' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Wendy Davis proves you can do it--keep your baby and succeed

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Wendy Davis proves you can do it--keep your baby and succeed

Wendy Davis, flanked by her father, Jerry Russell at left and her two daughters, at right, applauds her supporters during her victory speech at the Fort Worth Hilton on November 6, 2012.
Wendy Davis, flanked by her father, Jerry Russell at left and her two daughters, at right, applauds her supporters during her victory speech at the Fort Worth Hilton on November 6, 2012.

Let's give a shout out to single mother-at-19 who made something of her life! Wendy Davis of Texas who has captivated America with her 11-hour filibuster against a restrictive abortion bill in Austin the other day has an unusual pedigree. (CNN PHOTO)

Wendy Davis is the daughter of a single mother herself. She was married, divorced and a single mother by the time she was 19.

She is just the kind of young woman adoption agencies would have been glad to get their hands on, taking her baby so she could be adopted, and allowing the woman could go on to college and have a life unfettered with the realities of raising a baby.

Ms. Davis told The New York Times she "fell through the cracks" in high school as she was working at an early age to help support the family, her mother and three siblings. Her mother had only a sixth grade education. An early marriage right after high school was followed by a birth and a quick divorce, and at 19, she was living in a trailer park in Fort Worth. She thought she was destined to live the struggling life her mother had.

Someone showed her a brochure for Tarrant County College; she enrolled and took courses to be a paralegal, working two jobs at the time. From Tarrant, she won a scholarship to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, and then went on to Harvard Law. "When I was accepted in Harvard Law School, I remember thinking about who I am, and where I came from, and where I had been only a few years before," she told the Times. She has two daughters now, ages 30 and 24, and has been dating the former mayor of Austin.

Not bad for a single mother at nineteen! The mantra today is to try to convince young women to give up their babies with the idea that they can have a better life without them, finish their education and continue on an upward climb to success they would not have without a baby. As Ms. Davis shows, it all depends on who you are and how determined you are to work hard.

The Adoption Option, the white-paper from The Center for American Progress that Jane and I deconstructed some time ago, states: [R]esearch shows that teens who relinquish their babies tend to have higher incomes, higher education levels, higher future academic and career goals, and a strong adoption preference voiced by the birth father and/or the teen’s mother. (For a young teen, this "strong preference" translates into no choice, even today.

We looked beyond their simplistic readings of a single study of women who stayed in a home for unwed mothers, and pointed out their fallacies and wrote of how the grief that most women encounter after relinquishment leads to lifelong sorrow. We pointed out that the impact of giving up a baby often does not reappear for many years. We questioned why an progressive think tank would seek to foster this "pro-adoption" stance. Or why "pro-family" conservatives would for that matter. The only difference is that they throw in a dose redemption into the adoption mix.

Wendy Davis was trying to stop the passage of a bill that would close most abortion clinics (under the guise of expanded health and safety regulations) and make abortion illegal past 20 weeks. Texas has one of the highest teenage motherhood rates in the country, and a majority of the women are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Funding for family planning has been slashed. Gov. Rick Perry doesn't give a damn about women who aren't well off enough to pay for family planning for themselves, but he does want them to have their babies. He is so clearly political about this issue you can see right through him.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, wears a pair of Mizuno running shoes as she begins a one-woman filibuster in Austin, Texas on June 25
Her Mizuno sneakers
Davis held the sexist Texas legislature at bay for a day to prevent the passage of this anti-abortion bill. She stood on her feet, in salmon colored sneakers, and followed the onerous rules that said she could not take a break--even to go to the bathroom or lean on her desk or talk about anything other than the bill at hand--for more than 11 hours. (By contrast, when Rand Paul did his famous filibuster in the Senate earlier this year, he read from Alice in Wonderland.) When Ms. Davis spoke about the abortion legislation that requires women to under go an uncomfortable and invasive transvaginal ultrasound--and then wait 24 hours--before having an abortion, the lieutenant governor of Texas, David Dewhurst, said she had strayed off topic and thus the filibuster had to come to an end. Time to vote.

But the crowd erupted into a roar and prevented the legislators from taking their vote. Gov. Rick Perry, who has the movie star looks of Rock Hudson and the brains of a Karl Rove puppet, is calling a special session for July 1st to get this bill passed. The war against the right of women to make their own reproductive choices will must go on, until every last abortion is only available in an expensive hospital or a backalley illegal clinic. But Ms. Davis has made her point.

