Category Archives: Media

Adoption Story: “What If,” 38 Years Following Reunion

I know my birth father never held me before I was given up for adoption because he didn’t come to the hospital the day I was born, but I don’t know if my birth mother ever had the opportunity. I never got to ask her because she died when I was seven years old, long before I learned her identity. I’ve consulted psychics to find out. One said yes but the other said no—she wasn’t prepared to give me up and stood staring out an old hospital room window that day. The nuns and her mother made her do it.

At one point, years ago, I even tried age regression hypnosis. In my session, the hypnotist took me back to my birth. I felt her reach for me, but the hospital staff wouldn’t let her hold me. I was consumed with the most profound grief after that experience, the depths of which I knew must be real.

All the people who could have answered my questions are gone now. I was 23 years old when I found my birth family, and I met my granny only twice. She seemed sweet, but she was also quiet and stoic, and I felt she was holding back. I was so anxious to be accepted that I was afraid to ask too many questions. I didn’t want her to think I was rude, regret my return, and not want to be my granny anymore. She told me that I had lots of dark hair when I was born. This surprised me because I was completely bald and looked like a boy when I was adopted at 3½ months old.

I wish I had asked if she was in the room when I was born or if she had seen my dark hair through the nursery glass. I also wanted to know if my mother had hidden away when she was pregnant with me. Why didn’t she keep me? Did she even want to? Did she love me? But I feared that prying would bring up old wounds; after all, my granny had lost her only daughter to a brain aneurysm when she was just 30 years old. I would have done anything to feel a sense of belonging when I met Granny, even if it meant not fulfilling my deepest wish, which was to learn about my mother.  That was 38 years ago, and I still regret not having enough courage to ask more questions.

A few weeks ago, my birth father passed away. It was unexpected, and I was on a plane to Canada within 11 hours of hearing he had been taken off the ventilator. It took two days to get there with delayed flights and lost bags. I was afraid I’d miss the chance to be with him. He was supposed to pass within three hours but lived an additional three-and-a-half days after my arrival. That was just like him. He didn’t want to put anyone out, was always taking care of everyone, and didn’t want to leave his wife. Who would tie her shoes and bring her food at the Senior Center?  He was a good and honest man, a father I would have loved to grow up with.

When I had asked him about my birth years earlier, he didn’t offer many details other than that he wasn’t there. I wish I had tried to have the conversation a second time. I wanted to know why he didn’t come to see me at the hospital when Granny called him. All he’d ever said was that she wanted him to pay the hospital bill but didn’t want him to have anything to do with me.

I also wonder if Granny didn’t mention that I was being given up for adoption. Maybe my birth father thought he would have a chance to meet me some other day. But that still doesn’t explain why he didn’t want to see me right away when I was born. Wasn’t he curious? Didn’t he think I was worth paying the medical bill for? Had I possessed more courage, I would have asked those questions in hope of receiving a more detailed answer.

I will never understand his actions at the time of my birth, but I do know that he acted differently later on. Because he knew how important it was to me, he went through the red tape of providing my birth mother’s death certificate and giving his permission as my father to release my previously sealed adoption records. He also obtained my original birth certificate, which contained my real name, Gloria Debra Reed, and my birth mother’s real signature, Ida Celina Reed. It was he who told me that I was conceived on Halloween.

It was in 1980 when he stepped off the plane in Sacramento to meet me for the first time. His wife and I didn’t tell him that a camera crew was waiting for him at the airport to interview us for a series on adoption. She told him the secret just as he was standing up to depart the plane. He was already nervous even before that. He wasn’t like me; he was shy, soft-spoken, and humble.

He looked like Elvis in his younger years. Women swooned when they saw him. Some asked to take his picture, which always embarrassed him. Even in his 80s, he still looked youthful and was active. He was always busy fixing things and making sure everyone was taken care of. My siblings were lucky to have him for their father.

While I was with family during my birth father’s final days, I heard many wonderful stories about him—stories about events I hadn’t experienced. Sitting at his bedside with my siblings, holding his hand, praying and crying during those days, I realized that they were crying for all the memories they had with him. I was crying for the ones I’d missed.

