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The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade

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A powerful and groundbreaking revelation of the secret history of the 1.5 million women who surrendered children for adoption in the several decades before Roe v. Wade In this deeply moving work, Ann Fessler brings to light the lives of hundreds of thousands of young single American women forced to give up their newborn children in the years following World War II and bef A powerful and groundbreaking revelation of the secret history of the 1.5 million women who surrendered children for adoption in the several decades before Roe v. Wade In this deeply moving work, Ann Fessler brings to light the lives of hundreds of thousands of young single American women forced to give up their newborn children in the years following World War II and before Roe v. Wade. The Girls Who Went Away tells a story not of wild and carefree sexual liberation, but rather of a devastating double standard that has had punishing long-term effects on these women and on the children they gave up for adoption. Based on Fessler's groundbreaking interviews, it brings to brilliant life these women's voices and the spirit of the time, allowing each to share her own experience in gripping and intimate detail. Today, when the future of the Roe decision and women's reproductive rights stand squarely at the front of a divisive national debate, Fessler brings to the fore a long-overlooked history of single women in the fifties, sixties, and early seventies. In 2002, Fessler, an adoptee herself, traveled the country interviewing women willing to speak publicly about why they relinquished their children. Researching archival records and the political and social climate of the time, she uncovered a story of three decades of women who, under enormous social and family pressure, were coerced or outright forced to give their babies up for adoption. Fessler deftly describes the impossible position in which these women found themselves: as a sexual revolution heated up in the postwar years, birth control was tightly restricted, and abortion proved prohibitively expensive or life endangering. At the same time, a postwar economic boom brought millions of American families into the middle class, exerting its own pressures to conform to a model of family perfection. Caught in the middle, single pregnant women were shunned by family and friends, evicted from schools, sent away to maternity homes to have their children alone, and often treated with cold contempt by doctors, nurses, and clergy. The majority of the women Fessler interviewed have never spoken of their experiences, and most have been haunted by grief and shame their entire adult lives. A searing and important look into a long-overlooked social history, The Girls Who Went Away is their story.


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A powerful and groundbreaking revelation of the secret history of the 1.5 million women who surrendered children for adoption in the several decades before Roe v. Wade In this deeply moving work, Ann Fessler brings to light the lives of hundreds of thousands of young single American women forced to give up their newborn children in the years following World War II and bef A powerful and groundbreaking revelation of the secret history of the 1.5 million women who surrendered children for adoption in the several decades before Roe v. Wade In this deeply moving work, Ann Fessler brings to light the lives of hundreds of thousands of young single American women forced to give up their newborn children in the years following World War II and before Roe v. Wade. The Girls Who Went Away tells a story not of wild and carefree sexual liberation, but rather of a devastating double standard that has had punishing long-term effects on these women and on the children they gave up for adoption. Based on Fessler's groundbreaking interviews, it brings to brilliant life these women's voices and the spirit of the time, allowing each to share her own experience in gripping and intimate detail. Today, when the future of the Roe decision and women's reproductive rights stand squarely at the front of a divisive national debate, Fessler brings to the fore a long-overlooked history of single women in the fifties, sixties, and early seventies. In 2002, Fessler, an adoptee herself, traveled the country interviewing women willing to speak publicly about why they relinquished their children. Researching archival records and the political and social climate of the time, she uncovered a story of three decades of women who, under enormous social and family pressure, were coerced or outright forced to give their babies up for adoption. Fessler deftly describes the impossible position in which these women found themselves: as a sexual revolution heated up in the postwar years, birth control was tightly restricted, and abortion proved prohibitively expensive or life endangering. At the same time, a postwar economic boom brought millions of American families into the middle class, exerting its own pressures to conform to a model of family perfection. Caught in the middle, single pregnant women were shunned by family and friends, evicted from schools, sent away to maternity homes to have their children alone, and often treated with cold contempt by doctors, nurses, and clergy. The majority of the women Fessler interviewed have never spoken of their experiences, and most have been haunted by grief and shame their entire adult lives. A searing and important look into a long-overlooked social history, The Girls Who Went Away is their story.

30 review for The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade

  1. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Like so many others who reviewed this book, it brought me to tears. Tears of remembrance, for I became a birthmother in 1961, "persuaded" to surrender my son for adoption "for his own good." But I did not have the luxury of a maternity home to hide in -- those things were expensive, and I was 19, making minimum wage far from home, and forbidden to return until "this is all over with." Some have called the stories in this book repetitive. Yet, they don't begin to touch the surface. And they desp Like so many others who reviewed this book, it brought me to tears. Tears of remembrance, for I became a birthmother in 1961, "persuaded" to surrender my son for adoption "for his own good." But I did not have the luxury of a maternity home to hide in -- those things were expensive, and I was 19, making minimum wage far from home, and forbidden to return until "this is all over with." Some have called the stories in this book repetitive. Yet, they don't begin to touch the surface. And they desperately needed to be told, and understood in the light of the times in which they were lived. Abortion was illegal, but available. It cost a month's pay, and easily might kill you, or leave you infertile. A friend chose that path, and came very close to death. Like so many of the mothers in this book, I signed the papers while still groggy from anesthetic, and I was told that this was irrevocable. (not true) I saw my baby for about 20 minutes the next day. The day I left the hospital without him was the absolute worst day of my life. Yet, even then, I did not regret my choice to go through with the pregnancy. It was, I rationalized, the only gift I could give him. So yes, The Girls Who Went Away is a hard book to read. It's about pain, and loss, and betrayal. But read it anyway. Because we need to know the other side of adoption. Because we need to have compassion for those babyless mothers, and the pain they endured, believing they were giving their children a better life. And usually, they were, even though they might never know if the sacrifice was worth it. As for me, I never forgot him. It took forty years, but I finally met my son and his adoptive parents. Good, loving folks. Worth the pain.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Reese

    My interest in the "women who surrendered children for adoption in the decades before Roe v. Wade" meant that Ann Fessler probably could not have produced a work on this subject that I would have begun and abandoned. Nevertheless, about one-third of the way through The Girls Who Went Away, I realized that this is a book that I would have to read in "chunklets." Although Fessler does present stats, history, and commentary to capture "the big picture," the book is dominated by the narratives of "t My interest in the "women who surrendered children for adoption in the decades before Roe v. Wade" meant that Ann Fessler probably could not have produced a work on this subject that I would have begun and abandoned. Nevertheless, about one-third of the way through The Girls Who Went Away, I realized that this is a book that I would have to read in "chunklets." Although Fessler does present stats, history, and commentary to capture "the big picture," the book is dominated by the narratives of "the girls who went away" and, in many cases, years later found or were found by the children who were given away. Their experiences "reach out and touch" -- or grab -- you, but they have so many common elements that you might wonder if the cat moved your bookmark and you're reading what you've already read. I wanted to be feeling sympathy and outrage, not to be thinking, "Here we go again." I was reading about woman after woman who was not permitted to see the infant that had been developing inside her for nine months, who was given "an hour to say goodbye" to her baby (160), who had "to live with the trauma of losing [a] child and then . . . with the trauma of knowing [she] didn't stop it (163), who was not allowed to be "true to who [she] really [was]"(207), and/or who did not have the "opportunity to express feelings about the loss"(209). The pain of a loss that is not final and shame -- that most powerful of feelings -- shaped the adult lives of most of the women whom Fessler interviewed. Being sent to "homes" for unwed mothers, being pressured to believe that they could not raise and did not deserve to raise the children who sprang from their sins, being misinformed, being kept uninformed, being coerced into signing the papers that would make others the parents of their children -- let's face it -- this is stuff that will f--- you up for life. Fascinating stuff too. But how many individual experiences does one need to read to understand "the girls who went away"? Should I have felt impatient? Should Fessler have selected considerably fewer stories to include in her book? I thought so. And then a memory stopped me from thinking so. On one of the many occasions when I have listened to a Holocaust survivor whom I think of as "our state's Elie Wiesel," Gizella Abramson told her audience about being a teenager in a camp with another teenager who, day after day, kept saying (in her native language, of course), "My name is Hana Meitnerova." The seemingly endless repetition of this statement irritated Gizella to the point that she yelled at Hana, "I know your name! We all know your name! Will you stop saying it?!!!" Only as an adult looking back on this experience did Gizella realize why Hana Meitnerova, who became one of the exterminated millions, announced her name ad nauseam: she wanted to make certain that she would be remembered. The unmarried women who felt compelled to give up their babies in the 1950s and 1960s were, for decades, ignored and silenced. Records were sealed; records were altered; letters were discarded, etc. And so I came to see what seemed like unnecessary and tedious repetition in Fessler's work as the author's way of giving each woman who wanted/needed to tell her story a chance to be "heard." Repetition is sometimes the only option when "Attention must be paid" (Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman).

