' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: What kind of woman keeps one child, gives away another?

Friday, January 28, 2011

What kind of woman keeps one child, gives away another?

Someone  (Anonymous) left a somewhat nasty comment on an earlier post about Vernita Lee, Oprah's mother, asking "what kind of woman keeps one child, gives away another?" Well, I'll tell you, a desperate woman. A woman who feels she has no choice. A woman boxed in the corner. A woman who is at her wit's end about how she is going to manage another baby.

Vernita said that if she had another baby she would not be able to get "off welfare," and anyone poor can understand that reasoning. Oprah did say that her mother had a stroke, and so that was supposed to have affected her speech, but her speech came across quite clearly. And she did say her baby was beautiful, and she felt bad about leaving her in the hospital.

Though I am frustrated with your the much older Vernita handled the reunion, as a previous post discussed,* (as was the angry Anonymous**) with her relinquished-and-eventually-adopted daughter, Patricia, showing little affect, never once looking at her daughter, feeling embarrassed--god it was painful for me to watch--I do understand her. Somewhat. It's hard to explain to anyone but another first/birth mother just how low we feel for giving up a child. I mean, I wonder if shooting a person can make you feel worse? I don't know. The deed is over, you can ask forgiveness from the deceased family and from God, if you believe. And then you get on with your life.

But us? We assume the child is still living and so for us there is no way to seek redemption. I never had the kind of blind faith that this was God's plan and I was some kind of pawn in it to have the kind of glassy-eyed acceptance of our state that I've seen in a few religious-inspired videos that I've seen. To me they look like first birth mothers on their way to a nervous breakdown somewhere down the road.

On the other hand...Raven left a comment that when she was 17 and awaiting for the birth of her child, no one ever asked her how she felt about what the forthcoming relinquishment of her aby. They didn't ask because they knew how horrible what was happening was happening. Patrick, my daughter's father, was with me throughout the pregnancy, and he didn't ask either; there was nothing I could say; he instinctively understood what a horrendous, awful act it is to give up a child for adoption.  "If you have to ask" you'll never understand.

It's sad that no one consoled Raven, that she was alone in every possible sense of the word, during her pregnancy and relinquishment--some tea and sympathy surely would have helped her feel less like a pariah--but that kind of shunning reflects the ethos of the era. One can only hope that it is a thing of the past. We can be glad that today fewer families and teens and women rely on the "adoption option."--lorraine
*Oprah's mother didn't die when her secret daughter was revealed

**Oprah reveals she has half-sister; her mother was afraid to admit the secret

Correction re welfare made. 


  1. I think if I remember correctly Vernita said she was afraid of NOT being able to get off welfare with another child, which I guess makes more sense, but saddens me beyond belief regardless. I wish with all my heart that someone would have told me that there were financial alternatives to being dirt fucking poor to raise my child other than relinquishing both him and my soul to adoption.

  2. Anonymous,
    I understand. I also wished that just one person had told me I could keep my daughter and we would be OK. The outcome for so many of us is nothing short of heartbreaking.

  3. Lorraine,

    I really truly believe that the shunning that happened to us in the BSE is still happening today. The judgments are still there, especially among some adoptive parents. I have actually been told by 30-year-old aparents that what I experienced in the BSE didn't happen...that society could never have been so cruel. I mean, how in the hell are we supposed to fight this crap?

    I can't speak for Vernita Lee...but I can tell you what horrendous damage happens to a woman who surrenders her child. I can talk about the shame of giving up not only our children but ourselves, about how I abandoned myself the day I signed those damn papers, how I just wanted to die...how I prayed to die in childbirth...how I thought if both my baby and I died in childbirth, well then, he would still be my baby and I his mother....

  4. Vernita's story took place in the 1960s; sadly nothing has changed in the 21st century when it comes to financial coercion leading to adoption.

    I was just on a feminist blog where a commenter wrote that her friend was giving up her baby due to lack of financial resources...and this was lauded as "choice" and thought to be a perfectly reasonable option. No consideration of the impact on the mother and baby, not to mention an appalling lack of thought about how poverty is the primary motivating factor.

    Sadly, adoption has been coopted by the feminists as a "choice" issue. They rail about privilege yet fail to see how privilege and lack thereof fuels so-called "choice" and adoption.

