The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler is an important book. Every public, college, and high school library should have a copy (or two) and consider it for book discussions. It should be added to core lists for collection development. It should be reviewed and displayed. It's that important.
Between the end of World War II and the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, there were approximately one and a half million adoptions in the
The unwed mothers have not forgotten their children. It is not normal for mothers to forget their children.
There is more to the story. Many of the young women had no sexual instruction and birth control advice before their pregnancies. Once they were hidden in maternity homes, they were given no birthing instruction. When labor began, some were sent in cabs to hospitals, where they admitted themselves and went through childbirth alone. Often they were sedated and woke to find their babies gone. Some never saw their children and were threatened with large medical bills if they did not sign the legal documents.
The women are not all in high school or college. The story of Linda I is particularly sad. She was a military nurse during the Vietnam war, who had many soldiers die in her arms. One of the survivors proposed marriage to her and she accepted. When she discovered she was pregnant, he confessed that he was already married. She was treated very badly, discharged, and gets no pension today.
The Girls Who Went Away is not just a book about a period of our history. Much of the book is about the present, as the mothers and children try to find each other. Fessler includes many reunion stories. In most of these families are reunited and extended joyfully, but in some misunderstanding and resentment remain. Fessler also tells about the large number of women who still have not found their children. Many suffer low self-esteem, alcoholism, drug abuse, and the inability to maintain relationships. Others have lived model lives trying to make up for their past failures. Many have still not come out of the "closet of shame."
The Girls Who Went Away is not a quick read. It includes the stories of eighteen birth mothers, each story being between five and fifteen pages. In nine chapters there are portions of interviews from forty-eight other women. Fessler also includes the story of her adoption and search for her mother. The book requires commitment to read, but it is hard to put down once you start.
Fessler, Ann. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade.