People who know Tanya Parker say she is a dedicated mother who takes an interest in her daughter's school and activities. As an adult college student, Parker is working hard to become a medical assistant. No longer evident are the scars she suffered when she put her son up for adoption, but it doesn't take much to see that she has struggled with her decision ever since.
“I was 23, 24, when I got pregnant with CJ. I wasn’t married then but I did end up marrying his father,” Parker, 34, said. “Him and I had been together 17 years, on and off. He was my first boyfriend in eighth grade, in middle school in Stamford. He was my first love. I went off to Henry Abbott Technical School, and eight years later we found each other again.”
As a teenager, Tanya and her mother had a difficult relationship so she moved to Brookfield with her aunt. After she graduated, Tanya reunited with her boyfriend and at 23, she became pregnant.
Tanya went to live with her grandmother, but when that didn't work out, she and her boyfriend lived in their car.
“In 2003, I gave my son up for adoption. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I was living in a car at the time he was born and CJ's father convinced me to give him up. It just wasn’t the right time. We had lost everything. Life was in bits and pieces, and I was trying to go to school. I gave my son up and when we moved into a shelter, I was pregnant again with my daughter."
In 2005, Tanya married the father of her children, but life did not get any easier. They finally moved into an apartment, but even that was lost when her husband stopped paying the rent and they were evicted.
Patty Parker, Tanya's mother had been through a similar yet heartbreakingly scenario. She had also become pregnant before she was married and had also given up a child for adoption.
However, for Patty there was no peace in the decision. Having been traumatized by giving up her child, Patty advised Tanya against it.
Tanya remembers, “When I gave CJ over and the new parents left, I was fine. I wasn’t crying, I was strong. My worker was surprised. But then when I went to the store, I got out of the car and I went to the back to get the car seat, and there was no car seat there, then I started crying. I went to see Jimmy, my children's father, and I told him he needed to come outside. I said I was forgetting something, and I went in and got CJ's baby blanket, and this bear,” Tanya said, holding up a small blue teddy bear.
“The next day, I was fine,” she remembered. “We had an open adoption, so I started getting letters every month, but on his birthday, I had to find something to do instead of crying. That’s why I’m grateful I’m at school now and I’m busy. I had a C-section, so I know exactly what time he was born, so it's hard. But I still get the pictures and I can compare him to Jimmy and my daughter.”
“When I gave up my son, it was the hardest thing I ever did, but I did it for him,” Tanya said, maintaining a cheery disposition throughout the interview. “I wanted him to be in a better place. At the time, I thought I shouldn’t have given him up, but I was homeless, I couldn’t take care of my son.”
Tanya has many pictures of CJ, who is now 8, on her phone and around the house, and she talks about him as if he is an active presence in the home. Even her six-year-old daughter talks about meeting him with anticipation. “He will come back when he's older,” she said bravely, but her face became sad and her voice took on a pleading tone as if his absence was still hard to understand. “He's my brudder,” she said.
“I can’t wait to see him,” Tanya said with the anticipation usually reserved for a more imminent occasion. “He still has the blonde hair. I was at the Amos House Shelter when my daughter was born, then I moved into this two bedroom apartment. We just decided that we were gonna push through it, and it was hard, but we did it.”
Tanya's mother Patty remained quiet while Tanya described her ordeal, but she finally opened up about her own history with adoption. “Tanya has a sister that’s 5 years older and I’ve never seen her. Doubt I ever will. I gave her up for adoption. I had no job, no home, nothing. I’m from Stamford, and they didn’t want me to see the baby, but I said I had to."
Smiling proudly, Patty said, "And I gave the baby a name, and they kept it; Cindy Marie. But I couldn’t tell you what she looked like. It was so hard back then. I had so much anxiety from not knowing anything about her.”
“They didn’t believe in open adoption back then,” Patty said sadly. “I keep thinking one day I’ll get a knock on the door and it’ll be her. I won’t know what to say except 'I’m sorry.' I was 23 years old, driving school buses."
Patty's situation was different in that she had a closed adoption, which meant no contact. "It hurt for quite a long time. I couldn’t watch TV shows in the house because they had kids in them,” she remembered sadly.
With the dust of the past finally settled, Tanya speaks about her life today. “It’s important to be a good mom. My daughter is everything. She’s the light of my life. She is the world. She’s my world. I’m surprised and shocked that I came out of those bad times. I think I did a pretty good job. My daughter’s proud of me. 'Mommy’s going to school,' she says. She was so happy I got accepted.”
While Tanya and her mother have come to terms with their situation as much as possible, both would agree they were unprepared for the tumult and anxiety of placing their child up for adoption.
"I didn't know when I gave up my son what it meant to be a mother," Tanya admitted. "I had only ever been a daughter. But when I had my daughter, I knew what it meant, and I knew I would not give her up."
Professionals who are involved in adoption are quick to say that adoption is not an easy choice, but that it can induce less guilt than alternatives.
Dr. Stephan P. Herman, M.D., resident of Fairfield County Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Weil Cornell Medical College in New York said, “Women who place their children up for adoption are going to feel guilt, but it isn't too different than women who terminate their pregnancies. They should just know there will be complex feelings and they should seek counseling with a professional, a loved one or a close friend.”
Jane Coughlin, an advisor at the Family and Children Agency in Hartford, helped Tanya Parker find the family for her son. “Since adoption has been more user friendly and birth parents are more involved, it's a lot better."
Speaking about the practice of closed adoptions of the past, Coughlin said, "Not knowing what happened to her child, it's too painful to ask of a mother. But these mothers should not feel guilty. Guilt should be reserved for things that are bad, and this is not bad. It is something that should be celebrated and not hidden.”
In Waterbury, Carolyn's Place has a long history of helping unwed mothers find families for their babies. “Giving up a child is a very unselfish love. It's so different than it was. As moms, we always want to know where our children are. It's so important, the idea of being able to interview the families and being able to choose where your baby will go,” Ellen Covallo, director of Carolyn's Place in Waterbury, said.
Having support and acceptance is critical to the healing of a mother faced with such an immense decision, and Tanya has been lucky to have made friends who think the world of her. “I am extremely proud of Tanya,” Robie Barile, Girl Scout leader and Council member, said in a telephone interview.
“She became a Girl Scout leader and has taken on so many positions within the troop. It's amazing how she has taken it upon herself to do so much. She is now on the PTO of her daughter's school. For a single mom who is going to school, making a better life for herself and her child, she has had all of our support. She's had low points and she picks herself back up. Everything she does, she does for her daughter. I think she is phenomenal."
The father of Parker's children has chosen not to be involved in their lives. “I’m surprised how well I maintained my life with all the trouble I went through. I’m stronger now than ever, though. I have to be strong for her," Tanya said, smiling adoringly at her daughter. "I’m being a role model for her and I can’t quit.”