' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: A first mother's point of no return

Monday, June 15, 2015

A first mother's point of no return

Jane in 1968
 Natural mothers have a date burned in their brains--the day events put them on the trajectory culminating in the loss of their child. It is the day they saw him leaning against the wall at a high school dance, the day they went to that party they really didn't feel like going to--and were raped, the day they had unprotected sex because he pleaded or they thought it was safe or they didn't know any better. Our destinies as childless mothers seem fated.

For me, the day was in 1965, when I decided to return to Alaska from graduate school in the South, intending to resurrect--or end--my relationship with Millard, the man who would become my surrendered daughter Rebecca's father.

I began dating Millard the summer before, right after I graduated from the University of Alaska. I was thrilled! He was thirty, more sophisticated than the college boys I had dated, a professional, fun to talk to, attractive--Warren Beatty
in Bonnie and Clyde reminded me of him. Within a few weeks. he asked me to marry him. I didn't accept or refuse. I went ahead with my plan to attend graduate school. True love would wait.

I was unhappy in graduate school -- the teachers and classes were fine, I made friends with fellow students. I soon realized, though, that spending hours in libraries writing papers that only a professor would read was not what I wanted. At the same time I began having doubts about Millard, troubling questions about his past relationships with women, his drinking, his lack of stability. He visited me over Christmas vacation and we took a trip to New Orleans. I hoped that by seeing him, my worries would dissolve but that did not happen.

We continued writing but his letters became less frequent. Then came a not unexpected "Dear Jane"
letter; he was involved with someone else. The letter was followed immediately by a phone call retracting it, followed by a letter, apologizing for his "aberration." Another phone call and a letter. Later I learned that the girl friend dumped him when he told her he had written to me breaking off our relationship.

I stayed in graduate school that summer of '65, It was insufferably hot; I escaped to the only air-conditioned place on campus I knew, the library and stared at the wall of my small carrel. My choices were stark. Stay in graduate school, struggling through literary details of interest only to academics, preparing for a college teaching career I didn't want. I thought of going to my mother's home in Chicago, but what would I do? Opportunities for women were limited then, only a year after the passage of the Civil Rights Act where the prohibition against gender discrimination in employment was inserted as a joke. Beyond these, I had a burning need to know what had happened, why the letters, the phone calls, I had to make sense of our relationship. It was like a cloth with frayed edges. I had to end it or mend it.

That hot summer, I reread several novel by Thomas Hardy which were to be the subject of my master's thesis. Like his ill-fated heroines--Tess Durbeyfield, Eustacia Vye, Fanny Robin--whatever I did would put me further on the course to loss.

I left the south and went to Chicago and spent several weeks there, visiting my mother and older sister who was unhappily married with a young daughter. I went to a see The L-Shaped Room with an old boy friend from high school.

I flew to Fairbanks on August 15, 1965; it was 30 years to the day that comedian Will Rogers lost his life when his plane crashed in Alaska, our flight captain told us. Things between Millard and me went badly from the first. A month later it was over, almost. I became pregnant in February.

Now the man who was so eager to marry me 18 months earlier could not look me in the eye. Neither of us were comfortable with abortion. I knew little about it except it was dangerous and illegal.  I have since become strongly pro-choice. I suggested a quick marriage and a divorce after the baby was born. Adoption, he insisted, was better. It would spare me the bother of a baby and save him the expense of child support. I could not fathom raising a child if I had not been married, if only for a brief time. Neither of us had a clue about what adoption was all about. I had to go somewhere where I was not known, give up the baby, and pretend nothing happened. The U. S. was at war, the streets were filled with protesters, "Make Love not War" was their mantra. The times were a changin' but not fast enough to save my daughter. White unwed mothers were still pariahs who could find salvation only by denying the evidence of their shame. If it had been 20 years or even ten years later, I would have had an abortion or we would have worked out an arrangement--common today--for custody and support without ever being married.

The somewhere I went in the fall of 1966 was San Francisco.  I rented a small room in an apartment hotel. "An l-shaped room" I told the social worker. She drew back and gasped. "you saw that movie!" My daughter was born in San Francisco ad taken away. It would be 31 years before I saw her again.

