When I staggered down from the mailbox after receiving the first letter from my relinquished son, I was shattered.
You know in all those years since I had lost him, his birthday was the only time I allowed thoughts of him into my conscious mind; and then only briefly. I’m sure his very existence lingered in my subconscious every day, however it kept company with a mountain of shame which I felt was a large part of who I was. Over the years on a couple of occasions it crossed my mind to share my shame with someone special, but I had always backed out.
My husband knew. I had confessed before he would have felt obligated to marry me (despite my flaw). He accepted what I told him. He didn’t react, he just listened and that was the last time we ever spoke of it. (He still married me).
When the letter arrived I felt the familiar cold silent feeling creep over me. I had no idea how to deal with it. My husband was home and his reaction was simple. “Ring him up and invite him to come and meet us”.“Not so simple”, said the rational part of me. No-one else knows. My parents don’t know, my friends don’t know and my five children don’t know.
The silent cold part of me just froze in the background. The feeling was as it had been 23 years earlier. However, as I settled from the initial shock, an ‘alive’ feeling began to surface. There was a flicker of excitement and hope mingled with a huge sense of fear.
I knew I had to write to this boy – my boy!! Somehow I was going to have to overcome what seemed to be insurmountable hurdles of fear and shame but I wasn’t going to lose him again, so it would have to be done, although I had no idea of how. I didn’t believe I had any courage and I was very much aware of how personal grief turned me into a tearful unintelligible mess from which I always escaped by physically removing myself immediately. It made me feel even more ashamed so I had learnt over my life to avoid situations where my emotions might show. I now know that in shutting down the emotional side of me, I missed out on opportunities for close and loving relationships with others.
My first letter to my son was written two weeks after I received his. (It was a long two weeks for him). I acknowledged that I was his mother and shared with him the feeling of excitement I still felt. I told him of my fears and asked that he give me time to tell my children and my parents. That was in July. From that time, we corresponded regularly but I kept him to myself. I told no-one and I steeled myself to show no emotion concerning him to my husband and to retain my usual persona with my children and friends. It was so hard. I was falling apart inside; I was grieving; I was joyful; I was lonely. I ached with the pain of it all, but I still wore my usual ‘smiley face’.
I kept this up for the rest of that year. I often spent time with two close friends and when we met in the New Year, they confronted me because they felt like I had shut them out of my life. I broke down and after several buckets of tears and many questions, they guessed my secret. What a relief. I shared my letters with them. They knew my darkest secret and still cared about me! They were so positive and excited.
I still had no idea how to tell my children or my parents. When I wrote to my son I told him how frightened I was. To admit to that fear was an absolutely new experience for me. I was quite amazed at how easy it was to share feelings with him and what a wonderful relief it was. For the first time in my life, I had someone to confide in, although I was still very cautious and only wrote about feelings related to our contact.
By May, (ten months after receiving the first letter), I had still not found the right time to tell my children. I knew I was forever putting it off and I was beginning to realize how my son must be feeling about my lack of action. I couldn’t even work out how to say it or who to tell. My mind ran in the opposite direction as soon as I was conscious of what I had to do.
I am eternally grateful to my son at this point, although I wouldn’t recommend his method to others. It worked for me and it was what I needed. He sent me flowers for Mothers’ Day. I guess when I received flowers from interstate, I could have thought up a reason why, to let me off the hook, but his move gave me the courage to follow up. I was just so frightened. My 21 year old daughter and my 19 year old son were home, so I told them. I told them a very disjointed tearful tale. They were sad for me and very concerned about me but they were astounded and overjoyed for themselves. Five of them had become 6 of them and their minds and hearts were immediately opened to include this big brother. I had kept all his letters and copies of mine, so I let them read the letters and get to know a little of this new brother. My youngest son came home from school and they told him immediately. His comment was just so normal. He thought it was really cool and asked if he could include him in his assignment on our family tree! My 22 year old son had left home but didn’t live too far away so my 19 year old took off to get him and before long the whole clan was celebrating. (My older daughter was overseas and didn’t know till a little later.) I must say that the 22 year old did have a reaction to this news. His comment was “I guess I was a replacement”. We talked it through. There was probably a lot of truth in what he said, however I reassured him that once he was born I loved him for who he was and he was able to accept that. Another comment he made was to tell me that he always felt that he shouldn’t have been the oldest. Interesting.
There was an awakening in me. I had been so frightened I would lose the love – and respect – of my children. I expected them to judge me for being pregnant before I was married and I expected that immediately they would label me as immoral and worthless. I expected that they would judge me as I judged myself.
This disclosure was the beginning of strong relationships between all my children which are always improving. On one occasion, several years into the reunion, when I had all six of them together, we talked about the change in our lives. My second son, the first I parented, was able to tell me how he had often felt a distance between us when he was young and how special our relationship was by then. He had seen me grow through the reunion experience and become fully available to my children. How different I am these days in my relationship with my children.
I overflow with love for them and I am able to tell them that.
My son had arranged to come to Perth to meet us in October. My parents still did not know.
They were away on holidays so I chose to write to them rather than wait for their return. It was a safer way for me to tell them. I could tell the whole story without the tears. They eventually responded although it took several weeks. Unfortunately they still struggle to deal with the shame of having had a daughter who was pregnant and unmarried, however they have been able to welcome my son in their own way. They are his only living grandparents.
Their difficulty in accepting the facts of my life and the presence of my first born son highlight my reason for dealing with my pregnancy and loss alone.
I have still not regained the memories of the pregnancy and his birth.
My life continues. I have six children. All adults now. I have sound loving relationships with them all, however they are all different and so are the relationships. It has been important for me to accept that these relationships will be very different with each of them and to let go of prior expectations.
When I look back now, it’s hard to imagine that I could have done it any differently. It was traumatic and terrifying and I did it the best way I could. Since then, I have learnt a lot about courage and honesty and perhaps, given my time again, I could put into action what I have learnt and do it with less fear.
There is a feeling of wholeness in me these days. I am walking the walk, and negotiating the pot holes, learning, loving and appreciating my life. ANN