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My Name Is Not Shirley

It has been 38 years and I am still grieving the loss of my twin sons surrendered for adoption. It was a different time in 1968. There were not the support systems in place then and getting pregnant out of wedlock was still shameful and not accepted at all. There were only 3 choices back then; you got married, you had an illegal abortion or you “went away”. Going away meant either staying with a relative and claiming you had some bizarre illness or going to an unwed mothers home. I recently read Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away and this made me realize the importance of telling my story. I now know I am not alone and that all of the horrific things said and done to me were done to thousands of others. I write my story now first to heal myself. Secondly to help my daughters and granddaughters understand not only why I am the way I am, but also how this impacted their lives. My third objective is to share this story with anyone and everyone who will listen. I want people to know what happened to me and many others. We must not let this happen to women ever again. I call it emotional rape of the soul. Others call it post-traumatic stress disorder. It is damage that can never truly be completely healed. I can only hope by naming it and writing it down, some part of me will begin to heal.

I grew up in rural Iowa. I went to a small school. There were only 23 kids in my high school graduating class. Everyone knew everyone and most of them, except me of course, were related. My parents were strict and my mother was angry all the time and depressed. My father was distant and a workaholic. I was molested by my paternal grandfather as a toddler. He died when I was almost 5 years old. I suppressed all memories of this until my grandmother died in 1988. I was a good student and compliant. Whenever I tried to rebel or disobey, I was severely punished. My parents made all my decisions for me. When I reached my teenaged years
I ached for a boyfriend, someone to love me. I think some of this was probably normal hormones and some was due to the my home life. I did not see myself as loveable. If I were loveable, my parents would not have left me with my grandparents for months at a time allowing me to be sexually abused. If I were loveable, I would not have been beaten and screamed at that I was crazy. If I were loveable, I would not have had to excel at everything to gain my father’s attention. I never felt that I was enough. I always felt that no matter what I did it was not good enough or right and that I could not please my parents.

I started dating M. V. my senior year of high school. He too grew up on a farm and was one of two sons who had a very controlling mother and a meek father.
He was in love with me. I don’t think I loved him but that was not important to me at the time. He was good to me and made me feel like the most important and beautiful girl in the world. Looking back I think he had a problem with alcohol. We were teens and experimenting and we both drank quite a bit. We had only necked and done some heavy petting when I went away to nurses’ training the fall of 1967. I had never been away from the control of my parents before and this was during the 1960’s. I suddenly had all kinds of freedom and became a wild child. M. was always afraid his mother would find out about everything. He was really under her thumb. I was beginning to be irritated by the whole thing. I desperately wanted to get married and have a family. I was only going to nurses’ training to please my parents. I begged M. for a diamond engagement ring for
Christmas. He was afraid of his mother again. He was going to a community college and believed that if we got engaged our parents would be afraid we would not finish school. Even though this was probably true, I was determined to get engaged. During Christmas break, I knew intuitively that I was pregnant though I quickly pushed it out of my mind.

When I did not get my diamond engagement ring for Christmas as I had hoped, I broke up with M. I told him I had found someone else. This was not true but I thought if I did not tell him this, he would not leave me alone. This hurt him very badly. He became quite bitter about the break up.

I had missed at least 3 periods before I told one of my friends that I thought I might be pregnant. I was in complete denial about it. I went home with my friend one weekend and she told her parents. They made an appointment with their family doctor and took me. He told me he thought I might be as much as 4 months pregnant and gave me some vitamins. My friend’s parents were so supportive. They encouraged me to tell my parents. I put this off for another month as I was so afraid of them. I was home one weekend and by this time I could barely wear any of my clothes and was throwing up every morning. I knew my mother suspected. I waited until she was resting in her bedroom. She was livid. I will never forget what she said to me, “Well , what do you think of your precious sex now?” My father came in from the field and I told him that same night. I had never seen him like that. He was beside himself, pacing, muttering, “Oh my God”. He felt I should marry M. He made me call him up and made an appointment to go and talk to him the next day. Needless to say after not hearing from me for months and the bitter break-up, M. was not happy to hear from me.

My father took me to M.’s parents’ home. M. was outside washing his car. I started to talk to him and my father went into the house to talk to M.’s parents. M. accused me of having slept with someone else and him not being the father. I told him I did not want to get married and my father said then I should give the baby up for adoption. This meant going to a home for unwed mothers.

