Welcome to No Regrets Birthmothers’ page

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Disclaimer: I have been cautioned that I do have regrets for several reasons.  But giving my baby for adoption is not one of the regrets.  That was the wisest and best decision for my daughter because I would not have been a good mother.  It was the wisest decision for me because I have mental illness and would not have been able to cope with trying to raise a child.

If you are a birthmother who had severe or impelling reasons to give up your baby or child for adoption, knew it was the right thing for you and best for your child, this site is for you.  But if you feel judgmental or shaming toward those of  us who have no regrets, please do not post here.  Thanks.

I regret that we early birthmothers have been shamed, and still are by the “older generation” of women and men.  I regret that I am “in the closet” and almost never mention that I am a birthmother.  I regret that my girlish figure has been ruined by the pregnancy, so I can’t wear bikinis and anyone who sees me nude can see bulges and stretch marks galore.

You can scroll down to see a great article (with link) about the culture and attitudes in the United States in the 1960s that forced many of us to give up our babies.

Here is my story.  I look forward to hearing from women who feel no regrets.

My Adoption story

I have started this new blog because the other birth mothers I have read about online have pined for their children to find them, and have many regrets or resentments over their choice of (or being pressured into) the adoption alternative.
Abortions were illegal in 1964 in the United States. Friends went to Mexico on risky trips to abortionists who were recommended via “the grapevine.” We understood that many Mexico abortions resulted in bleeding to death, or losing the ability to ever have children.
“Abortion” was a dirty word, and many people did not even know that that was.
Pregnancy out of wedlock was a scandal, and people lost their jobs, their professional licenses, or otherwise had their lives damaged or ruined.
Physical punishment was considered the best – or one of the only ways – to raise a child.
I gave up my newborn daughter in 1964. I was a very immature 22 years of age. In those days, it was generally believed that “nice girls” didn’t have sex. I only had sex three times, and the third time (second boy) got me pregnant. For my first encounter, which was in Chicago, I went to Planned Parenthood and got “the Pill.” So of course I didn’t get pregnant then. Then I moved to a very small city in California, where I taught elementary school. I was extremely sexual and frustrated, and had looked forward to being on my own adult so I could have good sex. More than anything I wanted to get married and have great sex.
A colleague teacher friend wanted me to meet her son, so I believed him to be of good character. I was fearful of going to the local Planned Parenthood, because if my principal found out, I would have lost my license to teach. So I bought an over-the-counter vaginal cream which said on the package that it was for birth control/spermicide. I had no idea how to use it, later learning that I needed a diaphragm with the spermicide cream. So of course, it didn’t work.
I was taught in my home upbringing in Texas that one needed to be personally introduced to a boy before dating him, because that would make sure he was of good character. It turned out that this boy was probably not 19 as he stated, but 17, but I’m not sure. He was a petty thief and a compulsive liar. He borrowed money from me, which he refused to repay when I broke up with him. I was seeing a psychiatrist during this time, for severe depression. I had terrible mood swings, and did not know until many decades later that I had manic-depression, aka bipolar disorder. I would come home from work, grab a quick dinner, and cry myself to sleep about 6:30 every night. I tried to adopt a kitten, but gave it back when I found I could not take care of it properly — it was “too demanding” of me since I was extremely busy with my job and my mood swings. (I now have two cats, and we are all doing fine. I take medication, and have done so for 20 years now. I have no children, by choice.)
To make a long story short, I knew that I would not make a good mother. I had no support group of friends or family. My own parents were emotionally and physically abusive. They were supportive of my decision to release my baby for adoption, however; but they wanted to raise her and I didn’t want my baby to raised the way I was. The only way they (and I) knew to “control” a child was to “spank,” and I did not want to do that.
I released my baby through county children’s services. I went into a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers, which was a very good experience. I loved it. I loved the arts and crafts, the kind workers, the other pregnant girls and women, and the wonderful nurses on the day I delivered. I had done the exercises I found in a book by Dr. Grantley Dick-Reed called “Childbirth Without Pain.” I walked a mile every day, and even played volleyball the day before my delivery. Because of being in good physical condition, eating well, and not drinking alcohol or smoking, the birth was not traumatic, but the labor was long.
I went into a severe post partum depression — so bad that I cried and sobbed constantly, so was not allowed to sleep in the dormitory with the other girls/women who had had their deliveries. I was assigned to a room by myself, which was what I wanted anyway, since I felt ashamed that I cried so hard.
I knew from the moment I found out I was pregnant that I would give up my baby. I have never regretted it.

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Book interview: “The Girls Who Went Away” from Salon magazine

I look forward to reading the book, The Girls Who Went Away, by Ann Fessler, and plan to write a review and opinion about it here.  I’m on the waiting list now at our public library.  Check back here in a couple of months for my full review!

But for now, I wish to shoot down a claim that Fessler makes in her interview article link below.  I am also cc/pasting the article here, with my comments in bold italics within her article.

“A few of the older, college-age women did choose to go to the maternity homes, because they were supposed to be places that would shelter you and give you time to think about your decision.

“But the statistics reveal the truth: If women went into a home, 80 percent would surrender their baby, because once they were there, the pressure to do so was tremendous. The women were told, ‘This is absolutely the best option. If you love your baby, you will give it up for adoption, so it can have two parents.'”

In my own case it was absolutely UNTRUE that the Salvation Army home and hospital I was in gave no other options.   I was given great counseling, plenty of opportunity to make my own decision.  I chose to have the adoption handled/managed by the local County.  The County social worker was great.  My parents were very supportive, and offered to raise the child themselves.  I was not going to allow them to do that, since I believed, and still do believe, that the way I was raised with brutal “spankings” was any way to treat a human being, let alone a child and teenager.   My parents were great in most ways, but the words “discipline” (meaning “punish”) and “control your children” were the ethos of the day, particularly in the South of the United States, and still are today there if the information given at Project NoSpank is correct about that region.  See http://www.nospank.net/

“If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.” — Dr. Benjamin Spock

“<snip> So the first myth would be that the women made a choice, which implies having options — when, in fact, the women I interviewed saw no alternatives at all. If their parents weren’t going to help them — which was really the only way that any girls made it — then they didn’t have a choice.”

Fessler’s research figure, 80 percent, does not address the other 20 percent.  I hope the book does talk about this 20 percent of the one and one half million birthmothers.

Here is an interview with the book’s author, herself an adoptee.

http://www.salon.com/2006/05/11/fessler_qa/

Here is the article in full, my comments [in bold italics].

The children they gave away

In the decades between World War II and Roe v. Wade, 1.5 million young women were secretly sent to homes for unwed mothers and coerced into giving their babies up for adoption. Now their stories are finally being told.

“Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to keep [my] baby, or explained the options. I went to a maternity home, I was going to have the baby, they were going to take it, and I was going to go home. I was not allowed to keep the baby. I would have been disowned.”

— Joyce

It was the 1960s and Joyce was going to beauty school in Florida when she realized she was pregnant. When her mother found out, Joyce says, she was “dumped” at a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers in Alabama. “It was an old, old, old house with big rooms,” she remembers now. “[And] I had no control … It was like being in a car wreck or something. Once you start skidding, that’s it. [So] I kind of skidded through it.”

Joyce is just one of more than a million and a half women who were sent to maternity homes to surrender their children for adoption in the decades between World War II and the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973. They were college freshman working their way through school with two jobs. They were tomboys, sorority girls and valedictorians. They were mothers and they were invisible.

But now, artist and writer Ann Fessler has uncovered their hidden stories. The result of years of research and more than one hundred interviews, Fessler’s new book, “The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade,” is an astonishing oral history that brings to light the dark undercurrent of life in America’s postwar middle class. Denied adequate sex education, shamed by socially conformist parents and peers, and without legal access to abortion, Fessler’s subjects emerge as the victims of a double standard that labeled them promiscuous while condoning the sexual adventures of their male counterparts.

Spirited away under the pretense of an illness or a family vacation, the women — many of them teenagers — spent their pregnancies away from home and gave birth among strangers. While the maternity homes were billed as a quiet place for women to reflect on their futures, when it came time to sign adoption papers, most of the women Fessler interviewed said they felt intense pressure to relinquish their children. Persuaded by social workers who said they would never be able to provide as well for their babies as a stable couple would, ostracized by families who were shocked by their behavior, and insecure about their own strength and intelligence, most women did as they were told and tried to forget.

Decades later, though, the mothers say the repercussions of those decisions are still being felt, as they struggle with depression, fight to find their lost children, and make peace with their past. “The Girls Who Went Away” is both politically and emotionally charged. Intertwining her spare prose with the mothers’ own words, Fessler raises difficult questions about reproductive freedom, women’s rights and sex education that seem particularly relevant today as Roe v. Wade is threatened, pharmacists refuse to fill contraception prescriptions, and a conservative administration promotes an abstinence only agenda in America’s schools.

Salon spoke with Fessler from her home in Rhode Island about the meaning of choice, the long-term effects of living a lie, and myths about unwed mothers.

You’ve been working on the subject of adoption for years, first as a visual artist and now as a writer. Was it your own experience as an adoptee that inspired you to reach out to birth mothers?

It really all began in 1989, when a woman approached me at a gallery opening and said that she thought I was the daughter she had given up for adoption decades before. I wasn’t, but it was an amazing experience because at that point, I really hadn’t thought too much about trying to find my own mother.

The woman told me a little about her story as a surrendering mother. She was sent to a maternity home and said she never felt like she made the decision to surrender her child, but that it was made for her. She asked if I had tried to contact my mother and when I told her that I hadn’t, because I didn’t want to bother her after all those years, the woman said, “She probably worries every single day about what’s happened to you and whether you’ve had a good life.” And that thought had just never occurred to me.

That was the moment I decided that I wanted to start reflecting on my experiences as an adoptee. Through the years, in each of my projects — whether films or art installations — I tried to set up areas where other people could contribute their stories. I was trying to be inclusive and to raise awareness of what adoption is like from all different viewpoints. And each time, I was really impressed by the stories I heard — they started to give me an idea of the complexity of the situation. But what floored me were the stories from the surrendering moms, mostly because I kept hearing the same things again and again — that the mothers didn’t feel like they had a choice. And I just kept thinking, why have I not heard these stories before?

You obviously tried to collect interviews from a range of women, but it does seem like because they were not cheap, the maternity homes serviced a particularly white, middle-class clientele. Did you discover different kinds of stories when speaking with women of different races and classes?

The African-American women I interviewed, of course, were women who had surrendered their children; I didn’t interview people who kept them. So they actually had the same kind of experience as most of the white women I spoke with, in that their families had high hopes and aspirations for them and felt that given the time period, if they had a child it would be the end of their education and everything else. Their parents were well-intentioned, but they didn’t anticipate the long-term effects — though it’s hard to imagine how anyone who’s had a child could not anticipate that surrendering a child would have a lifelong impact.

You say again and again that these stories need to be understood within the context of their time. What was it about the postwar years that made it such a difficult time for young women?

There was a lot of social pressure in the 1950s and 1960s — [so true!]  the time period I focus on — and that pressure was partly due to the tremendous rise in economic and social stability in many families after the war. The U.S had a booming economy, so families that had previously been thought of as working-class poor had moved up into the middle class and they didn’t want to go back. Having a daughter who was pregnant and not married was — and sometimes still is — seen as a reflection of parenting skills, and someone who had a daughter who was pregnant was considered low-class. [“low class” was a term bandied about in my family for all sorts of things, throughout my childhood and adolescence.]  It was just thought that didn’t happen in “good” families, though of course that was because the “good” families were the ones who could afford to cover it up by sending their daughters out of town.

Many of the women I spoke with talked about feeling betrayed because their mothers seemed more concerned about what the neighbors thought than about how they were coping, or what was going to happen to their grandchild.

I was surprised, reading the women’s stories, how often it was the mothers who were hardest on the daughters, and it was the fathers who visited them and cared for them when they were sent away.

Isn’t that interesting? I think that partly that was because at the time, raising children was really seen as the mother’s role, and the father’s influence was not considered as central. The idea was that if you were a solid middle-class family, the mom stayed home and spent her whole life with the kids, raising them and shaping them — so if something went wrong, it was her failure.

You write that the historical silence about maternity homes has helped perpetrate myths about what the mothers were like and what they wanted. What are those myths?

The biggest one is that any baby surrendered for adoption was willingly and perhaps even eagerly given up by the mother. And so the implication is that the women considered all their options — that they had options — and made a decision. When, in fact, most of the women I interviewed felt they didn’t really make the decision at all. If they were high school age, their parents made the arrangements and said this is what is going to happen, we’ll help you through this, but this is the only way.  [I think it was the main way, if not the only way.  High school girls who were pregnant were not allowed to continue in their school.  The belief was that no man would marry a girl who had had a child out of wedlock.  How would the girl support herself?  Who would look after her and a child?  Would the parents have been willing or able — financially or otherwise — to raise the child of their own unwed pregnant daughter?]

A few of the older, college-age women did choose to go to the maternity homes, because they were supposed to be places that would shelter you and give you time to think about your decision. But the statistics reveal the truth: If women went into a home, 80 percent would surrender their baby, because once they were there, the pressure to do so was tremendous. The women were told, “This is absolutely the best option. If you love your baby, you will give it up for adoption, so it can have two parents.”

