Another birthday blog posting. I know, I said I was done with the adoption thing–but remember my caveat that I still might feel compelled to return occasionally.
Today is my birthday. As with every year, I have to stop and ponder how I got to this point. Virtually all my friends think the same thing. Where did the years go?
I think that’s one of the reasons I press onward with my experiences, my searching and my desire for answers. Life is too short. I don’t want a mundane life of blandness. And I guess one could say I didn’t get it. I certainly got more than I ever bargained for.
Today I felt the need to visit the grave of my parents. Perhaps that’s morbid, but hear me out. They are buried in a little country cemetery outside Silverton, Oregon, my birthplace. On this day, all those years ago, they took my birth mother, Gwen, to the little country hospital where I was born. Driving out to see the cemetery was a way of connecting with my parents and my mother.
Afterward, I drove to the house my parents lived in when I was born, my first home. I tried to imagine what it was like those years ago.
The local communities were much smaller. They’re relatively small now, but life was much simpler then without the rush-rush-rush brought on by social media, the internet and a 24-hour society.
My mother, Gwen, drove to my parents’ home in the hamlet of Hubbard, Oregon in her green, 1951 Chevy from her home in Vancouver, British Columbia. She was a quiet, mild-mannered woman. Yet she was a rebel in that she lived differently than most women of her time. When I was born, she was thirty years old and unmarried, quite unusual for the 1950’s.
Everything had happened pretty quickly. Gwen found out she was pregnant. She told her sister. Her sister contacted an astrologer with a newspaper column. The astrologer contacted Gwen’s sister about giving up the baby (me) for adoption to her brother and sister-in-law in Oregon.
Then there was all the paperwork for Gwen to come to Oregon from B.C. Government officials in immigration didn’t know she was pregnant. She told them she was coming to look for work. I have the letter from my dad, describing their financial status and how they could appropriately host her. All these preparations surrounding my impending arrival.
Gwen was independent. She went to dances (where she met my biological father), she went horse-back riding and ice skating by herself. She traveled with her girlfriend. She even entered a contest called “Queen for a Day”, a very popular show in the fifties. And she actually won! She was showered with gifts and participated in a parade in Eureka, California. Boy, I wish I could find recordings of that radio show today. Just to hear her voice.
Driving out to Silverton today, I pondered the situation back in 1959. I don’t know every detail, but I can imagine what happened…
The time for my birth was approaching. Gwen was nearly nine months pregnant. As with most women who become pregnant she probably had cravings, retained water and experienced mood swings. I know that she indulged in walnuts from a big tree outside my folks’ home. My mom told me that, while Gwen stayed with them during her pregnancy, she would crack buckets of walnuts and Mom would make walnut clusters, Gwen’s favorite.
It’s interesting that to this day, I HATE the taste of walnuts. If I unknowingly eat a piece of candy with walnuts in it, I’m immediately spitting it out. A causal relationship? Hmm.
In my mind I see Gwen, hugely pregnant and uncomfortable, suddenly realizing the time had arrived in the middle of the night (I was born at 2:55 a.m.). I pictured my mom and dad and sister ushering her to the car with her bags. Everyone was excited and probably a bit nervous.
I pictured everyone in the car, driving through what was probably a rainy, cold night. After all, this is Oregon. The country hospital would not have the modern conveniences and technologies of today. It wouldn’t have had many of the amenities of larger city hospitals of its era. The staffing would have most likely been very minimal. The country doctor would have probably been called out of a sound sleep.
I wondered what went through Gwen’s mind. Did she have second thoughts? Did she fear giving birth? Did she wonder whether I was a boy or girl? This was before amniocentesis. Was she fearful about the pain?
Her family was three hundred miles away and only her sister knew the score. Her parents and siblings had no idea that their grandchild or nephew/niece was about to be born. She had told them she was going to Oregon to live for awhile and since she was such a free spirit, no one questioned it.
Years later, though, I found out that my family did know that she had gone away to give up her child. Believe me when I say that I’ve thought of that many times over the years.
I have to admit that I’m woefully ignorant of what it was like for a woman to give birth in 1959. I’m woefully ignorant of what it’s like in 2016. Other than TV, I have no idea. In Gwen’s case, everything was exacerbated because she was alone. I can’t imagine how she must have felt, being in another country, no family around to hold her hand, being wheeled into the delivery room–alone.
Back then, people weren’t allowed into delivery. She was wheeled into delivery with strange people around her–and none with a Canadian accent! What went through her mind? Was the birth difficult? What did she feel when she first saw me? How did it feel to hold me knowing I was to be given to someone else? Mom told me that after Gwen held me for a bit, I was handed to her. “From then on, you were mine”.
What did that do to Gwen’s heart? Was there doubt? Was their sadness? Was there envy? If there was, no one ever knew. She kept her feelings locked inside. When she returned to B.C. she never mentioned my birth. She ultimately married my biological father and they produced a son, my beloved younger brother. He was never told about me until he was fifteen, the year before I contacted them, wanting to meet the family.
Over the years, did she remember my birthday? Did she wonder what I looked like? Did she ponder what my talents and interests were? Did she allow herself to contemplate me much at all? Did she wonder if my brother and I would ever meet? Did she dream about that day?
She died in 1972 after a long bout with cancer. During my birth the doctor had noticed some abnormalities and she had apparently had some problems. Was that the beginning of her health problems?
She saw me a couple of times after she returned to B.C. We used to visit my aunt (the astrologer) and Gwen would come and see me and hold me and play with me. What intestinal fortitude. What presence of mind. To this day I’m amazed she was able to do it. She had to see me.
The last time Gwen saw us she took Mom aside and said she was stepping out of our lives forever and moving on. It was time for us to do so, too, as a family, without her. Mom hugged her tightly and said she would pray for her every day. Gwen drove off in her car, waving. We never heard from her again.
On this day that I celebrate my birthday, I wonder about the woman who courageously gave me away. She steeled herself to do what she felt was right. The ramifications that awaited her in B.C. were not pleasant as my father was destroyed over the loss of his son and never forgave her (or anyone) for as long as he lived–even after he met me.
But she persevered. She took an untenable situation in 1958-59 Canadian society and made a bold decision. She opted not to abort. Abortion was illegal and dangerous. And, according to my aunt, she couldn’t bear the thought of “killing my baby”. Thank God.
So, on this day, I exalt the woman who lovingly thought only of me. Because of her, I am here. I never had the opportunity to meet her, to even hear her voice. I have only photos and stories.
But in my mind’s eye, she exists as an apparition of ethereal beauty, watching over me in heaven with the precious mother who raised me. I imagine them together, smiling over me, sending their love for me in a dimension I cannot fathom, reuniting us. Yet I know the love is there.
Happy birthday to me.