I believe in second chances.
It was a second chance that brought my son back into my life. He was twenty-one by then, and had been with his adopted family since he was five days old. I was seventeen when he was born after an Iowa July thunderstorm, and was nowhere near ready to be his mother. Getting pregnant in my hometown of 3000 Catholics was the worst thing that could happen to a girl there in 1970, so I kept my pregnancy a secret for as long as I could. When my parents found out about my predicament, I was hustled out of town and sent to live with a foster family out in the countryside sixty miles from home.
Signing the adoption papers drilled a hole straight through my heart, but I did it anyway because there was nothing else I could do. Bringing an out-of-wedlock baby home in that time and place would have meant whispers and finger pointing, and I didn’t want a life like that for my son. I’d forget this baby and have other children, the social workers told me, and I figured they knew what they were talking about.
I made it to college, and afterwards moved to out to Los Angeles where I juggled an acting career and a series of day jobs. I got married, and my husband and I had two daughters, but the longing I felt for my son grew worse. Just before my son turned twenty-one, I decided to search for him. I found that, like in most states, there were no second chances for birthmothers in the state of Iowa. Adoption records, even for adult adoptees, are permanently sealed. But I met someone who said they could help me, and through a series of middlemen, I was put in touch with the young man I’d last seen wrapped in a yellow blanket as he was taken from my social worker’s office.
My son was happy to meet me, and his parents welcomed my husband, our daughters, and me into their lives. My little girls were two and five years old when they met their brother, but today they are on the brink of adulthood and have no memory of ever having been without him. I remember those empty years though, and the way his absence felt in my gut, my hands and my arms. I remember feeling like a thief because I’d preemptively stolen my daughters’ opportunities to ever know their brother.
Unsealing my son’s adoption file changed the lives of everyone in my family. Youth is a gorgeous and perilous time, and adults who make it through that storm sometimes need a second chance.
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