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    This wasn't a book I expected to surprise me, but it did. This is one of those times I'm so glad I'm a part of the online book community, because I never would have heard of this book otherwise, and it was a very worthwhile reading experience. I wouldn't have known what I was missing, of course, but I'm glad I know now. This book completely changed the way I look at adoption. Completely. Like, that's not even hyperbole. The Girls Who Went Away is not a book about adoption, per se. It's a book abou This wasn't a book I expected to surprise me, but it did. This is one of those times I'm so glad I'm a part of the online book community, because I never would have heard of this book otherwise, and it was a very worthwhile reading experience. I wouldn't have known what I was missing, of course, but I'm glad I know now. This book completely changed the way I look at adoption. Completely. Like, that's not even hyperbole. The Girls Who Went Away is not a book about adoption, per se. It's a book about a specific period of time in American history when unprotected sexual activity was increasing, sexual education was non-existent, and cultural attitudes about sex, and specifically sex and young girls, were just about as regressive as you can get. It was unthinkable for an unmarried young woman to have a baby, so girls were sent away to homes for unwed mothers, gave birth, and were oftentimes forcibly separated from their children. Most of them were given absolutely no choice about any of it, and even those who supposedly chose for themselves to surrender their babies didn't really do any choosing (if you can even call a choice between living a potentially "normal," non-shamed life as a single mother with no support systems versus giving that baby away and getting the chance to have a baby and start over and have more babies "the right way," a "choice"). There were no choices to be had; there was doing what you were supposed to do, and there was the unthinkable. The author, Ann Fessler, is herself an adoptee whose mother surrendered her during this period of time, and it was this ultimately that spurred her to launch a decades long project of chronicling the experiences of birth mothers from this time period. The results are somewhat staggering. I think people who have not surrendered children or been adopted themselves are conditioned to think very, very differently about adoption than the experience itself sometimes warrants. We have this romantic notion that the birth mother is doing this noble thing for her baby, giving them up so they can live their best lives in homes that can more readily care for them, and that baby will go to a family who maybe can't have a baby of their own, and will be raised in a loving, supportive environment. And not only that, but that by doing so the mother will be better off herself, unencumbered by the mistakes she's made. That's best case scenario, but it's not always reality. Even in the best case scenario, that birth mother is most likely going to be feeling the effects of surrendering her child for the rest of her life, and it will affect her in ways too numerous to count (not to mention the affect on the child, who might not end up in that perfect dream home at all, and even if they do, could still suffer from feelings of rejection and abandonment). And this is not a book about the best case scenario. In fact, the rhetoric surrounding adoption is in full play here, as the homes for unwed mothers made it common practice to beat it into the mothers' heads that they were doing what was best for their child, that the babies were going to better homes. What they didn't say, but which was also meant (and very much felt), is that the birth mothers did not deserve to raise their own children. And don't even tell me that kind of nonsense force fed into your head at one of the most vulnerable times of your life isn't going to have lasting consequences. Over and over again, Fessler interviews these women, whose stories are told in first person, and over and over again the same things happen. It gets a bit repetitive after a while, but I firmly believe that's the point. What Fessler has done in her book is document the very real harm that societal beliefs surrounding sex, marriage and adoption did to the millions of women and children from the 1950s through the late 1970s (yes, millions, at least three million if the statistics are accurate). Each of those womens' stories, so eerily similar to one another, really just hammer home the points even before Fessler works through her research and analysis. Of course, all of this pain and consequence is for the women to feel, not the men. What really surprised me, though, is how these women still felt the affects forty, fifty years later, how giving up that child shaped the rest of their lives into something it never would have been otherwise. Their senses of shame, secrecy, PTSD, their self-worth. I was reminded of a book I read last year, Kate Mulgrew's memoir Born With Teeth. She gave up a child in the 1970s, and she was the best case scenario, believing her child would have a better life without her, and that her life would be ruined if she kept her baby. She regretted it, and yearned after her daughter for years. It was clear to me while reading that she, like the women in these books, gave up her baby not because she truly thought it the best thing, but because the social pressure and repercussions she would have felt otherwise would have been too much to bear. This book is a good reminder that things are often much, much more complicated than they seem, and we should be seriously skeptical of all those romantically tinged notions we might have about things that aren't as black and white as we would like them to be. Certainly we should also realize that sex education is so, so, so important. LIKE SO IMPORTANT. I'm very thankful women aren't forced to give up their children anymore, but in many ways these issues are still around today. Abstinence only education is still a thing. Women's reproductive health is still somehow a public issue. We are still so, so messed up about how we talk about sex. So read this, and pass it on.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ann Evans

    Oh my! When I had an abortion at 19, a friend who was pregnant at the same time surrendered her child for adoption. Thirty years later I got a letter from her telling me of her anguish and agony looking for her daughter, whom she finally found, after 15 years of searching, in The Netherlands. The daughter didn't want to have a relationship with her, though you never know what might happen some day. This book told dozens of stories of ruined lives, untold anguish, unfathomable and unexplainable re Oh my! When I had an abortion at 19, a friend who was pregnant at the same time surrendered her child for adoption. Thirty years later I got a letter from her telling me of her anguish and agony looking for her daughter, whom she finally found, after 15 years of searching, in The Netherlands. The daughter didn't want to have a relationship with her, though you never know what might happen some day. This book told dozens of stories of ruined lives, untold anguish, unfathomable and unexplainable regret, of the young women who were shepherded, without information or counselling mostly, through the adoption process in the 1950's, 1960's, etc. I must admit that since then I have looked at every adopted child and thought about his or her mother. Not that I thought they shouldn't have been adopted -- just that the mother should be honored. The worst thing in the world is to lose a child, and when you surrender a child, you lose it, at least in those days you did. This was an important book, interesting, heartbreaking, informative.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    On a complete accident I managed to stumble across The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade on GoodReads while typing in another title and I have found a new love, which is surprising because I rarely, if ever, read non-fiction works. I am surprised that his book did not get more press coverage when it was published because (a) it discusses something that most people tried to hush up and (b) it calls for pro-choic On a complete accident I managed to stumble across The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade on GoodReads while typing in another title and I have found a new love, which is surprising because I rarely, if ever, read non-fiction works. I am surprised that his book did not get more press coverage when it was published because (a) it discusses something that most people tried to hush up and (b) it calls for pro-choice. I cannot seem to put into words how much I enjoyed this book other than this a powerful book that I think everyone on both sides of this debate should read. I, personally, am a big advocate for real sex education in high schools like how to put on rubbers and such. Not this pansy abstinence only sex education that teaches kids that condoms aren’t affective so they shouldn’t even bother. This book only reaffirmed that belief for me but it also helped me understand why people are also against abortion. Many of these women who were forced to give up their babies and never given the chance to be mothers to their children said they still do not regret having their child. The Girls Who Went Away puts into words what I cannot. It’s gripping and emotional and something I wish I was able to say came from my own personal bookshelf. “Obviously, no one would want to advocate early sexual activity among teenagers, but leaving young people uninformed only postpones and complicates the problem-a problem that ultimately becomes one of unplanned pregnancy.” {pg.296} “If they’re going to do away with Roe v. Wade, I’m afraid I’m going to have to get on a train. I’ll be in Washington to protest, because I can’t even imagine the injustice of it for every girl who follows behind me. It’s such a knife in the heart of the women of this country. And threat comes from a Catholic!” –Maureen II {pg. 296-297} “You know what? You’re gonna forget all about, you’re gonna go home, and you’re gonna met a nice young man, and you’re gonna get married, and you’re gonna have other babies, and you’re never even gonna remember you had this one.” {pg. 325}

