on October 2, 2007
This book was recommended to me by one of the subjects within. As I am an adoptee who was surrendered in the mid 1960's I found the books revelations both informative and unsettling. I had never put the picture in my head of how socially motivated and financially interested some of the adoption agencies of the time were nor the gamut of emotions felt by these birthmothers. This is well researched from a historical standpoint as well as a facinating read delving into the very human feelings shared by those in the triad of adoption. Feelings, I might add, that are not well understood by those outside of this subculture. I have recommended this book to several counselor friends of mine and would do the same for anyone who may find themselves across the couch from persons involved in the adoption process. Mrs. Fessler's book flows very smoothly and is quite an easy read. The books stories are filled with the heart wrenching fear, dissapointment, guilt, anguish and uncertainty felt by many birthmothers but the ultimate message is one of underlying love, resolution and final completion. My final thoughts were of hope. Hope for governmental reform in its policies, hope for institutional reform in their practices and proceedures and hope for adoptee and birth parent alike in the illimination of uncertainties and for final completeness.
on September 9, 2006
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.
on June 22, 2006
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.
on July 1, 2007
If you're interested in social history, "The Girls Who Went Away" makes for a fascinating read. Ann Fessler interviewed dozens of women who were sent to homes for "unwed mothers" between the 1945 and 1973. The tales the women tale are harrowing and extremely human. Interspersed with the interviews are Fessler's essays about society at the time, and how the post-war situation affected the average family. The book overturned several assumptions I had always made about life in that time period, e.g., that not many teens were sexually active. The shame of sexuality at the time, and the ridiculous lack of information teenagers were given about their own bodies, created a climate in which thousands of girls became pregnant and were forced to hide out from the world, until they could give birth, relinquish the baby, and return to "normal" teen life. Unfortunately, the reality wasn't so simple. The devastating emotional impact of bringing a pregnancy to term, and then having to give up the child, often without so much as seeing it, haunted these women for the rest of their days. The intense secrecy that surrounded the issue only made things worse. It's impossible to read the book without feeling sympathy for these young women, who were given so little control over their own lives. Although the book doesn't answer every question about adoption, or about how to deal with the problem of teen pregnancy, it's a valuable work that makes a big contribution to our understanding of motherhood. Hopefully psychologists, educators and legislators will learn some lessons from it.
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.
on January 3, 2007
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.
on August 16, 2011
True story. When I was in my first year of graduate school, at the start of the semester, my professor at the time had the class do an introduction exercise. We all had to go around the room, say our first name, and something about ourselves we could not tell by looking at us. My professor started by saying her first name, and that she was adopted. Then I said my first name and that I was adopted. Then another student said her name, and that she was adopted. By the end of the class, I was asked directly by my professor if I had searched, which I hadn't, and her response was "why not?" As we were all leaving class that day my professor asked me if I had read "The Girls Who Went Away" by Ann Fessler. I hadn't read it, but it was in my hands the following day. By the end of the week, I had not only read Ann's book, with a tissue box close by, but had made a commitment to find my birth mother.Within a week I had made a search and had a connection. 6 months later, my birth mother and I attended a book signing of "The Girls Who Went Away" and we met Ann Fessler. To this day this book is the #1 book I recommend to anyone in the adoption triad, especially birth mothers and adoptees considering a search. This book gave me permission to heal, and for that I am forever grateful.
on August 8, 2009
As an adoptee, this book took my breath away. I always knew that the women of that era, the ones "in trouble", were sent away, but I never really grasped just how cruelly they were treated. Not just by the "system", but by their own family and friends. And it's amazing to me that the fathers of the children weren't treated any differently by society, even though some suffered their own grief and guilt.
After reading this book, I have to wonder if any of those doctors, social workers, nurses, and adoption agency staff felt any remorse at all for what they did to those poor women. We do get from the book that at least some of the family members, friends, and fathers of the children regretted their actions and words later on.
