135 Years, 135 Stories title image

My Mother Named Me Myrna

ELLIN, New Jersey


My mother named me Myrna. I was just a little bit of a thing…barely five pounds. I came into this world on Decoration Day, May 30, 1940. My mother was surrounded by caring new friends who shared both the joys, and sorrows of giving birth as unwed mothers. They were in a sheltered home, given prenatal care and were forced to make decisions that would forever effect their lives. Six weeks later, on the morning of August 14, 1940, my birth mother, Helen, signed a paper relinquishing her rights to her infant daughter. The last name was covered, but the first names were Betty and Howard. I was taken from her arms and carried to an adjoining room. A nurse gently placed me in the arms of my father, who, with his wife, would finally become parents after ten years of waiting.

I always knew that I was adopted. My mother said that I was chosen. I pictured the dairy case at the grocery store, where many rows of eggs were stacked. My mother always opened many boxes before determining which eggs looked best. I pictured the racks being filled with cardboard boxes filled with tiny babies, waiting to be chosen. I was honored.

I was told that my birth mother died in a car accident, but she actually returned to her home. As the oldest of nine children, Helen helped her mother clean offices at night and raise her siblings. Her father died of suicide.

My family moved to Teaneck, New Jersey and in 1945, we adopted my little brother, Roger. He was beautiful with big blue eyes and blond ringlets. Unfortunately, before he was a year old, he was diagnosed with profound mental retardation. My mother would put Roger in his stroller and we would walk over the bridge to nearby Hackensack. The first stop was Sears, for a small bag of marshmallows coated with caramel. Next, I had a few minutes to run through Spellman’s toy store. Further down Main Street was Milt’s Fabrics, owned by my mother’s friend, Sally. I adored Sally, who was always waiting for me with a big hug and a cookie.

Life went on…as lives do. There were the normal family squabbles, when I thought about my birth mother and pictured her smile. She must have been warm and loving. I often grieved for her. In 1967, I married Jack and we moved to Florida and became the parents of a son and daughter.

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, my friend, Sally, called her sister and asked for a favor. Her bookkeeper had become ill and the books were piling up. Her sister was happy to spend a few days helping to send out statements. The first was to a very good client, who had recently redecorated for her daughter’s wedding and had yet to pay the bill. As her sister noted the name Betty, she asked if Sally knew the name of the husband. It was Howard. She asked if Ellin was adopted and her birth date. Everything matched. Helen took her sister in her arm and softly sobbed, “[Ellin] is my daughter.”

The first time Helen called, I instantly knew that she was my mother. I felt it in the anguish of her voice. She told me her story….ending with, “You were such a good baby. All of the girls in the Florence Crittenton Home loved you.” Her every word has remained with me. It was several years before we met, as I didn’t want to hurt the parents who had lovingly raised me. In the summer of 1977, I finally had the courage to move forward. We embraced on the top step of her home. This was the incredibly brave and gentle woman who had given birth to me thirty-seven years ago. This was my mother. She had never given up looking for me. She became active in every organization that searched for children who had been given up for adoption. I have four younger brothers. She feared that I’d be angry with her, but the thought never entered my mind. We shared our stories, laughed and shed a few tears. I was at home.

We lost her in 1986. I stood with my brothers as we said goodbye. My only regret was that I never called her “Mom” or said, “I love you.” But she knew…

In 2012, I was searching the channels and stopped on TLC. On the facade of a large brick building was the name, “Florence Crittenton.” It was a documentary on teenage mothers, who were completing high school during, and after the births of their babies. Many things have changed over the past 75 years, but there is still love and kindness in the hearts of the staff who continue to give young moms a head start into a life that will have difficulties.

Many thanks, Florence Crittenton. You and your families will always be in my prayers.

Ellin Wheelihan
Alumni, Florence Crittenton Home
Newark, NJ 1940

Ellin Story