  6. 4 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    When we left St. Mary’s that day, I knew my life had been changed forever. I wasn’t the same fun girl I had been, Going back to high school was very hard. I was very distracted. My grades suffered. I couldn’t concentrate on the things my friends were saying or the things going on around me. Most of the talk seemed so trivial to me. I thought about Madeline constantly. I was trying to be so brave for my parents and I was trying to keep up the façade. Everyone told me I should feel fine and that When we left St. Mary’s that day, I knew my life had been changed forever. I wasn’t the same fun girl I had been, Going back to high school was very hard. I was very distracted. My grades suffered. I couldn’t concentrate on the things my friends were saying or the things going on around me. Most of the talk seemed so trivial to me. I thought about Madeline constantly. I was trying to be so brave for my parents and I was trying to keep up the façade. Everyone told me I should feel fine and that I should go back to school and be a teenager and go to football games and parties and it just hit me that I’d never be the same. I would never be like the other girls. There are some really good and personal comments in the GR reviews for this book. It won’t hurt to read them even before you read the book. There are no spoilers. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since this is for many women an issue that touches deeply. And I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that as I scrolled through review after review that they were almost ALL from women. Where are you guys? Don’t you think about this kind of human life stuff? That did surprise me. I adopted a girl from China. I often think about her birth parents. So this book hits home for me even though this happens in the U.S. Mei Mei had (and has) a cleft palate; she was seriously malnourished when she was found abandoned at the age of about three months. You may know that a baby with a cleft palate is very challenging when babies get their nutrition by sucking. A baby with a cleft palate cannot suck effectively, being unable to create a vacuum in the mouth due to the cleft. So we imagined that Mei Mei’s birth parents tried to provide nourishment unsuccessfully and watched her fail to thrive before their eyes. They had very limited resources and didn’t know what else to do. They could watch their baby slowly die or they could “abandon” her so she could get the medical care that she needed to survive. I can’t even imagine how horrible making that decision must have been and how powerless they must have felt. Now, this story is just our surmise from the limited information that we have. But it does seem like something like that happened. Most babies are abandoned relatively quickly after birth but the birth parent(s) tried to keep Mei Mei for three months and only gave up in desperation after doing all they could manage to do. I get a lump in my throat every time I tell this story to someone. I am reading another book at the same time I am reading this one: Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother . It is about women in China who abandon or even kill their baby girls. The feelings in these two books are matched. Not only did I adopt a Chinese girl who was abandoned, but I was a teenager when my first son was born. He saved me from Vietnam. I had the experience of being a teenage parent so when I read about the teenagers in The Girls Who Went Away my emotions and empathy are right there with them. One of the more common phrases in this book is “No one talked about it, ever.” Women tell how they never talked with anyone about this for years once the baby was born and given away. If you have an experience from your youth that you would rather put out of your mind, you can imagine that experience always being there without being expressed in words. The Girls Who Went Away lets you walk a mile in their shoes. The shoes are not the comfortable. It was a significant event for all of the girls who participated in the oral history project that turned into this book. It was emotional for many and probably freeing for most. It must have been a relief to talk about your experience with someone who cares after you have carried something around with you that was a secret for such a long time. I spent some of my work career as a social worker. So I am embarrassed that initially the causes of unwed pregnancies were classified as feeblemindedness or sexual delinquency. They thought they made a big advance in thinking when in the 1950s they decided that unwed women who became pregnant were neurotic and that part of the neuroses was a desire to become pregnant. One of the results of the neuroses label was that they thought that it made sense for the ill mother to give up the baby. This book strongly touched a chord for me. My life and my social worker experience made it easy for this book to come alive for me. The stories are somewhat repetitious. That underscores that the experiences these young women had were the norm for that time in recent history. There is some eye opening data sprinkled throughout. The stories of the girls were the emotional guts of the book. The writing of the author both to summarize and to expand on the oral history was captivating. It is possible that some editing could have strengthened the book by lessening the repetition. However, I was captured by the presentation and did not find that the repetition made the book drag on at all. You might think that there could be no happy endings with this topic. But the frequent stories of the reuniting of birth mothers and children later in life definitely created some feel good moments. The book does a good job relating the history of the period (the 1950s and 1960s). You know that you never want it to be like that again. The author is the daughter of an unwed mother who was relinquished at birth. Her letter to her lost mother is at the end of the book and is a wonderful personalization of the woman who has put this book together with love and empathy. The book itself is written in a very accessible, personal style so the letter is not a requirement to set the tone. But, for me, it was a wonderful glimpse of the author saying “I have told your story, now let me tell you mine.” This book had an emotional impact on me immediately when I began reading it. I brought my life experience as a teenage father and as the adoptive father of an abandoned girl from China. I was nineteen when my first son was born so I know the feelings of growing up fast. I know some of my adopted daughter’s story but not the story of her birth mother and father. The subtitle of this book is The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade . The implication is that things would be different for these young women once there was the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. The option of an abortion does change things but we know that abortions have their own loss and pain. Some of the girls whose stories are told in this book did consider abortion even though it was not legally available. Or maybe it would be better to say that some parents or boyfriends did. The current day abortion aspect of young pregnant women is for another book. The fifteen and sixteen and twenty-three year old girls in this book felt almost universally that they had no control or choice in the decision to give up their babies. And even though parents and professionals said “You will get over this,” most did not just find that life went back to the same as before. Rather than leaving the system with a clean slate, free of their past, many were burdened with feelings of low self-esteem and unworthiness, and laden with secrets, shame, loss, and grief. This is an important book about an important topic. Being a young unwed mother and giving up your baby is not presented in a dry, academic way. You may have my experience and find yourself with some tears along the way. We need to think more about what we should do about the reality of kids having kids. Five stars to this author for her efforts. Check out the information on the 2012 documentary by Ann Fessler, A Girl Like Her at http://agirllikeher.com/

