As Memorial Day approaches, our country takes the time to reflect on the sacrifice our Veterans made years before. When I see a Veteran today, a sensation of awe washes over me. I admire their bravery, and their courage. However, even as they fought in a war with all they had, some back home turned against them. Instead of supporting our heroes, many degraded them, told them they should be ashamed.
This brings me to older birth mothers, those who have gone before birth mothers like myself: our Veteran Birth Mothers. Out of respect for these women, I will not call them birth mothers here, but first mothers.
Some older first mothers enlisted and willingly made the choice for adoption, but many were drafted, or coerced, into adoption. Whether they chose or were forced, they all had a long, hard road ahead of them– a road they walked alone. The fathers denied their part, their parents were embarrassed, the members of their church sneered, and society was indifferent.
Unlike today, these women faced a society in which raising a child and being single was not acceptable. Many schools would expel them if they decided to raise their children, landlords did not want to rent out apartments to “those kinds of women,” and the most cruel aspect of all, society had a way of labeling the child of a single mother a “bastard” child.
Their parents were ashamed and, fearing what their pastor, their neighbors, their friends, and co-workers would say, shipped their daughters off to a cold maternity home, often states away, and appeased curious neighbors with the lie, “Oh, she is staying with an aunt.”
I can only imagine how they must have grieved. For what crime were they imprisoned?
Unlike the expecting women of today, they had little or no education about labor and delivery. They were forced to deliver in dreary hospitals with no familiar hand to hold. Strapped down to a sterile table, they gave birth. Many were knocked out with drugs, only to awaken and find their child forever gone. Not a cry heard, not a scent cherished. No one wished them “Congratulations.”
They were not allowed to see their babies, for it was deemed by hospital staff as “best.” There are even some who never knew what gender their precious babies were! They were denied a mother’s rights, a woman’s rights, their human rights … and so were their children.
With pleading eyes, she calls, “Please nurse, please, I am begging you …let me see my baby … just for a few moments! I won’t cry, I promise … I just want to see her …”
Many women were pressured or coerced into signing the papers. Some woman had their babies literally pried from their young hands. And some wonder why they are angry today?
With breasts full of milk for a child who was not there to nourish, she was then shoved back into her old life. Having to pretend her stay with her aunt was enjoyable, she was told to wear a smile. She furiously eyed her parents, thinking, “Why, why did you abandon me when I needed you the most?”
Alone in her room, she daydreamed, “Where is he? Who is raising my child? Are they good people? Please say my child will forgive me … or try to understand.”
If anyone found out her secret, she would find a fate comparable to Hester Prynne’s in “The Scarlet Letter”– branded with a scarlet “B” upon her chest.
The cruelest twist of all, she was told to forget. Forget? Forget her child? Forget the one who grew below her heart and in it? Her innocent baby? Forget? They said it is better that way. Better for whom?
She hoped and prayed that in twenty, thirty, forty years that child would find her, and even more significantly, that child would forgive her. That is what kept her alive each day. Each breath she took was one closer to the day of promising reunion.
To these Veteran first mothers, I say Thank you! You have told your tremendous stories, you have revealed closed adoption for what it truly was; your tears tore down the walls. You’ve fought to change the laws, taken on adoption reform, and most importantly, informed expecting young women that there is another choice … that there are resources today to help a young woman raise her child.
There are those who will say you are not mothers. Some will try and take that away from you. God Himself gave you that title, and no one can sever on Earth what was given in Heaven. Yes, we may be different, you and I, but we share a common sisterhood. Continue to fight– for yourselves, for others, and for the children because they are who it is all about. As long as I live I shall tell your stories.
Remembering you this and every Memorial Day.
First mother ’98
Skye Hardwick © 1999 – Do not use without author’s permission