There was just no room for imagining other solutions at the time, [This is an excellent point — “no room for imagining.”  The culture had no idea/s of what else to do.  And of course we know that abortions were illegal.  In my own case, the man who I had sex with asked me, “What would you do if a guy got you pregnant?”  I said, “I would expect him to help me find a good abortionist.”  He said, “I would marry her.”  I said, “I can’t imagine a worse way to marry someone — just because they were pregnant.”  Of course, the rogue had no intention of marrying me or any of the other girls he screwed.] at least in the middle class. I’m the same age as many of the women in the book — I came of age in the late ’50s and early ’60s — and I can tell you that growing up, I didn’t even know anyone who was divorced. [I knew three kids who lived with a single parent.  One’s dad was divorced, and he lived with his dad.  For the  other two, girls who lived with their mothers, the whereabouts of their fathers was never mentioned.] It was just such a homogeneous world if you were white and middle-class that you didn’t have any other examples to follow as a parent. [And in my case, I had no role models or example of how to raise a child, other than the way I was raised, and I had no intention of raising a child that way.] So the first myth would be that the women made a choice, which implies having options — when, in fact, the women I interviewed saw no alternatives at all. [Yes, that was definitely true in my case.] If their parents weren’t going to help them — which was really the only way that any girls made it — then they didn’t have a choice.

The second myth was that during the time period the book covers, anyone who got pregnant and sent away was considered a slut.  [I still carry that stigma inside my mind.  When it got around in my extended family — without my permission, I might add —  that a birth daughter had found me when I was in my 40s and she was in her 20s, at least one of my aunts told me she could never tell my uncle!  “He just wouldn’t understand,” she said.] It was an extremely hypocritical time sexually, because by the end of the 1960s something like 68 percent of women were having sex before age 20, but everybody lied about it. [I myself believed girls DIDN’T have sex, and that I was unusual to have such a high sex drive.] So all the girls who were having sex but didn’t get caught could claim they were virgins, [And wear white wedding dresses.  To wear any other color implied the girl was not a virgin.]  but the ones who got pregnant couldn’t deny what they had done. [Exposed!  She had sex! She’s one of those girls who did, and none of the other girls do!] So it was assumed they were either promiscuous or more sexually advanced than their peers, when most weren’t. It turns out, actually, that among the women I interviewed, most became pregnant with their first sexual partner, some with their very first sexual experience, and many within only five sexual experiences. So most likely they got pregnant not because they were promiscuous, but because they were naive. They didn’t know anything about sex; some didn’t even know how babies were born. People just didn’t talk about sex during the era; [To “experience” what the ambience was in those days, I highly recommend the movie “Separate Tables” with Deborah Kerr and David Niven playing the roles of two sexually repressed adults.  They play the part to a “T.”  I have shared this movie several times in our current era, and younger people just don’t “get it” at all. They can’t feel it, I think.] there was no sexual education, and in some families it simply never came up.

The third myth is that a woman who surrenders her child doesn’t suffer a loss. The families and the people who ran the maternity homes told the women that they’d go to the hospital and have the baby and the baby would be taken away and life would go back to normal — as though they just had their appendix removed. The idea was that they could make up a lie about where they’d been for the past four months and no one in the community would be the wiser — it would be like it never happened.  [I was given many opportunities and encouragement to change my mind about the adoption option.  But in the end, I was told, “Once you sign those papers, you are no longer a mother.  Only a court order will allow the adoptive family to contact you, or you to contact them.]

But you do write that maternity homes weren’t always so adamant about making mothers surrender, and that their ideology shifted dramatically after the war. How did they go from being places that may not have been ideal, but were at least supportive, to ones that were focused entirely on adoption?

[As I said, the Salvation Army Home and Hospital where I was, did no such thing — I never got the feeling that they focused “entirely on adoption.”  But maybe I was mistaken, since, after all, we definitely were hidden away.] The difference was that after the war thousands of adoptive families were clamoring for children. The numbers were staggering; at the time, for every child that was placed, there were 10 families still waiting for a baby. So all these lovely, established young couples were coming to maternity-home social workers hoping to adopt and that put the workers in a complicated position. On the one hand, they had a 17-year-old in front of them, who was sort of in a daze, and her baby’s not even real to her yet. She’s pregnant, but to her, pregnancy is a problem. Everyone is telling her she’s bad and that she’s shamed her family.  [Yes, yes, and yes!]

And so you find that more often than not, the social worker ends up agreeing with the girl’s family that the best-case scenario would be to get her baby placed with one of the many fine families waiting to adopt. And I don’t want to make it sound like I’m down on adoptive families, because, in fact, they were told they were adopting children who were unwanted. The problem was that all the parties were kept apart from one another, and it was a paternalistic system that told these women, “We know what’s best for you.”

Was there an element of social engineering at work? Were the women seen as less capable of parenting because they had already disgraced their families?

