The Girls Who Went Away
I am a part of the generation of women who remember the girls who went away. In my high school, she was a cheerleader who dated a football player, became pregnant and virtually disappeared our senior year. Almost everyone I meet who is my age can tell you the exact story about a friend or relative.
The groundbreaking book, The Girls Who Went Away, presents this remarkable story by sharing the oral histories of the girls themselves. Ann Fessler not only shares their stories, but also puts context around the story of the 1.5 million babies that were given up for adoption between World War II and 1973. While American cultural mores were beginning to support the idea of a sexual revolution and premarital sex, the idea of being an unwed mother was simply horrifying to almost everyone. The babies were considered illegitimate and pregnancy outside of a marriage was considered a disgrace for all involved.
What I found so remarkable about this book was that while each story was an individual and personal story, they all had so much in common. Most of the parents of these girls decided that this issue was about them, and not the girl or her baby. Not every parent turned their back on their daughter, but they all treated their daughters as though they had done the worst possible thing they could do. They made the girls hide, lie, and feel like they had let down every member of their family.
When they could no longer hide, they were sent to “charitable homes,” that offered the girls everything except charity. This is where they were counseled to do what was best for their babies and relinquish them after they were born. Many of the girls felt tremendous love for their babies, but felt like they had no choice but to relinquish them to adoption. They were all told the same stories:
That they would forget this experience and the child, and they could go back and simply pick up the pieces of their lives.
The other thing the girls had in common was how alone they were figuratively, and when it came time to give birth alone… literally. Leslie, who shares her story in this edition of the magazine, writes,
I was terrified to give birth. I’d never been to a hospital. The sister took me over and pulled up in front of the hospital and let me out. At 17, I went in and admitted myself. I had to labor in the hall. I couldn’t be in the labor room because all of the women in that room were married. Finally they pulled the gurney into a room and gave me something, and the lights went out. I remember absolutely nothing about his birth.
Ann and I discovered through a series of e-mails that we are exactly the same age. Women of our age are so grateful to her for finally sharing these stories, and giving voice to all of the women who lost their children; and then had to work very hard to reclaim their lives.
Thank you Ann.