|Lorraine at work, 2 years later. I was engaged to be married.|
But of course I've thought back about that time in the Sixties when I felt I had no choice other than to relinquish. My baby's father was a married man--and not married to me; I was so embarrassed that though I was less than a year out of college, I did not tell my parents, back in Michigan, while I hide in secrecy in Rochester, New York. Who even knew I was pregnant? Only a few: Patrick, the father, my lover; eventually our boss, the
metropolitan editor of The Democrat & Chronicle, the newspaper where I had worked and Patrick still did; two girlfriends, one in Rochester, one in Michigan; and eventually, Mrs. Helen Mura, the social worker.
Was I forced? Well, a gun wasn't held to my head, but I felt I had no choice. I seem to have no pictures of myself from that time; they must exist somewhere, but few were ever taken of me in Rochester, and certainly none while I knew I was pregnant. The closest picture I have of that time is the one above, taken two years later when I was engaged to be married to someone other than Patrick. I had been an emotional wreck, and then, a physical one for a while, with a red rash that would not go away, but here I am smiling at work. Like a lot of other women have stated, more years needed to pass before the whole impact of relinquishing my daughter to hit me. I had not written a word about the baby or adoption, save what I wrote to her when I was pregnant; I lied to doctors about whether I had ever been pregnant, and certainly told no one. I had buried the secret within me. Still, one does laugh and smile now and then; otherwise we'd all be in a looney bin. This shot was taken shortly after I had torn ligaments in my knee, and that is the reason for the full leg cast, and probably why a staff photographer at The Knickerbocker News, where I worked after the baby, snapped the shot.
Here is how I remember that era, from a work in progress, That Hole in My Heart:
copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2012
The mores of the times kept a’changin’ with the music, but no cultural shift happens all at once. While the sexual strictures were loosening, and hip young women like myself were supposed to be sophisticated about sex—not only having sex but wildly enjoying it—the heart-breaking irony was that being caught “in a family way” without someone to marry you revealed a society still stuck in the constraints of Fifties. Good girl still didn’t do it. Smart girls didn’t get caught. The lucky girls who did were the ones with boyfriends who married them; it’s estimated that close to a third (27 percent) of all children born to women between 15 and 29 in the decade between 1960 and 1970 were conceived before marriage. That’s a lot of people having sex outside of marriage but it was, at least in my world, all sub rosa. Even among my girlfriends. If any of them were sleeping with their boyfriends, I did not know about it.
But to be pregnant and unwed was the cause of high shame and family humiliation. From the women I have talked to, it was the rare parent who was sympathetic to a pregnant daughter’s plight. Girls not so lucky to have someone who was willin’ were sent to live with relatives in another town, shipped off to homes for “unwed mothers,” where they sometimes were encouraged not to use their real names, even with each other, or hid at home and bore the ignominy of their parent’s scornful, hurt, why-did-you-do-this-to-me? gaze. Neighbors whispered, fathers held their heads down, and you, the sinner, prayed for this purgatory to be over.
Teenagers who wanted to keep their babies were offered zero support and otherwise threatened if they did not give up their babies. Some teenagers had their babies taken from them in the hospitals; their parents did all the arranging and the young teenager realistically had no choice. If her parents were going to kick a fifteen-year-old out on the street—with her baby—if she did not sign the consent papers, what alternative did she have? What other life plan could she have made for herself and her baby? Some sociologist called surrendering a child during that era was called a “white woman’s disease” as the number of white unmarried mothers who gave up their children is thought to be around 70 percent—some estimates put it at 80 percent, and some as high as 95 percent.
The pressure to relinquish a child was enormous: single women didn’t have babies, or at least, didn’t keep them; every child had a “right” to two parents, who could supply a better layette, and the life that went with that, than you, poor wretch, could. After World War II and right up thought the Cold War era that I knew, the recurrent message in the media emphasized the nuclear family. Motherhood was idealized, fatherhood was a sign of virility and all were signs of solid citizenship. Though the sexual mores were shifting like the ground below, the image of two-parent family was still paramount, and that is what I held in my weary breast as I faced the reality of being a single mother. As such, I would be a pariah. Who was I to stand up to that? A shaft of wheat in a field being whipped down by the wind does not have a chance to stand straight and strong. I was just another shaft brought low by the winds of the times. My baby would have to be adopted.
No consideration was given at all that a child might prefer to grow up with people who looked and acted like her. Nurture trumped nature, if nature meant a single mother. At the same time, the demand for babies kept rising as “adopting” became increasingly acceptable. Did I doubt it? I did not have the courage to doubt it. I just knew that I was supposed to do the right thing, and the right thing was giving up my baby. What I regret today is that I was not more of a rebel, that I was not stronger, that I did not find a way to keep her. I have accepted it, yes, but this is a regret I will take to my grave.
No matter how wrong relinquishing her felt, no matter that my very being was recoiling at the idea.
no matter what I knew in her heart, women like myself who had no one to marry them felt we had no choice other than adoption for our children. It was doing the right thing.
This was the Sixties I knew. It was far removed than the pungent aroma of weed and the vision of nearly naked flower children who would be singing in the mud at Woodstock by 1969. The Sixties that I knew was a time of Playtex rubber girdles and roles for the women as constricting as those girdles. International air travel was opening up, but women didn’t fly the planes, now did they? They served up coffee, tea or me, a catch phrase that became a naughty anthem of the generation that came just a few years after me when The Pill was popped by legions of young women. But that would be later.--lorraine
 Ellison, M. (2003). "Authoritative Knowledge and Single Women's Unintentional Pregnancies, Abortions, Adoption and Single Motherhood: Social Stigma and Structural Violence," in Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Vol 17(3), 2003, page 326.
 Mink, Gwendolyn and Solinger, eds., Welfare: A Documentary of History of U.S. Policy and Politics, from Bureau of Public Assistance, Illegitimacy and Its Impact on the Aid To Dependent Children Program, Washington, D.C., 2003, p. 177.
 Ellison, M., ibid. Authoritative Knowledge and Single Women's Unintentional Pregnancies, Abortions, Adoption, and Single Motherhood: Social Stigma and Structural Violence, 2003, Medical Anthropology Quarterly 17(3): p. 326.
For more on the Dan Rather program see: Shining the light on 'forced' adoption at home and elsewhere
Amanda at Declassifed Adoptee has also written about the program: Adopted or Abducted? Things to Keep in Mind Before Getting Upset at Dan Rather's Report
Never Imagined This
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