M. begrudgingly agreed to pay for half of the expense. He was most upset that my father was in the house telling his parents. He did not want his mother to know about this.

On Monday we went to the nurses’ dormitory in Sioux City and got my things. I said good-bye to all my friends. I was then taken to the Florence Crittendon Home. It was this huge gothic building. The basement held the dining room and a recreation room with a big TV. There was a large kitchen there also. The main floor held the classrooms for the girls who were still in high school, the offices, a lobby and a room to see the doctor and an additional TV room. Upstairs was the dormitory rooms where we had up to 6 beds in a room. We were given a small nightstand, one large dresser drawer and a small section of the closet for our clothes. Upstairs was also the nursery. We could hear the babies crying all the time. All of us were assigned duties. Not only did our parents pay through the nose for us to stay there, but we were free labor too. Some scrubbed floors, some worked in the kitchen and because I had had almost a full year of nurses’ training, I was assigned to work in the nursery.

My mother and I met with the social worker. She said I would have to use only my first name and there was already a Sue and and a Susan there. She suggested using my mother’s name, Shirley. So for 6 months I used the name Shirley. I hated it. It was not me. I was allowed to go through used maternity clothes that had been left behind by others who preceeded me. I became especially attached to a black girl from Waterloo, Iowa, named Debbie. The social worker told my mother that I would get therapy and counseling while there. I did not see the social worker again until I was getting ready to leave after I delivered. I received no counseling and no therapy. Years later when I demanded and got my record from there, there was a notation in there made by this social worker who quoted my mother as saying that I “was extremely willful at times.”

There was a director of the home but I cannot for the life of me remember her name. There was a dour nurse who oversaw our medical care. Now one of the rules there was no more than 3 pound weight gain per week. We would all starve ourselves from Thursday to Saturday so that we would not be grounded after Sunday morning weigh-in. We were only allowed out for a few hours on Sunday so if we gained too much weight we lost that freedom as well. I remember vividly going to Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church and then walking down a few blocks to a restaurant and eating 3 cinnamon rolls because I had not eaten in 3 days. There was also a housemother and a caretaker. Mr. and Mrs. S. She was as phony as could be. She was sickeningly sweet to visitors, parents, etc. To us she was a *****. Her husband was a total pervert. During the summer, many of the girls wanted to maintain their tans so they would lie out in the sun behind the building. He would putter around out there and stare at us. He would also wait under the stairs and watch us as we came to the dining room. I took this for months and finally I could not stand it any longer. As I came around the steps one morning, he was lurking there. I went right up to him and got within 2 inches of his face and said, “What the hell are you looking at?” I got into trouble for that and was grounded the next weekend. I ate myself into oblivion that week.

My best friend as I said was a black girl, named D. She was big and beautiful and she made me laugh. She worked in the kitchen and told me that she saw Mr. and Mrs. S. steal food out of the kitchen on weekends. This was especially upsetting because we were starving ourselves half the time. Deb was Catholic so we went to church together. We also loved to watch football. She was a great fan. We would sit together on the couch in the TV room on the main floor and I would laugh hysterically when she would yell out, “Here comes big **** Butkus”. I had a white tam that I would wear to church. I delivered about a month before she did so I left it with a note in her night stand the day I left the home. I called her a few times after I got home but lost touch with her over the years.

The doctor for the home was Dr. C. He was also incidentally the county coroner. Ironic isn’t it? The first time I saw him he told me that I had a very big baby. I think they knew I was having twins from the beginning and just did not tell me because they were afraid I would change my mind and not give them up. I just kept getting bigger and bigger. I felt good most of the time. It was hard to get up from a couch or chair sometimes. I just kept waddling along. When not working in the nursery, bathing, changing and feeding the babies, I would watch TV and embroider. I did tons of pillowcases which I gave to my mother and she still has them to this day. I also embroidered quilt blocks and had it later made into a quilt. I could not bear to use it most of the time. I finally gave it to one of my children.

One Sunday in October, 1968, I was watching TV as usual with my friend D., when I felt something rip and suddenly water was gushing everywhere. It frightened me and I burst into tears. There were no lessons on what to expect with labor and delivery provided either. I was scared to death. After my water broke, then nothing happened. About 7 pm, I began to have cramping and spotting. They called that bitchy nurse and she came over and examined me. She determined I was in labor. She chewed me out for crying when my water broke and then took me to St. Joseph’s Hospital, dropping me off and leaving me there alone. I was terrified and in terrific pain. I remember my labor nurse, the sister of J. G. who owned a famous steak house in Sioux City, was hostile to me. She was a spinster and never smiled. I told her the pain was unbearable and she said, “Well this is what you get”. Now I know that the reason I was in so much pain was that I was delivering breech. Today, I would have been given an epidural and probably had a C-section. Back then you were expected to suffer and suffer in silence.

