The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade

By Ann Fessler; Published In 2006
Genres: History, Feminism, Nonfiction, Sociology, Womens
According to the prevailing double standard, the young man who was equally responsible for the pregnancy was not condemned for his actions. It was her fault, not their fault, that she got pregnant. This was in that period of time when there wasn’t much worse that a girl could do. They almost treated you like you had committed murder or something. —

And it’s funny. While I was locked up, I would call the father and he was going on with his life. He was having his summer and was, you know, worried about whether he would get a new tape or album. People had gossiped about him but they were still allowed to hang out with him. Before I left home, nobody was allowed to be around me. Occasionally,

For women born after 1949, the odds were that they would have sex before they reached age twenty.1 Despite the increase in the number of young people having sex in the 1950s and 1960s, access to birth control and sex education lagged far behind. Fearing that sex education would promote or encourage sexual relations, parents and schools thought it best to leave young people uninformed. During this time, effective birth control was difficult to obtain.

I continued going to school for a period of time until it became more difficult to hide it. The faculty decided that I was becoming disruptive to the schooling process and a bad example. It was determined that I would leave school. “I was not welcome there” was what I was told. My

I didn’t want anybody to see me walking out of the hospital with this baby. We got into the car and my mom said, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I’m afraid that someone’s gonna come take the baby.” I was waiting for the police to come. Giving up my first son had left such an imprint. It was trapped in my brain…I was not allowed to be a mother. Society

I know what my parents thought they were bringing me to, but that’s not where my parents left me. I didn’t understand it at the time, but in the military they do a thing where they train you to comply with the rules by tearing you down and breaking your spirit so you will conform, and then little by little they build you into what they want you to be. That’s what they did there. I was gonna try and get through this and get out. That was my goal.

in some states it was illegal to sell contraceptives to those who were unmarried.

I think one of the reasons I don’t talk to some people about it is because they are so judgmental. Quite frankly, it’s not that society can’t understand, it’s that they won’t understand. People choose to not understand. —

It’s very hard to explain—part of me had enough indoctrination to believe I was not a mother. They make that very clear: “You’re not a mother. You are too young. You are a bad person. You got pregnant and you aren’t married. You are not entitled to this baby. You’re gonna give this baby a chance in life.” Part of me accepted that wisdom, but then there was the other part of me that had feelings that I wasn’t supposed to have. So

I was abandoned when it was right in everybody’s face, so I still believe that nobody cares.

I was allowed to hold her just once. They didn’t want you to bond at all with the baby. Some women chose not to see their babies. I just could never imagine that. I wanted to see that face. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. You never forget that face. —

Looking back, I was becoming extremely hard. You couldn’t afford to have somebody care about you because you weren’t really allowed to care about yourself. I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me. I just wanted to survive. I

My dad was giving me a kind of pep talk and my mom had a smile on her face, but she just looked like she wanted to cry. She’s looking at this little girl holding a stuffed animal on her way to deliver a baby. I can’t even begin to imagine.

My personal struggle is to get beyond thinking I’m not worth caring about. I am here. I do exist. Maybe by adding my two cents I can help other moms who feel the way I do. Maybe they will find someone who cares. —

One time we couldn’t even get out the front door, there was so much being thrown, so everybody retreated, including the person who was going to drive the van. I remember the driver crying; it had never happened to him before. The lady who was with him just kept saying, “Oh, this is normal, this is normal.” And he kept saying, “These poor girls, these poor girls.

Shame is a very effective way to silence individuals, and those who are less socially or economically powerful are rarely in a position to influence the decisions that affect them.

She took that envelope and was very careful with it. The agreement was they were going to give that piece of paper to my child. It would become part of his file and on his eighteenth birthday it would be made available to him. When people make promises to you and you don’t have a way of verifying, it gives people a lot of latitude to do or not do what they’ve promised. She promised me, and that was my promise to my child: “You get to know your history—you’re not someone that I’m ashamed of, you’re not bad, you did nothing wrong.” I told him I loved him with all my heart, I did the best I could, I wished I could be with him, and I would think about him every day that I drew breath. I

This is a must-read book for all those who feel they have the right to engage in any part of the debate on sex education, a woman’s right to choose, or the impact of adoption.” —

When we would take the van to go places, the neighbor’s kids would throw things at us—rotten fruit, eggs—and eggs hurt. When you get hit in the face with an egg, that hurts, and sometimes it would actually break the skin. They would never let us go back in the house to change. I remember one time they took us to the beach to walk the boardwalk and we had gotten pelted pretty good. So here we are, a gaggle of pregnant girls marked with this stuff, and it smelled. I was thinking to myself, “You know, they tell us not to make a spectacle of ourselves, to maintain our dignity, but they go out of their way to make sure we’re humiliated.” We