I have never been to Peru, but it has a connection to the adoption of Rachael's mother. When I was six months pregnant with Rebecca in the fall of 1966, I left my home in Fairbanks, Alaska, traveled down the west coast stopping in Juneau, the Canadian city of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and Seattle before settling in San Francisco where I knew no one.
I rented a room in a large apartment hotel in the tenderloin district. A few days after my arrival, another resident, Victor, saw me in the lobby and asked "Are you expecting?" I answered "yes", and turned away. Victor, concerned about my condition and taking pity on the obviously alone and pregnant young woman, insisted on talking to me every time he ran into me when I was going out or coming in. Eventually I got to know him, and we spent time together in his room talking and watching television or going out to dinner. One day we went to Lake Tahoe in Nevada. Victor was Peruvian, having come to the U.S. several years earlier. Now he worked as a waiter at an upscale restaurant.
Victor was my only friend--and on most days the only person I talked to--during the time I was in San Francisco, from early October until Rebecca was born in November. I did meet with a counselor from Crittenton a few times. When Victor learned I was planning to give up my baby, he was horrified. "How could you give away your own flesh and blood," he'd say, his voice rising.
"Victor," I'd answer, "you're from Peru; you don't understand. This is what we do in the U.S." I tried to convey, without saying as much, that we were more advanced than Peruvians; that at one time, single American mothers too kept their babies, but we knew better now. Victor offered to help me; suggesting we could get an apartment together although he was short of funds, an option that did not appeal to me at all as I had no romantic interest in him. I thought you had to be in love to consider the daring act of sharing an apartment with a person of the opposite sex. Although I had no idea how I could support myself and a baby, merely being poor was not driving the adoption. It was the shame and the absolute belief that this was how it was supposed to be.
In spite of his feelings, Victor remained my friend. He drove me to the hospital when I was in labor, visited me there, and drove me home, without my baby.
Later I realized Victor had it right, and I had it wrong. Giving your baby to strangers was not the mark of an advanced civilization, but of a culture gone terribly wrong.
If I had listened to Victor and kept Rebecca, she would not have been raised a Mormon, not have attended Brigham Young University, not have met her husband, not have had Rachael, Rachel would not have had a mission in Peru, and I would not be on my way there this month. The possibilities of what would have happened are endless. What did happen was that I gave up Rebecca, left San Francisco six weeks later, and went to my sister's home in Orange County, California. In the fall of 1967 I started law school at the University of Oregon where I met my wonderful husband. We married a year later and together have three fine daughters.
I've asked myself whether this was all planned in some way; the pain of giving up my daughter was the price to be paid for the good things that have happened in my life. My loss also gave my life a purpose which it would not otherwise have had: to work for adoption reform and the empowerment of women.
By coincidence (or design), last week I happened upon a copy of Thornton Wilder's classic tale The Bridge of San Luis Rey at Powell's bookstore in downtown Portland. The story is about five people in Peru who die when the bridge they are walking on collapses. A monk sets out to study their lives and determine if their deaths were an accident or an intention.
Of course there is no answer to the question, and as Wilder tells us, it doesn't matter::
"But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."I regret giving up my daughter; I am happy I have the family I have. I'm excited about my trip to Peru. As a side note, my mother knew Wilder when she was a grad student at the University of Chicago. That's the way it is.--jane
Shared Similarities: Family traits not erased by relinquishment or adoption
Letters Lead to an Alternative Universe Daughter
SUGGESTED READING/VIEWING TOO
The Bridge of San Luis Rey: A Novel "Now reissued in this handsome hardcover edition featuring a new foreword by Russell Banks. Tappan Wilder has written an engaging and thought-provoking afterword, which includes unpublished notes for the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, illuminating photographs, and other remarkable documentary material. Granville Hicks's insightful comment about Wilder suggests an inveterate truth: 'As a craftsman he is second to none, and there are few who have looked deeper into the human heart.'" --Amazon
Synchronicity and Reunion: The Genetic Connection of Adoptees and Birthparents
"This book has been extremely helpful in answering those questions and making sense out of the many coincidences I am discovering. There are others who have done studies and have their own opinions on the genetic connection, but unless you are an adoptee or a birth parent, you can never fully understand the impact or significance of this connection. Stiffler is a birth mother who has provided facts gleaned from both others' studies, and more importantly, her own personal life situation. Because of this, I highly recommend this book to all adoptees and birth parents."--Amazon reviewer
The L-Shaped Room is a 1962 British drama, pre-Pill, pre-legal abortion, which tells the story of a young French woman (her name is....Jane), unmarried and pregnant, who moves into a seedy London boarding house, befriending a young man in the building. She considers getting an abortion, but is unhappy with this solution. This is a link to the book; the movie can probably be purchased independently. Leslie Caron's performance in the movie won her the Golden Globe Award and BAFTA Award for best actress, and also earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for best actress.