Susan Mello Souza
Born and raised in New Bedford, MA, Susan lived there until 1988 when she and her husband, Jay, moved their family of three girls, Jackie, Kristine and Beth to Acushnet, MA. More recently, Susan and Jay became Florida residents but still spend summers at their Acushnet home to be near their children and grandchildren.
In 1968, at the age of seventeen, Susan was forced to surrender her first-born daughter to adoption. Her birthmother experience has led Susan to become an active member in various birthmother support groups, while providing her the opportunity to assist several individuals in their reunions.
Since her reunion with her daughter, Joanne, in 1999, together they have written their adoption story, “The Same Smile.” In her book, Susan shares an intimate look at the heartbreaking time when at 16, she discovers that she is pregnant. An unwed teen mother in the 60’s was not an option and she is sent away to a home for unwed mothers in Boston, MA. After caring for her daughter for eight days while in the maternity ward, Susan says goodbye to her firstborn; but not before she whispers in her ear a promise that she will find her when she turns 21. Just two weeks before it is time to fulfill her promise to search, Susan learns that her oldest raised daughter, sixteen-year-old Jackie, has leukemia.
Susan’s spirit and resilience has enabled her to triumph over life’s disappointments. After the death of Jackie, she founded the Friends of Jackie Memorial Fund which has raised and distributed over $90,000.00. She is an inspirational speaker, having lectured at Stonehill College, Salve Regina University, American Business Women’s Association, “Strengthening Your Spirit” Reiki Retreat, and the Rotary Club, to mention a few.
Susan’s extraordinary life experiences offer an important message to all, proving…“You can do anything in life you set your mind to, provided it is powered by your heart.”
In Sousan’s Words:
You are right when you say I wrote my book to help, educate and inspire others about the never ending bond between a mother and her child. But I also wrote it to “shout from the rooftops” that, yes, I was a teenage, unwed mother who was forced into surrendering my precious baby, but I am no longer that scared, shamed teenager, who simply did what was expected of me by my parents, society and my church. I am now, after a lifetime of hurt and heartbreak, a self-empowered mother/woman, who helps, educates and inspires young pregnant women to keep their babies….adoption is merely a permanent solution for a temporary problem.
Tell me about something you have done for others in your community that has made you feel really happy – or tell me about something you’d like to do to make a difference.
My husband and I established the Friends of Jackie Memorial Fund in 1990 after the death of our 16 year old daughter, Jacqueline, to leukemia. The fund has raised and distributed in excess of $90,000.00 in scholarship and support for families living with childhood cancers.
Describe a positive interaction that you have had with youth.
I was contacted by an 18 year old girl, who had just finished reading my book, asking whether she should keep her baby or give it up for adoption. Our conversations continued throughout her 3rd trimester, right up until the time of delivery…she called me while she was in labor because the adoption agency social worker was badgering her to give them her baby immediately after delivery, even brought the hopeful adoptive parents into the labor room…that’s when she called me. I insisted she tell them to leave to give her time and space to deliver and spend time with her soon to be newborn daughter.
Needless to say, the attorney was furious. The adoptive parents were angry and weeping. I wanted to know where her parents were…she didn’t know…she had called them but they never showed. Long story short….she sent the attorney, the social worker and the adoptive parents away for the length of her in-patient stay, caring for her baby daily. On the last day, she decided she couldn’t live without her baby and refused to sign the papers. Terrible thing is, when we spoke on the phone the morning after she gave birth, she was crying….crying because she had disappointed the adoptive parents and felt bad they had to leave the hospital without a baby. My reply to her….”Better than YOU leaving that hospital without YOUR baby. They WILL get over this. YOU will not!” FYI: mother and daughter are doing just fine!
What experiences have you had in working with youth?
While my girls were in school, from K – grade 12, I was a lunch mother, yard mother, library mother, chaperone on all school trips, both day trips and overnights. For 6 years I was a chaperone for the New Bedford High School Marching Band, competing up and down the East Coast from Maine to Florida. Disney World being the most exciting trips of all! Also chaperoned and participated in NBHS Chorus and Drama Club, having a role in Bye, Bye Birdie!!!!
Please describe a previous volunteer experience or similar activity in working with others. What did you like most about this experience?
In 2003, I co-founded & conducted “Have It All” seminars/workshops. One of our first volunteer workshops was at St. Mary’s Shelter for Women and Children in Dorchester, MA…which, at one time, was the same St. Mary’s Home for Unwed Mothers where I lived during my teenage pregnancy. Our hope was to provide the young women/mothers the tools they needed to achieve their power within, to do the things they had only thought of doing. After all, everyone has hopes and aspirations and I love being able to offer my life experiences as an important message, especially to young mothers before they make too many bad choices like I did. What I liked most about that experience were the comments we received at the end of the seminar when we knew we had accomplished what we set out to do…eliminate the doubt and encourage their determination to pursue their dreams.