  5. Actually what she said was that she “wanted to get OFF welfare” and if she had another baby she never would be able to. Which still did not make much sense to ME, and yes her check would have INCREASED, hence the stereotype of single black women having MORE children to get a bigger check.

    Single black women have been choosing to keep and raise their own children for generations, poverty, welfare and shame aside.

    I think when we have had a certain experience or exposure to certain sets of experiences it is hard to contemplate that others in similar circumstances think, feel and behave differently than we would.

    Most of the first, birth natural mothers that I have run into on-line FEEL like they had NO choice (something that honestly I still have some trouble with in some instances) they feel guilt and remorse. But in my experience, being a ward of the state most of the kids I know growing up were the product of women who DID NOT WANT TO PAERNT. Or have parents much like mine who liked the THOUGHT of having children but didn’t want or couldn’t handle the daily inconvenience and responsibility of having to raise them and were looking to dump them off on others. They do exist.

    I am sure that is as hard to fathom to many birth mothers I have met on-line as it is for me to get that not all relinquishing mothers are just selfish narcissists who couldn’t wait to get out from the burden of an unwanted child.

    The truth is both scenarios can exist or fall somewhere in the middle (I assume).

    While I believe relinquishing mothers need protection, some need the right to walk away for the sake of their unwanted children.

    (BTW I’d personally rather be “dirt fucking poor” (which I am) with my kids than wealthy without them…we all make the choices we think we can live with. Sadly sometimes it is only later that we realize that we couldn't)

  6. Sunday Koffron Taylor said, (BTW I’d personally rather be “dirt fucking poor” (which I am) with my kids than wealthy without them…we all make the choices we think we can live with. Sadly sometimes it is only later that we realize that we couldn't.)

    Well, then count yourself fortunate that you didn't come of age in the 1960s or early 1970s...because there were very few choices, not if you didn't want your kid to be taunted as a bastard on the playground. Not having viable choices wasn't a FEELING...it was a FACT. I didn't just wake up one day and say, "Gee, I really regret what I did 10, 20, 30 years ago. I have lived with this damnable thing called adoption every single day of my life for almost 39 years now. I have seen the fury in my son---I have seen the tremendous damage done to his soul and psyche.

    For people who believe we really had a choice back in the BSE, how exactly were we supposed to keep our babies when our parents fought us at every single turn? Hell, we couldn't even legally get birth control. How were we supposed to raise our children when a landlord could legally prevent you from renting a damn apartment simply because you were an unwed mother. And what about the fathers? Where the hell were they in this mess we call the BSE? Why do the guys get a free pass??

    I am getting so sick of this shit...

  7. "I have actually been told by 30-year-old aparents that what I experienced in the BSE didn't happen...that society could never have been so cruel. I mean, how in the hell are we supposed to fight this crap?"

    Well, that infuriates this a-parent. What a lot of people don't realize is that pregnant women and divorcees were considered sex objects. Raising your child alone was utterly taboo. You couldn't keep your job (if you had one) when you were pregnant or get an apartment so how would you raise your child, especially if your family objected? There was literally no place for you in society. That's why so many of these shame-based plans were ironically regarded as "rescue" because nothing seemed quite as bad as being a preggers cast-out in a middle-class society still very conflicted about sex and the position of women. They have no clue.

  8. Sunday said, "The truth is both scenarios can exist or fall somewhere in the middle (I assume). "

    I assume so too.
    My husband's cousin, who worked as a SW in a very depressed part of London, says a lot of the women she worked with were seriously messed-up people who really didn't show much evidence of caring about their children. These kids were frequently in and out of foster care. Some, probably more fortunately, ended up being adopted.
    But most of these women had very unstable lives, came from already dysfunctional families and were used to being treated by and treating others rather badly. Cousin said they were like walking zombies when it came to any kind of emotional depth, and that they no longer had the capacity to extend themselves emotionally or even practically to their their kids. Whatever the reasons, they were ground down.
    I also believe that there really are a very few women who don't give a damn.
    We'll never know exactly know what type (in fact, what am I saying? There probably isn't even a clear-cut "type") Vernita was at the time she left Patricia in the hospital, but I'm guessing she came closer to the former category than the latter.
    Though I don't get the 'getting off welfare' excuse either. It doesn't make sense.
    Maybe they've decided to let her believe that because she's in her dotage and needs to cling to some shred of self-respect.

