' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Confronting the shame upon admitting I gave up a child

Friday, July 26, 2013

Confronting the shame upon admitting I gave up a child

What was it like coming out of the closet when it was very lonely out there? In the late 1970s, only a small handful of women, spoke openly about this "shameful" deed we had done in the national media. What was shameful was not sleeping with someone we loved, the shame was that we had given up our babies. 

Adoptees sometimes cannot understand why their mothers are so traumatized that they cannot deal with the reunion, or the reality of their child, now grown, now an adult. For many of us, that deep sense of shame and humiliation that we felt when we gave up our children now comes back in full force, and we ourselves do not understand why the reunion is so deeply disturbing. To try to explain what it was like in the Seventies to come out publicly, I am post an excerpt from the memoir, Hole in My Heart, that I am working on (and hope to be finished with very soon). The year is
1979; I have just published Birthmark, my memoir about relinquishing my daughter, and am on a national publicity tour.

(Copyright, Lorraine Dusky 2013. May not be reprinted, copied, etc in any media with  permission)

A few days later [note: following an appearance on Good Morning America], in Detroit at my first out-of-town interview, a dozen long-stemmed red roses are handed to me as I leave the set. The card says they are from the young man I spoke to in Sag Harbor weeks earlier—who happened to be adopted. I am amazed that he remembered my name, researched my media tour, had found the TV station where I would be that morning. Our meeting had been a one-time casual conversation with his girlfriend over Rolling Rocks in a rowdy bar called the Black Buoy. I realize he wants to be sending those roses to his natural mother, not to me, but I will have to do in the meantime. I realize not only can I do this, I must do this. Let the naysayers be damned.

My mother in her twenties--a firebrand herself
Across the river from Detroit in Windsor a young, attractive interviewer spews out questions as if they were hot coals burning her insides while the camera rolls: Don't you feel you will be disrupting her life by coming back? What do you expect to get out of this? Do you “want her back?” What about the adoptive parents, do you think of them? They were there to take care of her, to change her diapers, to see that she has all that she needed, to take her to school, help with her homework, when you—YOU—were not! Did you ever think of that? Why did you write this book?

I can see her Barbie-doll face now, distorted with hate, wishing she could stomp me into oblivion. Is she an adoptive mother, or an adoptee filled with rage? Her fury was too passionate to be that of an uninvolved observer. As my mother lives in a Detroit suburb, she is with me that day and watches this unwind in disbelief. But she is unbowed. Finally fessing up about my daughter has closed whatever gap had come between us when I left home. She has been my stalwart supporter, always understanding from the first moment I told her. If I had told to her when I was pregnant, would there have been a different outcome? I have no idea. The shame of that earlier era was thick as a blinding fog, and as cold. Look at what is happening now, thirteen years later.                        

The cause of all the trouble!
I calmly tell the pretty blonde woman all the reassuring things I can think of to say, and she cuts me off a couple of times, too angry to hear. But fifteen minutes later, the next interviewer in the same studio, a woman with a radio show, tells me before she turns on the tape that she heard the other interview and is stunned. What a relief not to be stoned twice in a row. It is up and down like that, everywhere I go:  

“When people discover what Lorraine Dusky is about, they’re likely to cut and run,” the story began in New York City’s Daily News. “Because Lorraine Dusky is One of Those—a woman who had an illegitimate child, gave her away and now wants to find her.” That story ends up being sympathetic. A Newsday columnist writes that to some I represent a “fearful specter that threatens the integrity of their families.” 

In San Antonio a reviewer writes that I “vacillated between understanding [my] emotions and becoming angry with [my] preoccupation with something that happened 13 years ago.” Angry with “something that happened 13 years ago.” No, I am only wretched. Anger is for someone else. 

At a radio station in Texas, I run into someone I know from Manhattan in the lobby, and he is just as stunned as I am when the talk-show host comes out to greet me in a papier-mâché full face mask—the kind people wear at the masked balls in Venice. His point? He intends to stay anonymous to that woman who gave him up for adoption. Clearly I am disturbing some ancient, buried rage. The receptionist raises her eyebrows and shrugs. But in the end, he is not vicious, just curious about what I have to say. Yet he does not take off the mask. Larry King and Sally Jesse Raphael, both of whom had popular radio shows then, tell my publicist that they are adoptive parents, and therefore, not interested. Obviously. Do you even need to ask?

