“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget the perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything;
That’s how the light gets in.”
Thanks to Susan at Garden of Eden for this quote which is part of Anthem by Leonard Cohen.
Ever since Saturday morning when I read Kelli’s moving post and haiku about her family ties and her own adoption, I’ve been haunted by unsettling emotions.
Kelli wrote about her adoptive family in such loving terms; so full of confidence in belonging; pragmatic in her decision not to seek out her birth mother, yet clearly forgiving and appreciative of her birth mother’s decision.
I think it is Kelli’s statement that her adoption occurred in the 1970’s, and her haiku thanking her birth mother for carrying Kelli for nine months, that struck a chord with me. In our youth we gloss over, and bounce back from, events that only through the lens of life’s experiences do we realize have left lasting impacts, scars or emotional cracks.
I hesitated to refer to Kelli’s post, and asked her permission before doing so, because I don’t presume to comment on her birth mother or the circumstances surrounding Kelli’s birth.
But reading that 1970’s date was a jolt to my heart. Putting me smack dab in my college dorm in 1969-1972, a time when a perfect storm of mixed social messages, blossoming sexual appetites and unappealing consequences made me and many others behave and make decisions in ways we were too immature to handle.
Despite the burgeoning sexual revolution, ‘good girls’ – at least at my Midwestern university – were not supposed to want or engage in sexual activity. Because it was frowned upon, we could hardly make our first-ever visit to a male gynecologist; admit we were having sex; and ask him for birth control. Neither did we insist on condoms since diseases weren’t yet a significant issue, and carrying a condom implied an intention we weren’t willing to admit.
So we had sex; crossed our fingers; and waited with bated breath for our periods to appear. If they didn’t, we marched down the dorm hall to our Resident Assistant’s room and tearfully confessed. Fortunately for 95% of us, our teary confession was enough to get the blood flowing within a couple days.
While I made that dreaded march to my RA’s room a couple of times, I was very lucky to be in the 95% who never faced the choices of a young, terrified, unwed, pregnant college student. None of those choices would have been easy at the time. In retrospect, I find them even more untenable.
Abortion wasn’t yet legal, and carrying a baby to term as an unwed mother was not socially acceptable. Neither was raising a child as a single parent. Marrying for the wrong reasons was no more palatable.
If I had gotten pregnant in those years, I would have begged my RA to help me arrange an abortion – partly to spare the shame of telling my parents and partly because I would have mistakenly thought it a quick, inconsequential fix. Even though abortion was illegal, the channels were established and many girls used them.
Today, all these years later, I tearfully acknowledge how much I would have regretted choosing an abortion. Yet carrying a child to term then giving my baby away would have been unbearable. Either decision would have weighed forever heavy on my heart; I’m not sure I would be able to forgive my younger self.
Where am I going with this? I don’t know, except to acknowledge the bravery of women like Kelli’s birth mother and gratitude for adoptees like Kelli who forgive.
I was a lost child without guidance in those years, and I feel for every female – and male – past and present who finds her/himself in difficult sexual circumstances.
Today’s sexual mores and pitfalls for young adults are no less confusing and risky than they were in the late 60’s. If anything, they might be more convoluted. Without debating specific issues like abortion or sexual assault on campus, I believe that young adults of all genders are as much at risk as I was of being thrust into situations in which they are ill-prepared to make decisions carrying lifelong consequences.
Research is providing more insights into how and when our brains develop, and why our teens and twenties can be fraught with impulsive behavior that, especially when hormonally driven, can be destructive physically and emotionally. I used to think young adults have become far too pampered (and I still do), but I also have come to realize how utterly vulnerable we all were/are at that age.