Definitely. The message from social workers was that the baby would be so much better off with an adoptive family than with the surrendering mother because she was already a screw-up — she’d gotten pregnant, she wasn’t married, so how good a mother could she be?

She was seen as unfit because she was unmarried, though, of course, at the time, loads and loads of women got pregnant and then got married so they could give birth six or seven months after the wedding. In those cases, all was forgiven.

Did you talk to any women who, upon giving birth, wanted to change their minds and keep their baby?

I heard again and again from women that once their baby was born, everything changed. They finally realized that what they were dealing with wasn’t an amorphous problem, it was their child. Once that happened, quite a few women told me they tried to change their minds, to convince their parents to give them more time to find another solution. The terrible thing was that in some cases they were simply told it was too late. [I so agree, that THAT is really, really sad.] But legally that wasn’t true; there was a window of time in which mothers were allowed to change their minds.  [I was certainly never told I could change my mind.]

So they were lied to?

Yes. Social workers were just so convinced that they were doing the right thing.

Did any of the women you spoke with try to get abortions?

Remember, this was before abortion was legalized, which doesn’t mean that there weren’t abortions happening, but there were lots and lots of botched ones. And most girls didn’t even know who to ask about it, or where to find one. So certainly, some women might haven chosen to terminate their pregnancies, but many of the women I interviewed were actually not pro-choice.

For example, one woman told me about growing up in a very strict Catholic family and, like many of the mothers, she had been in denial for several months, just thinking the problem would go away. Her waistline was expanding, but she just thought, This is not real, it can’t be real. For many women, by the time their parents found out it was too late to take them to a secret doctor for an abortion. In this particular case, though, the woman’s father, who was extremely religious, to the point that he didn’t use birth control, came to her room and actually said to her, “Is it too late for us to do anything about this?” And it was the daughter who said no, that she wasn’t willing to go through with an abortion.

You write that the National Mental Health Association recommends that people dealing with grief seek out people who understand their loss. But most of the women you spoke with did exactly the opposite — in fact, the insistence on secrecy seems like it made that kind of healing impossible.

Yes, secrecy was imperative. There was no reason to send a woman away and give up a child if you weren’t going to keep it quiet; the idea was that no one would ever know. That was what the families wanted and in some cases the women too — they knew what the social stigma was like, and they just felt like they could not deal with it. [I am still that way — “in the closet” except with a few close friends and relatives.] They knew what the image of an unwed mother was, and it wasn’t them.

One of your recurring themes is how damaging the burden of maintaining a lie can be on a life.

Absolutely. First of all, the women suffer tremendously from an ongoing sense of worry about their children — a feeling that some studies have equated with having a loved one who is missing in action. It’s this idea that your child is alive, is out there in the world, so are you going to run into her on the street one day?

The women were told by every authority figure in their lives don’t ever tell anyone because people will think less of you, no man will ever want to marry you if he knows you were such a bad, slutty girl — they heard that over and over. And that perpetuated the secrecy.

Also, many, many women realized only later, when the world started changing around them, that they had been duped. They were told that they had no choice, that the world wouldn’t accept them, but then within a few years the world and the culture had changed, [It sure has NOT changed for many, many people, particularly in my generation and my parents’ generation.] and they saw that maybe other options might have been possible. One woman told me that when she was pregnant as a teen she had to drop out of school, but then in the 1970s Title IV made it a law that you could not discriminate against a woman and make her drop out of school just because she was pregnant.

There were also some organizations that started up in the 1970s of women who began coming out of the closet to talk about their experiences as unwed mothers who had been forced to give up their children in maternity homes. But, in general, most of the women still didn’t talk about it.

So not only were they not talking to their husbands and friends, they weren’t talking to each other?

Exactly. Remember, the mothers were all told that they would just move on, so many felt that something was wrong with them when they couldn’t forget their children. And not having anyone to talk to, they couldn’t compare notes.   [I have tried talking to other birthmothers online.  Most of them condemn me for being “selfish,” that I did not seek to find my daughter.  There is no understanding that the way she illegally located me was a huge invasion.  I was terrified that I would lose my service business since the families I worked for were very conservative, and would have considered me damaged goods, unqualified to work for them.]

They told me how the shame and secrecy affected their self-esteem, [That is certainly true for me.] how they couldn’t relax and were always afraid of being found out — and I actually began to think it had some parallels to the gay community, to the idea of being closeted. The mothers found themselves driven to incredibly destructive behavior. And like in the homosexual community, things didn’t really begin to change until people came out and started speaking up, saying, “I’m queer and I’m proud,” the same was true for surrendering mothers. More and more women started speaking up, saying, “I’m a birth mother and this is nothing to be ashamed of.” And so gradually women became more aware that they weren’t alone. But there are still many, many women who are very distraught and lonely.  [Me, which is why I started this No Regrets Birthmothers website.]

