This is my school photo for 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 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. My parents were with me when I delivered and loved and cared for a very fragile mom who chose to say good-bye. Adoptions were 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 were and are treated, which only adds to grief’s sorrow of placing a child.
Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge, Colorado
The challenges of being a pregnant, teenaged girl were, in many ways, easier than the days, weeks, and months afterward. It is usual when a child is born for there to be balloons, flowers, gifts, and lots of well-wishers after the new arrival. Even people who are in the hospital for an illness or an injury are often given items and words of comfort. For a woman, either very young or typical mothering age who has chosen to place a child for adoption, the hospital experience is very different. A note was placed on my son’s bassinet that said, “Out to Mom at her request only.” The nurses were very business-like and none of the usual cooing over the baby took place, even though he was with me almost constantly for the three days I was in the hospital. While the nurses were kind and gentle, they, like everyone else, did not know what to say to me and were afraid of being insensitive or offensive, so they were very sterile in their care of me—that is, all but one.
I don’t remember that nurse’s name, but I recall her face. She had brown hair and kind eyes. The first day after my baby was born and she went on her rounds to introduce herself to each patient, she did not skirt around the issue. As I held my son, she sat down next to my bed to really talk with me. “My notes say that you are planning on placing your son for adoption. He is so beautiful. I’m sure this is so hard. You are one very, very brave woman.”
She referred to me as a woman. I had been the young, pregnant, teenage girl to everyone I ran across. This woman acknowledged that childbearing had transformed me from a girl into a woman, not only physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
“I don’t feel very brave. “
“Oh, but, you are. You are strong enough to do what is best for both your son and yourself even though it is destroying you. I know that all the nurses and doctors are taking good care of you physically, but I know that isn’t all that is happening. Your chart tells me the delivery was very difficult and that you are staying an extra day because of how bad it was, but, to be honest, I am more concerned about your emotional state than your physical one. How can I help you get through this?”
Physically, I was a mess. Not to get into the gory details, but I was very fragile, medically. My doctor had actually wanted to keep me longer, but my parents said that it would be cruel for me to stay in the hospital after I had relinquished my child, so it was agreed that I would stay the extra day and leave the same day as my baby. My doctor finally agreed that I could leave after three days only because my mom was a nurse and that instead of my driving to my grandparent’s house with my parents for Thanksgiving, as had been planned, they would put me on a plane and meet me there.
Even though I was physically fragile, my grief and loss were far more painful. I was grateful that this sweet nurse recognized my love for my child.
“The other nurses keep coming in and want my baby to be in the nursery. One even said that it would be better if I didn’t get too attached and I shouldn’t be with him. I’m already too attached. I was planning on only having two days of being his mom, but because of what happened, I get three. I only get three days to be his mom. I have to give him a lifetime of love in three days. Please, tell them to stop trying to take him away from me. If they need to weigh and measure him or something, I want to go with him. I’m glad that God made it hard for me to have him because I get to keep him one more day. I WILL let him go when I need to, but until then, I won’t let him go, so please tell everyone to stop trying to take him away from me.”
Her eyes twinkled at me. She smiled and kindly said, “You are very, very torn up. You are going to have to have a special bath each day so that you can heal. You aren’t going to be able to have him with you then; it’s simply too dangerous because you are too weak to hold him. I will write on your chart that you are only to take those baths when your mom is around to be with him. Would that be okay?”
“We will start the baths tomorrow when I’m on shift so that I can personally make sure that things are done correctly. While you are having your bath, I will weigh and measure him and bathe him, too, in the nursery with your mom there so that you can hold him every minute you can. Also, I could take a couple of photos of him for you. Would you like that?”
I hadn’t thought about having a photo of him, and at that moment, I knew that I did. “I think I could let him go if my mom is here, but I don’t want anyone else to take him to the nursery but you, is that okay? I think I would like a photo.”
She agreed and wrote those instructions on my chart and had me read it to make sure that I agreed with it.
For the next three days, my beautiful baby boy hardly left my arms. On the third day, it was time. Someone from the adoption agency came to the hospital to help me fill out the paperwork to give my permission for the adoption agency to have temporary custody. Shaking, I signed my name. The doctor came in and released me, and I knew that I had to say good-bye. I changed into my street clothes and then changed my son’s diaper for the last time and put on him the outfit that I had spent hours looking for. It had to be just right. I then gathered him up in my arms and looked down at him. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him, and soon, there was a little splash as my tears dampened his little hands.
I told him how much I loved him, and it was because I loved him that had to let him go. He deserved all the best things that the world could give him. He deserved a stay-at-home mom who had finished her education and wanted nothing more than to care for him. He deserved a father who lived with his mother. He deserved financial security.
I knew, right then, that I was willing to die for this little boy, and to be honest, I thought my heart would literally break—but he was worth it.
I fed him one last time, burped him, wrapped him in the blanket I had made for him, and then I slowly got up and put him in his bassinet. Step by step, I rolled him to the nursery—each step, an agonizing journey. I thought at any moment my heart would burst and my suffering would be over—I prayed that it would happen.
I still don’t know how I did it, but I got to the nursery. I told the nurse he had eaten two ounces of formula and had been changed. She smiled and thanked me for bringing him. I quickly and quietly touched his face, and turned around and walked out of the door. I had to hold on to the handrail that was along the walls to keep myself up. I was sobbing uncontrollably by the time I was halfway to my room. As soon as I got through the door to my room, I collapsed, wanting to die.
My mom came in then (She and my dad and already said their good-byes. They had left to let me be alone with my son.) She fell onto the floor and gathered me up and rocked me back and forth until I was empty of tears. We quickly gathered up my stuff, and I was wheeled out of the hospital.
Tucked into the bag I tightly clutched included two blurry Polaroid photos of a dark-haired baby, the hospital bracelets that me and my baby wore, a hospital birth certificate with his inked footprints and my thumbprints, and the card from his bassinet that announced his birth date, height, weight, and time of birth. I left the hospital with no gifts, no flowers, no balloons, and no baby – just a 17 year-old girl whose heart was broken and two parents who thought theirs might break, too.