  7. 5 out of 5

    Myrna

    The Girls Who Went Away is a heartbreaking, enlightening, and honest story – extraordinarily well told through the voices of over 100 birth mothers taking place post WWII to early 70s. Ann Fessler, an adoptee herself, did remarkable research recounting their experiences. The book shares stories of the birth mothers (many very naive) who were forced or manipulated into giving up their child/children. This was an accepting/normal practice at the time but the repercussions were physical, emotional The Girls Who Went Away is a heartbreaking, enlightening, and honest story – extraordinarily well told through the voices of over 100 birth mothers taking place post WWII to early 70s. Ann Fessler, an adoptee herself, did remarkable research recounting their experiences. The book shares stories of the birth mothers (many very naive) who were forced or manipulated into giving up their child/children. This was an accepting/normal practice at the time but the repercussions were physical, emotional and so much more for the birth mother and family members. Fortunately this is not the case today. What incredible an read! 4.5★s!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Since I'm not a mom, my opinion of this book can't be wholly trusted, but nonetheless, here it is: Fessler compiled personal accounts from women who got pregnant out of wedlock in the 50s and 60s and had their children taken from them under the guise of "voluntary adoption." Every single one of these accounts was unjust and upsetting: Girls were ostracized by their own families, they were made to feel unworthy of motherhood, they weren't informed of their legal rights and - in many cases - were b Since I'm not a mom, my opinion of this book can't be wholly trusted, but nonetheless, here it is: Fessler compiled personal accounts from women who got pregnant out of wedlock in the 50s and 60s and had their children taken from them under the guise of "voluntary adoption." Every single one of these accounts was unjust and upsetting: Girls were ostracized by their own families, they were made to feel unworthy of motherhood, they weren't informed of their legal rights and - in many cases - were blatantly lied to, and of course, worst of all, they had their children taken from them against their will. Then, given that this was a time of repressed emotions, the women were expected to simply forget about it and move on. The cultural reaction was abominable enough, but legally, it's hard to believe that this even happened in America. What an incredible thing, to live in a time when you, on a personal level, could be lied to, misled and forced into doing something you didn't want to (and technically didn't have to) do by your state. It's difficult to fathom. Hopefully this establishes that I find not informing citizens of their rights, particularly so you can then go and steal their babies, reprehensible. That said (you knew it was coming!), would keeping the baby have been the best decision for any of these women? In the typical case, the parents refused to offer any kind of financial or moral support, the boyfriend was MIA, the girl had no savings and hadn't yet graduated high school and therefore had slim, if any, job prospects...would they really have been able to take their babies home and raise them the way they deserved to be raised? One girl made the point that several years after her first pregnancy, she had her second child. She still didn't have any money, she still didn't have a degree, she still didn't have a career, but this time, she was married, so all was well and she was "capable" therefore of being a mother. This of course just emphasizes the inanity of the culture's prejudice: Having a ring on your finger doesn't automatically mean you're in a good situation to have a child. Many single women are much better equipped to raise a life than married couples, unquestionably. However, my mind is in 2011 when I say that, though - not 1962. In 1962, an unwed mother didn't stand much of a chance without the support of her family and society's acceptance - neither of which she would have received. Another girl - a 14-year-old - had talked it over with her boyfriend, and they were determined to get married. They had been saving up their dollars and had even bought a TV - clearly, one of the first things you need when having a baby and saving up to live independently. Who says this girl wasn't equipped to parent on her own!? Yet another girl says she would have been able to do it with "just a little help." Since when is it anyone else's job to help you raise your child?? If you can't do it on your own and don't have anywhere to turn for support, can you really do it? I'm not remotely suggesting that we create a financial or intellectual litmus test for motherhood and if the woman doesn't pass, she loses her child. That's ridiculous. But ultimately, the vast majority of these women - girls, really - couldn't have provided for their babies the way the adopted parents (in most cases) could - and the way the babies deserved. That doesn't excuse the near kidnappings that took place, but while the mothers may have suffered greatly, were the children better off? I'm also a little confused about what the subtitle has to do with the book, other than to market to pro-choicers. Is Fessler suggesting that abortion would have been a better solution than adoption? Had abortion been available at the time, I'm sure many of these women would have at least seriously considered it and some would have gone through with it, but as the majority are now happily reunited with their children, I have a hard time believing that any would choose to go back in time and abort the kid away. This book raises a lot of really interesting questions. Four stars for the thought-provoking content. Minus one for being too one-sided and a little repetitive. Net net, this "hidden history" is a worthwhile read, but readers should take care to consider the not-hidden history of adoption's benefits, as well.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    ””You asked me why I agreed to be interviewed and I think it was because you were here, because you came here and spoke to me. There’s still that voice in me that said, “Who would be interested? No one cared then, why would they care now?’ I was abandoned when it was right in everybody’s face, so I still believe that nobody cares. I am here. I do exist. Maybe I can find someone who cares.” Heartbreaking, soul-wrenching, but oh so necessary. In telling the stories of the girls who went away, A ””You asked me why I agreed to be interviewed and I think it was because you were here, because you came here and spoke to me. There’s still that voice in me that said, “Who would be interested? No one cared then, why would they care now?’ I was abandoned when it was right in everybody’s face, so I still believe that nobody cares. I am here. I do exist. Maybe I can find someone who cares.” Heartbreaking, soul-wrenching, but oh so necessary. In telling the stories of the girls who went away, Ann Fessler makes those who weren’t aware of the subject extremely aware, and those who lived back then but continue to deny it and live in shame unable to hide their ignorance anymore. Through carefully researched statistics and personal stories of some of those girls who went away, she shows us the pain, heartbreak, and sheer torture it was to have a child that was loved by the person that mattered most (the girls) but shunned and reviled by the society they were to be brought into. In a way, those girls who went away never came back. Their physical self came back, but through the stories and interviews Fessler gave, it’s all the more apparent that emotionally, the girls who went away are gone forever, leaving a shallow core behind. Some reviewers criticized the fact that the stories the woman told were too repetitive and all the same experience. In my opinion, it made the book stronger in the process because it showed how common in frequency this happened to the unlikeliest of people. The people that thought such a thing would never happen to them. The normalcy of white, middle class America and myth of the perfect family completely shattered. Fessler fearlessly tackles the horrific double standard that exists when it comes to teen pregnancy; a double standard that never really went away, and probably never will. The girls always went away, but the boys never did. They were not shunned, outcast, reviled, sexually assaulted afterwards, made to wear an invisible Scarlet Letter on their chest. Their lives went on without a glitch. The girls had to pay the price. The stories were my favorite part of the book, though I did skim some of the rest of the book that wasn’t story related and more explanation of life and the social standards back then. That indeed did get repetitive, but I could have listened to the stories for hours. I didn’t care that the stories were sometimes one in the same. These woman have lived in pain for so long that I felt it was the least I could do. So to all the girls who went away, those hidden and unhidden, bent and broken, scarred and anguished: I see you. I hear you. I believe you. You matter.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Karyl

