Category Archives: Unplanned pregnancies

Despite

Life has been throwing a lot my way lately, or at least throwing a lot at people I love.  I debated whether to write about it, then remembered that the tagline of this blog is “Living well despite what life throws at you.”

It’s one thing to live large when everything is going well, it’s quite another to keep embracing life when things are not so great.

My life is fine, aside from the new upstairs neighbor, who I suspect of making wine late at night (stomp, stomp, stomp!). I have spoken to him and it is better, but I have to wear ear plugs a couple nights a week.  I worry that the people who are renting my condo while I’m in the UK/Europe/Ethiopia this summer will be bothered.

Work has been a pressure cooker; this week I submitted almost $5 million worth of funding applications for projects in Iraq and Ethiopia.  The teams were dispersed around the globe, from Kurdistan to The Gambia, which has only 14% Internet penetration. I do get a buzz out of pulling everything together to meet deadlines, and then I collapse in exhaustion.

On to the people I love: Vince broke up with his girlfriend, and for some reason it hit me hard.  I was so happy that Vince had, for a while, a fun relationship that didn’t involve drugs or alcohol.  But I realized my reaction was partly about me.  A few weeks after I turned 40, my serious boyfriend dumped me.  I wondered if that was it—I would never meet anyone again.  After all, I was 40!  Vince will be 39 this year.  I have no idea if he feels like it’s over—I hope not—but I did.

The thing that’s really thrown me is hearing from Son #2 after a four-year silence.

I wrote a series of seven posts about Vince’s brother, who I gave up for adoption. I’ve never written about how I found him after many attempts and despite Catholic Charities’ best efforts to thwart us both.

I hesitated to write about this, but then—catatonic on the couch after all my proposals were done—I caught an episode of Call the Midwife that had an adoption storyline and I was reminded that the silence and shame that surrounds adoption has got to be broken.

Vince and I met him once, over 15 years ago.  We met at a restaurant; I can’t remember exactly when or where because it was so surreal.

His name was the same as one of my brothers, but I will call him by the name I gave him, Isaac.  He looked a lot like Vince but with different coloring.  I asked if I could give him a hug and he said, “Of course!” and hugged me for a long time.  Several hours of talking passed like seconds.  We hugged goodbye and pledged to stay in touch.

It didn’t’ happen.  Isaac’s adoptive mother was opposed to him meeting me, and he was already going behind her back.  But he and Vince continued to meet up and developed a bond; Vince wrote about it here.  It wasn’t a happy ending, but there’s hope now that Vince is in recovery.

Isaac sent me an email out of the blue about five years ago, with photos of his wife and kids.  My grandchildren, who I’ve never met.  His wife has the same name as my mother.

He said he would like for me to meet them, but then he disappeared again.  I didn’t pursue it him because I didn’t want to be disappointed again.

Isaac wrote to me again last month.

His wife has Multiple Sclerosis.  Severe, aggressive MS that affects her vision, speech, and mobility. He and I have been writing for about a month now, and I am hopeful we can stay in touch this time, but it’s stirring up a lot of regret, resentment, love, and hope.

From AA to LA

This is the eighth and final post in a series that begins here.

Vince went to live with my mother, and I attended outpatient chemical dependency treatment.  If you are in the “helping professions”—social work, psychotherapy—or if you even just have common sense and empathy, you won’t be surprised to learn that I wasn’t an alcoholic.

The expectation had been that I would go through pregnancy, birth, and adoption without any support, then go on as though nothing had happened.  People seemed surprised that I was sad and angry.  They were uncomfortable when I talked about it.

“You signed the papers; it’s over—why keep bringing it up?  Just don’t think about it.”

Alcohol is a time-honored stress reliever in such dissonant situations.

Sobriety—and a break from being a full-time mother and student—helped clear my head and face my emotions.  I spent the month working the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and reading piles of self help books, and doing all the other things people do to get back on track.

After a month Vince came home.  What–you were expecting some big drama?  Sorry.  In Minnesota we don’t like drama.  In fact we are all about avoidance of discomfort, or as I call it, “reality.”

I didn’t drink for a couple years.  I went to AA, where the members often listened to my story skeptically and said, “I don’t think you’re an alcoholic.”  I should have been referred to Alanon, which is for family members and friends of alcoholics.  People impacted by alcoholic behavior act just as crazy as their alcoholics, but there’s no rehab for them.  In fact I can recall my mother complaining that my dad got to go to “that country club”—Hazelden, a rehab center nestled on a lake with a pool, wooded walking trails, and tennis courts—while she stayed home with the four kids, the house, and the bills.

