Baby A for B

I was in the lobby of the hospital waiting for clearance to go upstairs and visit B and the baby.

She’d had a baby girl early in the morning. I looked at her through the glass window for a few minutes before my mother decided we both had to go home, get a few hours of sleep and pretend we weren’t insanely aware of the decision that B was about to make. She would go to work, I’d go to school, and after I got home my sister was going to bring me back to visit B and the baby.

The father had been there the whole time, helping B through her labor. I wondered what that meant. Was she going to live with him and raise the baby? He was older than her, and lived on his own in an apartment.

My mother encouraged B to tell her parents, and apparently at some point that day, B called home and told them the news. That she at age 19 had just concealed a full term pregnancy from them. That the real reason she’d dropped out of school was the pregnancy and that she’d been living at our house in an attempt for them to never know. She’d been scared of their reaction and afraid and worried about the father and so she’d kept it all from them.

Apparently they reacted with love and compassion and were now fully aware of everything.

Which also begged the question, what would she do?

I finally was brought up to her room. She was alone. She looked the same, her belly still not very noticeable under the covers and loose hospital gown. She told me she’d named the baby girl, and how the girl looked like both her and the father. She’d ordered the baby pictures, even though she wasn’t sure what she was going to do. She had a few days, until she left the hospital, before she was going to decide.

She looked peaceful. Happy, even. She loved the baby, and after we talked a while, the baby was brought to her to feed. I was surprised; I thought with a possible adoption they would not let her see the baby. She told me that things were more open now, and that it was all up to her on how much she thought she could handle. Apparently, she’d taken what my mother had said about her own experience, and clearly was relishing every minute she had with her little girl.

I looked at the sweet, tiny bundle in B’s arms and ached. I knew it was the wrong thing altogether, but the baby…she was amazing. I wanted her to bring that baby to our house, and I wanted her to let us all help her raise it.

Two days later, B left the hospital, alone. She decided that with the relationship between her and her own parents not being ideal, her and the baby’s father being ideal, and her own age and inexperience were just not the best things for the baby. Not when Catholic Chariities had a couple that had all of the things that qualified people to be great parents waiting in the wings.

I couldn’t imagine how she was ever going to fill the hole that that tiny little baby left.

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Labor Day

My mother woke me in the darkness. “It’s time,” she told me. B was in labor, was having the baby.

I pulled on my favorite sweater, which happened to be one of B’s old castoffs and piled with my mother in the car towards the hospital.

Oddly, B had been spending the night at her parents’ house. She had spent so much time with us lately that it felt like she lived with us. But every so often she’d go back over and spend the night there. Her parents still didn’t know she was pregnant; she was hiding it that well. B had always been pretty slight, so in large clothes she appeared just as if she’d finally put on some weight.

She’d not had any prenatal care. She didn’t want to trigger any insurance claims on her parents’ policy. My mother and I worried what the outcome would be as we drove the five minutes drive to the hospital.

My sister met us in the waiting room. B had called her from a pay phone. She’d gone to bed at her parents house feeling oddly, but thought she would sleep it off. She woke and realized the odd pains she was feeling were contractions, and got in her car to drive to the hospital. She pulled over when she realized she couldn’t drive through the contractions and called my sister, who met her and drove the rest of the way.

The baby’s father was with B as she labored, my sister told us. That was why she wasn’t in there any more. Things were going as well as could be expected.

My mother asked, “What is she going to do?” We all knew what that was code for. Was she still planning on giving the baby up for adoption? With the father here now, did that mean perhaps he would consider helping B to raise the baby?

“She still plans on adoption,” my sister answered shortly. We all knew this was the best thing for her to do, but with our recent loss of my great uncle in mind, we all longed for a warm baby to fill the hole.

“We could help her,” I offered. “We could all help her. She could stay with us. I’d babysit after school and she could work.”

My mother sighed. “It is her decision. Please don’t tell her things like that unless she asks. She has to be sure she makes the right choice for her, not the one that you want her to make. She’s the one ultimately responsible and has to live with that choice, for the rest of her life.”

