Friday, May 25, 2012

Priscilla's Mother's Day Letter to Michelle Obama

Mothers’ Day

First Lady Michelle Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20500

Dear Mrs. Obama ~~

Happy Mother’s Day!

I am a mother who lost her child to adoption.  It was in early 1964 I found myself pregnant; the father refused to help and abandoned me.  I was afraid to tell my family because I knew my strict, Polish-Catholic stepfather would make life unbearable for my mother, so I approached my employer to ask for guidance, and he referred me to an adoption agency.  No one ever gave me any hope that I could keep my baby.  Not once was any suggestion other than adoption discussed.  It was understood that I had to hide in shame and suffer for what I had done.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized I had done nothing but trust my boyfriend when he promised he loved me and would take care of me.

The agency found a place for me in a “wage home” in the next town over where I lived for six months as housekeeper, cook, and babysitter for $10 a week plus room and board.  Other than friendship with two other unwed mothers, I was alone and depressed and afraid.  I had prenatal care, but nothing prepared me for what was to happen.

On the day I went into labor, I was unceremoniously dropped off at the hospital by my employer’s boyfriend.  I was stripped of my clothing and possessions, placed in a windowless, empty four-bed ward and told to stay put and not come out.  How long I was there I have no idea.  There was no clock, no phone, no radio, no visitors other than medical personnel who would come and check my progress.  No words were spoken other than to the effect of, “Well, aren’t you proud of yourself now?  Look where your slutty ways have landed you!”  When my water broke, I didn’t know what was happening.  I went to the door and called for help.  The nurse (a nun) came running down the hall yelling at me to “Get back in there!  There are ‘decent’ women here having babies!”  Then angrily, “Look at this mess you’ve made!”

On the last visit, the medic (a doctor? nurse?) decided that I was dilated enough.  I was given a shot, wheeled to the delivery room and immediately put to sleep.  I woke up in a dark private room (there might have been restraints on my arms – I don’t remember).  I had no idea what day it was, whether my baby was alive, healthy, was a boy or a girl.  And I was told to not ask questions.  I had no right to know anything about my baby.  Sometime later the candy-striper brought the most beautiful little baby to me wrapped in a pink blanket.  I thought I was dreaming! “Here,” she said.  “This is your baby.”  I can still remember 46 years later all the feelings that went through me – joy, awe,  relief, sadness, fear -- when the nun suddenly burst into my room and literally snatched my beautiful daughter out of my arms.  “You were not supposed to see this baby!”

Thankfully, at that moment my doctor walked in (Dr. Barney Bowlin – I will bless his name forever) and said, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, sister, let her see her baby!  Let her ‘count the fingers and toes’.  She’s not in any condition to run away with her!”  I am grateful for the time I got to spend with my daughter.  I was able to whisper in her ear how much I love her and the reasons society had decreed we could not be together.  I named her “Donna Michelle” after her father.  Then they took her away, forever, and the nun began to lecture me.  “Now you must go home and get back to your life and forget about this baby.  You will marry and have more children.  Don’t ever tell anyone, especially not a potential husband, what you’ve done because no ‘decent’ man will want to have anything to do with you.”

When I protested and begged for some way to keep my daughter, I was told I was being selfish and inconsiderate.  There were married couples who could not have children, who would love my baby and provide her with everything I could not – a good home, care, and education.  With an ‘illegitimate child’ I would not be able to find a job.  “You won’t be able to take care of yourself, let alone a baby!  You’ll have to become a waitress or ‘walk the streets’!  What kind of life is that for a child?!”  I was told if I wanted to keep her, I would have to pay our entire hospital bill before I could take her from the hospital and the charges would increase by $5 a day for every day I could not pay.  If I kept my part and gave her up, the agency would pay the bill.   (In fact, I did pay the agency back every penny.  It took me over a year, and I paid my own doctor bill, too.)

Three days later I signed the papers in the agency office.  I could not see what I was signing because my eyes were filled with tears.  I was never given copies of anything I signed, but I do remember seeing or being told that I would face criminal charges if I ever tried to find my daughter or interfere in her new life.  I remember begging the social worker for some assurance that, if she wanted to know me, she would be given information about me and be able to find me.  (I found out later that many other mothers were promised the same thing, and even advised to keep a phone listing in our maiden names, but we came to find out it was all lies – the records were sealed forever in all states but Kansas – and adoptees would never be legally entitled to know their identities or ours.)

