Whatever Became Of ?

In Life magazine’s – Year in Pictures 1972 – in a Feature titled Whatever became of ? – I read about “Mike” and “Tammy” – twin children found by police in a Long Beach California alley on May 5 1972. As a Gemini, twins fascinate me. After national publicity, the children were identified as Tamara and Brian Woodruff. They had been abandoned by their mother and were placed in foster care. Their mother was placed under psychiatric observation.

I tried to learn more about the twins but understandably, out of privacy concerns, they disappeared from any easy ability on my part to find out. So, I looked into the topic of child abandonment. It is defined as the practice of relinquishing interests and claims over one’s offspring in an illegal way, with the intent of never resuming or reasserting guardianship. An abandoned child is referred to as a foundling (as opposed to a runaway or an orphan). Some of the effects on survivors of abandonment include feelings of guilt about being at fault for being abandoned.

The earlier in life estrangement happens, the more damaging it can be. It can impact personal development, anxiety and depression, and of course the adult relationships people get into. When that person is trying to have a sense of identity, they are dealing with a black hole where their mother should be and a really dysfunctional model of love.

In parenthood, when she holds her baby in her arms, a woman who was “abandoned” as a child might say – “I will never leave you. I will never do to you what was done to me. Mommy will always come back.” And what she is doing is self-consoling through nurturing her child.

One woman says that becoming a mother did end up being one of the most healing parts of her own journey. And much of her anger did disappear as she reflected more on all the things that had broken her mother before she ever broke that woman. She found a lot of compassion for her original mother and the path that woman had to walk through life. Even so, she says something my own mother said to me once, “as a mother myself, I know I’ll never understand the choices you made.” For this woman, in being the mom she always wished she’d had; she found healing.

I will admit this one hits home in a very personal place. So, I didn’t do it illegally. I did not intend to never have her living with me when I dropped her off at her grandmother’s house. Yet I am at fault for lack of foresight.

I struggled financially after my divorce from my daughter’s father who refused to pay child support. I was always an adventurous soul. Would wander off further and for longer than my slightly detached adoptee parents ever seemed to notice.

And so, from financial desperation, after being rejected from a good paying job with the railroad because my ex worked there, I tried TEMPORARILY leaving my daughter with my former mother-in-law, while I tried to earn a bit of money driving an 18-wheel truck.

I didn’t know it then, but that was a point of no return. My daughter would sometimes visit me, even for extended periods of time, but she would never live permanently with me again. I never thought of it at the time as having abandoned her, but I know now that regardless of my intent, I must accept responsibility for whatever emotional harms that may have done to her. I know it did emotional harm to me. I’ve never fully gotten over the outcome or my sense of guilt for it.

Thankfully, my daughter did not eliminate me from her life entirely. I did make real efforts to stay in contact with her throughout most of her childhood. There were periods of time that due to the people I was living with, it became impossible to be contact with her but as soon as it was safe, I did resume contact and she was still young enough, that it reconnected our bond with one another, even if it did not reconnect us full-time under the same roof.

Sadness remains in my mother’s heart regardless. Knowing the legal definition of child abandonment helps but does not heal my personal pain at all that I missed with my daughter.

Pioneering A New Way

I remember clearly in 1978, when Lesley Brown made reproductive history delivering the first baby conceived by in vitro fertilization.  I had become a mother myself in 1973.  While good news of medical capability for a lot of infertile couples, never did I dream at the time that these developments would become significant in my own life.  The technique raised moral and medical alarms 42 years ago but is commonplace today.

When my husband of 10 years wanted to have children, we diligently tried using ovulation prediction to enhance our chances.  I was devastated to learn via a news report that our odds of conceiving were very low because I had grown too old, my eggs had aged along with me.  I remember going to the witness tree where my husband and I were wed in 1988 and cried.  He should have married a younger woman.

The nurse practitioner at my general practitioner’s office was counseling me about my cholesterol levels when I mentioned that we were trying to conceive.  I remember her words clearly, “I’m not saying you are infertile, but at your age, you don’t have time to waste.”  She referred me to her own OB/Gyn as a specialist in such issues.

We saw my very last “viable” egg on ultrasound at our first appointment with him.  He tried a hormonal boost but it failed to produce a pregnancy.  He also told us there was another way.  I began to research that way.  I found online groups for support and information.