I had a lot of time to reflect in that hospital room, and for the first time, I let myself indulge in “what if?” What if my father had gone to the hospital? What if his interest had made my mother want to keep me? What if she had brought me home and I had been her daughter for seven years? Would I have been a different woman, felt less insecure, made better choices? Would I have gone to live with my father after she passed away? Like my siblings, would I have gotten to experience having a dad who taught me to drive and fish? Would we have attended hockey games together and spent weekends at the cabin? Would my father have been a friend to my friends? Bought me my first home? I don’t know. I do know that I didn’t have any of that with Daddy, my adopted father.

At the funeral home, while we were making arrangements for the cremation, gathering death certificates, and collecting other documents, the director asked if my birth father had a will. He did. It had been made nine months earlier, when his dementia worsened and he needed surgery for a pacemaker. I don’t know why, but I asked to see it as it was being passed around. I didn’t expect to receive anything; it wasn’t about that. I just wanted to see his name, touch the last tangible thing belonging to my father. When I glanced at the first paragraph, it listed his name and the full names of all his children. But mine was missing. I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut and quickly handed the will back, pretending not to notice. I sat through the rest of the meeting in a daze. I wasn’t listed as his child in this final document. It crushed me.

All I have of him—besides my straight hair, thin legs, and youthful skin—are some photos, a few videos, the patient wristband he wore in his final days, and the blue file that his wife gave me the day I flew home.“Here, this is yours,” she said as she pushed it toward me. This felt so final, like I was being dismissed, handed the last of my belongings. To soften it, she said, “ I’ve been getting rid of things.” I nodded and flipped through it without seeing the contents. Trying to hide my shock, I said, “Oh, thank you.” In my hand I held the remnants of our life together. On the outside of the folder, he had written in black felt pen, “Monica’s Files.” Inside was a list of all my old addresses and phone numbers, along with my children’s names and birthdates. There were copies of the adoption papers he had obtained for me and all the letters I had sent him over the years, including one where I thanked him for the money I had used to buy a TV when I was a single mother. He even kept copies of the American funds money orders he sent for holidays and my children’s birthdays.

While spending those last days in the hospital with my birth father, I sought out the area where the old nursery wing had been. I wanted to experience the space where I had last been with my mother, hoping to feel some closeness to her. I also wanted to see what my birth father hadn’t. The old hospital had been expanded and modernized, so I didn’t know if the wing would still be there—or, if it were, whether it would be recognizable as a nursery ward. When I crossed the bridge connecting the buildings, I was surprised to find it abandoned and dim though mostly unchanged, illuminated by only a few fluorescent lights at the far end of the hall.

I was hoping to see the window my mother had looked from that day. I wondered what she saw and what she had been thinking. I also wondered if she had wanted my father to be there. I tried the doors to what had been the patient rooms, but they were locked. The nursery wing looked to have been turned into an office. The large baby-viewing window, with its 50s-style wire meshed glass, had since been frosted and was no longer see-through. A single nursery sign still hung above a door where I may have once slept: Nursery 37.

As I looked down the empty hall, I imagined the day my mother left me there, her soft footsteps on the speckled mosaic floor as she passed, blue eyes avoiding the patient rooms with their bright windows and new mothers feeding bundles of joy while the fathers sat at the bedside to admire their new families. I pictured busy nurses rushing by, ogling visitors who stood at the nursery glass, a kaleidoscope of life moving all around my mother, people unaware of her sacrifice as she made her way to the elevator and her life without me. It was both the furthest I’ve ever been from her and the closest I have ever felt to her.

My father and I came full circle at the hospital that week. Even though he wasn’t there at the beginning of my life, I was there at the end of his. It felt complete somehow. I am grateful for those sleep-deprived days because I was able to make peace with my mother, too. I learned that grief is a shapeshifter. It changes based on the circumstances, but never really goes away.

 

 

 

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When I hung up the phone after my 40-minute radio interview with Valerie Okunami, host of KCOR’s Bizi Yogi show (listen here), I had a sinking feeling. I had talked about my shame on the air. I knew what I’d be discussing when I agreed to be a guest—the day’s topic was healing from toxic shame. So why did I feel bad? Had I confessed too much? What would people think of me? Then it hit me. I was ashamed, the very feeling that had been at the heart of the interview.

A week later, I listened to a recording of the show. To my surprise, I didn’t cringe at all. I’ve listened twice now and felt the same way both times. I shouldn’t have doubted myself—before the interview, I had set the intention to leave my ego behind and speak words that would be of the highest good for all who listened. I planned nothing and went with the flow while talking to the show host, and it worked.