I did try to go on with my life, but as a mother I’m sure you know how impossible it was to forget about my baby.  I moved 2,500 miles away because everywhere I went I would see happy women with babies and I would wonder if it was my daughter they were mothering.  There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think about her.  Even five years later, my loss tainted the joy I felt when I gave birth to my precious second daughter.  Every moment of happiness was followed by many moments of questions.  I wonder where/how Donna is.  Did she look/act the same at this age?  Will we ever see her again?  I’m sure unconsciously I clung to my second child a little too much, was too protective and hysterical for fear I would lose her, too.  I also had a nagging sense of insecurity, low self-esteem and self-loathing.  I was a bad person.  I was not worthy of anyone loving me or being a mother because of the terrible thing I had done.  It has taken many years of self-analyzing, praying, studying, and enlightenment to realize none of that was true.  In fact, I’ve probably gone overboard now and become a super-achiever to prove them all false.  Still I mourn the loss of my daughter – what might have been -- and future generations – I was deprived of being her mother and a grandmother to her children and perhaps even great-grandma.

Yet, I am here to testify that, although we have been deprived of the mother-child relationship, physically and genetically, I am her mother.  I always was and will be into eternity.  I am not a “birthmother”, a “first mother”, “natural mother” or “tummy mommy” or any other qualification.  I am a mother who lost her child to adoption.

So, why am I writing to you – along with, I know, many others of my sister mothers of loss?  Because we hope you will help us tell the world how wrong infant adoption is.  That separating mothers and babies should be a last resort and we, as families, churches, and communities, should instead be working to help these young women become better mothers and insisting that fathers step up to their responsibility, as well.  We need to understand the terrible damage it will potentially cause to both the mothers and babies, and that adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary predicament.

We also want to draw attention to the fact that millions of adult adoptees are still subjected to archaic, ridiculous laws that deny them from getting their original birth certificates, particularly poignant in President Obama’s life at this time.  Adopted persons in all but six states are barred from knowing their original identity, their family history, heritage, genetics, health information.  People 50, 60, 70+ years old are cruelly denied the most basic information about their existence and told by nasty bureaucrats and politicians that they can never know who they are or those to whom they are blood related.  These laws were instigated back in the 1930s by the infamous Georgia Tann, the woman who was charged with snatching and selling thousands of babies and who changed the face of adoption forever, and were designed solely to protect the adoptive families and hide the adoptee from the stigma of illegitimacy.  Now today we are coming face to face with the awful ramifications these decades of secrecy and lies have wrecked upon our families and society.

Finally, we hope you will reach out to other mothers of loss who have been hiding in fear and shame, who perhaps never told their families, or who are waiting in silence, too timid to come forward and proclaim their motherhood.  We understand.  We know the experience and the remaining years after have been painful, with terrible damage to our emotional and physical wellbeing.  There are many who are afraid their sons and daughters are angry and resentful.  “Why did you abandon me?”  These adoptees don’t understand why or how and assume it must have been because we didn’t want them.  There is a lot of educating that needs to be done about the way life was for pregnant, single girls.  There are many mothers who are afraid of “opening old wounds” and reliving the past, but we are here as testament that it must be done for healing to begin.  There are thousands of us here to support and love them through it.

As a search angel, I have helped about 300 families reunite over the past four years.  Here is what one of the mothers I found wrote to me just this morning:

  “I just wanted to say thank you to you for finding me! … My love for and my bonding with [my son], I believe, started at that conversation. Then I received a picture of him and his wife and I was just thrilled! I recently met him in person and am very proud to claim him as mine!
  “The Christmas of 2010, I received the best present I've ever received; the gift of a son! Not only a son, but I have two wonderful grandchildren! So, when I say thank you, it seems woefully inadequate. You've changed my life! I've never been happier. Thank you for finding me!”

Fortunately, this woman is typical of mothers of loss-in waiting.  More than 95% are delighted to be found, giving proof that the adoption industry is lying when they claim that we mothers want to remain in anonymity and privacy.

It’s time to blow the lid of secrecy and lies off of the adoption industry, and we look to you as First Lady – our Nation’s leading mother – to help.  Thank you for giving your time and attention to our cause.

With sincere best wishes for you and your family,

Priscilla Sharp
Mother of Loss ’64, Reunited ‘86
Now Search Angel/Genealogist/Adoptee Rights Advocate
Mothers of Loss (to Adoption) on Facebook