When we discovered I was positive for hepC in a routine series of pre-conception lab tests, that doctor dropped me.  However, my OB/Gyn said my co-existing with that virus should not preclude me having children (he had experience with hepatitis in Asia during his early intern training).

We found a donor for ourselves and she has been a gem for serving couples to become parents, participating in the conception of both of our sons.  Happily, they are 100% siblings with common genetic foundations.  It isn’t perfect, genetically she is their mother and I am not.  That has taken some getting used to.  No one else could be more their mother either as they grew in my womb and bonded with me there and during breastfeeding for the whole first year of their life afterwards.

Because of divorce and being a financially struggling single mother, I lost physical custody of my genetically related daughter to her father and step-mother to raise.  I really thought of myself as a terrible person for not raising my own child.  Because of my sons, I now know that is not the truth about me.  Since learning about the trauma related to mother-child separations in adoption, I also realize what my husband and I did to overcome infertility was the next best choice for conceiving our family.


It Is Odd Now

Twenty years ago Genealogy was not a consideration in my own mind.  After 10 years of marriage, my childless husband decided he wanted to have children after all.  For those first ten years, he was glad I had been there and done that and there was no pressure on him to become a father.  We had seen a short news piece that said that woman who conceive at an older age live longer.

Over Margaritas in a Mexican restaurant he boldly told me that he wanted to become a father.  My mouth fell open in amazement and then I said “okay”.  So began our adventure together.  We used ovulation kits and did it faithfully as much as possible at the appropriate times.  Nothing resulted.

One day at my general practitioners office in consultation about my cholesterol with the nurse practitioner, I told her about our efforts to become parents.  She said to me, “I’m not saying you are infertile but at your age you don’t have time to waste.”  Then recommended her gynecologist to me.

I made an appointment and just before that we saw another news piece that informed us of our low odds of success at my age.  I was devastated and went to the place where I often poured my heart out to my God, the place where I had stood to marry my husband, and lamented that he married such an old woman.

At the gynecologist’s office, we saw on ultrasound that I had an egg developing, so the doctor prescribed a shot to jump start my chances.  It was the very last egg I ever produced.  When the doctor’s effort failed, he said there is a way and we rejoiced.

Thanks to advances in medical science we have two wonderful sons.  When they were conceived I knew nothing about my own genetic roots and so it was not an issue to me.  Fast forward twenty years and inexpensive DNA tests are available.  My whole family has had our DNA tested at 23 and Me.

On my page there, I see my daughter, my nephew and a whole slew of cousins.  I have also been able to discover who all 4 of my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted and died knowing next to nothing about their own origins – my mom did have her DNA tested at Ancestry, as did I, but it didn’t help her during her lifetime).

I carried my sons in my womb and they nursed at my breast.  No one could be more their mother than I am.  I’ve been with them almost every day of their lives, though I have had to be away from them occasionally.  My husband has never been away from them.  He is genetically related to them.

It is odd to wrap my own mind around the truth.  They are not related to me genetically nor to anyone else I am related to genetically.  There have been times, when in an argument with my husband, I have felt keenly he has more right to them than I do.  Even so, I love them with all of my heart.  My youngest son did lament to me that he has none of my genes but he would not exist otherwise.  The reality has to be absorbed by each of us.  In fundamental ways, nothing has changed.

Gender Inequality

Somehow, in my own family’s experiences, it seems to me that the financial and real life burdens of parenthood fall mostly on the mothers.

Both of my grandmothers conceived my parents with the help of men 2 decades older than them and yet the burden fell solely upon my grandmothers.  Until the marriage I am presently in, for myself and each of my sisters, our ability to parent the children we conceived was directly impacted by our ability to provide for them, therefore, we were robbed of that joy in life.

There continues to be a huge inequality in how women are paid and in the costs they must bear as mothers in regards to their careers and their ability to create enough financial strength to provide for all the basics in life.

No wonder women experience so much dissatisfaction and no wonder many of them do not feel that marriage is a beneficial situation, even if they are also dependent upon the male half of their couple for their financial support.  Many times the male half refuses to provide that support or in some way, if the woman has any qualities to offer, will exploit her contribution or wealth for his own comfort and success.

I don’t know how, as a society, we fix this imbalance and make economic support more equal for the majority of people, and especially for the parents of children – but I do know we are not there yet.