Second Choice

“Trigger Warning – Miscarriage”

I have a fear of a baby I adopt growing up feeling like my second choice…I have had five miscarriages in a row, most second trimester where I had to birth a baby that was no longer alive. We want a baby so badly, and I think, if God allows us to adopt, that I will look back on this time as “the broken road, that led me to our child” but (if I’m honest) I would give anything to birth a live baby instead. Is it wrong to adopt, when you still wish you could carry and deliver your baby ? I don’t want my possible future child to feel like they were a second choice (but isn’t that how most moms usually come into adoption?) I want a live baby so much.

As one begins to learn about how adoptees feel and think, one learns that there is no getting beyond this if the adoptive mother experienced miscarriages or infertility first. The adoptee will always know deep down in their heart that they were a second choice regarding motherhood.

For hopeful adoptive parents who have experienced miscarriage or infertility, it is always recommended that they seek counseling first before moving on to trying to adopt, to at least resolve these issues clearly within their own selves. This will not prevent an adoptee from feeling this however.

Religious beliefs are too often tied in with adoption and the necessity of raising children. I’m not surprised that one commenter quickly asked – Why is it God ? (“if God allows us to adopt”) So many of these people are the first ones to tell others that whatever bad thing happened to you, wouldn’t have happened, if you’d made better choices or how God gave us freedom of choice, so take responsibility for our own actions – yet when it comes to something many Christians want -suddenly, it’s all about God’s will and God making it happen. I don’t know, maybe that’s so if it all goes to shit, they can blame that on God too, or say they were confused ?

Taking that a step further ? So odd when someone makes those miscarriages “God’s way to make them suffer, so they end up with someone else’s baby that they will always resent the reason for.” People twist situations to suit their beliefs and biases. To be clear, it’s wrong to adopt, when you have your own trauma consuming you. Deal with that first.

An acknowledged Christian makes these points – The Bible is in favor of caring for ORPHANS, which has a very limited definition. It doesn’t say to adopt or even to foster. The actual biblical definition of adoption is welcoming a new person into the family of God. Which can be done without actually adopting them. It can definitely be done without the next step of changing their name. The Bible places a high premium on lineage in the first testament. This is a pet peeve for this Christian. When people who have obviously never studied relevant passages to defend their decision to rip families apart, or keep them apart.

I do see the reality in this different perspective –  at least she’s honest about adoption being her second choice. She is not pretending. As an adoptee, I can deal with the truth a lot easier than the lies adoptive parents tell themselves to convince themselves to feel better about it. Then, they project that onto their kids…”we chose you”, “you were our plan all along”. It’s all BS. At least, she is owning her selfishness before, whether she continues to admit it once she adopts, is another matter altogether.

I’m not adopted, so maybe that’s why I feel more pity here than anger. I feel for her because her loss is obviously weighing on her mental state. Even so, she shouldn’t consider adoption until she’s healed her own traumas. I couldn’t imagine giving birth and seeing a lifeless baby. I don’t think I’d want to adopt or try again, personally. It is clear that she REALLY wants to be a mother, but to be a mother is to be selfless. It’s to put your wants in second and sometimes 3rd place, it’s long nights, it’s about the child and I don’t think she’s realized that yet. A child separated from their biological family NEEDS stability and more. This woman doesn’t seem stable.

And I agree with this assessment – she is deep in the trenches of her grief, and should not consider any further action until she seeks help with that. If she was to do the work and heal from her tragic losses – she may even see that she don’t want a baby as bad as she wants the babies she has lost. No baby or child, be it adopted or birthed by her, will fill that deep void.

The Wild Track

I often review books in this blog related to adoption or foster care that I have actually read. I’ve not read this one but will share bits and pieces from a review of this book in The Guardian. I’ve pretty much completed my related reading for now. There is an unlimited number of related books and I’ve moved on to other reading interests such as racial inequality (have pretty much completed that one) and now mental illness with an unusual emphasis on spirituality (now that’s something I can and have really gotten into to!!).

