I was a newborn, alone in Muir Woods, when a couple picnicking with their toddler heard me cry.
They found me behind a boulder with nothing but a blue blanket protecting me. Lenore Budd stayed with me while her husband, Ralph, and their son went to call for help. It was Mother’s Day. I was four hours old.
An estimated half-dozen emergency vehicles responded to Ralph’s call. I was taken to Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, and that was the last Lenore and Ralph Budd saw of me. News articles detailed the facts of my abandonment, but my birth parents were never found. I was given to my adoptive parents when I was two days old, and I still live with them in Novato.
Now 21, I have been reflecting on my strange welcome into the world and how it has impacted my life. I decided to visit Muir Woods and contact Ralph and Lenore Budd in hopes of finding some closure.
Being abandoned didn’t faze me until early adolescence, when I started to think that I wasn’t good enough for anyone. I only opened up to one or two close friends in fear of being abandoned. I fell into a depression that got more serious as time went on.
Eventually, I lost hope and wanted to stop living.
I remember the day that changed my life: I was 14 and had just walked home from a miserable day at school. Waves of sadness crashed down on me, leaving me desolate.
My hopelessness led me to the bathroom, where a bottle of Tylenol sat on the counter. I filled a glass with water and went into my bedroom. I sat on the floor and ingested pill after pill in a steady rhythm until my stomach hurt.
Fear set in, and I realized that I wanted to wake up the next morning.
I called a close friend, who called my parents, Tom and Kathy Olivera, who have cared for me since day two of my life. They drove me to the emergency room at Marin General, and six hours later, I was taken to a psychiatric hospital in Vallejo.
I received psychiatric help and was in and out of various hospitals for about six months. I was only permitted to use the phone for a few minutes a day, but my family did their best to support me. During visiting hours, they brought me Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, flowers and journals to release my pain onto paper; but most of all, they cared.
Opening up about my abandonment led me to discover that I was OK. It allowed me to feel loved. I started making connections, one person at a time. The more I shared my feelings with others, the sooner I freed myself from the forest that held me captive since birth.
Last December, I contacted Ralph and Lenore Budd to thank them. I googled Ralph’s name and found he was a doctor and head of the immunology center at the University of Vermont, which led me to his e-mail address. I wrote him an e-mail and, to my surprise, both he and his wife wrote back.
It was exciting to see a reply in my inbox but for some reason, my hands hesitated to click the “read” button. Would they be elated? Would they want me to leave them alone? Would they pretend it never happened? Thankfully, they were overjoyed.
Lenore described in detail what happened that day: “I thought I was hearing an injured animal and, being curious, I followed the sound to a big boulder. By then I knew for sure I was hearing a baby. Sure enough, there you were, wrapped in a blanket. I was stupefied. I yelled for Ralph, who came running, thinking I had been bitten by a snake.”
Ralph wrote, “We were naturally thrilled beyond imagination to hear from you. It was among the best news in some time. Should the points of your compass ever bring you near Vermont, we would love to meet you.”
It was a humbling experience to be able to thank Ralph and Lenore for saving me, and it gave me the confidence to visit Muir Woods.
When people travel to Muir Woods, they admire the beauty of the redwoods, the sound of birds singing, and the smell of fresh air. When I think of Muir Woods, I feel lucky. It’s almost as if nature protected me until I was found.
Going back to the woods was exactly what I needed to feel whole again.
I brought my boyfriend with me for a hand to hold. I followed the curvy road through the trees, and as we got closer, I felt empty. I didn’t realize how far out of the way my birth mother went to leave me. I attempted to park and enter Muir Woods, but I couldn’t find a parking spot. I must have circled the lot six times. I finally gave up and decided to drive out near the trail where I was found.
I could see the ocean down below, and I could hear the waves crashing on the rocks. I was tired of driving so I pulled over to the side of the road. I cried for what seemed like an eternity.
It was a painful cry at first, voicing the depression I had felt for so long. After a few minutes, though, my cries voiced relief. Letting myself feel and release the sadness, loneliness, gratitude and acceptance was freeing.
I didn’t need to explore the exact spot I was found. I finally felt like I could accept the past and move forward.
The thought of abandonment will always linger in the back of my mind, but the difference between my past and my present is that I am finally looking forward to my future.
I wrote this almost five years ago. This story remains a huge part of my heart and my everyday life, and through understanding its meaning in my life, I have been able to become a truly rich and compassionate woman. I write of my struggles, because they are a part of my life, and I do not deny them; however, I also write of my hope, because it is what plunges me forward every day. I am so grateful for even the hardest parts of this life, because I am here to witness them, and to use my strength to continue becoming stronger.
Lisa Olivera is about to finish her time at the University of California at Santa Cruz, receiving her B.A. in Psychology. She works for a non-profit organization supporting female foster youth in her community. When she is not working on bettering the lives of others, she is continuously focused on bettering her own life, finding joy, creating laughter, and continuing on her life’s journey.
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Ed: Sara Crolick/Kate Bartolotta