At one national afternoon talk show I am pitted against a fuming adoptive father. Later I learn that he, like many other men I would debate over the years, is not only an adoptive father, he an adoptive father and an attorney. Such articulate attack dogs, they are going to put me in my place, barely controlled wrath dripping like saliva, all mentally pounding the table in outrage. The way they talk about their children they sound like investments—lots of money does change hands in most adoption of infants—and no one is going to upset that deal. One need not doubt they love their children; they merely do not want to be confronted with whom the children came from. I look at them and wonder what they say, in word or by inference, to their children about the other mothers; it can’t be pretty.

But I expected this, right? These people do not speak for the children; they speak only for themselves. I look at them and wonder if I knew any of their children, if some are the ones who come secretly to ALMA to search and let out their feelings, or if any of their children had already found their natural mothers and never told their adoptive parents.

The depth of the fury surrounding this issue of a mother and child reunion was testament to the inviolate certainty and strength of the genetic bond. My detractors would not have been so profoundly enraged if they did not instinctively grasp its power. Natural mothers coming out of the closet evoked, at least then, all kinds of fears from adoptive parents—of losing one’s child to someone else, to a bond of blood and genes, to eyes and noses that look alike, to similar smiles and idiosyncratic tics despite everything they had done for their children, every poopy backside wiped, every tearful nightmare calmed, every orthodontics bill paid. No matter that without us, their children would not be, these people did not want to share. In any way. Or, it seemed, admit that the original mothers—those who had actually borne the children, supplied them, as it were—even existed. Had ever existed. Once been a part of their child’s life. Mattered to that child. They could not acknowledge that despite the break in the bond, blood had its own inimitable claim and connection.  You could denigrate it, you could downplay it, you could even swear at me, but still it was there, relentless as the pull of the tide. You couldn’t make it go away. It was. It is.

But one only has so much armor. These angry match ups always scratched at my sense of culpability and I never left one without being ripped raw, my heart going ka-boom, ka-boom, adrenaline on its appointed route. Yet believing you are part of a just cause does give you grit. Fighting for justice against a system that was at bottom unjust is a way of making some good out of losing my daughter. I know it in my heart, I hear it in my head, I feel it in my bones. Look, I would have done anything to not be that person who wrote that book—to not have lost a child to adoption—but that is who I am and I cannot play my life backwards. I am in this fight to give adopted people the right to their original identities, to give the mothers who want reunion a fair chance at having that, to restore what psychic health we natural mothers can salvage from knowing what happened to the children we gave life to. Without knowing what happened to our children, for many—some would say most—there is no real peace of mind. We walk around in the perpetual aftershock of trauma, while everybody says we need to “put this behind” us and “get on with our lives.”

In nearly every state, the laws that birth mothers were forced to agree to sealed not only the original birth certificate of the child, but also forced anonymity on us. When we signed away the termination of parental rights, we had no choice about that if we wanted to have our children be adopted into the security of a two-parent home, a scenario that had been drilled into us as the only possible correct way to raise a healthy and happy child. We "owed" it to our child to give her or him a "better life." But know this, birth certificates’ are not sealed with the legal termination of parental rights; they are only sealed upon adoption. The lie that we were promised “secrecy” was not, is not today, [1]part of the law.

[1] In Ohio, mothers were given the option of signing a “do not release” original birth records or my name to the child after 1996. A bill that will restore full rights of identity to ALL individuals has not yet been passed by the full Senate, though it has passed in the House with only one No vote. Currently, the  Ohio legislature is on summer recess. Children of those mothers, who signed a "Do Not Release" form after 1996 will still be subject to that unless their mothers retract it. 

Does one adoption spawn another? Too often for comfort.
A Daughter's Guilt Comes to the Forefront
Gathering Memories with my "birth" daughter
Giving Up a Baby Is a Plan of Last Resort

AMAZON GLITCH!  Though the first click to Amazon may tell you that the book is unavailable, that is not true. Put it in the Amazon search line, and you will  be taken to it.


  1. Lorraine,

    Not sure if your post was finished it looked like you were intending of adding more?

    Agree with you 100% on how we as mother's were shamed because we got pregnant. I was never ashamed it was my mom, my stepthing who made decisions to force me to relinquish. Society, was terrible judging every action of a pregnant young women. WE weren't first to every get pregnant we were last we didn't do anything other women hadn't did for centuries. Only problem we got caught, no birth control and no abortion. I hated that time. Judged by all, and then when we did surrender we were judged for that decision.

