Forty years ago today I was a pregnant eighteen-year-old - alone, ashamed and frightened for my future.
I believed I had another month before my baby arrived, another month of enduring the discomfort of carrying the weight of her, another month before I would have to do the unthinkable, unbearable right thing. I had only just called my mom and told her I was pregnant and garnered the promise she'd be there for me when the time came. I had just been to the doctor - the old gruff man who never looked me in the eye, who expressed concern about how swollen I was, who had just left for vacation.
My social worker, Karen, the one bright spot in the bleakness of my life, had promised everything would be okay. Told me over and over again that giving up my baby would be the most loving act possible - for us both. I didn't believe her, not really, but knew that keeping that child would mean the end of any possibilities of a future for me, and the almost certain guarantee of a life for her no better than the one I so desperately wanted to escape.
Forty years ago today I found myself in a neighbor's apartment. Her room only slightly larger than mine, and no cooler - one of three carved out of a second floor in an old house owned by a little Japanese woman who was scandalized to know the plump girl she rented to was actually an unwed mother. The neighbor, Kathy, and I had met in the narrow, dimly lit hallway on our way to the shared bathroom. Just a year or two older than me, she seemed wise and she cared.
So when my water broke on this night forty years ago as I sat on her floor talking to her and her boyfriend, they took me to the hospital. Where my daughter was delivered from my unconscious body very early the next morning by a young doctor on call. Where my caseworker couldn't get away from her schedule to visit. Where my mom promised over the phone to come get me when everything was over, but wouldn't leave her husband and sons to travel the hour and a half when I'd be leaving the hospital the next day. Picked up by my new friend, Kathy.
My daughter. Forty tomorrow. Unheld by me until she was twenty-four, in a reunion full of more love and redemption than I'd ever experienced before. We knew each other instantly. She came overflowing with love and hungry for her first mother. We devoured stories and histories and pictures like the starving women we were.
The years since have been a roller coaster ride of reaching out and pulling back on her part. The rhythm matching mysterious tidal tsunamis in her brain that make balance of any kind a near impossibility.
Forty years of an unconventional motherhood.
Learning to love the child who was me, who alone, made the biggest and most difficult decision of her life. Holding her in forgiveness. Thankful for her spirit, courage, and unwillingness to quit.
Accepting and believing in my right to love the daughter I signed away into the arms of a family who loved her the way I knew she deserved, and who are there for her still as she struggles to keep her head above the chemical floods that threaten to consume her.
Forty years of quietly spending July 18 in mourning, celebration, and gratitude. Not once spending the day with the daughter whose birth blesses me now and whose difficult life I wish I could ease. Always holding hope for healing that might give us both the day, and so much more, to share together. Always loving her.
Loving my daughter as she is. Over miles both geographic and internal. Grateful for her existence and her tender spirit and her presence in my life.
Happy Birthday, Kathleen.