135 Years, 135 Stories title image

The missing piece in my life moved into place

JANE, Ohio

I am 78 years old and my Crittenton connection happened a lifetime ago, it seems. I was fifteen in 1955, a sophomore at Scott High School in Toledo, when I realized I was pregnant. Although our family had modest means, my parents sacrificed to hopefully give me the future they envisioned. I became one of the one and a half million “girls who went away” in that era that spanned 1945 to 1973.

Embarrassed, ashamed, scared, seated in the back seat of my parents car, in April I unceremoniously left the world I knew–my besties Judy and Emmy, my now estranged boyfriend, my sister Lynn and brother John, my parents, my own bedroom, my life — to enter The Florence Crittenton Home. No one, no one was supposed to know where I was nor that I was pregnant. The pat answer to my whereabouts was that I was in treatment for a kidney issue and was staying with an aunt in Pennsylvania. My parents forbade me to write anyone or call (on the sole public coin phone) or to even walk outside, as the Home was only a few miles from our family home. After registering, we gave each other teary goodbyes. They planned to visit me monthly until the climactic labor and birth. Feeling repentant, I determined I would try to make the best of whatever was to come.

About 30 girls and women, all of whom were at various ages and stages of pregnancy, shared the 2-story building, two per bedroom. We were assigned chores and were accountable to our floor supervisor, Mrs. Buckles. I chose to continue schoolwork with a tutor the Home hired to serve all high school grades. Days passed quickly and were punctuated by monthly visits to the Toledo Hospital Clinic and by housemates, one after the other, beginning labor and leaving for the hospital to give birth. I really didn’t know how birth happened, but it was dreaded by most. I tucked that information deep inside and hoped it would be a long time for me.

I noticed that not all birth moms gave their babies up for adoption. Suppose when that time came, I wouldn’t want to either? But I was totally dependent on my parents. They had paid dearly for me to stay here. It would be yet another act of disobedience towards them if I defied them and changed my mind. As a minor, I didn’t know if I even could choose to keep my baby.

My due date was late August, so the plan was that I would give birth, have a short recovery and be able to start school with my 11th grade class after Labor Day. August ended, as did the first week in September. Finally, James Allen was born on September 12.

I was admonished by my mother to not see Baby James, as adoption proceedings were well underway. I should not see him nor touch him. But I insisted the nurse allow me to hold him for an hour. Gingerly examining his lanky, beautiful body from head to toe, I knew he was perfect. I kissed his amazingly soft cheeks, swaddled him back up, and tearfully explained why he and I could not be together and that his next parents were waiting.

I thought I’d never see James Allen again.

My instructions from my parents were to go on as if nothing had happened, to not tell anyone ever, and to immerse myself in catching up with school work. I had put my parents through their worst nightmare. I was ashamed, apologetic, deeply saddened about what we all had been through and apprehensive about James’ future.

I did “go on,” although one doesn’t really know what toll a heavy heart burden takes. But I did not forget. I’ve been prone to depression over the years, which may be one way I’ve managed to cope. I graduated from high school, then went on to nursing school and married shortly after completion. After the youngest of my four children were in middle school, I finished a bachelors degree. Most of my career prior to retirement was in nursing homes and senior services.

In my early 40’s I began a search for James that culminated when I was 74 and he was 56. I had exhausted every means I knew and then, very serendipitously, I watched Dan Rather’s documentary “Adoption or Abduction.” The interviewed mothers had used a private detective to locate their child. Within two weeks after contacting the same agency, my son was on the phone talking to me! Within 3 months, he and his wife had traveled from Ohio to Minneapolis to meet his four half-siblings and my life partner and later FaceTime introduced us to our “new” grandson, granddaughter and her husband.

It’s been a beautiful storybook reunion, despite the 800 miles between us. The relationship continues to deepen. Our family has continued to grow, with the addition of a great-grandson and great-granddaughter.

The missing piece in my life has moved into place and I am profoundly grateful.

I’m also grateful to The Crittenton Home for the place and function it filled for my family, for me and for my son.