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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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Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 1594200947
ISBN-13: 9781594200946
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The
Release Date: May, 2006
Length: 368 Pages
Weight: 1.3 pounds
Dimensions: 9.6 X 6.1 X 1.3 inches
Language: English

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...
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  An unforgettable and important account of social and political history

The subtitle says it all: this is the hidden history of women who surrendered children for adoption in the decades before Roe vs. Wade. Author Ann Fessler balances her chapters with first-person narratives from both the women who gave up children and from adopted children. Fessler's book explores the shame of getting pregnant in the post-WW II era, the lack of birth control education, the lack of medical birth control for unmarried women, and the hurry of "good" families to bury the mortifying secret product of premarital sex. At its core, the book is about psychological pain, for both mother and child. This pain and confusion lasts for a lifetime.

I grew up with sex education, had access to reproductive planning clinics, and went to a high school that had a day care center on site. Modern women take our choices for granted--the choice to use birth control, the choice to keep a child as an unmarried mother, the choice to have an open, structured adoption, the choice to have a closed adoption, and the choice for safe, legal abortion. This was an eye-opening examination of choices (or lack thereof) over the last fifty years.

Fessler has no agenda other than educating the reader about the hidden histories of these shamed, embarrassed unwed mothers. Chapters focus on specific issues such as birth control education, the social stigma of unmarried pregnancy, double standards for men and women, houses that women were shipped off to, the adoption agencies and processes, and the aftermath of adoption. She uses personal narratives to flesh out her history book, but Fessler does not edit the histories to make any specific political point. Her subjects had widely varying experiences and reactions, all of which are captured herein.
  Heartrending Reading

Personally, reading this book affected me in a very unexpected way; it changed my mind about the subject of adoption. Prior to reading this book, I had believed that young women who became pregnant and were unmarried should strongly consider completing their pregnancy and surrendering their child for adoption. But through reading the feelings of the women interviewed for this book, I found new compassion for the impact that surrendering a child has on a young mother. And I have a new view and opinion of the unsympathetic and callous society that would require women to surrender their children in order to induce conformity to disingenuous values and cultural status. There's much for all of us to discuss and ponder after reading this book.
  A Moving, Stunning, Must Read

In Lois Lowry's young adult science fiction book The Giver, a young girl hopes to receive a birthmother assignment. Her mother's sharp response was, "Lily!...Don't say that. There's very little honor in that Assignment. The birthmothers never even get to see the new children."

Very little honor indeed. I've been a member of the birthmother sisterhood for 30 years. I relinquished my daughter to adoption in 1976, three years after Roe v. Wade. Thankfully I wasn't forced to go away, had a strong say in my decision, and was spared much of the guilt and shame expressed by the courageous, selfless women featured in The Girls Who Went Away. In fact, I received a lot of negative criticism for choosing to have my child. I heard "why didn't you just get rid of it" from "friends" and acquaintances and even the nurse who was in the room when I awoke from the anesthesia. Just try to imagine delivering a baby with no one holding your hand or soothing your brow. There are simply no words for what has to be one of the loneliest, most tragic human experiences. Regardless of the paths traveled by young women faced with a crisis pregnancy, the results are all the same: their lives are dramatically, permanently altered and they all share the same harsh reality--they're childless mothers.

Why revisit such a painful, tragic part of my history? Why let myself get a lump in my throat after reading a few pages? Because I owe it to these women who, some for the very first time, had the courage to speak out and reveal the inhumane treatment they experienced during what should have been the most wonderful moment in their lives. Their stories deserve to be heard, need to be heard. Those unfamiliar with this embarrassing moment of our country's history will be stunned by the punishments that hardly fit the "crimes" of these incredible, tenacious women. In one of my favorite passages,
Yvonne discusses how her whole life has been based on shame: "You hear about people's lives being touched by adoption. It's no damn touch. I mean, that just drives me nuts. You're smashed by adoption. I mean, it alters the mothers' lives forever." I have used the phrase "touched by adoption" regularly over the years, but Yvonne's description is far more accurate. Everyone facing a crisis pregnancy--the ill-prepared mother and father, their parents, siblings, and beyond--are smashed to pieces from the fallout of adoption.

