kind of world that surrounded my unplanned pregnancy.

    I thought I was an individual, trying my best to work out what to do for my baby. Only years later, talking or listening to other first mothers and hearing the same wording used against them, the same tactics, did I see that me and my little one were part of something bigger. Snared in something much bigger.

    The dawning of this was gradual but it has still been the biggest shock of my life.

    It truly, truly was a midf*ck.

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