    Our reunited adult children can not comprehend what we went through neither can the people that got our babies. They were the fine upstanding married couple...not! I know better.

  2. Adoptive parents are scared indeed.
    My granddaughter's so much so that they are insisting on making my daughter sit down to discuss "expectations" during her next visit. I'm sure the "expectations" are all about how they are portrayed on our blog. What else would they be about? My daughter has kept her mouth shut and her pain and grief to herself when visiting.
    It does not matter how well you think you know someone, once they have your child you are a threat. Our family is now mud to these people even though the adoptive father is our brother and our children's uncle. He grew up with my husband. They shared a room growing up, and he named one of our children. Now, he has our granddaughter, and we are lower than dirt to him.

  3. Kellie, that is a sad story indeed you tell. The adoptive parents are relatives and yet they treat you badly. So sorry.

  4. I placed my little boy up for adoption in Feb. of 1977 not knowing how I could raise him all alone.

    Everyone at work knew but most of my family who are still alive are just finding out now along with friends who also never knew.

    My son and I met after 32 years apart and for that I will always thank God for taking care of both of us long enough to tell each other I Love You.

    Thanks for doing your blog I often think of doing one too :)


  5. Hey, Lorraine, you and Lee were not the only ones speaking out in the mid and late 70s:-)I was in ALMA too, and did some interviews,TV, newspaper and radio, as did a few other ALMA and CUB moms. We deserve some credit too, even though we did not all found groups or write books.

    No, there were not a lot of us, but there were a few, and yes, at the time, we did get a lot of flack from most adoptive parents and adoption agencies and lawyers. It did take some courage to be out there, and especially to address scared and hostile adoptive parent groups and legislators.

    I was never really in the closet, and not ashamed of my son or his birth, but that his father abandoned us and I did not get it together to keep him. Like those moms who came out later, those of us who came out early all had different stories and motivations, but I think it was more a matter of hooking up with the right groups and people like ALMA, and hearing that search and reunion were possible that made the difference.

    I always wanted to find my son but it did not occur to me that adoptees wanted to know their natural families until I heard Florence and Jean Paton.

    As it turned out my son was not interested for many years, but that did finally change. I am a cat lady; my son's latest project was to build a "catio", an enclosed patio for their kitties! I think he might be related to me:-)

  6. Hi Lorraine,

    It is highly discouraging for me to see that, despite a few of you who have been activists in this area since the '70s (wow!), there is so little empathy and awareness in the adoptive community about the losses/trauma borne by the birth families of many adoptees (and indeed often the adoptees too). Certainly when my husband and I began our journey in adoption 7 years ago, we saw nothing wrong with "getting" a baby through "voluntary" placement. Nobody led us to believe any different - we were totally naive. It was purely chance, not choice, that led us to foster care - and it was not until our experience with Nina got me interested in family preservation that I slowly started to find out about the many horrors and the full-fledged industry associated with so-called voluntary placement. We just feel lucky and grateful that we did not fall into that trap - we would have been wracked with guilt had that happened.

    I am sorry that societal attitudes to this day create a castle of glory for adopters and a dungeon of shame for the biological families from whom they have received the biggest asset they crave. This is why adoptive parents do not want to hear about the manipulation - they have nothing to gain and much to lose by acknowledging its existence. Someday (soon, I hope), I would like to blog about Nina's life as it is evolving, to try and show prospective adoptive parents the value of approaching adoption as a last resort and supporting family preservation instead.


    1. Jay, you ROCK. I've been so impressed by your emotional generosity and good heart. Your comments are full of good sense and unselfishness. Bravo!

      I'm neither adopted nor a relinquishing mother--just someone who's found at FMF many of the answers to my questions about how adoption ravaged one branch of my family tree.


  7. The fact that some adult reunited children are unable to fully comprehend the societal forces at work and the impact on our lives that relinquishment had has, in some cases, made the reunion relationship difficult if not impossible.

    Lorraine, thank you for sharing your story and shedding light on what our lives were like.

  8. Maryanne,

    I was not aware that anyone besides Lee and I were public in the Seventies. I recall that Lee's first interviews were with her face in the shadow. My actual first pubic "announcement" was in a long piece in Town & Country magazine in 1976; that landed me on the Today Show. Jane Pauley did a good interview and was not in the least mean. I was not aware that anyone had done anything before that.

    I will certainly make the change (tomorrow) and am glad to know this.

