|Linda Back McKay also went to the same Catholic Infant Home as my mother Helen and Kay.|
Unmarried young women like Kay and my mother Helen were taken to 933 Carroll Street, the address of the Catholic Infant Home (an unwed mother's home that shut its doors in 1969). The girls were dropped off with their suitcase and were expected to leave the same way.
At check in, each were given fake names. (I call this classic Catholic shaming.)
Each day the girls/women were expected to scrub and clean the home and do chores while they waited out their pregnancies; a few went to work for wealthy Catholic families as day workers and nannies. On a few weekends, Kay was happy to leave there to visit with her family during this difficult time. The women were expected to attend daily mass and "act Catholic," in Kay's words. She admits she cannot even remember details of the rooms since she blocked out those memories.
(Her family expected her to give up the baby, as if this was her only option. Nobody talked about it, not before or after.)
When it was time for Kay to deliver her baby, the infant home called her a cab that delivered her to St. Joseph's, the same hospital where I was born in St. Paul, MN. At the hospital she begged them to call her mother but they refused. It was a long labor since it was her first delivery and at 19, she was very frightened but noone was interested in helping her or guiding her through the contractions. Eventually they drugged her and when she woke up, they wouldn't tell her the sex of her baby and wouldn't bring the baby to her. As soon as she could, Kay walked to the nursery and put up a sign with her name so a nurse could point to her child.
She finally saw her beautiful son.
Kay wasn't allowed to hold him. It was all head games, Kay told me, all to make her feel unworthy of him, and of being a mother. She was told to forget about him, he was gone.
Then a day later, a nurse walks into her room with her newborn and tells her to dress him and get ready to leave. The brief contact she had with her baby was the cab ride back to the Catholic Infant Home.
For years, Kay would not go back to St. Paul. She said it held too many bad memories for her.
She handed over her son and he was whisked away to some deserving family, she was told. Kay signed the paperwork to relinquish him and signed a payment plan to pay for the hospital bill, which she was expected to pay monthly. (She paid for one year then stopped. It horrified her she was expected to pay when they took her baby.)
Kay never had another child. The trauma of losing him, she believes, hurt her so deeply - she was never able to have another baby.
It took many years but Kay found her son in 1986 when he was 19. (He told her he was raised in an alcoholic home in a wealthy Minneapolis suburb and shown no affection by his adoptive mother.)
I was so sad to hear this story but I thanked Kay for her courage in sharing it with me, and for helping me to understand the pain of the mothers at the Catholic Infant Home.
Next week, Kay and her son plan to have another reunion.