Upon giving birth to me at Chicago's Cook County Hospital, Lillian had to decide what to do - keep me or put me up for adoption. The decision was pretty much a no brainer - her dad, my grandfather, told her that if she came home with me, he would kill me, her, and my grandmother ( Rhoda Irene, above). And he had a history of abuse to back up his statement. Considering her age, and the fact that her home life was such a mess, she gave me up for adoption. I was released directly to Lake Bluff Orphanage after a two week stay in the hospital.
I would spend the first three months of my life in the orphanage. I've always wondered what those three months were like, especially when seeing how many photos we took of our own daughter's life in those first three months! I would have loved to have had at least one photo of that time, either of someone holding me in the orphanage, or especially of Lillian holding me before she signed the relinquishment papers.
The photo above was taken in August 1948, and that's my new mother in the middle. Her name was Irene. It's the first day of the rest of my life, the day that I leave for my new home with my new parents. One of these two ladies is with the orphanage and the other is a social worker.
Little did any of us know that day that this happy little family would not last. The short version is that they had decided to adopt a child to shore up a shaky marriage. She was an alcoholic who promised to stop drinking, but that promise was quickly broken. In 1949, we would move to Ft. Worth, Texas, and a year later they would divorce, when I was three years old. She retained custody of me, but drinking and men would cause me to be taken away from her seven years later.
Every year on my birthday, beginning when I found out I was adopted at about age 9, and even now at the age of 61, I think back to my beginnings, to those weeks that my mother agonized over her decision, those three months that I was an orphan, and to the new parents who had hoped that this little baby would save their marriage.
I always wondered if Lillian remembered me on May 15, if she was thinking about me at the same time I was thinking of her, the mysterious and romanticized lady who had given birth to me. When I was going thru the nightmare times living with my adoptive mother, and later with my step-mother, I would think "if my REAL mother had kept me, my life would have been so different!"
When I turned 30, I had occasion to find my birth family (more about that another time). My mother was dead, but I had three half-brothers and two half-sisters, and an aunt who I found out all this information from. I found out from her that my mother and grandmother had called to check on me after she got home from Chicago, and were told that I had died in a fire! (This was not an uncommon practice back in those days to keep the birth mother from looking for her child.)
When I went to visit them for the first time in Galveston, I met an old lady who had been like a second mother to my mother, and she pulled me aside and said "every May 15, Lillian would come to my house and sit at this very table and cry for the baby she gave up for adoption". I can't tell you how much that meant to me.
Oh, that perfect life I would have had if she had kept me? Lillian later became a hardcore alcoholic, and all five of her children were taken away from her about the same time I was taken away from my adoptive mom, Irene. The social services records state that she was the poorest excuse of a mother they had ever seen. The private detective records from when my adoptive dad, Tom, went to court to gain custody of me verified what I already knew, that she, also, was a poor excuse for a mother.
This is an old story for me, and everyone who knows me knows about it. I certainly don't feel sorry for myself, and I always considered it just the luck of the draw. But, even to this day, I can't help but ask the obvious question: Was this just the luck of the draw, or was this fate, was this my destiny? I'm not the least bit religious or spiritual, believing in neither the after life or reincarnation, so I don't have a burning need to know the answer. I just can't help making comparisons between my two mothers.
The sad thing for me about this story is that, despite having had two mothers, I never knew or felt the true love of a mother, and have no memory whatsoever of a motherly bond with either of them. I'm very grateful that I have these photos, and when I look in their eyes I look deeply for those bonds, for some kind of feeling, and it's just not there. It wasn't until I became a mother myself that I knew what the love of a mother was all about.
And so, on this rainy Sunday afternoon in Georgia, I have finished my yearly pilgrimage to my beginnings, and am ready to put it to rest for another year. I don't guess it'll matter if I'm 16 or 61 or 81(I hope!), I will continue to make that journey, even though all other witnesses to the event are gone.
When my daughter has a birthday, we share our memories with her, looking at photos of the pregnancy and when she was a baby, recounting details of her birth and infancy and the absolute joy involved with her arrival. When I'm on my annual journey, it is always alone, and most of the story is third or fouth hand information or conjecture on my part. And that's ok, because I have re-written my life script, and redirected any residual sadness to being the best possible mother I can be to my daughter.