Mary Ann Edwards, New Jersey
Portrait by Lori Pedrick

Loss and Resilience

As a young girl, I grew up in a loving home and safe community during the 1950’s. I was an only child. My mother was a teacher and a church organist. My father was an attorney. Both parents were well-known in the community. I was fortunate in that I had a lot of love and attention. It was at the age 11 or 12 that I realized my parents were secretive about some of their behaviors. Maintaining proper appearances was important to them. It was at this age that I saw my father having DT’s (alcohol related delirium tremors). I also remember bringing friends home to find my mother in a stupor from alcohol use. I felt humiliated and ashamed at the sight of my mother and I do believe that it did effect my psyche. My high school years were uneventful. I was popular, played on the basketball team and was involved in many activities. 

I married at the age of 20. During the first trimester of pregnancy I was diagnosed with a serious cardiac defect. I was given 2 options: Proceed with Open Heart Surgery immediately to prevent heart failure and/or my death at the time of delivery, or to risk possible injury, disfigurement or demise of the baby from the surgery. (Elective abortions were not legal at that time) 

I chose to have the surgery to correct the defect. During the procedure, there was a 5-state power failure while I was on the circulating heart bypass. The power was off for 1-2 minutes. The hospital’s auxiliary power failed too which caused me to have a right hemisphere stroke, resulting in the subsequent loss of function of my left leg and arm. I was extremely devastated; my self- image was obliterated from the paralysis and yet I had an additional 6 months to worry about the health of my baby. During the waiting period, I received physical therapy that strengthened my affected limbs, but I had to walk with a cane and wear ugly orthopedic shoes. My husband created ‘pet names’ for me. I believe, with grace, that he wanted to lighten my spirits with his humor, as it was a stressful time for us. But those negative images and words are forever seared in my memory and were actually toxic to my fragile ego. I delivered full term, a healthy boy - 7 lbs 13 oz. I had gained a total of 11 lbs during my entire pregnancy. My weight was always a contentious topic during our marriage.

My father died when I was 43 years old. While cleaning the trunk of his car, I found my adoption papers. I had never known this family secret and yet I later found out that they had told my ex-husband before our marriage and swore him to secrecy. I saw the names of another mother and father, and another name given to me. I don’t think shock and disbelief begin to describe that moment. It was as if my life as I knew it no longer existed, and I questioned why my parents had left me this news without any written note of explanation or a loving letter. It was with the help of professional counselling and the ability to locate my biological father that I began to heal. While I met my biological mother, she did not share a lot of her history. Ultimately, the two parents who raised me, loved my children and me, and stayed by my side throughout my illness and life events are memorialized as my parents. 

As I approach my 70’s and reflect on the loss of self- identity (both physical and personal), loss of family members, and loss of marriage, several insecurities still haunt me, as do the physical limitations which curtail certain activities. I also have unfinished business as it relates to learning my biological mother’s health and family history.

I find strength through my family and friends. I have freedom in my life. I have no restrictions, no time schedules – I can find me again – little girl found! 

— Mary Ann Edwards