Before my reunion with Rebecca in 1997, I spent hours re-playing these events Why did I go back to Alaska? Why did I continue to have anything to do with Millard? Why didn't I walk out of the hospital with my baby? I have lived parallel lives, the present with my husband, children, career, and community activities, and the past forever frozen on the day I left my daughter in a San Francisco hospital. I still recall vividly these events of half a century ago but I have come to an acceptance, a reconciliation of sorts. After my reunion, the part of my life that was stuck in the past took a giant leap forward merging with my other life.--jane

As an aside, years ending in "5" seems to have more historical significance than other years--or perhaps I just notice it more. Eight hundred years since British Barons forced King John to sign the Magna Carta; 200 years after Napoleon met his Waterloo, the 150 years since Appomattox, 70 years since the end of the most destructive war in history; 60 years since the murder of Emmett Till sparked the civil rights movement, an event I remember well growing up in Chicago, 40 years since the ill-fated Saigon Babylift. --jane

TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES (illustrated, complete, and unexpurgated with the original 1891 illustrations)
"Thomas Hardy, another great Victorian novelist – or does the term “Victorian” suit him? Many of his books, not least “Tess,” shocked readers. Many of his protagonists are tragic figures, violating society’s preferences whether sexual, moral, or political; no comfortable bedtime reading here. Fortunately the condemnation some of Hardy’s novels evoked helped sales, and he continued to produce his enthralling and haunting works. This edition of “Tess” is well formatted and enhanced by the original illustrations. Truly a book to savor.--A reader at Amazon

Far from the Madding Crowd (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Classics)
"The themes of Far From the Madding Crowd have been copied for over 200 years now but it remains a prototype of the romance novel. It is beautifully written, well plotted, and descriptive of the rural countryside and times. But most of all it develops its characters to such a depth and understanding that the reader feels he knows them with all of their strengths and weaknesses. It stirs all emotions: tragedy, humor, hope, and despair. It may seem a bit trite to modern readers but this does not detract from my giving it a 5-star rating."--Amazon reader



  1. "Our destinies as childless mothers had begun..." The emphasis was so on our being unwed, noting the absence of a husband, but for us it wasn't the unwed mother title but the deeper truth...the childless mother. This blog is starkly beautiful. It's funny because my daughter's father and I were of an age...in fact, he was a few months younger, but it was still the same sad saga.

  2. Jane, that was lovely, I do not think I ever read your whole story before.So typical of the times in the mid-late 60s. Is Millard a real name or pseudonym? I thought my son's father had the weirdest first name ever, Nandor, he was born in Hungary and it is a Hungarian name:-) It did make him very easy to find when I looked for him years later. Had he ever offered to marry me I would have jumped at the chance, but I thought I was sort of engaged as he had given me a ring with diamonds for Christmas, not an engagement ring but still serious, and we had dinner at his parents house or mine every Sunday. It was a huge shock when I told him I was pregnant and he just broke up with me, said he did not love me, and had been seeing another girl on the side.

    I think we all go over and over all the "why did I do that, why didn't I do this? " Walking out of the hospital with the baby is the biggest one for me, why didn't I do that and call my Dad and he would have come and gotten us and that would have been the end of it? It is easy to drive yourself crazy going over the "whys?"but we can never go back and fix it.

    As to "merging with my other life" yes, the reunion did that, but now it is really happening with the events of this weekend, spending the day with Mike and Kris and learning that they are adopting a brother and sister from foster care. Talk about things coming full circle, wow! Today I got a picture of my future grandkids and they are really beautiful and they look happy and healthy and very comfortable with Kris and Mike. We will be seeing a lot more of them now, and maybe Mike will even want to meet his brothers. My son Dan who lives with us is delighted and saw the picture, and the little boy looks a lot like Dan's best friend from childhood who is black. I never could have imagined it all turning out like this in a million years. Life is certainly strange, and you never know the turns it will take. I do feel like the parallel lives have begun to come together though, and the long grief is over. Hearing my son say he loved me was like the sky opening and the sun shining through.

    1. Yes, his first name really is Millard. It gets worse. His middle name is Fillmore. He was named after his grandfather who was named after the president.

    2. maryanne, so happy to read about your and Mike's relationship. Glad I stopped by here today!

  3. What a defining statement - "White unwed mothers were still pariahs who could find salvation only by denying the evidence of their shame." Wow! Wearing the shame, for me, lasted 43 years. And like so many first moms, reunion brought me liberation. I no longer allow the term, "unwed mother" to define me. To now know and love my lost son is a healing balm. I see "times changing" but they will never change our past with the regrets of losing a child.
    Thank you, Jane, for sharing your story.

  4. Yikes, Jane:-) I have the same birthday as Millard Fillmore, which was always a joke!

  5. Thank you for sharing your story and a sense of those times that did not allow you to keep your baby. Your story is powerfully told - it made me want to reach back in time and change the course of events for you. If there is anything to be glad about, it is in the fact that you were able to reunite with Rebecca.

  6. Jane, your picture from '68 speaks volumes about the ''parallel life'' here but there... but where is she/there? Hugs! It is beautiful when the parallel / alternate universe comes together again. Healing.

  7. Just wanted to add that your 1968 picture is really sweet, Jane. We were all so young then, and vulnerable. I had a weird thought, the trouble you would get if you tried to put Millard Fillmore on the birth certificate as the father!:-) In NJ, I was told I could not name the father on the birth certificate as we were not married, don't know if that was the same everywhere then.