    I’m not even sure where I came across this book, but with the recent challenges to Roe v. Wade, I know it was timely. What I didn’t expect was how much it would affect me. I’ve always known that my biological mother became pregnant and gave birth to a son on her 19th birthday. Three months later, she married my father; he was not the father of her baby. The relationship with my mother has always been difficult, but reading this book has caused me to look at her toxic actions through a new lens. I’m not even sure where I came across this book, but with the recent challenges to Roe v. Wade, I know it was timely. What I didn’t expect was how much it would affect me. I’ve always known that my biological mother became pregnant and gave birth to a son on her 19th birthday. Three months later, she married my father; he was not the father of her baby. The relationship with my mother has always been difficult, but reading this book has caused me to look at her toxic actions through a new lens. She left her husband and her two daughters (I was only 2) in 1981; perhaps she felt she didn’t deserve to be a mother because she had relinquished her first child. She called my father in 1985 and gave him custody of my sister and me; I had always assumed she was sick of having kids who slowed down her party lifestyle, but perhaps there were deeper issues. As a child, I’d visit her and she’d get drunk and cry at me that she didn’t have her babies with her; at the time I saw only that she had *chosen* not to have us. I didn’t think that perhaps being forced to give up her son had affected her so deeply. I bought into what everyone else has told a pregnant teenager, that it was for best and that the baby would have a better life with a more established couple, that maybe my mom would think of him on their shared birthday but that she’d be fine otherwise. Reading this book made me think that it was very possible that many of her subsequent choices may have been informed by this one terrible and heart-wrenching action. When I was 19, I became pregnant as well. The father had already broken up with me so there was no question of us getting married. I was in college and I had my whole life ahead of me. I heard the same things from my own parents that the women in this book had heard from theirs, but now abortion was legal. I was told I couldn’t come home, that my parents wouldn’t support me, that I couldn’t provide for a baby without a job or an education. Abortion was my only option given to me by those who knew best. So I know how easy it is to bully a young girl who’s scared into doing what’s easier for everyone else. My heart breaks for all of these young girls, and for the first time in a long time, I have a lot of sympathy for my biological mother. It’s not enough for me to open that door again to have contact with her, but at least I can understand some of her motivation throughout the years.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Block

    I am having a hard time putting this book down and would highly recommend it, although I'm not sure if I'm biased as an adoptee myself. For me, this story is capitvating because it raises a whole host of questions regarding my "beginning", leaves me to question how well the stories of these women fit into the image and circumstances of my own birthmother who gave birth in 1975. I like to think I would find it a just as fascinating if I weren't adopted; some of these women's stories are heartbrea I am having a hard time putting this book down and would highly recommend it, although I'm not sure if I'm biased as an adoptee myself. For me, this story is capitvating because it raises a whole host of questions regarding my "beginning", leaves me to question how well the stories of these women fit into the image and circumstances of my own birthmother who gave birth in 1975. I like to think I would find it a just as fascinating if I weren't adopted; some of these women's stories are heartbreaking and rock you to the core. The one thing that bothers me, though, is the title of this book. I think it probably turns many people off to the book (i.e., the mention of Roe v. Wade). I have yet to encounter a story in this book that suggests the woman would have chosen abortion if it were a legal option. Yes, some of these women would have chosen to keep their baby but none seem to indicate they'd abort. Truthfully, I find the title a bit insulting as an adoptee; it suggests that only reason the children of these birthmothers are alive today is because their mothers had no option but to give birth to them. Anyway, my two cents. The other reviews are accurate in that it gets a little repetitive but you can easily skip through those sections. The underlying story, though, is one little spoken of and both fascinating and heartwrenching. I would highly recocmmend this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kristy Miller

    Ms. Fessler is an adopted child, given up by her young mother in the years before Roe. Her adoptive mother was adopted herself, so this has always been a topic of interest for her. Before Ms. Fessler decided to contact her own mother, she looked for the side of the story we never hear; that of the birth mother. What she gets are hundreds of similar stories, but ones that we have hardly heard because for decades we shamed women who got pregnant before it was considered appropriate. But never the Ms. Fessler is an adopted child, given up by her young mother in the years before Roe. Her adoptive mother was adopted herself, so this has always been a topic of interest for her. Before Ms. Fessler decided to contact her own mother, she looked for the side of the story we never hear; that of the birth mother. What she gets are hundreds of similar stories, but ones that we have hardly heard because for decades we shamed women who got pregnant before it was considered appropriate. But never the men. These women were kicked out of school, sometimes kicked out of their homes. They were shunned, shamed, and mocked by family, friends, religious persons, social workers, and society at large. They were told to forget the birth of their children. That if they kept these children they would go to hell, that it would ruin their lives, that they would never be wanted by anyone or be able to get a job. They lived with this trauma for decades. Some reunited with their kids, some didn’t. Many entered abusive, unfulfilling relationships because they felt it was what they deserved. They were never told their rights. They were never told there was support available. I can’t begin to describe the sadness and anger this book engenders. We owe it to the generations of women that our society traumatized to hear their stories. We owe it to them to have comprehensive sex education, and cheap and available birth control, and to let women know the rights they have over their bodies and their choice to have children or not. Honestly, we owe them much more than that, but that is the best we can give them now. Our time, our compassion, our understanding.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sabrina Rutter

    This was a very eye opening book for me. I did know about young unwed mothers being sent away to maternity homes, but I thought this was only a catholic practice. The only reason I knew about this at all was because of an HBO movie "THAT NIGHT" Which is about a little girl who's teenage neighbor gets herself into trouble by becoming pregnant outside of marriage. I always assumed that everyone rushed into marriage if they found themselves pregnant. I'm not sure why I would have assumed that men w This was a very eye opening book for me. I did know about young unwed mothers being sent away to maternity homes, but I thought this was only a catholic practice. The only reason I knew about this at all was because of an HBO movie "THAT NIGHT" Which is about a little girl who's teenage neighbor gets herself into trouble by becoming pregnant outside of marriage. I always assumed that everyone rushed into marriage if they found themselves pregnant. I'm not sure why I would have assumed that men were more willing to take responsibility during this era seeing how a lot of them act these days, but this was my assumption. The stories shared in this book are beyond heartbreaking to me, and they confirmed what I already knew. Adoption leaves a lot of open wounds in ones psyche. How could anyone be expected to heal after being forced to give their child away. I just don't see how that's even possible. I believe this is a book that all women who are considering placing their children up for adoption should read. I watch a lot of shows about young mothers who give their children up for adoption, and they almost always live to regret that decision. I really get upset when I see parents pressuring their daughters to give their children up to adoption, and making it next to impossible for them to keep their baby. I never see anyone warning these young mothers of the pain that comes after relinquishing their baby. They are always telling them a lot of the same things the women in this book were told. This may not be such a widespread practice anymore, and it's definitely not something that's hidden, but young mothers are still forced by their families even today to let their baby go. They don't realize that there are places that could help them until they get on their feet because no one is encouraging them to keep their baby so they keep this from young mothers even today.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Trena

    This book was written to expose secrets kept when there was no option for a pregnant teenager but to have the baby. It focused on girls of middle and upper classes, mostly white, who were sent to maternity homes before they began to show, and came home after the baby was born. It was a bit uncomfortable to read, because almost all of the women had not wanted to give up their babies, and adoption was painted in an extremely negative light as being unfair to birth mothers (the author objects to th This book was written to expose secrets kept when there was no option for a pregnant teenager but to have the baby. It focused on girls of middle and upper classes, mostly white, who were sent to maternity homes before they began to show, and came home after the baby was born. It was a bit uncomfortable to read, because almost all of the women had not wanted to give up their babies, and adoption was painted in an extremely negative light as being unfair to birth mothers (the author objects to the term "birth mother," btw). I have been involved in adoption professionally as legal counsel and personally, as my niece is adopted, and I am certain that not *all* adoptions are bad things. The author is adopted, and I assume that has no small part in her anti-adoption stance. It felt a little like she had "my real mom is a princess/actress/model and would never be mean and make me eat vegetables" fantasies that she was trying to verify with the book. That said, the practices of the time were rather horrendous and it is an important lesson for the pro-choice crowd to keep in mind as we defend our rights.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    Those who are anti-choice trot out adoption as if harboring a fetus for nine months and then handing it off to someone else is no big deal. No doubt for some people the decision to relinquish a child isn't hard (because there's always outliers). It may be that open adoption is easier than sealed adoptions for the birth parents. I don't know. But after reading this book, I know that ostracizing pregnant unmarried women, often punishing them for their pregnancy, and then stealing their babies from Those who are anti-choice trot out adoption as if harboring a fetus for nine months and then handing it off to someone else is no big deal. No doubt for some people the decision to relinquish a child isn't hard (because there's always outliers). It may be that open adoption is easier than sealed adoptions for the birth parents. I don't know. But after reading this book, I know that ostracizing pregnant unmarried women, often punishing them for their pregnancy, and then stealing their babies from them is not a good thing to do. It's a heartbreaking work. For some women, knowing that there is a child out there, right now, is clearly a pain that never ends. Yeah, that business of expecting the women to enforce chastity? Historically, that's never worked out well.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kristi Dixon

