A teenage pregnancy led to an adoption I regretted years later

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. …


This Is Us

Bridges between me and those I’ve lost

Black and white stepping stones in a river.
Black and white stepping stones in a river.
Photo: baona/Getty Images

When I got through the cold they made me swim in a river, and I forgot his name. I forgot all the names. — Sarah Ruhl, ‘Eurydice’

I cared for both my boyfriend and my mother in my house. My boyfriend died in his hospice bed in my living room. Afterward, whenever I stepped onto my patio, I passed through the physical space where he sighed his last breath as I held him in my arms.

Most nights, after helping my mother to bed, I’d stand in the salty air, staring out at the lights reflected in the marina. If…


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?

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…


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

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…


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

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…


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

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

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…


How a pandemic killed adoption

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…


How to tell your story while social distancing

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…

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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