In my book, I reproduce a note that was left for me in one of the comments boxes at an exhibition. It was from a woman who had snuck away for the day to come to the show, and she said, “This is the way I live my life, I couldn’t tell anyone I came here because my sons don’t know they have a half brother.” And I think she ended it by simply saying, “I live in hiding.”

You say that a lot of pain could have been prevented if parents in the ’50s and ’60s had been more realistic about the likelihood of young people having sex and had provided them with adequate sex education and contraception. Given the focus on abstinence only sex-ed in the U.S. today, are you worried for the future?

It’s scary to see such regression. A lot of things will never change for the women in my book; their lives are set. But one thing their stories can offer is a window onto a time period. And what they show us are the consequences of a sexually repressive, paternalistic, conservative society. And there are many people in the country right now who would like to go back there.  [Those who want to go back there….very scary, and as I say, I’m very well acquainted with such people.]

Abstinence-only sex education doesn’t allow for even a mention of birth control — the line is that the only way not to get pregnant is not to have sex. And certainly, that’s true and abstinence should be taught. But to focus solely on that is to also be willfully blind to the realities of human behavior. Sex education is incredibly important — especially realistic, age-appropriate sex education that starts early on — and it should be coupled with frank talk about relationships and respecting others. Because what scares social conservatives are stories about teen boys keeping lists of all the virgins they have scored. [That scares me, too.] But while that shouldn’t be excused, that’s really not about sex, it’s about conquest. It’s a lack of respect for other people.

You say that the voices of the women in your book need to be heard as part of the current national debate over reproductive freedom because the “double standard” is still very much a part of our cultural psyche. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Women and men are both sexual beings, and the onus should not always be on the women to stop the sexual advances of the man. It’s a couple having sexual relations. But I think we still have this caveman notion that a man can go around spreading his seed, making conquests, and the woman is supposed to be the one with restraint who holds him back. And if you look at the world in general, outside the U.S., it’s quite clear that both sexually and politically women still do not have equal say or power. Look at the Supreme Court right now. We don’t know yet what effect their decisions will have on the country, but just the imbalance of representation indicates that on some level we still value men’s opinions more, or believe that men can make more rational decisions. So if nothing else, I hope that by uncovering this hidden little part of women’s history, I can help build a bridge between two generations, and to show young people today the importance of having a voice, of being participants in their own lives.  [Thank you, Ann Fessler and Sarah Karnasiewicz.  Although much of what you’ve written did not apply in my own experience, I agree that this rear-view mirror on that era should influence our current generations on pro-choice.]

“…. one of the most selfless and loving things you could ever do.”

Here is my Comment on a book review posted here: http://www.amazon.com/Birthmothers-Relinquished-Babies-Adoption-Stories/product-reviews/059500637X/ref=cm_cr_dp_see_all_btm?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending#

Yes!! You are right on! I was one of the mothers you wrote about: ” I was looking for a book where the decision was made with a heavy heart but knowing that it was the right choice…. one of the most selfless and loving things you could ever do.” Everyone who knows me well, knows that I would not have been a good parent. I took care of my baby before she was born. I thought about her health at all times, and at the advice of my doctors did not put on too much weight; exercised daily; and ate healthy food. I’m one of the birth mothers who “has no regrets,” but still feel guilt and shame because that has been heaped on me! Someone wrote a Comment to me on another blog recently, filled with hate, shrieking in her email calling me “psychotic” and other horrible names. I am a 60s birth mother. It’s sad that somehow we who made the right decision, found it a relief, but still have sadness about our former situation and decision, cannot connect with each other. I do know 4-5 women, some very good friends, who released a baby for adoption. One was already a single mother who was unable to support a third child; four had and still have mental illness. There’s a lot of controversy in the mental health community over whether a woman who has mental illness should have children. Or, what if a woman is married to an abusive, mentally ill, or criminal man? The father of my baby was a criminal, and so was his brother. I was afraid of him, and did not want him or anyone in his family in my life, which was another reason I released my baby for adoption. I went through the County services, and did not sell my baby through a lawyer, etc. I supported myself while I was pregnant by working and living with a family as a nanny, a job that was provided by the Salvation Army’s service for birthmothers in the early 1960s. My daughter found me illegally when she was 24, and I met her adoptive parents. She had a wonderful life. Her parents love her and raised her well, and had a lot of money. She had a horse, a swimming pool, a large acreage to grow up with. I’m now well aware that not all adoptees have had a good or positive home to grow up in, and this is a great tragedy. But if I had tried to raise my daughter on my own, that would have been a tragedy. In fact, I have a first cousin who tried to raise two boys, and gave them up for foster care when they were teenagers. I was afraid that was what I would go through when the child was older, if I did not release her when she was born. The County worker gave me full information about my rights, and encouraged me to hold the baby, which I did twice, and bonded with her. So I know the strong, strong feelings that a mother has for a child — it’s spiritual and biological. It’s mysterious, too. I’ve known all my life that I had had that feeling. Never had it again UNTIL I saw my 24 year old daughter walking towards me down the platform of the train station when she came to visit me. We did not get along, though. I won’t get into that much, except that she ignored me on the three occasions we met. She spent the entire time on the phone with her girlfriends. It was bizarre. She also told me, “I am NOT a narcissist!” At that point, I had never ever heard the term “narcissist” and didn’t know what it was. Is she a narcissist? Why did she make that disclaimer? I will never know.