  9. I got involved in adoption reform in 1975 in MA where I lived at the time. Previous to that I had written to Jean Paton and had letters published in her newsletter "The Log of Orphan Voyage" which went all over the country, and I always signed my full name. In 76 I wrote a letter to the Boston Globe in response to the article that featured Lee as "Lenore Hatch". I gave Lee a hard time for not using her real name:-) She got over that by the time she did her Donahue appearance.

    I remember your Town and Country article, I think I had moved back to NJ by then. In 77 I was involved in NY ALMA. I was on Good Morning America with some other ALMA people in the late 70s, don't remember the year but before 79.

    I did not save stuff I wrote, and am generally hazy on time frames, but did know other natural mothers in ALMA and CUB in the mid to late 70s who used their real names in letters to the editor and local interviews. I know Susan Darke, who was both an adoptee and a natural mother who surrendered was public in the 70s even before me in MA and started a group there.

    Sandy Musser was also out and involved early on.Mirah Riben got involved in the late 70s. Lee is archiving all the CUB early papers, she may know more old-timer moms.

  10. I am very sorry that you were abused by interviewers like that, Lorraine. It's awful. I thank you, and others, for speaking out at the time and paving the way for discussion that made it easier for those adoptees in your daughter's generation, and for those who came later. Not all of us were met with mothers with outstretched arms and open hearts, but as Anon said, there are many mitigating social factors that made/make relationships after reunion difficult at the best of times for some of us. We are better people for trying to understand other people's experiences.

    All of us have to live lives that are forever changed by adoption. I had hoped for a closer relationship with my mother post-reunion, but it wasn't meant to be. I cannot predict the future; I can be hopeful. It all depends on how open and honest both sides can be.

    I missed out on knowing so many things about myself--that spring from two families--until so late. As Lorraine said, genes are powerful things, and I've learned that I didn't just manifest from the ether with my dreams, loves, and talents. Some are from my mother, some from my father (I have a relationship with his family, too). It's been a blessing, at last, not to feel like an alien life form.

    Thank you, Lorraine, for putting yourself on the line, for all of us.


  11. Ruby,

    You and other adoptees who write/comment on this forum are a real resource for an adoptive mom like me who hopes for the best possible reunion for her son. My son's first mother stopped communicating with us after a year, and I can think of many reasons why she is unable to maintain contact (at least right now, hopefully that will change). My son's birth father is not permitted contact with any of his children for reasons I will hold on to until I am able to disclose them to my son when he is older. I am trying to learn from various adult adoptee perspectives how I might nurture him if/when (I am thinking most likely "when," especially as I plan to encourage him to do so) he embarks on a future journey seeking his roots.

    So, thank you


  12. I too am of the impression there were several first mothers speaking out and getting pieces published in the late 1970s. In 1978, a few months after the birth of my second son, whom I did raise, I left him for the first time with a friend for two hours and drove to an Oakland meeting of CUB, puzzled by the intensity of my interest in this group.
    The desperate struggle to raise this second child, with no money, no family supports whatsoever, and only superficial help from any of my many friends, as well as the continuing prejudices of Bay Area landlords, prevented my continuing involvement in such groups, and it was only years later, when my first son grew up and found me, that I became involved in various East Bay first mother/"triad" groups and actions, but I remember there was no shame or other objection in me to speaking out, only lack of available time to pursue this. Note: then, as now, general advice to any single mom getting Welfare (or what passes for it now), especially to one who'd already yielded a child to adoption, was "Never let a social worker know you've ever even heard the word 'adoption'--or they'll sink in claws and not let go."

  13. The post now reads: What was it like coming out of the closet when it was very lonely out there? In the late 1970s, only a few woman of women spoke openly about this "shameful" deed we had done in the national media. What was shameful was not sleeping with someone we loved, the shame was that we had given up our babies."

    That is how the post reads now. I am sorry if I had the wrong impression. I was not aware of anyone who published anything in anything other than adoption publications (and I never did see anything Jean Paton wrote, nor communicated with her) or was on TV on this before 1976, when I did my piece for Town & Country. I got involved with ALMA as soon as the New York Times piece appeared, in July of 1972. My life changed that day. (I'm aware of the dates because I am using some of this for my memoir. While I do not mean to diminish your bravery, Maryanne, it is different using your name in an adoption publication--which I admire--than in a national publication. Signing your name to a letter in a Boston newspaper and saying you were a first mother took guts, I know. (The bigger the outlet, the more people get pissed off and madder to boot!)

