When you lose a child in any way, you look for a reason. There has to be something. Something that was done. Something that wasn't done. Anything. Anyone. Something or someone to blame. In the absence of something concrete, we blame ourselves. In lieu of holding our children, we hold our guilt. Because, after all, there has to be a reason and some has to be to blame.
Most readers know that I'm adopted and dont have a wealth of medical history (any???) at my fingertips. Much of what I do know is based on recollections of people who knew my birth mother, but so much is fill in the blank.
I grew up as an abandoned, 7 week old baby. My parents took care of me for the most part, but legal custody was actually left to my paternal grandmother (adoptive dad's mom), since I was left at her home. However, she was older and my parents were my primary caregivers. At that time, the laws that currently govern foster children (or wards of the state, as I was called in paperwork) were much different than they are today. Judges wouldnt terminate the rights of birth parents within 18m as is currently the law. In fact, my parents went to court every single year from 1-17 to ask for custody and to petition for an adoption. "Temporary Legal Custody" was granted; adoption never was. We ended up doing the legal adoption when I was 19 and already married, just to do it. Just to have that "legal" bond that was already there in every other way.
Growing up, my grandmother never expressed any lost love for my birth mother, although as I look back as an adult, I know that she couldnt move beyond her hurt. She had taken care of my birth mother when her own parents had kicked her out. And what did she get in return? An infant on her doorstep. I truly believe that the cancer that killed her 10 years later had already started to erode what made her her. She died of breast cancer that had spread to her bones, spine, and brain and every organ in between. That doesnt happen overnight. Her illness combined with the grief of losing her husband (the year before I was born) and her hurt that my birth mother, W, had left, were, in my opinion, enough to break her.
The stories that she told of W were anger filled. Of a girl (and I do mean girl... While I no longer have my original birth certificate because it was superceded by the adoption one, the age listed when I was born was 14) who was "wild", who stayed out late at night and sang in "jukejoints" and smoked and drank and was a bad girl all around. She hung out with bad people. And perhaps the worst part of the story (especially when you considered I was 10 when Nana died and these are stories I remember hearing my entire childhood) was that W had tried to abort me unsuccessfully and, even after she was told to go on bedrest to save a pregnancy she didnt want, she didnt listen, hence my arrival into this world premature, at 7 months gestation.
When my mom overheard these stories, she would try to balance them. You see, my mom knew W. They went to high school together (my mom is slightly older). She would tell me of a young girl with a pretty smile and star struck eyes... Of a girl who didnt know what to do with a baby when she was just a child herself and who begged my mom and dad to get married early (my mom was 18 on her wedding day, when I was 18m old), so that they could adopt me. Mom told me that she didnt know why things happened the way that they did but that, regardless, I was loved and that leaving me behind was the best decision W could have made.
This made it easier to swallow at times... This image of a woman who just didnt know what to do. Who was young and scared. But the thoughts always came back to one thing: she tried to kill me. She had an abortion that failed. I shouldnt even be alive. These are thoughts I never even said outloud until I met Peter; they were too hard to shoulder and even harder to pass onto someone else.
My grandmother died and my parents took care of me completely, and there was no more talk of abortions or abandonment or of W being bad. Whenever she came up, which wasnt often because, truly, my parents ARE my parents and always have been, they remembered her fondly. Yes, she had problems, they said, but we all do. Leaving you behind was for the best. She left you so that we could be your parents. You are wanted. You always have been. By us.
But, you cant wipe away a decade of built in prejudice against someone you've never met. In spite of their best attempts, inside, I always had this feeling "against" her... When I was 14, I made an attempt to find her. Somehow, she found out about it and wrote me a letter, which basically said (and it's been a long time, so I dont remember it completely) to love my parents because those are the people who mattered. That she didnt want to step into my life at all... Ever. To please not look for her. It was 2 pages. I read it twice and cried. It was true. She didnt want me. She wished I were dead. My mother took the letter and put it away, somewhere where mother's put the things that crush their children. They had read it first and gave it to me. They never hid things. Not once. I am grateful for that. She held me while I cried. Told me it was okay. That she was my mother. That W gave her a gift because she couldnt have birthed me from her womb but she was able to birth me from her heart. That she loved me. That she was and always would be my mother. That I was wanted from the beginning she knew I existed. That it was okay to cry...