    I'm embarrassed to say that prior to reading this book it never even occurred to me that this heavily marginalized group even existed. This book is a great example of breaking the silence on yet another issue that has been kept secret for way too long.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Oh my goodness. I'm not even sure where to begin with this book. As an adopted person, curiosity got the better of me. Also, my adoption was closed. It took place in 1976. However, I still believe due to being in the Midwest and the culture at that time I feel that my birth mother's experience was probably very similar to a lot of these people. First of all, my birth mother searched for me when I was 22. I know that she went into hiding during her pregnancy. I did retain contact with her for abo Oh my goodness. I'm not even sure where to begin with this book. As an adopted person, curiosity got the better of me. Also, my adoption was closed. It took place in 1976. However, I still believe due to being in the Midwest and the culture at that time I feel that my birth mother's experience was probably very similar to a lot of these people. First of all, my birth mother searched for me when I was 22. I know that she went into hiding during her pregnancy. I did retain contact with her for about 13 years after she found me. I met various members of her family including my two half siblings. There was a period of time where we were all very close. Well, not close per se but we spent a lot of time together. It wasn't healthy. The thing is, I recognize and understand her great sense of loss. But I'm not the person who can fix that. I'm just not. This book although true was very slanted in the perspective of birthmothers. Let me say I completely recognize that I am extremely biased on this subject. I will always be loyal to my parents. And just to be clear I am referring to my adoptive parents. They are my real parents. I had a hard time when the author several times referred to her mother, her adoptive mother, as Hazel. I cannot imagine referring to my mother as "Nancy". Even typing it here causes me to bristle within. I do not agree that adoptees are more likely than the general population to have abandonment issues. I've had issues just like anybody else but that's because I'm a human being who is alive. I think it has more to do with how your parents handle communicating your adoption story with you. Also, I should mention that I am a social worker. And no, I did not become a social worker to fix my own issues as many people would like to assume of our profession. And certainly that does happen with some people. But it's not the norm and it's not the majority. We have a code of ethics. When we go to school, we have assignments where we have to examine ourselves and make sure we are entering the profession for the right reasons. All that being said, it was worthwhile for me to read this book. I say that partly because during the time that I knew my birth mother there were so many questions I never asked her. So reading this book gave me a chance to find out some answers of certain details I had suspected but she would have never confirmed. First of all, she always made it sound like it was her choice. But she came from a family that kept secrets. And you know when a family keeps secrets there's a lot of dysfunction. I had always imagined her mother telling her you are going to go away and you are going to stay with this family and you are not going to talk about it. My birth mother was one of eight children born in a time span of ten years so I could literally imagine her mother telling her, "I raised all these kids, I am not starting over with a grandchild." When I met my youngest aunt she told me how stupid she felt when she got older and realized that's where My birth mother had gone. The older kids knew what was going on but not the younger ones. But that was just how it was back then. For teen pregnancies and a whole host of other issues. People didn't talk about alcoholism. People didn't talk about sexual abuse. If it wasn't pleasant it was swept it under the rug. You couldn't even say pregnant on television back then. This is the era that we're talking about. I am grateful that with all of the social issues we have today, at least we can talk about stuff. I was shocked to read about the number of women who surrendered their child and then later got married and never told her husband about what a profound experience they had lived through. If anything is bothering me in the slightest I have to talk to my husband about it. Even if he isn't necessarily all that interested to hear I tell him look I still have to tell you this because it's bugging me. Even if it's something minor under my skin. So I am grateful that we live in a time now that we don't have to be ashamed and afraid of everything. I mean I know some families still operate like this but it's very sad and it points to some sort of dysfunction knowing on. Healthy families just don't keep gigantic secrets. Now I have to say I don't know if I will tell my mother that I read this book. She knows that I still feel guilty that I made the choice to sever ties with my birth family after knowing them for 13 years. Everyone I share this with does not understand why I feel guilty. But it was not an easy decision. I had to do it for my own peace and my own quality of life. They are toxic people and that is not fair for me to sacrifice my entire life just so she can be happy with all of her secrets and dysfunctions. I did find a small amount of comfort in reading the part of the book that talked about how it is not uncommon for an adoptee who has been reunited with a birth parent to gradually lose interest of overtime. That did something to soothe my guilt. I will also say that prior to this book I had been somewhat opposed to the new trend in adoption that is of course more open. I had always thought that as a child that would have been terribly confusing to grow up with two mothers in my life. I have now revised my feelings on that somewhat. I now believe that it could be done in a positive way depending on who is involved and how it is handled. I am always open to looking at another side of an issue. I don't ever like to think of myself as being stuck. But I really do want to stress that people who think adopted children are automatically damaged are being short sighted and unfair. I think that is just as wrong as the belief of the people that coerced these young women into giving up their biological kids through shame and saying oh you'll just forget about it; it is also hurtful to have that belief about adopted children because I can tell you that my brother and I are very well-adjusted people. Certainly we have had our ups and downs just like anybody else but I would not blame anything that we have been through on our adoptions. I would blame some of my difficulties over the years on the less than honest manner in which my birth mother searched for me and the fact that she excluded my parents from that process. It is unfortunate because if she would have just been open and honest instead of being secretive perhaps everybody could've got along. But that is not what happened. It was a worthwhile book but I'm glad I'm done now. Ready for some fiction.

