Kept people have birth stories. These stories include prequels like “how I met your mother” with all sorts of evidence in the form of pics, vids, and even eye witness accounts.
Adopted people do not have birth stories. At least not those of us from the Baby Scoop Era of secrecy and shame. We have acquisition stories. The procedural lists our adoptive parents were given. Lists of hoops they had to jump through. Fee schedules for adoption agencies and lawyers, leading up to the thrill-filled event of the hand off in an office somewhere, and our arrival in our new homes where strangers were tasked with the chore of establishing bonds with a baby, who is already bonded to someone else.
One of the things I had hoped searching for my natural mother would do is provide me with a birth story. A real one. Not the adoption journey story that fills that gap currently, but one like the story I tell my daughter.
My adoptive mother tells a story that is really about her finding resolution at the end of her infertility journey.
“The day the letter arrived from the adoption agency telling us you were on the way, I was helping your aunt and uncle move into their new house. You remember that house, don’t you? The letter was waiting for me when I got home. I remember the date because it was the same day Kennedy died. Everyone was so sad, but I was so happy.”
My adoptive parents collected me from the orphanage where Catholic Charities had their offices. The director handed me to her. The director who was my adoptive dad’s high school friend. There was a stop off at their parish church to get me baptized right after, and picture of me under the Christmas tree with a little bow on my blanket as soon as they got me to their house.
“It was so cold that day, and you cried and cried,” she said. “And then we brought you home.”
I have often wondered why they had me baptized thesame day. I think it was so they had a document with my new name on it right away. Like a title to a new car.
But that’s been my “birth story” all my life.
The story I would piece together on my journey to reunion was a different kettle of fish from the story I’d grown up with, and the one I was hoping to find.
My natural parents met in high school. Dad had dropped out for a year but decided to return to finish his senior year and get his diploma. Mom was in her first year.
I have asked my dad, but he doesn’t remember the circumstances of their meeting given the decades, two wives. and a multitude of children in between. He just remembers she was kind and liked to dance. They dated for almost two years. Her family did not approve of him. He was poor, but he was also not Catholic, and my mother’s family prided themselves on their cafeteria Catholicism. He rode a motorcycle in a “gang”. Raced cars. He says it’s not as romantic as it sounds but admits the life he and my mom led as teens was probably more American Graffitti than not. Cruising. Drive ins. The swimming hole at the quarry. Parties that lasted all weekend long when someone’s parents were away.
Mom broke up with him quite suddenly in early 1963 to date the best friend of her older brother, according to my dad’s version of the story. Mom died in 2014. She never told my younger brother about me, so there was never an opportunity to get her side of things.
I can believe she broke up with him. I suspect it was under family pressure. Her brother and his wife didn’t approve of my dad. Her parents found him unsuitable as a future husband. It says a lot about her, and her situation, that she defied them for so long.
However, my parents continued to “hook up”.
“We’d meet at Dave’s house on the weekends. His parents had a cottage at the lake and went there all the time.”
My uncle’s wife tells the story of them finding out my mother was pregnant this way.
“We had went to tell Carol she was going to be a grandmother, and she just nodded at Janet and said, ‘Well guess who else is pregnant?'”
This story, however, makes no sense because my cousin is two months older than I am. My mother is unlikely to have realized she was pregnant at the point which my Uncle and his wife were announcing their own.
The truth is still part fact and part fill in the gap with the most logical guesses for me, but I know my mom didn’t graduate from high school. There are plenty of clues pointing to the fact she fully expected to do so and her pregnancy derailed it totally.
At some point, it became clear to her she wasn’t going to be able to marry my father. He claims he knew nothing about her pregnancy and for the moment, I am taking him at his word. So the story as I am going to relate, is based on his not knowing.
My mother had what was known as a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized, which is why she didn’t graduate as she intended. She wasn’t able to finish the last month of school and, of course, my grandparents preferred allowing her to be labelled a drop-out rather than asking the school to allow her to finish up her remaining coursework while she was recovering.
What I know about being hospitalized for depression is that you need to be a danger to yourself before they take that step. So it’s very likely my mom was suicidal. When I asked my cousin how her mom and dad didn’t know my mother was hospitalized, she offered up a variety of excuses, but there’s really no universe in which your baby sister threatens to kill herself and your parents don’t let you know about it.
