Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Stairs

I wrote this quite a while ago, but was not ready to share it at that time. Today is the anniversary of my adoption and I've decided that it was time to share. Be gentle with me.

When I was adopted, my mother tells me, the day they made it official, I cried inconsolably as they carried me down the courthouse stairs to start my new life. As the story goes, a little more than two years later when I made the trip down those stairs again, when my sister was the newly adopted infant, I was extremely disappointed because, not only did she not cry, she slept. I wanted her to cry. Crying was what was done. My mother had told me over and over. I cried all the way down the courthouse stairs. It was my birth story, or as close as I had to one. 

I just read The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. I shan't review it per se -- at least not here and now -- but it did stir up a lot of things I thought I'd put to rest.

One of the many things that jumped out at me -- and it probably was not nearly as prominent as it appeared to be -- was how many times stairs were mentioned. Stairs played a big part in my adoption story, and they played a part in many of the stories relayed by these women who became pregnant and relinquished their babies in the 50's, 60's and 70's. Throwing themselves down stairs in an attempt to force a miscarriage, taking their only exercise on the stairs while confined to the home for unwed mothers, and, yes, walking up and then down the stairs at the court house. A happy memory for adoptive parents, an unspeakably sad one for these young girls.

Unspeakable was a carefully chosen word. Their experiences were not spoken of.

Reading about them now, at this point in my life, was chilling.

I had no idea.

My parents had been given the company line regarding my birth circumstances. They weren't told much and -- now that I've read this book -- I doubt that much of what they were told was true. Similar stories about them were, no doubt, fabricated for my birth mother. Everyone was worried about "what was best for the child" and apparently truth didn't figure into that equation very tidily. 

I have never sought my birth mother, for many reasons, not one of which is unique. I respected my parents too much to want to hurt them with a search. I didn't want to disrupt the life of the woman who had given me up and probably moved on with her life -- maybe forgotten all about me -- probably forgotten all about me. I didn't want to give her the chance to reject me again.

I know now that that was probably misguided at best, and I am sorry.

I considered it when I was pregnant. I wanted the medical history I lacked. I considered it, but I didn't act on it. And then my daughter was born -- my first blood relative -- and I sort of forgot about it. I sort of forgot about everything. The whole game changed.

And now it's changed again. After reading the testimonies of so many women who were coerced into relinquishing their infants in that era -- not rejecting them (me), not throwing them (me) away, not ridding themselves of an inconvenient obstacle (um, me again), but instead mourning their loss (of me!) -- sometimes for the rest of their lives.

There is pain on every corner of this triad.

No-one escapes unscathed, whether we talk about it or sweep it under the rug.

I know that there are other adoptees who read my words. I know that there are adoptive parents who read my words. I don't know if there are any birth mothers who read my words or not. There is still a pretty thick veil of silence there. I hope -- by touching upon the very shallow surface of this issue here -- that I do not cause undue pain to any of them.

This book stirred things up in me.

But I won't do anything about it.

I am not brave enough to take those stairs.