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FAITH, HOPE AND A MOTHER'S LOVE
Peg O’Hagan’s quest for redemption and her reunion 52 years later with the daughter she gave up is documented in the memoir, “I Called Her Mary.” Peg is Glen Rock resident Mike O’Hagan’s mother.
Co-written with Peg's son-in-law, Tom Gorman, the book is available on Amazon.
I knew my life would never be the same again. As a teenager in a conservative village in 1950s Ireland, I was sent away in shame to Sean Ross Abbey, a home for unwed mothers, to deliver the baby.
After the baby (I called her Mary) was born, we returned home. And for nearly a year, when Mary and I walked past neighbors' houses I heard, from some of the same people who had known me for years, "bastard child," shouted at us. Mean, awful things, like "slut," or "tramp," from others. I finally made a fateful decision, one that would haunt me — I gave Mary up for adoption, at the airport, to a family named Timmons. Being poor and not having many options, having trouble coping and nothing left to keep me in Ireland, I left home to work for a family in America as an indentured servant.
Five children! I was the nanny, who also did the cooking, cleaning, and whatever else the family needed in this new place, Long Island. This “better life” included fighting off advances by the husband, who surprised me from behind one day and put his hands on my body, wanting something. I was scared he was going to rape me, so I turned to him and said, "If ye ever put yer hands on me again, I will personally beat ye. I will beat the shite out of ye." He never bothered me again but I kept my bedroom door locked at night just in case.
To get a little breathing space away from that, I started going out with a girlfriend to bars. That's where I met Mickey O’Hagan. I have to be honest, the first few times I met Mickey, I wasn't particularly impressed with him, a cocky Irishman, with a swagger about him. But over a short time, he won me over.
Now Mickey, on the other hand, was swept away. He wanted to marry me, but I refused. I couldn't bear the thought of telling him my secret that no one knew about. Feeling torn inside about not only my past, but my future, I wrote my mother a letter, seeking her advice. ”Don’t start off your new life with a lie,” said Mommy. ”If you truly love him, tell Mickey everything.”
It wasn’t until Mickey convinced me to leave the nanny job and move in with his sister in the Bronx that the truth came out, at the kitchen table, no less. When Mickey asked me again to be his wife, that's when the words rushed out about my past and Mary.
“We are going to have a great life together," he said, "because we both love each other. I don't want you worrying about your Mary. I love you Peg. I still want to marry you and I will never hurt you.” We were married within the year, and considered Mary to be our guardian angel.
Living in the Bronx, Mickey and I grew our family — four children together — but there were also several miscarriages. God was punishing me, I believed, for giving Mary away.
In 1969, we moved to Hawthorne, New Jersey. Life in the suburbs was filled with raising our family, parties, sports, and good old fashioned blue-collar hard work. But God wasn’t done with our trials. In 1998, early spring, it started with a lump...on Mickey's neck.
He showed it to Margaret, our daughter, who said it was probably nothing, but to get it checked. Mickey was diagnosed with squamous cell skin cancer, a direct result of being a smoker since he was a teenager. The radiation treatments destroyed his salivary glands and epiglottis. He was no longer able to break food down in his mouth or prevent it from entering his lungs when he swallowed. Living with a feeding tube became our family’s "new normal" for 16 years.
Flash forward to 2008, an ordinary day in September. I was watching TV in the family room when the phone rang. "Hello?"
It was a voice out of my dreams. It was Mary Boler, my long-lost daughter.
She put me at ease right away. "Mom (she called me Mom from the start), I want to thank you for giving me away, I know why you did it and I know it was not an easy decision," she said. "I want you to know that everything worked out and I am alright."
I was so glad to hear those words, which confirmed for me that I had done the right thing.
"How were you able to find me?" I asked. Mary told me she began her search after her adoptive parents passed away, flying to Cork, Ireland, to find records of her adoption. With the help of a kind nun, she was able to track me down. The reunion, at Newark Airport, took place four months later.
Our gathering of family — Mickey and our kids Mike, Margaret, Jim and Pat, their spouses, and my granddaughter Erica — waited with me for Mary, their sister, to come through the gate. Anxious thoughts plagued me. What if she doesn't like me? What if she's mad at me for the rest of her life? Finally, there she was, swallowed up by all of us in many hugs and tears of joy. The biological resemblance was undeniable, as was our instantaneous bond. The love was palpable.
After that, the family grew even bigger and stronger. The Bolers, Mary's family in Illinois, became part of ours. Mary and I started visiting each other several times a year, sharing many stories. New details emerged about the adoption.
The story that I told Mary didn't match up with the letters and documents she possessed, but this wasn't resolved…yet.
It was after Mickey’s passing, when I was cleaning out closets one day and stumbled across a box that contained my original passport, letters, and other documents, that things got straightened out. The documents from Sean Ross Abbey were originals that Mary found after her parents died. She made copies and shared them with me, but I had put them aside. When all these pieces came together, the truth came out.
Fighting past the trauma of having given up my baby, my memories came flooding back; a new truth of what actually happened came to light. So many years later, I realized that trauma can play tricks on the memory as a way to cope with loss. The new truth was more painful.
I didn't give Mary to a family at the airport. I gave her up, at eight months old, to the nuns at Sean Ross Abbey when Christmas was approaching. I left for America several months later, never knowing that Mary remained at the Abbey for a year until the adoption was completed. Mary was the most precious gift I had. Now it was me, who had never received a gift at Christmas, who could give others a gift, through her adoption, and give my daughter the gift of a better life. I believed in my heart that God would take care of her.
I would never have come to America and had the beautiful life I've lived with my beloved family had it not been for Mary. As it turned out, God had taken care of me as well. 👩👧