This is a different story, a side to being a mother that you don’t always hear.
I’m a birth mother. I placed my daughter for adoption, but I’m still a mother. Giving her a life I dreamed of for myself was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. For that, I think this story has the best possible ending, but it’s a hard story.
I was born in Albany, NY, and have spent nearly my whole life there.
My parents were in their 40s when they had me and separated when I was around three or four. My mom and I moved to Plattsburgh, NY, for a few years, and my dad would come and visit. When I was seven, we moved back to Albany and moved in with him, but he kicked us out when I was eight. My mom said he was sick of me, so she and I moved between a few real shitty apartments until I was twelve. At this point, neither one of them could afford a place on their own, so we moved in together. We were like roommates. They hated each other.
I was angry because nobody told me we were moving. During that summer, they sent me to spend a couple of weeks with my cousins. When I came back, we suddenly lived in a different place, in a new school district. I had no friends and had to start over again. I remember my mom telling me that I needed to get along with my dad or else he’d kick us out again, and we’d be homeless, and it would be my fault.
The apartment was small and had three bedrooms—one for each of us. My mom had the smallest room; she slept on the floor. Her room was littered with books and ashtrays. My dad and I had the same size room. We all just lived like separate people.
My dad spent most of his time in the living room, sitting in this dark wooden chair, smoking cigarettes, and watching black and white movies. Sometimes he’d even sleep there. I’d beg him not to smoke inside, but he didn’t care. There were burn marks on the furniture and the floor.
Our house was on one of the busiest streets in Albany. If you walked out of the front porch, you were facing four lanes of traffic. It was depressing. There was a backyard, though, and sometimes my mom would have a garden. I would climb this tree and spend hours just sitting there, wishing that one of my teachers would show up and take me away to live with them.
My dad worked nights at a gas station, and my mom spent all of her time in her room, crying a lot. That left me, by myself, so I’d go to my room too. I covered the walls with soap opera magazine pictures. The year we all moved in together, I began watching General Hospital. I guess I was trying to cope with being so alone, so I’d sit in my closet for hours, on the floor, in the dark, wearing headphones. I’d spend hours listening to cassette tapes I had recorded movies and TV shows on, memorizing the lines. I think that’s why I developed such an interest in theatre.
I had a half-brother too. He’s older than me, and I don’t know him well. My mom told me she placed him for adoption, but I found out years later that the state took him away from her. She was locking him in a closet so she could go to the bar.
One of my therapists told me that the way I grew up wasn’t normal. I was surprised- that being roommates with your parents wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I just don’t think my mom was prepared to have me. She wasn’t very social, sort of this outlier. I know she had a horrible life too. Worse than mine, but she took it out on me.
At 16, I developed an eating disorder, and that progressed into cutting and severe depression. The doctors suggested I go to an inpatient facility. It wouldn’t be a one-time-stay; I’d be back five more times just that year. This made my mom mad.
What would happen during the hospital stays is that first, I’d end up at the Emergency Room and then from there, they’d send me to the crisis center. Back then, I’d wait in these rooms with a lot of big, padded chairs with wooden armrests facing a TV screen. The staff was usually behind a glass partition. It smelled terrible; it was filthy. I’d try and pick a chair that didn’t have stains on it.
Since I was a minor, a parent or guardian would have to stay with me until I’d see the doctor, and they could find a room for a more extended stay. There would be times where my mom and I would be there for 16 hours just waiting in one of these small rooms, away from the adults. Two chairs, a small table, and fluorescent light. And then, once they’d have a room available, she would just leave, and someone else would be assigned to me.
It can be dehumanizing. There are parts of being in these centers that are humiliating. As a young girl, it was uncomfortable to have someone who would have to go with me to shower or use the bathroom, and I get that I was high risk, but it felt like it exacerbated the shame and guilt I was already experiencing.
I was suffering, and my mom couldn’t have cared less. I had no one in my life to advocate for me, let alone to take care of me.
Theatre felt like a family to me for the first time. I don’t know how, but I graduated high school, and like clockwork, the hospitalizations kept happening. It was almost every three months it seemed I was back. Depression, anxiety, I wasn’t in a stable place, and I didn’t have a stable place to be.
Looking back, I think being in and out of those places all the time stunted me emotionally. It’s like every time I’d go in, I’d miss so much that happened in the outside world. I have PTSD from being in many of these places. The system just doesn’t work all the time. Some of these places are terrifying, the things you see on the inside, and when you’re a kid, you don’t know anything.
At 18, I moved out and got an apartment with a couple of friends. The government deemed me “low income earning potential” and began giving me social security. My mom moved to Arizona right around this time, and my dad was placed in an assisted living senior home.
At 20, I moved to Arizona, too, but that ended up being a terrible situation. I left after a year, back to New York, to get some help. This time, a two-month stay at a treatment facility in Saratoga Springs.
After my stay, I ended up homeless, and my friend, who was away at college, said I could move in with her parents. They had a nice, modest three-story home, and since they were foster parents, they had a lot of stuff always going on. They were a Christian family which I had never been exposed to before. I stayed there for six months until I could get on my feet, and I was so grateful for them. I enjoyed feeling like I had a place in a family, even momentarily.
