Prom night, maternity ward, constant anger


Artist Ann Fessler interviewed seven women from the Baltimore-Washington area who have given up a child for adoption, and wove their stories into an oral collage that is part of her multimedia exhibit, Everlasting. Here are excerpts from one woman's story:

It begins in May, 1964 on the night of the junior prom. She wore a turquoise dress. Her date was her boyfriend, Stan:

I've always said that five minutes of bad sex ruined my life. I'd been this girl who didn't smoke or drink, didn't do anything wrong. Everybody's parents wanted their daughter to be with me. Now, when I went outside, they crossed the street.

The girl gave birth in a Washington maternity ward.

When I woke up, I started screaming and screaming, "Where's my baby?" and trying to climb over the railing. They brought him in a little gray warming box, and I remember falling asleep with my hand curled around the box.

My parents came to visit, and I said, "Have you seen him? Isn't he beautiful?"

My mother said, "You can't see him. You're not allowed."

And the nurse said, "She can see him anytime she wants. She's this baby's mother."

She probably didn't remember me after that shift, but she became one of the most important women in my life.

After giving birth, the new mother was pressured to sign papers surrendering her parental rights.

I said, "Can I have more time?" And they said, "No, this nursery is costing your parents $6 a day."

At the time, that was a lot. My family couldn't afford that. [The social workers] said, "If you sign the papers, the bills will be done." So I had to sign them.

She went back home and tried to resume her former life.

I dated a few boys, and then I met my husband, and I got pregnant again. It never dawned on me why I was having all these children. I know now that I was trying to replace my baby. Because I cannot let anyone go, I kept my children way too close.

Nearly 40 years later, she's still angry.

Social workers made the decision that I wasn't good enough to parent my son. I could have done it. I was parenting within two years, anyway, and I did a decent job of it. I loved him, and I would have sacrificed some of the things I wanted to be his mother. I should have raised my son, and I'll regret to my dying day that I did not.

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