I got a job, moved out of the hi-rise, and started paying back my student loans.  Vince began school and, while his grades were never great, he was popular with teachers and students.   I made sure he brushed his teeth and washed behind his ears.  I took him to baseball practice, religious school, and family functions.  We watched Dr. Who together and went on little road trips to Lake Superior to hunt agates.  You know, normal life.

Every spring I would find myself feeling blue and wonder what was wrong with me.  Then it would hit me: Ah ha!  Isaac’s birthday is coming up.  On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I would tear up when they read the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.  Every couple of years I would send a letter to be placed in his file, knowing it would probably never be read.  When my mother talked about how many grandchildren she had, didn’t count Isaac.  Intellectually, I knew this was the whole point—that it remain forever a secret—but to me he was always out there, somewhere.

When Vince was 10, I got entangled with an abusive guy and we ended up losing our home.  Three times in one year, we had to move and Vince had to change schools.  I chose this time to tell him about Isaac.  I thought it comfort him to know he had a brother out there somewhere, assuming he was alive.  Clearly I am not a psychotherapist, or I would have known this would backfire.  Vince was devastated—it was a loss on top of losses.

He met his brother, eventually, and some day one or both of us will write about that.

Did these events have a permanent effect on Vince?  They deeply affected me, so why not him, since he was so much younger?  If they did affect him, it’s his job now to delve into them and resolve whatever leftover effects may be holding him back, which is what he seems to be doing in AA.

Thanks for reading this series.  Several people have commented offline that it’s been emotional to read.  I’m ready for a happier subject for the next post: my plans for a road trip to New Orleans!

Labeled

This is the seventh in a series of posts that starts here.

If you have read all these posts, thank you. They’ve been hard to write but at the same time it’s liberating to tell the story that’s mostly been kept secret for decades.

What I have described in this series of posts is a closed adoption. Once parental rights are terminated, the birth parent has no rights, period. Ironically, there was a massive change in adoption laws a year or two after Isaac was born which made open adoption the norm. This is where the birth mother can choose to maintain some level of contact with the child—everything from photos once a year to monthly visits—worked out in cooperation with the adoptive parents. But that didn’t help me, since my case was closed just before the laws changed.

As my emotions thawed after terminating my parental rights, my predominant feeling was rage. True, no one had forced me to place Isaac for adoption, but I hadn’t felt I had any other option. All the forces of society had been arrayed against me keeping him.

I thought about Charlie Brown, the doctor who had offered to find me a baby buyer; about Judy, the Catholic Charities social worker who had made light of my concerns; the perverts who had hit on me—a pregnant girl at the bus stop with a baby in a stroller; the mugger who assaulted me; Ronald Reagan, who ensured I would start my career with student loan debt; Dr. G., who invited a dozen strangers to observe me go through one of the most excruciating moments of my life; and the judge, who had asked me pityingly if I understood what I was doing.

I wasn’t angry with The Creep; he would soon go on to father three more children. Vince and I have joked that they could form their own support group, “Adult Children of The Creep.” The guy had dug himself into such a deep hole that I figured the rest of his life would be his punishment.

A few weeks after I signed the final papers, it occurred to me that I should have a photo of Isaac. I told myself this was for Vince—when I told him some day. I called Judy and there was a long pause after I said my name, as though she had already forgotten who I was.

“Why didn’t you ask for a photo before the papers were signed?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I stammered, feeling stupid and ashamed. I hated her but I knew I was at her mercy. “I would really, really appreciate it if you would ask the parents.”

She told me I would have to put my request in writing, which I did. Six weeks later she called to say that the parents had denied my request.

“Since you didn’t request a photo before you signed the papers, they’re under no legal obligation to give you one now. They’re concerned you might see the baby in a shopping mall or something … they wouldn’t want any scenes. It’s for the best.

“They want you to know that they love him very much and they gave him a beautiful name. Of course, I can’t tell you what it is.”

Wow, she was really enjoying herself. I added Isaac’s adoptive parents to my hate list.

