Forty-Six years after the fact, I still find this time in my life hard to write about. But, as a Senior Mother and member of SMAAC, these are the things that we want to bring to the public's attention.
I was 15, it was 1961 and I was deeply in love with a boy, one who didn't have the maturity to love me back the way I so desperately desired. Oh, he said he loved me, and, in his own way, I guess he did. But mostly he wanted one thing from me and, in order to keep him, I did what he wanted me to do. Just before my 16th birthday, my daughter was conceived. It was also when his parents decided that he needed to get away from me (he was "too young" to be serious about a girl) and from some other "bad influences" and sent him to visit some relatives in California for a month.
Realizing that I had missed a period was terrifying. I have never felt so alone in my life. I was "one of those girls." I was "in trouble," and there was no one to help me or to make it go away. There was no Roe v Wade or access to birth control for single women. I didn't even know what birth control was except for condoms. I was amazed that this had happened to me because my sex education had been spotty and filled with erroneous ideas. I thought that what my boyfriend and I did was nothing like the sacred thing a married couple did to have children. To say I was confused was an understatement. I spent precious weeks in denial.
One thing sticks out in my mind and that is the fact that, though I gave in to my boyfriend's demands, I was a product of my Bible-Belt upbringing and I never was able to even enjoy the act. There was too much guilt in me. I even remember seeking the help of my minister.
Telling my parents was the most horrible experience imaginable. I had a close friend with me and she had urged me to tell them and promised to stand by me when I told them. We were in our kitchen and I will never forget the look of utter despair and disappointment on their faces. Once my mother stopped crying, I was ordered to keep my condition a complete secret while they figured out what to do. I was so emotionally exhausted from carrying the load all by myself, that I was happy to let them do the thinking for a while.
Little did I know that their plans included isolating me from my community and family, housing me with strangers and the "choice" to either surrender my baby for adoption or be homeless. I became an outcast in my community and shamed by my own family. My boyfriend ran like a rabbit and denied paternity. I was given a false name, treated like a delinquent with mental and emotional problems, challenged with questions about my "fitness" whenever I mentioned keeping my baby and told that I was a bad influence on my younger sisters. I guess they thought they would catch the pregnancy virus. The words "bastard" and "slut" were thrown around like balloons at a party.
I was given medical care, but it, such as it was, was also a humiliating experience. On "clinic day," we lined up in the hall, outside the nurse's office and exam room, wearing skirts with no underwear, as directed. We would be called in, one at a time, and given pelvic examinations, whether we needed one or not, by interns doing their OB/GYN rotations, while other interns and the OB/GYN resident looked on. Often, these exams were rough and painful and always, always embarrassing and demeaning.
When the time came to deliver, I remember hearing the nurses whisper to each other that "this one is from the home." They seemed to hold me in disdain and one even told me that the pain I was experiencing was what I deserved. I had to fight to see and hold and name my baby, but I did that and cherished the time I had with her in the hospital. As soon as I was out, the Social Worker was waiting for me, at the home, with the papers. I was still hormonal from giving birth, taking pain medication and signed the papers in a daze. I also broke down in tears after signing, but was persuaded, by then, what with all the coercion, that I would be a toxic mother to my child. I found out, 33 years later, that I would have been a great mother.
This is the time that we, at SMAAC, want to present to the nation. This is the time when helpless, vulnerable young women were subjected to a grave injustice. The fact that I was sexually assaulted when my daughter was four months old, by a guy who knew my boyfriend and believed his tales of my "easy manner" means that I went through this horror, not once, but twice. That is one time in my life when I would have loved to have been a bit less fertile. But I loved my son, regardless of the means of his conception, and wanted him as desperately as I wanted his older sister.
This lack of choice, autonomy, support and comfort was part and parcel of the Era of Mass Surrenders. My story is not unique. There are minor differences in some of our stories, but the injustice, mistreatment and ultimate pain of loss are all constants. Add to that the fact that our families and others disregarded our grief and did not want to witness our mourning. So that grief, we stuffed along with all the rest of the pain, until the days of our awakening.
We know, now, that a burgeoning industry that catered to infertile couples of the "right kind" was forming around our tragedies. We were the supply conduits to meet the demands for healthy infants. It makes me wonder why our babies were in such high demand when we were characterized as morally, psychologically and socially delinquent. (*see "Wake Up Little Suzie" by Rickie Solinger)
Most of us are in our late 40's, 50's and 60's and up. Many of us have been in reunion for quite a while. I have been reunited with both my children for 15 years. Once we got past the recurrence of grief, learned a few painful, home truths about what had happened to our children and how they saw us, we began to talk to each other and that is how we learned that we are numbered in the millions. We were ordered to keep our "dirty secret," even from the men we eventually married. Many of us felt that was not appropriate and told and it was amazing that there were men who loved us for ourselves and felt that we were good enough to marry. That was NOT what we were told would happen. We were told that "no decent man would have us" if he knew.
When I became engaged to my first husband, I was even told that I would not be allowed to wear white, have music, flowers or attendants because I was no longer a virgin. So, we eloped. Since then, I have learned how many non-virgins made that trip down the aisle in their pure white and, when I married my current, wonderful husband, I WORE WHITE!
The full story of the injustices against the Senior Mothers of the EMS would take ten blogs and still not tell it all. I can only give you the summary of my punishment and pain. It's time for someone to answer to this. If they can apologize to other minorities for unfair treatment, then they can do the same for us. If they can investigate other injustices with an eye to future prevention, then they can do the same for ours. It's not just something that is right and proper..it is no less than what we deserve. We have earned justice.