37 years ago today, after I told my parents I was pregnant, they decided to send me away. They found me a spot in a Catholic home for unwed mothers a few towns away on Long Island. It’s likely they made the decision out of a combination of fear of being embarassed and a sense that I should be punished, but it turned out to be the best thing they could have done for me. For the first time, I fully appreciated the advantages of being part of a community of women. Both my fellow preggos and the nuns who cared for us were remarkably kind and non-judgmental, and we all supported each other. I have heard many horror stories from earlier generations and more religious cultures about inconveniently-pregnant young women who were locked up in terrible conditions with hostile nuns, so I appreciate how lucky I was to land in such a supportive place at a time when the worst of the stigma had passed. Regina Residence in Merrick, NY, was such a positive and healing place, for a few years after I gave up my daughter, I volunteered there, talking to the girls about adoption as both an adoptee and a birth mother.
I know I may have had a somewhat unusual attitude, but I was always proud of my decision to give up my baby. I told everyone in my life about giving up my daughter because it was the hardest/best thing I’ve ever done. But though I was proud of my act of love, another birth parent I knew turned it into a source of shame, hiding it from future partners. I imagine in these days of readily-available DNA matching, that birth parent lives in a constant state of terror, waiting for the phone to ring.
These days, adoption doesn’t come with the same assumption of privacy birth parents and adoptive parents had back then. With the advent of DNA testing sites like 23andMe and Ancestry, buried familial relationships can resurface without warning, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it.
In my case, I spent 18 years with my fingers crossed, waiting for my daughter to reappear. It was a happy day for us all when we were reunited. But I know that’s not everyone’s situation.
I really hope the end of guaranteed anonymity doesn’t mean the end of the institution of adoption. It was the right decision for me and my birth mother, and it was the right decision for me and my daughter. I think it could still give girls a chance to grow up while making sure their children get the stable home lives they deserve.
I am a total believer in women’s right to choose, but for me, at that time, adoption was the right choice. I have never regretted it a day in my life, and now I have a beautiful daughter in my life who I wouldn’t trade for anything.
If you would like more information about adoption, you can check out the following (non-religious) sources:
Note: I didn’t plan this post to be timely, but unfortunately the serious threats to women’s rights this week have made the whole post seem a bit on the nose. If you, like me, are horrified by the measures passed in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Mississippi, I recommend you go check out these websites to see what you can do to help: