Sometimes, we don’t think about the aftermath of placing your child for adoption. I want to share my story. Upon leaving the hospital a week after giving birth to identical twin boys, my dream was to go off somewhere; get a total makeover, lose the weight I had gained, be pampered, and have time to get my head on straight. Of course, none of those things were going to happen.
In all seriousness, what does one do immediately after having given birth, then walking away from the hospital empty-handed? What is next? You are not the same girl you once were. Where do you begin? Do you do something new, like apply to college or visit a relative far, far away?
Well, I no longer had a job, so that was my first step. I didn’t think it was that big a step. Applying and getting hired was relatively easy to do for me. What was hard was always thinking about my sons. Did those boys miss me? Did my children even know I was gone? I did a lot of daydreaming about what I would be doing right this minute if I were with my twins.
I still had it in my mind that I was somehow going to be able to get my boys and care as I wanted, but even with a new job that did not pay any more than my last job, I was not able to save any money. I still had to decide what to do. Placing my sons for adoption was becoming much more of a reality.
I think my first real setback was when the office I worked in held a baby shower for one of the staff. I did not think too much of it, but once the baby shower was underway, I had a growing, overpowering feeling of wanting to sob.
What I was doing there? Listening to all the “oohs and aahs” and seeing all the adorable baby clothes and toys that were gifted was much more than I could handle in less than six months after having given birth to my boys. I was shattered. I wanted to run out the office screaming, or at least, crawl into a corner somewhere and cry my heart out. But I could not do those things. I was not allowed. My secret was taboo, my family never even one time asked how I was doing or what I was feeling once I left the hospital. The door to my past was closed forever.
I kept wondering if there was anyone I could tell. Was there anyone I could share my secret with? I did work with one girl my age, who I was friendly with. We went to dinner after work one night. We were talking and she was telling me all of her secrets about her boyfriend and how he and she had to sneak around because her parents hated him. So, of course, me being someone who really needed to share some secrets, told her about recently giving birth to identical twin boys. I ended my story and looked to her for some understanding or some acknowledgment at least, but there was none of that. She asked me why I told her. I said, “I guess so you would know me better.” Well, obviously she did not think I was someone worth getting to know. That was the end of our friendship. To me, this was confirmation that indeed I had to keep my pregnancy a secret. Apparently, no one would understand.
I eventually did place the boys for adoption when the twins were still less than a year old. It was the most selfless thing I have ever done. I agonized over this decision. I hated myself for what I had done. I was destroyed and had the added weight of guilt and shame. Yet, the impact it was to have on my life was yet to be realized.
In a harsher turn of events, I tried to end my life at one point during this time. I took an entire bottle of medication. I have no idea what came over me after, but fortunately, I got scared and called someone, who then rushed over and drove me to a hospital ER. I had my stomach pumped. I don’t know what the current policy is, but back in the ’60s, New York State mandated that any suicide attempt required a 30 stay in a psychiatric unit. So, there I was. I found myself in a situation much scarier than anything I had ever experienced. I kept totally to myself. I attended group therapy sessions and got to talk to a psychologist once a week. Then, I was discharged.
I muddled through the next couple of years. I wasn’t happy at all. My grandfather got sick and within a year I lost him. I was heartbroken. I always felt he was the only person in my life who ever really loved me, despite it all.
I finally began to date. This proved to be incredibly stressful for me. After several dates and the possibility of becoming intimate presented itself, all I could think of was my altered body. I now had a “mommy tummy” (my belly was squishy). I also had lots of stretch marks after carrying two six-pound babies. I was so self-conscious of my body that if I ever did let my guard down, it had to be under the cover of darkness. I did not want anyone to see me naked.
I had absolutely no clue as to what life held in store for me. Would I ever find anyone who would marry me with my past? I was damaged goods, who would be willing to consider me as marriage material?
This sounds so ridiculous to me now, after recently seeing someone announce on national television that she recently had a baby girl and placed her for adoption. Had I suffered all these years unnecessarily? True, times have changed, and people are now more accepting of others. Moral standards are more relaxed today. There is presently little, if any, the stigma attached to having a child out of wedlock. But this was not the case in the mid-1960s.
I was so relieved to eventually find someone who accepted me and my past and wanted to marry me. This boosted my self-esteem. I did not know what else to do with myself, and I was lonely, so I got married.
I wanted to get pregnant right away. I wanted a baby. And, my dream came true. I got pregnant. It wasn’t the typical pregnancy, however. The urine test was negative, but the doctor assured me he had delivered many babies whose urine test was negative. So, I went on my merry way. I began wearing maternity clothes, a lot sooner than was necessary. I had not had a period in months and was growing a nice little belly. I was in heaven going into my sixth month of pregnancy. Then, I went to my next doctor’s appointment and my world shattered. The doctor told me something was wrong. He scheduled a d&c for me. I was crushed, my baby was dead.
I went back to the doctor a week after the surgery. He sat me down and tried not to look at me, telling me there was no baby. I had had a hysterical pregnancy. A hysterical, phantom or false pregnancy is uncommon. It is purely psychological. I have seen it referred to as “the heartbreaking phenomenon.”
