Of the few childhood memories I have kept, the one that especially affected me was to have a profound conclusion.
When I was four months shy of turning five-years-old in 1965, my three brothers, two older and one younger, and I learned of our mother’s pregnancy. I could not be happier with the news I was to become a big sister. There are no other memories about the months that followed until the night my brothers and I were huddled together on the couch in the living room listening to our parents arguing in the back bedroom. The anger was frightening and we children stayed silent.
My mother began to scream, I got up from the couch to look and saw my mother run down the hallway as my father chased her with a knife, yelling, “get the hell out!” My mother frantically opened the front door and stumbled out just before my father slammed the door shut behind her.
How many days passed before my mother’s return remains a mystery, however, when she did come home her belly was no longer like a balloon. Exactly when I cannot remember, but at some point my brothers and I learned that our sister was stillborn. I have not forgotten how she described stillborn as being dead and went further to describe how the umbilical cord had wrapped around our sister’s neck. Afterward, the death of my baby sister was never mentioned.
Tucked away in the bottom drawer of my mother’s dresser was a pink infant jumper. No one in my family knew I would often sneak into her bedroom and take the suit out to imagine what it would have been like if … For years I would check on the jumper until one day the jumper was gone. Throughout my childhood and into my adulthood, I would think about the night my father chased my mother out of the house, her coming back home without my baby sister, and about the infant jumper.
The year was 1983 when I became employed by the County of Santa Barbara and assigned to the adoption agency as administrative support to six social workers. After a few months on the job, I was alphabetically filing a case folder that had the first two letters of my own last name. As I slid the case file into its proper place I noticed a few case files back, spelled out in black bold lettering, was my last name.
Hesitating for a moment, I pulled the case file out wondering why there would be a file. Cautiously, I opened the file and began to read what I had never suspected. The truth about my sister was two pages long and for eighteen years was filed in a drawer. How ironic that my own life would place me in front of the very file cabinet where the lie that ended a life was to bring that life alive.
The information in the report explained that an hour after my sister’s birth, as planned, my mother surrendered her for adoption. Shocked by the plausibility of the idea, I turned to the next page. Unable to conceive what I was reading, I doubled checked the specifics to be sure this was my mother’s case file. Once confirmed, I took the file to my desk and sat down to continue the story that left me dumbfounded.
Like reading a horror novel, the full story unfolded beyond the adoption of my sister. For reasons not explained in the report, my mother also surrendered my brothers and me for adoption. My brothers went to one foster home and me to another, but my mother changed her mind the following week, and we returned to her custody. In that I have no memories around these events, I assume the experience was traumatic.
Filled with dread, I drove to my parent’s home to expose their lifelong lie. Nervously, I approached my father who was in the kitchen. After I explained how I found the case file he responded, “you need to ask your mother about that.” Without having formed a bond to my mother, I can assume I did not want to have that conversation because I cannot remember anything that was said. Without purpose to let on I knew about the foster care placement of us children, I held that information to myself.
Oddly enough, three months later, while alone in my apartment the phone rang. Picking up the receiver I said hello, the female voice on the other end told me her name is Julie and she was searching for her birth mother. Amazed by the timing, I asked if she was born January 31, 1965? With excitement, she answered, “yes, I was,” she then asked me how I knew? Drained of emotion, I answered, “because, I am your sister.”