  9. Don't take this anyway but as stated. Many single black women where not pressured as much to "give up" their babies. The adoption industry at the time ( 1960's) was looking for white babies. Having said that, none of us should have felt that adoption was our only choice. We needed emotional and in some cases financial support. We were abandoned by society and our families just like our babies.

  10. Hey, let's have some of those blogs where we are being excoriated. I'd like to see that "feminist" blog.

    Raven: ♥

  11. Oh....yes yes, you are right about what Vernita's meaning was. I changed the blog. I misunderstood.

  12. Vernita's check would have likely increased, although it is hard to actually know. Most welfare, in its many incarnations,is very minimal and the reality is veiled from the public. It is such a political flash-point.

    How many here know what their current state offers needy families today? As someone who was on AFDC in the early 90s in CA. I can tell you, the more liberal system than then now wasn't enough to raise a child on. My benefit was $530.00 plus food stamps worth about $100.00 per month when I got on it, around 1991 and had been reduced to $498.00 when I got off, due to the animosity toward the poor. It is all very tricky. When the CA benefit was reduced the gov. made a big stink about increasing foodstamps, which he did for about 3 months, then quietly reduced those to about $60.00 a month.

    I know my successful transition from welfare mother to self-supporting family was greatly influenced by my middle class background and my access to education.

    Vernita did have 3 children already, that she could not manage to care for if the public accounts are accurate. I know what it is like to have a child you cannot afford to take care of adequately and it is grindingly painful/stressful which can add a whole bunch of other stresses to the mix.

    While I am sad for Patricia that her mother hasn't been open and compassionate to her in reunion, I can't even begin to guess what it feels like to be Vernita.

    I don't think the AFDC, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, even exists anymore in the form that I knew it. I looked up the current payment about a year ago and the benefit for a mother and child in CA, besides being very hard to find was about $560.00 in 2010 dollars. Which doesn't go very far here. While I believe,(it has been awhile since I looked this stuff up) welfare was more liberal in the 60s and 70s when we had the war on poverty vs. the current war on the poor, I think it is fairly safe to assume it was still a piss-poor quality of life.

    I can totally understand why a mother would think the 3 hots and a cot of foster care was more beneficial to a child than being raised by a mother currently overwhelmed by her own situation, it is a shame that there aren't more options, that Vernita didn't /doesn't have the emotional resources to cope with what must have been a very difficult life.

    I hope that things change for the better for them all and they are able to enjoy these years together.

  13. Well, I'm just kind of a mess today. I just made a small scene in a local chichi cheese shop over a Christmas basket we got from it with out-of-date (by nearly a year) crackers and then I'm finding myself weeping after reading some of these remarks about what it was like back in the day...when Vernita and Raven and Jane and I and so many others relinquished.

    I never used the word "shunned" before buy my god that is what society did to us and Osolomama, thanks for knowing what it was like.
    It was damn fucking terrible, that's how it was. I had to quit my job, hide in my apartment, and then move to another city because I couldn't work in the same town, Rochester. Blogger Jane was pregnant at the time and she says that the weekend I came home from the hospital without my baby (Easter weekend) Time magazine had on its cover: IS GOD DEAD?

    Well, it sure felt like it. Driving around today I heard Scott Simon on NPR talking about Weekend Edition, and of course that reminded me that I was "meant" to be a birth mother for nice middle class guys like him and his wife, who suffered from middle class infertility.

  14. Joy,

    In 1972, the AFDC benefit in California was just under $300 per month for a woman and child, plus Medi-Cal (our state's version of Medicaid.) There were no food stamps yet---I believe those came out around 1974. Before food stamps, there were "welfare commodities," stuff like potatoes, processed cheese, peanut butter, beans, peas, etc. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how I was ever going to feed a baby peanut butter and potatoes. It seems like such a no-brainer now that I'm 56 years old...but when I was 16, it seemed so insurmountable.

  15. What saddens me is how judgemental people are about a sitution they actually know nothing about although they think they do.

  16. My mother was a divorcee in the sixties and we were poor but NO one was trying to tear our family apart. My mom earned a meager living and we weren't eating well, it was the days when dads didn't pay child support or if they did it was minimal. Mine did and believe me it was very little.

