I don’t know what made her do it. Perhaps she was scared and overwhelmed about the prospect of motherhood. Maybe she was a teenager and her parents, afraid of how society looked down on young, unwed mothers in the late ’60s, forced her hand. Or maybe it was a boyfriend, unready to wield the responsibility that came with caring for a family, who convinced her this was the right thing to do. Whatever the reasoning, whoever was responsible, what I do know is this: someone wrapped a baby in a blanket, placed that baby in a basket, and left that baby at the top of a stoop of an orphanage in lower Manhattan—an action that, like the collision of two supernovas in the night sky, would set off a chain reaction that would forever change the life of that mother’s little baby—me.

There are so many other ways this could have gone down—scenarios that could have kept me from the land of the living.

Or, my birth mother could have raised me.

But she didn’t. Instead, she gave me life, and then gave me life again by letting me go—a decision that, to this mother of two babies I birthed and another I helped to raise to adulthood, was nothing short of heroic. I know what it means to feel that first flutter in the belly, like butterfly wings tickling the womb—the rush of emotion that comes when baby meets arms and her lips meet breast and she takes that long drag and sighs as body melds with body, skin brushes skin, heart intertwines with heart, love becomes boundless. It takes Herculean strength and the might of a thousand angels to deposit that kind of love on somebody else’s stoop—to take that most precious gift and bundle it up and give it away to complete strangers.

It takes Herculean strength to take that most precious gift and give it away to complete strangers.… Click To Tweet

This is who my birth mother was.

Always, I have honored my parents by thanking them for choosing me. They are the very embodiment of a reality that is counter-narrative to a dangerous set of stereotypes that would have us all believe that Black people can make babies easily and never face off against infertility and have no interest in building their families through adoption. My parents were two people in love who dedicated a great deal of love and commitment to children who, while they did not carry their blood, filled their hearts and carried their names. Always, I pay homage to the African American couple that found me and raised me and disciplined me and cared for me and loved me beyond measure. Who still do.

James and Bettye Millner are my heroes.

But so is my birth mother. Because she is my mother. And an incredible human being who made a tough decision at a time when women in general and Black women in particular had little bodily autonomy, zero access to safe, legal abortions, inadequate reproductive care, and little strength to face off against the judgmental eye of a society that thought the absolute worst of Black women who colored outside the stark, straight, unforgiving lines. Her simple but brave and heartbreaking act opened the door for me to escape stereotypes and statistics and fall into the arms of a family whose willingness to love a stranger gave me the wings I needed to soar—to become a New York Times bestselling author of 27 books, the publisher of my own children’s book imprint, the host of a television show, a national parenting expert, a mother who loves deeply, a woman who strives every day—every single day—to create and find and spread joy and a fearless message that Black moms, our experiences, our journeys, matter.

All that I am, all that I know, all that I ever will be begins in my birth mother’s womb—takes flight with her deciding on that day to leave her baby, her love, on that stoop. She is, simply put, my hero.

* * *

This article was sponsored by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company

(MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001. www.massmutual.com

All opinions are my own.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

One Comment

  1. I was adopted by my mother’s oldest sister. However, my adopted mom insisted that my biological mom watch me grow up. I was resentful of my birth mom but didnt know that until I became a mother myself. Anyway, my mom passed away almost 5 years ago and I am eternally grateful that she did take part in my life,even if not directly. Beautifully written, Miss Denene!

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