When my surrendered daughter, Rebecca, was born in 1966 white mothers commonly pressured their daughters to give up their babies. Others flat-out refused to help, threatening "If you bring that baby home, you can't live here." Between World War II and Row v. Wade, adoption was THE solution for unwed pregnancies in white middle-class families. These grandmothers-to-be were not unkind; they had bought into adoption mythology and firmly believed that adoption was the best for all concerned.
"No," I answer, "she didn't know about the pregnancy." I add quickly, "I am sure my mother would have helped me; she would not have wanted her grandchild to go to strangers.
My answer comes as a surprise. Then the follow up question: "Did she ever find out?"
"No, she passed away never knowing."
At my mother's funeral in 1988 a few days before her 82nd birthday, regret that I had worked to suppress for almost 22 years burbled up. I was overwhelmed with guilt and sadness. I had deprived my mother of knowing all her grandchildren. At the same time I was thankful she had never found out that I had relinquished a child; it would have been a terrible blow for her to learn that I had not gone to her in my time of need.
My mother, Helen Rummons, was no milk-and-cookies mother. Born in the early 20th century, she came of age in the jazz age, when women got the vote and challenged every convention. She never adjusted to being a post World War II housewife. Cleaning and cooking was left to my grandmother (Granny), Clara Rummons, my mother's mother, who lived with us. My mother read to her five children, played card games with them, took them to church, events, plays, museums, parks--and later, when her second marriage failed, worked as a high school teacher.
|Grandmother Clara Rummons|
My mother was an excellent student and a determined poet, receiving recognition for her work at a young age. She graduated from the University of Nebraska at 19 and the following year, 1926, she began graduate work in Latin and Greek at the University of Chicago. My grandmother moved with her to Chicago.
|Helen Rummons Schaible|
My mother resumed her poetry after her children left home. With the assistance of one of my sisters, she self-published four books of poetry and prose.
|First Mother Ceres|
Like most children, I suppose, growing-up I did not appreciate my mother. At times, I desperately wanted to be in a "normal" family like I saw on the TV at the neighbor's. (We didn't get a TV until 1957; they cost too much and my mother thought the quality of the programs was poor). Even without a TV, I watched too many family sit-coms. One of the reasons for giving up my daughter was so that she would have a "normal" family like on TV-- two parents, a successful dad and a stay-at-home mom.
Over the years, though, I've come to realize that I was fortunate in the growing up that I did have. Unlike many women of my generation, I did not have to struggle against being trapped in the life of a 1950's household because I had never been in one. Of course I would go to college; of course I could have a profession. Of course I could discuss something other than fashion or make-up or how to get stains out of clothes.
More deeply, I realized that no matter how difficult it was for my mother, she was always there for us. Her commitment created an unbreakable bond in our family. My siblings and I have had reunions since 1975; we get together--all of us, spouses, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, every three years for a week. We began at one of our homes, but now that our family is greatly enlarged we stay in hotels or camp in national parks. Everyone looks forward to these reunions. Reunions like ours are rare I've learned. While many families have reunions, it is often an obligatory, one day affair.
My grief for my lost daughter was acute during these get togethers; I was painfully aware that I was living a lie, that someone was missing. Since our reunion Rebecca has come to a couple of our reunions. I hope she comes to more.
In the summer of 1997, I was helping Amy, the oldest daughter of the three I raised, plan her wedding. I opened my mother's books, thinking I might find a poem suitable for the wedding. As I read the poems, I was consumed with sadness at the thought that Rebecca might never know of her grandmother's poems. Rebecca and I reunited several months later and I shared the books with her. In the fall of 1998, my sisters and I endowed a sonnet contest named for my mother run by Poets and Patrons of Chicago. Rebecca lived near Chicago and came to the ceremony honoring my mother, the only one of my children to do so.
I regret not asking my mother for help. I think though that perhaps in a perverse way it was the tough-mindedness I inherited from her--or learned by her example--that caused me not to ask.
A poem my mother wrote shortly before her death in 1988.
There will be a time for remembrance, a
time for being forgotten.
My children will remember--those dear
Perhaps they'll get together as we did when
I was alive.
Perhaps they'll speak of me, with smiles,
I hope, not tears.
They must go on into the unguessed years.
May the bright bird of joy, with
Fly ever before them, flashing into the sun.
Let foolish things I said and careless
I did sometimes, mellow in their
Do not ask whether the race was lost or
Say only, if you can, "it was well run."
Helen Lacy Rummons Schaible
1906 - 1988
Poets and Patrons
Family Reunions: Distorted by Adoption
Can feminism be hereditary?
To understand ourselves, we must know where we came from
Normal in one family may be seen as abnormal in another