There was only one piece of advice I was ever given when I learned I was about to be a mom. I received this advice from a few different people, but the advice was all the same. It was to place the baby I was carrying for adoption.
I was just a teenager. I had a very small circle of people in my life at that time, and each of them said the same thing…”Place the baby for adoption.” Always the same. I was hounded with “adoption.” I came to find the word “adoption” to be so daunting.
In order to avoid going to an unwed mother’s home until the baby was born, my grandfather took me in. He was the only one kind enough to offer me a place to stay during this very tough time.
I was overwhelmed, frightened, yet a bit thrilled with the idea of having a baby. Family members were so sure of what I should do, how I should handle my pregnancy, but never once offered to help me in keeping my baby.
My family was so disappointed in me. They decided to tell outsiders that my “husband” was killed in the Vietnam War as a cover-up for my pregnant state. That was when my shame started to set in. I had done something very wrong and had to hide the truth from the world. It was to be a secret I would thereafter carry with me for many years.
I was truly alone in this journey!
My reality was that I was making $70.00 a week at my first job out of high school. No one in my family showed any interest in helping me out by offering to house myself with a child. This was just not an option. The baby’s dad was even less prepared than I to take on such a monumental responsibility. Turned out, he was a heroin addict and later I learned he was in and out of jail as a result of his addiction. So, I was alone. I remember always feeling very alone during this time.
I suppose soul-searching was all I was left with. Not an easy thing for someone of a tender age with very little life experience who was also dealing with the idealism of a teenager.
I spent torturous sleepless nights where I just tossed and turned and went through all the scenarios in my head. How was this going to play out? It was so painful for me to even see a mother pushing a baby carriage in the park. It looked so natural and wonderful; that’s what my idea of having a baby was. It was what I wanted yet didn’t know how to make that happen.
I cried and cried and shed so many tears during my pregnancy—sometimes unable to hold back the tears even in public places. I just hurt so much.
My journey of uncertainty continued.
As my pregnancy progressed, I felt stuck, helpless, and unable to process my condition or my future. Yet, I began bonding with the child I was carrying. I didn’t feel that I wanted to do what everyone was telling me to do. I wanted to keep my baby. I could figure this out. Somehow, I could manage to support, feed, and house myself and my child, but then how could I work if I had a baby to care for? My family told me in no uncertain terms that I would have to go on welfare if I were to keep my baby.
As another few months passed, I was hospitalized with toxemia of pregnancy. It was my very first time in a hospital. Before being discharged, I learned I was carrying not one but two babies. I was about to have twins!
My situation had become even more desperate. Whatever was I going to do? Was adoption becoming more of a reality for me? My family really pulled back after hearing this news. This was not something they wanted to deal with.
I did, however, begin to develop a newfound strength and purpose. I would not be told what to do with my twins! I remember going to the library to apply for a card. I filled out most of the information, but the desk clerk asked if I was a Miss or a Mrs., and I looked her straight in the eye and said “Miss.” I surprised myself with that response and felt I had taken a big step in how I was going to handle things. I would follow my heart, and my heart so wanted to keep my babies.
I was assigned a social worker at a teaching hospital which had a place for unwed mothers. I had already made the decision not to go to the unwed mothers’ home—thanks to my grandpa—but did continue to be treated at the teaching hospital and later gave birth there.
When I went into labor and was brought to the labor room, I was alone. Fortunately, because I was in a teaching hospital, I had groups of nurses come into my room throughout the two days I was in labor. They always took turns rubbing my back, which was so delightful since I was experiencing back labor. I felt so much less alone while they were there.
I don’t remember anyone telling me what was going on or what to expect in the normal course of labor. I do remember when I overheard one of the medical teams saying I was five fingers dilated, I thought they meant that one of the baby’s hands was coming out.
I also remember when I was pushed into the delivery room, the room was filled with doctors and nurses (understandably since this was a teaching hospital), and I suppose the fact that I was having twins was quite an event in the training of medical personnel.
I wasn’t awake or aware of the delivery itself but do remember waking up in a hospital bed in one of the rooms reserved for unwed mothers. Someone came with a handful of papers for me to sign for the babies’ adoption. I refused to sign.