Although the book drags a bit when providing some of the statistical data, it provides more insight than I could possibly have imagined. The women's stories are scary, touching, and truly brave. Especially when you consider how young they were when they were sent off to strangers and "abandoned" by those they depended on.
These women were given no options toward keeping their children. Thanks to society and their parents and their boyfriends' parents, they were judged, reprimanded, condemned, and told to keep their emotions in check. They were shunned by friends and family (during and after their pregnancies) and were never given the chance to cry or vent or talk about it, even years later. Until I read this book, I never dreamed that even after 30, 40, or 50+ years, that these women would still carry so much shame and guilt. My heart goes out to all the women who shared their stories here and to those who suffered the same fate.
This is an excellent read for adoptees, adoptive families, birth families, and any historians or sociologists who want to know what happened. I wouldn't trade my family for anything, but I hope like hell that the mother who carried and bore me didn't suffer what these women did. I hope she at least had a choice in her decision to surrender me. Probably not. That's just sad.
on March 8, 2009
In "The Girls Who Went Away," Ann Fessler interviews several women who surrendered their babies for adoption in the years before Roe v. Wade (1973). Fessler spares the reader historical fill-in facts and avoids covering the pages with interview-style "Q&As." Instead, she points her recorder in the direction of the women, and lets them talk. Their accounts, spoken candidly and without self-pity, left me with a sense that they had actually sat with me at my table, sipping tea, when not wiping away bitter tears. What makes these stories and, indeed, the entire book so special is the author's personal familiarity with the subject (her own story's reveal comes at the end).
The women recall the moments they first discovered they were pregnant and then relate the shock, disgust and, often, condemnation expressed by their parents after being told the news. Some of these memories include accounts in which the boyfriend or lover of the unwed mother demonstrated a desire to marry his pregnant girlfriend, only to have the request refused by one or both sets of parents.
One woman remembers aloud the afternoon her father arrived home early from work to find his daughter and her boyfriend making love on the rec room floor, and goes on to tell the repercussions.
In most of the accounts, after the girls revealed their pregnancies, they had no choice but to comply with their elders' decisions to send them away. Some of the girls' parents permitted them to live at home until their pregnancies became physically obvious. At some point, however, all of the girls went away to give birth, and returned with empty arms. Once home, parental and societal expectations called for the young women to resume living their lives as though nothing had happened, while enduring placating reassurances that they would have other children some day.
The book is a testament to the closed-minded, "only one way out" system that once existed in the adoption business. It examines adoption workers' dismissive attitudes toward birthmothers who desired to keep their babies, and the persuasive tactics they employed to convince such women to change their minds.
The common themes are many, but none so wrenching as the one in which a birthmother recalls savoring each second with her newborn before he leaves with his new family. One woman recalls going to the nursery to see her baby a few days after giving birth. Instead, she finds the baby's empty cot, a seering visual confirmation of the permanence of adoption and the infinite nature of her loss.
Perhaps the most enduring footprint left behind by the majority of the birthmothers was one that time could not erase: The desire to see their babies again, no matter that those infants had grown up. The mothers go on to explain the decision to enroll in an adoption search registry system, as they relive the nail-biting wait for answers. Although the first reunions of birthmothers and adoptees are not covered in great detail, the author does capture the universal emotions that precede, accompany and occur after the process.
The "Girls who Went Away" answers questions that evidently no one but the birthmothers deemed important enough to ask in the years before 1973. Thankfully, Ann Fessler has pushed those questions out into the spotlight while the courageous women in her book supply all of the answers and more. A compelling, stunning expose' about a formerly exploitative industry and the women who became its unwitting victims.
on August 25, 2008
This is an important contribution not only for the stories of mothers who reliquished their children for adoption but for the analysis of the culture of the time between 1930 and the early 70s. The shift from church groups who helped mother and child stay together to the more "professional" social worker who separated mother and child is well documented. The rationale created by the "professionals" is scary. This book is a must read for all those mothers who relinquished thier children and for their families and friends.
I was one of those mothers who got caught in this in the late 50s and after living a life of secrets and shame, this book offers an alternate insight into what had happened.