The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler (Reread)

146070Nonfiction — print. Penguin, 2007. 368 pgs. Library copy.

Subtitled “The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade”, Fessler offers women who “went away” to maternity homes, to live with relatives, or were hidden in their own homes and then were forced under enormous family and social pressure to place their children up for adoption the space to finally tell their stories. Some of these women’s experiences are spliced and used to illuminate the history of this time period while others are given whole chapters to themselves to tell their stories.

Fessler’s book was one of the first books I reviewed on my book blog back in 2008. I cannot think of another book that so fundamentally changed my life as much as this one. I first read it in January of 2008, and I remember just sobbing in my bed as I read the stories of these women. Now, in January of 2013, I am still completely moved to tears as I reread each page. An incredibly moving book, I nearly reduced my mother to tears as I shared an (abridged) version of one of these girls’ experiences.

For me, one of the most heart wrenching story will always be the one where the young woman decided she wanted to keep her baby after caring for it (and, therefore, bonding with it) for nine days. Her parents agreed to allow her to bring the child home but refused to provide any financial assistance. She went to the adoption coordinator and was told to write out exactly what she could offer the child versus what an adoptive family could offer. Their column was long and detailed; all she had in hers was love.

And all the women who were forced to care for their children until they could placed up for adoption, or the ones who had to carry their child out to the agency’s car as the only time they would be allowed to touch and see their baby? Tears my heart out and stomps on it.

The practices of this time period have been reformed, or so one fervently hopes. Despite the subtle, the book examines all the issues that severely limit the choices that unmarried women had — lack of safe and legal abortion, lack of comprehensive sex education, lack of access to birth control. All issues the United States is still debating today thus making this book still an important part of the conversation.


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