Sunday, June 2, 2019

Maybe I will get an apology

Greencrow at 22, in 1969, the year I had Marianne.
In the photo on the right, I am 8 months pregnant

Mothers forced to surrender their babies demand an apology

There was a TV program on the CTV the other day. It was shown on W5 which is a news/documentary program.  It was based on the report that the Australian government issued a formal apology to all the woman who had their babies "forcibly removed" in the decades after WWII.  There was no law that took the babies away and placed them by way of adoption in "good homes".  It was the sheer force of societal pressure, that forced the women to relinquish their babies.  It was done by way of isolation, humiliation, family coercion and, most of all, guilt.  Guilt that they had nothing to offer their babies and that the babies would be at a distinct disadvantage if they stayed with their "wayward" and impoverished moms.

Watching the show brought back a torrent of painful 50 year old memories.  As I listened to the Canadian women telling their stories I was immediately transported back to that year in 1969 when I was a social outcast...forced to quit my job and travel to a place where I was unknown.  Unable to get a "normal" job in my condition, I was able to get a  job as a live-in nanny in a suburban household.  There, I looked after other peoples' children while preparing to surrender my own.  I was paid "room and board" plus $15 per week.  This was standard for young women in my position.

The Summer of '69
Pregnant myself, I looked after a little girl

I stayed with two different families while I was pregnant, living in the strange town thousands of miles from my home.  The first family had an alcoholic father, who got drunk every night and rampaged around the home.  I was staying in a room in the semi-finished basement but I could hear him one floor up, shouting and swearing.  When he got very drunk he would demand that his wife kick me out of the house..."the tramp".  After the second or third episode, I called a taxi and left.

The next home I was in, was a family of husband, wife and three kids.  There had been four kids but one of the younger children, a boy of a set of twins, had drowned the year before in a pond that you could see from the kitchen window.  The family was caught up in a crisis of grief.  The parents blamed one another for the loss.  One day, the wife had taken the children out.  I was alone with the husband.  I was doing dishes at the kitchen sink.  The husband came into the kitchen and slipped his arm around my very big waist.  I froze.  He then told me that "I must be lonely" and that he was "available".  I mumbled something I don't remember but it convinced him not to do that again.

The family had already decided to move to another town and had a moving date set that was supposed to accommodate my delivery date.  I was two weeks late...and counting.  They had to move.  I phoned my dad back home and told him I had to be out of the house and was overdue.  He booked me into a downtown hotel and said he would be coming to join me in a day or so.

I had a huge steamer trunk that I took everywhere with me.  It contained all my earthly belongings, including my precious "Singer" sewing machine.  It was very heavy.  The day of the move the family was very busy.  I wasn't speaking to the father who, nevertheless, wanted me out.  I had to drag that steamer trunk up the basement stairs by myself.  The father watched me while I did it...telling me not to mark up the walls with the trunk.

The cabbie came to the door and I asked him if he could help me carry the steamer trunk to the taxi.  He looked at me, hugely pregnant, trying to lift the trunk and HE went into shock.  He tried to carry the trunk by himself. We managed to get it into the taxi.  I cried all the way to the hotel, while the cab driver tried to comfort me.

I was in the hotel alone for a day or so till my dad arrived.  We waited for the birth of my child.  My dad wanted me to keep the baby and offered me money to keep it.  I said no.  My mother had told me previously not to bring the baby home and my parents were fighting about it.  Eventually, it would be one of the reasons for their divorce.

After a 28 hours of hard labour, my daughter was born in a difficult, forceps birth.  The old country doctor who delivered her told me to keep her.  I went to the hospital phone and called my mom back home...and asked if I could keep "Marianne" as I had named my little girl with the carrot-red hair.  My mother again said "no".  I went back and told my father.  He went to the nursery and took a photo of Marianne.

Marianne, one or two days old
 in the hospital nursery

The night before I left the hospital I asked the nurse if I could hold Marianne one last time.  She brought my baby to me.  I held her and my tears soaked her face and blanket.  I then had an out-of-body experience...the only one I've ever had....but now I know what people are talking about when they describe them.  Suddenly I was floating above the scene and looked down at the mother holding her baby.  I said to myself "What a sad and tragic scene."  It was as if it was happening to someone else.

When I left the hospital I stayed for two weeks at the apartment of one of the social workers that I dealt with at the Family and Children's Services office.  She brought me the adoption papers to sign.  I signed them hurriedly because I kept telling myself I had three months to "think it over".  So signing wasn't a finality.

One of the images that got me through the events of 1969 was a scene from the movie "Gone with the Wind".  The war has destroyed the south and Tara, the mansion that Scarlett had grown up in.  All was gone.  She came back with some family and tried to restore the home.  The family was starving and so Scarlett went out into the field and tried to dig up some turnips with her bare hands.  Digging in the muddy earth she suddenly raises her head and shouts to the sky "As God Is My Witness...I'll Never Go Hungry Again!!!"

That image of defiant Scarlett describes me perfectly after I returned "home" after Marianne's birth.  I was in a rage of humiliation and determined to claw my way out of the social hole I was in.  But, in fact, there was no home to return to, my parents were getting a nasty divorce and, as a matter of fact, I had moved away from home years earlier and had been living on my own when I became pregnant.  I moved to another city in Ontario and began working again.

Losing my first born galvanized me to get another job and begin working on a university degree...the first of two I would get by studying at night while working full time.

Eventually I did claw my way out of the hole...but it was always just an emotional trigger away...for 22 years, and still today, I suffer flashbacks.  Twenty two years after her birth, in 1991, my daughter contacted me.  Again, I was doing dishes at the kitchen sink when the phone rang.  It was her.

We had a successful reunion and she has also become reunited with her birth father.  Her birth father and I both attended her wedding....she insisted on it.  Her adoptive parents were extremely accommodating. My daughter and her husband are now both doctors.  He's a psychiatrist and she is an oncologist.  They live a comfortable life full of family [they have two daughters] and travel.  They are world travellers.

My daughter and I keep in touch but I would not say we are close.  She's actually closer to her birth father than she is to me...they live in the same province.  And anyway, she's a "daddy's girl" just like I I can understand.  This fall she will celebrate her 50th birthday.

Should the Canadian Federal Government give me an apology for what I went through in 1969?  I don't know.  On the scale of things...there are many who have suffered far more.  This apology thing certainly is getting out of hand.  But I will say this.  When Marianne's birth father finally, 22 years after the fact, apologized in tears to me for what he had done....a huge load of pain was lifted off my back.  That's all I can say.


Penny said...

So much hurt in that story GC
And yet in some ways some joy.
Like everything else in this world.
Thanks for sharing that with us.

greencrow said...

Hi Penny:

Thanks for your comment. That story is essential to who I am, so it was just a matter of timing before I told it on this blog.


Canadian Wildflower said...

Aawww, Greencrow, that was a very sad personal story; thanks for sharing. Giving up a child must be the hardest thing a mother sometimes has to do... 😥