She was born to me 51 years ago, this coming May of 2018. I was 18 years old, and I was supposed to be filled with shame. I wasn’t. I was convinced that I was carrying a baby for another woman who could not. I knew that I would have to place the baby for adoption. I also knew intuitively that someone was already anticipating her arrival. I could feel it.
I lived in a home for unwed mothers in Indianapolis—this was 1967, after all. At that time, there was no family support for a young unmarried, pregnant woman. Not even my parents knew I was there. One of my aunts and my older sister helped me to get into the home, and helped me with a backstory for my parents. They thought I was staying with Aunt Jo in New Hampshire, helping her out with childcare while she needed it.
I arrived at the Home when I was six months pregnant, with a box of clothes and a Ukulele. While I was there, I taught myself to play some very basic songs (like Kumbaya), and played for the little Mass service on Sundays. I also met two of the loves of my life while there: Richard Niebuhr and Teilhard de Chardin. Early during my stay, I took the bus to a bookstore and bought Radical Monotheism and Western Culture, by Niebuhr, and Hymn of the Universe, by de Chardin. Have you ever read books that set fireworks of harmonics off inside? These two do that inside of me. I can honestly say I don’t know that I understood what I was reading at the time. I can only say that reading them helped me to settle into something larger, more harmonious and stable, inside of me.
But I was only 18 years old—still a teenager—one who was absolutely internally bereft and inconsolable at having been left by the young man (also a teenager) whom I loved with all my heart. (He fell in love with someone else, as teenagers often do.)
She was born a little early and weighed just over five pounds. Because of that, I didn’t get to hold her until she arrived in Fort Wayne, Indiana, at Catholic Charities. I was told when she would be there and that I would need to come in to sign the adoption papers that released her to her parents.
I got to hold her for about ten or fifteen minutes. The memory of those moments still make me cry, feeling at the same time both gratitude and loss. That is life, though, right? I often feel at least two feelings at one time. Gratitude that she would be able to have a loving, stable environment (something that I could not give her), and loss of this baby girl, who had been conceived and carried with such love.
Fast-forward to about 17 years ago.
I was on an escalator in a mall going down when I saw her. I had held her for just those few minutes, thirty-plus years before, and I recognized my baby in the eyes of a woman who was riding the escalator up.
I decided to write to her through Catholic Charities, told her a little about myself and asked her if she would write back to tell me how her life had been. I also wanted to know if she would like to meet me. After a few months, she wrote back. She told me that her life had been filled with so much love that it had a near-fairy tale quality. She didn’t want to meet me because she didn’t want to hurt her parent’s feelings.
But, she said, she knew she was adopted and had always been curious about me. Because of that, when she was out in the world, she would look into the faces of people around her to see if anyone looked like her. She said that once when she was riding a mall escalator she saw a woman looking at her who looked like she had seen a ghost.
She realized she would look like that woman when she was older.
I have had two more children, who are also “loves of my life,” who were also conceived and carried in love, and who also create fireworks and harmonics inside of me.
And I am grateful for all of it.