' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Paula Fox: Author and first mother

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Paula Fox: Author and first mother

The writer Paula Fox died recently and she rated a half page obituary in the New York Times. I scanned it immediately to see if the fact of the daughter she gave up for adoption was included. I knew she had written about it in one of her memoirs.

Well, there it was: 
"At the end of Borrowed Finery: A Memoir Ms. Fox tells of being reunited with the daughter she had borne at 20, the offspring of a brief liaison after her first marriage had ended. She gave the infant up for adoption, a decision, she wrote, that pained her the rest of her life. In middle age, the daughter, Ms. Carroll-Barraud, found Ms. Fox. (One of Ms. Carroll-Barraud’s children, it transpired, is the rock singer Courtney Love.)"
Two other marriages followed that first brief one. I noted the plain English used in the obit and cheered, for there is no mention of an "adoption plan." Instead, Ms. Fox "gave the infant up for adoption." I thought of the time an adoptive mother told me I should not use those words because it sounded as if I were drowning. I was drowning. I saw no way to save my daughter from adoption. I gave up. And I've never socialized with that woman again. 

The obit also includes the observation that Ms. Fox herself, was "born to parents who did not want her," Her father was an undistinguished novelist and her mother was "young, vain, cold and 'ungovernable in her haste to have done with me,' as Ms. Fox wrote. Her parents floated through the 1920s in a haze of booze, parties and travel to Europea. Atg first, they left their infant in a foundling hospital "at her mother's insistence." Later the young girl bounced among relatives. By 16, she was more or less on her own. 

So, at her mother's insistence. When I read that, I wondered, how would Ms. Fox know that, except from old notes at the hospital written by a nurse, doctor, or nun? Was it true? We're heard about how those notes can not mean what the mother meant at the time. Maybe it was her father who insisted he didn't want to be bogged down with a child, and urged her mother to "insist" that the foundling hospital take her. Or maybe the mother really didn't get hit with the love hormone, oxytocin, that fosters bonding with the child. It happens. But since Ms. Fox apparently never lived with her parents, that stringent assessment of the facts of her life seems appropriate. 

Paula Fox wrote for both adults and young people. She wrote a couple of  highly praised adult novels, two memoirs, and twenty books for children. Her awards include the Newbury, which is akin to the Pulitzer Prize for children's literature. What she is known for is not sugar-coating reality  and showing the pain and unhappiness that is part of growing up. She certainly had her own life to use as material.

A few years ago Jane did a post--Does adoption run in families?--which discussed Paula Fox and her daughter Linda Carroll. Not happy stories. Carroll adopted a boy and later abandoned him. Her daughter Courtney's daughter was taken from her after Cobain's death by child welfare authorities. Now that does add a sad, but true, ending to the story. As we've written many times, adoption often begets another. 

Yet it is good to see that at least some birth mothers don't hide in the closet. I look forward to reading Borrowed Finery. Every bit of "coming out" that is in the media is A Good Thing. --lorraine

Correction: The early version stated that Ms. Fox had no other children. She had two with her second husband. 

Paula Fox, Novelist Who Chronicled Dislocation, Dies at 93


Does adoption run in families?


  1. I like your comment about coming out. We all need to come out. I am glad I have.

  2. One thing that struct me when Fox described her reunion with her lost daughter Linda Carroll was how they both smoked the same brand of cigarettes. I've often read of those small similarities when first parents meet the child they gave up. Similar likes in food, clothing, movies, books.

    Linda Carroll also wrote a memoir, "Her Mother's Daughter". She describes Courtney as a difficult child. Courtney ran away and got into the drug scene. Carroll lives in Corvallis, OR. She is a marriage and family therapist. https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/name/Linda_A._Carroll-Barraud_Corvallis_Oregon_39520

  3. Tears of cleansing came when the word "drowning" was used by the adoptive mother. This is for most of us during our pregnancies.
    I'm just reading this new discovery and the reality of the 50's and 60's.


  4. If infertile women will ever stop taking/demanding/buying other women's babies, first mothers can come up for air. We are coming out, thanks to women like Lorraine and Jane. We are finding our voices and our sea legs. Thank you for encouraging those of us still crouching in the closet. We are seeing the light in the door that has been cracked ajar. Our grown babies are calling for us, and we are coming out. Thank you.



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