November 1993. When was my last period? Shit, I think it was September. Is that right? That can’t be. Shit shit shit.
Is that one line or two? That second line is pretty faint, maybe it’s not really… Oh yeah. Yep, that’s definitely two red lines. Wait, does two lines mean positive or negative? Positive. Wow. I’m pregnant.
Twenty two years ago, a 16-year-old me started feeling nauseous and realized she had missed a period. She nervously bought a pregnancy test, sneaked it home to the single-wide trailer she shared with her mom and four siblings, and waited anxiously for the moment she would have enough time and privacy to pee on the stick and wait the required two minutes for the result without any other family members bugging for bathroom time.
She was a junior and the drum major of the marching band at Goose Creek High in South Carolina. She was smart, witty, and had a bright future ahead of her. She had spent the previous summer at the coveted Governor’s School for the Arts at Furman University. She was a survivor of sexual abuse and was helping her mom and older sister raise three younger siblings as a result of her parents’ recent painful, ugly divorce.
And now she was a knocked up hoe. It’s true. When word got out at good ol’ GCHS, she walked into a bathroom stall one day to those words scribbled on the door in thick dark Sharpie. “Stacey Ribino in an knocked up hoe.” (I guess spelling my name correctly and using any sort of grammar is not a prerequisite for vandalizing bathroom doors.)
She blinked back tears. Kids were cruel. That’s what they thought of her? Would they have thought the same mean, hurtful things if they had known that she wasn’t keeping the baby? Would they have been kind or even a little sympathetic if they knew she was giving the baby up for adoption?
She knew, the instant that damn pee stick was positive, that adoption was her only choice. This life she was incubating, this baby she was growing, was not meant for her. Her family was barely getting by as her mom was finishing nursing school. How could they have added another baby to the mix?
A few days after taking the pregnancy test, she gathered the courage to tell her mom. They were at Captain D’s, eating her mom’s favorite fried fish (the ONLY fish she’d ever eat) and hush puppies with gobs of tartar sauce, so she figured she was in a safe zone. Plus her friend Adam was there, so she felt relatively certain that her mom wouldn’t murder her.
“Mom… I think I may be pregnant.”
“Why? Why do you think that?”
“Because I took a test. And it was positive.”
Mom and Adam both stared wide-eyed back at her. Adam’s jaw dropped. After a few minutes of letting the news sink in, her mom said, “I will support whatever you decide.”
She set her jaw, almost offended by the underlying meaning of that sentence. “I have to give it up for adoption. That’s the only thing I can do. I can’t keep it and you know I would never have an abortion.”
She tried to keep her secret as long as possible. The marching band went to Disney World in January to march in a parade. She worried about what she would tell friends when they wanted to go on rides that cautioned against pregnant women. She felt tired and frumpy and very, very alone.
Her mom worked as a labor and delivery nurse at a hospital in Charleston. One night she mentioned to a co-worker what was going on with her daughter. That co-worker told her she should talk to another nurse in the postpartum wing named Kathryn. Kathryn and her husband Jeff had been trying to get pregnant for a while without success.
So that’s how 16 (almost 17)-year-old Stacy found the parents for her baby. Kathryn was a nurse and Jeff was a doctor in the Navy. They had a lovely home, a beautiful Golden Retriever, were Catholic, and wanted a baby more than anything. They were perfect. Once they knew they were getting a baby, they were very involved. They called and checked on Stacy and the baby, and took her out to eat several times.
Getting through the rest of that year of high school, trying to conceal a continually growing belly, was a daunting task. There were a lot of safety pins, elastic waistbands and baggy shirts. She had to have a prom dress specially made to accommodate her eight-months-prego eggo. It was a pretty humiliating affair.
Toward the end of that hellish junior year, she decided she could not and absolutely did not want to return to GCHS for her senior year (see above story about bathroom stall). She met with a guidance counselor and figured out that she could take the credits she needed at summer school and could graduate at the end of the summer. Meanwhile, her older sister was the valedictorian of the graduating class that year. Stacy was flailing miserably in her “perfect” sister’s shadow. She knew by not having a senior year that she would miss out on a lot of fun experiences and opportunities.
The baby’s due date was the beginning of July. Stacy could only miss two days of classes and still be able to graduate from summer school, so she had to be very careful toward the end of her pregnancy. On the night of June 22, she started having really bad cramps, but attributed it to eating too much food. She went to bed early and set her alarm to get up to go to school the next morning.
Thursday June 23, 1994. Owwwww. My stomach hurts so bad. I need water. <glug glug glug>
Oh God. I’m gonna throw up. I am dying. I am seriously going to die. Maybe I can walk it off. Breathe. Breathe. Lie down. No, get back up. Walk walk walk. Run to the bathroom! <barf>
Nope. That didn’t help. Maybe if I poop…
Ahh. The pain stopped. I’m okay. I’m okay. <eight minutes later> Pain’s back.