    The T&C piece got some attention, but nothing like the Newsweek My Turn I did shortly before the Birthmark came out. (See the next post) I was practically crucified for that one.

    The year after (1977) the T&C piece I did a different type of story for New Woman in which I also was public about how I wanted to know my daughter one day; that got so much mail they did a feature on the mail itself four months later. However, the very first thing I wrote on this ran in New Woman in I think 1972 or 73 under the pseudonym of "Phyllis Bernard," a name made up by an editor. I was not ready to come out and say I did this--actually it may have come out before I knew about ALMA. That headline I will never forget: "Things Your Husband Didn't Tell You About Sex." Go figure. The piece got absolutely no attention; no one wanted to know who Phyllis Bernard was. I was still married at the time, and I got divorced in '73.

    Even supposedly hip magazines didn't want to deal with the story but then five years later, New Woman did--a piece that Cosmo turned down. Though Helen Gurley Brown supported the search movement and I wrote about it for the magazine, she clearly did not want pieces that focused on the unhappy ending to the kind of swinging sex life she espoused.

    Thank you for letting all of us know that you and other women out there were able and willing to stand up and take the criticism that came with speaking out in the very early days of adoption reform. It was not easy for any of us. And I'd rather know now than later. Thanks again for setting the record straight!

    1. Helen Gurley Brown reportedly really hated children. They were an abstraction to her: pregnancy and childbirth was to be avoided at all costs. When she married David Brown, he had a troubled teenage son who later died of a drug overdose. I can't remember reading anything in Cosmo about being a stepmother... do you?

  14. Paula, yes, there were local groups springing up all over the country run by adoptees, and some birth mothers were forming their own groups like the Bay Area one you attended in 78. This was way before the internet, the most communication was printed newsletter and phone calls, but a lot of it was local and I doubt anyone at the time was aware of all the groups that existed. There was a base of mothers hungry for a group and a voice, as Lee Campbell found when she started CUB with mothers already in ALMA and Orphan Voyage, and it spread with more and better publicity.

    If I knew about ALMA when it started, I would have joined then. In 72 we were living in Utah and NY news was not top priority there in Mormon country:-)

    The local groups came and went as needs were felt and filled. Most people only joined a group long enough to find their child or family; very few stayed in for the long haul.

    Some of us would have loved to have national media coverage but had no way to connect to it. Lo, you were fortunate to be in a position to not just have to write for reform group newsletters. Getting the coverage you did was a good thing and helped many others.But always behind the stars like you and Lee and Florence were a lot of others who longed to be heard and were glad to see our issue get out there.

    But as you said, not too many media outlets were interested and it was very hard to get things published. I know Mirah tried very hard, and finally self-published her book in the 80s. Several of us wrote letters to the NY Times that never made it in. When we started our NJ Origins group in 1980, Alison Ward did get some stuff into national media, especially around the notorious Baby M surrogate case. But it took something notorious like that, or exploitive televised reunions, to get the media interested.

  15. Beautiful and tragic post.

    I guess mom and dad were truly decades ahead of their time compared to how society and AP's acted then. I think dad was repulsed by how society treated mothers who went away vs the newly married mothers who delivered the full term "preemie" vs the good girls who secretly had abortions. It was all just too much hypocrisy. They were the ones who sought and opened my sisters adoption about that time.

  16. You know what magazine pissed me off the most? Ms. I was writing for a whole bunch of national magazines at that time, I knew I should have been able to get our story in there--whether mine or just on the movement, which was mostly women, right?--didn't matter--I couldn't get anywhere with the editors.

    Why? Ultimately I believe it was because a) the editors who "got caught" were savvy enough to get abortions, and thought the women who couldn't were pathetic; b) the editors themselves were at the forefront of the push to adopt, and they already did not want to hear from us. Adoption reform was never an issue that Ms. would ever deal with. I always saw not getting a piece in Ms. in those early years as a personal failure.

    Many years later I wrote about RU-486 (the abortion pill) for Ms. and attitudes towards abortion.

    By the 80s, all of those afternoon television shows were doing reunion stories. Florence Fisher was involved in many of them in getting the people, and after she found out the shows were not paying for a second night in New York--just a meet and greet on stage, then, gotta catch a plane--she had a fit and got that changed. Geraldo, Maury Povich, Sally Jesse Rapheal--they were all doing them. (This was pre-Oprah, who did a lot of reunion shows herself, including ultimately, her own with her half sister.) ALMA also got a huge number of letters after any televised reunion. Because of that, I can't get too upset with the Troy Dunn shows; they do highlight the issue very dramatically, they unearth buried feelings. Pass the Kleenex.