  18. 5 out of 5

    YoSafBridg

    On December 26 of last year Diane Rehm had Ann Fessler on her show to talk about the book The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade, she also talked to some of the women featured in the book. I was listening to the show a while ago (yes i know, more than a little late there~but i have many podcasts stacked up on my computer and i just listen to them whenever). Actually i think it was the second time i listened to On December 26 of last year Diane Rehm had Ann Fessler on her show to talk about the book The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade, she also talked to some of the women featured in the book. I was listening to the show a while ago (yes i know, more than a little late there~but i have many podcasts stacked up on my computer and i just listen to them whenever). Actually i think it was the second time i listened to that particular show, and then i decided to read the book even though i knew it would bring up issues for me. I am an adoptee who really has never had any desire to seek out my birth mother. I used to have a baby book (well i'm sure i still have it~i just don't know where~it used to be on a certain shelf in my mother's bedroom where i could always find it~and then, at some point in my "adult" life she decided to give it to me~silly, silly mom...), a special baby book made just for adoptees, talking about how special and lucky we were to be chosen. I loved that baby book and would seek it out again and again (is that something that everyone does?) not just to look at pictures of myself when i was young, and to read notes from my father of my wonderful progress through infancy and toddlerhood (as well as some of those kindergarten "report cards"~one in which my teacher said i acted like a china doll, as if i was afraid to move for fear i would break~ha, little did she know~after forty years of many broken bones that five-year old self knew more than she could possibly imagine), but also to read that tiny 1/3 of a sheet of information about my birthparents (some ethnic info: German on both sides, Irish on one, French on the other, as i've already mentioned; mother very intelligent and wanting the best for me; father completed college and involved in "some kind" of electrical work~perhaps he was an alien just passing through our solar system on his way to elsewhere~my quirky body chemistry has sometimes led me to suspect as much.) There was also a few pages written by the foster mother who cared for me for the first five weeks of my life~talking about what a wonderful baby i was~i remember poring over those pages, i don't know when it was that i realized those blacked-out portions were the name i was called before i was me. In reading the accounts of these birth-mothers i realized that many of them named their babies before they were surrendered~perhaps i even had two names before the one that currently identifies me~the one that IS me, that seems to be so much a part of everything that i am~that is quite a ponderous thought. So many of the women in this book talked about how they felt forced or coerced into surrendering their children, that it is not something they wanted to do. I understand that this was a different time period that perhaps i cannot relate to but my personality is such that i would make a choice that i really didn't want to, my mother who IS of this generation never would either. I really am not criticizing these women, but i believe they are, in some ways not taking responsibility for their choices, they DID make a choice, even in allowing others to make choices for them. Do i feel for them? Absolutely, i even cried for them. I also cried for myself. Though i am glad my birthmother gave me "a way" (for a better life~as one of the women said) she also left me with some abandonment and rejection issues, which, through reinforcement with some other life events, have led to trust and commitment issues (which i fully own as mine.) Even if she felt forced into what she did i don't feel there is any place in my life for her (plus there is a fear of a second rejection if i sought her out). I felt sorry for young women who had no sexual knowledge or education whatsoever, who, often, had their first physical exam as adults be their first prenatal exam by judgemental, paternalistic MDs; who had to live in homes for "deviants and delinquents"; who gave birth alone and afraid with no idea what was going on, then had to try and pretend nothing happened. One woman who had gone through an abortion years after she gave up her baby for adoption said giving up the baby was much more traumatic~knowing that there was a part of you out there, maybe, you didn't know whether it was living or dead, doing well or not~that is why i could never do it. I have no blame for these women, it was terrible to shame them the way they were shamed (as if they "had no right to be a mother")~expecting people not to do something that has always been done and giving them no education or options is no option~societies all over have proven that~restrictions often make the forbidden all that more appealing. I do not agree with the woman who objects to the term "birth-mother" (also terms such as natural mother, life mother, biological mother, first mother, etc.) as if they weren't a real mother~i don't believe they are, my real mother is the woman who raised me, who mothered me, not the woman who made a mistake, carried me for nine months, and birthed me, though i'm grateful i often have a hard time coming up with a name for her myself (sometimes she is just "that woman"~i'm really not as bitter as i sound). And although i sometimes think i want a medical history (especially given my medical problems~what i don't know and what i do know is one of the many reasons i have chosen not to have my own children) But i have also always had the sense that not knowing gives me the freedom to not be limited by my own genetics, as unreasonable as that is. But why should we expect feelings to be rational. The book, however, is well worth reading and gives you a glimpse into something that has often remained hidden.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

    I LOVED this book. Fessler interviews women who "went away" between the 1940s and 1972--that is, women who got pregnant out of wedlock and were sent away to unwed mother homes and then gave their children up for adoption. From these interviews it becomes clear that many of these women did not willingly give up their babies for adoption. They were pressured, or even forced, to give them up--by parents, social workers, nurses, and religious leaders. Those who did give them up "voluntarily" often r I LOVED this book. Fessler interviews women who "went away" between the 1940s and 1972--that is, women who got pregnant out of wedlock and were sent away to unwed mother homes and then gave their children up for adoption. From these interviews it becomes clear that many of these women did not willingly give up their babies for adoption. They were pressured, or even forced, to give them up--by parents, social workers, nurses, and religious leaders. Those who did give them up "voluntarily" often report a desperation to get back in their parents' good graces again, lack of economic resources to keep the child, and manipulation by social workers. The girls are all told giving up their baby is the "unselfish" thing to do, and wanting to keep their baby is robbing that baby of a wonderful family--adoptive families all consisting of doctors and stay-at-home moms, of course. The manipulation of the social workers is especially horrifying--telling girls they can't change their mind after signing papers (they could), hiding a girl's baby until the girl finally give up and signs, reminding the girls they will be considered sluts if they try to raise the child. It was entirely unethical behavior. Because this was the period where the sexual double standard was especially entrenched, the fathers of these children get off totally free. Their lives are not permanently disrupted, their reputations aren't ruined--the girls were generally blamed and suffered the negative consequences (physically, obviously, but also socially). Despite being told they would forget about the baby, the women report livelong trauma from the experience; they worry about what happened to their children, they feel guilt for giving them up, and they resent their parents and others who they felt forced them to give up a baby instead of supporting them. Some got married to the first man to come along so they could have another baby, hoping having another one would make them feel better. It's a heartbreaking book, and it made me rethink adoption of newborns, even now--that is, are we sure today that young women putting babies up for adoption aren't doing it due to parental or other pressure? We still vilify young women who back out of an adoption at the last minute, as though they have taken something from the adoptive parents and are being selfish--that it's wrong for them to be attached to, and want to raise, their children. And we still make it difficult for adoptees to get access to their adoption records. It's ridiculous, and I will totally support any open-records legislation that I might have the change to vote on.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ginny Messina

    A fascinating and heartbreaking study of the experiences of girls who had out-of-wedlock babies in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. It is told mostly through personal narratives with some additional text about demographics and mores of the middle 20th century. According to the author, one and one half million babies were given up for adoption in the years between 1945 and 1973. Of the women who contributed to this book, nearly all of them were forced to surrender their babies for adoption, (often after A fascinating and heartbreaking study of the experiences of girls who had out-of-wedlock babies in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. It is told mostly through personal narratives with some additional text about demographics and mores of the middle 20th century. According to the author, one and one half million babies were given up for adoption in the years between 1945 and 1973. Of the women who contributed to this book, nearly all of them were forced to surrender their babies for adoption, (often after bonding with them for three or four or more days) and most suffered devastating emotional consequences for the rest of their lives. Not only did these girls and women surrender their babies to an unknown future, but they were absolutely powerless to participate in the decision. Despite the subtitle, this book is not a political statement about abortion. Rather it examines all of the issues that severely limited the choices that unmarried women had—-not just lack of safe, legal abortion, but also lack of sex education and access to birth control (illegal in some states for unmarried women), as well as the lack of an economic support system (child care, and decent wages for single moms) that might have made it possible for them to consider keeping their babies. But probably the single most important factor that forced these women to give up their babies was the horrible stigma attached to being an unwed mother; in most cases, parents simply would not allow their daughters to bring their babies home.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alisi ☆ wants to read too many books ☆

    Welp, this was depressing and yet very interesting at the same time. How sad for the mothers. This marks a specific time period in US history, before abortion and contraceptives, and after WW2. As such, the mothers listed are primarily white (they made up the bulk of birth mothers, far far beyond the other races at the time) but she does make an effort to include minorities. I just can't understand how parents did this to their children. We always hear how parents would "give their lives" for the Welp, this was depressing and yet very interesting at the same time. How sad for the mothers. This marks a specific time period in US history, before abortion and contraceptives, and after WW2. As such, the mothers listed are primarily white (they made up the bulk of birth mothers, far far beyond the other races at the time) but she does make an effort to include minorities. I just can't understand how parents did this to their children. We always hear how parents would "give their lives" for their children but this? We also hear how terrible honor killings are and yet this? Was this not a death of a kind? Was this not torture for the rest of their lives? My grandmother got pregnant out of wedlock. This was before WW2 though. Her family kicked her out and disowned her. She married my grandfather, who was an abusive drunk. She had like 10 kids or so, and killed herself when my mother was 7. I've always wondered about her, about what she went through. My mother never speaks of her at all. I suppose that's why I picked this up. Some years ago, I heard her family was apparently "sorry" that they left her in such a terrible place like that. So terrible that she killed herself to escape from. Fat lot of good that "sorry" did, huh?