I had Joseph on a Thursday morning. I had to wait for my mom to get home from her night shift so she could drive me to the hospital. By the time we got there I was 7 centimeters dilated. I got some pain meds, did some breathing, and next thing I knew I was being wheeled into the delivery room. After pushing for what felt like forever, a cone-headed beautiful boy came quietly into this world.
Kathryn and Jeff were with me the entire time. (She actually got to the hospital before we did). Immediately after giving birth, she tearfully, gleefully asked me what I wanted to eat. I requested Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie, which I proceeded to inhale and then vomit all over myself.
The lawyer brought the papers for me to sign on Friday morning. I held Joseph in the crook of my left arm, sobbing and kissing him, inhaling his sweet baby smell for the final time. With my right hand, I signed him away.
The next few days and weeks were a blur. I managed to get myself back to school on Monday, only missing the two days I was allowed. I would sit in class, silently turning in on myself, tears streaming down my face, trying to make myself as tiny and invisible as possible, lest I implode or explode from the pain.
Somehow I survived. I made forward motion movements. I lived. I managed to graduate from summer school. I started drinking– I discovered that it numbed the pain. I remember the first time I drank a six-pack of Zima (because beer was disgusting), and the resulting euphoria and giggles soothed my soul for a moment.
I spiraled out of control a bit. My mom kicked me out of the house. I lived with my friend Adam and his dad for a few months. Then my older sister came home from her first semester at BYU and somehow convinced me to move to Utah with her.
I moved into an apartment in Provo, started going back to church, and (wait for it) got PREGNANT again. The relationship was pretty toxic, so I packed up and went back to South Carolina. I started going to a tech school there, thinking I’d become a nurse. Then I remembered I don’t do needles. Or blood. Or anything that has to do with nursing.
I had my beautiful daughter on February 9, 1996, just 19 months from giving up Joseph. My forward motion movements were sometimes backwards. I got married, I got divorced. I gained weight, I lost weight. I moved back to Utah. I got married again, I got divorced again. I went back to school, I dropped out of school. I was a bit of a train wreck.
It really wasn’t until 2010 that I started to get it together. I went back to school. This time I finished. I was a runner. I ran marathons. I had an autistic son who taught me so much about patience and resilience. I could do anything. Very hard things. IMPOSSIBLE things.
June 23, 2012. Today Joseph is 18. Maybe he’ll look for me…
Joseph’s 18th birthday came and went. I never heard anything from him. A year ago I found his mom on Facebook. I sent her a message, but never heard anything back. A few months later I found Joseph on Instagram. I started following him and, to my pleasant surprise, he followed me back. I assumed if he checked out my pictures, he would figure out who I was. At this point he was 21.
On September 30, 2015, I sent him the following message:
“Hi Joseph. I hope you are well. Thanks for connecting with me here. Hopefully you don’t think I’m a creepy stalker. I would love to be a part of your life, if you’re willing to let me. I have thought about you so much and hoped when you turned 18 you’d contact me. But I respect whatever decision you’ve made. My whole family would love to know you, especially my other kids. Anyway, I will leave it to you. Feel free to call or text me any time.”
“I’m sorry I think you may have me confused with someone. I’m not familiar with anyone from Utah. I’m sorry to say I don’t recognize you. I must have accidentally ‘followed’ you however as I sometimes add people back who follow me.”
“Well I’m from SC. Joseph, June 23, 1994? If that’s not you then I apologize for the confusion. I gave a son up for adoption… I thought it was you.”
He replied that “this is quite a bit to take in at once.”
I felt like I had dropped a huge bomb on this poor kid. I was so confused. We had an open adoption and Jeff and Kathryn had promised he would always know about me. Why did he not realize who I was when I sent him that message?
I messaged his mom again on Facebook.
So he knows I exist. He knows I am the person who carried him and gave him to his parents.
And he doesn’t want to know me. His heart that I have carried in mine for 22 years. I don’t know what to do with this reality.
When Joseph turned 18, my then-boyfriend (now husband) asked me why I didn’t try to get in touch with him then. And the honest truth was that I didn’t feel like I was “good enough”. I didn’t want to be a disappointment to him. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t made more of myself.
Last year was a particularly good year. We bought an amazing home in a great neighborhood. I got a new job that I love. I became a face for Weber State University as part of their “Finish at Weber” campaign. I’m in a commercial that plays in movie theaters. I won a big contest, gaining some attention in the running community. My friends joke that they should rub my shoulder and then head to Vegas since my good luck will rub off on them.
All these accomplishments. All these things that make me proud. Now I’m finally ready. He’ll be 22 in three and a half months. But he may never be ready for me to be his other mother.