At one point the pain was so unbearable I cried quietly and remember looking up at a crucifix on the wall and prayed for someone to help me. I do not know if I imagined it or not but soon a very small nun in traditional habit came and held my hand and prayed with me. It was the only thing that helped. She must have gone to the nurse because she begrudgingly brought me something for pain. I slept for awhile and the next thing I knew I was being wheeled into the delivery room. Dr. C. was there and with some difficulty the first twin was born breech, butt first. Imagine the pain with that type of birth. I noticed he had some sort of purplish lump on his left side. I was later told that this was a hemangioma. I drifted off to sleep only to be roused abruptly by Dr. C. telling me that “I was not done yet. There is another one in there.” This was my first knowledge of the fact that I was having twins. When I did not progress, Dr. C. broke the second bag of waters and within a few minutes, the second twin boy was born. They weighed 6#14 ounces and 7# 2 ounces. That is 14 pounds of baby I was carrying around. How could they not know it was twins? I believe they did know.

I had already picked out the name of Leslie Andrew for a boy so now I had to pick out new names for two boys. I lay awake all night trying to come up with names for them. This was foolish because the adoptive parents get to pick new names and indeed they did this. I chose the names of Jeffrey Allen and Jonathon Andrew for my sons. I was not allowed to see them in the hospital and they were kept separate from the rest of the babies. I remember walking down to the nursery and everyone getting very nervous about this.

The next day the social worker and another pregnant girl from the home came to get me. I held one of my sons on the trip back to the Florence Crittendon Home. Usually after delivery, the girl was discharged within 1-2 days. I was kept for over a week because of the difficult birth and the fact that it was twins. I remember calling my mother and I said, “It is over Mom. There was more than one.” We had a party line and I could not say more because, heaven forbid that the neighbors would hear.

In the week after the birth of my twins I was allowed to hold them, to rock them, to change them and to feed them. This was due to my connections in the nursery. An old woman named B. who said she was a nurse (she wasn’t) and the weekend aide, S., let me do this. I will forever be grateful, though it made it even more difficult to leave them.

My father came to get me when it was time to go home. During the six months I lived at the home he had never visited. We lived about 80 miles from Sioux City but my mother was able to make the trip about once a month. She would take me out to eat or to a movie. Once I remember she took me and my friend, Deb, to see a movie and Deb was really worried that my mother might freak that she was black. I told her it would be okay and it was. When my father arrived, I asked him if he wanted to see the twins before we left. I was hoping if he did, he would let me keep them. He refused to look at them and he took me directly to an attorney’s office where I signed away all rights to my sons. As we left the lawyer’s office, the reality of all of this hit me. I began to cry, actually sob. I cried non-stop the entire one and one-half hours it took to make the trip home. My father said nothing the whole trip.

When I got home my mother wanted to hear the whole story of the labor and delivery. I wanted to tell it to someone. She listened while I cried and told the story. Then she said, “Now we are going to put this behind us and never discuss it again.”. We never did. I got a job at the local nursing home as a nurses’s aide where I had worked in high school. I worked nights and slept days. It helped to forget. I remember when I got my first paycheck, $80 or so. I was so proud. I came home and my father was sitting at the kitchen table. He put his hand out and demanded my paycheck. He said I owed it to him for my bill at the home. He took my check and gave me $10. M. had paid one half of the bill and only after I bugged him several times to send the money. The total bill was $1,000 which was a lot of money in 1968. I remember calling M. the third time after being pressured by my parents to do so and he said it would be awhile because “he had to buy a ring for his new girlfriend.” I worked at the nursing home from October to January and my father took every paycheck, giving me $10. He and my mother decided that I should return to nurses’ training where I had been going before the births. I did not want to do this. I did not want to go back there where everyone knew. A friend of mine had dropped out of school for awhile and was working in Omaha. She started calling me and suggested maybe I would like to come there, work for awhile and then decide if I wanted to go back to school. I really wanted to do this. My parents refused to even discuss it. I found out later that they stopped telling me when my friend would call me. They intercepted her calls.

