Four Days to Family – Finding Family (Chapter 3 and 4)
September 5, 2003- 3:20pm
The airport loomed around me in its entirety. I am always in awe at this intimidating location, and I never cease to be amazed by the savvy travelers that can walk through such a place as if they lived there. Having only traveled on a plane three times in my life – once to stay with my cousin Cissy and her family for a month after my father died when I was only 14, again as a Fulbright Scholar to study in Japan, and lastly when I interviewed for the Principalship in Vermont – I tried to look as though I was not completely out of my element.
“Maybe if I understood the Physics of it all I wouldn’t find flying so intimidating,” I thought. How these massive hunks of metal were able to stay airborne for hours was something that was just mind boggling to me. In fact, the last time I had to fly, I ended up with the seat by the emergency exit and the stewardess had to explain how to open the exit to me twice. I figured if this plane went down, I was going to know how to get out.
I found a seat in the atrium facing toward Gate B-3, where Delta flight 1088 would bring me in contact with Lyn. The plane was early, leaving me only 45 minutes to wait. I settled in, trying to not look overly nervous, or grossly out of place, both of which I was.
Periodically, I would glance at the entrance area, where I would first lay eyes on my birth-mother. A young man in an over-sized suit jacket was pulling his carry-on bag behind him. The young blonde in a white summer sweater caught sight of him, her posture changed and a noticeable gait appeared in her step. They met each other half way on the receiving ramp, exchanged a starry-eyed gaze, and embraced. I watched them, imagining the details of my own anticipated and long-awaited reunion.
“The National Florence Crittenton Mission’s approach to adoption and to unwed pregnancy has been criticized. Rather than to aid pregnant women, families sent them to Crittenton homes to hide them from public view and avoid shame. Women in these homes were required to give up their children for adoption. The coercive practices of these homes were detailed in The Girls Who Went Away by Anne Fessler”. ~Wikipedia
Saturday, July 26, 2003- 1:15pm
Every now and then, the ghosts of my past would resurface, pulling at my desire to know myself. They would sneak out silently, often creeping in without being noticed until they were staring into my soul, invading my every thought, and making it difficult to think of anything else. This just happened to be one of those days.
Mike was in his office working on his Microsoft certifications, and our daughters were in Pennsylvania visiting my family until later in the week when I would go and pick them up at my mother’s house. Today, the house was quiet and peaceful, and worklife was not breathing down my back since it was summertime and the majority of school personnel were out on break. At this moment, I needed a divergence from my own doctoral studying. As my mind wandered looking for a satisfactory distraction from working on my Educational Economics paper, the door opened just wide enough for the ghosts of my past to grab a hold of my attention and redirect it to the blinding questions of my existence and where I came from.
Even though it was only one o’clock in the afternoon, I had been working for several hours online, researching my argument on the history of regional accrediting bodies and their role in today’s public education system of accountability. Within my exploring, I came across a reference regarding the role of accrediting bodies in relation to alternative education settings, including residential settings for troubled and pregnant teens. That was the nudge needed that opened that door once more.
It had been some time since I had thought about the Crittenton homes, yet this reference ripped open that wound making it fresh again. It echoed though my mind, distracting me from my original work. I saved my paper, bookmarked my current research, and opened a new search window in Explorer. The cursor blinked as I typed “Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers”, then hit enter.
Within a few moments the search results were displayed on the screen. “It is amazing how quickly information changes and multiplies on the web”, I thought. The last time I used these search terms just a few years earlier, there were only a handful of responses. Now, there were several pages.
I clicked on the first result, which was a website called firstmothers.com. As the sight opened, a melancholy tune played from the speakers, amplifying the emotions I already felt on this subject, as well as strengthened the pull at my heart as I read the words on the page. I glanced over the Welcome page. “Welcome to firstmothers, a site specifically for women that have surrendered their children for adoption.”
I listened to the music and just looked at that opening page for a long moment. The words “surrendered their children” held me in their grasp – so full of meaning to me now that I, too, was a mother. Then, like a child about to do something forbidden, I got up from the computer and locked the door. Even though only Mike and I were home, I felt the need to make sure I was alone for this as I went forward. There was something here that I needed to learn, some secret, and it was too personal for me to share with anyone just yet, even my husband. When I returned to the monitor, I could feel my heart racing as my attention turned back to the screen.
I went back to reading and exploring the site. The Who We Are page read, ‘Our site was started by fourteen women who stayed in the Crittenton Homes during the time of closed adoptions, and is open to all first/natural mothers. Our goal is to offer support and a place where you can share your feelings, both the good and bad that you may have suppressed when our children were separated from us”.
Again, the words sat heavily on my heart, etching this concept on my soul. This was a notion that I had not truly thought about before – the standpoint of my mother in giving me up, and the idea of “suppressing feelings when our children were separated from us”. Reading some of the entrees, I began to gain a very different perspective of my adoption than I had ever considered in my past searches – that of my birth-mother. As a mother myself, I had often thought about how difficult it must have been to give a child up for adoption, but never had I considered the gut-wrenching turmoil these women shared regarding their treatment, or the cruelty they experienced in these homes at the time of my birth. Many of their stories shared commonalities of physical and verbal abuse they suffered in these settings, not to mention their desire to keep their babies. Their writings contained reference after reference of how they were convinced by the staff and employees at the facility that they would be unfit parents, and that keeping their babies was absolutely out of the question. “Here you will find support from other mothers who have traveled the same path you are on. We understand what it is like to lose a child to adoption, an experience that is unlike any other experience in our society, with no references from which to seek help and solace in the social order except from those who have lived it themselves.”
The Contact page listed email addresses for each of the fourteen women that started the site. I opened my AOL account, copied each of the addresses to the blind copy tab, and began typing. “My name is Christine and I am searching for my birth-mother. I was born March 8, 1968 at University Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, and my mother stayed in the Florence Crittenton Home in Cleveland prior to my birth. I know that she lived in New York State prior to my delivery, and that her birthday is January 13, 1951. I have looked on and off for my mother for the past fifteen years, and I have placed a letter in my adoption file at the Department of Social Services in Cleveland, Ohio, asking that my contact information be provided in case my mother ever searches for me. I have no desire to create upheaval in my birth-mother’s life, and would just like to have some questions answered about me. I know this is a long shot, but are any of you my mother? Thank you for your time.”
I signed my name and did a quick spellcheck. Looking at the email for a moment, I was transfixed at the thought of starting this journey yet again. Every other attempt had proven to be a dead end, yet this was an untried venue, so perhaps it would actually lead somewhere this time. The worse that would happen would be another impassable dead end or brick wall, and I had experienced plenty of those in trying to find my birth family. I took a deep breath and hit SEND before I could change my mind and delete it.