The review begins with this insight – wanting to have children and deciding to have children are acts of imagination that border on egotism. To be a child is to be a particular child but to want a child is not to know who that child will be or how to grant it agency. For Margaret Reynolds these issues were unusually complex because she started grappling with them aged 45 when, single after the breakdown of a relationship, she suddenly experienced the urge to be a mother. She was longing for purpose and joy, for a “commitment that tries and shapes the self”. Yet this was not an urge to procreate. She had already undergone the menopause and wasn’t invested in reproducing her DNA.

And I do get this. In my case, I had already procreated when I was 19 years old. A beautiful daughter who has given me two equally beautiful grandchildren. However, my second husband thought he was happy I had “been there and done that” already when we met because he didn’t particularly want children and didn’t feel financially strong enough to have any children, being the responsible kind of guy he was. When I met him, I knew he was the kind of guy I would be willing to have children with. It took him 10 years to decide that he wanted to and like the author of the book I’m highlighting today, I was also 45 years old. Turns out I had gone past easily becoming pregnant like I could when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Enter medical technology into our picture. That wasn’t the path Margaret Reynolds decided on however.

It took Reynolds 5 years to succeed in adopting a child and becoming the mother to a troubled six-year-old daughter is described as a painful pleasure. Actually – troubled or not – being a parent is sometimes that – honestly. The book is actually about the British adoption system and not the American one that I know more about.

To the book’s credit as an adoption related journey, it is an unusually thoughtful take on becoming a mother, enabled by removing babyhood and biology. Though Reynolds begins by desiring a child, the motherhood that results is a gradual, open process, in which she makes herself available as a mother and waits for Lucy to claim her. At first, they don’t hug and kiss. Reynolds just rubs her daughter’s back at night and it’s Lucy who initiates the process of kissing and cuddling, and finds her own way to calling her “Mum”. I found this moving partly because Lucy is given an autonomy that we perhaps all want our mothers to be capable of giving us and should allow to our daughters.

The question of fatherhood is rightly raised here, given Reynolds was setting herself up as a single mother (a fact that, combined with her previous lesbian relationship, prevented her adopting internationally). There is a long literary history of foundlings – it is peculiarly convenient for children to be orphaned at the start of a story. There’s a touching scene where she reads Anne of Green Gables to her daughter, crying alongside Marilla when she realizes what Anne means to her.

One thing that sets this book apart from other adoption related books is that at the end there are two chapters written by her daughter Lucy. Having heard about their early months together from Reynolds, we hear about them from Lucy, learning, shockingly, that she didn’t yet know when she was driven, crying bitterly, to Reynolds’s house from the foster parents she had grown to love, that this was a permanent move. Lucy’s sections are a testament to the joy of finding home and belonging, but also a reminder that the pain of early separations is perpetual. A few days before collecting Lucy, Reynolds had to remind herself that “my happiness is her sadness”. One of the strengths of the adoption system is that it sends potential parents on courses to think through how to parent children who have trauma ready to be reignited at any moment.

Practice Babies

I have previously mentioned in this blog the new book – American Baby by Gabrielle Glaser. She is getting a lot of press for her new book which focuses on one particular story of a mother and son but also documents the “shadow” history of adoption or so much that has been mostly hidden from public view.

One of those aspects was how babies, before they were relinquished for adoption but not yet adopted and often actually orphans, were given or “lent” as practice babies to home economic students in colleges, passed around, Glaser says, “like footballs.”

From a blogspot post –

From the 1920’s to the 1950’s, college home economics programs across the country set up ‘practice homes’ where students set up temporary residence. The women were graded on their ability to live cooperatively, keep a tidy home, and plan meals.  

On some campuses, this domestic practice was taken a step further.  Schools would obtain temporary custody of babies from orphanages or child welfare departments and move the children into the practice home. The students would then raise the baby in shifts, each taking a turn to act as the house ’mother.’ 

