The Girls Who Went Away

I am in the middle of reading The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler and it is just blowing my mind. Not so much the adoption part (though that’s definitely very powerful, too) but just the degree to which things have changed in my lifetime alone. It is astonishing to me that women were treated so horribly and that there was so much ignorance about sex and birth control just a few decades ago. In some states it was actually illegal for married couples to obtain birth control until 1965, and illegal for single men and women until 1972!

But what’s really affecting me the most about this book are the stories, over and over again, of women who were torn apart by relinquishing children, who never got over it. And the things people said to these women… how unfit they were to be mothers, how much they had shamed their families… horrible, horrible things, done largely in the name of getting that baby! For the child’s well being, of course.

Everyone should read this book. It’s due out in paperback today, so it’s cheap. I don’t know how anyone could be involved in adoption today without reading these women’s stories. I’m sure some things are different now, but the terrible pain of relinquishment has to be a human universal. While the specific circumstances may differ between 1950s suburban America and modern rural China, the terrible pressures imposed on women must be every bit as hurtful.

Reading this book has been surprisingly therapeutic for me. My mom’s circumstances were a great deal different than ones I’ve read about so far, but it still helps to understand the times, the views of women, and the tremendous amount of pressure used by adoption agencies and social workers, as part of having a greater understanding of what her frame of mind might have been like when she finally decided to relinquish me. While I can’t ever know for sure what she was going through, it’s very helpful to me to understand what was possible.

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23 Responses to “The Girls Who Went Away”


  1. 1 magicpointeshoe June 26, 2007 at 4:33 am

    So many of the stories I related to, and I placed in 1996. Instead of the full force coersion, it was much more sneaky I think and consequently a lot of the emotional damage is still a burden. The inadequacy, the struggle with trust and relationships, the voice of being young and scared… so much of that book rings true. Best book ever for me to read, especially knowing how much in limbo I still am in waiting to see if and when reunion would ever come. =o/

  2. 2 jackiejdajda June 26, 2007 at 11:23 am

    The book was written by an adoptee.. It was not written by someone that has actually ‘walked the walk’.. The interviews were of women that attended her art exhibit.. or were connected to it.. No broad spectrum here..

    From a review of the book on Amazon

    “Fessler presented the women as voiceless automatons who did what they were told, whether it was consent to sex, hide from the community, place their children for adoption, or keep their secret.”

    IMO a person needs to take responsibility for their actions.. but hey.. that’s just me..

    Jackie .. A birthmom that relinquished in 1965.. A birthmom that approached the agency.. A birthmom that is not a victim..

  3. 3 iBastard June 26, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    As far as I can tell, she is not claiming to have done a definitive, scientific study. She is relaying experiences that she has collected. I fail to see how those experiences are any less real just because some people did not share them. I do not agree that she presented the women as “voiceless automatons” and a review at Amazon is hardly an authoritative source.

    You were not a victim, therefore nobody was a victim? That’s the sort of thing someone with an agenda says. Your statement “a person needs to take responsibility for their actions” implies that the women in the book did not, without stating it directly. I think that’s a pretty cowardly way to conduct discourse, but hey, that’s just me.

    If you have any guts at all, state your position clearly. Did the women in this book have these experiences or not? Were they treated fairly or not? Was this experience the norm or wasn’t it? In other words, you need to take responsibility for your words as well as your actions. Otherwise, don’t waste my time.

  4. 4 iBastard June 26, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Also, the claim that “the interviews were of women that attended her art exhibit.. or were connected to it” is misleading at best. She originally started conducting the interviews for the purpose of creating an art exhibit, and this book grew out of those interviews. That is not the same as saying that she just talked to women who happened to show up.

    If you have ACTUAL INFORMATION about how she conducted her research (at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, according to the back flap of the book) then by all means please post it here but if you’re just going to spew a bunch of conjecture then please take it elsewhere.

  5. 5 jackiejdajda June 27, 2007 at 12:58 am

    You wrote..
    ” It is astonishing to me that women were treated so horribly and that there was so much ignorance about sex and birth control just a few decades ago.”

    I consider what you wrote in your bolg to be a sweeping generalization..

    I was not treated horribly.. Other women were not treated horribly..

    You say I must not waste your time.. but you put out something that is not true.. I would suggest in the future the words.. some women.

    You wrote..
    “You were not a victim, therefore nobody was a victim?”

    That is a jump.. A very aggressive jump I may add..

    The women either attended her exhibit or were connected to it I was covering all the bases in my comment. What is misleading about that?

    I wonder what you would think of a book written by an adoptee that puts out that all is well in adoptee land and closed records are a good thing.. And I wonder whether you would question as to where this person got his or her information..

    Who did this person interview.

    Jackie

  6. 6 iBastard June 27, 2007 at 3:41 am

    “It is astonishing that bears keep tipping over my trash can at night.” Does that mean ALL bears tipp over my trash can at night? NO. Every speaker of English knows this, without having to say “some bears”. If English isn’t your native language then go back to ESL class, otherwise stop pretending you don’t understand something that everyone knows.

    Are you seriously saying there wasn’t ignorance about birth control in the 60s? Are you seriously saying there weren’t laws against it? She cited additional sources for these claims, they aren’t just hers you know. They can be independently verified. Don’t you think that constitutes poor treatment of women? I sure do.

    When you talk about not being a victim, the implication is that it is relevant to the current discussion. If it is relevant then it could only be for the purpose of making a contrastive distinction. Or you are just posting irrelevant comments. Which is it? Why did you point out that you didn’t consider yourself a victim unless it was to create a comparison with women who did consider themselves victims for the purpose of casting doubt on their claims?

    The comment about the exhibit was misleading because it was meant to imply that no care was taken in finding the women to interview. However, YOU DO NOT ACTUALLY KNOW THE SELECTION METHOD THAT WAS USED. She stated that she sought out women to interview; they did not just show up at some exhibit. She did so as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, which has a program specifically for combining research and the arts.

    If an adoptee (or anyone, for that matter) actually went out and interviewed adoptees and gathered their stories, whatever they were, I may disagree with the conclusions drawn but I would not say that my experience was somehow truer or more representative.

    Are you saying that she did not actually interview women who surrendered children for adoption? Are you saying that she distorted their words or otherwise misrepresented them? Because there were, what, about a hundred of them? I’m sure some would come forward.

    I think you are saying that your experience and your analysis of your experience and your conclusions about adoption should somehow be privileged over theirs. Well, that does not fly with me. You claim to be critical of her work but your criticisms are exceptionally vague, such that it is clear that you don’t know anything about her methods and I actually wonder if you’ve even read the book. I’ve failed undergrads for this kind of argumentation.

    You don’t like the book. Fine. Your experience was different. Fine. But who are you? Just some person on the internet. Not even a blog or anything linked to your name. You could be anyone. You obviously don’t know how to critique research. So why should I take you seriously?

  7. 7 joy21 June 27, 2007 at 5:35 am

    Oh God, Jackie two dot has found you, her arguments are not related to logic, intelligence or even healthy emotion, she gets her rocks off toadying to aparents. Quite the saint that one, and yes, take responsibility for her actions, which she repeats ad nauseum, how she does this is very unclear, certainly not by informing her son who his father is, she said he can call the agency himself if he wants to know, let’s hope she relinquished in Maine.

    She doesn’t have her own thoughts but if you are nice she will make long dissacioated posts with long quotes from Rumi, etc.

  8. 8 iBastard June 27, 2007 at 6:05 am

    Oh cool, I like Rumi.

  9. 10 suz June 27, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    how lovely for jackie that she was treated nicely and she is happy she gave away her child . i am not. i did so in 1986 and was coerced by a notorious baby broker. i went away. i lived in a home. things have changed but not as much as they need to do. anns work is amazing and wonderful and support by them others who were forced and who were not happy to give away their children. i have seen her art, read her book, met her and more. she is welcome to speak for me.

  10. 11 Leslie Mackinnon June 27, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    Ann didn’t speak for me, and I did not happen upon her art exhibit. I am one of the many women interviewed for the book. The words are mine. She recorded me for 4 or 5 hours and then edited the tapes to come up with my chapter, as she did with each woman’s chapter.

    What struck me when I first read the book was how she juxtaposed our voices with what was happening in our society at the time. If there is an enemy here, it would be the limited viewpoint of our era, and the ensuing harm done to women in the name of “taking care” of their “little problem.”

    We must always be vigilant to the crimes we humans perpetrate on one another, and not let them pass unnoticed. I am thrilled that our voices were finally heard and literaly cry every time I realize that they will be housed in the Arthur & Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard University. My voice and those of others were silenced for far too long.

    http://www.lesliepatemackinnon.com

  11. 12 Lillie June 27, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    Not all mothers who relinquished were coerced, this we know. They weren’t ALL victims.