I had lost control with Vince, screamed at him, and shoved him to the floor. I called the county and asked to speak with a child protection worker. She asked a bunch of questions then pronounced, “Based on your family history and your recent drinking behavior, I think it’s clear that you’re an alcoholic.”  She recommended I place Vince in foster care so I could go to rehab.  “You can say no, but there may be repercussions,” she said ominously.

I didn’t think I was an alcoholic but I placed Vince in foster care and got ready to go to treatment.  The next day my mother demanded that I sign Vince over to her, so I did. This time it was only temporary, right?

Unfrozen

This post is the sixth in a series that starts here.

It was 1980, I was 20 years old and had just given birth to my second son, who was in foster care until his adoption was finalized.  I had kept the pregnancy and birth Top Secret except from my mother and sister.

Now I moved forward with my life as if nothing had ever happened, and I never gave it a second thought.

Haha!  Just kidding!  That was never going to happen.

Six weeks had to pass before the adoption would be finalized.  I suppose that was to ensure I wouldn’t change my mind.  I didn’t.  I gave birth on a Sunday and walked out of the hospital that afternoon.  Finals started the following week, so I was back in school studying for and taking exams the next day.

Once I finished exams I had to study for the big test that would make me a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant.  There were lots of other distractions to keep me busy and keep my mind off of Isaac.  I would think of him as “Isaac” for the next 20 years.

I got the highest scores in my class, so I won an all-expenses paid trip to the National Occupational Therapy convention in San Antonio, Texas.  This was a big deal for someone who lived in public housing, took the bus everywhere, and washed laundry by hand in the bathtub.

Six weeks passed.  I went to the courthouse.  In the courtroom it was just me, The Creep, the judge, and about 50 strangers who were there for other cases.  The Creep and I didn’t speak.  This would be the last time we would ever see each other.  He was pleased, I was sure, that he’d be off the hook for child support—not that he paid any for Vince.

There’s a psychological phenomenon called dissociation in which you seem to separate from your own body because you are under so much stress.  This must be what happened to me, because it was like I was a spectator to myself.  It was like I was sitting in the jury box, watching the judge lean forward and ask, “Do you know what you’re doing, miss?”

“Yes,” I replied.

Again, like when I signed the papers in the hospital, it was as if I was watching a mannequin hand sign my name at the bottom of the forms.

It was over in 10 minutes.  I stumbled, dazed, out of the courtroom with the official-looking order that said Termination of Parental Rights at the top and my signature at the bottom.

I went to San Antonio, which was my introduction to the concept of “open bars” at conventions.  Free drinks!  I drank all night, then slept by the pool all day until the bar opened again.  What a great professional opportunity!

I came home and kept drinking.  School was over so I had all the time in the world to spend with Vince.  Except that my relationship with him had changed.  I had gone from doting, passionately-engaged mother to detached, emotionally-absent caretaker.  I escaped by cleaning the bathroom, applying for jobs, reading thick novels, scouring the kitchen sink, making lists of things, and drinking.

I kept busy, in part, to blot out the fact that I kept hearing the sounds and smelling the smells of a hospital delivery room.  I knew from psych classes that sometimes the mind reacted like this under severe stress—I wasn’t psychotic—but it worried me.  What next—would Dr. G and her residents show up in my bedside?

Vince had never been needy before but now he started whining and hanging on me and it really got on my nerves.  He was 18 months old; was this some kind of annoying phase?  I tried to gently put him off but that only seemed to make him want more attention.  Finally, I lost it.  I shoved him and yelled, “Get away from me!”  He tumbled to the floor, whimpering.

I was horrified and rushed to comfort him, pulled him onto my lap and rocking him.  Was this the future we had to look forward to?

It’s a Boy!

This is the fifth post in a series which starts here

I was 20 years old and eight months pregnant with my second child, which I planned to place for adoption.  This plan included avoiding my family and friends so that it could be kept a secret.

But in early April I ran into my aunt and cousin Mary, who was 14, at the grocery.  My aunt chatted about the weather, not dropping her gaze below my neck.  Mary gawped at my belly but didn’t ask any questions.

The pains came early in the morning.  I woke up and tears came, silently, so as not to wake Vince.  I had been able to freeze my emotions for six months but now, on the precipice of saying good-bye, they came.

I flung myself out of bed and called my mother, who dropped my sister off to stay with Vince and drove me to the hospital.  The pains continued, fast and strong.  As I laid writhing on a gurney a doctor I’d never seen loomed over me and said, “Good morning, I’m doctor G___, and I’ll be with you during your labor and delivery.”