After a year or two, the babies would be put up for adoption. While potential parents considered these ‘scientifically raised’ babies particularly desirable, the practice died out as educators and government authorities began to worry about the effects of having so many people involved in a child’s early life. 

Former Practice Babies Come Forward

Many people react to learning about the ‘practice baby’ story with a desire to know what became of the children later in life. Since adoption records are closed and the practice children were referred to by fake names in university records, it is difficult for researchers to find these now-adults. However, at least two former ‘practice babies’ have come forth to talk about their life experiences.

Shirley Kirkham was a practice baby at Oregon State College in Corvallis in the 1930s. In an interview given to The Euguene Register-Guard in 1999, Ms. Kirkham described feeling used by the college, as she feels that her early childhood left her with emotional scars. She is attempting to locate her birth parents.

Donald Aldinger was a practice baby at Cedar Crest College in 1947. He reconnected with four of his practice mothers in 1993. The reunion was a joyful one.

While the baby behind the controversy at Illinois State Teachers College, ‘David North,’ has never been identified, some of his former practice mothers have publicly reminisced about their time with him.

The links above include a few other tabs if you wish to explore this piece of history related to adoption further. The Adoption Network has announced that they are having a presentation with Gabrielle Glaser on Monday, February 8th in the evening which you can register for.

Speaking For And Over

Straight up – I am NOT adopted but both of my parents were and each of my sisters gave up a child to adoption, who I have been blessed to reconnect with in their late teen/early adulthood. I have learned the most from belonging in an all things adoption group where the voices of adoptees are privileged over all others, though there are original parents and adoptive parents (including those hoping to adopt and foster parents) and the rare oddball like me who belongs but doesn’t fit any of the usual categories. Now that I have dealt with my place in the adoption triad as it is often called, I’ll go on into today’s blog topic.

An adoptee writes – There needs to be a name for the bigotry of attacking, marginalizing and discrediting the voices of adoptees, donor conceived folk and former foster youth. I’m exhausted by the relentless online barrage from people who think they can speak for or over us based on the nature of our birth and/or conception and call us angry, broken and other hateful tropes.

This may shock you that anyone would be so inconsiderate and thoughtless but I will assure you, people are often clueless, especially about adoption. In fact, I was clueless before I entered this group about 3 years ago. I grew up thinking adoption was the most natural things in the world. Of course I would, given my family background. As a child, I thought my parents were orphans. They died knowing very little beyond some vague name related to their origins and their original parents. After they died, through effort, persistence and a lot of lucky, within a year I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were. My parents were adopted in the dark ages of the Great Depression, sealed adoption records, changed identities on their original birth certificates and in some cases even their actual birthdate was changed.

Now, on to some of the comments regarding my adoptee perspective above . . .

One commenter noted this truth – Many of the people who push adoption are anti-abortion but I call them “forced birthers”. Forced birthers want their baby mills to produce. To which another responded – Pregnancy and birth are expensive and a lot of women turn to abortion because they don’t want a child and its the most financially responsible choice for themselves. Another one noted – I had a bunch of particularly bigoted recipient parents call me prolife because I said donor conceived people had rights. But saying adoptees, donor conceived people and former foster youth have rights is not the same as saying embryos have rights and I’m absolutely pro choice. So frustrating how things are twisted.

Someone else offered this interesting exercise – It helps to do train of thought free association… anti-adoption-truth-sayer, hard truth silencer, kidnapper sympathizer, rainbows and unicorns narrative, adoptee-phobe, foster youth-phobe, trauma denier, child trafficking supporter, baby objectifier, baby snatcher, willful ignorance, privilege/entitlement, keeping one’s blinders on, cognitive dissonance, rose-colored glasses, saviorist, virtue signaling, oppressor, crush, gag, hush, censor, suppress, repress, hide, mask, bully, harass, gaslighting… Really I think gaslighting is what is going on…Definition – Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation; gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs. As I continue to think about this… it’s basically “separation trauma gaslighting”…

One noted that she hates the term ‘recipient parent’ because she doesn’t like the idea of adoptees being viewed as gifts. She suggests an “individual who feels entitled to another person’s child”. 