With her style of speaking, keen intelligence and good hair, Ms. Davis proves that being a single-mother-at-19 is not a prescription for poverty and failure. With grit and determination, you can have your baby and succeed. We will hear from her again.--lorraine

From FMF
Thinking of Placing Your Baby for Adoption? Think very hard.
Response to The Adoption Option
How giving up a child affects you in the long-term

In Texas, a Senator’s Stand Catches the Spotlight
Tough odds are the norm for Texas lawmaker Wendy Davis
Perry renews Texas abortion battle with special session

My Abortion, at 23 Weeks

Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, advocates of legal abortion mostly used the term rights when describing their agenda. But after Roe v. Wade, their determination to develop a respectable, nonconfrontational movement encouraged many of them to use the word choice--an easier concept for people weary of various rights movements. At first the distinction in language didn't seem to make much difference-the law seemed to guarantee both. But in the years since, the change has become enormously important.

In Beggars and Choosers, Solinger shows how historical distinctions between women of color and white women, between poor and middle-class women, were used in new ways during the era of "choice." Politicians and policy makers began to exclude certain women from the class of "deserving mothers" by using the language of choice to create new public policies concerning everything from Medicaid funding for abortions to family tax credits, infertility treatments, international adoption, teen pregnancy, and welfare. Solinger argues that the class-and-race-inflected guarantee of "choice" is a shaky foundation on which to build our notions of reproductive freedom. Her impassioned argument is for reproductive rights as human rights--as a basis for full citizenship status for women.


  1. HUGE kudos to Wendy Davis for that heroic marathon.
    But what happened to that photograph of her with her father that I saw when I first clicked on the first of your links? It is now nowhere to be found.

    I loathe Rick Perry and the horse he rod in on.

  2. Found it!
    Here she is, supported by her father and two daughters:
    Family support is so important. It is great to see it modeled.

    You're up there in the pantheon, Wendy. You rock

  3. Anon, we share your sentiments about Gov. Perry (the presidential candidate who couldn't remember what federal agencies he was going to eliminate when he became president). I've known fine people in Texas but the voters there sure elect some ding-a-lings.

    Regarding the photograph; I just looked and saw it, lower left side.

  4. I changed the photo to the one you speak of.

  5. I detest Rick Perry for three reasons:

    The first is that his ideology is insane. He wants to take us back to the 19th Century and undo every positive thing that has happened since the Progressive Era.

    The second is that he epitomizes the right-wing's celebration of the rejection of anything deemed "intellectual." There is no need to put too much thought into things. Just identify the liberal enemy, achieve the word "conservative," and denounce anyone who disagrees with you as "an elitist."

    The third reason I can't stand Rick Perry is...umm...the third reason...hold on...the third reason is...I can't remember. Sorry, I forgot it...I can't remember the third. Oops.

  6. Perry is not using Wendy Davis as the reason not to have an abortion--because if she did it, you can too.

    People like Perry are the epitome of hypocrisy.

    Hey you, Rick Perry, get off of my body!

  7. This is a wonderful post. It would be nice to see a whole "picture book" of stories of women who were once "single mothers" and who chose to keep their babies and are now successful. In fact, I work with one. She almost gave her daughter away when she was 17. Now she is a happy mother of 2, and grandmother of 3. When I tell her that she did the right thing, and explain the emotional/psychological bullet she dodged by keeping her child, she doesn't 'get it' ... just as well! The single mother who keeps her baby and succeeds in spite of the odds is a good role model in general. Single women who keep their families together and who do everything to ensure their children stay with their kin and have what they need are successes. No amount of money in the world can 'fix' what becomes broken when kinship is not maintained (Paris Jackson being the latest public 'casualty' of this).

  8. Wendy Davis is my new hero. Amazing. I hope she runs for governor.

  9. I applaud Wendy Davis for keeping her baby and for all her achievements in life. However, just because I am a first mother who suffered for giving up my son, I do not agree with abortion after 20 weeks It is killing,however you want to look at it. We women look ridiculous sometimes(IMHO) all screaming"It's my body I want to kill my baby-hands off my body(The abortionist is the only one who wants to put his hands on your late-term-pregnancy body-so he can make 20 grand. Dump on me all you want. I'm sure you have all the politically correct answers to this One thing Rick Perry said that I agree with"Each person matters"

  10. Everyone is free to leave their comments here, but we, the authors, are resolutely pro-choice.

  11. Twenty grand?

    That makes abortion available to only the very wealthy.

