I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but felt it was important to have my niece and nephew read it before I put it online. I love them both for they are extensions of my sister. I dedicate this blog to them and the love I hold in my heart for them. Thank you for letting me express these thoughts of your Mom. You mean the world to me.
It has been such a long time since I have written here. I guess it’s because I write for a living now and it makes writing for pleasure a little more difficult. Finding the right time and the right temperament and a smidge of creativity is a concoction I have not been able to muster for a while. I am inspired to write to tonight because of a movie we watched last night. I had it earmarked knowing it would remind me of my sister, Rosie, but I had no idea just how much it would impact me.
A little history is in order – my sister passed away several years ago. I want the world to know I am not telling tales out of school. Rosie was the most honest and upfront person about her life as anyone I have ever known. The subject that follows is one we discussed many times and one that she discussed with her children.
When I was in high school, my parents told me my sister was pregnant. She was not married and in 1970 you would think having a child out-of-wedlock would not have the gravity that it did in the 1940’s and 1950’s and even into the 1960’s. Perhaps in my family it did.
I was not privy to the conversations between my sister and my parents; all I know is that my sister ‘went away’ to have her baby. She was fortunate I guess in that she lived with our sister, but I know the emotions took a toll on both of them. This blog is not about the details of that time, but more the outcome. Rosie gave her baby up for adoption. I would not know until years later just how that decision impacted her life.
Fast forward many years. We had all married, had children and even grandchildren. We were a long way from those years as very young women.
I went to a summer photography conference at Duke University. One evening they had a reading by a woman who had written a book: Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. Ann was an adoptee who did not meet her biological mother until she was 56 years old. The room was packed with people who came to listen. On the small stage sat Ann and three women whose stories were in Ann’s book. They would read their own stories from the book that night. There was not a dry eye in the house. After the readings, the session was opened to questions from the audience.
It was not until that moment that I realized the audience was filled with young people in search of their birth parents. In search of their history and looking for answers. Were they not good enough? Were they unlovable? Why did my mother give me away? Most had loving adoptive parents who supported their desire to look for their birth mother. There were also women in the audience who were forced to give their children away and were searching for their child. Were they hated? Would they understand? Did they know they had no choice? There were tears and anger and hurt. Barbs were thrown and hugs were given. It was a difficult night for everyone.
I left that session with an understanding I never had before. These young women had their civil rights violated. They were forced to sign legal documents without representation or without any knowledge of what they were signing. It is a sad statement of our society. They felt shame and all were told to just ‘put it behind you and move on’. They would be forever changed. The young fathers were rarely, if ever, involved or held accountable. For boys, sex was a right of passage. For many women, that first sexual encounter would change their very being.
Rosie’s situation was different in some ways. I know she had an attorney, but I am not sure she understood fully what it would mean to give this child up for adoption. Regardless of the circumstances or her age or the year or the surroundings, my sister could have been on that stage. So much of her story was similar and it hurt to realize how hard it must have been for her.
For the children, many never found their biological mother because so many records were closed. Such was the case for my sister. Rosie had a baby boy. He was born in Charleston, SC. From all the stories we were told, he was adopted by a minister and his wife – or someone to do with the church.
After the reading, I called Rosie and we talked. I am ashamed to say it was the first time she and I had ever sat and talked about what happened to her. This is part of the fallout from secrets. Everyone is expected to keep them. You don’t talk about it. You just move on. Did any of us realize what we were asking of her? I don’t think any of us had any idea. Rosie read the book and told me it was the first time she had realized just how many young women went through similar circumstances.
Rosie reached out several times to try to find her son to no avail. The doctor was long retired, the judge could not be found. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she wanted to put her information on a registry should her son ever need to find out anything about his medical history. Through the years I think she did come to terms with the fact that she would never know her son and yes, she died without ever meeting him. I can only imagine the questions and heartache she felt over the years wondering if she had indeed given him a better life. She would never get those answers and he would never get to know his biological mother.
Last night we watched Philomena. If you do not know anything about the movie, it is about an elderly woman in Ireland who kept the secret of her pregnancy and the forced adoption of her son for over 50 years. I will not discuss the movie or the outcome, because it is a movie everyone should see. For me, it just made me think of Rosie and it made me sad all over again.
I think it is time for women to stop keeping secrets. Sexual or physical abuse, violation of civil rights, rape, pregnancy, abortion, divorce, multiple marriages – no matter the issue, secrets are unhealthy. I once read that secrets are just little lies. We need to stop lying to ourselves, to our families, to society. As a woman, I hope that I can always be there for anyone who has a secret that is a burden on their heart.
Rosie, I miss you so much. Each day you cross my mind and each day I wish you were here. I miss our talks and your laughter and your edge. I miss our trips to the cabin and all that we learned about each other.
Today I am wondering if I should reach out and try to find my nephew. I wonder what you would say? Would you ask me to try or would you ask me to let him be? I wish I knew.