Prologue

September 24, 1979 



“You’re making a very selfless and brave decision,” said the soft-spoken, dark-haired social worker as she slowly slid the documents onto the cold overbed table positioned across my lap. 

Glancing down at the document, Joey’s and my mother’s names were staring back at me. If giving our baby a name was the only privilege we were granted then she should be named after the strongest women we know, her grandmothers, Juanita Clotilda Williams. At the bottom of the page was an “X” next to the signature line. A wave of hopelessness slammed through my body with the impact of a freight train. I never felt more alone than I did in that moment, knowing my signature was the final act to relinquishing my baby girl. 

Relinquish, there’s a word. Why don’t they just say it for what it is? You’re giving away your baby, you cruel, heartless bitch. As if she was a hand-me-down, something I had outgrown. Bravery had absolutely nothing to do with it! 

Sitting on the side of the firm hospital bed, my feet resting on the cold floor, painful aftereffects of childbirth overtook me. The cold, sterile hospital room started spinning out of control. Everything around me was being forcefully sucked into the dark vortex of despair. My unseen child was ripped from my body and forced into the swirling unknown along with the fragments of whatever was left of my broken soul. The adoption papers, my baby, my heart all sucked into the dark, spinning abyss. 

The noise of the crackling plastic-covered mattress broke the deafening quiet as I slowly lowered my broken body back into bed. Curled up in a fetal position, I wrapped my arms around the spare pillow, now suctioned to my chest, and sobbed until I could barely breathe. An unexpected commotion startled me into shameful silence. The punishment for my heartless action would soon become painfully clear. 

An aged, light blue, drooping drape with missing hooks was all that separated our two very different worlds. She was exhausted from childbirth, but adrenaline prevented her from sleeping. Lying on my side facing her bed, the sounds of her baby suckling at her breast emanated through the woven fibers of the washed-out drape. The sounds triggered my body to feed an infant I would never hold. My breast felt wet and cold. I hugged the sterile pillow tighter to my chest as the tears slowly rolled down my cheeks. In that moment of cruel existence, I wanted to die. 

I was begrudgingly envious of that mom, the fragrant pink flowers, the tiny doll-sized gifts, and the swarm of visitors that joyfully danced past the foot of my tear-stained bed. There was nowhere to hide but under the rough, stiff flannel blanket that offered little comfort. Burying my head under my pillow to block out their joy, I prayed they were oblivious to my agony. 

For four days we shared a room but never spoke. I hid behind the faded blue curtain. Our silence a confession of my guilt. 

As the sun was going down, the torturous sounds of the day fell silent, resting up for another performance at dawn. Darkness made way for gut-wrenching demons of sleepless shame and guilt. 

A calm fell over the nurses’ station with the exception of one haunting infant cry echoing through the halls of the maternity ward. With every annoying tick-tock of the clock on the wall, I dreaded for morning to come, not only for the unwanted sounds of new moms with their babies that caused me so much pain but for my discharge. My God, how would I find the strength to leave her behind? 

My thoughts were suddenly redirected to that haunting cry vibrating along the walls of the sleepy maternity ward. It was hypnotizing. The longer I listened the more I realized the unhappy cry was coming from the nursery. The powerful hypnotic force controlled me as I painfully inched my way to a sitting position at the side of the bed. Am I losing my mind? Is that crying infant calling me? 

I stood at the door of my room and peeked out into the dimly-lit hallway. I hesitated. The nasty nurse from the operating room saying, “You will not be permitted to see your baby at birth,” replayed over and over in my mind. Should I go? Oh my God, if I’m caught near the nursery what will happen to me? Pushing through the fear, I carefully set one foot in front of the other to minimize the sound of my hard-soled slippers on the polished floor. All other moms and babies were fast asleep except two. Me and that crying infant! 

The nurses’ station was unattended. I stared at the blue sign hung on the cream-coloured, chipped walls and cautiously followed the arrow pointing in the direction of the nursery. The baby’s cries became louder the closer I got. My heart banged in my ears. I was beyond the point of no return; I just had to see that baby! Destiny controlled the reins and I was convinced that this was meant to be. God help the person who tried to stop me. 

Pausing at the entrance of the nursery I observed a nurse holding the tiniest bottle of formula I had ever seen and gently rocking a wailing infant tightly swaddled in a stiff white flannel blanket with stripes on the end. The dim light fixture on the wall shone down on her tiny body. As I entered the room, I made eye contact with the nurse for a brief second, and immediately turned my attention to the baby in her arms. “Is this baby Williams?” were the only words that squeaked past what felt like a softball in my throat. “Yes,” she said softly with a warm smile, unaware of who I was and unprepared for what was about to unfold. 

Crying inconsolably just moments before, the baby girl fell quiet at the sound of my voice as if knowing her momma was there. She was unaware that her silence would give me the strength to do what I needed to. Wiping the tears from my eyes, I took a mental picture of the moment that was denied me when she left the safety of my womb and took her first breath. I looked at my baby for the first—and what could potentially be the last—time. A flood of emotions washed over me. Fear, shame and guilt rolled down my cheeks and onto her chest as I cupped her face in my shaking hand. She was so tiny, so soft and for a brief moment, still mine. Leaning into her, my lips touching her soft, warm, fuzzy forehead, I inhaled the newness of her. Wishing this moment was secretly ours, I whispered, “Please remember that I will always love you. Please forgive me.” 

I was too afraid to make eye contact with the nurse that was holding her but there was an air of paralysis in the room. Naïve and consumed with fear that she would call security, I conjured up every ounce of strength I had, turned and slowly left the nursery. She didn’t call security. She let me have my moment. A mental picture, captured in a few precious moments, would sustain me for the next eighteen years until I could legally start searching for her. As I walked away, it was my broken cries that vibrated down the corridor,

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