I moved out and got an apartment with two cats, and a month later, at 21, I was pregnant. The county assigned me a caseworker to help me at this point. I went to my therapist, and she asked me what I was going to do. I thought about it for a couple of weeks, and then I made an appointment for Planned Parenthood.
The ultrasound confirmed it, and when they asked me what I wanted to do, I said these words, and I remember it so clearly, I said, “not have it.”
I was going to terminate the pregnancy. That was my decision, but when December 15th came, I couldn’t go. I couldn’t go through with it. I decided I was going to go to an adoption agency. I wanted to give this baby more than I ever had—a shot at life.
The man who was her dad said that I was crazy and stupid to go this route, that we should just get married and move in together. That seemed like a terrible idea to me. And there’s this moment, a little victory in my life, where I felt like I had broken this horrible cycle from my mom and grandma. I made the right decision for this moment that was bigger than me. I was proud of doing that because it went against everything I had known and seen growing up.
I went down to this old payphone, and I called this adoption agency; at the time, they were called Family Tree. Bethany Christian later took them over, but it’s the same lady that I’ve been working with since the very beginning.
They told me how it would work was that we would meet, they’d have some profiles for me to look at and that if my picks also choose me, we’d have a meeting. So, I looked at the profiles, and there were two or three that I immediately thought looked great, but as soon as they heard that I suffer from depression, they turned me down.
That was heartbreaking.
I just kept looking at profiles, and I came across another couple. We ended up meeting when I was about seven or eight months along.
Before this, my dad’s senior living home called me and said that he had gone to the hospital. They thought he might’ve had a stroke. He didn’t seem to have any idea what day it was, and he was disoriented with facts and time and space. But he did know me.
It turned out that he needed to go to a nursing home. The hospital sent us in an ambulance, and I’ll never forget the driver saying to me, “I’d rather shoot my mother in the head than take her to this place.”
It broke me that I had to do this. That I had to leave my dad somewhere that he didn’t know and that had a reputation of being so terrible that someone would rather their mom be dead than go there.
During the intake at the nursing home, they asked some questions – what’s he like, what are his sleeping patterns, and I thought back to being a kid, seeing him sleep in that wooden chair in the living room, watching those old movies. He never had good sleeping habits. It was a lot to handle by myself.
I didn’t want to stay long. It was hard to see him like that. On my way out, as I walked to the elevator, he asked me where I was going, and he started to follow me. I told him, “no, you have to stay here.”
He was confused, and he asked why.
I said, “because you live here now.” I remember the elevator doors closing and that look on his face—that sadness.
I didn’t drive, and this place was hard to get to. I’d either ride the city bus or have my case manager take me. Every time I’d visit, I’d take the elevator to the basement floor to exit, and I would get down there, and I’d just cry.
The couple I picked for my daughter were middle school Catholic teachers. He was a gym teacher, and she was a reading teacher. They were great on paper, and it turns out, great in real life too. I hadn’t grown up with any religion, but I thought if that makes you happy, that’s cool, and if they raise my daughter like that, with a good home, that’s all that matters. They had a ton of extended family that I had always wanted for myself.
He was easy-going, and she was high strung, but they seemed like such a good balance. When we met, they brought me cookies. It turned out they had tried for six years to have children on their own, and it didn’t work. Then they waited two years for someone like me to come along.
I wanted an open adoption. I wanted updates. I wanted to see my daughter grow up, even if I couldn’t be there for it. They agreed to that too.
My pregnancy was difficult. The doctors were harsh and dismissive of me. I don’t know if it was because I was young, but I was frustrated by it. I wasn’t in a good place, and I was going through this completely alone, and I could see people judging me. Twenty-one, and I didn’t have a ring on my finger. It gave me so much anxiety.
I didn’t have that pregnancy glow either. I had hives, rashes, bloody noses. I was so big people would comment that I must be having twins. Most importantly, the baby was growing fine, and then the due date came, and I was still pregnant.
I naively thought your due date was your due date. I had no idea how it all worked. That day, I was in the grocery store, and I vividly remember total strangers would tell me how great having a baby was and how amazing parenthood was going to be. It was another heartbreak because that wasn’t part of my story. That wasn’t going to happen for me.
I was induced a week later. I went to my OBGYN, and they put these little things inside my uterus that would help speed things along. Then they sent me home and told me to keep track of my contractions. I was scared, and I started crying. What did they mean I could go home?
I was at home from 2 PM until 9 PM, and then I called my friend to take me in. I had this birth plan written out with the agency, but the hospital didn’t have any of my info, they didn’t know who I was, and they were shocked at how my OB had induced me. I continued to labor until 7 AM, and by that point, I was getting sick. I got an epidural, but right after they said the baby’s heartbeat was spiking, I needed to have an emergency c-section.
I remember it so clearly. I was in the OR, and there was this song playing, “Sail Away” by Styx. It’s funny how those moments are so big for the person on the table and just another day at work for the doctors, like a regular occurrence.
Everything went completely fine.
