On the other hand, there are particular advantages in the case of people like Kay and yourself, for whom agency procedures have become long and frustrating. I would be happy to meet with you and your wife to discuss the pros and cons of private adoption if you would like.
But I am writing this letter because it has recently been brought to my attention, through a lawyer in the northern part of the state, to whom I was talking recently about different matters, that a child will be born shortly—I believe this fall—whose family has sought his advice about private adoption placement. I know nothing about how much importance to place on genetics in such a circumstance; you, as a physician, are much more qualified to deal with that question than I. But the lawyer that I mentioned seemed to find that a matter of concern, and mentioned that this particular infant will be born to parents of substantial intelligence and good health.
If you and Kay would like to talk about this further, please feel free to call me at my office. If it is something that does not interest you, I will understand, and hope, as I said, that you will forgive the intrusion.
In the meantime, let me take this opportunity to congratulate you on the presentation that you made the other night at the meeting of the Medical-Legal Committee of the Bar Association. A fine job; Branford is indeed fortunate to have you in our midst.
Natalie sat on the edge of her bed, read the letter again, and saw that her hands were shaking.
A child will be born shortly. That was me. He wrote about it as if he could have as easily been saying, "A new car will be delivered when the next shipment arrives."
To parents of "substantial intelligence and good health." She laughed briefly, and with no humor, to herself. Well, that lets out Fish-Factory Brenda, or her equivalent. I'm glad of that, anyway.
Why am I not very glad about the rest of it?
She lay back on her bed, crossed her hands behind her head, and watched the ceiling of her bedroom where the first car headlights of early evening were crossing it occasionally in patterns that formed, moved, disappeared, and formed again.
It's because it was all so cold. "A child." My God. If I had been conceived by my parents, they would have been thinking in terms of "our baby." Not "a child." But here, the very first time I appear on the scene, it's in a letter written by a lawyer—maybe by his secretary—as if I were a pending transaction!
Someone, though, thought Natalie, was thinking of me as "my baby." Great. And hating the idea of me so much that they were already deciding to give me away! She looked at the letter again. "Have sought his advice about private adoption placement."
In her mind, she formed a picture, like a scene in a movie, of a couple sitting in a lawyer's office. The woman pregnant. I was born in September; this letter is dated July. She was very visibly pregnant when she went to this lawyer and said ... what? "I am seeking your advice about private adoption placement"? Or: "Listen, I don't want to keep this kid"?
Was there a man with her? The letter says "family." Maybe there were children already. Maybe I had brothers and sisters. Maybe they went to the lawyer and said, "Hey, we didn't intend to have another baby, and now here we are, the wife is pregnant, and we just can't afford another child."
Abortion was not legal seventeen years ago. Had they considered it, anyway?
Another picture formed, briefly, and she liked this one a little better. The woman was pregnant, weeping, and beautiful. Her husband held her hand in the lawyer's office, and explained sadly, "My wife has an incurable disease. She has only a year to live. I can't raise a child alone. So we want you to find a home for our child."
But that was romantic and foolish, she knew; the letter had said "substantial intelligence and good health." Natalie closed her eyes and let the flickering scenes of her imagination drift away as if they were lights moving across the ceiling. Nothing replaced them except emptiness; emptiness diffused by disappointment, pain, and an anger that she couldn't understand. Finally she sat up, turned on the light against the increasing darkness, and took the next paper from the box.
PEABODY AND GOODWIN, ATTORNEYS AT LAW
SIMMONS' MILLS, MAINE
102 Caldwell Avenue July 25, 1960
Dear Dr. and Mrs. Armstrong:
Hal MacPherson has written me of your interest in the child which I have been authorized to place for adoption. He speaks very highly of you as potential parents for this child, and I am delighted to be able to let you know that I see no possible barriers at this point to the adoption taking place.
Let me fill you in to the extent that I am able on the details of the case.
The child will be born in September. The family was referred to me by Dr. Clarence Therrian, a general practitioner in Simmons' Mills, who has been handling the medical aspects of the mother's pregnancy.
For your protection and for that of the child, Dr. Therrian and I have investigated the background as thoroughly as possible. Naturally, any specific information about the parentage remains confidential. But I am authorized to tell you that there are no familial diseases on the side of either parent. The general health and intelligence of both parents are substantially above average. The mother is of medium height and weight, with dark brown hair and blue eyes. The father is tall and slender, with brown hair and eyes; he is exceptionally well coordinated, with a great deal of athletic skill.
That is all official information. I will add, unofficially, that I know both parents personally, and feel certain that their combined attributes will bring to this child an unusual combination of attractive characteristics. I have no hesitancy about recommending this as an exceptionally good adoptive risk.
Let me tell you briefly what the adoptive procedure involves. At some point in the next month or so, Hal MacPherson will have you fill out the necessary Petition for Adoption form. He will send it along to me. After the birth has taken place, I will have the mother sign the second page, and the petition will then go to a probate judge. Since you have already been investigated and approved by the state agency, there is no reason to suspect that he would not readily grant the petition.