    But a surprising number of them were, even one coercion is one too many. I hope this book gets read, because it will be a real eye-opener to the general society who still blindly believe all the “adoption is a loving choice” b.s. that permeates every advertising venue.

    For if you were offered no alternative BUT adoption, then how can you possibly call it a “choice?”

  12. 13 Amris June 27, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    Wow, look, someone very proud of herself for abandoning her child.

    Good to see the mentally ill minority speak up. So easy to forget sometimes that there are people in the world who will happily dump their child off and walk away without care.

    Good thing there wasn’t a dumpster nearby, eh?

    And just yesterday, I was wondering where the hell these stereotypes come from. Now I know!

  13. 14 iBastard June 27, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    I gather Jackie has quite a reputation. Well, I’m not running a debate forum here so if any of her future comments are triggering or strike me as particularly intellectually dishonest, they just won’t make it through the moderation queue. I was hoping she would share her own experience rather than deny the experiences of others, but oh well.

    For the other first moms who have posted here, thank you so much for sharing your experiences in something of a hostile environment. I agree with Lillie that this book goes a long way towards demythologizing adoption, which is absolutely necessary for any kind of broader social discourse on adoption to take place.

  14. 15 Wraith June 28, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    I met Ann Fessler at a CUB retreat last year along with several of the women who shared there stories. At no point did Ann say “this is the story of ALL women who relinquished” nor did any of these woman say that there story was the only story.

    The fact is, just like iBastard has said, this crap DID happen. Jackie, I am very glad it didn’t happen to you and am sorry you think that this book belittles your experience but it is there truth so please don’t belittle them.

    Oh and iBastard, love the blog.

  15. 16 iMother June 28, 2007 at 11:59 pm

    Thanks iBastard, for the opportunity to talk about this.

    I read the book on the recommendation of a friend and was stunned by how well it spoke to my experience. I had to take it slow — a few pages at a time — because it stirred up so much emotion. When I got to the end, I mostly felt relief to know that the story of the “unwed mothers” of the 60s was beginning to be told — and from a person who has such deep compassion for our predicament. Compassion has been in short supply for women like myself. Jackie, I wish you had some compassion for yourself. Maybe then you would not be so mean to other mothers. We all of us did the best we could with a difficult situation and not much in the way of choices. Give yourself a break, why don’t you? Then you can give the rest of us a break too and maybe even get some of the comfort and support you so obviously need.

  16. 17 laura lou June 30, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    jackiejdajda wote: IMO a person needs to take responsibility for their actions.. but hey.. that’s just me..

    Yes Jackie, you are correct. The agencies and the adopters behind their crimes should take repsonibility and be accountable.

    Aren’t you a moderator on an pro adoption site that coerces pregnant woman for adopters?
    Should we name it here????

  17. 18 Christine June 30, 2007 at 10:12 pm

    jackiedada said…””The interviews were of women that attended her art exhibit.. or were connected to it.. No broad spectrum here..””

    That is a blatant lie that you are spreading. Evidently you are not as informed as you have led yourself to believe. I have never attended Ann’s art exhibit nor connected to. I live in Texas, nowhere near Ann’s art exhibit. When I heard online that Ann was looking for surrendering mom’s from that era to interview, I wrote to her and she wrote back. Ann would actually come 100 miles out of her way to interview me, that interview lasting almost 4 hours. I lost my newborn baby to adoption in 1964.

    jackiedada has her own agenda…and seems it is froth with misguided notions, beliefs, to the point of lying. Shame on you jackie for spreading falsehoods!

  18. 19 Christine June 30, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    jackiedada said…. “”Who did this person interview. “”

    ME! for one and I am in Ann’s book….Christine… not my full story but interspersed in places. As I said before… I was in now way connected with Ann’s art exhibit nor ever visited the gallery her art exhibit is displayed nor the city it is in! What’s your problem jackie…looking for a little more attention, is that it?

    “”I was not treated horribly.. Other women were not treated horribly.. “”

    Great for you and great for the ‘other’ women who were not treated horribly…but who are you to even imply by your words, that ‘other’ women who state their own experience as being treated badly/horribly, possibly is not so. Since when did you take it upon yourself to determine what is ‘horrible or not horrible’ treatment of any mother who shares her very own personal experience of the events/deeds leading up to the loss of her own child to surrender and adoption? What is wrong with you as a woman/mother…what is this giant axe you have to grind against so many ‘other’ surrendering mothers who do not follow your birthmother mantra?

    BTW… this blog was originally written about Ann Fessler’s book which has been very well received, published by Penquin Books. Not a Blog about Jackie-dada and her mis-informed ideas in how Ann’s book was created/formulated.