My best guess, based again on the information I have, and what I know about my mother’s family and their attitudes, is that my mother was told my father didn’t want to marry her. She was then told she had to put me up for adoption and to drive that point home, she was told the family would in no way support her if she tried to keep me.
At three month pregnant, my mother was put in a home for unwed mothers run by Catholic Charities in a city over an hour away from where she lived. There was a Catholic Charities home in her hometown, and I know this because my younger adoptive brother was born there, but for appearances sake, it was unlikely her family would have considered it. They didn’t want people to know.
People, of course, knew. Girls who “went away” were pregnant, and everyone knew it.
My mother spent the remainder of her pregnancy alone and under the supervision of a psychiatrist. The latter was a good idea, but when the adoption search social worker at Catholic Charities told me about this, and the quite severe depression my mom suffered while she was there, I was appalled at how ethically challenged and completely immoral that was. She was clearly in no frame of mind to be making any decisions about me, and yet they let her do it anyway. Encouraged her probably. It’s disgusting, and I don’t know how anyone involved could look at themselves a mirror and think they were doing “god’s work” unless their god was some sort of monster.
Least you think still believe Catholic Charities was a charity, and not a child trafficking organization for profit, the maternity home was a ward in the hospital overseen by the Catholic church. The teens and young women were monitored and if they couldn’t afford the room and board ($145 a month, which is $1,329. 81 in today’s money), they were given jobs in the hospital to work off their debt. My younger sister’s natural mother recalls being made to work in the laundry. According to the information I have, my mom probably worked in the cafeteria as she apparently designed the holiday place mats for Thanksgiving that year. The social worker told me my mom was very worried she wouldn’t be able to pay off her debt to Catholic Charities as she still owed them money at the time of my birth. All I can think about is what a bunch of fucking, money-grubbing ghouls. Planning the whole time to sell me and making my mom pay them for the privilege of having her baby disappeared forever into someone else’s family.
Four days after I was born, my mother signed away her parental rights. The social worker thinks she probably saw me. Maybe even spent time with me. This was not common as babies were generally taken away right after birth and most mothers had no idea of their babies genders even. But, my mother named me, which is a clue to the fact she likely saw me. At least once.
My mother also left a lot of breadcrumbs in the information that is in the adoption file I am not allowed by law to access personally. Information about her family and my father’s family, which proved invaluable when I was using Ancestry to try and track her down.
My adoption was finalized 14 months after I was born. Unlike some adoptees, aside from the 12 days in the orphanage, I was never in foster care. I went straight to my “forever” home. Like a puppy.
My mother was taken to the Greyhound station where she put herself on a bus and travelled home without me. I don’t know if anyone was waiting to pick her up. Maybe. Both her parents visited her at intervals while she was in the maternity home. Her parents were separated. Had been for years. I am not sure how united they were in making sure she couldn’t keep me, but it appears to be one of the few things they agreed on.
Not quite a year after I was born, my mom married. He was a musician. His band, in fact, is in the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is technically my younger brother’s father but according to newspaper accounts, mom was running around partying with other guys (she was picked up at the quarry swimming hole for underage drinking) the summer my brother was conceived and subsequent newspaper articles citing her ex-husband as a deadbeat who wasn’t paying child support appear to support the fact he didn’t father my brother at all.
It’s not at all unusual for natural mothers in the Baby Scoop Era to go on and have another “illegitimate” child fairly soon after the one they were forced to give away. That was my mom and my younger adoptive brother’s mom too. His mother had another boy just two years later, whom she also gave away. But it’s also not unusual for mothers to never have any other children.
According to my brother and my cousin, my mom went into a depression every year right before my birthday. Of course, my brother never knew why, and she never told him. Every year though, for the rest of her life, she mourned me like I was dead. The cruelty of that is something I will never forgive. Not the adoption agency, her parents, my uncle and his wife, my own adoptive parents. They did this to her and to me because reasons.
One thing I have noted in both versions of my birth story is they doesn’t centre on me at all. I am an afterthought at best.
I have never looked forward to my birthday. My adoptive dad always got the date wrong because in his mind, I was born the day they got me, so birthday cards were always closer to that day than the actual day. To their credit, my adoptive parents never allowed Christmas to overshadow my birthday as it has a tendency to do, but that’s about the only props I will give them in terms of commemorating the day.
For me, my birthday is about loss. What I lost. And I am only just beginning to be able to quantify that in tangible terms. My birth story is just one of the things I lost and will never really be able to recover.