By Carol Ferguson

(First published in 1999, this column is repeated in honor of all mothers.)

“They are all gone into the world of light ...

“Their very memory is fair and bright.”

— Henry Vaughan, Welsh poet (1622-1695)

I lighted candles Sunday in memory of two brave women. Let me tell you their stories.

Many years ago a certain young woman discovered she was going to become a mother. She was alone, and the panic she felt with a baby on the way must have been devastating.

In those days single motherhood was a scandal to middle-class America, something to be kept strictly hush-hush. Girls whose families didn’t disown them altogether were sent out of town — “away at school” or “visiting relatives” — until the child was born and put up for adoption. Presumably no one at home would be the wiser.

If a quicker solution was desired, an abortion could be arranged. It was illegal, of course, but available if the proper inquiries were made. The temptation for this young woman to get rid of her inconvenient and humiliating problem must have been almost overpowering.

Who knows what gave her the courage to see it through? Perhaps even at that early stage, she felt a twinge of love for the new life within her. Maybe she prayed for guidance, and God gave her the strength to carry her baby to term. Or perhaps only sheer terror kept her from taking that irrevocable step.

At any rate, whether through fright, love or faith, she did not terminate her pregnancy. After the birth she held her infant daughter only a few times, and then gave her up forever.

The second candle is lit for a middle-aged woman who wanted a baby more than anything else in the world.

Married 12 years, she and her husband had been unable to have children of their own. Adoption was not as commonplace as it is now, but as her husband said, “I can’t think of anything worse than growing old with just the two of us sitting here staring at each other like birds on a log.”

A baby girl finally became available, and they were ecstatic. When they discovered the infant shared an April 21 birthday with the wife, it seemed almost as if this child were destined for their home.

Parenthood is a tough job at best — more so when you’re starting out at the age of 40 — but a year later the couple adopted another child, this time a 10-year-old boy whose parents and grandparents had died. The family was now complete.

You may have guessed by now that I was the infant in both stories.

Today I am puzzled by the urgency with which some adoptees seek information about their birth parents.

Aside from whatever specialized medical information they might gain, I see no real advantage.

“But I need to discover myself, to find out who I really am,” is the argument most often put forward in this almost frantic grasping for identity.

Searching for one’s ancestors can be a very personal and fascinating study of history, according to my friends who are avid genealogists and who have tracked their families back many generations. But searching for roots primarily to bolster one’s ego — a kind of emotional security blanket — has no appeal for me. I have never felt the need to scout out the name and address of a birth parent, someone who would be a complete stranger to me, just to “find out who I really am.”

Let me tell you, I already know who I really am. I am a child of God, as are we all.

The woman who is my birth mother gave me the most important gift she could — my life — at no little cost to herself. I am grateful to her and I honor her, but that’s the end of it. Chances are she is no longer alive, but even in earlier years I had no desire to pry into the past just to satisfy idle curiosity. One might well be opening a Pandora’s box of troubles.

My “mother” is the woman who cared for me as a child, nursed me through whooping cough and measles, comforted me when I wept and laughed with me on sunnier days.

Later, as a widow, it was she who scrimped and stretched insurance money to send me through four years of college. She died in 1972.

This dear woman may never have endured the pains of childbirth, but she knew a thing or two about labor. To have undertaken a search for a birth mother would, in my opinion, have sent a subtle message that all she did for me was fine, but not quite enough — not the real thing.

I chose not to look back, and I have no regrets.

Each year, however, I do light candles for two mothers. The first had the courage to bring me into the world, and the second had the compassion to share her world with me.

I have been twice blessed.

Ferguson is a feature writer for the Herald-Banner.

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