Book Review: The Girls Who Went Away

thegirlswhowentawayRead for: Reproductive Justice Book Club

Rating: 3.5/5

This was a fairly emotional read. Ann Fessler has compiled stories from women who gave up babies for adoption in the years leading up to 1973’s Roe vs Wade. It was a horrific situation for so many girls – they find themselves pregnant (many women even reported that they became pregnant after their first sexual experience) and in telling their parents were shipped off to a birthing home for pregnant teens where they were heavily shamed for becoming pregnant and in some cases treated as manual labour until the birth. Their birthing experiences were like something out of a horror movie; strapped to a bed, given an enema and shaved, then knocked out for the rest of the birth only to wake up empty and literally alone – no baby in sight. Many girls were not allowed to see their babies at all after they were born, and all were forced to sign paperwork surrendering the baby into the care of an adoption agency. This paperwork was not explained to the girls, they were not given any choices, and in many cases they were forced to lie about their willingness to hand over their child to new parents in court. These young girls were told the parents adopting their baby were rich and (most importantly) MARRIED and would provide a better home for the baby than the teen mother would. In many cases this was in fact a lie. It is incredibly shocking that a baby can be taken away from it’s mother in such a fashion, and the main reason being that the teen mother was unmarried. Several girls wrote about how they gave birth again 1 or 2 years later after getting married and were “allowed” to keep their babies (a couple women even married the same birth father and had a second baby with him, meaning that child had a full blooded sibling that was not allowed to live with them as a family solely because his parents were not married yet at the time of it’s birth. Insane). The result of ripping the babies away from these teen mothers, not surprisingly, is that these women are all deeply traumatized for the rest of their lives. The fact that this interference was allowed to happen, and to SO MANY women, is absolutely INSANE.

Many of the essays were also about their experiences getting back in touch with their lost children as they became adults and were able to search for their birth mother. Strangely enough, while reading this book I worked a shift with a man who mentioned that he had just met his mother for the first time the day before, and had been in a similar situation to the adopted children in this book. So this is clearly something that is still affecting families today. It wasn’t that long ago! Overall this is a powerful book, though it does get a little repetitive as many of the experiences were very similar. Regardless, this is an important piece of writing about reproductive rights and a strong documentation of the deplorable treatment of unmarried mothers in American history.


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