The Birth Mom With No Regrets

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Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email gotbaby@thecut.com and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

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Olivia spent 14 years believing she couldn’t get pregnant. She was 34, working part-time and about to be evicted, when she started having pregnancy symptoms. After a friend convinced her to take an at-home test, the result stunned Olivia, who couldn’t afford to see a doctor. She went to Planned Parenthood, where she knew she could receive a free test and information about her options, including the one she’d heard about at a former job. She describes life in a maternity home, what it felt like after she gave birth, coping with judgmental co-workers, the specifics of a semi-open adoption, and the reasons she wouldn’t change anything about her decision.

On finding out she could conceive. I was 34, working a part-time job because I couldn’t find full-time work. I was about to get evicted. For 14 years I didn’t think I could get pregnant. I had been in many situations where I should’ve gotten pregnant, but didn’t.

I started having symptoms of pregnancy, and my friend kept saying, “You’re pregnant, you’re pregnant!” I kept saying, “No way. There’s no way.” I took a store pregnancy test first and when it came back positive, I was totally stunned. So then I went to Planned Parenthood because I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor. At that time, pregnancy tests there were free. When they confirmed it, I was blown away. Devastated. I knew I couldn’t take care of a child. The ironic thing is, I always wanted to have kids, especially a daughter.

On deciding what to do. I used to work for a Catholic charity as a receptionist, and I remembered hearing about an adoption center where you could live there, a maternity home. This one had been around for 110 years. As soon as Planned Parenthood confirmed my pregnancy, I asked if they had a brochure for this maternity home. Then I walked out in a fog and called Dave, my boyfriend at the time, and told him. We both agreed we could not raise the child.

Termination wasn’t an option. First, because I didn’t have the money. Second, because I just couldn’t do it. I’m still pro-choice, though — I don’t judge anyone. I have friends who’ve done that; I have a sister who’s had two abortions. In fact, when I said to my best friend that I didn’t know what I’d do if this happened again, she said, “I’ll give you the money,” meaning she’d pay for it next time, if that’s what I wanted.

Dave and I thought about how my sister might be able to raise the child. She’s always been great with kids. The problem was, my sister’s girlfriend wouldn’t have wanted the child to know who the birth mom was at all. I didn’t want a closed adoption like that — I wanted an open or semi-open one. So, that was off the table. I decided to go with the maternity home.

On life in a maternity home. The home wasn’t fancy, but I was happy with it. It turned out I was the second-oldest person in the 110-year history to ever be there. I moved in Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, and lived there for the next nine months. Usually, birth mothers move in a lot closer to their due date and move out quite soon after the birth. But because I was about to be evicted and had nowhere to go, I lived there longer than most.

Everyday life there could be chaotic, but the people who worked there were very good to us. The hardest part was how strangers would gawk at us whenever we went anywhere in public as a group. One time, we all went to a maternity-clothing store and the manager came out and said, “What, did you all go to the same party?”

When I complained about the staring to my best friend, she tried to explain it by saying, “Well, maybe it’s interesting to people.” It’s not interesting. It’s cruel. They don’t understand how we feel, to be gawked at like that. It made me feel ashamed and embarrassed, less than.

On the mechanics of adoption. You look at profiles of different parents — scrapbooks essentially. They have pictures, different autobiographical details. Usually birth moms got five to ten to look at. They give you some time to look at them and then you choose. The adoptive parents also have information about you, and could reach out to you.

But I had fewer choices than most people. The maternity home was only going to give me three couples to choose from. That upset me. Then they narrowed it down to just one. Luckily, it just so happened my caseworker knew the couple. She assured me they were great people. When I met them, I also met their little boy, whom they’d adopted — he was the most well-behaved 2-year-old I’d ever seen. They seemed like really great parents.

On life after giving birth. She went home with the adoptive parents a week after she was born. The maternity home let you live there for about six weeks after you deliver; I moved into an apartment after that, and found work.

I’d already suffered from depression, but I went into a deep depression after that. I guess it was postpartum depression on top of more depression. No one understood, except other birth moms. Right after she was born, my arms physically ached for weeks. I just wanted to hold her. They’d told us ahead of time, that the grief might stop your body from making breast milk. They gave the girls whose breast milk came in pads, to soak up the milk. Mine never came in. That was a mixture of relief, and also sadness.

On judgment in the workplace. While I was pregnant, I had two part-time jobs. But I had to quit them both, because it was just too hard — I was being bullied for my decision. Both of my bosses at each job told my co-workers what I was doing, without my permission. My co-workers started saying things to me like, Give me the baby. I’ll raise the baby. How could you do that to your baby? How much are you selling your baby for? I left those jobs because I would go home crying every day. It got unbearable.

