Mothers who lost their children to adoption deserve more attention in Gail Collins’ otherwise entertaining and informative account of the transformation of the condition of American women over the past 50 years, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.
Between the end of World War II and the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade nullifying laws prohibiting abortion, hundreds of thousands of mothers lost their newborn infants to closed adoption in a radical social experiment, the effects of which reverberate today in the damaged lives of these women, and often, their children and the fathers of their children. While women with unplanned pregnancies have more choices today thanks to Roe v. Wade and more enlightened mores, unnecessary adoptions continue.
Collins devotes only one sentence to adoption in the pre-Roe era (other than discussing the case itself, noting that Roe who real name was Norma McCorvey, was unable to have an abortion before her pregnancy ran its course and placed her child for adoption. “…[T]he idea that an unmarried woman would simply raise a baby herself was almost unheard-of, particularly in small towns. Most girls married the father. Others got abortions or went to homes for unwed mothers, where they gave the baby up for adoption and returned from what was generally described as a long stay with an out-of-town relative.” [Emphasis added.]
Collins and other feminist historians fail to give the connection between adoption and the edicts of patriarchy the emphasis they deserve, i.e. motherhood without male approval is wrong, and motherhood with male approval is essential. Adoption takes care of both situations. Collins’ omission is not surprising. Except for adoption specific histories—Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away, Rickie Solinger’s Wake Up Little Susie, E. Wayne Carp’s Family Matters, and Ellen Herman's The Adoption History Project, the Baby Scoop Era does not get the attention it deserves.
Why This Matters
Disseminating this history helps guard against repeating it. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” wrote George Santayana. Adoption as a solution to perceived social problems is a constant theme is American politics. President Obama pushes adoption as a way to reduce abortions although adoption would actually make only a small dent in the 1.2 million abortions which occur every year. The 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act promotes adoption to reduce foster care caseloads, resulting in some children being adopted into abusive homes and others abandoned by their adoptive families when they turn 18 and government subsidies run out. Presidential contender Newt Gingrich proposed cutting welfare costs by sending “illegitimate” children to orphanages, from where presumably the fortunate few would be adopted. Providing more supports for vulnerable families would accomplish all these goals with far less cost and pain but that’s not on the radar of many politicians.
Let’s Get Into the History Books
Pres. Obama, Adoption is not only available, it's being crammed down our throats
High Number of adoptions in the US is a national disgrace