That year was a turning point for me. I was in high school and, as everyone who has gone through those great teenage years can attest, it's usually a fun time. Or not. I decided to hate W from that moment on. I hated her because she didnt sign over adoption papers. I hated her because I had a different last name- her name- than my parents. I hated her because I had no biological information, no history. I hated her because my birth father was listed as "unknown" (I mean, was she screwing so many people she couldnt give one name???). I just hated her and I swore that, no matter how long it took, I was going to find a way to get revenge. I didnt know how, but I knew that I would.
Time moved on and I met Peter, graduated from high school, got married, moved away and went to college. We lived in our first apartment and life was pretty good. We were happy. One evening, we received a call from Peter's cousin's wife, who lived in Florida. His cousin was in the Navy and the wife had taken the kids to the hospital for a checkup. In the hall, she had passed a row of photographs. She decided to call because the woman looked like me. Knowing I was adopted, she thought she'd pass the tidbit on. I was 19 at the time, and the feelings from my early teenage period came back. I decided that I would contact the Navy and see if I could find out any information about this nurse. The name was different but names could be changed. Several weeks of letter writing went back and forth, to no avail. They would confirm that the nurse worked at the hospital but nothing more. A dead end...
The cousin called back, as she was back at the hospital for another reason, and had seen the nurse walking around. She asked if I'd done anything and I shared what I had. She offered to call the nurse and ask her, point blank, if she had formely been known as W, and, if she had abandoned a child in Nashville. She would do a 3-way call, so that I could be on the other end without the woman knowing and I quickly agreed. After all- how else could I get my revenge if I couldnt get her current name? (Dont ask what revenge... I dont even know what my teenage mind thought it could draw up...)
That night, as I stood in the kitchen, she rang the nurse at the hospital. I'm actually surprised that, given the tone she was approached in, she didnt hang up. After asking who was calling (without a response) and asking why "you are doing this to me- are you trying to get me kicked out of the Navy?", she finally, in frustration, admitted that yes, she was W and that whatever witch hunt we were on was going to cost her her career and her family. She eventually did hang up and I was left, speechless on the other end of the phone.
I shed a lot of tears that night. I dont really know why. Perhaps it had something to do with revenge being a dish best served cold. Even though I thought I hated her and thought I wanted to ruin her life, I didnt know her. I didnt have a reason to do it at all. And the idea that she could lose her job and possibly her family (wait, she has a family???) hurt. Almost as much as it hurt to be rejected as an adult. Some part of me, the part that watched and cried over the Unsolved Mysteries reunions, thought that, as an adult, whatever issues had been there would be gone, and we could be friends. She could be, say, an aunt. She could tell me a medical history and where I came from and then, we could go our seperate ways. I cried for that. The next day, I called my mom and told her what I'd done and cried some more. And, as she'd always done, she tried to smooth the hurt, fix the rough edges, tell me that nurture was so much more important than nature... That it was okay to cry and that we'd get through this.
This was around when the first vestiges of infertility started to come around. We'd been together for over a year and nothing... Finally, an elusive, light pink second line appeared and we were overjoyed. "P" was our sweet, first pregnancy, who ended in a missed miscarriage, and I still miss him and add up how old he would be had he lived with us. I always felt that spark of him when I was pregnant with Nicholas and Sophia... I smile to think that perhaps he just made a brief appearance to say "I'm coming back with my sister one day, Mommy!" and was a whisper in the wind in a time when we needed to feel him most... After that one faint line, nothing...
I went to GYN after GYN. I didnt menstruate regularly (maybe once a year?). "What's your maternal medical history?" "I dont have one... I'm adopted." "Oh... Well, you are young; just keep trying" or "You must not have any eggs left" or "I'd wait a few years and, if you still havent gotten pregnant by the time you are 30, look into help." One doctor, who knew I was from the south, even mentioned possible DES exposure, since doctors prescribed it after the FDA pulled it, to pregnant women. No ultrasounds. No blood work. I was "too young" I guess to be infertile. And really, at 22, who the hell thinks they are infertile? I remember wearing that label like the scarlet letter. I was infertile. Broken. We never had Peter tested because, come on, I didnt even have a period! It was obviously my fault. (And, honestly, in those early years of marriage, we either didnt have insurance or we had crappy insurance. And we were poor. We wanted a large family, but looking back, I know we were barely feeding ourselves. But we were young and believed we'd live on love and make it work.... And we would have, but that wasnt in our cards...)
After that phone call, my anger with W went away. I felt sad that I had wasted so much on being so angry for so long. I finally believed my mom. It didnt matter and it wasn't really important. I had 2 parents who loved me; that was what mattered. Somehow, after that phone call, the healing of that hurt started and I felt like I was finally moving on. Without the hurt and without the anger. I stopped thinking about wherever I "might" have come from, and started acknowledging my parents' heritages as my own. I forgot my old last name. I forgot my old birth certificate. And I moved on.
When my parents divorced and there were legal issues that came up, my dad actually had a phone call with W. (It's a long story...) As they were hanging up, he asked the question that he knew plagued me more than anything else... The unknown on the birth certificate. But he got more than he bargained for. When he asked who my biological father was, he said that W's voice choked and she said "I dont know." When she was silent for a bit, he asked if there were possibilities, and she said finally that she was raped. That she really, truly didnt know who the father was. That she couldnt handle even remembering.
Dr Lee seemed unfazed by my lack of medical history when we went to see her. She did her bloodwork and her ultrasound and her consult, diagnosed me with PCOS, and said she'd do her best to help us conceive. And she did. In spades. That first cycle, that BFP, that joy... It was as if the decade of struggling to get pregnant didnt matter. We met Dr Bailey and every ultrasound was perfect. Our babies were growing. Life was good. Great. And then... The unthinkable... Shattered... Lost... Empty...
As every orphaned parent does, we asked "why". We looked for whatever reasons we could find. Surely, there had to be something... I'm a survivor of sexual assault- perhaps that "did" something. Perhaps it was carrying a bag of groceries. Perhaps it was because I'd done "something" bad. Perhaps it was that botched abortion attempt by W that screwed something up... Ah... That familiar anger... Hurt... But knowing she was raped, that she had no control over the pregnancy, that made it a little easier and it was still easier to blame myself. It was carrying the grocery bag, I reasoned, that put me into labor with Nicholas. After all, I carried Sophia 2 more weeks and it was an infection that started her labor, so it was the groceries...
We discussed having an incompetent cervix with Dr B, who said that he felt that was the most likely cause, even though my cervix looked fine. And so, we fell pregnant with Alexander and we monitored and my cervix was great... and it opened prematurely again. And our son died. And once again, we were looking for answers. It must have been the stress of work... Or, yes, it was that cervix. That evil cervix. Incompetent. Mine. It was my fault.
And, even accepting the blame that it was my cervix that caused my babies to be born early and die, I still looked for a reason why and the best two reasons were that I was either exposed to DES and that had caused a problem -OR- the W trying to abort me- OR- it was due to my prematurity, and my cervix had never finished development. And we all know where that points back. W. And while I didnt hate her, I was angry. Remembering my grandmother had said that she'd been told by a doctor to take it easy and that she hadnt, which is OBVIOUSLY why I was a preemie, I remember thinking "Why???" Even if she didnt want me, why couldnt she have just listened???
And, with this pregnancy, we had the cerclage, and all has gone well. Well, mostly well. And bedrest gives you a lot of time to think. And to blame yourself.
Peter and I have been discussing my IC a lot in recent days, and when I mentioned the DES as a possible reason, he asked about it (scientist that he is). Honestly, I've never really looked into it because A) I am younger by a few years of the last accepted group of "DES Daughters", B) It was prescribed primarily to pregnant women to save their pregnancies (because they were at risk of miscarriage or had severe morning sickness) and since we all know W wouldnt be trying to save something she didnt want, that didnt apply, and C) Because, honestly, I just didnt want to know. I couldnt confirm she took it anyway, so why look more into it. But my husband is a biologist and, when it comes to matters of science, he doesnt often leave a stone unturned. And his research began yesterday morning.
He read the familiar litany of why DES was prescribed and, once again, I remember thinking "see, this is why this is such a long shot as a reason..." and then he got to a section that I'd never seen (because I'd never bothered to look) and a completely new story began to emerge. One that I've wept over these last 2 days because it shakes me to my very core and has left me crumbled... Filled with sorrow. For me. But, also, for W.
DES was stopped as a miscarriage/morning sickness remedy in the mid 70s and was considered contraindicated for women (the drug was produced until 1997 for other reasons). However, it was given until the early 80s as emergency contraception- to rape victims. It wasnt an abortificiant, rather, it was high dose estrogen therapy to prevent ovulation that was given over 5 days. Current research shows linkage between DES Daughters and IC. In some cases, the cervix was misformed, but in others it looks fine and suffers from weakness that cant be repaired. When this became apparent, cerclages were given to DES Daughters as a precaution. (My infertility, however, is related to PCOS and most likely has nothing to do with DES exposure.) As everyone knows, DES Daughters have a much higher risk of problems with the reproductive system, including a variety of cancers. And DES Mothers are at an increased risk of breast cancer.
And now, instead of the story of a stupid teenage girl who tried to abort a baby she didnt want and continued living her high-risk lifestyle, a new picture has emerged.
Perhaps W was out partying and got assulted... Fearful of a pregnancy, she went to the hospital the next day or so and was given DES as emergency contraception. She took the pills, was told her period might be late by a bit, and to wait it out... Not knowing she'd already ovulated and conceived. That first trimester would have slipped by unnoticed. Perhaps she tried to block out the memory of her attack by smoking, drinking, having a "good" time. Perhaps she thought she deserved it. Perhaps... I dont know... When that fourth month of not menstruating came around and she though, hmmm, maybe my pants are tighter... she perhaps took that dreaded pee test... And, to her surprise, found it to be positive... Maybe, she went to the doctor, who confirmed her pregnancy and told her to take it easy. And, just maybe, she did. Maybe she lounged around the house more in stollen shirts to hide her growing belly. Maybe she tried to eat better. Maybe she stopped her bad behavior because she realized that a baby was still growing. And just maybe, when it wasnt enough, and she went into preterm labor and had to tell my grandmother that she was pregnant and ask my parents to take her to the hospital, maybe, just maybe, she was scared that I was going to die. After I was born, perhaps she confessed taking pills to stop from getting pregnant and this is the abortion attempt that my grandmother told me like bitter medicine. That she remembered her first trimester partying and told me that W didnt try to save the pregnancy after her "failed abortion". Maybe just maybe...
And maybe, when you are 14 and only a child yourself, and when the shame of seeing the face of a baby conceived by rape and the guilt of having a premature baby and the wondering of what those 5 pills might have done became too much... Maybe that is when she decided that it would be best to leave.
And maybe, because that shame and guilt havent faded for her... Maybe these last 30 years have been an exercise in self preservation... Of just trying to get through the day when so much of what made you "you" was taken away, and you have to become someone new. And that, my friends, that I can understand 100%.
And so, I weep. For her. For me. Because this is now the probable scenario. And because it wasnt her fault. And it wasnt mine.
Michele, this is such an important and beautiful post.
I weep along with you for all of your losses, and W's, and the loss of 'knowing' which in itself creates a gulf in our hearts.
Adoptees need and deserve to know their sotries, not matter how scary or painful. You and Peter are on such a healing journey together.
This is an amazing post, and you are an amazing person. I know you know this, and I know you understand this, but I'd like to remind you to be gentle with yourself. Your courage inspires me more than you can know, I just wish you hadn't had to learn to be so strong...
And, incidentally, thank you for reminding me how very wonderful adoption can be for both the baby and the parents. If I ever find a daughter half as amazing as you are, I will consider myself the luckiest mother in the world.
Be strong and be gentle with yourself. You're in my prayers every day.
Oh, Michele. I don't even know what to say. I'm crying right now after reading your post. I am so sorry for what has transpired in your life. It wasn't your fault and never will be. I think your mom is right; you have parents that love you and want you and that is what has to matter. I totally understand what you are going through (more than you know) and just wish that everything could have been changed for us. I am praying for you and your babies, ALL OF THEM! Just wait until you are holding your 4th and 5th children, it will be worth this heartache you are feeling now. 4 more days! I am counting along with you!
Wow. You are already my hero for your strength and determination but now I know how brave and strong you truly are. It takes courage to see W's point of view, it takes courage to see the other side of a story as painful and raw as yours. thanks for sharing this story. Your parents sound like amazing people.
You are so strong and wise. Your story has truly touched me.
I almost cried at reading your post. You wrote it so beaufuly. all our thought and prayers to you. It's clear that god wanted you to be hear and that no matter what, you were wanted from the start from the lord. May he continue to bless you.
Michele - one day soon, after you have your healthy little ones, you should write a book about your journey. you have such strength and courage that all of us (those who have lost a baby) can learn from you. it's so hard to stay positive and yet you do it everyday...and you love all your babies without shame or guilt. you are an inspiration. if you do decide to write that book i'll be the first to buy! :) hang in there just a few more days!
such a powerful post. thank you for sharing it. i often think that the stories we know are sucha small part of what the bigger truth is....yours is an example of that. praying for you every day.
Wow. What a story.
I'm keeping you in my prayers.
Michele, this is a lot to get out of your system. I'm amazed at what you've been through. Peter is wonderful for digging into the research for you.
I found your blog a while ago and have been rooting so hard for you to get to bring these babies home. (So close to that amazing milestone!!!!) My jaw dropped reading this post. Your courage, love, understanding, after so much pain... I'm just astounded and amazed. From what I've read here, you have an amazing mother (and I don't mean W) and it seems she taught you well.
Being the probable child of rape, you may find this website uplifting and helpful: http://www.rebeccakiessling.com/
Thank you for sharing your heart so openly. I will be following you closely and praying my heart out that you carry these babies as long as you can. I will say a prayer for W, too.
I have no words. Praise God for the life you have been given. Praying for your healing on this road of discovery and for your road with Robert and Maya.
How remarkable that by trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together, you've come to a place where you can feel sympathy for that poor teenage girl, and that you are closer to no longer blaming her... or yourself.
Too much idle time to think can be bad, but in this case it sounds like it's been a very good thing.
I wish you peace, in all kinds of ways.
Your ability to forgive absolutely amazes me. I realize it took a lot to get to this point, but many people would never get to where you are. You are incredible, my dear.
Peace, my friend.
This is such a moving post. You are so gracious in your empathy and understanding for your biological mother. It sounds like you are more at peace with things now. ((hugs))
WOW!! what an amazing and inspiring story!! I am touched!!! I am sure your tragic childhood and all the pain it has caused you over the years has made you the strong woman and mother you are today!!! ... and finally...maybe... by looking at the circumstances in a different way, it will bring closure to your difficult circumstances.
Know that you are a beautiful person with a generous and loving heart...there is NOTHING you have done, that has brought you all these difficulties... sin is in the world, and it affect all. even the helpless unborn... But, in a positive light, God has them in his hands ... they are in Heaven!! while the rest of us have work to do to here on Earth... we must believe in our Savior, Jesus. You will see all your children one day, healthy and happy!!
You are a wonderful person, and your babies are blessings. Stay positive, we are praying for you! God Bless! ~Michelle
What an incredible post. I can't imagine what it took to write this, and I so sincerly thank you for sharing.
It's amazing, isn't it, what guilt can do? Guilt and blame. . . and, usually, we don't even realize it until we've released these emotions. It is so, so easy to blame ourselves. *Someone* has to be at fault, right?!?! But look what you just taught us - maybe not. Not her fault. Not yours, either.
Wow. Just wow. I think I'm going to have to re-visit this, again and again.
Michele, Thank you so much for sharing this. I know this must have been hard to write and even harder to live. I am so sorry that you have so many questions that will not be answered. You are an amazing and strong woman! and I am happy that you realize that it wasn't your fault and it wasn't hers. I know we always want to blame someone...something...it makes things much easier but in the end it doesn't make it better.
Again thank you for sharing this powerful post!
Wow. This is a very beautiful post. If i was W I would read it and weep and weep. A part of me wishes that maybe she could see it to start her on the road to healing that you have marched so far down, some distance on your own and some with Peter,
For once I'm lost for words.
Go gently you two precious people, with two more precious people inside you. May they grow big and beautiful like their mum and dad.
I don't know what to say. How incredibly brave of you to find that resolution, that forgiveness or acceptance of what was and is. It is such a shame that she can't know that this is where you are, she might learn from it and find peace.
Wow...I've been reading you for a while but never commented. This post was so...full. I'm sorry for all you've been through, but its obviousy its made you a very strong person.
I am adopted and I have never met my birth parents. I have no desire to, as my parents are my parents. Genetics doesn't matter. I've debated trying to get fmaily history, since doctors always ask, but really to be its not worth going down that path. Maybe one day. Probably not :) I think I'd be worried I wouldn't like them, or they'd want something out of the relationship that I wasn't willing to give. I have parents and siblings, and I don't want any more :)
But knowing how you felt about W growing up...its nice to know you have found some peace. One day she might confirm thats the reason, or you may never know for sure. But either way it sounds like you've crossed a road into understanding. And thats a good place to be.
Keep doing a great job of keeping those babies safe!!
What an incredible post - you have been/are going through an amazing journey. My heart aches for you and for W.
You are a remarkable woman. Thanks for sharing your story.
I couldnt imagine being through all that .. and finally you have "an answer" .. and while it doesnt bring your babies back .. it can help save these babies (and any future ones if you decide to conceive again).
what an amazing .. yet, heartbreaking story ... your biological mother may not have wanted you, but was still strong to go through what she did. And you are so strong to go through what you have, will and to accept what has happened.... to you and her!
What a beautiful and thoughtful post. And so many people wouldn't have the strength to look past what seems obvious, and see the person, and the what might have happened, underneath.
I'm a lurker here from L&F&CA. I'm also mom to two daughters through adoption.
Your life story is very moving. You are a talented writer and mother. After your twins are born, you should consider perhaps writing a longer version of your story. I think others would find it moving as well.
Also, I think you would make an awesome adoptive mom!! Think about it!
Also, I wanted to add, I dont know if W could ever truly feel at peace about what she did and how she treated you when pregnant with you. If she truly has got her life in control and is trying to be a good person, she must be haunted by it. Why on earth did she refuse to give up her parental rights though?
What a difficult, yet ultimately beautiful understanding you've reached, one filled with wisdom and compassion.
You and your little ones will be in my thoughts and prayers.
You are amazing. I am so glad that you are a survior and an overcomer. Your story is powerful. You write your thoughts & emotions so well. I think you should be sharing your experiences in a book.....:0)
an amazing story and emotional journey. i just can't believe how close 24 weeks is. by the way, i just noticed that the song that plays lists you as the artist...is that you singing and playing? or did you write it? or am i reading the thingy wrong?
this is amazing and beautiful and i was captured with every word. i feel like i know you and you are in my prayers constantly.
I agree with so many others here, you are such a wonderful writer.
I am not sure what I have said to you versus what I have thought, so I just wanted to leave a note today.
This post really struck a deep chord in me, and I just wanted to say thank you-- thank you for trusting us with your story. I have a step sister who is a DES child, a young one, 28 maybe, and she had a cerclage with each of her two--
But I really wanted to say is this:
your story is an amazing one, even before you were born. I am amazed at the paths we take to where we are at any given moment,and I am shaken by knowledge of the decisions and choices that could have changed everything but we did not even know it at the time...
and you, I hate the phrase incompetent cervix, ferchrissakes, it is doing the best it can!
It is not anyone's fault, it just is. And it sucks rocks.
BUT, that being said, T-3 lady, and I am celebrating that in every breath.
Hope you are able to get some rest, body AND heart, with this new knowledge.
I just read this post and was also captured by it. What hard road you have walked but what a great perspective you have. Definitely a powerful story.
Michelle - you are an amazing woman, an amazing mother, an amazing daughter.... this post is so real and moving. Thank you for sharing.
Peace and love to you.
You are an amazing woman.
wow, amazing story. You defintly should write a book. You are a beautiful writer.
I can't believe what I just read.
You have been through so much.
((HUGS)) I pray for your comfort.
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