Birth Mothers Weren’t “Promised Privacy”: Secrecy Was Imposed, Not Chosen. Many Birth Mothers Were Banished and Shamed.
“In this deeply moving work, Ann Fessler brings to light the lives of hundreds of thousands of young single American women forced to give up their newborn children in the years following World War II and before Roe v. Wade. The Girls Who Went Away tells a story not of wild and carefree sexual liberation, but rather of a devastating double standard that has had punishing long-term effects on these women and the children they gave up for adoption.”
From the Publisher of The Girls Who Went Away, by Ann Fessler
“We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children. You were not legally and socially acknowledged as their mothers. And you were yourselves deprived of care and support.
To you, the mothers who were betrayed by a system that gave you no choice and subjected you to manipulation, mistreatment and malpractice, we apologise.
We say sorry to you, the mothers who were denied knowledge of your rights, which meant you could not provide informed consent. You were given false assurances. You were forced to endure the coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and in many cases illegal.
We know you have suffered enduring effects from these practices forced upon you by others. For the loss, the grief, the disempowerment, the stigmatisation and the guilt, we say sorry.
To redress the shameful mistakes of the past, we are committed to ensuring that all those affected get the help they need including specialist counselling services and support, the ability to find truth in freely available records and assistance in reconnecting with lost family.” (emphasis added.)
From the March 21, 2013, national apology delivered by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to birth mothers for practices of forced adoption in that country during the Baby Scoop Era. The apology results from an extensive, remarkably detailed Senate Committe Report and investigation on the history of adoption in Australia.
“The birth mother advocates, who are among the most vocal advocates for access, stress the fact that birth mothers were neither offered a choice of being, nor guaranteed that they would be, forever unknown to their children….As a means of assessing these competing claims, this article analyzes the provisions in a collection of birth mother surrender documents assembled by the author — seventy-five mid-twentieth century documents executed in twenty-six different states. In order to establish the significance of the provisions with respect to these claims, the article first relates depictions by birth mothers of a journey from silence to legislative advocacy. The article then examines the conflicting claims about birth mothers that pervade legislative contests over adult adoptee access to original birth certificates. Finally, the article analyzes the provisions of the surrender documents. The analysis of the provisions definitively supports birth mother advocates’ reports that women were neither offered a choice of nor guaranteed lifelong anonymity. Their opponents’ contentions to the contrary, whether motivated by concern for birth mothers or other interests, reinscribe an earlier culture of shame and secrecy, subordinating women’s own wishes and silencing their newly raised voices…..An examination of the collection of seventy-five surrender documents from twenty-six states shows that their provisions are consonant with women’s reported feelings of lack of agency and powerlessness, as well as their contention that they were neither offered nor guaranteed lifelong anonymity.” (emphasis added)
Surrender and Subordination: Birth Mothers and Adoption Law Reform, Elizbeth J. Samuels, University of Baltimore School of Law, Michigan Journal of Law and Gender
“Confidentiality for most was not a choice, but an inherent part of the adoption process.”
For The Records II: An Examination of the History and Impact Of Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates, Policy & Practice Perspective, July 2010, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. p. 21, citing Schooler, J.E. & Norris, B.L. (2002. Coping with birthparent loss in adopted children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 43 (2), 213-223.
“Forty percent of the documents do include provisions about future identity disclosure or future contact. Under the terms of these provisions, it is the birth mother who promises she will not seek information about the child. She affirms her understanding that she is not entitled to information about the child’s new identity or whereabouts. She promises she will not interfere with or harass the adoptive family. (emphasis added)
Surrender and Subordination: Birth Mothers and Adoption Law Reform, Elizbeth J. Samuels, University of Baltimore School of Law, Michigan Journal of Law and Gender, p. 139
“The idea that adopted persons’ own birth identities should be concealed from them, an idea that arose and enjoyed its heyday in the last century, was a novel invention, a historical anomaly.”
Surrender and Subordination: Birth Mothers and Adoption Law Reform, Elizbeth J. Samuels, University of Baltimore School of Law, Michigan Journal of Law and Gender,
“Surrender” is such a appropriate description of these documents. We had our backs to a cliff – every single person we had ever trusted and loved betrayed our trust and were against us; our parents, teachers, the sisters and priest of our church. The only “choice” we were given was to surrender our child…(Letter from Dorothea Copeck-Nolan to the author (June 6, 2009) (on file with Elizabeth Samuels)(explaining that she married the child’s father and that she and her husband, and the two songs they raised, were found by [her adult son] when he was 35).” (emphasis added)
Surrender and Subordination: Birth Mothers and Adoption Law Reform, Elizbeth J. Samuels, University of Baltimore School of Law, Michigan Journal of Law and Gender, p. 138
“In Australia, the majority of adopted adults have unconditional access to their OBCs, because the two most-populated states have passed relevant legislation.”
For The Records II: An Examination of the History and Impact Of Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates, Policy & Practice Perspective, July 2010, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. p. 7