I was 18, super broke and sleeping on a friend’s couch.
We worked at JcPenney, making $5.25 an hour. All we did was party. So, one day, we went over to my parent’s house to scrounge for food. I was going through the cupboards when I found a box of instant mashed potatoes. I was like, “Alright! Mashed potatoes!” It was that moment I knew I was pregnant.
Because I would never want to eat those in a million years.
A few days later, I found myself sitting alone at Planned Parenthood, waiting to take a free pregnancy test to confirm my worst fear. I stared down at a stack of brochures for things that I never dreamed I would have to think about. My name was called. I peed in a cup. The nurse came back, calmly sat down and said, “Well, Angela, the test is positive. Do you know what you want to do?”
My stomach sank. I loved this baby the minute I found out about him. I just felt sad for him, knowing that I was his mom.
If there was something I could have done wrong between 13 and 30, I did it.
I often ran away from home and made my parents worry. I cared more about partying than going to college. To be honest, I didn’t have much ambition.
My dad used to say, “Why do you insist on climbing the mountain backwards and upside-down?” And I’d say, “It’s my mountain!”
Yet, I dreaded the day I’d have to tell my parents what I’d done now and disappoint them, again. I finally worked up the guts to call my mom. I was unusually quiet before I blurted out, “Mom, I’m pregnant.” She didn’t say anything. It was the loudest silence I have ever heard.
My parents let me move home. I packed all my belongings in the dark night and snuck away from my friends, from all that I knew. I started going to a free clinic for “women in this situation.” We all sat together, mostly alone, in a waiting room on clinic day. One by one, we’d get up to see a random doctor and then a social worker.
The woman assigned to me would ask about the bruises on my arms. I’d laugh it off, say, “Oh, me and my boyfriend—we were just wrestling.” This was just one more thing I wasn’t ready to face. She didn’t judge me; she just loved me and helped me look into adoption.
That led me to a local adoption counselor. She was kind and compassionate, tiny but fierce; her words were always soft but powerful. She helped me see that no matter what I decided—I was not alone and I would be OK. My son would be OK.
While I weighed my options, I thought about our future and I pictured my teenage son lying on the couch, brooding over how he wanted a car when he turned 16 like all his friends. And I, well, I would have to add that to the list of things I couldn’t provide.
I loved my son enough to break my own heart. I chose the pain of losing him in hopes that he would have more than me, more than I could ever provide.
When I told my adoption counselor about my decision, she wanted me to look at some parent profiles. I asked her to do it for me. “Please choose a family that doesn’t have kids,” I said. “Make him their first child like he would have been for me.”
Michael Patrick Conway was born on December 31, 1996.
I held him and smelled his hair and kissed his cheeks. I rocked him and fed him and watched him sleep. I memorized what his tiny fingers looked like wrapped around mine. His sweet little yawns, his deep blue eyes, his golden blonde hair.
After three glorious days in a hospital room, I wheeled Michael down to a nursery. I stood on the other side of the glass window. A man came up beside me so full of joy at the sight of his son. He pointed him out to me, and through tears, I pointed out my beautiful son to him. I smiled and waved to Michael. Then I turned around and walked to the elevator. The doors closed and that is the last time I have seen my son.
Michael went into foster care. I had two months to change my mind, and I did.
One day, I went to Gordmans and bought $100 worth of baby stuff so I could go get Michael and take him home. Then, my parents helped me determine that, after paying for daycare and formula, I would be $1,000 in the hole every month. I brought everything back.
I finalized the closed adoption and gave his parents permission to change his name.
My son became this secret—this thing we didn’t need to talk about anymore. But I was still feeling guilty and grieving and trying to figure out who I was without him.
The first Mother’s Day after he was born—I went to church with my mom and every mother stood up and got a flower. I sat there, silent and ashamed, thinking, I am a mom.
And yet, I wasn’t. I had given up that right.
Over the next five years, I would get photos of my son and letters from his parents. That was part of the adoption agreement. So, I know Michael had a dog and lived in a place that snowed and went on trips to Cornwall, England.
In one of the letters, his parents said that he liked potato chips and mustard, and I thought, it must have been the Whoppers! When I was pregnant with him, I was always broke, but I could always scrape together enough change to buy a 99-cent Whopper!
I was such a disaster when he was born and in the years that followed. But Michael made me me. I didn’t want to have him reporting back to his friends one day, “Yeah, uh, I met my mom. She was passed out at a bar.” I wanted to be someone worth finding and knowing.
So, I went back to school. I earned a master’s degree in education. I found a wonderful man and I am raising three amazing children. With each step, I thought, this would make Michael proud.
I wish I could say the pain has gone away, but I still celebrate his birthday every year by making a cake and crying. I look through his photos and re-read the letters from his family over and over again.
I don’t know if a girl broke his heart in high school, if he went to prom or if he ever got that car I always thought he would want. I don’t know if thinks about me or if, maybe somewhere in his heart, he can feel those three days in the hospital like I can.
He is 21 now.
He can finally, legally look for me.
I hope he does.
Angela Conway is an instructional coach with the Sioux City preschool initiative program. She has a passion for play-based learning. She and her partner Justin love being parents and watching movies.
Ode is a storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. The next show is 7 p.m. Friday, July 27 at The Marquee, 1225 Fourth St., in downtown Sioux City. The theme is “Lessons Learned.” Tickets are $10 in advance; $15 day of show.