And someone else acknowledged it is conception discrimination.

Yet another said – What is a term that can be used to describe genetic identity seekers? Or people who don’t like to be separated from their genetic family? I think we need a word that encapsulates who we are. Then we could add an anti-, -ism, or -phobia for the opposite side of that concept.

Another one pointed out – Home wrecker is such a strong emotive world, and everyone immediately knows what it means. Maybe Family wreckers or some other similar term?

One woman speaking for her own interests says, I like using words like advocate and mentor to describe myself at this point in my life. I advocate for family safety and preservation and transparency and accountability within the human services systems in our country. I have also been thinking of what to call this movement for adoptee dignity, and the advocates who are tirelessly speaking out about these issues. And your blogger likes this perspective because that is what I think of in regard to myself and what I do in this blog.

An adoptee who has encountered these behaviors says, When someone comments that I should be grateful, sometimes I will tell them to check their privilege. I also like obscurantist, which means deliberately preventing the facts or full details of something from becoming known.

Another noted that this would be a form of childism. The child is objectified, and there is a hierarchy of value placed on them by adults based on many factors including: the circumstances of their birth, how they came to be placed with their non-biological family, how well-treated and accepted they are by the family they were raised by, whether or not they aged out of the foster care system, etc. Childism may be too broad and not specific enough.

And maybe this is the bottom line – I think the most important thing we can do is change the conversation. I think we just need to keep going. Even when our comments get erased or we get thrown out of the conversation just keep commenting. If enough of us keep commenting on the posts with our view I think we can change the conversation.

And on the speaking out side of things, one wrote – I like using terms like fragility and privilege to get people’s attention and get them talking about why they have the views they have so I can knock them down a peg or two. I keep links handy, peer-reviewed studies/articles, etc. and drop them in when relevant.

Almost Never Acceptable

It’s very hard to understand why ANYONE would choose to take another mom’s (or dad’s) child either through adoption or by becoming a foster caregiver. The only acceptable path I see is true kinship, when their parents are dead, ie they are orphans (both of my parents were adoptees and I thought they were orphans when I was a child – I was totally ignorant that biological family existed and was living lives unknown to me). Other than that, no possible excuse.

So here are some questions for adoptive parents and foster caregivers to contemplate: How do you not see what an absolutely horrible thing this is to do? Have we as humans become so blind that we see taking another mother’s child as a good thing? Where is the accountability for adoptive parents and foster caregivers since they are contributors to this huge problem of family separation? Why are we constantly talking about the best interest of the child and not the best interest of the family? Do adults who lose their children not count as well?

A better choice is guardianship and not adoption – if there are children who have arrived in your home, who aren’t able to be with their first/birth family. Allowing them their identity and knowledge of their genetic family.

One should feel absolutely sick to their stomach, if they’ve built their own ‘motherhood’ on another woman’s brokenness and loss. How cruel and selfish, to be so focused on your infertility loss, that you failed to see the other humans in your family’s picture.

No one advocates kids being abused. 

Our society needs to be doing something before a crisis sets in. Maybe the parents need support and some intervention but this should occur WAY before it becomes necessary to remove children from their natural home. Maybe those parents didn’t have a good role model, to show them how to parent properly. Without a role model for how it is done, it can really be an impossible task. Maybe if, as a society, we didn’t leave so many parents unsupported, there would be no need for adoptive parents and foster caregivers.

I know that this sounds very utopian. The challenge is actually translating this into the real world solutions. So how would real world people make a difference for families where the children have been separated from their parents for apparently valid reasons involving the child’s welfare? Here are some ideas related to foster care . . .

The social end goal for that situation is reunification of the children with their parents. There are a lot of steps along the way. Weekly urine analysis requirements, parenting classes, drug counseling, therapy, visits/phone calls with kids, parents needing housing, a job, education, showing up to court.

As a foster parent your job should be to walk along side the parents as an additional support to them in their own efforts. You can’t make anyone do anything, but you can support them, encourage them and remind them of the ultimate goal. You can help pay for those weekly urine analysis requirements, if $10 a week is too much. You can help them get signed up for parenting classes, you can drive them to parenting classes. You can help them find a drug program and get started with therapist. You can provide transportation and support after those sessions. You can go to court and support them and advocate for them. You can help them get to visits, or call them instead of waiting for them to call. You can help by providing resources for housing/jobs. Transportation, if needed.

And then after you’ve helped, you’ve taught them a lot about where to access the resources they need. You’ve shown them what they can do for themselves. And now, they may have many of the skills they need to be successful. You’ve lead them to goal by supporting them and making them feel safe that you aren’t only there to take their children away. Now they can find their own way to parenting their children properly.

And the inconvenient truth is this – too many foster parents flat out refuse to spend any time with the children’s parents or even talk to them because they look down on them as inferior and damaged and not worthy of help. Yes, it is true that some children’s parents are not safe, but it is more true that most of these parents simply need some help to be safe.

After Terror, Come Babies

I’m not certain what this image conveys about what we teach our children.  Like many people on this date, my thoughts return to 19 years ago and a photo we took of our 6-1/2 month old oldest son sitting next to a TV with the image of the Twin Towers burning real time.  One of those iconic things one does in an attempt to capture a moment in history, which we instinctively knew it was.

So my thoughts turned this morning to the orphans of that event.  These children are what comes after 9/11. Gabriel was born six days after the death of his father. They are the joy, the salve, the ointment. They’re the love.

“I could only imagine how much courage someone could have to go into a situation like that,” says Lauren, who was born less than three months after 9/11.  Her father died after running into the South Tower to save others.

Ronald lost his dad at the Pentagon while his mother, Jacqueline, was five months pregnant with him. (She was working on the other side of the building during the attack.) A high school basketball player, today Ronald Jr. wears the number 33 on his jersey, the age his father was when he died. “I feel like my dad is watching me,” he says. “Every move I make, he’s here.”

Robyn was born seven weeks after her father died.  She says the loss has given her a different perspective from her peers. “I’ve always been aware of the world.  The world should be a place where it’s okay to be who you are, and to love whom you love and believe what you believe. Underneath, what we’re made up of is the same.”

Allison’s father was on Flight 11, traveling to be home for his daughter’s imminent birth – has learned that her sadness is also coupled with happiness.  “There’s always an empty spot.”

Sadly, death is a part of life, no matter how that death happens.  At this time, there is a lot of death all over the planet and the terror of never being certain if one will be infected with this virus and lose their own life to it.

Anne with an E

I’m only vaguely familiar with Anne of Green Gables.  Anne has been a bona fide cultural icon for over a century, ever since Canadian author L M Montgomery first debuted her in 1908.  Anne was orphaned as a baby and in care until age 12 when she is adopted. She experienced a lot of abuse during her time in care.

We don’t have commercial TV or streaming in our home – while we do have internet the limited allowance and expense when adding onto that prohibit our streaming anything beyond a few youtubes and that costs us a lot as it is.

However, I was reading about this version in the all things adoption group I belong to and I became intrigued.  The woman who brought this to my attention describes it as – “a very dark portrayal, with depiction of trauma, flashbacks, so many feelings of abandonment, as well as the difficulties her adoptive parents have in relating to her.”  That was enough to get me looking into it.

