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.
Even though I walked away from my son at the hospital, my relinquishment journey was far from over. I spent the week immediately after I was discharged at my grandparents’ for Thanksgiving. I then, finally, went home. After four months of being in foster care, I was so grateful to be back with my family and in my home. I was back at school the Monday following Thanksgiving, even though I probably shouldn’t have, given my physical recovery from a difficult delivery. I brought an inflatable doughnut to sit on, just in case the hard chairs became miserable. I wanted to get back to something that had the semblance of normalcy, even though I felt far from normal.
I was very surprised at how few people knew that I had been pregnant and why I was gone. I was four months pregnant when school had ended for the summer. I certainly had not kept it a secret, and the rumors had spread like crazy. I checked in with the school nurse to let her know what I was all about, went to the guidance counselor and got my schedule squared away, and began classes that very day. I was grateful for classes and lessons and homework, but to say they kept my mind away from my son would have been a lie. I was also amazed at how immature my classmates were. They were worried about what they looked like and what people thought of them. I quickly realized that adulthood had been thrust upon me, and these people were still adolescents. I found solace in a few friends from church and my best friend, Holly. Because of her life experiences, she, too, had become an adult early. I decided that high school was simply a means to an end, and what was important was doing well to get into college so I could really start my life over.
Those first two weeks after I came home were a blur. The grief was ever-present and all-consuming. There were times I had to remind myself to breathe. I truly didn’t care if I lived or died because my arms were empty.
Three weeks after my son was born, my dad and I woke up a couple of hours before dawn to drive back to my son’s birthplace. By Colorado law, my baby was placed in foster care for three weeks. At the end of the third week, I had to face a judge with an attorney from the agency that was helping me place my son. The purpose of this court visit was to relinquish my parental rights forevermore. Up until that moment, I could take my son back.
The day before, I had made the decision that I was not going to Colorado to relinquish my rights but to retrieve my son. I knew that he was mine, and I was certain that I could no longer live without him. As I came home from school that day, I told my parents of my decision, and they said that they would support me with whatever I chose. During the next 12 hours, I was shown not once, not twice, but three times that my son was not my son. He belonged to another family who had ached to be parents.
It was silent in the car as my dad and I drove the several hours to the courthouse where my legal connection to my son would be severed. When we arrived, the sorrow and loss was visible on not only my face, but also my dad’s. The attorney explained what would happen and to expect a delay because the court schedule was never on time. A tender mercy occurred, and we were ushered right in.
Within minutes, the judge had pronounced that I had no rights to my son, that I was not legally a mother, and that, by penalty of law, I was not to try to contact him or his parents or under any circumstances was I to try to find him. At that moment, I broke. My breaking was not visible to any in the room. Inside, I felt my soul rip apart. The pieces of who I once was shattered, and I truly believed that I would live the rest of my life without joy.
Robotically, I agreed to the terms and signed my name. I suppose I must have thanked the attorney. I suppose my dad even shook his hand. I must have walked to the car, but I don’t remember doing it. I do remember him asking if I wanted to do something in the city—go to a fancy restaurant or go shopping or see a show. I told him that all I wanted was to go home. I also remember the look my dad had as he asked if he could do anything to help me. His pain mirrored my own. Even though the loss of a grandson was deep, the pain he felt in not being able to make everything better for me was keen. He had always been able to fix things before, but this time, he knew that it was impossible. All he and mom could do was to love me. He took me home, and love me is exactly what they did.