  17. For some in the 70s and earlier, the shame was sleeping with a guy and having sex as this was something only married people did. Hence, one part of the popular adoption story was that the birthmother was probably a slut or a prostitute. Giving up the baby was portrayed as a selfless act, one that was the loving thing to do so that the baby would have a better life.

  18. just my 2 cents from my own reunion. I'm from the closed adoption era. You suggest that adoptees can't understand what their mothers went through. I do actually have great empathy for my mother and know she suffered. I welcomed her with open arms and said it's okay. I understand that you did what you felt you had to do. It's past. I love you and always have and would like to make a new start. However, our reunion is very unstable. You see where I struggle is that she took that pain and turned it against me, satisfying her own wants at my expense, reasoning to herself what did it matter I would never know. I would have hoped she at least had the decency to say she's responsible for the innocent little life she created and try her best to respect that but she didn't. Yes she has suffered for HER actions... but so have I and what did I do? After years of holding her in a very special place in my heart, it has been devestating to find out that i just wasn't worth it. Please, if you have an adoptee that "doesn't understand" - well maybe they don't, but also maybe they need some empathy and understanding as well... not all, but certainly some of us have paid a life sentence for a crime we didn't commit.

  19. Rural Australia is so far behind the rest of the world . Recently a visiting city friend rolled her eyes and muttered " %$^&&* 1950's" at a comment by one locally prominent male. Unfortunately the women are not much removed. I have not until probably the last 10 years publicly admitted to being a mum whose child was taken for adoption in 1977. Even now I am ostracised for speaking about such taboo subjects.....yet the adoring adopters are held up on the pedestal........the tides ARE slowly turning but I dont think the tide will be out until long after my death......

  20. Jane, Thank you for this honest and thought-provoking post.

    It struck me after reading it that in the late 70's there was a triple "mark of shame" on the heads of first mothers.

    The shame of being pregnant & unmarried was definitely prevelant.

    And you were so right about the Ms. piece. There were indeed those who judged us for not aborting "What were you, stupid? Why didn't you just abort?!" I think they believed losing our children to adoption was our just desserts for being so un-feminist.

    But there was also the rampant shame of being a 'welfare mother'.

    It seemed like no matter what path a woman chose, she was damned.

  21. While we're on the subject of feminism, here's an interesting article about feminists and the Veronica Brown case.


  22. Someone mentioned adoptee and pioneering adoption reform activist Jean Paton, a great lady who gave impetus to both first mothers and adoptees to break down the walls of shame and solitude that surrounded adoption. This inspiring letter, written by Jean, was published under the heading "Remembered" in the L.A Times, December 24, 1959:

    “In remembrance of today’s forgotten women, the one who has given her child to adoption, never to hear of him again.To such mothers, to those who grieve, may I send assurance that not everyone had forgotten them, especially not their children, many of whom when grown, think of them with growing wisdom and in the spirit of forgiveness. Those of us, who are less than perfect can never understand the reason for this lifelong punishment for what is, often enough, scarcely a sin, certainly not the mortal one.”

    Wayne Carp's biography of Jean Paton is due to be published Fall 2013: http://jeanpaton.com

  23. Ummm, Anonymous, this is a post from my memoir in progress...

  24. I can understand why there are tensions between first mothers and adoptees if first mothers think that adoptees don't try to understand what things were like for unmarried pregnant girls in the BSE. Most adoptees I know have bent over backwards to have compassion for what their natural mothers went through. It is very difficult to understand the mindset of a time period if one hasn't lived it, but most adoptees do try.

    And not every woman wanted an abortion, even if she could get one. My mother very much wanted a child, was hoping I would be a girl, and wanted desperately to be a mom.

  25. Robin, I am sure most good-hearted people try to understand the "old days," when confronting a mother from an earlier era, and aren't all mothers from an earlier era? But it is, I think, hard for someone who grows up today to understand the deep deep shame that an out-of-wedlock pregnancy brought to the woman, to her family. Even the language we used back then sounds archaic.

    Nor am I scolding anybody. I am just writing about what it was like for me--and certainly for legions of women.

