“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway
I hadn’t intended to write this part of my story. This endeavor was to write a blog, a chronicle, the story of our family. It is first and foremost, for my children. I started thinking about it soon after this sequence of stories began, and within a day of that thought I got a phone call from our eldest daughter, Maggie, “You know, Mom, you need to write about the baby you had before.” My response came quickly, “I am. I know I need to write it. She’s part of who I am, and too important to be left out of the story. How? Now that I’ve already started this, it won’t be in order.” We both thought around Labor Day would be a good time for this, which was an answer to the question, “when?” But, the question on my mind truly was, “How?” And, it weighed heavy. How? This is going to hurt. How exactly does one go about telling such a story? And then my answer came to me in that quote, sent to me last Friday by my husband Mike. So, there truly is nothing to it at all, as Mr. Hemingway said. I will simply sit down at my laptop… and bleed.
It was Labor Day, thirty years ago, Sept 5, 1983, at the age of sixteen, that I gave birth to a nine pound, fourteen ounce baby girl. Yes, the baby’s weight was ridiculous, and the delivery far from ideal. But, then, there was nothing ideal about any of it, discovering that I was pregnant at the age of fifteen, having to tell my parents, the process of coming to a decision to give the baby nestled inside of me up for adoption, sitting front row at eight months pregnant for my sister’s wedding. It was all hard. I got a maternity shirt for my sixteenth birthday. The social stigma, created a discomfort for me that lasted for the rest of my high school days, and beyond. I began my junior year as I grieved the loss of the little one I had carried and marveled at for all of those months. I spent my summer curled up on the couch in our front room with my dog Pokey, reading books with my hand on my belly, relishing every kick. She kept me company as she moved inside of me.
My most remarkable companion was the best friend a girl could ever hope for, my best friend, Debbie. I don’t think the fullness of what Debbie sacrificed to be by my side for that summer hit me until only recently. Instead of hanging out at the sandbar, cruising Main Street with other kids, and simply being care free, she sun bathed with me in the shelter of Pioneer Park, hidden by copious trees. We saw every movie that came out that summer, some of them more than once. We drove up and down river road because it was beautiful, and void of other teenagers. We went through Lamaze classes, two sixteen-year old girls without a clue accepting the challenge of every class together. She was by my side through labor and delivery. She was by my side as we picked up the pieces and moved forward with our teen-age lives. It was traumatic for both of us. Except, she volunteered to take that burden on with me. She had a choice, and I will be forever grateful for her steadfast support.
I can’t possibly imagine what my parents went through, watching this child of theirs go through morning sickness, the telling baby bump appearing, becoming cumbersome with later pregnancy through the heat of Summer, struggling with the decision that they so wisely allowed me to make. Mom and I would go for walks at night. There were late night grocery shopping trips, and stops at the Dairy Queen. Dad was there, making sure I laughed in our home, loving me, and trying to protect me. They suggested that I take private communion, but I refused. It was awkward for everyone, but I came to the altar of mercy and accepted the body and blood of Christ just as I was, a pregnant teenage girl. He was my other constant companion, the most constant companion. How else could I have given my little girl to the couple who would raise her and be her parents?
I truly believe that she was intended for them from the very beginning. She was mine for a fleeting time. The night that I delivered her, my sister, Darcy lingered with me afterward into the night. I asked the nurses to bring her to me. I wanted to hold her so desperately, yet no one came. I’m sure the nurses were reluctant, knowing that she was intended for adoption. Finally, Darcy marched down to that nurse station and demanded that they bring my baby to me. There seemed to be a general lack of compassion, but I suppose it was a sign of the times. So I held her, and Darcy and I stared in awe at that bundle together. I’m so thankful that she was there to be my advocate and to share that with me. I couldn’t believe that something so perfect could come from all of that. She was beautiful and I was so proud of her. Through the next few days, I held, changed, fed, and said to her everything that I could possibly think of, so that nothing would remain on my heart having been left unsaid. I rocked her and sang to her. My pastor came and the two of us were the only ones present for her baptism. Mom and I went to the window for one last peek before we left the hospital. It was the longest walk down the longest hallway and the longest elevator ride of my life. My arms were empty and my heart was broken.
This entry might not flow smoothly or sensibly. I can hardly see the screen through the tears. What is the use in reliving it and putting it out there for the world to see? What is my motivation? Catharsis, laying the shame to rest, giving credit where credit is due, and being true to me by laying bare my heart. This is me, coming out from the shelter of the trees in Pioneer Park, those trees that hid me, protected me, and allowed me, for hours, to lay in the sun in a maternity swimsuit with my Debbie, as we ate sunflower seeds and talked of clothes, boys, music, the parties that were happening without us, and all that we would do to make up for lost time when this was behind us. Those beautiful trees have served me well, but I don’t need them anymore. I’m done hiding.