I understood how well my mother knew of what she was speaking.

Inspiration and Loss

While I was busy thinking about a new life during the spring of 1985, another life ended.

I’d always liked my Uncle Dave. He was my great uncle by marriage, married to my Aunt Katie. He was funny without being disgusting, a man who prided himself on subtle humor that used language for effect. He was a writer, having retired from his job as the editor of the Grand Rapids Press. He and my aunt were fun to be around and always treated us kids like we were real people, not creatures to be seen and not heard, like so many in their generation. Their kids were older and moved out in the early 1980s, and so when we visited, I often had them all to myself. My uncle would read and critique my writings and tell me jokes that were so bad they were good.

Earlier that year, he’d given me a book called “Hot Cross Puns”. He inscribed it to me as from a writer to a writer. I still have that book, a treasure that reminded me that even an accomplished writer thought I had promise.

I knew he wasn’t well, that he’d been having trouble with pneumonia that winter. He’d stopped smoking his trademark pipes, even. But even though I’d already seen one great uncle from the family die a few years ago, it never occurred to me that another one might be in jeopardy. My great aunt with Alzheimers, maybe, or perhaps my other great aunt who was always under the weather. But not my hearty, joke filled uncle.

But one day when I was thinking about my friend B and the new life that was due to arrive within a few weeks, a call came from my aunt. My dear Uncle Dave, had been rushed to the hospital that morning, and he had died that afternoon. I couldn’t believe it. I simply couldn’t imagine life without him there, always, to look up to. With my one grandfather dead before I was born and the other ten hours away on a different coast, my great uncles were like grandfathers to me. I sorely missed my Uncle Bud after he passed. His good cheer and spirit were always there…until they weren’t. I couldn’t believe we were losing another great light as well.

I never saw my uncle again. His body was donated for medical research. His memorial service was held at the funeral home, rather than a church, because he was not a terribly religious man. I looked around at the tears and the fear I saw etched in everyone’s faces. What would we do without him, they all were silently saying.

The world suddenly was a different place. Again.

It Gave Me Pause

My mother’s story about her firstborn son that I had never met or even knew about haunted me. I kept wondering about him. He was eight years older than me. He was born in Atlantic City, NJ and adopted a few days after his birth in the summer of 1962. What was he like? Did he look like me? What would it have been like to have an older brother that wasn’t resentful of my very existence?

My mother told me she’d never tried to look for him. She couldn’t bear the thought of knowing that his life wasn’t the perfect fantasy she’d imagined for him. And frankly, with the way things were going with the rest of her kids, I couldn’t say that I blamed her much for that feeling. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the phantom older brother. I could meet him on the street and never know it was him.

My thoughts confused my feelings about my sister’s friend B, who was by now close to full term and still staying on our sofa most nights. She had mostly decided that she too would be giving up her baby for adoption. She hadn’t been able yet to tell her parents about the pregnancy, how would she be able to call upon them for help in raising their grandchild? B still was friendly with the baby’s father, and he agreed that the right thing for both of them would be to give the baby to a committed couple.

Up until that point in my life, I’d been decidedly pro choice. At the age of 14, surrounded by my sister’s friends, and without the benefit of organized religion in my upbringing, I accepted without thought the idea that a pregnancy was a bunch of cells developing rapidly. I read and did not question the Ms. Guide to a Woman’s Health the chapter on abortion, which described the different procedures that were done at various stages in pregnancy, these medical procedures described with the same level of emotion and detail as the ones in the section on Diseases of Women. The voices I heard around me were all my mother’s friends, women who grew up in the fifties and sixties, who saw what life was like back then and welcomed the option that legal abortions brought to women. I heard my mother’s conversations on Saturdays at her office, talking about how so many children were being brought into the world and not cared for properly, didn’t these women know they had a choice?

But watching B’s burgeoning stomach and thinking upon my unknown adopted brother gave me pause in my thinking. I understood the science well enough. But the potential contained within those cells, the promise that could come out of a pregnancy if not touched during those twelve weeks…it was a heady thought. I still wasn’t sure what I would do if ever faced with that situation, but…here was a person, inside my friend B, who would simply not exist if B had exercised her right to choose. Here was my brother, a person I’d never seen but instinctively felt connected to, who would surely not be in the world if my mother had been born twenty years later.

