by Pat Edwards
Telephone solicitors had ruined so many pleasant evenings for me that it was with reluctance that I rose from my comfortable chair to answer the insistent ring of the phone. It was the year 1993 – before the days of caller I.D and “no call” lists. The woman on the other end began asking questions, and at first I thought that she had the wrong number – although she knew my name. I patiently answered all of her questions, but began to wonder why she needed to know things such as my maiden name and that of my mother.
The answer became suddenly clear when she finally said, “My late husband and I adopted a baby girl, whom we named Stacey, almost 30 years ago. She was born on August 7, 1963 in Emanuel Hospital. Does this mean anything to you?”
A kaleidoscope of emotions and memories, accumulated and tucked away for 30 years, descended upon me. I have read stories of other birth mothers being found by their children. They frequently described an immediate and profound joy. The mixture of emotions I felt included shock, anxiety, shame, relief and a guilt that there was no explosion of maternal bliss. And, in the days that followed, I still found myself sorting through that mixture to try and discover what my basic feelings really were.
From the moment that I hung up the phone after that call, I felt that I was being carried forward by a force that I could no longer control.
In 1993, Stacey lived in a neighboring state. Lee, her adoptive mother, had been helping her to search for me when she made that call. Lee excitedly said, “Can we meet for lunch tomorrow? I’m so anxious to meet you, and Stacey will be so excited when she finds out I found you!” I numbly agreed to our luncheon date, but could not reach for the phone to call Stacey. It was too soon.
When I told my husband Jim about the call, he was euphoric. Within a half hour of the phone conversation, he had called each of our four adult children to set up a family meeting. Our son, who lived out of town at the time, wouldn’t be able to come for two days. At work, during those two suspenseful days, my phone rang several times. “Mom, can’t you tell us what this is all about? You and Dad are scaring us!” I tried to reassure them that no calamity had befallen our family, but I could not ease their anxiety.
After talking to Lee that fateful night, I felt as though I was on a speeding train with the throttle stuck open. My nerves were rapidly reaching the breaking point. Everything within me wanted to scream out, “Whoa! Slow down! Give me some time to adjust!” I needed some “space” to sort through what I was feeling and thinking.
I could not call Stacey until I had talked with our other children. I was confident that they would take the news well, but I needed that reassurance. I was afraid – afraid that I might not be able to live up to what Stacey would expect of me as her birth mother; afraid that Jim would be disappointed in me because I was not as excited as he; afraid that our children would be ashamed of me. I wasn’t experiencing that profound joy that books and articles so often describe.
When the time for our family meeting finally arrived, I was more than ready to get everything out into the open. When I arrived home from work, everyone was either busily fixing dinner or watching the news on TV. Their nervous glances at one another was the only indication that we were there for something other than one of our frequent family get-togethers.
I called them into the living room and sat cross-legged on the floor in front of Jim’s big easy chair. Slowly and deliberately, Jim began to tell them of the sister that none of them had known they had.
Tearfully, I took over the narration. “Your father is not Stacey’s father. I met your Dad just weeks before I discovered that I was pregnant. He had just been discharged from the Army and had no job…” I told them about the circumstances of Stacey’s birth and how their father had stood by me during that most difficult time.
As Jim began to speak again, he broke into sobs. “I have always felt at fault for not asking your Mom to marry me then so that we could have kept the baby.”
It was then that they came to us, one by one, with warm hugs and comforting, teary smiles. With their acceptance and understanding, a cleansing took place within me. I felt a great sense of relief, but the profound joy that I was expecting still proved elusive.
When everyone had gone home and Jim had gone to bed, I dialed Stacey’s number for the first time. “Hello, Stacey, this is… Pat.” I did not feel I had the right to call myself “Mother” or “Mom.” Only Lee had earned that right. It was obvious that she had been expecting my call. Her voice was tinged with excitement and she did not try to conceal her obvious pleasure that I had finally crossed the bridge that had divided us for the past 30 years. During our conversation, Stacey was careful not to ask questions that I was not ready to answer and she kept the conversation light and friendly.
As we said goodbye, I told her, “I’ll write a long letter to tell you about everything that you must be wanting to know.” It was time.
When I wrote that letter the next day, I did not withhold any information. I wanted to release all of the memories that had been locked up so tightly for so long. It was important that she understand that she had not been “thrown away,” but that the decision to give her up was made out of love and concern for her welfare.
In the months that followed, we met Stacey and spent as much time with her as distance allowed. Letters and phone calls traversed the miles separating us on a regular basis. We discovered her shortcomings and she discovered ours. We accepted each other as human beings and dismantled any pedestals that had begun to build. Stacey and her brother and sisters bonded well, and, despite not being her biological father, Jim has become a father to her in every way possible.
The fairy tale period ended and reality and a welcome normalcy once again settled over our lives. Stacey and her family of four children and a new husband eventually moved back to Eugene. She presented us with a new little granddaughter several years later and on every Mother’s Day since, she has come to our home with a large planter of flowers with an attached note saying simply, “Thanks for giving me life.”
She is a beautiful, compassionate and loving human being and we are all so lucky to have her in our lives.
I have never experienced that overwhelming joy that I once thought I should. Instead it has taken time and the patience of others to allow me to sort out the warm feelings that allowed my relationship with Stacey to grow into love and friendship.
I believe more than ever in the old adage, “Slow and steady wins the race.” In any emotional situation, each of us must find our own way – the one that is right for us. Euphoria can blaze forth and dim, but the quiet joy that comes on slowly and is allowed to grow can last a lifetime.