Another woman said –  “The first season is the darkest with the flashbacks. As it goes on, it’s not as dark but continues to deal with a lot of other feelings that people not raised by biological family go through.  I honestly loved this series. I felt it was a more honest portrayal of children who were in foster care and adopted than I have seen in a long time.  This show helped my children discuss the hardships that adopted people or abused/traumatized people deal with.”

Another woman said – “The other depictions we saw didn’t seem to focus so much on the trauma. We listened to the book as we drove up to Prince Edward Island and there’s definite evidence of her struggles in there, but this series took it to another level and made it real and made the connections very visible of past trauma, fear of abandonment, and the inner world she creates to get away from it all.”

Vanity Fair had a review of this series.  They note that in the first episode Anne with an E graphically depicts, via chilly flashbacks, the years of abuse Anne sustained before she came to live with the Cuthberts.  While Anne likely did suffer some torment during her tenure with the Hammond family, Anne with an E ramps up the trauma by having Mr Hammond die of a heart attack brought about by beating the tar out of poor Anne.

This version retains some of Anne’s eccentricities—a fierce imagination and intricate fantasy life, as well as a fondness for high-flown language.  This is an Anne with PTSD.  Anne of Green Gables endures as a cozy story that reveals the resiliency of the human spirit through small-scale, domestic victories and setbacks, as well as the mundane, everyday tragedies of human life.

In episode 4, the town’s minister takes misogyny to its historic depiction because Anne doesn’t want to go back to the school where she has continued to suffer abuse.  He tells her adoptive mother – “This problem is easily solved.  If the girl doesn’t want to go to school, she shouldn’t go. She should stay home and learn proper housekeeping until she marries. And then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone I shall make a helper for him.’ There’s no need for her to bother with an education. Every young woman should learn how to be a good wife.”

The Vanity Fair review complains that “Anne with an E seems to think Anne’s triumphs are only noteworthy if she’s continually told she can’t succeed, when in fact her unfettered brilliance needs no such clumsy opposition.”  Judge for yourself.  Don’t know if I’ll ever watch this but maybe if it comes out on dvd.  Clearly, it spoke to the wounded hearts of the people in the adoption group I belong to.

 

Is It Really Necessary ?

So is adoption really necessary ?

One could conclude that an orphan should ideally be adopted by the guardians assigned before the parent‘s demise. For foster kids, who would like to be adopted, after parental rights were terminated. Guardianship or temporary fostering could suffice to serve the needs of children in most cases.

It may be that the only time adoption is “necessary” (and one could always argue that word) would be for an older child or teen, whose parents have already signed termination of parental rights.  But only if the child has asked for that without prompting. And the child’s name should never be changed unless the child wants their name changed to feel more in harmony with the rest of the family.  And go slowly on that one because it could be only a temporary phase that won’t be as lasting as changing the child’s name.  The child does need to be empowered in a situation in which they don’t have a lot of control otherwise.

There are very sad and difficult cases.  For example, cases of extreme abuse and neglect where the mother refuses all offers of assistance. Where there is no other family able or willing to help.  There could be no way that this child could ever be safe with their original family. Counseling will be required for every person involved.  Some contact with the original family should be maintained if at all possible, if nothing more than knowing how to reach them.  In the best cases, monitoring for a changed status.  There is always the possibility of change because change is a constant.

Regarding guardianship, some judges and courts may have concerns that the guardianship could too easily be terminated and the child would lose a sense of permanency.  However, a child’s sense of attachment was destroyed the minute their family of origin was severed from them.

Still the question remains – to fully love, protect and be a family is adoption necessary ? Full custody as an alternative to adoption can accomplish the same legal requirements. The system has been an enabler for white saviorism and has made adoption like a free for all.  It’s unethical that so often the natural family is not allowed to give any input and the lack of effort put into connecting these kids to their kin just is mind boggling.

