“Bridges” is a short story. It’s brand new, and it’s published here.
This story is not about adoption per se. But it is about lies. And secrets. And about reunion. If you want to read more pieces, both fiction and nonfiction, about adoption, you can find them here.
And speaking of lies, secrets, and adoption, here’s a shocking new piece about adoption from South Korea. So many parents told lies about their children. So many children told lies about their parents.
“You would see 70 or 80 babies in the infant’s nursery, and then, one day, 20 or 40 would be suddenly gone,” he said.
Many years ago I relinquished my baby for adoption. This news story brought my choices (or lack of them) to mind.
A secret pregnancy in a Catholic town
It was 1970. I’d recently graduated from a Catholic high school in my home town–a town so Catholic there was no public high school or public grade school there. Underneath my cap and gown was a well kept secret. So well kept that no one knew that I was pregnant until later that summer–six weeks before the baby was born. I confided in my mother. We told my father and my boyfriend (the father of the baby) and not another soul.
I was fairly certain than I was damned. Yet when it came time to sign the adoption papers, I specified that I wanted my son to be adopted by a Catholic family.
A year or so afterwards I viewed my wishes for a Catholic boyhood for my son as evidence of a sort of Stockholm syndrome. I was a captive of Catholicism, hobbled by the constrained morality of my town and my church. So hobbled that I could not endure the shame and scandal of raising my son myself. Yet I handed him over to be indoctrinated with the same narrow-mindedness.
While it’s true that my son was adopted into a good and loving home, religion is no guarantee of that. And while there’s a bit more leeway in the Catholic Church these days, it seems that there won’t be enough for the mother of the child in the article linked to above. If she is identified, she will be lucky not to be charged with a crime. A church is not considered a safe place to leave an infant, according to the Minnesota Safe Haven Law. And thus, the woman has committed a crime.
What do we wish (pray) for?
Certainly I have the same wish that most readers of the story will have. I wish for the baby to be loved, to be safe, to be given the opportunities in life that everyone deserves. But I also think of the woman who felt so trapped by her circumstances, that she (or someone she had implored to help her) had to climb the Cathedral steps that winter night with the almost insurmountable task of leaving that baby behind. Picture that.
I also wish that the priest had spoken up for the mother. That he’d beseeched those hearing of the story to put themselves in the mother’s shoes. That he’d discussed how the Church has failed women and children like these over the decades. And how about pointing out that the Church has wrongly encouraged the throwing of stones at women in circumstances like hers. I wish he’d put out a plea for the mother to contact him. And when she did, he’d offered her support to help her raise her son.
“Meet your great-granddaughter,” my daughter-in-law said, gesturing lackadaisically toward the plastic doll in the infant seat on the couch. My 15-year–old granddaughter stood nearby, grinning sheepishly. She held her arm aloft, displaying the bracelet that must be swiped across a chip in the doll’s chest to prove that its needs have been met. “Talia” cries when she’s hungry, needs to be changed, or wants comforting. My granddaughter’s mothering skills will be rated. Her high school puts its trust in this robot, touted as a deterrent to teen pregnancy.
I had my doubts from the get-go.
Doesn’t everyone already know that babies are a lot of work?
I loved my dolls when I was a girl. I even wrapped our cat’s kittens in baby blankets, and pretended my brothers were my own babies. The Besty-Wetsy doll that was my favorite still lies in a cabinet, her soft arms and legs atrophied from age. Everyone in a Catholic community prior to birth control knew that babies were work. When I got pregnant as a 16-year-old, it wasn’t because I was ignorant of the care required of a baby. I got pregnant because I was ignorant about sex. I was ignorant about standing up for myself and what I wanted or didn’t want. No one talked about sex, or desire, or birth control. Or a girl having agency in any of those things.
In the 1960s in a town of 3000 Catholics where public schools did not exist, one’s expectations for honest and open discourse about sex were non-existent. I think the bar should be higher now. A lot higher. Birth control is readily available. Tens of thousands of women my age have lost babies to adoption. Mothers these days have sought to raise our children in a more open environment. We now have decades of data and experience to inform us on the subject of teen pregnancy. Four million babies were were adopted during the Baby Scoop. The girls and young women that gave birth to those babies didn’t know what they needed to know.
Sex education is the best teen pregnancy deterrent
As it turns out, my feelings about Talia the robot and the job she’s purportedly performing have been validated by a recent study, published in the medical journal, Lancet. That research has subsequently reported just about everywhere. Newsweek, citing Lancet, reports, “Over 1,000 girls aged between 13 to 15 years old across 57 schools in Western Australia who took part in the scheme were two times more likely to get pregnant by the age of 20 than those who attended standard sex education classes, Australian scientists found.” The kicker: Teen pregnancy rates are even higher in the U.S. than in Australia.
The good news is that teen birth rates are dropping. The rate in the U.S. is at a record low. The Pew Research Center reports that the reason is “Less sex, use of more effective contraception and more information about pregnancy prevention. Furthermore, among never-married teens who have had sex, 79% of girls and 84% of boys used a contraceptive method the first time they had sex.” Holy moly is what I say to that. That never could have happened in my 1970 Catholic life. In my mind, this is the heart of the matter. Education. Contraception. Preparation. Honest talk instead of noise from a robot.
Kevin Parker’s birthmother gave birth to him in 1977 in Riverside, CA.
I recently met Kevin Parker’s adopted mom. She and her son are searching for his birthmother. She’s asked me to re-post what she has posted on Facebook:
I believe my son has a right to know who his birth mother is. He was born in 1977 at Parkview Hospital in Riverside. His birth mother named him Kevin, and she used Parker as a last name on the birth certificate. She would be in her early 50’s now. She once lived in Southern California, and we were told she joined the army not long after his birth. If you know anyone who fits this profile, please contact me.
The basilica towers over everything in my town.
I worried about going to hell pretty frequently during my eight years of Catholic grade school. Girls were warned constantly against impure thoughts, words and deeds. It was hard to measure up against the martyred virginal saints who valued their purity more than their lives. When I got pregnant my senior year of high school, I felt marked forever as a sinner.
Nowadays, in my home town, things are different.
Young unmarried women don’t have to keep their pregnancies secret and give away their babies. And guess what? The church is still standing. It hasn’t been struck by a bolt of lightening or slid into the creek. What I’d once thought of as a narrow-minded main street seems broader now and prettier. Almost fairy-tale lovely–a place where families can live happily ever after.
Over-simplified? Yes. I know that. But still, it’s a different world than the one I grew up in.