So I dutifully returned to nurses’ training and I hated every minute of it. I continued to go out and drink and be wild. I was still looking for someone to love me. I also wanted a baby. During that time between the birth and my return to school, I went out with the son of the nursing home administrator. He was a good guy. He listened to me and let me cry. I remember my mother telling me that his mother was very concerned about me going out with her son. Like I was contaminated or something. I was not good enough. I was damaged goods. On one of my drunken trips to North Sioux City bars, I met the man who was to become my husband. Little did I know that he had his own issues. He was the son of an alcoholic and an alcoholic himself. It was not a healthy relationship ever. I did love him and thought I deserved all the bad treatment I got. I was pregnant when I got married. My father came to my wedding but refused to walk me down the aisle. My mother refused to come to my wedding because I was pregnant.

I had gone back to the unwed mothers’ home when I returned to nurses’ training after the birth. B. in the nursery told me that she thought they went to Nebraska and had an older sister. She said the adoptive parents were wealthy and brought tons of gifts and stuff the day they picked them up.

When I was in nurses’ training there was a set of twins pictures in one of my patients’ room. I became obsessed with this and thought they were mine. I was always looking for and at twins. I went to the FC Home when they were about 10 and signed a release so that if they ever searched for me I gave my permission for the home to tell them who I was and where I was. I found out later that when they did indeed search for me, the home lied and said there was no release signed. I also told my daughters about the twins when the twins would have been about 12 years old. That year we bought cupcakes and sang Happy Birthday to them. That helped me. Most years I would be sad and depressed the closer the day came. Some years I would just go to bed and not get up all day.

I always had this belief that some day I would answer the door and they would be standing there. I always knew I would see them again. I began actively searching in the early 1990’s. I thought they would show up when they turned 21. When that did not happen, I began to search. I went to Sioux City with my middle daughter, A., and went to the home. I asked them for their help. They told me it would cost me $500. I hit the roof. I stood up and screamed that they took my babies, they were paid over $1,000 by my parents for my care, received money from the adoptive parents and now they wanted money from me to find them. I was furious. I told them to kiss my *** and I walked out.

I went home and sent the FC Home a letter demanding a copy of my file. I had to threaten them with an attorney to get it. When I got it I saw it was filled with lies. It said my mother had warned the social worker that I was “too willful” and needed a strong hand to “control me”. Well they all did, didn’t they? I allowed them to browbeat me into surrendering my children. I got involved with a birthparent support group. Then I really got mad. I sent letters to every birthparent support group I could find in the United States. I looked at what a private detective would cost. I became obsessed. I would search diligently for weeks and then I would have to stop as it drained me.

One day in 1996, my phone rang and a woman I never met before said she knew my sons and where they were. I had sent a letter asking for help in my search to the Concerned United Birthparents group in Des Moines. They had read my letter to the group. It turned out one of the parents knew my sons. Arrangements were made for the boys to call me. There were several hang-ups that evening and I guess they were getting up their nerve. We talked briefly. It was wonderful, exciting, scary and strange. These were grown men. I thought of them as my babies. I could not eat or sleep. I was a zombie until the reunion. We made arrangements to meet at my daughter, A’s, apartment in Iowa City. All 3 of my daughters came along with my friend, B. They went to the mall before the appointed time for the reunion. When there was a knock at the door and I opened it, my dream or vision had come true. There stood my sons, one with a wrapped picture of them for me and one with a bouquet of flowers. I was so emotional I could barely talk. I told them the story of their conception and birth. I went back to being a frightened 18 year old girl. We went out to lunch and they told me their story. Their adoptive father was a wealthy alcoholic who drank up their fortune. They went from extreme wealth to destitution. Their adoptive mother was 20 years younger than their father. They could not have biological children so he went out and bought her multiple children. I found out from one of my sons that there were three families who wanted to adopt my sons. To make sure that they went to the B.s, Mr. B. slipped $1,000 under the table to the director of the Florence Crittendon Home. My children were sold to the highest bidder.

Later in the day, their adoptive mother, one of their wives, and my daughters and B. joined us. Their mother was very nice to me and told me she would make up an album of the twins’ childhood. This never happened. I never heard from her or saw her again. The twins told me that their adoptive mother divorced their father finally, he drank himself to death, and that she was dating a known ********* currently. There were a total of 10 children adopted to this dysfunctional couple.

