To Have and to Hold
By Elizabeth Thring
In the summer of 1959, I flew from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles accompanied by my father. Nineteen years old, pregnant and frightened, I was flying to this distant city to live with total strangers, so that my unborn child could be born far away from prying eyes and gossiping mouths and then be put up for private adoption.
On September 3rd, I gave birth to a little boy and though I saw him once, lying in the nursery, I was not allowed to hold him. The doctor and nurses felt it would be too painful for me, and I suppose they were right. Shortly after the birth, I flew back to Washington, signed the adoption papers and, as my doctor had suggested, continued on with my life.
Although the pain of the parting diminished with time, I never forgot for a moment that I had a son. Every September 3rd for the next thirty-three years I silently mourned, grieving for the child I had given away. Mother’s Day was always the worst. It seemed that every woman I knew was a mom.
I’m a mother, too, I wanted to say but couldn’t.
And so the years passed and turned into decades, and the memory of my only child lingered just beneath my conscious mind, ready to explode at a moment’s notice.
Then on March 26, 1993, I received this message on my answering machine: “Elizabeth,” a woman’s voice said, “I have some news which I hope will be of interest to you and bring you great joy and happiness.”
Her voice broke, and it was quite evident she was crying. “If you are the same Elizabeth Thring who did me a favor thirty-three years ago, please call me in Newport Beach, California. I would very much like to have a chat with you.”
I called back immediately and was connected to an answering machine. Three days later, when I finally got through, the woman said her name was Susie. She thanked me profusely for calling and asked if I knew who she was.
“I believe so,” I replied, “but I’m not 100 percent sure.”
“Oh, Elizabeth,” she said, “I adopted your beautiful baby boy thirty-three years ago, and I am just calling to tell you what a wonderful son you have. Bill is married to a terrific girl, and you have two absolutely beautiful little granddaughters.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had fantasized about this very moment in some form or another for years, and now it was a reality. I told her that I couldn’t think of another woman I knew with such generosity of spirit. Susie said that one day while watching her two little granddaughters playing, she thought to herself, “What woman wouldn’t want to know about such beautiful children?” and so she began to search for me.
She told me that although Bill knew generally that she was looking for me, he had no knowledge of this most recent attempt to locate me, since there was always the possibility that I might not want to see him.
Soon after, I sent Bill a letter. In it I wrote: Oh, what joy – what pure, absolute, sheer joy, to discover after all these years that you are here, on the same earth, under the same blue heaven and stars and moon at night as I – and that you, my darling boy, want to know me as much as I yearn to know, hold and love you. Billy, it is important for me that you know I never, ever forgot you or ceased loving you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for wanting to know me and not giving up on me. Your loving mother, Elizabeth.
In the middle of April I flew to Los Angeles. On the way, I wrote thirty-three birthday cards to my son with a short description of what I had done for each year of his life. Bill needs, I thought, to learn about me, too.
DeAnn, Bill’s wife, videotaped me coming down the ramp at the airport. With her were my granddaughters, and standing just behind her was a very tall, blond, impeccably dressed man.
When he saw me, Bill stepped from behind his wife and walked toward me with arms open wide. Into this circle of love I stepped, feeling just like every other mother in the world holding her baby for the first time.
Reprinted by permission of Elizabeth Thring (c) 1994 from Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul 2 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marci Shimoff and Carol Kline. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.