Once the discovery was made that I did have living relatives, lots of them, the question became how did this happen? Only my biological mother and father knew of my existence for 58 years. It wasn’t just a shock to me it was shock to my biological family, all 11 siblings and their families and ultimately my mother’s only living sibling, her brother Wilbur. My mother, Maxine, was so afraid to tell him about me he was not invited to the Newstrom family reunion. He didn’t find out until he came to my mother’s funeral several months later. One of my sisters picked him up at the airport and told him in the car. He was very sweet about it and also very sad that his sister had not trusted him enough to him about my birth. The fall-out from the secret was spreading.
Shame and Fear Take Over
Secrets can be destructive and can lead to guilt and shame, which perpetuates the secret. My Uncle Wilbur (Bill) was just one of the many people who would have helped Maxine instead of judging her, but it was a different time. It can be very stressful and difficult trying to keep a secret for 58 years causing all kinds of physical and psychological problems. What a relief it was for my mother to finally have the secret come out. Her blood pressure and glucose levels dropped closer to normal. Her fear of being disgraced and disowned never happened. She was told by all of my siblings one by one that they still loved her and that she had done the right thing to put me up for adoption. She finally had some peace of mind knowing she was still loved by the children she raised, and that I had enjoyed a wonderful childhood and was doing well.
How was it possible for me to have an older half sister and 10 younger, full brothers and sisters? How did my mother keep her pregnancy a secret? The story as I know it began with my father, George Newstrom, coming back to Omaha after serving in the military in Europe during World War II. He met my mother in the church choir at the local Lutheran Church and they began a relationship. George was already married with a 2 year-old daughter, but his wife had abandoned him and their young daughter, Sharron. She moved to California while he was in Europe and left their daughter with George’s parents. She left no forwarding address, so George was unable to find her to get a divorce. In Nebraska at that time it took at least 6 months for a divorce to be final, and then each person had to wait an additional 6 months before they could remarry someone else. Clearly they weren’t going to be able to marry before I was born. When Maxine became pregnant she had to find a way to avoid disgracing her family.
My mother was one of 5 children, 2 boys and 3 girls. Tragically her 2 sisters died young, one at 17 in a car-train accident, and the other one at 30 from Tuberculosis. Maxine’s father told her it was up to her to uphold the honor of the family now that she was the only surviving daughter. When she found herself pregnant and unmarried she developed a courageous plan to deal with her predicament.
A Girl in Trouble
My mother had read a Reader’s Digest article about a doctor in St. Louis who helped “girls in trouble”. She told her family and friends that she needed time away to figure out how to deal with being in love with a married man. She moved to St. Louis without knowing anyone there, found the doctor from the Reader’s Digest and stayed until I was born. The doctor found her a place to stay and a job for some income. Then he facilitated my adoption by the Calfee family. When Maxine was at the doctor’s for her check-up after I was born she overheard the doctor’s staff talking about my adoptive family, so she had their name.
By the time I was born my father was in the process of getting a divorce from his first wife. The painful decision was made to put me up for adoption and keep my existence a secret forever. My mother never told a soul about my birth, not even her best friend. The Calfees were sworn to secrecy about my biological family. Maxine gave them a newborn christening gown she had made for me. She was not allowed to see or hold me when I was born. I can’t even imagine how emotionally painful that must have been for her. She had incredible strength and courage.
Life Goes On
Within two weeks the adoption papers had been signed and the Calfees took me home to meet my 4 year-old brother Creighton who also had been adopted by them as an infant. Maxine moved back to Omaha, she and George were married as soon as possible and started their family. Once my secret was out, my sisters and brothers discovered St. Louis newspaper clippings about the Calfees and me. She had tracked my childhood as much as she could!
Over the years Maxine would occasionally say things like “I’m not really who you think I am.” Nobody understood what she meant until I made that phone call to my brother Bob leading to the truth and the whole story coming out. Thanks to Facebook I can keep in touch with my large and growing family. In the last 12 years since we all met there is a new generation growing up and expanding the family. Thank you to the entire Newstrom family for opening your arms and accepting me into the family.