  12. This question is completely off-topic. But, I am on another site, and we're trying to help a fellow adoptee by giving her suggestions for her first letter to her mother. I remember that was one of the more difficult things for me to decide when writing my own letter.

    One thing we tended to disagree on was how she should address her mother. I thought Mrs. Smith would be too formal. (And, when I sent out my own letter, I used my mother's first name.) But, another adoptee who was born in the early 60s thought that would not be appropriate and thought it best to use Mrs. Smith.

    What are your thoughts as mothers? How would you like to be addressed? (I realize that many of you would just be thrilled to get a letter and wouldn't care at all about the salutation line.) Thoughts?

  13. "Dear Mother:"

    That would work for me.

    Why not? Mrs. Anything sounds absurd, and so does using the first name. You are writing to her because she is your mother, right? And that is the only reason for the letter. Unless you are going to ask if she knows a woman who gave birth to a daughter/son on such and such at day and such and such a place....

  14. I do not think using the first name sounds absurd, and it seems the safest choice, given that the adoptee has no idea yet how her natural mother feels or would want to be addressed. Some women in this situation would be upset to be addressed as "mother" in this context, others would be thrilled. But since the adoptee does not know, first names seems more neutral and non-threatening. Plenty of time to work out what to call each other once a relationship is established.

    On the abortion issue; 20 weeks is five months. Many babies have survived premature birth at 6 months. Unless there is a really compelling medical reason, why is there a need for abortion this late on a routine basis?

  15. Thanks Lorraine!

    I think my fellow adoptee wants to ease her mother into the letter and not shock her from the start.

    And, her mother might be closeted, which is obviously a far cry from most of the women who read this blog. Unfortunately, it is impossible to ask closeted mothers how they want to be addressed in a first letter.

    This just speaks to the craziness of adoption as it exists. Nothing, including salutations, is easy.

  16. Wendy Davis was married when she had her first daughter which is probably why she became a single mother rather than a first mother. If she had, in fact, been single, she very likely would have been scooped up by the adoption machine.

    I agree with Anon 1:00pm about the 20 week deadline, unless there is some compelling medical reason for an abortion after that time. But the law they are trying to pass has several other restrictions which would make it nearly impossible for women in Texas to exercise their constitutional right to choice at all.

    As for the letter, I think a phone call is preferable for an initial contact. A letter can be intercepted or may not be delivered at all. With that said, I don't think I would have addressed my first mother as 'mother' if we had never had any previous contact and I had no idea how she would feel about reunion. I would use her first name and write something about how I came to believe she is my natural mother. It's hard to say though without more information about the specific circumstances.

    Adoption is such a serious topic, I thought I would include this link to lighten things up.


  17. I will take up the what-to-call-my-mother question in a blog post very soon.

    Please hold further comments until then.

  18. Twenty weeks is too short a time, even for couples who want to have a child and then discover that it is likely to have major health problems and deformities. And young girls especially need more time. They will at first deny, and some are not yet having regular periods.

    This is my body. Not the state's. If men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.


    My Abortion, at 23 Weeks

  19. The Texas bill also puts a lot of unnecessary restrictions on abortion clinics which would cause many to close or raise their prices. The result would be women waiting to have an abortion so they can scrape together the necessary funds or travel out of state. Alternatively, low income income might end up with a butcher like the abortion doctor in Ohio.

    Regarding how to address you first mother, I would prefer "to the woman who gave me life."

    I would not have liked Mrs. Edwards -- too formal plus I haven't used Mrs since Gloria Steinam, et al invented Ms in the 1960's. To me ssing Mrs. smacks of identifying women by their marital status

    Using Jane would sound as though the adoptee was minimizing our connection.

  20. Wendy Davis was married, had a baby, and divorced by age 19. This makes me think she had a shotgun marriage.

    During the BSE a lot of couples wanted to marry when they found the girl was in the family way. "Wiser" adults counseled against it, telling them that the marriage would not survive and the best course was to give up the baby and marry after they finished college. They could have more children (as though a later child could replace the one they lost.)

    Some couples eloped but their parents had the marriage annulled and the baby given up. About 20 percent of the first mothers I have met married their child's father after they gave up their baby.

    I think Wendy Davis has enough grit that she would have kept her daughter even if the guy had finked out. Of course this was in the 80's not the 60's when single (divorced or never marriage) motherhood was more acceptable.

    Davis was willing to take the risk that the marriage would not work and she would have to raise her daughter on her own.

    I also commend her because while she did not have an abortion, she wants to protect the right to choose for other women.

