When I was 18 years old, I gave birth to a baby girl christened
Marietta by the middle-aged couple who scooped her up from her hospital cradle and folded her into their family when she was two days old.
I never saw my daughter. The prevailing consensus of opinion in 1967 was that if I was unconscious during labor and delivery, if I never saw or held my baby, it would be easier for me to forget the experience, to put it all behind me, and to get on with my life as if her birth had never happened.
Instead of forgetting, I began the lifelong practice of a hyper-vigilant, self-monitoring willfulness. Outwardly, no one was ever going to learn about my shameful past and my dark secret. And inwardly, I was never going to allow myself to feel the body of anguish and rage I bore in the gaping emptiness where my infant had been.
I spent the decade of my twenties in mortal combat with my soul. I went to college and earned two degrees. I got jobs. I even remained in a close relationship with my baby’s father until I was 28. But my real passions during those years were Anorexia and Bulemia, who became my constant chronic companions.
In the 1980’s, having defeated the “eating disorder” face of Anorexia, I gave birth to three beautiful children. These births, each in their own way, were almost traumatic enough to slice through the scar tissue of Marietta’s removal from my life, but not quite. My Anorexia went underground.
Fifteen years ago I was reunited with Marietta. And today, August 10, 2008, I am on a train to her wedding in Portland, Oregon. I am preparing myself to spend the next five days with her adopted mother, her birth father and his wife and children, Marietta’s four children, my three adult children, and Marietta’s new family. This will be the first time we will all be together, and I am utterly overwhelmed by the portent of this event, especially because I have just left a thirty year relationship with my children’s father, at great emotional cost, and I am going there alone.
As I sit and stare out the window of the Amtrak observation car into the lush Oregon landscape, I slip back to April 1967. And I see an 18 year old girl in a white hospital bed. She smiles shyly as a nurse enters her room. I hear her ask the question it has taken her two days to shape into words. Hesitantly , she asks if she can hold her baby. She isn’t breathing. I watch her wait as the nurse braces herself and I hear the nurse tell her that her baby is gone, that she left with her new parents that morning. I watch this 18 year old girl closely. I scrutinize her. I see her soul deflate. I see a silent explosion of white shock. I watch something in her CHOOSE in a split second to not scream, to not howl like a she-wolf in maternal rage. I watch her as she chooses in that split second to freeze the blood flow to anything in her psyche having to do with woman, with open passion, with heart, with trust, and with joy. I watch her choke out a “thank you” and turn her face to the window as one tear slides down her face.
She does not know she has made a choice. She does not know that this decision is going to shape the next four decades of her life. She is doing this to survive.
I am now almost 60 years old. Today is the first day in 41 years that I have had the courage to take myself back and face that hospital room and accept the decision that I made there. And out of this, and out of 41 years of a life half lived, I believe these things:
I believe that as a woman my healthy standing in the world depends upon my wholeness. When I was 18 years old, I shattered into pieces that flash froze like Neanderthal shards in an ice wall. At times in my life, my Anorexic self was a boney wraith, at other times she was a fearful, abused spouse. But whatever mask she wore, she was ultimately my attempt to protect my fragmented, frozen self from a meltdown and from drowning.
It has been hard to turn and face this life. I cry now. I ache with loneliness. Sometimes I stomp and dance with rage. But I am not sorry for these things. Rather, I am profoundly thankful.
Today, on this train to Portland, I believe in my whole, messy, complicated, heart rending, beautiful life. I believe in the latent lush power held within the evocative landscape of pain, and in the fertile ground of my Self into which I can plant and nurture my “grief seeds.” I believe in the love I bear in my heart for my children, and in the lightness of joy I can now hold tenderly in the womb of my soul. And I believe that at the end of my life I will leave behind a harvest of fulfilled life experience and a legacy of a woman’s way of transformation on this journey we call life on Earth.
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