Sunday, September 12, 2010

That Night In The Rain

The blog post by Musing Mother about the surrender documents brought back so many memories. I had a long labor with my firstborn and had also been treated for phlebitis while pregnant. I was back from the hospital and moved from my upstairs dorm room to the large room downstairs that was designated as the "Mothers' Room," a title that I now find interesting and a bit cruel. I had a huge episiotomy so I had to spend a certain amount of time on the bed, covered by a sheet while a warm light was shone on my privates. That, sitz baths, Anacin and a lidocain ointment were all the relief I was given.

It was just after supper and I was under the light, again, when my social worker, a stocky little woman with blunt-bobbed, salt and pepper hair and thick glasses, came in. She gave me time to get decent and I noticed that all the other Mothers-With-Empty-Arms had disappeared and I was alone with Ms. Stone.

Ms. Stone was very solicitous. She got one of those stupid, inflatable, doughnuts cushions for me to sit on and brought me over to the little table that was in the center of the dorm room. It was the 12th of April. My daughter was six days old and I had left the hospital without her. It was raining, heavily, outside and the weather more than matched my mood.

Ms. Stone had brought the surrender document for me to sign. Fighting tears, I tried to read it through the blur and each word that I can remember was a knife through the heart. "The undersigned, Robina D. Kinney, does willingly and with full knowledge relinquish all parental rights, claims and responsibilities to the infant child known as Sarah Irene Kinney...." There was a lot more gibberish, but, for some reason, that one part stayed with me, brought to the surface of my memories after reunion. I signed because I knew I had no other choice. If I didn't  sign, I had been convinced I would have no place to go and no way to make a life for us. I had also been coerced into believing that I would be a toxic and damaging mother to my child. I signed while crying.

Ms. Stone seemed moved by my tears and asked me if there was anything she could do for me. I practically begged for one more visit with my little girl before she was taken away. Mrs. Stone made arrangements for me to be at the exit door at the end of the corridor and she pulled her car around. I opened the door and she opened the car door and I dashed the few short feet through the heavy rain and took the front passenger seat. I thought we were going to ride to the hospital, but she just told me to turn around.

There, in a blanket-lined basket, wearing the white outfit that my grandmother had sent me, was my baby. She was asleep, and sucking on the middle finger of her right hand. She looked content, but my heart was breaking. Ms. Stone remarked on how pretty she was. She did look like a little angel with folded wings. She was still wearing the pink and white beaded bracelet from the hospital and I asked if I could please keep the bracelet. It really meant nothing to anyone else since it had my alias on it rather than my real name. The name "Eve Knight" would haunt me for years because I spent five months of my life being called by that ridiculous name. Ms. Stone slipped the bracelet off my daughter's little wrist and gave it to me. I reached back and touched her and opened the door to get out. I couldn't stand another minute of that pain.

I stood in the rain at the door until the car was out of sight. The house nurse fussed at me, taking my temperature and hustling me into a warm bath. They couldn't send me home to my parents if I was sick. They could prevent most physical illness but not the deep sickness of the heart and soul that would never leave me. That night in the rain, with the lights of the hospital across the street making yellow puddles where they shone on the pavement, standing there, alone, with that little bracelet in my hand, will always be one of the most painful moments of my life.

14 months later, the victim of a violent date-rape nine months earlier, I stood in a parking lot, under a sunny June sky, with my newborn son in my arms. Still unwed, still deemed unfit even though I had not done anything but be with the wrong person at the wrong time, I kissed him goodbye...something I had not been able to do with my daughter....and placed him in the lap of a lady riding shotgun with the social worker there to take him back to Columbia, SC to the same agency that had taken my daughter. He was dressed all in yellow...another gift from my grandmother. I remember his shiny dark hair, which I learned, later, fell out and came back in blond, and how husky he was at eight pounds.

I didn't expect it to hurt every bit as badly as it did the first time, but it did and I clutched a second little hospital bracelet in my hand on the way back to the home, dry-eyed until I could get some privacy. I closed myself in one of the less-used bathrooms and sobbed until my throat was sore and my head ached. I still, to this day, do not remember signing surrender documents for my son.

On December 23, 1968, before they closed the lid on my mother's coffin, I slipped both bracelets into her hands and silently asked her to look after her grandchildren because I couldn't. Numbed with grief, for my children as well as my mother,  I was still trying to say good-bye. Those farewells just never took. How does a mother say goodbye to living, breathing children, forever?

In 1993, I reunited with both children, now adults, familiar strangers, and started learning a few hard truths about adoption, what it had done to me, to them and to all in my world. It has been a bumpy ride. My daughter and I are estranged for the second time in 17 years. My contact with my son, while cordial, is sporadic. I have learned to make my own peace and happiness, one day at a time, and have become, unashamedly, anti-adoption as it is practiced in this society. My stance has nothing to do with the nature of my reunions. It is about what I feel and believe in my deepest heart and a stance arrived at with a lot of thought and research and interaction with other mothers and adult adoptees.

My efforts are now directed to the mothers of my era, the EMS, and the injustices they endured. I don't have to explain or justify my stance to anyone. I didn't come to the place where I am now, in activism, overnight.

It was a long, slow process that began on April 12, 1962 in Charlotte, NC, that night in the rain.


Anonymous said...

I so completely understand and I support you, every word, 100%. Thanks

Sandy Young said...

I don't know if I can write my story, Robin. I told someone I would, but I have started three times and get occupied somewhere else because it just hurts too much. Bits and pieces are easy. The whole thing hurts like it was yesterday. I admire you for writing this all down.

Forgive me, please, for not reading every word. I just couldn't. I am sorry. I read most of it. I will keep on reading it over the next few days, I promise.

Just Me said...

This post is heartbreaking... but you told it beautifully. Thank you for sharing it with us. <>

Von said...

Robin, so beautifully described, so heartbreaking and tragic, saying so much about the cruelty of adoption that is not just in the 'giving up' but in what we do every day and how we have to live.
Mothers can never 'give away' their babies, those who believe they can are not living reality.
You know the news now about Western Australia and the apology and while some mothers have criticisms of that outcome some of us there will be thinking of you all not just our own mothers.

Anonymous said...

This post is so very sad, heartbreaking. I think that you write beautifull you tell it like it is, eloquently. I admire your courage, it is very difficult to document the painful road of unwed pregnacy and surrender. Your writings actually give me peace, I know that I am not alone and deserve respect and happiness just as much as the next person.