As I write this, I am reading Ann Fessler’s book The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden Story of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. My intention was to just write the page numbers, quotes and my experience. But I find the book much to painful to read. Plus, there are no entries in the index for mental illness, nor depression, nor post partum depression, nor disability. Some of these may be listed under “mothers” in the index, and I will gradually check for that possibility.
P. 9. Toni”s quote: “This was in that period of time when there wasn’t much worse that a girl could do. They almost always treated you like you had committed murder or something.”
Personally, I still feel the stigma that there are many people who would view me this way, if they knew I had been an “unwed mother.” The relatives of my ex-husband were certainly good examples, and I was very sorry that they found out, when my birth daughter illegally found me. I think her discovery had a lot to do with the end of my marriage to that man — his family turned him against me.
Pp. 147-48. “Social Workers turned to the growing field of psychiatry … began to classify middle-class girls who became pregnant as neurotic: the unwed mother was a neurotic woman who had a subconscious desire to become pregnant.”
I was seeing a psychiatrist at that time for major depression. He told me that I wanted to become pregnant. I was shocked — of course that was absurd. So Fessler’s book explains to me now that he was parroting the professional myth of those times. Hard to believe people could be so dumb. One wise thing this doctor did say, though, was that the birth father was dangerous, and I should no longer let him into my apartment.
continuing: “Though social workers had been quic, to condemn working girls as sex deviants, this new explanation was more appealing in explaining middle-class pregnancy because it downplayed the issue of sexual drive. … Though a young woman’s peers, family, and community may still have attributed her pregnancy to loose morals or an overactive sex life, professionals determined that the problem was in her mind.”
Fessler continues: “….a neurotic woman was seen as unfit to be a mother.”
While I dislike the pejorative term neurotic Fessler is perpetuating the stigma against people who have mental illness. We’ll just say they are “neurotic” she seems to say — while ignoring the fact that mental illness in itself can be, for many of us, a defining factor in our lives. I myself would not have been a fit mother, and so many others would be unable to be one, too. In some mental health online support forums, I see women with severe and persistent mental illness claiming their “right” to have children, and raise them. Another book could be written about the legacy of children of such parents.