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Independence Day

It is Independence Day in America, and I am declaring my independence from a school of thought to which I have loosely subscribed ever since I was told, at the age of seven, that the well-intentioned people whom I was brought up to regard as my parents had adopted me. I was - am - somebody else's baby. I'm reading Ann Fessler's amazing book, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade. It astonishes me that it has taken thirty years since the first rollers of second-wave feminism crashed on the patriarchy's shore for this book to appear. It's the story of the worst outrage perpetrated against American women in modern times. Period. Something around a million mothers were forced to be complicit in their babies' kidnapping, between World War II and 1973. The elegant system that Ms Fessler anatomizes assured that the young mothers were both the victims and the scapegoats - it's as if Eichmann were a Jew! Without exception, the women whose stories are highlighted in the book suffered a numbness after the "abandonment" of their babies, usually under duress, that would be relieved only by reunion, if and when it occurred. It occurs to me that trying to reconnect with my birth mother is simply not an option - it's the only thing to do. If what I was told is correct, she's 77 now - not unimaginably old. (Being good at math, I hit on the figure of 87 in the moment of impassioned decision.) It couldn't matter less whether I want to know her. There's an overwhelming likelihood that she wants to know me. She wants to know that I'm okay.

I didn't know. But I do now, and that changes everything.


RJ, I should first say that I support your decision completely. I hope others in your position find this book and that it brings solace to them and their mothers. I wonder at the position it leaves the adoptive parents who -- we hope or previously assumed -- sought adoption for the right reasons.

But your entry raises the question of what the "right reasons" should be -- if there is a "right reason" at all -- and if adopting white babies didn't contribute to a sustained intolerance to racial and class differences throughout this pre-Roe v. Wade time. Not only did it send a distinct message that, should one not have their own child, the only option would be a child that looked like them and presumably came from a similiar background -- a ludicrous idea that links race to class in an obscene manner that inflicts harm not only to the immediate parties but to all of society.

Being born in 1978 leaves me to simply speculate, but what is clear to me is that this is a book that needs to be widely read. I hope similar books reveal the work of the patriarchy in social conditions and rituals that have been previously been perceived as benevolent. Acknowledging a blanket feeling of discomfort with these societal conditions/rituals often leaves one feeling as though the malaise is purely of their making. More often than not, this is far from the truth. Happy independence day, indeed.

I have never encountered the book, but what a beautifully written post.

Dear RJ,

I've just written a posting the second half of which is a moving account of a woman's life among books.

I would like to link your blog here into mine. I hope you don't mind.

I didn't know you are adopted.

I hope you and Kathleen are keeping cool and having a restful pleasant day.


I wish you well in this. If I had lost a child to adoption, finding that child again would be the greatest gift life could bring.

A brave decision. Bravo.

My niece, brought out of the unspeakable poverty of Nicaragua by my sister, is anxious to find her birth parents. She is just about to turn 17. I fear she will never have the opportunity, given the nature of Nicaraguan record keeping. But I can understand the desire to connect.

I am a kottke.org micropatron

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