  19. 20 Christine June 30, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    iBastard… thanks for blogging about Ann’s book…this means a lot to so many mothers that have lost their babies to adoption, without ‘choice’, during that particular time in America. As was happening in all Westernized countries of the world, at the same time.

    Ann gave mothers a most special opportunity to share, for what is for so many surrendering mothers from that time, the most saddest, sorrowful event in her/my life. Of course..’some’ surrendering mothers do not feel that way and that is their ‘choice’.

    I had heard on the internet that Ann was going to interview surrendering mothers from my era for a possible book. I emailed Ann that I was interested. Sometime later she called me back and that she would be visiting 2 major cities in Texas, one being about 100 miles from me. And I was unable to travel at that time to that specific city in Texas. A while later she emailed and said…she would come to me! Sorry but I was impressed by that…a stranger coming 100 miles out of her way to hear my story of loss, that meant a lot to me. She would come to my town and interview me for almost 4 hours. The interviews were all taped and some time after the taping all the interviewees received a full audio tape of her interview.

    Not only did Ann offer the individual mother th opprotunitey to speak, but also gave a great opportunity for our ‘voices’ to be archived at the Schlessinger Library, Women’s Studies at Harvard. These tapes can never be checked out, but can be listened to at the library. My words in her book, are word for word mine! I can’t thank Ann enough for the opportunity she gave me.. to leave my ‘voice’ as a legacy for all women and mothers, and most importantly…my own 2 daughters.. The daughter that I lost to adoption and am now reunited with and my raised daughter. What happened to so many young unmarried mothers in that time, should never be allowed to happen again. Women need a range of ‘choices’…not just one of adoption’. Problem is..history has this thing about repeating itself…if people are not aware of past history or too apathetic to care.

  20. 21 Valentina July 5, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    Leslie said, “What struck me when I first read the book was how she juxtaposed our voices with what was happening in our society at the time.”

    This is how the book impressed me, too. I had read mothers’ memoirs before, but to have their stories interwoven while the author carefully reviewed social history was compelling. (Yes, of course I cried.) Fessler repeatedly pointed out how societal pressure, by way of the infamous double standard, dangerously affected the outcomes of millions of lives. I finished the book thinking, “Accounts of one of the more severe costs of sexism.”

    Drawing certain parallels to women’s situations today, and especially in countries from where Americans are adopting, was where my thoughts next jumped.

    I remember idly wondering if any had read the book and closed it thinking, “A cautionary tale.”

  21. 22 Heather July 8, 2007 at 1:46 am

    (I just found your blog and really like it. It’s made me laugh out loud several times.)

    Anyway, I “placed” in 1998. I’m sad to report that coercion’s still alive and well. It takes a different form than it did in TGWWA, but it definitely exists. And Jacki, it doesn’t have to happen to everyone for it to be a terrible, terrible thing.

  22. 23 Denise Marconi Leitch July 10, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    I was one of the “girls who went away,” and even for me, someone who lived through the era of coercion and who was forced to put my son up for adoption, Ann Fessler’s book blew me away. The sheer scope of the adoption industry and the Catholic church’s propaganda is hard to believe in the year 2007. Yes, things have changed but sadly, they have not changed enough. Coercion is still going on today. Women of all ages are being told “the best thing for the baby” would be to put it up for adoption. Although my son was lucky, he was adopted by two very wonderful people, what’s to say he wouldn’t have had just as good a life, if not better, if he had stayed with me? I do not hate those who adopt but I have to say this…there is NOTHING in the world like a mothers love for her child. I’m not saying an adoptive mom can’t or doesn’t love her adopted child, what I’m saying is it’s different. The bond which starts in the womb is not present; again, I’m not saying an a-mom can’t bond with her a-child but it is different. In addition, NOTHING can break the bond which forms in the womb, not time, distance or even death. An adopted child is, in most cases, a second choice for couples. How many of these couple would choose to adopt if they could have a child of their own? Anyway, I’ve gotten off point…yes, Ann Fessler’s book is a must read for all of society, they need to understand what happened to over a million of us young girls for those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. This, of course, is just my humble opion, however, it’s an opinion which comes as a direct result of experience. Denise – Michael’s mother – lost to adoption on December 23, 1969 – lost to death on May 26, 1988 – laid to rest on May 30, 1988 – searched and found on May 30, 2003 – “Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where its victims are expected, by the whole of society, to be grateful.” http://www.foundandlostsupport.com


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