The human spirit is amazing to me. How one can suffer, losing pieces of themselves, and then become whole again. I realize now, that self-image is the result, not of how others perceived me, but rather my perception of how they perceived me. In order to protect myself, I assumed the worst, and it was because of me that I never felt comfortable in high school again. I banished the thought of ever dating any of the boys in high school. I feared the rejection so much that I simply did not allow the possibility to exist. I had friends who were boys, but arms length was as far as anyone was ever allowed. I suppose no one knew what to say. I honestly didn’t know what to say to them when I returned to school. For a short period of time, things were even a bit awkward with the group of friends I hung out with. Some of us had been friends since grade school, but still we had to go through a brief ice-breaking time.
There was one incident, spring of my junior year. A senior boy I really liked danced with me all night at one of the dances. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call him Zethanderface, because there is no way anyone in the world bears that name. I felt like maybe I belonged. The wall was coming down. There were many kids going to Zethanderface’s parent’s home for an after-party. As my girlfriends and I were parking the car, a boy came to the window and said, “Everyone get out of here. Zethanderface has a chick coming over and he’s going to get laid!” My heart sank because I was the chick. Was I truly the “chick” who every boy would see merely as an opportunity? What was I thinking to ever lower that wall even a millimeter?
The only place in school where I felt completely safe, accepted, and at home was the theater. It’s a phenomenon, truly. There was this society where everyone was equal, welcomed, and accepted. I thrived. I basked in the serenity of just being me. I remember sitting in that theater, doing homework, listening to my walkman, or working my cross stitch project. We spoke freely to each other. There were no social boundaries separating anyone from the rest. The personalities were huge, and the comedic antics were intoxicating. It was time filled with laughter and artistic inspiration. I had never felt so alive.
At the end of our junior year, my friends and I went to the senior kegs at Menoken Grove for the graduating class just ahead of us. I stood against a pole and a boy who had graduated the year before came up and asked me to dance. I was unsure, so I attempted to borrow time, “Me?” “No the pole behind you. Yeah, you. Do you want to dance or not?” he quipped. I had a terrible crush on him that I had nursed since Jr High. It was a dance, that’s it. We danced a two-step. He was a gentleman, and he called. We dated until we married a little more than a year later.
Yes, I wonder what it might have been like if I had kept that first baby. Then I remember that she was never really mine. I suppose there are those who questioned my parents’ decision to allow me to make my own decision. We had many conversations, but the decision was ultimately mine. I went to weekly counseling sessions. I studied profiles of potential families, and knew when I found the one that they were her parents. They were Lutheran, active in their church. They had adopted a little boy five years before. She would have an older brother. They were of Scandinavian descent. He was an engineer and she an office manager, but would become a stay-at-home mom when and if a new baby came into their lives. They were Vikings fans. But, the one thing that really caught me was that they loved to laugh. They were said to both have very fun senses of humor. There was a point when I joked with my counselor, “Geez. Do they want to adopt me?” I had one question for them, and it had to be relayed and confirmed before I would make a concrete decision. “Will they teach her that Jesus is her Savior? I mean really teach her that. They have to.” The answer came back in the affirmative. After I chose them, my counselor said, “I’m glad. You would really like them. She reminds me of you in lots of ways.”
The adoption process was also less than ideal. The baby went to a foster home. I went to court, accompanied by my dad, and petitioned the court to give her up for adoption. Three weeks later we went back to sign final adoption papers. I had three long weeks to agonize over it. I wonder how many girls change their minds during that time. It was torture. After the papers were signed, Dad and I were allowed to go to the foster home and see her. We both held her. The foster mom told us how good she was. She had changed so much in three weeks. It seemed that my emotions were spent, and that I hadn’t a single one left. I didn’t cry, but it must have been traumatic on some level because I have no memory of walking out the door or the ride home.
I made a promise to myself and to that baby girl that I would never impose myself upon her life. She did not choose this. It was chosen for her. It would never be fair for me to disrupt her life. Should she feel the need to meet me, I would be overjoyed to meet her again. After all, she was mine for just a little while. I don’t know where she is, but I know that she IS. I requested and received two updates. The first one was when she was three. I learned that she was a happy healthy strawberry-blonde green-eyed little smarty, who knew her ABC’s and could count to ten. The other was when she was eleven. I learned that she had her tonsils out at the age of nine (I had mine out at nine, as did my daughter, Serrah). She played basketball, loved to read, and excelled at creative writing. She was the cut-up of her family, and there was laughter in her home much to her credit. It was good to know that we had things in common. After that, I decided that I wouldn’t put myself or her parents through any more updates. I’m as satisfied as I can be.
No, I don’t know where she is or who she is. I know that I love her. I know she has parents who love her and have given her all that she needed. I know that she will turn thirty years old on the fifth of September. I pray that she is well and happy. Although she wasn’t mine to keep and raise, she grew and moved inside of me. I held her, fed her, burped her, changed her, rocked her, sang to her, and told her all that was in my heart when, for a fleeting moment, we were in our own little world where she was my own.