By Renee Robb-Cohen
I think that I have always been prochoice in the same way that I have always been feminist. I believethat women, ultimately, are not tied to biology any more than men. Patriarchy, however, makes men believe that women exist to be their incubators, so they wage war against wise women capable of ending an unintended pregnancy. Even delivery—to suit the comfort of male doctors — changed to women lying down even though squatting is a more efficient way to push, employing gravity along with the muscles.
So what is an enlightened, albeit naïve, 22-year-old to do when she discovers that she is pregnant? First, Remember that pro-choice is choosing. I researched my options since the co-creator of this scenario, the other half of our five-year relationship, was merely embarrassed by my situation. When I learned that he wanted to disappear, I took the initiative to move out. So, raising a child with a partner not an option, I had three other choices: abortion, adoption, raising a child alone.
I was fresh out of college and working at a job paying $8,000 yearly. This was back in 1979, and money did go farther then, but there were very few day care centers, and I knew nothing about requiring my ex-partner to pay child support. In fact, I’m not sure when the policy of dead-beat dads came into being. I believed, and still believe, that a child should have two role models – two adults to assure that their child’s care is covered through sickness, tiredness, crankiness, employment requirements, and all else that life throws at us. So, I dropped raising a child alone as my choice.
Adoption was very much available in 1979. And, since I’m pro-choice, adoption was my next choice to consider. This is where my naiveté showed up: I thought to myself, This situation was created through love and affection. What are nine months out of my life? I can work while I’m pregnant.
So that, my friends, is how a pro-choice woman chooses the adoption choice. At least, that’s my story. There are many other stories I’ve heard through the years about this common thread we women share of reproduction (or not) and children (or not) that stay in the foreground or background of our lives and continue to inform our decisions.
I made the decision, and a friend knew a co-worker who knew a couple who wanted to adopt. Open adoption, in 1979, was still in the future, so I never knew the adoptive parents and my friend never told me their names. An attorney prepared the papers and delivered my son from the hospital to his new parents.
The first few years were the hardest. The state gave a mother ten days to change her mind, but I returned to work on the tenth day, so I would not be tempted to change my mind. That’s a rash statement! With hormones and emotions raging right after birth, of course I was tempted. I kept reminding myself that the adopting parents were better equipped to raise my son and, after having him in their home, reclaiming him would be cruel.
I had good friends, very good friends, whose support got me through those dark days. Time passed, and my life went on. I married six years later and gave birth to my daughter two years later. In another two years, we moved from Georgia to North Carolina. Yet occasionally, when I grew very still in my center, I mourned for the lost relationship. A ministerial intern at our church spoke openly about his adoption and finding his birth mother.
He told me that each of them discovered how much they shared in their outlook on life and spirituality. In the 1990s, I found an adoption databank online and entered my information. I did not have the courage to look for my son myself, but I wanted to be found if he ever came looking. I started a journal of letters to him in 2000, writing to him for about a year. Time continued to pass; my daughter finished high school and eventually moved to Florida. I was busy running a massage therapy business and teaching at the local community college. And the years rolled around to my birthday in 2011.
I received a message to call Rachel at the Human Resources Department at the State of Georgia. Georgia?
That was odd, I thought, wondering, of course, Does this have to do with the adoption? She worked for a governmental department called the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry. She asked if I was alone and could talk because my son was looking for me. I took notes, because I knew that I could never remember everything. She asked if I wanted her to read his letter to me. YES!
He loved his parents, had a happy childhood in Georgia, and had been married to Jasmin for five years that January. He had a three-year-old daughter, making me a grandma! He had moved to North Carolina a few years ago for a master’s program in Strategic Foresight. (Never heard of that one!) He wanted to meet me, if I was open to that, not for drama seeking reasons, but because that part of his life was like a missing puzzle piece. He signed the letter Mike.
Rachel explained that I would receive a package containing Mike’s letter, supportive literature about reunions, and a release form to sign and have notarized declaring how much contact I wanted: none, phone calls and letters, meeting in person.
I called my husband, then my friend who had seen me through the early years after the adoption. I e-mailed my family, and then I waited, pinching myself to make sure that I was awake. I drummed my fingers and waited some more. Why did the hours drag by so slowly?
Two days later, I googled Strategic Foresight North Carolina and found, on the first page, a listing for Mike.
Hmmm. This website looked interesting. There was a link to his wife’s blog; she sounded interesting. Wait … she had a picture of her nine-month-old daughter on her blog who looked just like my daughter at that age. I called my friend, and we looked on Facebook. The more I read, the more sure I was that this was my son. All the details added up, and he and Jasmin went to the same college I had attended.
I spent another two days considering if I should follow protocol, go through proper channels, or just take a leap and contact him. I finally decided: HE’S looking for me, so take the step!I messaged him on Facebook, stating what had happened in the past five days, and asked if he was the Mike who was looking for me.
He called me an hour-and-a-half later.
I cannot describe the joy that has consumed me in the past year, as I get acquainted with this family who burst into my world full-blown. The pride I feel in their accomplishments, the bliss of hearing Grandma Renee, seeing my daughter meet her brother, just a few of the moments I hold in my heart, times I thought that I would never know.
In looking back over the past 32 years, am I at peace with the decision I made, the choice I took? There were many times I wondered if I would have chosen the adoption route if I had known the anguish that I would feel, the questions I would have, the unknowingness of that hole in my life. And the answer is: I just don’t know. Would open adoption have made a difference if available 32 years ago?
Maybe, but that’s a moot point. Now I take pleasure in watching my granddaughter grow, visiting with my graceful daughter-in-law, watching my son as he juggles all that life is throwing at him, his voice so familiar to me from the first time we spoke.
I have met, over the years, many women who went the abortion route; some have absolute peace, others still bereave their choice. I do not believe that I would have made a good mother at age 22, though I know plenty of women who chose that road and made terrific mothers – and some who did not. I have also met many women who went the adoption route living with questions and regrets.
My point is this: there are no easy choices, but they are ours to choose and due to our incubator powers, they are solely ours to make. Men may express their opinions, but, as with the parents who say, “My house – my rules,” as with our bodies! My choice led to establishing relationships thirty-one years later, but not all women are as fortunate as me. I never judge; I just support whatever decision a woman ultimately makes.
Renee Robb-Cohen is a licensed massage therapist who, in 1998, founded A Celebration of Being Massage Therapy. She lives in West Asheville with her husband, five cats, and a bird.