A Girl Like Her (article and movie)

http://agirllikeher.com/about-the-women/

Article:  “A Girl Like Her” movie

[Disclaimer: I just watched this video.  Below is some of the information in the movie.  However, there was the same stereotype that I see all over the internet — that virtually all birthmothers regret their decisions to release their babies.  This is definitely not true for all birthmothers, as it is  not true for me.  Many of us went on with our lives, and do not look back. But we need support.  I have yet to find an online forum that supports birthmothers with no regrets, which is why I started this website.]

from the link in this section:

Between 1945 and 1973, an unprecedented 1.5 million women in the United States surrendered children for adoption due to enormous social pressure. They were expelled from high schools and colleges and forced to leave jobs as teachers and nurses because they were pregnant. They were sent away to distant relatives or to maternity homes to make the “problem” disappear. These women gave birth to their first child, left it behind and returned home, where they were expected to keep their secret, move on and forget.

Many of these women have remained silent and as a result their collective story has remained untold. The space created by this absence has been filled with myths and stereotypes that continue to affect them, their adopted out children (now adults), and current adoption policy. A GIRL LIKE HER brings this hidden history to light as the women’s stories collide with the authoritative voice-overs and images from films that purported to represent them.

Most people equate the 1960s with a time of “free love”—yet few understand the actual lived experiences of women from that era who became pregnant. For women of the baby-boom generation, sex before marriage was rapidly becoming the norm, yet sex education still meant watching a scratchy movie with egg and sperm meeting in some mysterious place. Oral contraceptives were not widely available to single women until the late 1960s and in some states it was illegal for single women or man to acquire contraceptives until the 1972 Eisenstadt v. Baird Supreme Court decision. Adults thought it best not educate young people about sex, thinking it would encourage sexual activity. Predictably, millions of women became pregnant. Abortion was illegal and responsible for 30% of maternal deaths. Thus, if a young woman became pregnant, it was likely that she would give birth.

Never-married women with children were stigmatized, ostracized, and discriminated against in the workplace. An unmarried teacher or nurse could not return to her job if she kept her child. Before the Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972, if a young woman became pregnant while in high school or college, she was immediately expelled. If she kept her child she could not return. Yet despite these conditions, adoption was seen as a choice, a personal decision made by a woman who had weighed all of her options and ultimately chose placement over parenting.

What the surrendering mothers from this time period have to say is not easy to hear, but the lack of knowledge about this history has resulted in misinformation and stereotypes about these mothers that persist today–stereotypes that are not only painful the mothers, but to millions of adoptees. The lack of information about adoption and surrender during this time period continues to shape adoption policy and fuels attitudes that negatively impact all parties in adoption, including adoptive parents.

adoption and surrender during this time period continues to shape adoption policy and fuels attitudes that negatively impact all parties in adoption, including adoptive parents.

My Review

I just finished watching A Girl Like Her, with a friend.  We talked about the movie, and “in those times” after the movie.

My appreciation goes to the filmmakers about the very good information discussed by the women, in the early part of the film.  Much of the things they went through were also my experience, particularly the loss of respect from others, and for myself; the feelings of failure; the very real threats of getting kicked out of high school or college; the threat of loss of employment.

Much of the film, however, was disappointing to me.  Here are my points, with the most important one as Number 1.  I’m hoping Women Make Movies will put out a second film about birthmothers’ experiences that take some of these things into consideration.   I anticipate a telephone conversation from a representative there, and will post more here after the call.
1.  The stereotype in the movie, and on almost all online birthmothers’ support groups, is that we birthmothers, one and all, regret the loss of our babies.  That we were pressured, and or had our babies “taken from us.”  While many scenes in this part of the movie were indeed heartrending, not all of us are the same.

