I Wrote A Memoir About Giving My Baby Up For Adoption At A Home For Unwed Mothers In The ’60s

By Laura L. Engel

It was 1967, the Summer of Love, and I was a typical senior in high school, living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My life was simple, filled with dreams for my future, and my biggest worry was which dress to wear to the next school dance, until I found myself pregnant. My college age boyfriend chose to join the Army and risk Vietnam, avoiding marriage and fatherhood. On my own and desperate, I finally confessed to my parents when my middle began to expand. 

It was not a pretty scene, getting yourself pregnant with no ring on your finger was considered close to criminal in the 1960s, and not only were you shamed and ostracized, but your behavior was also a blight on your family’s reputation as well as your own. In quick order, I was secretly whisked away to an unwed mothers maternity home in New Orleans, Louisiana where I was expected to stay and work for five months, give birth to my baby, only to immediately relinquish my infant for closed adoption. I would never have contact with my first-born child again. I was told repeatedly that I would go back home afterward and forget about this child.

I held my son three times. Allowed to give him a crib name, I named him Jamie. I left two days after his birth, taking his tiny birth card along with my broken heart and returning to my hometown.

Today, it seems ridiculous when I to think about how often I was told I would forget about this traumatic event that filled me with grief, shame, and guilt for decades. I privately mourned my son; always fearful people would think less of me if they knew the awful thing I had done. I never spoke of him and only a handful of people knew I had even given birth to him. The burden of guilt laid across my heart and soul, coloring my life for decades.

A year after relinquishing my son to adoption, I moved across country, creating a good life, gave birth to three more sons, married the love of my life, and acquired two bonus children. I had the love of my husband and children, a rewarding career, and many friends. Still my secret son filled me with a guilt and shame that never left. I privately thought about Jamie each day. What did he look like, was he well, was he happy, was he loved? I secretly searched for him, but Louisiana adoption records were sealed. Before the internet and DNA searching was futile for me.

From the day I left the unwed mothers home, I fantasized that one day my son (who I thought would look exactly like his father) would drive up to my parents’ home in a red car (why red I do not know) and knock on the door looking for me. That daydream stayed with me for decades. I visualized he would find me, and I held on to that belief. 

In 2016 after I retired, my husband and I, along with our five adult children took the Ancestry.com DNA tests. We had fun with the results; some expected ethnicities and some not expected. I wondered if my first-born son, somewhere in the world would take a DNA test. I tried not to get my hopes up. After all, he was almost fifty years old now and I had never had any indication he was looking for me. I was almost resigned our reunion would never happen and I would take this dark secret to my grave.

 A year after taking the DNA test, I began writing in my journal for the first time ever about the traumatic effect of giving my son up to adoption. I had never been able to write about the loss of my son. But now I boldly wrote at the top of each page every day. “Find Jamie.” 

Six months after writing my grief onto the page along with manifesting that I would find Jamie, I was out walking my dogs on Oct 9, 2016, and my iPhone pinged. I looked down to see the words, Parent/Child Match from Ancestry.com. My knees buckled. My heart went into overdrive, and I felt paralyzed. Could this be? I was ecstatic, I was petrified. Copious tears began to flow and continued running down my face as I read the email attached from a son I had never known, except for the nine turbulent months he had safely nestled under my beating heart.

Thus began a day of heartfelt emails from my son Jamie, now renamed Richard. In moments I changed from wanting to hold this secret close inside of me to wanting to shout out to the world, “My son has found me!” Thankfully, I had told my husband about Jamie before we married over forty years before and he whole heartedly joined me in celebration. Thrilled and exhausted I began the tasks of telling my children about a secret half brother they had. Next, I told friends. Everyone embraced me with love and comfort, also elated a son they had never known about was back in my life.

The relief of telling my secret was vast. A boulder had been lifted from my shoulders. The hole in my heart began to heal. All four of my sons were in my life within. What a feeling! My son flew across the country to see me four days later, hugging him close was natural, so right. It was authentic love at first sight. The best surprise- Jamie/Richard looked just like me and my side of the family. After fifty years my dream had come true, with two exceptions, no red car and he looked as if he had sprung from me alone.

Laura L. Engel, born and raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast transplanted to San Diego over 50 years ago. She is married to the love of her life, Gene, and is the mother of five children and the proud Grammy of 10 cherished grandchildren. In 2016 Laura retired from a 35-year career in the corporate world with plans to quietly catch up on hobbies and travels with her husband Gene. Laura is the President of the San Diego Memoir Writers Association and is an active member of the International Women Writers Guild. Today Laura is fulfilling her life-long dream having written her first book, a memoir she never dreamed she would write, ‘You’ll Forget This Ever Happened – Secrets, Shame, and Adoption in the 1960s’ published by She Writes Press and available May 2022. You can learn more about Laura via her website.