This is my school photo from my junior year of high school. The year was 1984. What you can’t tell from this photo is that I was six months pregnant. I was planning on placing my child for adoption. Prior to the mid-1980s, almost all unwed pregnant girls planning on placing their child for adoption went to live for the last few months of pregnancy away from their home and family. It was thought that the girls would have an easier time transitioning back into their community if they hadn’t been seen enormously pregnant. That way, if the girl and her family chose to keep it a secret, they could do so. I was anything but secretive, but I agreed to be in foster care for the last three months of my pregnancy. Adoptions were also closed then. In each part of this series, I will share an experience during and after my pregnancy and my adoption decision that will, hopefully, shed some light on how birth moms have been treated in the past, which only added to the sorrow of placing a child.
My mom drove me the five hours from my childhood home to the home in which I would live for the last three months of my pregnancy. Much of the drive was done in silence, but I will never forget my mom’s tears as she begged me to understand that they were not abandoning me and that they loved me and were only doing what they thought was best. Mom and Dad were doing what their generation had taught them to do, and it absolutely broke their hearts. In order to soften the pain of separation for my parents, my social worker and his wife agreed to let me live with them. My dad had worked with him many times as a leader of our church and trusted him to take care of his little girl.
Mom and I arrived in my new community the day before school registration. The next day, we met with a school guidance counselor and discussed that I would need to take chemistry, advanced English, and advanced math in order for me to continue on at my high school after the baby came because I was an honor student and was college-bound. He informed us that there was a school for pregnant moms and suggested I attend there. Mom explained that we had checked into it, but the school did not offer the advanced classes I needed. The counselor was kind and wonderful and helped me get my schedule squared away. It was a Friday. The next day, I drove Mom to the airport so that she could fly home (we had driven my car there so that I had my own wheels). The good-bye was heartbreaking for both of us. I’m certain that Mom cried all the way home.
I spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday trying as hard as I could to not be a burden to my new family. Except for meals and going to church, I stayed in my room.
On Monday, I went to school. I was prepared for the looks and the whispers. In the middle of one of my classes, I was called down to the counselor’s office. I remember thinking it nice of him to check up on me and see how I was doing my first day. He smiled as I knocked on his door, and he let me in and shut the door.
“I am sure you have noticed that you are the only girl here who is visibly pregnant. Girls of your kind go to the pregnant girl school. We do not have your kind of girls here. You need to go to the other school.”
“And what kind of girl are you referring?”
“Ones like you. You know. . . sluts.”
I could not believe this was the same person who was so kind and helpful on Friday. While I knew that I was being called a slut behind my back by people my own age, I never imagined that an adult would call me that to my face—especially someone who worked in education.
“I need to take advanced classes so that I can continue on at my home high school after the baby is born. They don’t offer those classes at the pregnant girls’ school.”
“You are only kidding yourself,” the counselor continued. “You aren’t going to college. You probably won’t finish high school. All you girls are the same. You will probably have a pack of kids, each with a different father, and I will be paying for you to be on welfare for your whole life. Your best option is to go to the pregnant girls’ school and have that baby. You won’t have the courage to give your baby up. You’ll keep it and drop out of school before the middle of the year. The principal and I think that you being here is a bad example to all of our girls who come from good families and who are actually college-bound. You don’t belong here.”
I was stunned, very hurt, and angry. I had been bullied before and knew how to shut off my emotions.
“I’ve already done the paperwork. You will start at your new school tomorrow. Here is the address.”
A calmness came over me. I took the papers, ripped them up, and said, “No, sir. I have every right to go to this school. I am staying. If you continue to harass me, I will call my attorney.” I then gave him the name of my uncle, an attorney, who had a different last name than me. I told him in which community he worked if he wanted to contact him first. I then left.
My experience at that school for the next four months was, at times, borderline hostile. I’m certain the faculty had been told to do everything they legally could to make me uncomfortable enough to leave. All but two of my teachers did just that. They ignored me, would not call on me, and went out of their way to make snide comments to me in front of the class. I made sure that my work was better than everyone else’s so that there was no way they could attempt to lower my grades. I will be forever grateful for my forensics teacher and my history teacher, who were both confident enough in themselves to not follow the edict of the school leadership. I found refuge there, and the students in my forensics class claimed me as their own and protected me.
I completed that term with straight A’s. I had my baby boy. My parents and I tried to give him a lifetime’s worth of love in the three days I was in the hospital. We all wept as we said good-bye. I went home and was able to be in chemistry, advanced English, and advanced math. After high school, I was accepted into the college of my choice. I got married when I was 20 years old and have had three children. My husband and I have been married for 27 years. I have never been on welfare. I have a close relationship with my parents and other family members. I have been reunited with my son I placed for adoption, and we are very much family. In addition to our four children, my husband and I also have five grandchildren.
If I could, I would find that school counselor and show him pictures of my family and of my degrees. You see, not only did I graduate from high school, but I also have my bachelor’s degree, my master’s degree, and will have my doctorate degree this year. TAKE THAT, MR. SCHOOL COUNSELOR!