    I just reread the Jean Paton quote carefully; surely she wrote: ..." never to hear of her again. The comment above says "him." Who pray tell, has an advance copy of this book and why did they choose anonymity? No harm in setting the record straight.

  26. Enjoyed reading this excerpt and can't wait to read the final book. Thank you for speaking out when clearly it was scary and threatening to your mental health to do so. It saddens me that so many APs don't want to hear the truth . . . but it won't stop me from speaking it and I see that you have not been deterred either! Carry on!

  27. From the adoption POV I feel like a dinosaur reading the comments. However, from the birth mother POV many of you are my contemporaries, I was a teenage boy in the '60's and could have been the father of one of the children relinquished in that era. I'm not as far as I know! But I was born, relinquished and placed in late 1948 and early 1949. My adoption became final in 1950. I'm now 64 and never did anything about finding out about my origins until the last couple of years. Needless to say, I was never contacted by my birth mother or father. Frankly, I was entirely ignorant about search issue, birth mother issues etc. until recently and I have to say its been areal eye opener for me.
    In 2010, I did an Internet search and identified my birthmother and her family. I knew she was older (30) when I was born so I wasn't terribly surprised to learn shed died in 1987. So, reading your blog has been a real education and a help in answering the question I have: why didn't she search for me. I'm sure the shame and secrecy you mention accounted for most if not all of her motivation or lack thereof. She was a professional woman, a chemist, who never married and had no more children. She seems to have led a rather solitary and secretive life and died not knowing either me or the two grandchildren I gave her. I really appreciate the wisdom, sharing and insight you bring to this painful part of so many lives. Look forward to your book.

  28. About Jean Paton's book . . . the quote is readily available on Wayne Carp's website. It was part of an original "Christmas Letter for Single Mothers" from 1954, something that warmed my heart for sure. Don't think anyone has an advance copy.

    More here: http://jeanpaton.com/2009/12/07/jean-patons-christmas-letter-for-single-mothers-dec-24-1959/

    Pretty sure the pronoun is meant to be "him". It was referring to adopted children and the people they become in general. As you know only too well, the style back in the day was to use the masculine pronoun for both genders.

  29. Ah, BeeHive, you are right. I mistakenly took the quote to mean..."never to hear from her again," since that is what we first mothers were supposed to do--never be heard from again.

  30. There was so much HARD work done in the 70s that no one talks about. Publishers and producers claim their stories today are "breaking," that they are revealing "for the first time ever" the stories of birthmothers. Such claims negate us yet again. That's why I wrote "Stow Away" (available at every ebook outlet and soon in print). Unbelievably courageous women like Mary Anne, Susan Darke, the never-mentioned Gail Hanssen, and more are part of CUB's back story, part of the real history of adoption reform! So I applaud your work in this blog, Lorraine, and your upcoming book to remind others of this long-standing, little known work! Here's another resource: CUB also generously provided funds to digitize publications going back to 1976 -- over 4000 pages! These are invaluable to anyone who wants the full truth -- for their personal use, for research by writers like yourself, Lorraine, for historians, for bibliographers, for legislators, and for serious producers and publishers who don't want to falsely sensationalize their stories as "first." (See CUB's History Channel at www.cubirthparents.org ). There's so much more to say but I'll stop here and let Stow Away, CUB's collection and your blog/book say the rest.

  31. Robin, I understand what you're saying and it would be wonderful if most adoptees understood the experience of the mothers from the early years. The reality is many don't and some are angry and believe wholeheartedly that there is a debt to be paid to them by the mother because the mother "gave the baby away ." The "debt" attitude alone shows a lack of understanding and compassion.

  32. Well, blow me over. I looking over my old clips I have discovered that I first came out as a "birth mother" on March 1, 1975 in an Op-Ed called Yearning in the New York Times, with a big piece in the top center of the page with a fantastic illustration by Jean-Claude Saures, later used in a book of his work.

    Nothing happened after that, unlike after the Town & Country piece, and so I forgot that I talked about "my daughter" in that piece. I know this is of interest only to a few, but I thought I would set the record straight here.

    Since so little has changed, I think I will copy it and reprint the piece as it appeared on March 1, 1975. I call myself a "natural mother." Everyone knew what it meant.

  33. Let me add to the shame catalog: the shame of trusting the wrong guy, believing that if you got pregnant, he would do the right thing. The shame of being so dumb or naive that you didn't use birth control or didn't use it correctly.



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