    I had my son in the sixties, and although I was single, so was my mom, but they needed my baby to fill the demand. I was also a minor which didn't give me much defenses.

    As far as the adults knowing and being more mature. I saw two immature adults make a life altering decision for me because they had such messed up lives. So, adults are allowed to make mistakes, because they can fix them, or they can get away with them? No, just because they are adults. I NEVER considered my son a mistake, its the mature adults in my life who did of course they didn't have to go through the hell I did either.

    Reunited in spite of sealed records, the adults in my life, and the person that adopted my son none of the tried in any way to help and our reunion was done without the interference. Thankfully,my son listened to what I said and not what his adopter said, she knew nothing about the adoption in fact I said to my son did she think your feel from heaven on her doorstep. Ignorance abounds in adoption and how it was in the ERA Mass Surrender and BABY SCOOP ERA talking to others nowadays I find it to be the same. Adoption is wonderful, those who adopt are saints, and saviors, and moms are terrbile women after adoption before the baby is taken they are saviors too.

  17. The Baby Scoop Era was real. It happened. No stretching of the truth is happening.

    If you were an unwed mother (white) you surrendered. And if you tried to parent society ensured you failed, that is if you were even allowed to leave the hospital or maternity home with your baby. You surrendered because there were no options either for the mother or the child. There is no excuse for what "society" did - none.

    Raven had no choice. My mother had no choice. Mothers had no choice. Society made that choice and no one spoke up...the demand ensured no one spoke up...

    Anyone who thinks otherwise should read The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler - it provides small glimpses of what our mothers went through thanks to society. I don't think it even comes close to providing the entire picture but it says enough for anyone to recognise it happened.

  18. Hey Raven,
    I did not realize that you were 16 and a child at the time, I grew up with girls in foster care who DID have NO choice, like I assume YOU didn't being a minor at the time, I apologize for making assumptions and if I hurt your feelings.

    Being piss fucking broke at the moment and when faced with an unexpected 3 child, I am little with the poverty excuse. But then I AM AN ADULT and responsible for my own decisions.

    (FYI the going rate of food stamps today is about $126 per person in the household)

  19. *I am a little sensitive about the "poverty excuse".

  20. It seems to me that Vernita would agree with you Sunday, she seems to express that she believes it was a terrible thing she did to leave her daughter in the hospital in her attempt to escape poverty.

    Again, I could be mistaken but I believe the increase for an addition child when I was on AFDC was $40.00 per child. It is listed on wikipedia, but I know the numbers aren't right because I got the checks. Wiki is listing a lot less than I got. Although I can't say how much of the money was fed. and how much state, I think CA did have a higher rate due to a conflation of funds. It would be interesting to know, I would like to have more info. about this. I ran the numbers through the CPI and the results were as follows:

    $300.00 in 1970 had the spending power of $1686.00 in 2010

    $530.00 in 1991 has the spending power of $884.54 in 2010.Which sounds accurate to my experience/memory.

    It looks like the benefit now for one child/one adult is $694.00 meeting much stricter compliance issues than the ones I faced, i.e. it looks like getting through uni. would not have been an option and you would be funneled into low paying work via CalWorks, again take my info with a grain of salt, have not really investigated CalWorks. I also believe that the benefit is much more limited as far as time one can receive the aid. I will look into this further, even though the numbers as far as the check I actually received and what part was fed. aid vs. state I don't know, the trend at wiki looks accurate to me. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aid_to_Families_with_Dependent_Children

    It is sad to me, I know a lot of Americans don't want their tax dollars to go to moms and children, but I do. I would much rather have my taxes funneled to what I do believe is a political act, raising healthy families, than making bombs or paying my local police chief 292,000.00 a year, and yes, that is the salary. (actually more) plus driver etc., etc., or spending a kajillion dollars to rename 3rd street, but I digress.

    My comment doesn't even address the deep shame that is heaped upon welfare mothers, doesn't even address the plain fact that I had access to abortion, if not adequate birth control, at least for me, being allergic to spermicide and too emotionally unwell to take hormones, even though I took them anyway,often, and birth control fails. Abortion rarely fails, but if you are someone like myself who while is pro-choice, believes that life starts at conception is a difficult choice to exercise.