I found a new job a week after I left the maternity home. I didn’t tell anyone at work, but I did put up a picture of my daughter. That wound up being a mistake, because I could tell people were wondering. Finally, a co-worker I’d become friends with asked me if that was my daughter and I just said yes. She asked me a few more questions, and eventually I told her. She was great: She was like, “I wondered, and wow — I admire you.” It was such a relief. I was like, Thank god.

On the adoption specifics. We have a semi-open adoption, so I get to see my daughter two or three times a year. Semi-open adoption is where you get cards, letters, DVDs, pictures — and visits two or three times a year. Open adoption is where you actually get to go over to their house, and they come over to your house. Closed adoption is where you have no contact, you don’t get anything. I would never have done that. I’ve talked to people who’ve been through that and I can’t imagine it.

When we meet up, it’s almost always in public — a mall or a restaurant. I do know where they live, though. I didn’t at first. But now I send cards or gifts directly.

Once, through a total fluke, I did go to their house. We were supposed to meet up at Chuck E. Cheese’s, the way we had a thousand times before. But this time, there was an electrical outage and it was closed. The mom said, “Well, you want to just follow us back to the house?” And my heart leaped: I had always fantasized about that. I thought, Oh my god. I’m going to their house, I can’t believe it.

That was the greatest day. We just hung out for a few hours. I got to see her room, the place where she went every day. I could imagine her life more. It was fantastic.

On watching her daughter grow up. My daughter is a teenager now. I’ve seen her a few times a year her whole life. In the beginning, she was very shy — they didn’t tell her who I was for several years. She called me “Miss Olivia” for a long time. Now it’s just Olivia. She’s gotten more and more talkative. It’s been so great to see her mature into a young woman. She’s very creative, intelligent — very animated when she’s excited. It’s so interesting to see her do things that remind me of me. Little quirks, like: When she was little, about 3, we were saying good-bye and she got in the van to leave and put her head down right away. It made me worry so I asked if she was okay. She just said, “It’s hot.” And her parents were like, “Oh, she can’t stand the heat. She’s dramatic.” I thought that was funny — that’s how I was.

She knows she’s adopted. I’ve written her a letter every year for her birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Her parents just started letting her read those a couple years ago. She likes them, apparently.

On her relationship with her ex-boyfriend. My daughter’s biological father has seen her twice — she’s just not that comfortable around him. He has mental-health issues. He does get the same pictures, emails, and videos that I get. I still have some resentment toward him, for abandoning me when I was pregnant.

At the time, he was about to get evicted, just like I was. He went to a homeless shelter, then I lost contact with him. The only reason I found him two years later was I ran into him at the grocery store. I was shocked: He looked like he’d aged 20 years. And I was angry: The legal department at the maternity home said they needed his signature for the adoption to go through. They said I had to find him to get a signature — I later found that wasn’t quite true. We could go to court and have it signed off. But I was still very angry at him, because for five months I tried to find him and believed the adoption couldn’t go through without his signature. He said he tried to reach me and couldn’t, but that’s not true. He had my email. He could have contacted me.

Our relationship now is good, although he has certain moods that I avoid. He likes to tell every new person he introduces me to that I’m the mother of his child, and that makes me feel good. I have these fantasies that he’ll hang out with my daughter and they’ll have this great relationship. But I know that’s never going to happen, because of his mental illness.

On not having regrets. A lot of people think that birth moms don’t love their kids. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. We really do. I got so much flak — there’s just so much judgment out there, so many misconceptions. I’m still in touch with birth moms I met online, and from the maternity home. There’s one in particular; she’s 35 now. She got her life together. She’s engaged and just found out she’s pregnant with a little girl. I’m so thrilled for her.

I’m 51 now. I was 34 when I gave birth. My situation has never really changed — I still struggle financially. I wish it would have been possible, for me to parent children, I really do. But it just wasn’t. Maybe in another life.

I wish that things could have been different, as far as us being able to raise her. But I don’t regret anything. I really don’t. We couldn’t have provided even the basics for her. She’s had a great life, she really has. When she was 6, she was on the cover of a magazine; a photographer thought she was cute and took her picture and she ended up on the cover. She’s gotten to do so many things. She’s been to Hawaii. She’s taken snorkeling lessons. She’s so smart — you teach her something one time and she’s got it. She’s first chair in her marching band, she published two books through her elementary school. She’s in the National Honor Society. She’s had an incredible life.

The Birth Mom With No Regrets