52 years ago today a 19 -year old girl gave birth to me. She held me, she fed me, and then she gave me away.
My parents reinforced from an early age that being adopted meant that I was loved twice, blessed double. They told me that I was born to a girl who loved me beyond measure but couldn’t provide me the life I deserved. My mom and dad gushed that they had wanted me more than any other baby in the whole wide world. The first images that lived in my tiny brain of the adoption process were of my parents in a baby store (Cute Babies R Us – One Per Customer) scanning thousands of smiling faces, readily and joyfully settling on mine.
“I’ll take that one,“ they must have said. I cooed and giggled. I’m sure I smugly glared at the other babies as I was plucked out of the playpen – the chosen one.
At some point between potty training and 4th grade, I came to the conclusion that the movie in my head was bullshit.
I knew my parents loved me, but I had deduced from overheard conversations that the adoption process was fairly random. I understood that the lists for babies were long and that I was “placed” after a four-year wait, not chosen. Like a grab bag, you get what you get.
As balloons were inflated for each birthday, thoughts ballooned in my head that instead of wanting a better life for me, my biological mother must have wanted a better life for herself. I was convinced that once she held me and saw the baked potato size birthmark on the inside of my right thigh, the left club foot that would take years to correct, she had decided I wasn’t worthy of keeping. I was broken, so she returned me.
Growing up, I think my mom sensed somehow that birthdays were a mixed bag for me, a reminder of the day I believed I was abandoned. Each year my craft crazy mom went out of her way to celebrate the day I was born and show me how happy they were to have me as their daughter. Though I loved those themed parties and all of the fuss, at the end of the day, as I lay in bed, I would hold my stuffed gray poodle and cry as I thought about the day I was given away.
I didn’t remotely resemble my dark haired, brown-eyed parents or my French Canadian begotten brother. Blonde haired and freckle faced, I looked like a child my parents had stolen from Florence Henderson. I didn’t see myself in anyone in my family. I became fascinated with womens’ faces and spent my childhood searching for the girl who gave me away.
“She has my nose…”
“She has my eyes….”
“You could land a plane on her forehead, just like mine…”
I saw her everywhere but never found her.
I wanted to ask her why I wasn’t enough, why it was so easy to toss me aside. Like paying a bill, this girl had signed her name and I was taken care of.
As I grew older, birthdays continued to hold hidden meaning, and I’d become accustomed to them being a big deal. Celebrations became barometers, the true measure of my value, symbols of how much I was loved and wanted. But there was always something, and someone missing – and I’d fall asleep with the same questions, the familiar salty tears, wondering where the woman who gave me away was that night and was she thinking of me?
When I was a teenager, I learned that sometimes the birds and the bees led to babies and that not all bundles of joy were joyous. When a good friend’s sister became pregnant and gave her baby up for adoption I had a front row seat to the agony many girls and their families go through when they give their children away. I stopped crying for me and began mourning for my birth mother and what she must have felt each July 23rd. I began to process that my adoption hadn’t been about a birthmark and a jacked up foot after all. My birthday trail of tears continued, but it became all about what my birth mom had endured, whether she had survived, even thrived.
With $900, the help of a private detective and what I suspect was some illegal maneuvering by renegade elves in the St. Louis County court system, I received answers to my questions.
June 7th, 1992
Don’t think that you caused me any trouble or pain. My troubles started a long time before you were born and continued a long time afterward. They weren’t caused by you and you did nothing wrong. Your existence has always been a joy and a wonderment to me, my firstborn. The pain came from having to live without you and you, like me, had no say.
With each conversation and ten-page letter, I came to know and love the woman who had given me away. Paula had never seen the birthmark and had not been told about the club foot.
She had held me, fed me, and then she had named me Anita Marie.
I had a name. My parents were right. I was loved twice, blessed double, and born to a girl who loved and wanted me beyond measure. The stories I had built up in my head deflated like balloons whose helium had been leaking for 27 long years. It was time to write a new chapter to my story, one that included two loving moms. How fortunate am I to be the chosen one?