A teenage pregnancy led to an adoption I regretted years later

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Photo: Kristina Flour/Unsplash

There were many things I was unprepared for when I relinquished my son for adoption. A naive 17-year-old, I believed the secret I carried would grow lighter, not heavier. I believed the pain of separation would fade. I believed the poster I saw in the adoption agency’s office, proclaiming, “Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life” was a harbinger for my new beginning. I would be a college girl, respectable, confident, and happy that my traumatic past was behind me. All of this turned out to be miles from the truth. …


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Photo by Mickael Tournier on Unsplash

I was a girl without a choice

In the spring of 1970, a couple of months before my baby was due, I sat at my desk in my bedroom late into the night and wrote two suicide notes, one to my boyfriend and one to my parents. I folded the letters into tight, flat squares small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. The next morning at school I stood on tiptoe in front of my locker, stretching my arm across the top shelf, and slipped them into the crevice against the locker’s back wall. Only the edges of the bright pink paper were visible. …


Are you that guy?

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Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

I didn’t tell my son’s father I was pregnant until my mother made me.

I was 16 in 1970 when I got pregnant in the backseat of my boyfriend’s Ford without going all the way. Facing up to the unlikely consequences of that October night felt impossible. My boyfriend and I were good students, intent on escaping blue-collar life in our small Catholic Midwestern town. We were in love, had been going steady for years, and planned to marry — being pregnant would ruin it all.

Something better than minimum-wage jobs awaited us, I was sure, and so I kept my secret to myself. Aided by 1970’s tent dresses, empire waists, and my Catholic school uniform, which helped me looked exactly as I had the day before, we took a trip with our chorus to Chicago at Christmastime, were crowned runners-up to the king and queen at the prom, and at the end of May, strode onto the temporary stage in our high school gymnasium to receive our diplomas in front of our 124 classmates and a crowd of proud families. …


“Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul” — - — Emily Dickinson

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Photo by Milin John on Unsplash

Perched on the back of a dining room chair, the parrot’s tail feathers trailed almost to the floor.

Addie had just awakened from her afternoon nap, but she wondered if, perhaps, she might only be dreaming that she was awake. She wanted to know more about this borderland between sleep and waking, where she seemed to spend so much time lately, but the sight of the parrot in her dining room was to be savored, not wasted while she went off on some tangent. She said hello to the bird and it said hello back. “Hello,” Addie said again, testing to see if it was simply parroting her. “I’m Addie.” …


How you can reach out to a woman who lost a child to adoption

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Photo by Anton Darius on Unsplash

1. I know you’re a mother, so I’m thinking of you.

2. Is there a way I can bring some comfort to you today?

3. Wanna talk?

4. Would you like to go for a walk, or out for some coffee, or maybe see a movie?

5. Do you ever think of searching for your child? or How is your reunion going?

6. How do you think your life would be different if you’d kept your baby?

7. What would you do if your son/daughter contacted you? …


For some Covid-19 victims it’s already too late

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Photo by marcos mayer on Unsplash

In 1970 when I surrendered my newborn son, he was part of a bumper crop of 175,000 babies, handed over to strangers with adoption agencies acting as the middlemen.

Adoption is often a murky operation. In closed record adoptions murkiness intensifies into total blackout when the original birth certificate is sealed and a new birth certificate is generated, concocting a fiction to replace reality. As was the norm during the period that later came to be known as the Baby Scoop Era, my son was placed with strangers who claimed him as their own. …


But nutrition and alternative medicine changed my life

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Photo by Olga Guryanova on Unsplash

In the dark ages of the 1950s and 60s my family knew little about health and nutrition. We knew that the polio vaccine was a miracle, that Kool-Aid tasted great, that everyone loved Sara Lee, and that any product in a box helpful at getting dinner on the table for a half-dozen kids and a hungry husband was a giant step forward for womankind. I questioned none of this until my father died.

My father smoked Chesterfields, while my mother preferred the menthol taste of elegantly proportioned Kools. My father also smoked a pipe and an occasional cigar. Every morning we woke to the smell of smoke curling over the breakfast table, my parents’ cigarettes balanced on their saucers as they raised their first cups of coffee to their lips. …


How a pandemic killed adoption

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Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

The pandemic wreaked havoc with everything. Courts were shuttered. Flights cancelled. Borders sealed. Adoptions, both international and domestic, became mired in dysfunction. Adoptive parents got stuck abroad, and if you believe the stories, some couples are still enmeshed in far-flung places like Nigeria almost 18 months after the virus first appeared in North America. Just a few weeks of quarantine, officials told these potential parents. Then strand after strand of red tape unfurled and these people found they were adopting a new country, not a child.

In the U.S. virtual adoptions were a thing at first. A judge and a family and the kid all on Zoom. Papers signed with electronic signatures. There were even a few foreign adoptions kept percolating over the internet. Children on the other side of the world, breakfasting via cell phone or webcam with their prospective American parents — bleary-eyed hopefuls, nibbling toast in New York at midnight and sipping a stiff shot out of a coffee cup. Nothing good came of any of this. Everyone was pretending. No one could go anywhere once we realized the virus was going to spike again and again. …


How to tell your story while social distancing

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Photo Courtesy of Denise Clemen

I’m a writer. Not a visual artist. I can’t draw, or paint, and until recently would have hung my head at the suggestion of creating an image to accompany a line of text.

But since the pandemic stay-at-home order I’ve been making zines with rudimentary artwork.

Originating in the sci-fi world in the 1930s and originally known as fanzines, zines have their roots in community and the promotion of a message central to that community. Also a core of the urban punk culture in the 70s and 80s, zines honed their anti-authoritarian vibe for fans of bands like The Clash and The Ramones. …


It’s later than you think, so open your heart.

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Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

On January 15, 2020 the state of New York unsealed its adoption records. Adopted persons and their descendants may now, for a modest administrative fee, request and obtain their original birth certificates. Within 48 hours of the implementation of the new law, more than 3600 adoptees, not including those in New York City, had ordered their pre-adoption birth certificates.

As more and more adoptees learn the names of their birthparents, thousands of reunions might have ensued, but now the Covid-19 pandemic has wormed its way into the intricacies of an adoption reunion. Imagine it. You receive a hand-addressed letter in the mail, a phone call, a private message on Facebook. The son or daughter you relinquished decades ago has surfaced from the deep ocean of secrecy. Now imagine this. That person has been yanked out of reach. …

About

Denise Clemen

Birth/first mother, recovering wife, retired caregiver, traveler. Advocate of #adopteerights and #reproductiverights. Subscribe at http://www.deniseemanuel.com

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