    I did anyway. It is a bear to live with . No more like a cthulhu to live with.

    I am breaking my comment up because it is so long.

  21. Raven, I agree with you on every statement on this thread. I too was under age when I became pregnant (1968). I really thought that someone would be on my side. I was so wrong about that. The bottom line is it shouldn't have made any difference how much money we had or didn't have, our age or even what might happen in the future if we kept our children. The reality was we needed our families at that moment. Where were our Mothers!!!!!!!!!

  22. I have been thinking about the responses to this post for a while, and I remain struck by Sunday's comment that there is a disconnect between what some first mothers feel about what happened at when they placed their child and what actually happened. I suppose this could be true, and I am not arguing that some mothers are unprepared to be mothers, or that some don't even want to try. Like Sunday's own mother. That is unconscionable, but it isn't every case.

    We know that there were egregious things done to first mothers during the BSE, and there are still horrible things done today to coerce *some* mothers into placing. Back in the '60's and 70's it was not easy to be a single mother; it took resources and family support not many women had. No, not everyone who places a child has regrets. No, not every child is better off with their first family, although I believe that in *most* cases they are.

    The "you feel said emotion, but you aren't seeing the situation clearly and rationally" argument stings. It is applied to adoptees all the time. Why do adoptees and first mothers have to be pegged as so unstable that we cannot think for ourselves or see things clearly?

    Just like Raven said, she felt the way she did for 5, 10, 20, 30+ years. She didn't decide how she felt yesterday, after reading "The Girls Who Went Away." Same for adoptees. I didn't just suddenly start feeling sad about my adoption yesterday, last year, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago. It's been there since I have been able to form memories, and probably before, although I cannot prove it to scientists.

    I agree with Joy that I'd rather spend money on helping families stay together--okay, those families who *want* to stay together--than on weapons of mass destruction and huge paychecks for public servants. It all depends on how you prioritize, I suppose.

    And I hope Vernita can find a speck of compassion within herself so that she can see how her rejection is hurting Patricia. It was excruciating to see that lack of eye contact and inability to initiate physical closeness. Rejection like that isn't ambiguous or difficult to read.

    I am so sorry for all that first mothers had to go through, just as I am sad that so many of us missed being with, or at least knowing about, our families. The "what ifs" are so painful.

  23. Sorry, reposting to the proper blog.

    The February 4/11 issue of Entertainment Weekly reports that "Winfrey's mother, Vernita Lee, chose to make an adoption plan for Patricia and kept her birth a secret from her family."

    Does anyone have the time/interest to let the young hipsters running amok at EW that "adoption plans" were an adoption industry
    fabrication created in the waning years of the 20th century, while woman with crisis pregnancies in the BSE didn't have the "luxury" of an adoption plan? I'm all adopted out and retired from teaching...

  24. Lorraine, Hope you're feeling better. I think I am safe in saying that many of us have had ourr share of meltdowns over stale crackers:)

  25. Sunday Koffron Taylor said, "Hey Raven, I did not realize that you were 16 and a child at the time, I grew up with girls in foster care who DID have NO choice, like I assume YOU didn't being a minor at the time, I apologize for making assumptions and if I hurt your feelings."

    Well, I wasn't actually a child. I became pregnant at 16 and delivered shortly after my 17th birthday. I was more of a young woman at that point than a child. I do know that my age at the time of surrender seems to get me more of a free pass than women who were young adults in their early 20's. And I get really angry about it sometimes. One of my friends who surrendered her firstborn to adoption back in 1965 has a story that parallels Lorraine's experience, down to having to quit her job and hiding out in her apartment. When I think of her hiding out all alone, I choke up with sorrow, and I remember the unyielding, harsh climate within our society back in the day. There are no words for the anguish and loneliness so many young women went through...and there were no other choices, not if you were a white, middle-class American.

    I'm sure it's hard for many people to fathom the reality of what our society was like during the Baby Scoop Era. I remember once talking to my grandmother about what things had been like for her during the Great Depression of the 1930s. She told me I could read all the history books ever published on the subject, but that when it came down to it, only those who had been alive and who struggled through those times could really understand them. I think she was right...