The best adoptive families, upon becoming more enlightened about the impacts of adoption, will make attempts to mitigate the inevitable difficulties for the child (some of these can include not changing the child’s name, learning about the child’s original mother and if possible opening up contact with her and with any other related siblings).  Though most adoptive parents genuinely feel they are doing the right thing . . . when we know better, we do better.

Coronavirus Orphans

This could be only the beginning of a new wave of orphans.  Sundee Rutter, 42, complained of feeling unwell on March 3 whilst recovering from surgery and thought she may have COVID-19.

The doctor’s told her she didn’t have it.  However, she self-quarantined at home for four days.  Then, she started having difficulty breathing and was admitted to a Washington hospital on March 7.  After one week of fighting, she passed away on Monday.

Sundee lost her husband some years ago and leaves her six children orphaned.  The six children range in ages from 24, down to 13.  Her children say she made it her highest priority to instill in all of them the highest values.  It was her hope that each of her children will make a positive impact on friends, family, and community.

Due to recently undergoing cancer treatment, Sundee simply didn’t have an immune system capable of pulling her through.  She had beat cancer but lost the battle for continuing her life due to the Coronavirus.

Sadly, I feel we will see more sad stories like this one.  I am heartened that there are two children that are 21+ in age plus one who will be in another year who can take over raising their younger siblings.  Though it is a big burden at such a young age, the children are old enough that they are unlikely to end up adopted or in foster care.

Orphans In An Epidemic

I became fascinated about a time in the history of Memphis Tennessee when I learned more about the circumstances of my mom’s adoption related to Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home.

Recently, the fact that few children get Coronavirus reminded me that something similar happened with the Yellow Fever that devastated Memphis TN in the late 1800s.  This caused a lot of orphans because the parents died but children continued living.

On August 13, 1878, Kate Bionda, a restaurant owner, died of yellow fever in Memphis. A man had escaped a quarantined steamboat and subsequently visited her restaurant. The disease spread rapidly and the resulting epidemic emptied and actually bankrupted the city.

Yellow fever was transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.  It came to the United States by way of West Africa and was brought here on slave ships. The disease required warm weather to survive.  It thrived in the wet and hot summers since that is when mosquitoes breed prodigiously. After a three-to-six-day incubation period, the afflicted person would experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever and aches. Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it ?

After a very short remission, a more intense stage followed.  The victim vomited blood and suffered from liver and renal failure. Jaundice was a typical symptom (why it was called yellow fever). The victim usually died within two weeks. Survivors of the illness could still feel it’s effects for months.

Memphis, a city of 50,000, had outbreaks in 1855, 1867 and 1873, with each outbreak getting progressively worse. Those who came down with yellow fever were quarantined in an effort to prevent the disease from spreading. Often, they were made to wear yellow jackets as a means of identification.

In July 1878, an outbreak of yellow fever was reported in Vicksburg, just south of Memphis. Memphis officials reacted by stopping travel to the city from the south. However, William Warren, a steamboat worker, somehow slipped away and into Kate Bionda’s restaurant.

Most of the residents who were able to fled the city. Twenty-five thousand people picked up and left within a week. For the most part, it was the African-American residents who remained in town, although they died at a much lower rate than the white residents who contracted the disease. An average of 200 people died every day through September. There were corpses everywhere and near continual ringing of funeral bells. Half of the city’s doctors died.

The epidemic ended with the first frost in October, but by that time, 20,000 people in the Southeast had died and another 80,000 had survived infection. In the aftermath, open sewers and privies were cleaned up, destroying the breeding grounds for mosquitoes and preventing further epidemics.

Sister Constance of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral stayed in Memphis during the outbreak, going from house to house to care for the sick. Sometimes she found abandoned children amid the rotting corpses of their parents. She did eventually contract the disease and die.  Father Joseph Kelly of St. Peter’s Parish became known as the “Father of the Orphans” and “selfless caregiver among victims of Yellow Fever epidemics”. During the 1873-1878 epidemics, he evacuated all the orphans.