In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fourth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.
By Elizabeth Davis
My grandmother was born Clytha Charlene Ellison in 1933. She is the birth mother of three girls born in the 1950’s. For every step of my life, my grandmother has been there. She made sure that I had everything I needed, and she worked hard to buy anything that my mother couldn't afford.
Grandma found ways to bring joy to others. When my pediatrician told my mom not to give me sugar, my grandma drove to our house almost every day to make sure I got a small treat. I can't tell you how many times she went into the local grocery store and spent nearly every cent she had buying drinks and sandwich supplies, only to take everything into the parking lot and make up sandwiches, just to pass them out to homeless people.
She didn't go hand out the food as part of a church activity or a volunteer project; it was just something she felt moved to do on her own. She often had me with her in the parking lot, because I was my momma's wild child, and grandma took care of me because Mom had "bad nerves".
When I was really young, I would ask Grandma why she was giving all her food away to others, and she would just say, "Well, they are hungry."
I'd ask, "Do you know them?" She always had the same answer.
"Yes. That's my brother. That’s my sister." I used to tell people that my grandma had hundreds of brothers and sisters, because I believed all the homeless people were actually her siblings.
Grandma was raised by her grandparents, because her mother was unmarried. She suffered terrible abuse at their hands as a child, because her grandparents were ashamed of her.
As a young woman, Grandma met the love of her life in Kentucky. (A short distance from her Lee Station, Virginia home.) When she discovered she was pregnant, she wanted to marry that man, whose name was Ellis. He was a Navy man, and at the time, sailors had a bad reputation. Her grandparents arranged for her to be married instead to Ellis's brother, Willie.
The marriage was unbearable. Willie was an abusive drunk, and he was bitter about my grandma’s previous relationship with Ellis. Willie made it clear that he hated all females, and looked at them as cursed objects. This was 1950’s in rural Kentucky, where birth control was unheard of. While pregnant with her third child, Grandma made a decision. She would not bring another child into a home of poverty and abuse.
She ran away to Tennessee, where she delivered a little girl. She couldn't keep her, and she had left her two young sons back home. Returning to Kentucky after giving up the baby girl was terrible for her. She kept the whole thing a secret. She tried hard to find a way to escape with her sons. On a visit with the boys, Willie beat her up and forced her to return home. Soon after, she found herself pregnant again.
She escaped again, fleeing to Tennessee to give birth. And again she had a baby girl that she gave up for adoption. She had named the first baby girl Casandra Denise, and on leap day of 1956, Clytha Joisette was born.
Later on, Grandma walked away from her hellish life in Kentucky and migrated north. Her sons had been conditioned by their father to hate her, and she could not get the children to leave with her. She found herself pregnant for a fifth time in 1959 by a man she was intended to marry, but he walked out of the relationship and joined the army. Grandma named the baby girl Elizabeth and gave the child to an adoptive family with whom she stayed during her pregnancy.
The child's father did later return from the army, and he and my grandma were married. In 1961, my grandmother gave birth to her sixth and last child. This baby was my mother, and my grandmother kept her.
Now my grandmother is in her eighties. She has spent many years attempting to locate her adopted children so she could tell them they were given up as an act of love. She did not want them to live in poverty or face abuse. Mostly, Grandma wants to know that life turned out okay for them. She has met Elizabeth and has spoken to Cassandra. In the cases of Cassandra and Elizabeth, my grandma had handpicked their adoptive families, and she took time to get to know them before giving them her child.
Sadly, the baby Joisette's adoption story was not the same. She was born in Knoxville. Grandma never met the family that adopted Joisette, but she was told it was a doctor and his wife. My grandmother has worried for many years over Joisette's fate. Her only memory is that the baby was born with medical problems. After delivery, Joisette was rushed away. Grandma was given a dress and a bus ticket. She tried to explain that she was supposed to meet the adoptive family first, and that she wanted a little time to say goodbye to her child, but she was taken to the bus station and left there. Joisette has still not been located, and my grandmother has no information.
My grandmother worries a lot that her adopted daughters might believe that she was a "loose woman" with bad morals and that she abandoned them because she didn't want the responsibility of raising them. She lived the first half of her life in the poverty and ignorance that made her life a living hell, and that was the reason that she gave her three baby girls up, in the hopes that they would have a better life. It was the hardest thing she ever did.
She insisted that she name each child she surrendered for adoption, and she asked that the adoptive parents allow the child to keep the name, because it was the only thing she could give to each daughter.
Grandma talks often about her daughters. She prays for them and continues to this day to look for Joisette. She often remarks sadly that – due to Joisette's adoption circumstances -- perhaps the name she gave her was never used.
My grandma is not a saint, and God knows that she is human; but to me, she is incredible. Every birth mother has her story and her reasons. As a mother myself, I look at my three children, and I can't imagine how hard it must have been for my grandma to hand her children over for another person to raise. My grandma is one of the best people I know.
Elizabeth Davis is 34 years old and lives in Georgia with her husband of 17 years and their three children and two dogs. Grandma is currently residing in London, Kentucky with Elizabeth’s mother. Elizabeth is a licensed nurse and is nearing the end of her Junior year in college studying Psychology.
This year's Adoption Portraits series is filled. You may send a submission for next year's series to Carrie Goldman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Portrait of an Adoption on Twitter and Facebook
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