unwed mother


October 15, 2017

in Waking Up, Growing Up

These days there are times when I sit quietly and simply wonder. This morning what wafted in were sensations and images of circular connections. As my experiences wind their sometimes baffling circular way through the years then come to completion they interconnect with previous circles and cycles linking the ever-growing chain of my life.

Often I am surprised at how an event in the present suddenly appears to be a completion of something from long ago that had no apparent connection until the moment when it all pops together into my awareness. I think of the image on the screen of my iphone when I am downloading an ap, watching the little blue circle fill in bit by bit (sometimes excruciatingly slowly) until that final dot of blue connects and voila, it is complete! Satisfaction, fleeting as it may be.

I continue to marvel at the beauty of the people in community surrounding and supporting me in so many heartwarming ways, and as I was sitting in wonder today I had a flash of memory from when I was fifteen years old, pregnant, in turmoil and sometimes terror. I was isolated, shamed and expelled from all family and community. As I reflected on the contrast of then to now the final dot of blue popped into place—I felt and saw the vision of that completed circle linking into the chain of my life.

My experience of that time has had many influences on the course of my existence. Until today it hadn’t occurred to me that one of them is valuing and at times even astonishment at the beauty of community.

It was the early ‘60’s, my mother, father, brother and I were living in small town Ontario in a new subdivision. I was going to school and had a few friends, however I recall no sense of community, it was a location. By this time, we had lived in at least eight different cities, four different states in the US, two provinces in Canada and we were now in the third town in Ontario. We had lived in at least ten houses and my brother and I had attended many schools. I think the sense of any location and any friendship being temporary was already instilled in me. A beneficial learning that has held me in good stead is that I became adaptable to many different environments and situations.

I was utterly ignorant about sexuality, sex, being in a girl body, certainly nothing about a boy body. Literally no information or guidance. All I knew, for a very brief time, was that I enjoyed the pleasure and excitement of being with an older boy who found me desirable. Even confirming that I was pregnant and what that meant took some time and information from an older girl acquainted with my boyfriend.

When I found the courage to tell my mother and father that I was pregnant the impact was devastating. My mother became hysterical and continued to have bouts of hysteria. My father was busy with his business, I believe overwhelmed and in my reality disappeared. One of the ways my mother handled it all was to tell her friends about my situation and the news spread, as they say “like wildfire.” The effect on me was immediate. I was pulled out of school, and the other girls parents told them they were not allowed to associate with me. I had become a novelty, a negative influence. An event that stands out is when I was walking down the street in my neighbourhood one day, two classmates were walking toward me—when they saw me they crossed to the other side of the street, still looking at me and smirking. I recall that as the time when my defiance and determination to not be defeated and to stay strong in the face of all this burst into full bloom.

My few relatives were two older aunts who had never married living in Kentucky that I adored (we had lived with one of them briefly.) After hearing the news from my mother one of them never had contact with me again, the other sent me a pink, frilly Kleenex box holder and $5, and then disowned me a short time later for my wanton ways.

This was an excruciatingly painful time for my mother as well as me. During one of her outbursts she began to physically attack me and in my fear the only person I could think of to call for help was the minister of the town’s Anglican Church. Although I have difficulty recalling names, I always remember his. The Reverend Ken Richardson. We did not attend church with any regularity but I had been confirmed in his church when I was 12 or so and found him kind and understanding. He came quickly and immediately arranged for me to be sent to an unwed mother’s home in Toronto for the duration of my pregnancy.

Usually unwed mothers spent the last three months of their pregnancy in the home, however due to my “unusual” circumstance I was allowed in when I was less than three months pregnant. Walking along the institutional-looking hallway for the first time to be shown to my room is another experience I have imprinted. I recall the shiny floors, the sound of our feet on the tiles, the faces and eyes of girls and women in their rooms looking out at us as we passed. I even remember what I was wearing! Although I wasn’t showing, I was wearing a dark brown pleated maternity skirt and a rust-coloured cotton top with a single thin ruffle around the bottom. A girl has to pay attention to what she wears!

I had already had too many experiences of standing at the front of a classroom being introduced as “the new girl, Linda.” This was an introduction of another dimension. An immediate expansion of my world into a reality I could never have conceived existed.
There were girls and women ranging in age, race with vastly differing life circumstances. I heard stories and was introduced to ways of life that held me spellbound. I thought of one person as an older woman, she was in her mid-twenties. Some of them were tough and bawdy, I remember one particular red-headed girl that at first I was terrified of and who l later came to like and get along with. An aboriginal girl who had been raped by her father and I were the two youngest and I remained the youngest for the duration of my stay.

As far back as I can remember I have been fascinated with people, our uniqueness and what makes us tick. My exposure to this amazing range of girls and women broadened my horizons and enriched my experience of life, blowing off the confining walls of my conditioning about who is good, bad forever. I think that was the beginning of my learning to choose curiosity over fear that has nourished and supported me to view my life as an adventure rather than a problem to be solved.

Yet again in my short life, connections were temporary. It was against the rules to know where we lived and each other’s last names, it was first names only. Once someone went to the hospital to give birth they didn’t return to the home and we were instructed to not keep in touch with each other. I remember crying when my red-headed friend went into labour and left for the hospital. We never saw each other again although I had broken the rule and found out her last name. I did try to find her a few years later without success.

Oh the stories that are coming back to me about my time there! I learned so much about life and about people. For that I have no regret and feel grateful. I think the seeds of the work I do with people related to sexuality, to boundaries and to communication began to grow during that period.

I had been assigned a social worker that at the time I thoroughly disrespected, believing her to be incompetent. In my fifteen-year-old arrogance I immediately decided that she was fresh out of school, she was talking to me as if by script from a textbook, not as a real person and I wanted nothing to do with her. I believe I was a huge source of stress for her, I actually recall times when I noticed her flush, the look on her face and somewhere underneath my stubborn defiance I felt for her having to try to deal with me. I was just too defended to allow empathy. For a long time afterward I objectified and carried a negative bias toward social workers which later proved to be ironic given what I discovered to be my life’s calling.

As I write this now I am considering that my experience with her coloured my pattern of working with people spontaneously and personally and my dislike of following a script. I had no concept of boundaries in those days, however I recall being outraged when another social worker tricked one of the women in her twenties into meeting the father of her baby face-to-face in spite of the woman insisting that she did not want to. When I was first introduced to the importance of honouring permission at Haven the blue dot of that circle popped in.

The world I was plunged into at the home was so unlike anything I had previously been exposed to, and although it was difficult and I viewed it as being imprisoned (there were strict rules about going out, perhaps related to my age which I’ll never know) I began to experience a sense of community over time. I liked that. A few times several of us would sneak into one person’s room after the lights-out curfew and play cards. We were caught and disciplined which simply led us to be more careful and added to the fun. Late at night I dared to escape, climb over the fence surrounding the gated grounds to go out into the noisy city and bring back a pie and ice cream, which we devoured with delight. I felt a strong sense of belonging and acceptance in those few and precious moments.

One of my most traumatic experiences of isolation was during the Christmas, New Year’s season. Although my parents didn’t visit me in the home, I was allowed to go back to their place for those days. I was thrilled to be freed from the home.

My parents had clearly forbidden any contact with the father of my child. We had been cut off most of the time, no cell phones or texting in those days. Even access to long-distance phone calls was limited. He had driven to Toronto a couple of times to visit me and that was it. We were passionate about being in love and wanting to be together. Primary on my mind during the season was to be in touch with him, to try to see him.

Taken by my dad, he loved to photograph flowers

Although I was less aware of it at the time, my parents were struggling with their own hurt, frustration, guilt, shame. By this time I was six months pregnant. They were having friends over to the house and asked me to stay out of the way, downstairs in the basement rec room. I was pleased, seeing it as an opportunity to try to call my boyfriend. My father heard me and uncharacteristically exploded. I imagine the pressure of all the feelings he had been repressing erupted into this rage and he disowned me on the spot, throwing me out of the house. My assumption is that I had already been in varying states of shock since I had become pregnant. Facing my father’s rage, his pointing and yelling at me to get out of his life, telling me that I was no longer his daughter or a member of this family was truly shocking. I went numb.

Back to the home I went and I remember sitting alone in the stark games room as the New Year of 1962 rolled in.

With the current scientific revelations about the impact of the mother’s environment, physical and emotional state on the unborn fetus, there are still moments when I ride the almost unbearable cliff-edge with my thoughts, feelings and “what if’s” that course through me. I have been profoundly fortunate since those times and feel abundant gratitude for what I have learned about self-compassion and acceptance.

By the time of my son’s first Christmas my parents and I began to reconcile, to the relief of us all, and our journeys together continued to take their twists and turns until each of their deaths many years later. Fortunately for us all they were important and lovely influences in both of my son’s lives and I feel enormous compassion, loving and gratitude for each of them. I remain eternally grateful to what I eventually learned about life and relating at Haven, which helped me nurture my relationship with them over the years.

There are many seemingly disparate events that are now coming full-circle in my life in the most amazing ways. I am waking up to how they are linked one by one.

So today’s wonder time has provided further insight into the link between knowing dislocation and isolation in my bones and then opening to the embrace, acceptance and belonging in community, and why this is so deeply moving and a source of awe.

All I can say is yay. And be curious about what will emerge next time I sit and wonder.

Love, light laughter linda