After the initial reunion I saw my sons a few times. I saw that they were very much controlled by their mother, that they did not have high opinions of women and that they were raised in a very conservative, dysfunctional situation. I am liberal and a democrat. I was much different than their adoptive mother who apparently was very threatened by me. I saw my one son only once. They were given different names. They were named Tr. and T. They looked more like me than my daughters. They were short, pudgy and balding like my Uncle B. I saw Tr. several times but it did not go well. He called me to ask me to get him baseball tickets when he had planned a visit to St. Louis. I just assumed he meant so we could go together. When I realized he did not mean for me to go, just to get him the tickets, I made up some excuse. I was deeply hurt. I think they were curious about me. I was very emotional and clingy too. I think I scared them off. They did not know what to do with me. It was so wonderful to be able to send them a birthday card on their birthday. Pretty soon cards and letters went unanswered. I persisted for years. In 2005, I made a conscious decision to stop sending anything. I have not heard from my sons in years. I feel very sad about that. I do not regret finding them or the reunion. I do regret not having support as I was going through that. No one understands unless they have been through this.

I learned during the reunion that my sons had been searching for me as well. At exactly the same time I began my search, they started. Their adoptive father had just died. He had been adamantly against searching for me. When he died their mother gave them a copy of their original birth certificate and their adoption papers with my name and hometown on them. They called a minister in the town and it just happened to be my parents’ minister. This pastor called my father, not me, and asked if he thought I might want contact. My father told him to tell my sons no. My sons thought I did not want to find them. I did not find out about this until after the reunion. I was furious. Once again, I was not allowed to decide for myself.

Once I got my copy of my file from the Florence Crittendon Home, I highlighted all the lies and bullshit and sent it to my parents. I told them that they had participated in and orchestrated the rape of my soul. I ranted and raved. I was profoundly depressed. I went to a therapist and took antidepressants. I remember my sister called me and suggested having my twins over to her house for dinner and inviting my parents to meet them. I went ballistic. I screamed at her on the phone that she was not to invite them anywhere my parents would be present. My sister told me I needed to see a psychiatrist and I told her I was seeing one, thank you very much. I started overeating and drinking too much again. I began fighting with my significant other. When my daughters were little, I had kept them at arm’s length. I think I was afraid of someone taking them and I did not want to feel the pain like I had with my firstborn sons. All of a sudden, I craved being with my daughters. They were disappointed in the outcome of the reunion. They also had suffered because of my emotional problems and the difficult marriage and subsequent divorce. They were at the age of being independent and starting their lives without me. They were just not interested. This was devastating to me. I remember one Christmas when they spent all of an hour with me, the whole time talking about the upcoming week with their father and getting drunk, when I drove home sobbing and as I pulled into my garage, I thought about shutting the garage door while the car motor was running and ending it all. I had lost all of my children, had no good adult relationship and felt completely and utterly worthless and alone. I didn’t leave my house for days. I did not get dressed or bathe. I ate and ate and ate. I also spent compulsively. Trying to fill the void.

Somewhere at some point that spirit and willfulness that everyone tried their best to beat out of me in every way, kicked in. I decided I had to live and I was enough. It has been a struggle to keep going sometimes. My relationship with my daughters has slowly improved. My relationship with myself has as well. I have forgiven my parents. I have let go of my sons again. I take it one day at a time. I focus on my grandchildren and the time I spend with them. They help me to maintain my spirit.
At one point I went to the Sioux City Journal and wanted to do an expose on the Florence Crittendon Home and how they treated us. They decided the topic was just too sensitive. Yes, it is. But it is the truth. It is my truth and the truth of every woman and girl who walked through the doors of that awful place. The things that took place there have impacted my life immeasurably. I will never be the same and I may not ever be whole. A part of me was ripped away. Over and over again. I am stronger now and I struggle to heal every day. I have learned that I must first be compassionate and forgiving of myself to attain this. I must also speak my truth. Here it is. And so it was.

Epilogue: In October of 2006, after reading "The Girls Who Went Away", by Ann Fessler, I joined 3 online birthmother support groups. These women are my lifeline. They have been where I have been. I actually met someone who was at the FC Home the same time I was there. She encouraged me to send a copy of this story to my sons. So.. I did. And within 3 weeks of sending the story to each of them, T. answered stating he would like to try reunion again. We are taking it slower this time. Just letters for now. I am okay with that. I am in a much better place than I was the first time around. I feel really blessed.

healer44 healer44 61-65, F Apr 26, 2013

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