Read it slowly, carefully. The Girls Who Went Away should be required reading for every high school and college student; I'm certain it would help young adults be more thoughtful and mindful about sex. More importantly, The Girls Who Went Away should be read by every single person who is considering creating a family by adoption. While adoption has mercifully become kinder and gentler over the past 25 years or so, it's still not an ideal institution, there's still a great deal of work to be done. It's time of all of us to get our heads out of the sand and work together. Whatever side of the right to life/pro choice fence you sit on, I'm sure you'll rethink your position after meeting the wonderful women of The Girls Who Went Away.

Ann Fessler deserves all the great reviews and high praise she's received for raising awareness and shedding light on this controversial subject; indeed, I hope she's recognized with several awards. Should the reader be interested in futher enlightenment, the movie The Magdalene Sisters is highly recommended.

  10 star MUST read... for women and men

Every now and then a book comes along that gripes your heart and makes you believe that men and women need to read it. This is that kind of a book. Contray to what one reviewer says, abortion is not encouraged in this book, much less mentioned at all, since this is about the years before Roe v Wade.

Simple, elegant and painfully honest. A glimpse into the last fifty years and what millions, literally, of women endured often in a quest to protect a families image. An era when people didn't even say someone was 'pregnant' but were 'expecting.' When television shows even with married people, didn't allow a double bed, but single beds.

Never mind the horrendous mental pain that was done to the women, often lasting their entire life times. Never mind the fact that the lies and shame foisted on these women was inhumane and as un-christian as one could be.

The stories of all the women and where they grew up, how they broke the news to their parents and what happened next is nothing short of spell binding. How young women gathered together in unwed mother homes went by first name only, didn't know what to expect when pregnant, how inhumane and yes, mean medical personnel treated them, and the unspoken harm mentally these women endured.

Their honesty in talking about the hypocrisy of society and how you could be a good girl who had sex once and ended up pregnant or a nice girl who had sex often but were simply lucky and didn't get pregnant, and how cruel females could/can be when one of their own is hurting. Or how one girl laid down on the back seat whenever her family left the house, because they had told friends etc that their daughter was away helping an ill aunt. Or the young girl who wasn't allowed to answer the door for the same reason, and then late one evening they sneak her and her Mom to the train station where they travel to another state to an unwed mothers home.

And the easy out the boys had. With them often forcing sex on a girl with the tried and true come on lines, only to dump her once she ended up pregnant. One guys even had the nerve to have his fraternity buddies say they had slept with his girl friend so he wouldn't be stuck having to marry her.

Its so easy these days to forget or not even know that thirty short years ago young women were being forced, to give up babies with the snow job that it wouldn't be that hard and that they could then 'get on with their lives'. Like on page 89 where the author writes; 'The nun came over to the hospital and I spent a whole lot of time just sobbing my heart out to her, just crying and crying, and she finally said, 'You know what? You're gonna forget all about this, and you're gonna go home and you're gonna meet 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'. Like knowing you carried a baby within you, felt it move, gave birth to it, and felt your breasts fill with milk, heard your baby cry, would all simple vanish as if it never happened once the baby was adopted? Talk about the dark ages!

Reading of how this wasn't the case at all pained me because I know that having a child myself there is NO way a woman can birth a child and then pretend it never happened. Or the women who were told to never tell their husbands they had had a child out of wedlock because he would divorce her and seek custody of their children, siting her as an unfit mother. One woman who had been married and in such deep pain, found herself separated from her husband and one evening she breaks down and tells him and as she notes, he became the gentle, kind man she always wanted, but by then it was to late.

Its astonishing that in a country that speaks so fondly of the good old days, and how pro family we were as a nation, that such un pro family lies were encouraged or demanded. How we as a country encouraged people to pretend, as well as hurt millions of women. And all those millions of babies who grew up thinking they were not wanted, when just the opposite was true. These were years when most young women wanted so badly to marry and be mothers, yet were cut down, and made to feel shame when in fact had their parents, schools actually educated them on the dangers of unprotected sex, perhaps the young women would have been better informed and able to demand the guys get their sexual relief somewhere else or contain it.