  22. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    You don't have to be personally touched by adoption to appreciate the complexity of Fessler's work. This is such an important book for everyone right now (2019) as we look at the erosion of reproductive rights around America. I love this book because it removes questions about birth from the abstract realm of ideology--where we fight tooth and nail in this age of righteous indignation where we are loyal to our "teams." Fessler roots dark truths in individual stories of girls and women trapped i You don't have to be personally touched by adoption to appreciate the complexity of Fessler's work. This is such an important book for everyone right now (2019) as we look at the erosion of reproductive rights around America. I love this book because it removes questions about birth from the abstract realm of ideology--where we fight tooth and nail in this age of righteous indignation where we are loyal to our "teams." Fessler roots dark truths in individual stories of girls and women trapped in an unconscionable system that transfers to the sons and daughters of future generations. Reading this book alongside Season 3 of The Handmaid's Tale will make anyone shudder--regardless of political party. When we ignore the rights of girls and women to have control over the bodies, mayhem and misery ensue. On a personal level, I came to this to try and understand the mother who gave me up for adoption in 1967. Hearing the agony of so many women whose entire lives are haunted by the experience in the hands of a careless system that failed to recognize their humanity will break your heart. Fessler's work enlarged my compassion for my birth mother in a profound way.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ashleigh

    I would recommend this book to everyone. It became a bit repetitive at the end, but I was fascinated by this book. I learned so much about the time period before Roe v. Wade. I learned so much about a whole generation of women. This book will educate and enlighten you and really change your perspective on life. Should be a required reading.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I learned a lot about adoption from the perspective of birth mothers, and the unacknowledged grief of the women who were essentially forced into the role. Powerful stories.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Davina

    Oof, this is a powerful read, especially as these accounts are in the words of the birth mothers themselves. I'm sure I'll continue to be haunted by these voices for a long time, which I think is why books like this should be written and read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kendra

    Fessler, an adoptee, began a project in which she interviewed women who placed children for adoption between the end of World War II and the Roe v. Wade decision. The transcribed stories are heartbreaking, and it's horrifying to see how these women were treated by their families, by society, by medical staff, and by the social workers at the maternity homes where many of them spent their pregnancies. It's an eye-opening read and is food for thought regarding what has and hasn't changed since the Fessler, an adoptee, began a project in which she interviewed women who placed children for adoption between the end of World War II and the Roe v. Wade decision. The transcribed stories are heartbreaking, and it's horrifying to see how these women were treated by their families, by society, by medical staff, and by the social workers at the maternity homes where many of them spent their pregnancies. It's an eye-opening read and is food for thought regarding what has and hasn't changed since the start of the open adoption movement. Minor criticisms: The parts Fessler wrote are simplistic, a bit redundant, and not necessarily placed in the right chapters. The stories begin to be a bit repetitive, too -- although, in a way, that's sort of the point: Many women faced exactly the same scenario, and it could have happened so differently. Also, the terminology used is not "appropriate adoption language," but I'll give her a pass on part of that one. Although "surrendered" is a word that isn't supposed to be used these days, it certainly seems appropriate for these stories, when most of these girls had (or were made to believe that they had) no choice in the matter. I can't give her a pass on "natural mother," though. She should know better than that. What does that make an adoptive mother -- unnatural??

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    This was pretty interesting and eye-opening. Not to be insensitive, but to the casual reader (me), it seems to drag a bit and repeat the same concepts over and over. I get it, already. I found myself skipping over quite a few parts.

  28. 4 out of 5

    konami

    So far this book at times is very heartbreaking. Every woman has a story and this includes myself. Birthmoms in the years before Roe v. Wade were shamed and judged. I am totally relating to what these women experienced and also being mindful of my own experience and how I got 'here'.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    Masterfully told history of women who were forced to give up their babies for adoption, mostly during the 1950s and 1960s. I only wish it were twice as long. There is not much in this book about women who were actually thankful to be able to give away an unwanted child, but that is precisely the point. Fessler's goal in this book was to destroy the old myth that women, in general, wanted to give up their babies and, in a similar vein, didn't mind so much that they were merely baby-making machine Masterfully told history of women who were forced to give up their babies for adoption, mostly during the 1950s and 1960s. I only wish it were twice as long. There is not much in this book about women who were actually thankful to be able to give away an unwanted child, but that is precisely the point. Fessler's goal in this book was to destroy the old myth that women, in general, wanted to give up their babies and, in a similar vein, didn't mind so much that they were merely baby-making machines for "proper families". In this compulsively readable book, Fessler related story after story of women who were given no choice but to surrender their baby. The stigma women faced for being unmarried was shocking. It's not that I didn't know that women bore the brunt of the consequences from unwanted babies, and it's not like I didn't know that having babies out of wedlock was stigmatized in the '50s and '60s.... but oh my god, I felt utter shock while reading most of these stories, shocked for what women had to go through, shocked when realizing how much the false narrative affected the children given up, and shocked at my own misconceptions. Despite reading The Lost Child of Philomena Lee after watching the movie, despite watching the Australian series Love Child, and despite hearing so many stories about how women were forced to give up the children they so desperately wanted, I still held plenty of misconceptions. Fessler set me straight.  This book is a must for anyone who was given up for adoption and lived with the agonizing question of why their mother didn't want them. Chances are she did. It's really hard not to read these stories and see the adoptions of the 1950s and 1960s as one big kidnapping scheme. At the same time, it's easy to see why, with society structured as it was, it was so easy to make women comply with an authoritative structure that did not have their best interests in mind. Sometimes babies were given to families far less fit. Sometimes the families had more money, but the same women who had to give a baby up went on to capably and lovingly raise children, even if their financial circumstances were not as favorable. It seems the thinking at the time supported the idea that it was perfectly fine to use poor or unmarried women to provide children for well-off parents who had trouble having their own babies. The Handmaid's Tale is set in the future, but so much of it is clearly rooted in the past. Some women were just worth more than others.  One of the best things about this book is how well it illustrates the disparity between the males and females who conceived an unwanted baby. Picture pregnant women being kicked out of the Armed Forces while the male who made the baby received a pension he drew on for the rest of his life, women having to literally spend years and even decades paying back the very "charities" that shamed them and took and sold their babies, not to mention suffering the public shame that rarely crippled men's lives. It really makes me think about the injustices that still exist today when it comes to unwanted pregnancies. Women are still suffering far too many of the consequences. Males simply don't share the same burden. To think that women are shamed, have to give up time they could spend growing their careers, have to go through either a procedure to end the pregnancy or  the birth process, *still* have to face regulations on their bodies-- it's just astounding.  Finding a book to follow this one is going to be difficult. It was incredibly interesting and addictive.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Roxanne (The Novel Sanctuary)

    So good and so powerful to read about all of these stories. This is definitely something that we should all know more about, especially if you consider yourself feminist. A bit repetitive at times but I felt it was just so we got a clear picture of what women were made to do during this time.

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