    I think the choices in today's world are very different than they were back in my day...at least I sure hope so. But I do think that the mothers of the BSE are often unfairly judged according to today's standards, rather than by the societal mores and demands that were in effect at the time we relinquished.

  26. So in 1991 things I couldn't afford included a car or a bicycle. I did have use of a bicycle that my best friend put a child seat on so I could ride around, until it was stolen.

    I could afford to rent one room as a roommate, I had no control over the environment in the home. For example one roommate believed I was a threat to her relationship so I found myself suddenly homeless without enough resources to secure an apt.

    While there is public housing assistance the wait is years long and I was off aid altogether before I would have qualified. My point isn't to recount all the difficulties of being young and without a lot of resources. I also had the benefit of youth, the support of the university system, free daycare, student loans and student employment. I would hazard to guess my circumstances were in fact much easier than Vernitas. Plus I only had one child to care for.

    I am just saying all this because I bristle at the off-handed wave that people can't understand why Vernita wouldn't just be pleased with a bigger welfare check or that poverty is an "excuse" More than once I personally hit a wall and thought I just couldn't do this anymore. I was blessed with friends who helped out and being in the uni. system again, was such a boon.

    I did do it, and I am glad and grateful and obviously it can be and is done every day. I find this imperious attitude toward poverty and its attending difficulties to be short-sighted and full of the ignorance of the fortunate.

  27. trying to heal:

    You are right. But this Sag Harbor cheese shop is sooooooo expensive and the friggen biscotti were $14 (price was still on them) and some other truffle oil infused crackers that were obviously just as expensive were also nearly year past sell date ...and I know the damn basket probably cost at least $100--on top of which I did not want it and tried to send that message to the person who ordered it for us. It was a huge waste of money, and that is what drove me crazy.

    And I'm much better today, thank you. :)

  28. I second Von: "What saddens me is how judgemental people are about a sitution they actually know nothing about although they think they do."

    The words "what kind of woman" rattles and saddens me so very much. What kind of woman gives up her child? What kind of woman gives up two children? Or, as this post started with, keeps one and gives up another?

    None of us can speak for, and even imagine the pressures facing Vernita Lee or any other mother. Comments like those here make me realize that we are all very much alone. We speak of tolerance and understanding, but few practice it.

  29. We should remember what it was like for black women in 1963. Vernita Lee grew up in the South, attending segregated schools which likely provided little education. Discrimination in employment was rampant and black women were at the bottom of the economic heap.

    Lee should receive lots of credit for trying to care for her older three children.

    Lorraine and I, white women with college degrees, didn't think we could manage with one child as single mothers.

  30. "Lee should receive lots of credit for trying to care for her older three children"

    To Jane and all:

    I think this is "root" of all the criticism towards Oprah's mom. Oprah's mom wasn't a good mother to any of her children. and I don't' think poverty was the reason eitheir.She had children she didn't want to care for and out of four of them , only two are alive ( the two that she tried to semi-raise died early drug related deaths). That speaks volumes about her mothering and being a good mother.

    Many of BSE mom's where young girls who got in "trouble" and that's WAY different from Vernita Lee's situation. Unfortunately there many women like Vernita Lee, and that's why people are critical of her(myself included).

  31. ETA:

    I do think the great thing about Oprah's show is that she acknowledged the shame that many older bmothers have; I think she will have a more "gentle and kinder" understanding of what they went through

  32. Gosh, in my opinion, there is a big difference between having tolerance and understanding for the young Vernita and having tolerance and understanding for the "now" Vernita.

    I really do think I can understand why Vernita chose what she did in 1963, much like I can understand why my mother chose to give me up (I was her 2nd out of 4 children).

    What I couldn't really understand was Vernita's cold reaction to Patricia at reuniun. Yes, I can understand (in my head) what may have motivated it...but I'll never for the life of me have an understanding of mothers (all mothers, not just first/birth mothers) who cannot put themselves in their children's shoes for two seconds or step outside of protecting themselves and their own wants and desires for the sake of their children.

  33. Adding my two cent to Joy's comment re: welfare. Benefits have been drastically reduced due to Clinton's welfare reform, enacted in the '90s. Most mothers are now forced to take minimum wage jobs in order to qualify for benefits ("work-fare" and "welfare to work" - demands for change started with Reagan, but dems embraced this as well, hence the Clinton era "reforms"). While they sound good in theory, these work stipulations often trap women in low-wage employment and force them to make use of substandard childcare providers or to leave the children alone at home to fend for themselves.

