The Shame of Secrets - An Adoption Story

Posted on November 28 2016

My eyes were loosely covered with a sanitized towel to prevent me from seeing the baby that would soon emerge from my adolescent, girlish body. The dim light of the room seemed to muffle the voices like a blanket, secretive in their purposes to not only aid in the delivery of new life, but also to make sure I knew nothing of that process. It was finally going to be over.

 I had spent the last two plus months more than 100 miles from my family in a Catholic Charities Home in Cheyenne, WY. There were about 6 of us there, the youngest being 14. We all held jobs at the local hospital and I had been assigned to the kitchen. I spent the days peeling potatoes, setting up meal trays, washing giant pots and pans and scouring stainless steel counters with Comet. It was exhausting work and I walked back to the home bone weary, alone.My 5’2” frame was having a struggle supporting the weight of the my expanding belly..  One day I simply had had enough of the rude ways of the kitchen manager and her lack of understanding of my backaches and fatigue. I walked out angry and cried all the way home.

 My parents had made the decision to place me there. I had no input at all. We sat in our living room, my boyfriend and I, my parents and his dad. His mother never knew. My mother had planned it all, I’m sure. We lived in Aurora, CO and I have no idea how I ended up in Cheyenne, WY.

 I was sixteen years old,  and had been with my boyfriend  a year and a half. I really do believe we were in love. We had suspected pregnancy, and we went  to the library to look up symptoms. It was decided I had several of them so we went to Denver General for a free pregnancy test. It came back negative so life just went on. I continued trying to hold my stomach in during Mr Feldman’s morning  English class. and regularly  suppressed the truth as well as the waves of nausea. Apparently I was quite blind to my symptoms and altogether naive. I tried not to think about it.

  It wasn't too much later that I was sitting on an exam table in my mother’s doctors office. I had had one month of back pains. Only later did I realize it was caused by trying to hold my stomach in.Dr Clarke did an exam and somberly announced, “Mrs. Prindle, your daughter is approximately 5 months pregnant.” To which my mother countered, “What about abortion?” Thank God for the doctors assertion that I was too far along to say nothing of the fact that abortion was illegal. I am so very thankful for the providence of God’s protection. My father met us at the office and we all drove home in his little blue Volkswagen. The air was thick with my father’s anger and sorrow. There were no words. The back seat was not far enough away from the front seat for any level of comfort at all. For any of us.

 The next few weeks were spent in great secrecy. No one knew, not even my best friend. Every one was told, “Kidney infection.” When my friends came to visit I was placed on the couch and covered with a blanket, supposedly sick but really flushed with the health of a budding pregnancy. My mother would lay me down in the back of our Volkswagen, taking me shopping for clothes on the other side of town, and to a tutor for completing my school assignments. There was so much shame. So much hiding. So little talking.

 Not many days after walking away from the hospital job, I secretly downed a tablespoon or two of the castor oil my roommate and I had purchased. We had heard it would put you into labor if you were ready. We made a pact to do it on the same day even though our due dates were a week apart.I betrayed her. I wanted this done. I had been there about two months and my parents had visited twice and my boyfriend once. I wanted to go home.

 It wasn’t long before cramping began and I was lying in a hospital room in the early morning hours of August 3, 1970 with Mrs. Wotowey, the director of the home, on one side of my bed and a nun on the other. They were carrying on a quiet conversation  as if they were having a cup of tea while I winced and groaned through labor pains. Mrs Wotowey wasn’t a particularly warm woman but she would occasionally reach over  and pat my hand. I wondered how many times she had done this. It wasn’t long before they gave me something for the pain- perhaps emotional as well as physical.

 I was wheeled into the delivery room and I have the vague recollection of peeking from under a white towel. I cheated. I wasn’t supposed to see the dark, curly, full head of hair that emerged. That’s all I knew. My baby had dark hair and a lot of it. I didn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl. I heard it cry but never was able to hold it close to my breast to soothe the whimpering.

I was placed in a private room. All the other rooms on my wing had happy mothers, crying babies and proud dads. I had breasts bound tight with cloth, an empty womb and four walls bare walls that stared at me all day. I was alone when the social worker came in in her crisp, grey, tailored suit, pen and paper in hand. She set the papers down on my tray and handed me the pen. She must have explained what I would be signing, what I was doing. Wouldn’t she have? She must have.  i just signed and when she left I cried.

 Sometime the next morning my parents and one of my sisters came to get me. We stopped to eat and I remember great discomfort in trying to sit at the restaurant. We must have talked about something. I know we didn’t talk about the baby that had been laid in another mother’s waiting  arms. I know we never talked about the baby that was mine but I never held, never knew.

 Several weeks after arriving home, I opened mail from the hospital and saw the paper that said “Baby Boy Prindle”. At least now I knew something. I’m not sure if that made it better or worse.

 I had stretch marks nearly an inch wide that snaked up my belly so it would be hard keep a secret from my future husband. When I had been dating him awhile I told him. He wasn’t kind or compassionate. Every look at the marks were a reminder to him that I had been with someone else and he got silently angry just thinking about it(more shame). So guess what? He never wanted to talk about it.So we didn’t.

