There are Worse Things I Could Do

When I was in ninth grade, a girl in my health class asked me whether I was a version. A what? We went back and forth a couple of times before she said “A version. You know, like the version Mary.” Ah. I’ve been a geek all my life, and at the time, I had never so much as held hands with a boy. When I said that yes, I was a virgin, she said, “That’s cool. I wish I was.” She then ran through a list of questions: Have I rounded any bases, have I ever kissed a boy, am I a lesbian. I tend to answer questions, and she wasn’t hostile at all, so I responded: no, no, no. As I remember the conversation now, she seemed genuinely curious; my experience was very different from hers—she was a black girl from Upstate South Carolina, I was a white nerd from Southern California. When I think about that conversation now, I wonder whether she got pregnant in high school (many, many girls in my high school did).

I was nineteen before I kissed a boy, twenty before I had sex, and twenty-one before I had a drink—I’ve never smoked a cigarette. When I became an expectant birthmother, I acquired a kind of honorary “bad girl” status. I was unwed and pregnant, and completely taken aback when people asked if I knew who the father was. At first, I did everything that I could to try to make people see that I wasn’t one of those unexpectedly pregnant women; I’m betting that Ruth and Nora were mildly weirded out by the litany of facts I used to start my first conversation with them. (In my defense, the bad agency had made it clear that Adoption People wanted this list very much more than anything else I had to say.) Eventually, after I had given up my son and started trying to find accounts written by birthmothers of their experiences, I figured out that I’m not the only basically responsible female to end up with a child she didn’t feel able to parent, and I loosened up. And then I joined a support group made up entirely of birthmothers, all of whom have placed children older than I am.

The MSW I see for individual therapy told me this week that the women in my group (which she runs) “just want to take [me] under their wing and protect [me].” They are a gang of wise, funny, compassionate women, and they are bad girls. (When I say this, I get an image of Betty Rizzo, so I may be inappropriately romanticizing that experience.) They’ve talked about this, laughing; they were wild, and there were good times and less good times, but they all seem to have a certain amount of pride. I am drawn to this in part because I am not proud of myself. I would not have guessed that they would feel protective of me, either—I joined the group fully expecting to be blamed for choosing adoption. After all, these women had adoption forced on them: they were threatened, their parents were threatened, and then they had their babies taken away. I handed my son to someone. I really thought they’d be angry at me. Instead, I’ve gotten a mix of curiosity and a sort of “Oh, sweetie” sympathy. And they’ve never treated me as anything less than an equal member of a bittersweet club. After making it through school without falling in with the wrong crowd, now I hang out with the bad girls. Lucky me. =)