I’m not sure if my interview inspired others, but it certainly inspired me. While listening to my own voice, I was reminded of the many gifts that arose from my most painful “failures.” An old friend once told me that he records himself speaking inspirationally. He said that listening to his own voice is powerfully uplifting I didn’t believe him then, but I do now.

I spoke about my shame and guilt when I was on the radio, but I didn’t talk about the underlying disenfranchised grief. Dr. Ken Doka defines it as “grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.” Disenfranchised grief can be caused by anything—abortion, death from AIDS, death from suicide, death of the partner in an extra-marital affair, loss of one’s home, loss of a pet, grief that other people think has gone on for “too long,” having a child in prison…

My grief began at birth when I was given up for adoption. In my interview, I touched on the shame I felt from being abused as a child, being sexually assaulted, being adopted, and giving up my own baby for adoption. All of these experiences caused disenfranchised grief and, subsequently, feelings of deep shame and unworthiness that took decades to access and heal.

When I hung up the phone after my interview, I sat silently for a moment and looked onto my deck. I noticed the soft melody of the chime, the bluebirds hopping on and off the feeder, and the shadows cast by the beams of morning sunlight. Just outside my window was a metaphor for my life: shadows amidst melody and light. In that moment, I let go of feeling bad about my shame, my disenfranchised grief. It’s part of who I am. Like the shadows on my deck, it will continue to ebb and flow, and that’s okay.

 

Published by Women Writers, Women’s Books – Memoir: You Gotta Feel To Heal

Not long ago, I wrote a piece for Women Writers, Woman’s Books, an online literary magazine. This request coincided with the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the emerging #metoo movement. It was perfect timing because I had recently finished writing the rape chapter in my memoir (still in progress). I have included an excerpt and a link to read the full essay.

EXCERPT:

Healing Begins
Once I began writing, I couldn’t stop. It was as if my wounded teenage self—who yearned for healing—guided my fingers like a magical puppeteer. I began writing the hardest material first: the rape I experienced as a 15-year-old virgin. Then I tackled the knifepoint abduction that occurred a month after the sexual assault.

Examined Every Detail
Completing the rape chapter took a whole winter and multiple revisions. I examined every buried detail from that night: my rapist’s smell and threats, the way the room looked, the physical pain, his shaming comments when he felt he’d been cheated because I didn’t bleed.  It also took a long time for me to realize that I had been raped—my definition of “rape” had always involved being jumped and beaten by a stranger in a dark alley, but I had known my 19-year-old abuser.

It Wasn’t my Fault
My shift in perception—realizing that I’d been raped and it wasn’t my fault—didn’t begin until my 92-year-old mother helped me relive the experience. It was as if she was leading a blind person through a minefield. Once the details were on the page, I realized I wouldn’t hesitate to call it rape if the scenario involved my own daughter. In fact, I would have delighted in stringing the perpetrator up by his balls and beating the crap out of him. For over forty years, I had recalled the abuse with my naïve 15-year-old memories of guilt and shame. It took my mother’s guidance, much reflection, and many revisions to stop blaming myself.

I Blamed the Victim
After reading about the recent scandal involving Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, I was amazed (almost vindicated) that one of his accusers internalized her experience in the same way that I had.  Lucia Evans told The New Yorker, “I just put it in a part of my brain and closed the door. It was always my fault for not stopping him. I had an eating problem for years. I was disgusted with myself.  It’s funny, all these unrelated things I did to hurt myself because of this one thing.” Like Evans, I blamed myself, the victim, instead of blaming the perpetrator—probably like millions of women all over the world who have been assaulted. Evans opened her door by coming forward. I opened mine by writing.

As do many sexual abuse victims, I silently blamed myself for my rape. I now realize that the subconscious guilt and shame I felt colored many of my life choices and decisions. I wonder what the years may have looked like had my rape not occurred. Would I have picked different partners? Would I be in a long-term loving relationship today?  I’ll never know.

 

 

 

 

 

Published in Anchorage Press / Article & Essay

Article & Essay

Narcissistic Underbelly (25-minute read) first appeared in the August 17, 2017 edition of the Anchorage Press.The essay appears beneath an article about my experiences. This is part of my memoir-in-progress.

