The very first thing my daughters father said to me when I told him I might be pregnant was “what are you going to do?”.
This was not received well by me at all. The words, the tone of voice, the body language implied I was at fault I needed to solve a problem that he, and I, had caused.
This was the first time he could have claimed me and our daughter.
Months later, a mere few days before flying to the Chicago area maternity home, I called him even though I knew it was against the rules. The agency and my mother had given me explicit instructions not to talk to him. I followed those instructions for several months. I disobeyed them days before. I called him, from a darkened room in my parents home. In something that sounded like a whisper and a cry, I told him what was happening and where I was going.
That was his second time to claim me and our daughter.
Four months into my stay at the maternity home, the agency learns from me that I had told him where I was. They were not pleased with me. He now needed to terminate his parental rights for if he did not, he could contest the adoption later. The agency bought him a plane ticket. My mother drove him to the airport. He arrived in Chicago. My heart was full with emotion. While I did not state such, inside me, I was praying to gods I never believed in that he would use this chance to stop the insanity. He would proclaim his love for me and save me and my child from adoption.
That was his third time he could have claimed me and our daughter.
He signed pre-birth surrender papers and was sent packing. I was left there, alone, again.
Two months later, less than a week post partum, I was put on a plane by the agency and sent back East. A few weeks after arriving home my father found me, alone and angry in the bedroom I shared with my younger sister. My suitcase of items from Chicago was strewn across the bed and floor. Messes were not allowed in my childhood home. My father entered, hollered at me to clean up the mess and then his eye caught the packet of hospital photos that had been sent to me. The only photos I had of my daughter, sprawled across the bed, in the open, for all eyes to see. His eyes saw and his face flushed.
He pointed his angry finger towards them and said “that did not happen and we will never discuss that. Now put that away.”
That was my dads chance, one of many, to claim me and my daughter. He could have stood up then (and even earlier) for his daughters good name but he didn’t. That memory has been permanently tattooed on my brain. That? What that? Oh, you mean my child? My daughter? Your granddaughter?
I return to Chicago very soon after and stay there for years. This time of my own choosing. I return east in the mid-1990’s due to medical diagnosis my father has received. He has lung cancer and will die soon. While I told people I moved home to help my mother, cold hard truth was that I wanted to see him die.
He didn’t, not then.
I stay in CT and begin seeing my daughters father, again. He is engaged to be married and yet we are seeing each other. All the love, the emotion, the passion is there. Another chance to claim me and our daughter.
He never did. He spent the night before his wedding in my bed. I did not see him for years. (NB, I am sharing this potentially inflammatory information because it has been shared before, elsewhere, he and his wife know this already).
Another claim opportunity missed.
The need, the desire grows strong inside me. Will someone, anyone, acknowledge me? Accept me? See me as my child’s mother?
I marry in 1996. Prior to marrying, I share with my future husband the existence of my daughter. He cries when he hears the story. He hugs me. He appears to have empathy. I encourage prior to marriage to tell his mother, my future mother in law, about my daughter. This feels important to me. Like something she needs to know. Future husband disagrees. He will not tell is mother. It is not her business and does not make a difference in our relationship.
But it did. It made a massive difference. That decision by my husband was interpreted to me as shame and embarrassment and a desire to keep my dirty laundry between him and I. It was interpreted as an act of not claiming, not accepting, slut shaming.
And I allowed it.
Years later, just as I began my active search for my daughter, my husband returns home from work very angry. When I question him, he tells me that a coworker, a successful genealogist, had stumbled across my scarlet letter status while searching his family name online. We argue. It is left unresolved yet the message is clear to me. I have blundered again. My dirty secret it out, on the internet of all places.
I am left unclaimed again.
I allow it. By this time, I feel I deserve it. It has been almost 20 years.
June 28, 2005 I have positive confirmation I have found my daughter. Shortly thereafter, I find her father and I let him know. I advise him that if she asks me, I will share his name and contact details. He thanks me curtly via email and I don’t hear anything further — for a while.
We remain in contact for almost two years. Again, inside me, the desire rises, maybe now he will. Maybe this is my chance. He will now claim us, me, her. He will tell his subsequent children, three girls, that they have a sister. He will finally tell his parents, and others, that he has not three girls, but four.
He and his wife decide to keep it to themselves. Reason cited is that since our daughter has not expressed a desire for a relationship, they are not going to share the news of her existence with others.
I am distraught and again, unclaimed.
I am now divorced, beginning a journey of recovery from divorce, adoption and more. I date online. As part of this many of the interested men ask about me, several even google me and find out about my adoption activism. None are discouraged. Many ask very good, considerate questions. The relationships span only a few dates for reasons completely unrelated to adoption.
I meet my now husband as part of that online dating. I tell him of my daughter on our second date. I knew, even that early, that this relationship was serious. I knew that I had to throw all my dirty laundry on the floor, again, and let him stare at it like my father did years earlier. And so I did.
He paused, he processed, he seemed stunned and conflicted and compassionate. We have a good conversation. Later, he shares his own sordid past.
We are engaged months later. He travels to adoption conferences with me, he reads my blog. We have long in-depth conversations about my daughters father, what happened and more. He is fully accepting.
I have never felt judged or lesser than or as if he was uncomfortable with who I am. Quite the reverse, I feel he is in awe of me, he loves me, he is inspired by me, he respects me – even with the knowledge of my past, even knowing I have a child that wants nothing to do with me.
This past Monday my husband was confronted, for the first time ever, without me being present, with his wifes illegitimate child. A friend, a male friend, made a comment on my writing ability. Surprised that the comment came from out of nowhere, husband questions friend and in doing so, learns the friend reads this blog (hi friend!). Husband and friend proceed to have a conversation on my blog, what happened to me, my writing and my activism.
Husband comes home later that evening and one of the first things out of his mouth is a relaying of his conversation with friend. He is not angry or embarrassed. Rather he is surprised to learn friend reads here and at the same time he is clearly proud of me, proud that I am his wife.
I have been claimed.