WHAT IF?

“My mom wanted $350. Putting me up for adoption was cheaper than getting an abortion.”

She used to call me a “garbage can-baby.”
She used to call me a “garbage can-baby.”
Image: Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS
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This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala started meeting people via Craigslist in 2014 and has been documenting their stories ever since. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. To share your story with Helena, email her at craigslistconfessionalqz@gmail.com. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

Nicole, late 50s

I was a black market baby. The couple who facilitated the adoption—they knew my biological mom, and they knew the people who became my adoptive parents. My mom wanted $350 for me. Putting me up for adoption, I guess, was cheaper than getting an abortion. That’s all it took: $350 and a signature for my life to change. I was three months old.

My adoptive parents had been married for over twenty years at the time they decided to adopt me. I was six when they told me, and then things started making sense. My adoptive mom was not a nice lady. She was verbally abusive and, later, physically abusive. She hadn’t wanted children—my dad later told me that she’d had four abortions that she’d passed off to him as miscarriages—but my adoptive father was a sweet man, and I could tell that he really loved me. He made it bearable.

My dad didn’t find out about the abuse until much later. She used to call me a “garbage can-baby”—had me convinced for a while that my biological mom had thrown me away and she’d found me in the trash and “rescued” me. I had really low self-esteem. I didn’t have nice things like the popular kids did, and I got picked on and bullied all the way through high school. I was not loved by the only woman I’d ever known as “mother” and I didn’t feel worthy of love, so I made a lot of bad choices.

Before I finished high school, my mom kicked me out of the house. I went straight to work and my boyfriend at the time let me stay in his parents’ garage. He would bring out scraps of food. I hid there for three months until his grandma found me. Then I went to live with my cousins. They told me I could stay as long as I finished my high school degree—so I went back to school. Three weeks in, the principal told me I couldn’t continue going to school there because my mom had refused to release my records. Around that time, I also found out that I was pregnant.

My cousin told my mom about the pregnancy and my mother dragged me—literally—to get the baby aborted. I don’t know if she ever told my dad. It would have broken his heart. He went to work on turning the garage into an apartment, and that’s where I lived for seven years, until I met my husband. A few years into the marriage, my best friend told me that Dan (my husband) had gotten drunk at a party and gotten another woman pregnant. I told him, “You need to marry this girl and raise your daughter,” and he did. It was a good thing I did, letting him go. Maybe that little girl had a chance.

So here I am, almost in my 60s, and I feel like I’m still sorting my life out. I don’t have children. I’m not married. I don’t own my home. And, to be honest, on most days I feel unworthy of these things. My dad died four years ago—he was 99. He was my buddy, my hero. He was a loving man. He taught me how to ride a bike, he put me in swim class and came to all my meets, and when I was in the marching band, he’d stand in his same old spot along the bench, watching me with a smile on his face. If nothing else, I was lucky to have had him in my life.

I think about my own baby sometimes and I wonder what her life would have been like had she lived. I wonder: if I’d have given her up for adoption, would she have had a life just like mine—difficult, painful, filled with self-doubt and hate? Would she have waited, like I did on so many tearful nights, for a letter in the mail letting her know that her biological mom was looking for her? Maybe she would have had a guardian angel, like my dad was for me.

On the other hand, if I had kept her and raised her, would I have passed on my own problems and weaknesses to her—would her life have been difficult? What would my life have been like as an young and unprepared mom living in a garage? Some days, I’m grateful to her—to my adoptive mother—for breaking the cycle of young motherhood and unplanned children. Other days, I think about the unknown, the “what if.”  She would have been 40 years old. My dad would have loved her. I would have loved her.

Read more Craigslist Confessionals here. To share your story with Helena, email her at craigslistconfessionalqz@gmail.com.