The Bureau of Vital Statistics will issue an amended birth certificate, naming you as parents, and the original birth certificate will be sealed by the court.
I must remind and warn you of two things.
The mother, until she signs the petition after the birth of the child, is free to change her mind about the adoption. I do not believe she will do so. Nevertheless I would be remiss in not alerting you to the fact that it would be her privilege, and that there have been cases in which the natural mother has had such a change of heart after the child has been born.
Secondly, the name of the natural parents will not be made known to you, nor yours to them. Hal MacPherson will not know the names of the parents, and Dr. Therrian will not know your names. I will be the only party who knows the names of both involved parties, and I feel very strongly about not divulging that information.
If you have made your decision, I would appreciate it if you would get together with Hal and sign your part of the Petition for Adoption, so that he can send it along to me. I look forward to notifying you in September when the birth has taken place, and I take this opportunity to wish you great happiness.
Foster H. Goodwin
The final paper in the small box, resting on top of the car keys and checkbook, was a folded yellow telegram.
PETITION HAS BEEN SIGNED AUTHORIZING ADOPTION OF SIX POUND EIGHT OUNCE HEALTHY BABY GIRL BORN FOUR THIRTY AM SEPTEMBER FOURTEENTH. PLEASE BE AT MY OFFICE 43 MAIN STREET SIMMONS' MILLS 2 PM SEPTEMBER NINETEENTH AND I WILL GIVE YOU YOUR DAUGHTER. CONGRATULATIONS. FOSTER H. GOODWIN.
Natalie realized she was weeping, and that the anger had gone. Foster H. Goodwin, she thought, knew my real parents, and he liked them. I can tell that, even though he didn't say it. And even though he talked of "the child" and "the birth," which set my teeth on edge, he only did it because he had to. And when I was born...(at four thirty am september fourteenth, she thought, grinning through the warm tears on her face)...he was thrilled, and happy for my parents. And he said "your daughter" to Mom and Dad.
This isn't going to be hard, after all. Even though he said he felt strongly about not divulging the information, he's a kind man, and I can make him change his mind.
Natalie looked through the bookcase in her room until she found the large United States atlas that, she realized with a smile, Aunt Helen had given her one Christmas when she would much rather have had a new sweater.
The map of Maine was on page 32. She tilted the lampshade so that the full light of the bulb fell on the page, and searched the state for Simmons' Mills. Finally she found it; the name jumped out at her from a space in the north-central mountainous section of the state, and she held her finger there and looked at it for a long time. The small circle with a dot in the center, there on the edge of the Penobscot River, was keyed to indicate that Simmons' Mills had a population between 1000 and 2500.
"Oh, I'm just a small-town girl," she announced aloud, giggling to herself.
She followed with her finger the route she would take from Branford. Main highways as far as Bangor; beyond that, to the north, it would be increasingly smaller, more curving roads, through the mountains, along the river, to the town where she was born. The town where she would find Foster H. Goodwin and, through him, her real parents.
Then her eyes slid to the coast, and she saw Ox Island, a tiny dark blue dot in the lighter blue of Frenchman's Bay.
First, thought Natalie, looking with joy at the sculpture that was now in shadows in the dark corner of the room where her desk was, I will go to see Tallie. Tallie has a way of putting everything in perspective, and before I set off on that long road that curves to a place called Simmons' Mills, I'll let my grandmother smoothe the edges of my questions into manageable shapes.
ON THE MAP, coastal Maine had the erratic pattern of cardiograms that Natalie had seen often in her father's office; it looked as if someone had taken a pen and drawn an irregular line, without looking, from New Hampshire to Canada at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The line moved, apparently aimlessly, in and out, forming peninsulas and promontories; it opened into harbors and coves where rivers arrived to empty into the sea.
Driving northeast on Route 1, Natalie was less aware of the random patterns of the coast. But she saw the ocean again and again on her right; she saw it curving around the edges of the small towns, the tide moving restlessly against the pilings that formed part of the docks and the fish-packing plants. It appeared in the desolate places that came now and then suddenly, after a bend in the road, where there were nothing but rocks and wind-sheared trees; and occasionally it was there against a short expanse of sand, where children would be playing with buckets and shovels and touching their toes into the icy water with shrieks of delighted pain.
It took her four hours to reach Northeast Harbor, a pleasant and uneventful drive in the small new car. The brilliant blue of the cove around which the little town clustered in a semicircle was spectacular. Northeast Harbor was a picture-postcard town; she could see the groups of tourists strolling the main street, their cameras dangling, their summer-vacation outfits so new the store creases were still visible. At the boat landing, she could pick out the ferries that took tourists to the bay islands on daily cruises. Natalie glanced down at her own faded jeans as she parked the car at the landing, and was devoutly glad that she was not wearing double-knit slacks, rhinestone-rimmed sunglasses, and driving a car with New York plates.