2.  The movie failed to mention that many women gave up their children for very good reasons, and do NOT regret releasing their baby.  One women did touch on the issue of how she was afraid if the kept her baby, she would treat it exactly as her own parents treated her.  I knew this would have been true in my own case: I would have hit my child (called “spanking” — see the website projectnospank for more information).   I knew no other parenting methods or skills.   I had no support, no resources to learn parenting skills.  I was unable to support the child.  Nobody told me about welfare and other benefits.

3.  I have met several women who, like myself, had undiagnosed mental illnesses.  I had severe depression.  Another women has schizophrenia. Another, bipolar disorder.  The woman with bipolar disorder wishes her mother had not pressured her TO HAVE CHILDREN.  She was absent a lot from raising her two children because of being hospitalized.  A cousin of mine had to give up her kids when the were teenagers, because she herself had mental illness, had done all she could to raise them, but could no longer take care of them.  Her parents tried to raise them, and then disinherited my cousin.

4.  Not all of us were treated badly.  I was at a Salvation Army home and hospital.  They found me a job as a nanny, and I supported myself for 5 months, till my 8th month.  They Salvation Army had a program where families were happy to house, pay and feed  nannies who were pregnant girls to work part time.  All the people at the Salvation Army were wonderful.  The nurses who cared for me when I was in labor gave me a lot of information and loving attention.  We had crafts classes, too.

5.  I had previously bought a book called  Childbirth Without Pain by Grantly Dick-Reed.  I used the exercises in the book every day.  I knew what to do when the birth time came.  Other girls were not so fortunate.  Nobody asked me how to do these exercises, nor taught them at the home/hospital.  We were expected to have natural childbirth with no training, and no anesthetics.  This was very bad.

6.  The movie barely touched on post-partum depression.  While I was very happy when I was pregnant, after the birth, which was relatively easy although I was in labor for many hours but that was okay, I went into such severe depression that I had to sleep in a single room, instead of in the dormitory with the other post-birth mothers.

7.  The problem of suicide.  One friend tried to commit suicide, so she was not allowed to work as a nannie, but had to stay at the home/hospital to full term.

8.  I was not pressured to give up my baby.  In fact, the opposite was true. The county social worker gave me a lot of counseling, and said I had the option of not releasing the baby.  I was not told there was a 30 day period that I could change my mind, if this was the case in California in 1963-64.

9.  My parents were very supportive and kind in every way possible, from 2000 miles away. My mother came out to see me once, and in those days it was rare to travel that far.

10.   I was told, as were most birth mothers then, that once I released the child, I was “no longer a parent.  You have no child. The only way that your daughter can ever contact you is through a court order.

11.  My daughter found me when she was 24 years old.  Her father, in his profession, had access to the county archives where the paperwork was.  By then, I was living in another state.  She was very, very inconsiderate, a pathological liar, and divided my family into two camps — the ones on “her side” and the ones on “my side.”  The knowledge of her very existence (i.e that I’d been an unwed mother) was instrumental in the breakup of my marriage because my husband’s mother turned against me and started putting pressure on him against me.

12. I was able to have no regrets.  I went on with my life.  I have a masters’ degree, which I earned at the age of 49.  I am a performing musican, and an amateur artist.  I married 3 abusive men, now I have a man companion who is very good to me, finally. At the age of 54 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  Due to exhaustion and depression, I had always had trouble working a job.  I finally had started and run two successful service businesses, but could only work part time for those reasons.  One, I was able to sell when it grew so big I could not handle all the work. The other, I worked at for 20 years.  I was only able to work part time, even as an entrepreneur.

13.  Your film did not discuss birth fathers who were dishonest, deceitful, mentally ill, or criminals.  Nor did it discuss women who were raped, and what they did about their situation.

14.  The film did not mention women who had illegal abortions.  In those days, young women depended on each other, word of mouth, about which clinics in Mexico were “safe” for getting an abortion.  Plenty did go to Mexico, taking their chances, all alone, including one who was very close to me.

15.  Another factor is — what about the babies who were born with a disability? At first, the adoption people thought my daughter had a seizure disorder.  It turned out that she did not. But she spent 2 months where nobody knew where she was, being observed by medical people. After 2 months, I was told she could be adopted.  While she was under observation, I was told that, if she indeed had a seizure disorder, she would be my own “responsibility.”  What would I have done????  I had depression and poverty, and hard time keeping a job.