Most fourteen year olds are pretty sure that their way is the right way, to the point of invincibility. But I knew in the spring of 1984 that one of my black and white convictions had just turned into a muddled gray mess.

The Summer of 1962

It was crazy weird to me that I was getting a charge out of someone else’s mother sending me a letter in the mail. But I was. I kept reading, and re reading the letter that Mindy Hart had written me. She was caring, she was thoughtful and she asked for me to respond. I started smiling whenever I thought about it.

But it hadn’t occurred to me that my own mother, who was passing me in the hallway in the morning and at night, might have a reason for being out of touch with my feelings and moods. She was always busy, always distracted, but lately had seemed even more so. She had a lot on her plate at work always, heart breaking stories of single women who were struggling to make it by suing for child support, or even worse, the stories where the mothers simply didn’t care about anyone but themselves and screwing as many people (literally and figuratively) along the way to get what they wanted.

But my mother was home one Saturday afternoon in late winter that year, and we set about preparing a Saturday evening meal for my sister, her friend B and my brother if he stumbled home in time. And as we prepared the roast beef and peeled the potatoes for mashing, she dropped the bombshell that explained a great deal.

My mother was helping B with her pregnancy, because when she faced a similar situation in her lifetime, her parents did not.

I sat silently and encouraged my mother to tell me the story with small nods and whispers.

My mother had been twenty one and working as a lifeguard at a local pool while she was home from college that year. She was tan and fitter than she’d ever been in her life. She and my father had started dating, but were on a break that summer while he did summer stock theater. She met an older man and they’d started an affair. She found out later that he was married, and she found out later than that about her pregnancy. The year was 1961.

In 1961, a twenty one year old single girl in college did not spend a great deal of time wondering what to do next. You either were sent away to a home for unwed mothers to have your baby in secret, or you married the guy quickly. The third, darker option was one that no one talked about and one my mother never considered. And since the gentleman in question was married and had no intention of leaving his wife, that left only one option.

My mother didn’t judge her parents for sending her away to the Crittenden Home in Atlantic City in summer of 1962. That is what middle class parents did for their girls back then if they cared. And so my mother spent several months there, waiting. She told me they prepared them for the birth, and for the adoption. She told me that she had to take care of her son for three days before relinquishing him to his adoptive parents. She was sure it was their idea of punishment for a sin, but she told me that she was grateful for the three days she was able to spend with her boy that she called “Patrick”.

And then she gave him away. She told me she’d thought about him every day ever since. I asked her if she regretted it, if she thought she’d made the right choice or not.

“It was absolutely the right choice. The parents were able to do things for him I’d never have been able to. My only criteria was that they had to have above average intelligence, and that they had to value education as a top priority. I wanted him to have more than I could ever give to him,” she told me confidently, but sadly. “That doesn’t mean I don’t miss him, or that if times had been different or circumstances had been different that I might have made a different choice. But that was the best choice available to both of us then, and so that’s what I did for him. And myself.”

I looked at my mother with awe, and thought quietly about the brother I had never met.

Reaching Out

I started truly feeling like there was no one who cared about me personally and how I was feeling. My mother was crazy with work and the scary stuff going on with my brother. When she wasn’t dealing with that stuff, she was helping out my sister’s friend B and her ever growing pregnancy that she was hiding from her own parents. My father was calling and coming around less and less; after my “cocksucker” comment at our last therapy session, I could hardly blame him. Our family to him was an angry, blame filled place to be. My brother was off in another world and my sister had her friend and boyfriend to keep her occupied.

My friend Andrea was trying. She was inviting me over for sleepovers at her house often these days, even though we didn’t even attend the same school any more. Her still married, seemingly typical family made me feel comfortable, but also wistful for the crazy assed circus that I had going on at my house.

