Her life story exposes this taboo of women without children for what it is, outdated and oppressive, and reminds us that everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about.
LONG TIME LOST, A memoir by Patricia Pollard. 260 pp., Nighthawk Press, $17.95
Mary, Gaia and other representations of woman as maternal goddess have long had a hold on our culture. So much so that women who choose not to have children or to give up custody of their children for any number of reasons are often shamed and stigmatized as selfish. That's why Patricia Pollard's memoir, "Long Time Lost," is so profoundly feminist. Her life story exposes this taboo of women without children for what it is, outdated and oppressive, and reminds us that everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about.
As she recounts in her memoir, Pollard, born in 1944, is adopted at birth. Seven years later, her adoptive father, whom she loves dearly, passes away, leaving her alone with her adoptive mother, a cold, resentful and abusive woman.
"[My dad] called me The Button and he was my protector. I remember peeking out from behind his legs to watch my mother's hysteria rocket to fever pitch over some wrongdoing or something out of place. She raged through her tears, grabbing whatever was handy to hurl against the wall while he tried to calm her."
Without her protector, Pollard is left vulnerable. Her mother's conditional love and unkindness toward her, leads to deep feelings of unworthiness that permeate the rest of her life and cause her to make destructive decisions. "My mother taught me that I wasn't good enough, and a small part of me still yearns to be that good girl. I've worked hard all my life to expunge those constraints."
The minute she gets a bit of freedom from her mother, Pollard quits college and, in an extraordinarily brave move for a young woman in the early '60s, travels to Europe. She lives in Paris and Madrid before finally moving to a kibbutz in Israel. In Israel, Pollard struggles with her inability to fit in, which plagued her as a child. A pseudo-cult leader turns the kibbutz volunteers against her. She must hide that she's not a Jew or face prejudice. Her anger at the injustices she sees around her boils up to an explosive moment of anti-Semitism that mimics her own mother's racism. She leaves Israel soon after and returns to Chicago where she succeeds at secretarial school.
Pollard meets Norman, a Jewish Naval officer who resembles Paul Newman, and after one weekend together, they marry six months later. She is soon pregnant, and Norman insists that they keep it. Pollard is miserable. She knows in her heart that she does not want this child, but she chooses to make the best of it, to be a good and obedient wife.
Unfortunately, her baby, John, is a premature and colicky newborn, whom Pollard is unable to bond with. And Norman is an absent father who never helps with child-rearing, domestic chores or providing income. When John is 18 months old, Pollard decides to give him up to foster care. Without argument, Norman agrees. Pollard writes, "I thought I should feel guilty, but I really didn't. Giving him up was better for John, better for all of us. I wondered if I'd live to regret my decision some day but pushed those thoughts out of my mind, just as I imagined my birth mother might have done."
Norman soon becomes abusive and with the help of a good therapist, Pollard is able to leave him. "It never occurred to me that I could simply change the lock on my door until Dr. Rosen told me to do so immediately. She wasn't surprised at my naivete, telling me most of her patients had no idea how to protect themselves from abusive spouses, let alone get away from them."
On her own again, Pollard goes to art school and becomes a successful professional photographer. In a twist of fate, she meets her soul mate and future husband, James, the father of two, and becomes a stepmother. Not without struggles, she is finally able to find her happiness.
Pollard's memoir is deeply emotional and dark but with moments of lightness. Her beautiful language expressively captures instances of despair and triumph. In writing this book, Pollard frees herself of the past and invites others to see their own ordeals--as mother, woman, daughter or wife --as transformative. This book is also very much about an era, a time before abortion was legal, when expectations of women were narrow and confined, when an abused woman was still considered to be at fault for her wounds. But Pollard is exceptionally brave, and her hardy independent spirit helps her survive and thrive.
She writes, "Recently I saw a commercial showing mothers looking fondly at their babies. The babies gurgled happily, examining their mothers' faces so intently I could feel those eyes on my face, unbuttoning an empty pocket where motherhood might have flourished. If I had been a different sort of person. There must be hundreds of women like me for whom motherhood doesn't come naturally--hidden among us, teetering on a bone ridge of disaster."
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