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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

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 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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Gone but not forgotten

I got this for a family member who was/is one of the 'Girls Who Went Away'. Turned out that my younger brother had already sent her a copy. She rated it 5 stars as an accurate depiction of the subject in that era (I remember her going passing through the extremities of the family structure on her way to a Salvation Army home). Read this if you don't understand why reproductive freedom is so important.

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 an

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

Edition Details

Publisher:Penguin Press HC, The
Lowest Price:$3.59
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