As with most pregnant teens during the “love generation,” I was told that the right thing to do was to relinquish my baby to a good home after he was born. Seventeen-year-old girls don’t make good mothers—or so they said.
But I was a good girl. I did what I was told. I gave my baby to a family who would provide him with a wonderful life and soon I would forget all about everything, just as they said, and continued on with my life.
My son was born to my high school boyfriend and me when we were 17. Sometimes birth control fails.
Our parents refused to let us marry. My very Catholic parents sent me away to live with a family until the baby was born who would then be privately adopted. Much later I would learn that the entire adoption was a conspiracy of blatant secrets and lies.
It wasn’t easy to have a baby at 17. No Lamaze classes, no birthing coaches. I went a week past my due date, and my doctor decided to induce labor so I knew beforehand that I would be having a baby on September 18. This was about the sum total of my knowledge. I remember so vividly having to hang clothes out on a clothesline for the family I was staying with. I sobbed the entire time. For me, for my baby, and for the unknown. I went to bed miserable and uncomfortable in the 100-degree heat.
Inducing the next morning in St. Joseph hospital’s labor ward brought on pain quickly and hard. I was given no meds. My mother was with me, and she would shove a washcloth into my mouth telling me that my screams were disturbing others.
Heaven forbid. I had to be a good girl even in labor? I finally got some Demerol before going into the delivery room where I was completely put under for the birth. How I pushed, I’ll never know. I spent two nights in a non-maternity wing and went home to my parent’s house for the first time in four months. Sans baby.
I never saw my baby, and this was the beginning of the familiar lie to all birthmothers. Go live your life. You’ll forget in time. Your baby will be in a much better place.
For a while, I did forget about things. I finished school and then left my home and my son’s father in Arizona as soon as I could so I wouldn’t be reminded of any of it. I moved to Southern California, got a job, and began my adult life.
But “they” were wrong about a few things. I DID think of my baby. I knew he was a boy; I found out accidentally in the hospital. I would daydream about him riding a Big Wheel up and down the Phoenix sidewalks.
I saw him as a happy little boy with many brothers and sisters, of which I was told he would have. I found out much later that this was fabricated as part of the secrets and lies in the underground private adoption world. But I didn’t know of any of that then. Thinking of him just made me happy.
I lived in a maternal limbo. After I was married, if someone asked me if I had any children my answer was an automatic no.
Or not yet. Did I want children? Of course. Was I trying to get pregnant? Like a mad woman. My husband and I went all the way up to in vitro before we decided we could no longer afford the infertility treatments. I had heard about something unscientific called secondary infertility which apparently was common among birthmothers who’d had babies in their teens. Somewhere deep inside I felt it was God’s punishment for my promiscuity.
Life went on, and my husband and I moved to Nevada. About this time my son would have been in college. My husband would say to me, almost teasing,
“Someday he’s going to come knocking on the door. What are you going to do? What are you going to say?”
I never took this seriously because how on earth could he find me, really? It seemed like such a remote possibility. By this time, I no longer had a real picture of what he looked like. He would always remain my baby in my mind.
Another few years went by, and on a whim, I researched and found out about a new law passed in Arizona. Adoption records were still sealed, but the Arizona Supreme Court allowed a confidential intermediary to contact both parties, and if they were in agreement, phone numbers were exchanged.
I didn’t know it at the time, but he had been searching for me since his college days, even to the point of calling women with the same name as mine and asking if they were his mother. So this boy said YES to the intermediary and got my number first.
It happened on a snowy Reno night. I worked for the city of Reno and was giving a boring presentation to a bored neighborhood group when my pager went off. I knew. I didn’t even bother calling. I just knew. I said I had an emergency and flew home on icy streets. I ran inside, and my husband said excitedly, “I talked to him!” I grabbed the piece of paper with his phone number. I had a son and his name was Brian, and he lived in Portland! I could barely breathe. I had wished for this for so long, and now he was one phone call away. I dialed the number, and he answered on the first ring.
“Brian, this is Dori.”
“I’ve waited my whole life to hear the sound of your voice, and now I don’t know what to say.”
It did not take long for us to find our rhythm. We had millions of questions and talked so fast right over each other in a mad rush to get the next question out. We were both in shock over the similarities. Music, food, humor, books. It was too much for either of us to absorb. It was as if we had found each other’s doppelgänger.
I don’t believe either one of us got much sleep that night. And the sleep I did find eventually was one of happiness and completion. Like I’d never experienced before. I don’t know if I will ever be able to describe the deep contentment and satisfaction I feel now when I’m asked if I have any children. Why, yes. Yes, I do.
“I have a son. His name is Brian.”
I get Mother’s Day cards. Presents. Sometimes flowers. The acknowledgment I ached for for years has been validated with truth and honesty. No more secrets. No more lies. At times, it’s as if we’ve never been apart, yet our relationship has still maintained the magic of a mother and child reunion. I text him, “I love you.” He answers, “I love you more.” I’m not even sure if that’s possible, my darling boy.
Happy Mother’s Day.
© Dori Owen
Excerpted from “Finding Brian”