I was then told I had delivered two boys. I was also told they were identical twins! They asked if I wanted to see my babies, and I said “Yes, of course.” Back then, you stayed in the hospital for a full week, which gave me time to take turns feeding each of my boys. We had a bonding period. I was an only child, and my boys were the first babies I had ever held.
After first seeing my little ones and then spending time with them, I was certain I could never part with them. I was determined that I was going to figure out what I had to do to keep the boys. This even made leaving the hospital and separating from them less painful because I was so sure it was only temporary, and I was excited to start planning how and when I could be with them.
I wasn’t making any progress in finding a better paying job or saving much money, nor was I able to change the minds of any of my family members about taking me in. Much to my disappointment, even my grandfather said he just couldn’t take three of us on in his tiny house.
I finally found someone to drive me to visit the boys in foster care when they were about a year old. It was over an hour away, and I didn’t drive. It was during this visit that my hopes were dashed. There were two cribs and two highchairs. I tried holding both boys while trying to give them each a bottle and was awestruck at the enormity of caring for two babies and everything it entailed. Reality struck during that visit and quickly began to sink in.
A few weeks later, I met with a counselor from the New York Foundling Hospital and began discussing adoption. She wanted as much information as I could give about myself and the babies’ father. She was so thorough in asking about nationality, religion, my reasons for placing the boys with them, etc.
The counselor explained a lot to me about parental rights and the adoption process. She also told me, in detail, how rigorous the screening progress was before allowing prospective parents the privilege of adopting. I finally had some concrete information about adoption.
Within a very short time, I decided I would place my sons for adoption. It was the right thing for me to do. Not for me, but for them. I just could not give them what they needed. I just could not provide for them.
Making my way by train into the city on a Friday afternoon alone, I went to some office in a big building and signed the papers. I do not honestly know how I ever got home from there…my life had changed. My hope was gone. I had given up my parental rights to my identical twin boys. It was for sure the most selfless thing I had ever done.
It was like the slamming of a door. It was over. Not one family member ever mentioned the boys again. It was like it never happened. Although we all knew it did, we were just supposed to ignore what was the most major event of my life.
The New York Foundling got in touch with me months later to let me know that the boys had been adopted. They had been placed with an Irish Catholic family. They were kept together! The first and middle names I had given the twins at birth were not going to be changed. I was told the adoptive mother had a lot of my personality traits and interests. The adoptive father was a professional, who coached sports. I was also told they would be living in the suburbs.
Oh, how I wished there was someone to talk to about then—to help me grieve, to help me move on, but again I was all alone with this heart-wrenching decision I had made. I couldn’t return to being a teenager again. I had a past; I had a secret. How could I be expected to interact with others my age, those unscathed by the experience I had been through? I was a weighted down, broken girl.
I later wrote a letter to the New York Foundling when the boys turned 6 years old. I guess it took me that much time to resolve my feelings enough to absolutely know I had made the right decision. My letter thanked them for giving my boys the chance at a life I never could have provided for them.
I was never sorry for my decision. At last, I felt and truly believed I had done the right thing for my boys. I never, ever stopped thinking of them and always firmly believed they would someday find me.
I had to wait 52 years, but find me they did!
What advice do I have to offer someone finding themselves in the position I was in?
My one and only piece of advice to you would be to get information. Get every bit of information you can lay your hands on. Learn all about the birth process and what to expect. Learn about single parenting, foster care, and adoption.
You will still face a lot of uncertainty; you will still be doing soul-searching, and you will still be dealing with your own reality. But, my hope for you is that with every bit of information you glean, you will at very least not be as frightened as I was throughout my ordeal. Fear of the unknown is an awful thing, and fortunately nowadays, there is an abundance of information available on any given subject. If you avail yourself to all this information, you won’t be made to feel you are unequipped to make an informed decision like I was in the 1960s.
I wish you peace with your decision. I hope you’ve made the choice you will be comfortable with for the many years ahead when you will think about, miss, and yearn for your child if you have chosen to part with him or her. If you were brave enough to be a single parent, I applaud you. To this day, I wish I could have done that.
Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Do you want more choices with your adoption plan? Do you want to regain more control in your life? Visit PregnancyHotline.org or call 1-800-GLADNEY. We can help you put together an adoption plan that best meets your needs.