Motherhood, Interrupted: How a 1960s Debutante Lost Her Daughter for 44 Years

By Julie Mannix von Zerneck and Kathy Hatfield
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 4 | Posted May. 7, 2013

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My first time in the confines of a padded cell, I hit and kicked the walls so hard and screamed so loud and wailed so long that when they finally let me out I was weak with exhaustion and had to be helped back to my room. It felt so good to be relieved of all that anger inside of me that I think I was also actually smiling when they let me out.

Theresa often lingered with me at a window and Mafia Whore would pass her time just a few steps away in case she was needed. Both of them were aware of the changes going on inside me and they were staying closer than usual. Sometimes two male nurses took a few of us outside for recreation to a caged area where we would walk in a circle with our hands stuck deep into our heavy coat pockets, hot mists of air shooting out of our mouths like we were smoking. Here and wherever else I went, my two friends were always by my side.

I was getting bigger. My arms and legs were thin but my middle was round and bulging. There seemed to be a constant war going on inside of me—one in my head and another in my belly. I was not in the least way in command of what was happening in my belly. It had a life of its own. Punch, punch, punch, all the time, even at night, and there was no comfortable way of sleeping. I tossed and turned and got up to pee and then went back to tossing and turning again. But my head was another story. My thoughts began to run rampant, so I had to turn them off, refuse them space. You can’t keep someone in a mental hospital for being with child, can you? Too much thinking might bring me to my knees. But let’s say you can keep them locked up—then for how long can you?

As strongly as I fought to keep my thoughts contained, they would occasionally ooze their way out. Can you keep someone imprisoned until a child is born? Until their born child is taken away because they have been judged legally insane? And when all this thinking became oppressive, I would fall, fall, fall into a deep dark place that sucked me in ravenously. And each time I fell into that bottomless pit, I was left suffocated and wasted and lying on my bed staring up at the blank ceiling for days at a time like a stilled Zombie. They were teaching me how to go into another place, these fellow inmates of mine. A blank place that was safe. A mind-numbing place that got easier and easier to find each time I visited it.

But when I left the safe harbor of the zombie mind the thoughts would begin again. And what happens when I am eventually set free? If I am ever set free. What then? Will I crash into walls forever like a blind butterfly? Will my wings be so torn and ragged that I will be forced to limp through the rest of my life?

 

It was around three o’clock in the afternoon and I was standing at our window staring out at the pile of dirt and the rusty old dump truck, when suddenly I heard a popping sound and a river of water flushed out of me. I let out a scream. Moments later, everyone was there in the room—Theresa, Mafia Whore, a few of the Zombies, and half a dozen nurses.

“Jesus Christ! It’s only your fucking water breaking. Don’t you know anything? You’re just like the fucking Virgin herself,” Mafia Whore yelled.

Theresa stared at me, her huge muddy eyes even larger than usual. Her little girl dress was smudged with purple and yellow chalk. She was holding her baby doll in her arms. “What’s happening?” she asked, frightened.
 

I looked out the car window as I was driven away. I saw all their faces looking out at me through the thick mesh windows on the fourth floor; Mafia Whore, Theresa, some of the Zombies and a few of the nurses. Would I see them again? I didn’t know. I still didn’t know anything. My heart lunged in my chest. We passed the recreation cage and I could see a huge purple heart drawn on the dark asphalt. Shooting out from around it, like a first-grader’s painting, were chalk lines of sunny yellow.

Just as the car passed through the hospital gates I felt the first cramp. I took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. A few minutes later another cramp seized me, only this time I let out a moan. “Better hurry,” the nurse next to me called up to the driver. “It’s starting.”

As we picked up speed I felt another contraction. This one was even more severe than the last and I let out a scream.
 

I was allowed to see her only once, from five feet away, before I gave her up for adoption.

“Hi there,” I called to her. “I love you very much.”

She turned her head and seemed to hear me.

Then someone took me by the arm and led me out of the room.

Outside, I fell into a nearby chair and cried and cried and cried.
 

Want the happy ending? Read the full story in Secret Storms, by Julie Mannix von Zerneck and Kathy Hatfield, on sale now at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

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1. Anonymous said... on May 9, 2013 at 07:54PM

“I was nineteen, blonde with blue eyes, five feet, four inches tall, 102 pounds, and a Philadelphia Main Line debutante. And I was three and a half months pregnant.

I was nineteen, blonde with blue eyes, five feet, four inches tall, 102 pounds, and a Philadelphia Main Line debutante. And I was three and a half months pregnant.

This is what passes for journalism today. What is it with "writers" today that they brag about themselves at the expense of what could be an interesting story.

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2. Erik said... on May 17, 2013 at 06:59PM

“Dear Anonymous,
Forgive me, but a book of non-fiction is NOT journalism. However, that the author was nineteen is a fact. That she was blonde and had blue eyes are facts.That she weighed 102 pounds is also a fact. She happened to be a Philadelphia Main Line debutante and she was, indeed, three and a half months pregnant. As someone who has actually read the book, I'd like to add that that is the only physical description of the author to be found in the entire story. As this is a memoir, I, for one, want to know who I'm reading about; therefore, was quite grateful for the information.”

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3. Marti Bodenheimer said... on Aug 31, 2013 at 09:15PM

“I just finished reading your book in 2 days. Awesome book and story. God Bless you and your family.”

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4. John C. said... on Dec 23, 2013 at 02:49PM

“Boy!! I had no idea how far your folks went to suppress what you were going through. I tried to help - after you broke my heart that Summer - but will always remember you - and Jupo, and Peter, and our time together. Hope you and FRank and your kids - and hrandkids - and new found daughter are happy.”

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