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.