And so many if not most of the women talk of how hard it was to ever trust or get close to people. Even the men they were married. Because society had told them to forget and move on. Pretend that all was ok. When in fact the same society stressed being honest. Like Jennette on page 120 who was living in a small town in Washington State, who became pregnant and pretended to be in San Francisco where her sister lived, looking for work. She had one maternity dress and stayed hidden at her sisters, had the baby, done everything she was told about pretending it never happened.

Moved back to Washington State where she then got a job at the Hanford Project in eastern Washington State, where she 'was putting the badges in the machine to see if they had any radiation'. She then finds herself at age eighteen in the supervisors office being chewed out for not being 'honest' about having a baby out of wedlock months earlier and that the communists could use it to blackmail her into giving them top secret information about the work at Hanford. Again the whole rock and a hard place double standard, of being told to never talk or tell about an unwed pregnancy and then if found out being ridiculed for not being honest. Is it any wonder so many of these young women ended up turning to alcohol or anything else that would kill the pain and confusion?

And the lies the adoption agencies concocted about the birth parents being athletic, educated, from well to do families is mind boggling. It was if the baby was a product they wanted to sell to the best bidder. If these young women were being called 'whores' to their face by these 'professionals' lord knows what these 'professionals' were saying to these innocent newborns as they held them in their arms. Like Lydia on page 310 says 'I came to really resent the language that was used to describe me and my experience.' Using words she calls 'loaded language' that is emotionally charged. It's very judgmental and biased to one side. So many women echo her sentiments that they were educable, trainable, looking for guidance but were shut out and simply told what to do. No questions asked. She continues 'If I'd had support and mentoring, I would have made a wonderful mother for my son.'

The sad thing is, young women are still being coerced into giving up their babies, with lies and hype. Young women are still being given mixed messages, that will hurt them. Sad thing is few people outside of these women who have lost their children to adoption and a small group of open adoption advocates even give care about the LONG term mental health of the woman. Thus the more things change the more things stay the same.
  Very Insightful

As an adoptee who's mother spent her time at the Florence Crittendon home in Toledo, I had often wondered what it must have been like for her. She was 22 at the time of my birth, but lived at home. Since my birth mother passed away 7 months after my birth, I would never know first hand what her experiences were. Through my birth father I had learned that not only did my mother wish to keep me (along with him), but that the hospital actually went out of their way to keep my birth parents apart and at no time, were they allowed to have me in the room if the two of them found some way of being in the room together. (I just happened to be born the day before my b. father was shipped off to Vietnam so the hospital was in a tizzy trying to keep him away from me, the two of them away from one another and me away from her when he was around)

About the book: For me, this book sent me on an emotional roller coaster. It really helped me understand what many women went through, their feelings, the manipulative ways of the system and so on. I think that is one of the issues that hit me the hardest...the way these girls and women were manipulated, or, just not fully made aware of their rights. And in a lot of cases, if they even indicated a want or desire to raise their baby, they were made to feel inadequate, ashamed, discouraged and so on, with the whole intent of changing her mind back to surrendering her baby. When I read this, I did not doubt the truth because it was exactly what my b. father had described to me, that he personally experienced. It really angered me to read what so many women had been put through.

As for the whole arguement of whether this book promotes abortion or not, I have to say no, that it doesn't. Quite the contrary. To me, this book promoted a different side of the passing of Roe v. Wade. The side that gave recognition to the rights of unwed mothers. Unfortunately, one of those rights were for a woman to end an unborn child's life. BUT, nevertheless, it gave a woman a choice. By doing so, society first had to accept there were indeed unwed mothers who were entitled to a "choice". (Where before, they tried to hide them as though they did not exist or shame them into thinking they had no choice other than adoption if they ever wished to fit into society again.) And if Roe v. Wade gave these woman the right to choose, one of those choices was life. By defining the woman's choice, it began to change society's perception of unwed mothers and little by little, made it more socially acceptable for a woman to choose to raise her child. Unwed or not. That's how I see Roe v. Wade fiting into this book. Not as a promotion of abortion but more of a begining to an end of an era when women went through hell to give life to an unborn child.

Personally, I recommend this book to anybody who desires to better understand adoption, birth mothers, adoptees and just the entire era of children born out of wedlock before it became so socially accepted. These women went through a lot. They deserve to have their story told and I believe this is what this book has done for so many women of that period in time.