    I personally know four women who were single/divorced mothers before the battle cry against the "Welfare Queen" and her Cadillac went full tilt. They were able to go to college full time, pay for housing and feed their children thanks to a decent safety net provided by welfare. College was encouraged and they were not required to take crappy jobs to keep their benefits. All of these women earned bachelor degrees, two are working on graduate degrees, and all are highly sucessful in their careers. They are solidly middle class and their children are now in college/jobs and establishing themselves in their own right. So much for the myth of the lazy welfare mother and her horde of dirty children, eh?

    (Anecdotal yes, but then so are the stories about welfare queens and women having babies just to get a bigger check).

    I wish I had known these options were available and that welfare could be a tool for success if used properly.

  34. Lorraine, the feminist blog were I read the comment re: adoption "choice" is Shakesville.

    The blog post was about Elton John:

    and the comment I referenced was written by "trinity91"

  35. I was sixteen when I got pregnant and surrendered my son. Twenty-five years later I found out that I was an emancipated minor and had rights as a mother. A lot of good it did me then. And even if I'd known I was an emancipated minor, in 1971 that didn't mean much, especially so since my family wanted nothing to do with me or my child. Social programs were not something people in my neighborhood EVER considered or used. Those were for people less fortunate or incapable for providing for themselves.

    The concept of choice was enigmatic, untouchable, as I believe it often is now because the adoption industry has very convincingly marketed adoption as a selfish act to allow a better life for your child and a road to educational and financial freedom for the mother. There's a major disconnect when Planned Parenthood gets on the adoption as a reproductive choice bandwagon too.

    The mores were certainly different in 1971 than they are now but the pressure to surrender is still there. It's taken a different form today but it's still alive.

    So many of us mothers have remarkable stories, no matter when we surrendered our child. I invite you to take a look at Origins-USA's website and consider posting your story the Mothers' Stories page.

  36. The U.S. is known for having the least social benefits of any western nation. Reading these comments make me wonder if women's status has really changed that much in all these years. It seems that there are 2 options. Have children young and be dirt poor or spend many years getting educated, developing a career and then start trying to have kids when you're pushing 40 and find out you are very likely infertile.

  37. Robin wrote, "reading these comments make me wonder if women's status has really changed that much in all these years."

    The friends I mentioned in a prior comment were able to use welfare to better their situation. Unfortunately, that period of more generous support for women was very short lived, almost a blip on the radar. We have reverted to a nation that shames the poor with women and children carrying the largest burden.

  38. Sunday said:"I think when we have had a certain experience or exposure to certain sets of experiences it is hard to contemplate that others in similar circumstances think, feel and behave differently than we would."

    That is the big stumbling block in communication here and in other adoption blogs and lists. It took me a long time to realize that my situation as a white, middle-class college age unwed mother in the 60s was not everyone's experience. I have realized that I have no special insight into the mind, heart, or motivation of every woman who gave up a child, certainly not someone like Oprah's mother.

    Looking at the circumstances of what we know of that case, which is of course the very tip of a large iceberg, it looks like she did do the better thing for Patricia at the time. She was not able to be a good mother to her other children. That is not blaming, just stating how it looks with the facts we know. Some children are better off surrendered, many are not. There is no one "right way".

    I feel sorry for Vernita's painful life. I do not know what it is to live with racism, poverty or abuse, and see that while some like Oprah rise above it, so many others sink under the burden. Perhaps Vernita is one of those.

    I was a welfare mom for two years with my second child, until my boyfriend got a good job and married me. But I was just playing games, had a loving supportive family who realized the mistake they had made with my first child just as much as I did, a loving and educated boyfriend, and I was still securely in the middle class. And yeah, I was still white as snow.

    I cannot in way say I know the poverty, racism and despair in a story like Vernita's. I neither judge her nor applaud her. She is not me, nor is she all birthmothers or an icon, just an old woman dealing with the pain of her life, as we all must eventually. We are all ourselves responsible for our own actions, as are others who influenced or pushed us responsible for theirs.

    I am glad Patricia persisted and met her family and found her truth, but sometimes that truth can be hard and not pretty.



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