My story starts with my mother. In 1942, my mother was 18 years old and dating my father. Mom got pregnant. My maternal grandparents were god-fearing farm folk, my paternal grandparents were quintessential British snobs. Both families were horrified that this scandalous behaviour had occurred in their family. Mom might as well have been branded. My obviously pregnant mother and my father scurried away in the dark and wed. Three months later I was born. My paternal grandparents never let my mother forget that their only son “had to marry her,” and as I was growing up it was obvious that I was still an embarrassment to them. They took my brother on vacations with them every year, they never forgot his birthday, they had albums full of family photos – just them and my brother. My maternal grandparents, on the other hand, got over it, loved me – spoiled me - and supported my mother 100%.
Throughout my adolescence, my parents closely monitored my social activities. In fact, on several occasions, my father followed me on dates. My mother lectured me endlessly on appropriate behavior with boys. I did not know, at that time, they were trying to protect me from experiencing their shame and family disapproval.
Fast forward to 1962: I was a very inexperienced 20 year old, madly in love with a dashing pilot, 22 years my senior and married. He was going to leave his wife and marry me. We ran off together. My parents did everything in their power to put an end to the relationship, but to no avail. I got pregnant – but he already had children and more children were not in his plan. My father wanted to have him arrested, and my mother began the nightmare of reliving her shame.
As soon as I began to show, my parents sent me to a home for unwed mothers. I was safely secreted away from relatives who would click their tongues and say “like mother, like daughter.” Double shame! I tried to kill myself while I was there. The pain and loneliness were unbearable. Neither Mom nor Dad ever visited me there; it was too painful for them. Several young women carrying illegitimate babies came and went during my three months there. All cried themselves to sleep every night. Occasionally, defiance would rear its head, and someone would say, it's not like we are the only ones who “did it,” we just got “caught,” and there would be murmurs of assent around the sunroom and for a few moments we didn't feel “cheap.” Those moments were rare.
I went into labor in on a beautiful July afternoon in 1963. The staff told me to call them when my pains were five minutes apart. I didn't have my mother or a husband there to support me, so I walked the gardens for five hours, by myself, because I didn't know what else to do. I was scared. When the pains started getting closer, the Home called my parents and then called a cab to take me to the hospital. I went to the hospital all alone. I delivered my beautiful son all alone.
I was told that, because I was giving my son up for adoption, I shouldn't see him because it would make it harder for me. I saw him. His perfect little face will be forever imprinted on my mind and the intense love I felt for my baby has never gone. That fierce love, that only a mother can feel, is why I had to give him up – I did not want him to bear the stigma of illegitimacy, the shame of having an unmarried mother and of not knowing his father. I wanted him to have everything I could not give him – respectability, two parents, a loving extended family and a life without shame. It was worth the pain.
I have not been able to search for my son, because I still weep when I relive his birth, seeing him and giving him up. Love hurts and I would not be able to take the pain of losing him a second time.