Wednesday, August 17, 2011

#BookReview: The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade - Ann Fessler

As someone born in the 70s, the stories in this book are not my story, but as a mother, I can certainly empathize with the pain these women must have felt. Ann Fessler has compiled over a hundred first hand stories of women and girls that were forced by their families and society to give their children up for adoption. Some of these women included rape victims. Some are adult women that made the "mistake" of getting pregnant out of wedlock.

A great majority of the women interviewed for this book are Caucasian, though not all. It seems that the biggest difference is that while white girls/women were sent to either homes for pregnant girls or indentured to families of strangers for the duration of their pregnancy, African American girls were sent to an out of town family member. Another distinction is that while the overwhelming majority of white babies were adopted out to strangers that the birth mother had no knowledge of, or contact with, black babies tended to be informally adopted by another family member and their birth became the family secret.

The one thing that remained consistent from this time period up until present day is that the fathers of these children rarely, if ever, carried the burden of shame that the mothers did. In several stories the mothers spoke of being asked to leave school or their jobs around their fourth month and being shunned by their family, friends and neighbors. On the other hand, the fathers were never asked to leave school and by several accounts, their families excused their behavior and placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of their female partner.

While the stories of giving up their children were sad, there were just as many stories of the mothers reuniting with their adult children later in life. Those are the stories that make this book worth reading.

Originally published November 6, 2009

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