A Mother’s Love: A Tribute to National Adoption Awareness Month

By
November 4, 2004

Glodean Champion

My mother died November 29, 1996. It was a Friday. I remember
that it was the day after Thanksgiving.

Somehow I knew, as the car sped down the 405 freeway, that this
would be my last trip to UCLA hospital. I knew it would be the last
time I would see my mother alive. In the moments before she passed,
I stood at her bedside silently praying as she struggled to
breathe—a deep and unnerving gurgling sound as the air passed
through the mucus in her lungs and out through her air passages. It
was a sound I’d never heard before and hoped never to hear
again. I took her hand and she briefly opened her eyes, looked up
in the corner of the room, smiled and exhaled for the last time.
She never looked at me. She never said good-bye. She was gone and I
was left feeling abandoned and alone at 29.

I leaned over and kissed her already cooling cheek, removed the
wires and tubes that had been connected to her for over a week, and
off and on throughout my life, before closing her eyes with the
palms of my hands. As I pulled the sheet up over her face I
remembered how much she really did love me. I could hear her saying
“I love you baby from the top of your pointy little head to
the bottom of your flat little feet and that’s a whole lot of
love!” Then she’d grab me by my ankles and kiss and
tickle my feet before tucking me into bed at night. There was no
question she loved me, not even a question of how much. She loved
me so much she willingly accepted the responsibility of raising
me—alone, and she did it because she wanted to, not because
she had to.

As I cleaned her house afterward I remember finding a large
bundle of blankets tucked neatly in the bottom of her dresser
drawer. I unwrapped the bundle and my aunt, who had been cleaning
in another room, came in and stood by my side. There were two
receiving blankets wrapped around a yellow dress with a white
collar and a baby’s bonnet. My aunt picked up the dress and
said, “This is everything you were wearing when she brought
you home. It was the happiest day of her life.” The objects
in my hand grew blurry as the tears fell from my eyes. She’d
kept everything—shoes, bobby pins, socks, and yes, even the
cloth diaper. I looked down into the drawer again as something had
caught my eye. Underneath the bundle lay a section of an aged and
yellowing newspaper. The headline was obscure but I could see my
mother’s name in the body of the article, and beneath it, a
photo of us.

My mother was holding me up in her arms as I grinned back at
her. The caption read: “For homeless Negro children
throughout the United States, adoption into a family is not easy.
Frances Champion, unmarried and in her mid 30s, works as a clerk in
Los Angeles, yet is able to give time and love to her young adopted
child.” I’d never seen this before. We all knew
I was adopted, that fact was not surprising. The fact that my
adoption made headline news, however, was surprising. It was then
the tears began to flow uncontrollably. The fact that my mother
humbly posed for the photograph and then filed the evidence away,
never to speak of it again, was quite a shock. The most surprising
part was that my mother was in her mid 40s at the time the picture
was taken and I began to laugh, through my tears, when I tried to
imagine the look she’d given the reporter when he or she
asked her how old she was.

I was eight years old when my mother sat me down to have the
“talk.” She carried two books into my bedroom, one
bearing the familiar Dr, Suess logo, the other I remember being
really thick with no pictures inside and lots of words. We sat on
the bed together, side by side, which was standard fashion when it
was reading time. She read out of the unfamiliar book first. Big
words that I didn’t understand about something called
adoption.

I remember asking, “what’s adoption Momma?”
and she replied nervously “It means, baby, I didn’t
have you from here” pointing to her belly. “I went and
picked you out. I chose you.” She said this and smiled for a
long, long time. I just stared back, puzzled and confused. After a
while she realized her words were lost on me and shifted gears to
the children’s book, “Are You My Mother” by P.D.
Eastman about a bird whose momma leaves the nest to find food. The
bird, feeling abandoned, sets out to find his mother. I watched as
my mother read how the baby bird went from the cow, to the chicken,
horse, dog and then cat, asking each as he passed “Are you my
mother?” with each answering “no.” At that moment
it was clear what my mother had been trying to say.

I had been chosen. That word, that stuck in my head. It was a
word that made me feel “special”—sometimes. But
that word also confused me. As special as I felt for being chosen,
when all the other kids in school were merely born, I
couldn’t shake a deep-down sadness, an indescribable hurt
that only an adopted child could know. It’s the plain,
indisputable fact that, before I was chosen, I was given up.

Years later, I found out the adoption process for my mother was
not as straightforward as her just being able to choose me.
Adoption was not readily available to “Negroes” in
those days. In 1967 the taste of discrimination and segregation was
still lingering in the mouths of Americans all over the United
States. It was a time when “Negro” birth parents and
children were simply denied adoption services by agencies because
of their religion, race, or both, according to the United States
Children’s Bureau.