I heard her cry, my daughter, and I started crying too. I never realized how connected I was to her this whole time. They brought her to me, and I saw her; she was healthy, 7lbs 1 oz.
I was pretty sick after, which they said was expected, so it took me longer to be able to hold her. My friend held her first. Her mom and dad lived four hours away. They had driven up, and they got to meet her too. Then finally, I got to hold her. I was in a room by myself, no roommate, thankfully, and it was just the two of us.
I have pictures of those four days that we had together. They said that I could go home after three days but that she would be staying for one more, and I just couldn’t leave with her there. This was the only time I got to be with her, so I stayed one more day.
Legally, I had 30 days to change my mind, but I knew I would never do that; I just wanted this time with her. I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to tell her things.
During those four days, the setup was I would see her for four hours, and then her mom and dad would see her for four hours. I had my room, and they had their room. They would come to my room and take her for their turn. They could start bonding, and I could begin my goodbye. When doctors had updates, I wanted them to talk to her mom and dad. They were now her parents. I couldn’t handle it.
On that fourth day, the doctors and nurses were doing their final exams on her, and it was taking a long time. I wanted to see her once more before I had to go, but I only had a few minutes left when they brought her to me. I started to realize this was it. I asked for one more hour, and I’m so grateful that they said yes. I sang to her. I told her she was going to have a great life, that this would be good for her.
And then her mom came in, and she went home.
I went home too. My friend dropped me off, and I was all alone again. I felt sad and empty. It was weird. I’d call the adoption agency from that old payphone, and I’d cry.
I struggled for a while with postpartum and eventually ended up back at the hospital, the same one I had delivered my daughter just eight weeks prior, which was even harder. I didn’t know what was going on or what was happening, but I struggled so much with sadness.
I left the hospital a few days later, and I found a job at a coffee shop. I needed to move forward. I was there for four years. It was right around this time that I started a journal for my daughter to give to her one day, so she’s not angry or confused at why I had to do what I did. Fifteen years later and I still write in the journal. I wanted to say this is your story in my eyes – I wanted her to understand she wasn’t abandoned or thrown out.
Right before she would’ve been eleven months, I got a call that my dad had a stroke. The doctor said one side of his body was paralyzed. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was serious. I was holding his hand, and we were watching TV, and then he went into a coma. I kept telling him to please wake up, but the doctor said that wasn’t going to happen. That was it.
I called my mom and told her he was going to die, and against her normal behavior, she actually came to New York. He was put into Hospice, and he died three days later at 4 AM.
My grandma called me the night before to yell at me. She said my mom was wasting her money on this. That’s the kind of family I came from – a grandma who was a snake in the grass and my mom, well, I don’t know what’s wrong with her. We went to the funeral home, but I didn’t want anything to do with it. My mom planned it, and because neither of my parents ever had any friends, it seemed like four people showed up. It was really strange, and it was really sad.
The first three years, we did this adoption picnic that the agency hosted where anyone who had gone through them could go to this state park and gather. The first one, that was hard. I had spent a year thinking about her every day, all of the time. I kind of thought she would know me, and seeing her was so tough because she obviously didn’t know me, even though she was all I had thought about.
In year four, I missed the adoption picnic because I was back in the hospital. Honestly, I had been in and out of the same places, so many times, I’d start to get familiar with the people who worked there, and they’d know me. Years five and six, the agency had stopped doing them formally, so we decided to keep it going on our own. It was great. All the visits were great. I would just try and memorize all the things she did because I never wanted to forget.
After she turned seven, her parents said they didn’t want to do the visits anymore. Her mom had too much anxiety about it. That was hard for me, but I came to this understanding that they wanted to live their life without me, and I had to be okay with that. Even though I wished it didn’t have to be that way, in my heart, I understood it. This was their time to go on as a family.
I have so many pictures and videos of her.
I’ve moved a lot over the years, but I always call and update the agency so I can keep getting the photos and letters they send me. I get them twice a year, usually on her birthday and around Christmas. What’s great is they also adopted a little boy. So, she has a sibling; they have a nice house with a pool. She goes to the private school where they teach.
I still love theatre, and I enjoy photography too – so does my daughter, actually. But life is always going to be challenging for me. After all that I’ve experienced as a kid, it’s caused permanent issues that I’ll always have to deal with. I do the best I can, as often as I can. I only hope that if my daughter ever has any of the issues like the ones I do, that because of the family I picked for her to have in life, that she’ll be able to navigate these struggles much easier than I’ve been able to. I know that my decision to choose adoption placement gave her a great life and that her mom and dad got such a great kid. So many people love her, and I’m so proud of her.
Over the years, people have tried to make me feel bad about my choice, but choosing adoption is the only decision I’ve ever made in my life that I will never regret. To see how loved and happy my daughter is, year after year, through pictures and letters, only makes me prouder and more certain it was the right thing.
I was told that placing her for adoption would be the hardest thing I’d ever face in life. But for me, it wasn’t. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through hell and back, or perhaps it’s because while it was so excruciating to hand her to her mom, seeing the life she has now has made that pain from all those years ago lessen over time.