The labor went fast.  My mother sat by the bed while I panted.  They wheeled me into the delivery room and Dr. G appeared again.  “You don’t mind if a couple of residents observe, do you?” she asked—more of a statement than a question.  I consented with a grunt, not really caring or understanding.

A line of residents in gowns and masks filed into the room and stood against the wall—there must have been eight or 10 of them.  “Do you want a girl or a boy?” asked Dr. G, obviously trying to show off her people skills to the residents.  “I don’t care!” I groaned, “I’m giving it up for adoption!”  She recoiled.  A nurse leaned in and whispered something to her, maybe my instructions that I didn’t want the baby handed to me.  I couldn’t hold it or I might change my mind.

“It’s a boy!” Dr. G exclaimed, holding him up for the residents to see.  She stepped forward and held him up to show me.  I saw that he had all his fingers and toes and was plump and healthy.  She handed him to the nurse, who took him out of the room.

I'm a Boy

They wheeled me down to the geriatric ward.  It was for my own good, the orderly said.  This way I wouldn’t be surrounded by happy mothers and fathers with their babies, or tempted to go find him in the nursery.

My roommate was an old woman who was moaning in agony.  “The pain!” she kept shouting.

It couldn’t have been more than an hour after the birth that Judy, the Catholic Charities social worker, showed up.  Had they called her?  She didn’t ask how I felt or if I had any second thoughts, but thrust a clipboard toward me and started flipping forms and pointing to where I should sign.

Just then my sister walked in, carrying the baby.  “He’s so beautiful!” she said.  “Just hold him once!”

Judy looked horrified.

“Take him away,” I pleaded.  She moved forward an inch, hesitated, then turned and walked out of the room.

Judy laughed when she saw the name I had put on the form.  “Isaac?”

I tried to explain that, in the bible, Isaac was sacrificed, and that was how I saw what I was doing.  I thought it was odd I had to explain this to someone from Catholic Charities.

“I should have told you not to give him a name.  His parents will change it.  You have to admit that Isaac is kind of a weird name”

I said I’d be happy to write and explain why I’d chosen the name, how meaningful it was.

“That wouldn’t be a good idea.  They want to know as little about you as possible.  A clean start, you know.  It’s for the best.”

I signed the forms.  I watched my hand moving across the paper like a mannequin hand.

After Judy left I got dressed, walked out, and caught the bus home.

Muggers

This is the fourth post in a series which starts here.

In March I was mugged.

My teenage sister babysat Vince while I went to get groceries. She adored Vince and couldn’t be kept away, so she was in on the Big Secret but we never discussed it.

It was the first of the month; everyone had cashed their AFDC checks and was flush. I was walking home, a bag in each arm, when a guy asked me the time. I said I didn’t have a watch. Seconds later he tackled me from behind. I did a belly flop onto the sidewalk. The groceries flew. I saw the eggs popping open. The milk bounced but didn’t break, then spun around on the ice and harpooned a snowbank 20 feet away. The guy ran off with my purse.

It all seemed to happen in slow motion. My wrists and palms and one cheek were bleeding. I scrambled onto my hands and knees and looked behind me. He was running down the hill, laughing. The joke was on him, since I had just spent all my money.

I leaped to my feet and screamed impotently, “Fucker!”

I gathered up what was salvageable of my groceries. Then it hit me that I hadn’t given a thought to the baby and how hitting the sidewalk might have hurt it; I had thought only of the groceries. I reasoned that any shock would have been cushioned by amniotic fluid, but I felt no connection to this baby like I had with Vince.

Could the baby feel the lack of love? Would it cause him to neglect his own children, or be an alcoholic, or become criminally insane? I jerked my mind away from these thoughts and any rising doubts or feelings that welled up.

Feeling wouldn’t be a good idea. It might make me change my mind. This was like a prison sentence, I thought. I have to wait out my term, separated from my friends and family. Once I was released, I would keep it a secret from everyone, forever, including Vince. That was the point. That was to avoid the shame.

My grandmother had dropped in on me on New Year’s Day. My mother had told her I was missing from the family Christmas gathering because I had taken it into my head to start my own family traditions.

