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.
My son was born exactly a week before Thanksgiving. Because I had a difficult delivery and was in the hospital an extra day, when I was discharged, it was time to meet up with family for the holiday. My parents had arrived the day before I delivered, and my mom was my delivery coach. The plan was for me and my parents to drive from where I had been living to my grandparents’ house. With my fragile condition, it was decided that an eight hour drive would be unwise, so my dad drove back home to pick up my little sister, my mom put me on an airplane and then met my dad and sister on the road. They would leave one of the vehicles at a friend’s house that was in a community on the way and then travel together and pick up the other car on the way home in about a week.
I arrived at the airport several hours later than expected because of a plane malfunction. A frantic grandfather greeted a mess of a girl who could barely stand because of physical and emotional pain. He sat me down, found a phone (this was before cell phones) and called Grandma to tell her that I had finally arrived so that when my frantic parents called to see if I had made it yet (they were stopping and calling at every town along the way) they could be reassured that I was safe and no longer alone. By the time Grandpa and I got home, it was late, and the relatives that were already there were in bed. Grandma took charge of me as soon as Grandpa pulled up in the driveway and quickly had me showered, fed, medicated, and put to bed. As I lay in bed, she sat by me and stroked my hair, trying to give all of her love and comfort to me. She left after I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, it was obvious that I had overdone it the day before and was not doing very well. I had also woken up with intense grief because I had left my child and was several hours away. By the time I was able to pull myself out of bed, it was about noon. After my parents had learned that I was there, they had found a hotel and stayed the night on the road. They would arrive later that day. All I knew was that I wanted my mom and dad.
Before I had boarded the plane, I had asked my mom who in my family knew about me being pregnant. Mom had told me that they had shared with all four of my grandparents, but no one else knew. They had come from the generation when girls who got pregnant out of wedlock and did not get married right away were to keep it secret, especially if they were placing their child for adoption. My generation was the bridge between the era of secrecy and the era of complete openness.
So, as I got up and faced the relatives, they were expecting a regular, 17 year old girl. What they got was a girl who looked only slightly better than she felt. After lunch, instead of helping clean up, I sat down. After a few minutes, my aunt came up to me and said, “Lisa, stop being so lazy. Go and help your grandmother. I don’t know what the matter is with you. I can’t believe you slept until noon. You look terrible, you have gained weight, and you don’t smell very good. I can’t believe you would act like this—so disrespectful.”
I admit it—I snapped. “Well, for your information, I had a baby four days ago, had 80, YES 80!!! stitches, and placed my son for adoption. I smell bad because I am literally a bloody mess, and at least I am kind and giving enough to give my son a real chance at life instead of being a judgmental bitty who would not think that, perhaps, there was a reason why I don’t look very well—because I AM NOT!!!” and I stormed down the stairs. My parents came later that afternoon, but I did not come up until the next day. I told my mom I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want dinner, but requested that she make sure that everyone knew what was going on with me. I just said that my aunt hadn’t known and thought I was being lazy, and I didn’t want to have to explain it every single time I said hello. My aunt later apologized, and I could tell she really meant it. I actually felt sorry for her because she would have been very caring if she simply would have known.
The next day was Thanksgiving, and while no one was rude, no one really talked with me, either. I decided then and there that I was not going to be embarrassed or ashamed and would not skirt the issue. A few days later, we traveled an hour and a half to have a belated Thanksgiving with the other side of the family. After hugs to Grammie and Grandpa, I pulled a cousin aside, told her what happened and said that I was going to run to the store and get a soda and would she please tell everyone else while I was gone and to please tell everyone that I don’t mind talking about it and that I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed. After I got back, that cousin and I had a wonderful visit sitting on the couch, and I was able to share my pain and my grief and my love for a little boy who could never be mine. It was that day in which I began to heal.