Chapter One: Lost and Found

He might as well have been dead. Except he wasn’t.

I identified with mothers whose children had been stolen from their cribs or snatched out of strollers in shopping malls. Like them, I wondered whether my son was alive and whether I would ever see him again. But I wasn’t one of those mothers. I hadn’t lost my baby to a kidnapper. I had given him away.

My recollections were as frayed as a piece of cloth worn thin from handling — faded in some spots, like the summer of 1969, a year after high school graduation, when I had fallen in love with the wrong man — and all too vivid in others, like when I was left alone to face the wrath of my parents and swallow the customary antidote for unwed mothers in that era: adoption.

For nine months I’d carried my son, struggling against the urge to bond with the new life that swelled my belly and twisted just below my heart. I entered labor with the anxious resignation of a surgical patient scheduled to have a burdensome growth removed. I rode the pain without complaint until I was given the injection that shut off the feeling from my waist down. Only when his body was pulled from mine and I heard his gurgled cry did the loss take hold.

“Can I see the baby? Is it a boy or a girl?”

The answer came in the whoosh of the delivery room door, as a nurse rushed out with my newborn. Two days later, I slipped out of my room and past the nurses’ station, down the sprawling sterile halls to the nursery. I spotted him through the window, in the second row, last bassinet on the right: Baby Boy Janson. I memorized every detail of his tiny face poking out of the blue swaddling — the button nose, quivering eyelids, and furrowed brow — certain that this was all I would ever get and all that I deserved. With every cell in my body screaming “No!” I walked out of the hospital and out of my son’s life.

I pushed back the grief until I was as anesthetized as the day I had given birth. I imagined myself becoming stronger when in truth I had merely become more comfortable with the numbness.

I might as well have been dead. Except I wasn’t.


Josh’s 26th birthday, our first together
since his birth on May 24, 1970.