I had a new friend, Karen, who also invited me over from time to time. She also played flute in the band, and I loved her quiet house on the comfortable street. Like many people in our area, her father worked for the auto industry. Her mother had recently returned to work after staying at home with Karen and her sister when they were younger. Their house still had that quiet, neat feel that came from a well organized manager whose job it was to keep the household running smoothly. We had no such position in our house. Running the household was something my mother did when everything else she needed to take care of was accomplished.

But nobody really seemed to understand what it was like to be me. I wanted someone to listen, to tell me that all of the things going on in my life were not my fault. I wanted someone to check and see if I was OK. Some adult who noticed me and cared enough to see if I was still firing on all cylinders. Each day that passed, I felt less and less noticed, and therefore less and less present.

One day, when I was in a particularly bad mood, a letter came in the mail for me. Handwritten, the return postmark came from Montreal, Canada. Oh great, I thought, the Corey Hart people finally put a form letter in the mail for me. Still, that was something that made today different than any other day, so I opened the envelope.

Inside, there was a hand written letter. It was a response to the two or three fan letters that I’d used more like diary entries about the state of my life. I’d actually kind of forgotten about them until I saw the full two page response to my fourteen year old rantings. It was a thoughtful caring response that acknowledged my letter and showed that it had actually been read. It was signed, “Mindy Hart”.

I knew from the liner notes on Corey’s last record that Mindy was Corey Hart’s mother. Corey Hart’s MOTHER. Had written me back. And told me that things would get better, sometime. Not right away, probably. But she cared enough to tell me that they would, sometime. This woman I’d never even met was giving me what the people who saw me every day weren’t.

I couldn’t decide if that was wonderful or just plain sad. But I put the letter in my special drawer and held on tight to its words, regardless.

No One

My brother was still angry and still hard to handle, but he was tempered by B’s presence in the house. We knew he was still stealing from my mother’s wallet; she caught him once while he thought she was showering, and he’d gone into her room to take the money. Normally she kept her door locked with a combination lock on a hasp when she wasn’t in it, but the shower hadn’t occurred to her.

We still had the bi weekly disastrous family therapy sessions. The therapist, after my brother’s last hospitalization, divided my parents out because the sessions with them together were “not productive”. My brother continued to blame all of his aggressive behaviors on my mother, and he denied the stealing that we were all aware of. My father tended to agree that the behaviors were linked to my mother’s actions, which made me upset. My brother was old enough to bear some responsibility for his own actions, I said. I didn’t see anyone defending me and anything I did wrong. I got so angry that I told my father that it was actually the other way around, that my brother treated my mother so horribly that he created bad behavior in my mother. For example, I stated boldly to him in the presence of the therapist, my sister, brother and B (who was now attending with us due to her constant presence in the house), that, “What exactly, Dad, might you do if your son stood there and called you a a Mother Fucking Cock Sucker??”

I then ran out of the room, exhilarated by my release of anger and began to walk.

I walked quickly, listening for the therapist, for my father, for someone to come after me. I was out of the building, in the parking lot, nearing the busy highway the office was located on before I finally looked back.

No one had followed me outside. No one.

I slowed my pace, but kept walking. Seriously? No one seemed concerned about my anger, my frustration, my behavior? We were all in these rooms twice a month because everyone was so concerned about my brother, but what about me, I thought. What about me? Who is concerned that I might be picked up by a total stranger as I walked down the busy highway in the dusky twilight.

A mile passed. Still no cars slowing down to the side of the road, driven by someone related to me. Nothing. I kept walking, my anger flaring and ebbing with each step. Why didn’t anyone care about my feelings here? I was doing well in school, I wasn’t out smoking or having sex or doing drugs. Did everyone just assume that I was handling all of this chaos with an even keel? I felt like I was drowning, that no one would even see me in the water much less reach down and pull me to the surface.

I walked five miles that night, arriving home with the streetlights on and stars in the sky. No one, even though I walked the entire way home on the same route we’d driven to get there, had come across me on the way. The house was quiet; my mother wasn’t home yet from work and my sister’s car was in her usual spot. No one greeted me when I came in the door, no one asked what had happened to me.

I closed the door and let the darkness take over.

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