I guess, in my traumatized psyche, I wanted a baby so badly I was able to trick my body into thinking it was pregnant. I never told anyone what the doctor told me. I was devastated and unsure of my own sanity. I preferred to let everyone think I had lost a baby. At this point, my twin boys would have been about 7 years old. I ended that marriage rather quickly with everyone thinking it was the result of having lost the baby. Little did people know, or I for that matter, know that my goal in life was not to have a happy marriage, but to have a baby.
I moved on to a second marriage quickly. This time, I was not able to get pregnant in the two-plus years I was married, not even with medical intervention. I was sure this was my punishment for placing my twins for adoption. I believed I was getting what I deserved. Still unhappy and dissatisfied, I walked away from this marriage as well.
When I turned 30 years old, I reached out to a therapist. I laid it all out, the hurt, the shame, the confusion, and the mess I thought I was making of my life. I began to understand my behaviors. I saw that my goal had become having a baby. With me beginning the process of understanding myself came the resolve that I could not continue in this same direction. So, I really worked hard at getting to know myself. I learned what made me “tick.” I also had, by this time, resigned myself to the idea that I was not going to be able to have children. I also finally began my college education.
After a year or so, I met someone who I really did want to marry for the all right reasons and without any expectations of getting pregnant. My therapist and I agreed this time made sense. We had similar intellect and interests and had plans for our future to travel the world. I was not following in the destructive pattern I was so used to.
So, we moved in together when I was about 33 and, believe it or not, became pregnant at age 35. I remember the nurse who called me with the news asking if she should congratulate me. After all, I was 35 years old and unmarried. Thankfully, this was a committed relationship, so we planned to marry quickly. Months later, I brought a beautiful little girl into the world. My therapist was one of the first calls I made after my daughter was born. I was so elated telling him the news. He told me that, not everyone, but for some women, just had to trust life before bringing a child into the world.
While in the hospital, after the birth of my daughter, my roommate, a mother of two, was sharing all her knowledge with me about how to bathe the baby, etc. After all, I was presenting myself as a first-time mom. That was until this nurse entered my room while my roommate had family members visiting. The nurse blurted out, “So, how do your 17-year-old twins feel about you having this little baby?” I was speechless, the room fell dead quiet, then the nurse walked out of the room. To this day, I don’t like how that nurse made me feel that day. She came back the next day and apologized to me, but the damage was done.
I told my doctor about this and he felt bad. He said this never should have been on my hospital record, on the top line, no less.
Nonetheless, I got over it and enjoyed every moment of mothering my adorable little girl. I guess my head was finally in the right place, and that I did finally trust life because 16 months later, I gave birth to a second little girl, but not before being reassured by my doctor that my hospital record would only show the birth of my first daughter 16 months prior.
My life was complete, I just absolutely loved being a mother. I gave it my all and tried my best not to be selfish with my time or attention to the girls. I did everything with my daughters, becoming a class mother when those girls began school. I was active in PTA and class outings. I was devoted and so happy to finally have this opportunity to enrich the lives of these two little girls with my loving and cheerful disposition.
When the girls became teenagers, my husband and I realized that we really had grown apart. We were in our early fifties and agreed we did not want to spend our old age together. Our girls were just graduating from high school and would soon be starting college. We decided this would be a good time to separate.
Eventually, I began dating again. It was a relief for me to not have to think about my “mommy tummy” or stretch marks ever again. I had a good reason for them because I had two daughters.
I cannot believe how I see this situation now and how positive I’ve become in looking back and writing this article. I have surprised myself. I wish I had had this same attitude while living through it all. Words are now just pouring out. I did not plan on divulging all that I have here but, be that as it may, I have laid it all out before you.
For me, this is a result of finally being free of all the guilt and shame, as well as the passing of many years. I am so relieved that an expectant mother who gets pregnant nowadays, regardless of whether she places the baby for adoption, can reach out for help. I certainly could have benefited from that help. It is much too complicated, emotional and earth-shattering for anyone, alone, to navigate a “normal” life after this experience.
My advice would be to seek out support groups, individual help, or whatever relief you can avail yourself to. Maybe even living in an unwed mothers’ home for a brief amount of time, if that is an option, would be a good idea. You would be with others with the same struggles as you. Try not to allow yourself to accept guilt and shame. No one deserves to take on that burden. Perhaps, and hopefully, you will fare better than I did through my many years of struggling.
I am so proud of having survived all my drama. I am comfortable with myself. I am finally secure and confident. I have gained lots of compassion through my experiences, so much so that I could be considered emphatic because I really do feel for others.
I became involved in the community with those who suffer from dementia. I feel like I am loved by many. I am, at long last, secure and confident. This is really the best time of my life. I have worked hard to make something of myself. I am someone I can be proud of.
It was at this wonderful time in my life that one of my twin boys reached out and found me after 52 years. I now also have a granddaughter and two great-grandsons. I don’t feel any more shame. My son and I are always telling our story to others. It is so special, so wondrous there is no reason for the shame or guilt anymore. It was the perfect time for us to be reunited. I feel like I am at my best. I have so much more to give. My children can be proud of who I am now. Life is good.
Linda O’Donnell is the director of a senior citizen day program. As a credentialed dementia specialist, she has a passion for engaging folks with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by easing their lives as well as the lives of their loved ones. The thrill of extending her family is more than she ever dreamed possible. The continued bonding of this new family and the love that has grown from this reunion is simply magical!