This weekend while searching on the internet I found a website of the home that my birthmother stayed in while she was pregnant with me. There have been a lot of images that I made up to try to visualize the place that I was before my parents adopted me. I also read an article from a birthmother that stayed in that same home when she was pregnant, it gave me a glimpse into what my birthmother might have gone through on a day to day basis while living there. The following is part of story written by Linda Pendergast from the Prostestant Home for Babies web site. The picture is the home for unwed mothers that my birthmother lived in.
A Birthmother’s Story
Life at the home was very much like living in a girl’s dormitory, except we didn’t go to school. We spent our days doing chores, talking, playing cards…...over and over and over. We played so much Canasta, that I have never played it since. I don’t recall a television, but there was most likely one there. I think we all felt so disconnected from the world in general and so isolated, that we had no interest in watching TV. Maybe we really didn’t even have one...maybe it was intentional to keep us isolated. We listened to the radio a lot, though….House of the Rising Sun, Hey Jude, and of course, Love Child. All of those songs elicit strong feelings of nostalgia when I hear them now. We all had chores to do, assigned on a weekly basis. Examples of the chores were sweeping, dusting, dishes, setting the table, cleaning the stairs and banisters, cleaning the bathrooms. We all kept our own rooms clean. How many girls were assigned to each of the upstairs bedrooms depended on the size of the room. You were assigned upstairs until you were closer to the end of your pregnancy and then you moved downstairs to the large room which accommodated about six twin size beds. It was a privilege to move to that room because it was air conditioned and had a larger bathroom with a tub, rather than a shower. It was quite hot upstairs in July, August and September. The “living areas” downstairs were also air-conditioned. I think they were called parlors and were two rooms adjacent to one another. One had a dining room sized table where we played all those card games. The table wasn’t big enough to seat us all for a meal. Meals were served in a room adjacent to the kitchen. We also had a little sun porch, where we hung out a lot.
There were usually no more than 12 - 16 girls in residence at any one time. There was a cook who prepared the noon day “big” dinner for the agency staff and the residents. I wish I could remember the cook’s name...the noon meals were delicious… lots of good ‘ole southern and soul food cooking. We never went hungry, that’s for sure. There was a house manager, but I don’t recall her name. She lived at the top of the stairs on the second floor and we were all a bit frightened of her. She kept the pantries under lock and key so that we wouldn’t “raid the kitchen” at night. Evening meals were usually leftovers from the noon meal or something cold and light. The house manager trusted Nancy and I, so she usually sent us for the daily produce from a store on Magazine St. We enjoyed getting out an walking the several blocks to Magazine. We were never allowed to go anywhere unless we went in two’s. And we really weren’t allowed to go anywhere unless it was to “clinic” or unless we were sent to the store or to the mailbox. “Clinic” was the outpatient maternity clinic at Southern Baptist. Whoever had to go to clinic that week all went on the same day. We would walk down Eighth St. to St. Charles and take the streetcar to Napoleon. From there we either walked or took the bus to Southern Baptist. We sometimes had lunch somewhere around the hospital before going back to the home. And we always went inside K&B at the corner of St. Charles and Napoleon before catching the streetcar back to Eighth. Clinic took up most of the day! I only remember two major outing when we all went together somewhere. Once we went to see Gone with the Wind at the movie theater and another time we went to a restaurant with a private dining room for dinner.
I had some really good friends at the home and enjoyed their company. We really only had each other. We could only make one phone call a week that I recall and couldn’t receive phone calls. The staff really didn’t have much to do with us, unless there was a problem. They were in the one-story building next to the main house. We didn’t receive any counseling or preparation for childbirth. When we went into labor, Ms. Davis took us to the hospital. When we returned, it was usually for about a week and then we left. The babies were kept in the agency building, but we didn't have any contact with them. Usually, just before we left, we were taken downtown to the “lawyer’s office” to sign the relinquishment documents. By that time, we were so numb and exhausted, there was no fight left in us. The end was all very depressing. There was no joy after delivery, only sadness and extreme grief. No excitement to go home. Just an empty hollowness of soul and spirit.