I was in my room at our local mental hospital where I was undergoing insulin shock therapy as treatment for my depression. My parents came to visit me, which was unusual in that my father was there at all. Mom seemed a bit stiff and reticent, but they told me that they were there to tell me something.
My mother spoke:
“Your doctor tells us that you feel that you’ve been unloved because you’re the middle child, but we want to tell you now that we love you and care about what happens to you.”
I was dumbfounded – I didn’t even know that my parents were going to have a visit with my doctor. When I didn’t say anything, Mom blurted out:
“Your sister Nina is not your father’s child. I was pregnant with her before I married your father.”
I stood there with my jaw hanging open.
“So you see,” my father injected, “You are my first child, and I love you.”
Of course I must have made some response and moved to embrace both of them, but truthfully I cannot recall anything except a great flash of understanding and explanation of unanswered questions rippling across my mind and back again as if a huge stone had landed there.
So THAT’S why she was always on me about not allowing boys to touch me “down there.” THAT’S why she interrogated me so often and so sternly about what I was doing with my boyfriend. THAT’S why she used to check the Kotex box every month to see if any had been used. THAT’S why she went through my school books and my pockets and purse looking for evidence of… what? The porch light flicking like a strobe seconds after my date and I arrived out front after our evening out, the reports she received on a regular basis from her “informants” around town… I had come to the conclusion that my own mother thought I was a slut; that she was expecting me to get “in trouble” and come home pregnant.
Here was the answer to why my mother was so suspicious and distrustful of me! On reflection, I realized that, to my mother, being an unwed mother was the worst thing that could happen to a young woman. And I realized how badly she must have suffered condemnation and ostracization from people in our small town when she was an unwed mother herself. People were very narrow-minded and, let’s face it, hypocritical about sex outside marriage in the 1940’s.
When I was a teenager and in the midst of my mother’s neurotic watchfulness, I thought that if I turned up pregnant, my parents would likely throw me out. But not too many years later, I was pleasantly surprised to see both of my parents lovingly supporting my younger sister when she became pregnant. Her fiancé was attending university at the time, and she told him no when he asked her to marry him. She was afraid he would end up dropping out if they got married, so they waited until he was finished (and their daughter was 2 years old) before they were finally married.
My Mom was prideful, and I know it was difficult for her to admit the truth to me. Perhaps she expected me to throw it back in her face, but I never would. I actually admired her for rejecting the father of her baby when he seemed reluctant to marry her right away. I thought she was very brave to have her baby outside of marriage, and I also admired my grandparents for being so supportive of her, not to mention my father. Not too many men in those days would have been willing to raise another man’s child, but he did. I never thought that he treated her any differently than the rest of us. We never questioned that she was our sister, even though it was mentioned occasionally that our sister didn’t look much like the rest of us.
People can surprise you, sometimes pleasantly.