    1. I gave the person collecting birth certificate information his full name, Millard Fillmore XXX, II. I assume she put it on the birth certificate. I have never seen the OBC. I also gave his last name as my daughter's last name. This did not sit well with the adoption people. They put her name in their records as Rebecca middle name father's last name, aka Rebecca middle name, my last name.

    2. Was Rebecca able to find her first father because you told her his name? I imagine with his uncommon first and middle names he must have been fairly easy to find.

  8. Rebecca was able to find her father because San Francisco County social service which handled the adoption gave her an amazing amount of "non-identifying" information, more than I have ever heard of any agency giving out. They told her in which state her father and I lived at the time of conception, in which states we went to college and professional schools,what his profession was, and what years we were born. With this information and a few directories and year books she was able to find his name and address and my maiden name. She wrote to him and he responded.

    1. She obviously had a sympathetic individual giving out all the information. Up until the mid Sixties--I know this was two decades later--lots of agencies gave out information, did searches, etc. It was not considered pathological to be curious--whether you were the mother or child.

    2. Yes, the person was sympathetic.

  9. Jane, I don't remember your whole story, did your daughter find the natural father first? Why did she have to ask the agency for information you could have given her?

    1. Rebecca learned her father's name and address and my maiden name. She wrote her father in 1987 and he responded confirming that he was her father and I was her mother. He asked her not to write him again. Rather than trying to locate me, he referred her to a relative of mine by marriage. Things went awry and Rebecca and I did not connect until over ten years later. She contacted her father about that time and he agreed to meet her. She actually met him about a month before she met me.

  10. Jane, a lovely photograph and a marvelously told story. Though I've probably read every entry in the FMF archive, I don't think I'd ever seen your whole story before.

    Like Jay, I wanted to go back in time--as the intrepid ten-year-old I was that year--and rearrange the pieces on the game board to assure a different and non-heartrending outcome.

    Your story, plus Lorraine's, and every other mother's I've followed here has SO changed my point of view on the effect that adoption has on first mothers and adoptees that it even affects how I view contemporary fiction.

    I'll give you the most recent example: famed YA author Judy Blume, who also writes books for adults, just published a new novel titled In The Unlikely Event. It is based on real events that took place in Blume's home town of Elizabeth, New Jersey: in 1952, when Blume was an adolescent, three passenger planes crashed on approach to the nearby airport at Newark, profoundly affecting the lives of the townspeople as well as the unfortunate airline passengers.

    The narrator is an adolescent girl named Miri, whose beautiful mother never married. That meant in 1937, Miri's supportive grandmother "stepped up to the plate," in Blume's words, and cooked up some story about her daughter temporarily leaving town and marrying some boy who died. As fishy as this story sounds, nobody questions it, nobody looks down their nose at Miri's mother, etc. Instead of attending Douglass College (formerly the female side of Rutgers U.), the young mother commutes to Manhattan to work as a legal secretary while her mother cares for the child. Knowing what I know about just-barely-middle-class Jewish families of that era, it all just seemed so unlikely to me!

    Granted, I'm not one of the legion of Judy Blume worshippers, but I did find In the Unlikely Event to be far better plotted and written than her other books... except for that one significant detail. It made me roll my eyes and say, "Yeah, suuuure."

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Mrs. TB. I've never read any of Judy Blume's adult books but my children enjoyed her children's books. I tend to think the mother disappearing and pretending to have married a man who died is credible. You may recall "Peyton Place" which takes place in the late 1930's, A single mother holds herself out as a widow when in fact she was never married to her daughter's father who is married to someone else. And remember Loretta Young who claimed she had adopted a baby although the baby was her biological child. Women did get away with these stories or at least no one exposed them.

  11. True, those examples... but as in so many other fictional/nonfictional circumstances, the unwed mother with $$$ and/or familial support was so much more likely to avoid separation from one's child. It still makes me wince to think that Loretta Young had to fake an adoption to her very own child. Not to mention Young's having had Judy Lewis' prominent ears--legacy of father Clark Gable--"pinned back" surgically to lessen the resemblance!

  12. I still remember the first time I saw Mike's bio father. We were taking a class together in existential philosophy in college. He was leaning up against the soda machine during class break, and I went over and talked to him because I thought he was cute. He had a charming Hungarian accent, was obviously very bright and interesting and it was pretty much love at first sight on my part. He missed class the following week, but when he came back things moved pretty quickly from there. I still have the red granny dress I was wearing, not sure why I saved it but I did. I do not regret meeting him or loving him or the birth of our son,and do not think of our meeting as setting me on the path to losing our child. All that came much later. I do not remember the date, as I have an awful memory for numbers and don't find them important. Numerology is not my thing. I do not feel I was fated to surrender my child. All that was a horrible mistake, and senseless in the end; there was no benefit to me, my son, or his father. It is only now being unraveled and mended as much as can be done.



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