Sarah*, 30, found out she was pregnant at 23 and immediately knew she couldn't care for the baby. After looking into her options, she chose to have her aunt and uncle raise her baby so she could still be in her child's life. Here, she shares what it's like to have to pretend to be your child's aunt when you desperately want to tell her the truth.
I didn't realize I was pregnant until I was seven months along. I was 23 years old and living with my high school sweetheart, who I'd been with on and off with for eight years, in Phoenix*. I was suffering from bulimia at the time and he tried to help me, but it was really hard for me to stop. My health got worse and worse, and I even stopped getting my period. Finally, I was able to start eating without purging and I started to notice my body changing and my stomach swelling a little. Several months later though, I just realized something wasn't right with my body.
In December, I finally went to the doctor to see what was going on and I was completely shocked to find out I was seven months [along]. I know that sounds crazy, but I looked like a normal person. And even though my stomach got slightly bloated, I assumed it was because I was finally eating without purging. I assumed that when he told me I was pregnant, I was no more than a few months along, but seven months seemed insane to me. Not to mention, I hadn't been on my best behavior—drinking a lot and not eating properly, due to my eating disorder. The doctors told me they'd never seen anything like it before.
I asked if I could get an abortion, but the doctor told me I was too far along and I had no choice but to give birth. This was just a few days before Christmas and I was beyond devastated. That very same day, I got a knock on my door and it was a woman my boyfriend worked with who just said to him, "Do you want to tell her or should I?" I later found out that he'd been lying to her and telling her he and I had broken up, but when he'd told her I was pregnant that morning, she felt like she needed to tell me what was going on between them.
Once she showed up at our door, he finally admitted he was in love with her and was leaving me. My entire world crumbled around me. I was just told I was pregnant and someone I had known and trusted since I was 11 years old didn't care about me anymore. Everyone who knew both of us couldn't believe he'd done that to me. It just didn't make sense to anyone. But sure enough on Christmas Eve, he left for work and never came back.
I ended up being alone on Christmas because my parents were out of town. I was completely suicidal. My mom begged one of my friends to go to my house and put me on a plane to my dad's in Chicago* because I was so distraught and feeling so alone. I left for Chicago on Christmas Day and once I got there, I had my first prenatal appointment. It was so hard to find a doctor who would even treat me because I was already so far along, but when we found one, he told me I had to gain 50 pounds as soon as possible so that my baby would be healthy. I can't even remember how many waffles I ate during that time, but fortunately I was able to gain the weight.
Around that same time, my mom also called my ex-boyfriend and told him to get his stuff out of our apartment so I wouldn't have to see him when I came back, which he did.
Apart from focusing on gaining weight for the baby, I couldn't feel anything. I'd never really wanted to have kids, and I knew I was suicidal and still struggling with an eating disorder so I was not healthy enough to raise a child and be who she needed me to be.
Several days after I arrived in Chicago, my aunt called me and told me she and her husband would be willing to raise the baby as their own since they couldn't have children. Hearing them say that was the first time the clouds parted in my mind. I felt like I'd finally be able to get some part of my life back. I knew it would be a broken life, but I was comforted that someone who was responsible and able to care for her and was already a part of my family would be able to care for her. In a lot of ways, I just wanted to forget this was happening to me altogether. After really thinking it over for a few weeks, I decided that letting them raise the child was the right thing to do. I figured that they were my family, so I would still know her and I would know where she was.
That following March, my daughter was born. My aunt and uncle and I agreed they would take her to live with them in Florida* after she was born, but as soon as I agreed to that, I started having so many moments when I wasn't sure if I wanted to give her away. No matter how much pain I was in or how many issues I had, I was her mother. I just couldn't leave her and I was still reeling from this person I'd known my entire life who didn't even care that this was happening to me or that it was his child. It wasn't until the day she was born that I told my aunt and uncle that I didn't want to give them my daughter anymore. Then about three days later, I finally realized that I was not fit to be what she needed me to be. I handed my daughter over to them and it was one of the worst days of my life. My world crumbled again and my heart broke into a million pieces. My eyes tear up now just thinking about it.
When they left with her, I collapsed on the floor. I was crying and hysterical, and no one could calm me down for about two hours. It was the single most painful moment of my life. Afterward, I didn't want to talk to my aunt and uncle. I just wanted to move on and forget it. And that's what I did. I tried to keep living my life and then as the months passed I would also write to her. It was easy for the first couple of years. I even waited two years before I went to visit her because it was just too hard before that time.
The first visit to see her when she was 2 was during the holidays and it was great. It was hard for me and my aunt and uncle because nobody knew what role I would play in her life yet. After that, I started visiting her about once a year. Now she's 7. When I visit, I play with her and color with her. She likes to play beauty parlor with my hair and calls me Aunty Sarah. It's still hard to be around her though.
I have to keep playing the role that I play in her life, even though it's so painful sometimes. Sometimes when we say good-bye, she'll say, "I don't want you to leave," and I sob as soon as I leave because it is so tough. Now that she's older I go about two, three times a year because it just became too hard to keep my distance. In the last few years, she started looking so much like me and acting like me, and it became so hard to pretend. There are so many times when I just want to say, "I'm your mother!" but I can't because it would be too hard for her. I still believe it was the right thing to do, but I still feel like I've been assigned a lifetime of pain.
Last year, her parents told her she's adopted but she doesn't know that I'm her birth mother and I have no idea when she'll find out. I told my aunt and uncle in the beginning that it would be their call when they told her.
The good thing is she's healthy and thriving. She's at the top of her class and reads at a sixth-grade level. But even though she's doing well, I'm scared of what will happen in the future. I'm terrified that she will want to know where her birth father is and I don't want her to know him, but that's not my choice to make. I am scared she is going to be mad at me. I worry that when she's a teenager and she's mad at my aunt, she might say, "You're not even my mother," or that one day she will call me and say she wants to live with me. You just don't know how things will work out.
All I hope [is] that she is not angry at me. I hope she understands that I had to do this because I loved her and I knew I wouldn't be able to give her the life that she has. If she'd stayed with me, she wouldn't have [had] two stable parents, and she wouldn't be in private school and have private tennis lessons. I've always tried to make myself very present in her life so when she does look back on her life, she will know that I was there the whole time.
*Names and locations have been changed.
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