Full Circle

By Michele H. Mirabile

AN UNPLANNED PREGNANCY in 1976 forever changed the course of my life. I was twenty years old, serving in the United States Army, and unprepared for the responsibility of parenthood.

At first, denial gave me sanctuary. The tests were wrong. My cycle was off. Things like this didn’t happen to women with so many dreams yet to achieve, so much about life and relationships still to learn. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I prayed for a miscarriage. But the onset of morning sickness brought acceptance. Ready or not, I was going to have a baby. And despite all my fears and misgivings, I loved my child and wanted him to have a great life in a stable environment.

I told Keith I was pregnant. “We could marry,” I said. I’d been raised LDS, in a community where children and family were revered and honored above all else.

But Keith had other ideas. “I’ve already got a fiancée back home,” he said. “But I’ll sell my car. It’s worth a couple grand. You can have the money and get an abortion.”

How could I have been so naïve?

Abortion seemed to offer a quick and easy solution. But I couldn’t live with that choice on my conscience. However, with no car and limited finances, I lacked the confidence and ability to handle my burden alone. I didn’t know how I’d raise a child if I stayed in the service, or support one if I got out. How could I take on the responsibility of a child when I could barely care for myself?

Finally, I called home to break the news.

“We’re sorry you’ve gotten yourself into this predicament,” my parents said, “but don’t expect us to bail you out.” Paralyzed by religious values and the news that their daughter was unwed and carrying a black man’s child, they were unable to offer any emotional or financial support. Instead, they pretended all was well and never spoke about my pregnancy again.

As my due date drew near, I wrestled with the decision of whether or not to keep my baby. Not for lack of love. Never because of that. But because I wanted to give my child a roof over his head, food in his belly, and two loving parents to care for him. Despite all the mistakes and poor choices I’d made thus far in life, I was willing to make every sacrifice for the well-being of my son.

I sought out my bishop. “God works in mysterious ways,” he said. “Adoption is a selfless act, one that will bless the lives of another family and allow you to go on with your own.”

My heart told me he was right, but I hated myself for being so gutless, so mortal.Though it eased my mind to ponder the joy my sacrifice would give others, I feared losing my child would rip a chasm in my soul that would never heal.

In l977, the military offered honorable discharges to expectant mothers. I accepted that offer and moved to California to stay with friends during the final days of my pregnancy. I met with social workers, signed papers, and begged God to find a kind and loving couple for my child. For nine months I had carried my son in my womb, wondered at his first flutters of life, and suffered through morning sickness and stretch marks. And when the time finally came, following a midnight run to Oakland Naval Hospital and twelve hours of labor with no medication, I brought him into this world alone.

Angry, and squalling from his long fight and rough handling with forceps, he was bundled into the arms of a nurse and bustled from my sight. Though I pleaded for my son, those in attendance believed separation was easier without bonding—as if I could forget the anguish I’d endured, or the cries of my newborn babe. Wheeled into an empty wing, away from nursing mothers and their infants, I lay alone in my room, weak and distraught. It was many hours before I could process my thoughts or get out of bed.

But one thing was certain: I wanted my son. I wanted to take him home. Keep him safe. Love him forever. My arms ached for my baby. The need to hold him drew me to the nursery. Already strong and alert with chubby cheeks and thick dark hair, he looked the same as me in my baby pictures. This was my flesh and blood. How could I relinquish him? I pressed my face against the glass and sobbed. A nurse came out to comfort me, and I begged her to bring my son to my room.

Choked by misgivings and lying in bed with my son in my arms, I changed my mind again and again. It wasn’t fair. We had each other—wasn’t that enough? I held him tight, memorized every line of his tiny hands, each feature of his perfect face. I told him how much I loved him. Begged his forgiveness. He looked at me with his dark, knowing eyes as if to say, “Don’t worry, Mom. I understand.”

The nurse came back to my room. Please, no. I clung to my son. Tears blurred my vision, dampened my cheeks. Never had I been so desperate or alone. But every choice carries a consequence, and mine had led me to this moment of surrender. I held his face in my hands and kissed him good-bye.

At the lowest point of my life, and with no one to lean on but myself, I found strength and healing in the power of prayer, introspection, and a determined constitution. In time, I married well, acquired an education, and raised a beautiful daughter. But I never forgot my son. Through the years I searched for him. But California adoption records were permanently sealed, and finding him proved impossible— until the Internet came along.

While browsing adoption sites, I added my name to yet another location for birth mothers. Five minutes later the phone rang, and a woman named Patricia told me she could find my son within three hours. My knees buckled and years of pent-up emotion washed over me like a tsunami. Joy. Shame. Regret. Anger. And always, pain. For thirty years I’d dreamed of this moment. I yearned to hold my son, hear his voice, see his precious face. I’d prayed for his well-being, his happiness. Would he have room in his heart for me?

And then the doubts began. Maybe he wouldn’t speak to me, or he’d tell me to take a flying leap—after all, I’d abandoned him at birth. Maybe he was in a gang or in prison, a troubled young man whose identity and self-worth had been compromised because of me. Or maybe he was dead— No!—and I’d never meet him at all.

No matter the outcome, I had to do this. I told Patricia to find my son.

I spoke to his mother first. She filled me in on the details of John’s life, and I clung to every word.

“He’s a loving and devoted son,” she said. He’d been loved.

“We sacrificed to put him in private school and college.” He’d had a great life.

“Soon, he’ll be a first-time father.” I was going to be a grandmother!

John called me on Mother’s Day. It was the call I’d always hoped for. Shaking with tears, I could barely hold the receiver or speak coherently. I could hear the catch in his voice as well. I think I did backflips when he said, “Thank you for giving me such a wonderful life. And for not giving up your search.”

Over the next few months we spoke often. We were strangers from different races, cultures, and religions. But we had the same blood. Despite a lifetime of separation, our bond soon grew into a relationship. In September, three weeks after the birth of his daughter, I boarded a plane and flew to California to meet John. Though I’d sent him pictures of me, he hadn’t been as forthcoming.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I look just like you.”

Throughout the flight my emotions roiled. Would he change his mind? Could he ever forgive me? Was it really possible to make up so many lost years?

Amid a crowd of strangers, he stood waiting at the end of my journey. My Son. With the same full cheeks, the same smile, and even the same light skin despite his half-black heritage, his resemblance was undeniable. My heart leapt.

“John?” Trembling with joy and trepidation, I held his face in my hands and looked into his dark, knowing eyes. This was my son. My beautiful son. He was a grown man now, different, perhaps, in thought and mannerism than he might have been if I’d raised him, but he was the child I’d carried in my womb. I hadn’t been there to comfort him when he cried, to bandage his cuts and scrapes, or to read him bedtime stories and tuck him in. But I was here now.

“Hey, Mom.” His words bridged the pain, and eased the remorse of a lifetime. After thirty long years, our lives had come full circle.

I held him in my arms. And we wept.

About Michele H. Mirabile

Michele H. Mirabile enjoys a stunning view of Mount Timpanogos from her home in Utah County. A grandmother and veteran of the United States Army, she loves Stephen King, Elton John, and visiting exotic ports. She has authored many short stories, travel articles, and a nonfiction book entitled Your Mother Wears Combat Boots: Humorous, Harrowing, and Heartwarming Stories of Military Women. Her greatest source of joy is the unwavering love and support of her husband, Lou, and her beautiful children, John and Vanessa.

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