Apparently, during a large part of the twentieth century,
matching was the philosophy that governed non-relative adoption.
The goal was “to make families socially that would match
families made naturally,.” according to The Adoption History
Project. Matching made it essential that adoptive parents be
married heterosexual couples who looked, felt, and behaved as if
they had naturally conceived other people’s children. What
this meant, in essence, was that physical resemblance, intellectual
similarity, and racial and religious continuity between parents and
children were preferred goals in adoptive families. Matching stood
for safety and security. Difference spelled trouble.

My mother was wrong in every sense of the word: at 42, she was
older than the “desirable” adoptive parents; she earned
a moderate salary as a clerical typist for the California
Department of Transportation; and worst of all, she was single with
no prospects of a husband. Despite suggestions from both the
caseworker and her family to give it up, she trudged ahead, intent
on making her dream come true. I was three months old when my
mother received word that her adoption had been approved and it
wasn’t until three years later that it became final.

I can still remember the day my mother told me I was adopted,
remember it as clearly as though it was yesterday. Some days I
wonder why my mother chose that particular day, that particular
year to share such overwhelming news. I was too young to really
appreciate or fully understand what it meant. I remember using
those words against her on numerous occasions until one day I
brought tears to her eyes. She’d asked me to clean up my room
and out of defiance I replied, “I don’t have to do what
you say, you aren’t my mother!” She couldn’t hide
the pain from her face—her eyes. I’m sure she wanted to
slap me but instead she walked away and I heard her fall heavily
onto our sofa. Concern (and fear) brought me into the living room
where I found her, head in hands, softly crying. Her body shook
with pain as she quietly said, “I’m the only mother you
have.”

She was right. She was the one that nursed me back to health
when I got sick, rubbed Vicks Vapo-Rub on my chest and under my
nose before tucking me into bed. It was her face I saw immediately
after having surgery for a hernia at nine years old. She stood over
me daily and insisted I practice my cello for an hour each day and
then dragged me across town to my music lessons once a week. She
sent me to Chicago every summer to spend time with her family and
she was always there at the airport to drop me off and always there
to pick me up. She was there, pulling out her hair, as I tried to
traverse my teenage years without any input from her. Through it
all she never tried to stifle me. She allowed me to find myself,
within reason, and she stood back and watched (and sometimes
laughed) as I dressed myself for school in the most outrageous garb
and refused to comb my hair or resemble in any way any of the other
girls at school. She nurtured me into the woman I am today.

I remember coming home from elementary school one day in
tears.When she asked me what was wrong I told her the kids always
teased me about how old she was. They would say mean things about
her and equally mean things about me. Always being the tallest one
in the class I became the “Jolly Green Giant” and my
unique name led to nicknames like “Globall,”
“Gloworm” and “Glo-in-the-dark.” I hated
it. My mother laughed to herself and then she said, with a straight
face, “You tell those children the next time they tease you
‘at least I’m by choice, not by chance.” That was
that. She made it as simple as that and it was those words that
gave (and still give) me the confidence to stand up straight and
those words that make it easy for me to slide a pair of 3-inch
heels onto my size 11 feet under my 6 foot frame. Those words
supported me through my life and made it easy for me to laugh at
myself, which I later learned made it difficult for the kids to
tease. Why tease when I was already laughing at myself?

Frances Champion was my mother, father, breadwinner, caregiver,
and within certain limits and boundaries—friend. I never
wanted for anything, even after she found herself unemployed and on
welfare by the time I was 14 years old. I had food, shelter,
clothing and a whole lot of love. She provided for me through many
illnesses, some life threatening, but always made sure someone was
there for me when she couldn’t be. My biggest fear was that
she would die before I reached 18 and I would be placed back into
the foster care system. I couldn’t imagine what that would be
like and each time she was admitted into the hospital my heart beat
in my throat as I sat and waited for the outcome. Sometimes I
imagined how it would feel if the doctor came out, pulled down his
face mask with one hand and removed his hat with the other while
saying “I’m sorry, we did everything we could
but…” Fortunately, that day wouldn’t come for years.
She always reminded me that she had an agreement with God that he
couldn’t take her until her job was complete. I am blessed
that it took almost 30 years to complete her job with me and as
much as I wish it had taken a lot longer, I am glad I had her for
as long as I did.

I made a promise to my mother on my 18th birthday that I would
search for my birth parents so she could meet them. It was through
her insistence that I made that promise but fear of rejection that
prevented me from following through. I have since decided that I
want to make good on that promise to find the people who made the
unselfish act of giving me up so I could have a better life. I
don’t know if they are still living and I don’t know if
they have any interest in meeting me, I will cross that bridge when
I come to it. All I want them to do is give me the opportunity to
say two little words.

Thank you.


A Mother’s Love: A Tribute to National Adoption Awareness Month was published on November 4, 2004 in Features

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