To read the full essay click HERE and scroll down the page past the article.

 

Excerpt

The man who gave us a ride home from the party never revealed his name. He seemed polite but I was distracted by his bulging yellow eyeballs, fluorescent against his black skin. They looked like they would pop out of their sockets with a sneeze. I had never seen the whites of eyes that were yellow, the color of dark urine.

I assumed Rick knew the man and figured he was a friend or relative of one of the school’s basketball players. He was in his thirties, at least 6’ 4”, and huge—not fat, but strong, like a body builder. His extremely short hair stuck to his head, the opposite of the round Afros that were in style. There were no other options for a ride and we thought he was a friend of Rick’s, so we felt reasonably comfortable going with this creepy-looking man.

As we left the party, clumps of damp, fluffy flakes fell from the sky and blankets of pristine snow covered sidewalks and cars. I selected my steps carefully, planting my feet inside the impressions left by the man’s large shoes. My unease grew with every step into his massive footprints, but the certainty that my parents would restrict my freedoms when they learned that I’d lied again was more concerning than getting into the car with this yellow-eyed man. As we approached the car, I shivered and pulled my unbuttoned coat tighter around me.

The yellow Chevy with the black top was well kept and fairly new. It was parked up a slight hill, along with other partygoers’ cars. The man opened the front passenger side door for me and I slid across the black bench seat; Debbie soon joined me on the cold Naugahyde. He cleaned snow off the windows before getting behind the wheel.

I sat in the middle, squished between him and Debbie. I was uncomfortable with his body pressed so close to mine. The heat from his leg seeped through my wool slacks, and his breath stunk like an empty stomach. I was way too close to this man.

As we pulled onto the street, the car wouldn’t make it up the small incline because the tires spun in the snow. He got out and said, “Hold on, I’ll be right back.” I watched in the rearview mirror as he pushed the car. His large, wide nostrils flared and his yellow eyes popped as he strained, making him look like an enraged bull charging a matador. I shivered and thought that he must be strong to push the car up the incline, especially with us in it. Just then he looked through the back window and into the mirror. He knew I had been watching him. I quickly looked away.

It was a short, awkward ride to Debbie’s house. The man was silent as we gave him directions, only acknowledging them with a nod. Debbie couldn’t say anything as she exited the car, but her eyes sent a clear message: “Are you going to be okay?”

Mine said, “I think so.”

Read more

 

 

Listen To My Spot on Alaska Public Radio, Adoption in Alaska

This May I was a guest on “Alaska Public Radio”, an affiliate of National Public Radio (NPR). They connected me live from the NPR Studio in Sacramento where I told my story of being an adoptee who also gave up a baby up for adoption. (Listen below.)

The Weight of Grief

My baby was born in 1973, the year Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, but that was never an option in my Catholic family. No one ever asked me if I wanted to keep my baby, and because I was fifteen, it was assumed that I would give it up for adoption.

I got to hold my daughter just a few times during the three days I was in the hospital. They let me because I, too, was adopted and my baby was the only blood relative I had ever known. As we drove away from the hospital, I looked over my shoulder as a life with my daughter melted from view. I couldn’t breathe; the weight of my grief was crushing. Out of desperation, I turned my eyes back to the road and said to myself, “I just won’t think about it right now, I just won’t think about it right now, I just won’t think about it right now.”

Those eight words became my mantra.

Audio Links

Click here to listen to my 8-minute interview

Click here, for the hour-long show, Talk of Alaska, Host Anne Hillman speaks with birth moms and adoptive moms about their experiences with adoption, how adoption has changed over time, and misconceptions about the process.

Mother’s Day weekend

If you read my journal entry on November 25, 2017 titled, “Unfinished Business,” then you might remember the life-changing experience I had when visiting the adoption agency in Anchorage last summer, 26 years after giving my baby up in a closed adoption.

As a result of that visit, I participated in, Passage Writes: Alaska Birth-Moms’ Stories, a project devoted to enabling birth-moms (women who made adoption plans for their children) to tell their stories in their own words. The organizer had read my blog and invited me to help facilitate the workshop, which took place on Mother’s Day weekend. There were six birth mothers in attendance, all with different situations and who had relinquished their babies at different times. To be in a room sharing stories with other birth mothers felt like a reunion with survivors of the Titanic.

“My participation in the workshop led to my appearance on Talk of Alaska.