|Minka, her daughter, and granddaughter|
Minka's story as told by her granddaughter, Cathy LaGrow with Cinda Coloma in The Waiting, begins in 1928 when Minka joins her friends for a picnic and takes a walk around a nearby lake with a friend. Away from the other
girls, they are sexually assaulted by men they do not know. Minka becomes pregnant although she is unaware of it until her mother notices, knowing nothing about how babies come into the world. Their pastor arranges for Minka to stay at the Lutheran House of Mercy in Sioux Falls where she delivers her baby whom she names Betty Jane; she cares for her daughter for five weeks. At the time, mothers typically stayed at maternity homes with their babies until they were physically ready to resume their lives and the babies went to adoptive homes.
Although her baby was conceived in rape, Minka feels a deep love for her child. Before I met other first mothers after my reunion with my surrendered daughter Rebecca, I assumed that mothers who gave birth to children resulting from rape would have less feeling for these children; in fact, they might abhor their children. I soon learned from film maker Sheila Ganz, Bobbi Beavers, Maine representative to the American Adoption Congress, Australian activist Evelyn Robinson, and others who became pregnant from rape that these mothers have the same feelings for their children as other mothers do.
From the birth of her child on Minka, divides her life in two parts: "But to a seventeen-year-old girl in a hospital in Sioux falls, South Dakota, this year would be remembered as the one thing that irrevocably changed her life. Forever after, there would be a split. Her life before May 22, 1929. And her life after." I too compartmentalized my life in this way. Before Rebecca, after Rebecca. I had just turned 24 when Rebecca was born. I often thought that if it was to be be, how fortunate that I had had 23 years free of this pain. I felt for those women who gave up a baby at 16 or 17, who had so little "before" time.
Minka returns to the dairy farm and begins a correspondence with the staff at the Lutheran House of
Several years later, Minka meets a charming man, falls in love, and after a long courtship and separation while he serves during World War II, they marry and have a daughter and a son. The marriage is troubled; her husband suffers form shell shock and becomes alcoholic and abusive. She eventually leaves him and moves to California
Increasingly Minka turns to religion, joining evangelical churches and reading the bible. On May 22, 2006, her daughter's 77th birthday, Minka prays for her daughter as she has each year.
"And then she adds a new prayer. An impulsive prayer. An unreasonable prayer, one she'd never uttered before.
'Lord, I'd like to see Betty Jane again before I die. I won't bother her or interrupt her life. I just want to see what she looks like.
Please, Lord."This passage brought tears to my eyes.
At this point in the book, LaGrow takes up Betty Jane's life. She is raised by a loving family, first in Iowa, then in Minnesota, and finally in rural Wisconsin where she remains her entire life. Betty Jane, now Ruth, marries soon after high school and has six children, one of whom becomes the astronaut Mark Lee.
After Ruth has heart surgery in 2005, her second son Brian brings up the lack of a health history for her side of the family and asks her if she had ever thought about researching her adoption records to learn more about her birth family. "'Well, yes,'" she replied "'But I wouldn't know where to begin.'"
Brian offers to help. They learn that Ruth can have copies of Ruth's file from the Lutheran House for Mercy, now Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota, upon obtaining an order from a judge. The judge signs the order on May 22, the same day Minka prays to see her daughter. When Ruth and Brian receive the file, they find the letters Minka had written to the Lutheran House, sixty in all, and a treasure trove of other information. Through the Internet, Brian finds Minka's address and phone number. That evening Ruth and her mother are talking on the phone. The families exchange letters and pictures and on August 18, 2006 they all met a Minka's home in California.
"Never had she felt so complete. She'd carried the loss of her child through the many years until it was simply part of her, an ache she lived with through the decades. ... and now she was given new life, amplified." I remember when I first connected with my 31-year-old daughter Rebecca and had that same feeling of completeness. She too said that after our reunion, she "felt more complete."
Not surprising to those of us who have seen first mothers and their separated children together, the similarities between Minka and Ruth were remarkable.
"Brian ... noted how alike mother and daughter were--it was uncanny. Minka and Ruth were both hard workers who loved to serve others and always stayed on top of things. They had good instincts and could peg a person immediately. Although both were frugal, they loved to decorate themselves with jewelry. And during overlapping years, Minka had worked at Kmart and Ruth at Walmart. They even dressed alike, with no prior arrangement."Minka, Ruth, and their families became close. Minka passed away this June at the age of 102 after a short illness. While the years she had with her lost daughter and her family were precious, they were far too short. Minka and Ruth were apparently unaware of the possibility that they could find each other or even that they should try. Although the search movement began over forty years ago, I've met other mothers unaware of their right to search and of help that is available. Reunions remain in the shadows, something the media portrays as extraordinary. Let's hope that Minka's story encourages others to search. While reunions may bring pain as well as joy, they are, for many of us, preferable to to remaining in the dark.
Author Cathy LaGrow is the daughter of Minka's kept daughter. LaGrow knew nothing about her grandmother's secret and her aunt Ruth until the reunion. Through several years of tireless work, she was able to recreate the events and times, using papers from the Lutheran House file, interviews with the affected people, and research about the places involved, The book reads more like a novel than a biography, engaging the reader in the characters, transmitting their pain, sharing their joy.
Published by a Christian publisher, the book has received many positive reviews on Amazon and in the Christian media. So often, we in the adoption-reform community find ourselves talking only among ourselves. We are pleased that this story has reached a wider audience. It's well-written and an important addition to the historical record of adoption as practiced in 20th century America. --jane
The Waiting: The True Story of a Lost Child, a Lifetime of Longing, and a Miracle for a Mother Who Never Gave Up brings three generations of this most unusual family together over the course of a century to tell a story of faith that triumphs, forgiveness that sets us free, and love that never forgets.
Philomena, A forced adoption, a lifetime quest, a longing that never waned
Catelynn and Tyler--still grieving over the loss of their daughter