Monday, January 29, 2018

Methodist Home Hospital for Unwed Mothers in New Orleans 1970

(Dear Blog Followers, 
This is the conclusion of my memories of “the summer I went away.” I have written all that I can remember, and now my story —at least three parts of it— is out there in the World Wide Web. I trust that I have answered any questions that you may have had about my experience or the Methodist Home Hospital. This was not a pleasant writing experience, but I accomplished what I set out to do for myself and for those who care. Linda)

Part 4
Methodist Home Hospital for Unwed Mothers (Written January 16, 2018)

As the maternity home was sponsored by the Methodist church, of course there were religious services every Sunday. Somehow I ended up playing the piano for most services, but I am sure that there must have been someone better trained in doing that job than I was. Anyway, I did it. And to this day I seem to do a little better at picking out those musical notes from a Methodist or Baptist hymnal than reading music on a “real” piece of sheet music.

Passing the free time while in the Home was also a challenge. Some girls went out into the hot grassy backyard for sunbathing, but that was too much for me. Luckily I liked to sew, so I spent a few hours behind my sewing machine in the air conditioned sewing room. Besides whipping up a new sundress for myself or remodeling one that had been left behind by a former guest, I once made a receiving gown for my baby. Back in those days no one had a clue as to the sex of the newborn until it was born, but I believe that I made the baby gown of light blue batiste. My biological daughter says that she is not aware of any such gown, so who knows whatever happened to that. As she did not come back to the Home with me in the car after her birth since she was not well, any baby could have worn my creation home from that hospital.

The sewing room was right off of the television room. I remember lots of comfy chairs and couches and a television in that space. Most afternoons were spent napping, reading, or watching whatever soap operas or television programs that were on. As I rarely just sat idly by, I bought a How to Crochet booklet, a crochet needle, and yarn and taught myself to crochet while watching tv. I even made a few purse clutches for girls who thought they were nice. 

Outside the summer temps were toasty. Those of us who were regular walkers always went walking in the mornings. It seemed that every morning around 11 am there was a short rain shower, and most of the time we were without umbrellas. No one really seemed to care, since we were cooled off naturally. 

I didn’t have much pocket money, but I did visit the little neighborhood grocery store across the street once or twice. For me, most of the time the visits were more of a chance to get outside than to actually buy anything. Any pocket money we had at the Home was kept in the Home safe/bank. We had to go to the office and actually ask and sign for it. That is about the only thing that I can remember that made me feel incarcerated, but I now understand why we could not keep money in our unlocked rooms. We had very healthy and delicious institutional-type food at the Home. I never remember being hungry or deprived of what I needed. 

I always thought that my parents must have had to pay around $250 a week for my stay, but after much thought it must have been around $250 per month. We could never have afforded $250 per week. In 1970 my parents jointly probably did not have an income of $1000 a month.  As a teacher in Louisiana, I did not even make $1000 a month until 1979 after nine years of teaching in public schools.

If I remember correctly, most of the resident bedrooms were located on the front of the building on Washington Avenue. Maybe they were even only on the second floor with the rooms below being used for administration and coffee break areas. The church chapel and kitchen/dining room were on the right wing. The baby nursery was on the ground floor in the back middle, and the Infirmary was in the left wing. I have no idea where the laundry area was located, since I never remember going there. Maybe it was near the kitchen.

As I spent a lot of time in the Infirmary “pushing iron pills,” testing urine samples, planning doctor appointments/clinics, sterilizing medical equipment, and tending to new “mothers,” I was aware that we lived and worked in a residential neighborhood. Next door (maybe a little more than three feet away) lived someone who was very unhappy and very disturbed with their situation. It seemed like all day long that person/woman moaned and screamed out something that I recently heard in a movie and determined it must have been “Help!” I do not remember discussing what I heard with anyone, and no one else mentioned the cries to me. I know what I heard was real and not a figment of my imagination or a dream. While living in that facility and hearing the cries, I pictured a severely disturbed or handicapped person next door who wanted freedom. Why didn’t I ask questions? How did I ever do my job while listening to that shrieking? Why didn’t I go next door and knock and ask? I have had some creepy things happen to me in my 69 years, but this almost tops the list. But then again in 1970 I had never read about or seen in the news about the atrocities of how people can be held captive and tortured. So I guess that I just tried to ignore what I heard.

I do remember that there had been regular therapy sessions. At one session I revealed that I had been the victim of date rape. Back then no one used the term “date rape, ” so I guess that I must have said that I became pregnant after being raped by my boyfriend. I remember lots of giggling and non-belief from most of the guests. There wasn’t much compassion or empathy from anyone, and even the so-called therapist/ social worker did not seem to understand or try to believe me. I suppose that everyone thought that I was trying to save face. If I had gotten pregnant because I had wanted to, I would not have spent 4 months of my life in a maternity home or surrendered my child for adoption.


Colleen said...

Thank you again for sharing many of the details in your memory about your journey. It makes me sad to read about the reaction of those in the therapy group. But even more sadly, that reaction is still common today. I have to admit that in my years of counseling girls in pregnancy situations, I was sometimes guilty of the same skepticism, usually based on assumptions I made about their appearance or lifestyle choices. It reminds me of the danger of judging others-- we never really know what they have gone through.

Joanne Noragon said...

The girl who lived next door to me growing up, and was two years older, became pregnant in high school, was sent away and chose not to come back. Our mothers were friends; I kept up with her. She finished school in the midwest, went to college, secured an executive level job at some point in our early thirties. She eventually reunited with her daughter. Her background was Finnish, and I always felt those relatives intervened for her and helped her. This incident was in the late fifties, and it was so different. Thank you for speaking up and out.

NanaDiana said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Back then, no one would think that things like that happened and if they did they were swept under the rug or never talked about because of the pain that invoked all the way around. Parents kept their 'girls' hushed up for fear they would be tainted and labeled and never get married or have a good life. I am so sorry you had to go through so much but I know that it made you into the strong person you are today. God bless you--xo Diana

Melody A. said...

I so admire your courage to write about this experience, times have changed and yet they haven't changed at all. God bless you and yours! take care from Iowa