  21. Robin,
    Thanks for the link to the Salon website.

    Poor Nike -- if only they knew, they would have paid her $$$ to wear shoes with a swoosh.

  22. Wendy Davis has fought for a woman's right to have the baby inside her dismembered, and most of the posters at BMFM say, "Right on, Wendy!" So, when people in the adoption industry treat pregnant women as sub-human, that's really, really bad, but when women treat unborn babies as sub-human, that's really, really good?

  23. @Jane,
    Good point about the differences between the 60's and the 80's. I was thinking that had Ms. Davis been single she may have been more likely to have gone to an adoption agency just to explore her options. And we all know where that leads.

    I never cease to be amazed at the pro-adoption culture of the 1960's. I say shame on the grandparents for being so eager and willing to toss their own grandchild out of the family. We weren't blank slates, gramps and grandmas.

  24. Ginger Hayes said...
    "Wendy Davis has fought for a woman's right to have the baby inside her dismembered, and most of the posters at BMFM say, "Right on, Wendy!" So, when people in the adoption industry treat pregnant women as sub-human, that's really, really bad, but when women treat unborn babies as sub-human, that's really, really good?"

    As far as I'm concerned a fetus is a part of a woman's body which means the mother's prerogative supecedes any rights it may have. And that is why Wendy Davis has put herself on the line to defend a woman's right to choose.
    Should a woman who does not want to be pregnant be forced to carry the pregnancy to term? If she cannot or does not want to raise a child herself, should she then be forced to give it to someone else and get on with her life as if it had never been interrupted?

    Abortion is and always will be a contentious issue because it's about differing ideas about when human life begins - at conception, when sperm meets egg? Or much later? Different people draw the moral boundary at different developmental stages, according to the belief system they bring with them to the table.

    Here's a great lady who doesn't want to impose her beliefs onto other women : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1021034/The-tiniest-survivor-How-miracle-baby-born-weeks-legal-abortion-limit-clung-life-odds.html
    See what she said: "'I would never have an abortion, and I hope my daughter never has one. But I know it is up to individual choice . . . I don't want the miracle of Amillia's birth to be overtaken by the abortion debate in America and the UK.'

  25. Robin,
    Some of the saddest people I've met have been grandparents who engineered the adoption of their grandchild. They say "We just didn't know. We trusted the priest, adoption counselor, etc."

    And it goes on. In a 16 and Pregnant episode, adoptive parents pushed their adopted daughter into giving up her child. Ten years ago, my niece pushed her daughter into giving up her baby, encouraged to do so by my surrendered daughter.

    We need to keep getting our message out.

  26. @Robin - I don't think it's right to lay blanket shame on the grandparents since we have no way of knowing the whys behind their perceived lack of support. In my case, my beloved mother was critically ill with a brain tumor and comatose for a period of time. Had my mother not been is such dire straits, I suspect she would have helped me. We were very close, and she was a warm, kind, loving woman. I miss her dearly.

    On another note, we now have science available that let's us know when life begins for a developing child so we can make informed choices about another's life. And I also believe that father's rights extend to the life of the developing child.

  27. "...we now have science available that [lets] us know when life begins for a developing child..."
    No. No, we don't.
    "...father's rights extend to the life of the developing child."
    Hell no.

  28. Jane wrote:"We need to keep getting our message out."

    I agree with you, Jane, but it seems like so often our message falls on deaf ears. I guess there is just so much money to be made off of moving children around from one family to another like chess pieces that powerful players like the NCFA keep drowning us out.

  29. Jane,

    Re. the Texas abortion law debate.....an adoptive parent outside the courthouse had this to say (as posted today on MSNBC.com), "My boys are adopted. They could have been aborted," Lori Lett of Crosby, northeast of Houston, told KPRC. "That's why I wanted to come."

    It's infuriating the automatic conclusion many adoptive parents seem to draw about first mothers: that we all set out to have abortions then changed our minds at the last minute. This attitude is not only uninformed, it's prejudicial.

    I think it's safe to say many women from all walks of life may have considered having an abortion at some point. For all this woman knows, her mother considered aborting her.

    The proof of this prejudice is in the pudding as I'm fairly certain few adoptive parents would say to a married woman with children "so when did you change your mind about aborting your child?" Yet the second a woman signs a TPR, the judgement begins.

  30. "My boys are adopted. They could have been aborted," Lori Lett of Crosby..."

    Ms. Lett says her adopted sons could have been aborted. I wonder if they could have been kept?!



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