Maggie Beaumont, 76
Maggie does not accept the notion that she has had a hard life. It is just life, she says. Sometimes things are good and sometimes they are bad. You take whatever comes your way and that is that.
No one knows anything about this. Not my husband. Not my other kids. Not the father.
But I had a baby out of wedlock as we called it in those days. I was 16. Well, almost 16. The father and I had no hope of ever getting married. It wasn’t that kind of romance.
We got together just the once. It was summertime. Hot and humid. We did it in the back seat of his car. Lord it was a beautiful car. I can still picture it. A red and white convertible. I’m sure it did not belong to him.
We did the deed and then he drove down the dirt road and I walked home across the field and went to bed and we never saw each other again.
When I woke up in the morning I felt like I had been reborn. I was just so excited. You know that feeling? Knowing that you are wanted in that way. Finally.
It was a month or two before I started to think that maybe something was not right. I was throwing up in the morning. I had to run from the dinner table a few times. Thank goodness I was not in school at the time. Summer break.
My mother must have known. Right? I mean I didn’t know the signs but she would have. She didn’t say anything straight out. She took me aside one day and said that if there was ‘anything wrong’ I should probably ‘do something about it.’ I said no. Imagine that. So young. So bold. So naive.
She threw me out of the house. That night. She said she was not going to let me bring shame to the family. My father had worked too hard to have something like that happen. She gave me $20. She told me to go to one of the church groups and they would arrange to move me to another city.
I packed a few things and walked across town to the church. She would not even go with me. She said it was ‘my mess.’ So I had to clean it up.
The church people were nice enough. At first I thought they would just help me without passing judgement but it was not like that. They wanted to help and punish. H&P I called it. They wouldn’t do the first unless you allowed them to do the second.
So fine. I took their crap. I told them I had repented and had found Jesus and that I would have the baby and then give it up to be raised by a Christian family and then I’d come back home and live a virtuous life.
I lived in their group home until I was ready to have the baby. It was stupid. I did laundry and cooked meals and went to services. Three times a day. I couldn’t go out. It was like a prison.
And I was getting bigger all the time. There were other girls there, too, but they were not showing. Not like me. So everyone knew I was the bad seed. That is what they called me.
One night Sister Cora told me to pack up my stuff. It was time for me to leave. I didn’t know where I was going but she said it would be fine. I didn’t have any choice, really.
There was a car waiting at the curb. She put me in the front seat and threw my suitcase in the back seat. She said this guy Charlie would drive me to another town. I would have the baby there.
Charlie was a jerk. He tried to get me to sleep with him. He said no harm, no foul. I was already pregnant so nothing bad would happen if I did it one more time.
I told him to bugger off and he threatened to leave me in the middle of nowhere but I put up such a fuss he finally drove me the rest of the way. He pulled up in front of the new church and told me to get out of the car and never show my face in ‘his’ town again.
A woman came out to get me. I guess she knew I was coming.
She said I would spend the night there and then someone would take me to the hospital in the morning. She was about my mother’s age. Very prim. Proper.
She woke me up early the next morning. She took whatever money I had left in my purse and then drove me to the local hospital. We pulled into the Emergency and she told me to get out. I said, aren’t you coming in with me and she said of course she was. She was just going to park the car. But she left. She never came back. I guess she was too ashamed to stay.
I rang the bell and a nurse came out and brought me inside. She knew right away what was going on, of course. She brought me in and took me upstairs.
I had the baby maybe an hour later? About that. It was a girl. A beautiful baby girl.
They wanted me to decide on the spot what I should ‘do about it.’ I did not know what they meant. I finally figured out they were asking me did I want to keep the baby or put it up for adoption. I didn’t know. It was my baby. I said I wanted to keep it and they tried to talk me out of it.
They said I’d have to leave the city if I wanted to keep it. I said I’m not from this city so what did I care. They said, still…
I told them I would decide later and they said fine, but it would have to be done soon. The baby would have to bond with her mother. I said she is bonding with her mother. So they left me alone for the night.
I woke up later and I had no idea where I was at first. Then I saw the blood on the sheets. I screamed. A nurse came in and gave me some drug that put me back to sleep again.
And again I woke up, not knowing where I was. And then all of a sudden it came to me: The baby!
I was sure they had taken her away. But then I heard a wee noise coming from beside the bed. It was her. She was all wrapped up in a bassinet.
I brought her into bed with me. I just wanted to hold her.
I had no idea what I was doing. I had never even thought about having a child. Not really. And here I was, holding one in my lap.
I finally figured out she was hungry. I slipped off my nightie (how did anyone dress me in this!) and she figured out the rest. I did not have to do a thing, really.
It was heaven. A strange and odd heaven, but heaven nonetheless.
It was ages before anyone came into the room so we had plenty of time to bond. And we actually did. Just like that. Another human being, bonding with me, a disgraced sixteen-year-old!
I laughed just thinking that and it startled her but she was okay. I figured out, you know, if I was relaxed she would be relaxed. Easier said than, but I tried.
I decided to name her Laura. I named her after one of the nurses. I didn’t tell her that but that is what I did.
By the time anyone came into the room again, we were done. I mean we were mother and child. No one was going to take that away from me. Or her. And no one was going to take her away from me.
And to their credit they accepted my decision. They backed off and did not mention it again. So that made me feel more… confident? I guess that is what I mean. I just felt more like maybe I had a right to call myself a mother. To even be a mother.
I knew my own mother never felt that way, but there was no reason I couldn’t. I was not my mother. My daughter would not be me. We would be bits and pieces of each but not the whole. Never the whole.
In those days they were not so quick to kick you out of your bed and so we stayed another night. Or maybe they bent the rules? Maybe they wanted to nurse me and the baby a bit more. And I did appreciate it.
I felt even more relaxed after they told me that. I just sort of flopped back into the bed and closed my eyes again. It was heaven. My last days in heaven for a very long time.
It did not get any easier once I left the hospital. Laura and I went to another new town. It was not far away but far enough that no one knew who I was. Or where I was from.
It made sense because strangers don’t know about your past. They see you with a child and they think well, maybe the father was killed in a car accident and isn’t she wonderful and brave to be taking care of that wee girl on her own. Or they might think some other thing that is not so bad. But it might take them a while to start thinking here is a girl with a bastard child. It might take them a long time to start thinking that thought.
I didn’t care so much but it was hard. I was so young. I did not know anything about my world, let alone Laura’s. I couldn’t go out and be social because all the men thought I was a slut who would sleep with them and all the women thought I was a slut who would sleep with their men.
But that is the thing. I wasn’t sleeping with anyone. Or talking to anyone. I was on my own. All the time.
We survived. We moved around a few more times but eventually I found a way to finish school and got a job in a restaurant and made enough for Laura and I to survive.
And I got married. For real. And we have kids of our own. Two boys. They all know about Laura. Well, they know she is my daughter. They don’t know the other details.
I told my husband that I was married once and that my husband died in a freak train accident. I felt bad about making something up but there was nothing I could do.
Things were different even in those days. You just couldn’t tell a man you had a bastard child. He might stay with you after that but even if he did stay he would always look at you in that way. You know, like you were a slut. I could not bear that. I just wanted a decent life for Laura and me. Just plain decent.
© 2016 James Porteous