I was five and a half months pregnant and wearing a baggy sweatshirt. I wanted to fling myself on her, tell her the truth, beg her forgiveness, and tell her it was all going to be fine after April. But instead I acted cold. I could tell she was bewildered and hurt but she didn’t ask any questions and she didn’t stay long.

Time flew. I was like a serious machine whose job it was to keep moving, always moving. Read papers, churn out papers. Interact with fellow students as if I was one of them. Transport Vince from home to daycare to home again. Feed him, clothe him, clean him. Clean the apartment so everything looked normal.

I was on a fiscal austerity plan, thanks to Ronald Reagan. I now washed all my laundry by hand in the bathtub, including the cloth diapers, and hung everything around the apartment to dry.

I had received a $2,500 tuition bill.

“Don’t you watch the news?” the financial aid lady asked. “About the big welfare reforms? Your programs got axed.”

One of the programs in question was social security survivor benefits for widows and orphans. Since my dad had died when I was eight, I received a few hundred dollars a month. This was supposed to last until I was 22. I broke the no-contact rule and called my brother, who was also in college. “Yeah, that bastard Reagan pushed a reform package through Congress that lowered the maximum age to 20. I’ll get cut off next year.”

“That fucker,” was all I could say.

The job training benefit that was covering my tuition had also been cut. I was forced to take out a student loan to pay my tuition, another reason I had to graduate and get a job—so I could make the loan payments.

The Slog

This is the third of three posts, the first and second are here. If you started reading this blog for the prison theme you may be wondering, what does any of this have to do with Vince going to prison? I don’t know if it does—you tell me.

And so I informed people of my decision, which I had known from the moment I’d found out I was pregnant again: I would give the baby up for adoption.

I told Judy, the Catholic Charities social worker, and her eyes lighted up. “I do have a few reservations,” I told her about what I had learned about adopted people in my Abnormal Psychology class. Judy laughed lightly and handed me a clipboard with forms. While I was signing them she said, “We have to trust that God knows what’s best for us. Even if it’s painful—especially if it’s painful, we just have to put ourselves in God’s loving hands.” I thought this was muddled but made a mental note to try to pray in my spare time.

I told my college advisor. “My due date is right before finals but I promise there won’t be any interruptions in my attendance.” She looked a little stunned and said, “We’ll understand if you need to take some time off.”

“No, no—that won’t be necessary,” I cut her off. I didn’t want them to cut me any slack. I would graduate on time. The whole point of this plan was to do what was best for all three of us, so I needed to graduate and get a job.

The other point of the plan was to keep it all hush-hush. I would stay away from the family, my friends, and the whole neighborhood where they all lived. If my grandma called and asked if she could visit me, I would make an excuse to keep her away. It would only be for six months, right? It wasn’t as extreme as the case of Margie, a girl I knew in high school, who went through her whole pregnancy and adoption while living in her family’s house. None of them ever talked about it. Now that was weird.

So there Vince and I sat, alone, on his first birthday. I had called The Creep and invited him but he had “some really important business” to take care of. In other words, a drug deal. I only saw him once again in the ensuing 36 years.

V 1st Bday

I did what you’re supposed to do for a baby’s first birthday. I made a cake with one candle and let him eat it with his fingers and smear it all over the place. And I cried…and cried.

Then I stiffened myself and plunged my feelings way down into the deep freeze and didn’t feel anything again for a year. That’s the thing about avoiding negative feelings—it makes you unable to experience positive ones, either.

Life went on as before. I trudged through the snow to the daycare, studied furiously, and cleaned the house as though I was in boot camp. As happened during my first pregnancy, perverts tried to pick me up at the bus stop, in stores, in the elevator of my building.

The student who had pressured me to have an abortion was disappointed when I told him I was going the adoption route. “That’s…I’m sorry, but that’s just selfish,” he said. “That poor kid,” he said, staring at my belly.

Sometimes students I didn’t know would try to strike up a conversation.

“When’s your baby due?” they would ask brightly.

“April,” I would respond flatly, giving them fair warning that proceeding with the conversation would be a mistake.

“Do you want a boy or a girl?”

“I don’t really care, since I’m giving it up for adoption.”

This would result in sputtering and something like, “You’re so brave—good luck!” as they backed their way out of the room as fast as possible. I hated that line—“You’re so brave.”

Now that I had set my course I didn’t second guess it, but if you had asked me I might have said I was just being practical.

To be continued ….