 When my son would have been 18 years old I happened upon a “Dear Abby” that went something like this: “ My 18 year old son was recently killed in an auto accident. We adopted him was an infant and we had a wonderful life together as a family. I have been thinking of trying to contact his birthmother so I might share pictures and stories of his life….” My heart sank. My son would have been 18. What if this was him? It could be him. Should I try to find him again? It goes with out saying that my husband would not support the efforts. By this time I had a close relationship with God and I trusted that this was not the time and when it was, He would let me know. It wasn’t worth shaking up an already  turbulent marriage.

 Four years later I went through a divorce and moved to California to be closer to my family for needed support. I thought of my son often but my life was so busy trying to keep my little family afloat. I knew God had a plan and soon I would watch it unfold. It was miraculous in many ways.

Somewhere around 1997, with my new husband’s encouragement, I added my name and information to an online adoption site. It allowed one to search the site as a birthparent or an adoptee. I entered as much information as I thought necessary, date and place of birth, the small amount of information I knew of my son, and a bit of physical description of myself. It was on there for at least a year and I would periodically check adoptee information to see if there was anything close to a match. There never was. And I waited.

 Sometime later I learned that the state of Wyoming had a program in which you obtain the services of a court appointed advocate.They were allowed to search closed adoption records. They don’t charge a fee, just expenses. I spoke by phone with my advocate. She would be going into the records and searching for a match. She made no promises and did not give me a time frame. She requested a letter from me written to my son, telling as much or as little as I liked of our story. Once she located the adoptee, she would contact him and ask permission to send the letter. From that he could determine if he wanted any further contact. Talk about pressure in writing this letter. But again I knew that God was working and it was all in His hands no matter what I did or didn’t write.

 Several months later I was returning from a business trip. I opened my email and found this:

“I was informed by a friend that was searching for her birthparents  on adoption.com that there was some information I should see for myself. I have interest, some  for medical reasons and for some other reasons as well. All I know is that my birthparents were in high school when I was born. I was born in Cheyenne WY on August 3, 1970. I am short and have brown, hair and blue eyes.I would like to get in touch with you if you are interested.” The breath wouldn’t come, my eyes filled with tears and I uttered a quiet gasp. “Short with brown, hair and blue eyes…” This also describes me. This could be him. I had waited so long and the time could be now.

 I immediately called my advocate and read her the note. She said, “That is so very strange that you would call today. You see I believe I just now found your son. However there were so many by the same name, I did not know which one to call until you told me where he lived.” Now that I know that I know exactly who to call, I will call him and get back to you.

 Now things were happening very fast and but it wouldn’t be long until they slowed to a snail’s pace. She did call me back, right away, saying he agreed to receiving the letter and then it was in his court. He would decide whether he wanted contact. Unfortunately I heard nothing for what I remember was about a year-a whole year! And then, on Mother’s Day I got a call. A quiet, deep voice said, “This is your son. I just wanted to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day and say thank you.” Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and pretty speechless but I saved the tears until after I hung up.

The following years would bring just a few calls. I often wondered, second guessing myself, if I had said something wrong. Friends would reassure me saying, “It’s just a guy thing.”  I knew he was dealing with several issues in his life and I considered anything I had a gift from God, even if I never heard from him again.

 There did finally come a time when I was able to meet him. I would love to conclude this story by saying everything was storybook perfect and we are good friends with frequent visits. We do keep in touch occasionally on Facebook. We are so very different from each other and that’s okay. He is a good man, extremely intelligent, happily married, and father to two boys. He is finding his way in life, a purposeful path to success at home and in work.

 Adoption is messy. Adoption is loss and sorrow. Adoption is answers to prayers and fulfillment of dreams. I never say I “gave up” a child for adoption I say I “placed" a child for adoption. The reason being is adoption, while painful, it is purposeful; “placing” your child into the arms of a waiting couple can bring great joy. A difficult decision for your loss to be another’s gain. A death for a life. Adoption for me in 1970 was not only messy but it was done all wrong. A consequence of choices complicated by isolation, concealment and shame. But it was 1970. What was meant to be protective was actually cruel and even a barrier to healing. I’m not meaning to callout anyone, especially my own parents. I know the pain they felt at the discovery of a daughter’s pregnancy outside marriage and the potential  loss of a grandchild.  I am thankful that we, as a society, have come so very far in this regard.”Open adoption” usually benefits both parties in a healthy way. But there are still many obstacles in most states with sealed records. I am not sure how I feel about the whole idea of opening records. I believe there should be discussion and proposals on how to at least examine the restrictions for purposes of allowing birthparents AND adoptees access to records. The greater goal being, most importantly, a means to healing with perhaps the benefit of a successful reunion and even relationship.

 

1 comment

  • Angie Roland: December 08, 2016
    Oh Janet, I read your blog through tears of sorrow and disbelief! What an enormous burden, what incredible bewildermet, what a dark time to have endured at such a young age, and with little or no support. I, like you know that God had a plan and giving life to your son was part of it. Regardless of what the future holds, I know you are reassured that God not only holds your future, but, his!

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