The Lies Women Tell

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.

dandelionIt 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.

10 thoughts on “The Lies Women Tell

  1. There were times when Rosie and I talked about that time. It was painful for her and she really wanted to share her medical history with that son. I am sorry that she wasn’t able to find him before she left us. It hurts my heart to know that she carried that pain alone for so long. She was so strong and honest. I, too, miss her so much. We had only gotten started on the cabin adventures. We had so much left to say to each other. I am not able to guess what Rosie would have wanted in reference to you looking for her son. That will be a decision you will make as your heart leads. I love you both now and always and will support you in whatever your decision my be.

  2. Thanks, BJ. I can only imagine how hard this time was for both of you as you had a lot of responsibility for a situation that should never have been yours. I just know I love you for giving our sister a home when she needed it the most. I love you from the bottom of my heart.

  3. So true for so many women…equally true for those shamed into having unwanted abortions and carrying those consequences. Maggie, are a gifted writer, intelligent woman, and blessed with internet connectivity that didn’t exist in 1970. To me, it would be a tribute to make the effort to find Rosie’s son just to pass on the medical information she wished she could have.

    • Thank you, Kim. I have decided to abide by the wishes of Rosie’s children. In my heart I feel like some progress will be made toward closing the gap. I would love to hug him.

  4. Pingback: Genealogy Tools – From Cave Walls

  5. Reblogged this on From Cave Walls and commented:

    Day 277

    I am reblogging this in honor of my sister. Her birthday would be tomorrow and she was never able to meet her first born. I am always in hopes we will find him. Just to tell him he was loved.

  6. This is such a heart-rending story, Maggie, and one I can relate to in a different way. I had a daughter and two sons who were “kidnapped” by their father when my daughter was about 3-1/2 – 4, my middle son 1-1/2 and the baby 6 months old. He was an abusive man and I cannot relate what he did to me but I can relate that I was barely 18 when I got married to get away from an abusive household.

    I did not know where my children were for some 28 years, and I could not do any searches because I not only suffered from PTSD, but also from partial amnesia from the traumatic things I suffered in that time. I had a lady friend I knew for many years and she always encouraged me to find them and let them know I was ok and to at least make sure they were ok too. The time came when I took a disabled friend to do some genealogy work at a mormon church in Los Angeles. While I was waiting for her, I looked in on a class to help children to find their biological parents. I picked up a flyer, and it was from the Salvation Army. I remember I paid $10, and I could only remember my daughter’s name and year of birth and the place of birth.

    Within less than two months, I received a telephone call that changed the remainder of my life. It was my daughter, and she and I were reunited perhaps a year or less later in Colorado, where she was living with her husband at the time. I have to be honest and say that it was not all the reunion that I imagined, but she was truly glad to see me, though not the hugging type. And she was going through some heavy duty difficulties with her husband that were affecting her and the foster son they were in process of adopting. I never got to know my boys. Their father told all of them I had died, and the threats and things he did to me put me in such a mental state that I never could have done more. But it was enough to know that all of them were alive and well and they all have accomplished things in their lives and never have been in trouble of any kind. So these meetings do not always end with a fairytale ending, but at the same time, they are important to make the connection because likely every adopted child knows he or she is adopted, and it can make a big difference for them to know that they not only have adoptive parents who love them, but someone who loved them so much that they gave them the gift of life. I always think about that with my own children. I lived in the era too when women could go in ill-lighted rooms in alleyways and get abortions, but I never would have done any of that.

    Today it is very common in my area and I am sure others too, for people to abandon their newborn children or throw them in the trash or drown them, etc. and we have a special cemetery in Calimesa, CA that I have written about where a lady began to claim those children and make sure they got honorable funerals and at least a first name. And she helped to get the law passed in this area at least where babies can be dropped off at hospitals without any retribution for the mothers leaving them.

    Thank you so much for sharing this truly touching story and I only hope that it might help some mother who has gotten pregnant out of wedlock to do the right thing and make sure that the baby gets to a hospital, or perhaps gets adopted to someone who will want the baby and give it a good chance in life.

  7. Anne, I am so sorry you experienced such trauma. No one should ever experience such abuse.

    I do not wear rose-colored glasses concerning my nephew. I would just like to know he is okay and let him know he has never been forgotten. But as far as anything further, that would be totally up to him.

    • It always is, Maggie. Just to make that contact for your family to know that he is in a good place and grew up well would be a wonderful way to close some doors that have brought pain and suffering to those who were involved, even if nothing ever follows after that initial contact. It is difficult to predict what might come of it, but at least if you try, you will feel better about getting it resolved for once and for all. If it was a Pastor and his wife who adopted the baby, I am sure they will be very willing to open their hearts to your family and to let you know the young man’s status. I did not hold any rose-colored glasses about ever finding my children either. But in the end result, I am glad to know they all grew up ok, and that though I will never see or get to know the boys, I have peace of mind that was never there as long as I was wondering, feeling a sense of guilt for perhaps not trying harder or fighting for my rights then. But the past is the past, and now at least I have a sense that I did something right in those horrible years.

      Yes, I have known personally and read all the time about women who suffer trauma in their marriages or relationships, and unfortunately if that happens, the children also often suffer and do not grow up well. Ultimately a child comes to know if he or she is adopted and has questions he or she needs answered. It is never an easy thing to deal with, but if you at least try, you can close the books knowing that you did not just give up. I send my blessings and prayers for you and your family and hope that whatever you end up choosing, it will be the right door to open or close. You are such a wonderful and genuine writer, and I can tell you that you are a natural. No one needs to teach you anything; you have always written straight from the heart and soul, and nothing can ever improve that. Thank you so much for every single word.

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