Adrianne: A Vulnerable Child


Adrianne, you were happy, a happy-go-lucky kid. You loved being the little girl treated like a princess in our family. Then Herb and Elaine came into our lives and there wasn’t anything you or anyone could do. Whenever you saw them, there was a sadness to you. I used to distract you; help you get back to being that happy-go-lucky little girl, remember? That was my job and why I was put on this earth.

-- Harry Cahn, Adrianne’s brother


Elaine Schoenowitz, my biological mother, wanted to give birth to me at the Polyclinic Hospital in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. It’s an elegant, art deco building famous for treating Marilyn Monroe. It’s also the site of Rudolph Valentino’s death.

Not long after going into labor, Elaine started to hemorrhage. With her life and my life at risk, she made it into Polyclinic, but it didn’t take long for a doctor to notice track marks running up and down her arms. We don’t treat junkies here, he said. They put her in a cab and sent her to Bellevue.

Somehow we both managed to survive and on August 6, 1962, I came into the world.

Not long after that, Elaine went to jail for either theft or forgery or prostitution. It’s hard to know because by this point in her life, incarceration was a constant state of being.

Herb, my biological father, was in Florida. His mother and sister lived there, but I have no idea what Herb was doing.

With the snipping of the umbilical cord I was cut off from my first supplier of oxygen, nutrition, and heroin, which led to the hell of withdrawal: tremors, diarrhea, vomiting, rapid breathing, fever, restlessness, and unceasing, high-pitched crying.

I was treated for heroin addiction at Bellevue, then a social worker brought me to the Jewish Child Care Association in lower Manhattan, a few blocks from the Brooklyn Bridge. To my family, it would be the agency.

Not long after my arrival, the people who would become my mom and dad walked into the agency. We’re looking for a little girl who is adoptable, they said.

Elaine was in jail and the agency had no idea where Herb was. That’s why the agency told Mom and Dad, We have just the little girl for you.