Tuesday, June 08, 2010

1945

These two could be my parents..well they were off by a few months, and my father was an Army Sergeant and my mother was a office clerk in SC. They were married in 1942, right before my father was shipped out to Europe, where he was wounded in action. I was born on July 14, 1945, after the victory in Europe and a month before the surrender of the Japanese in the war in the Pacific.

As this picture illustrates, these boys came home glad to be alive and lusty as most young bucks are. Prior to that time, most unmarried mothers found havens in places like the Florence Crittendon Homes which were founded to help give these young mothers and their infants a better start in life, together. Adoptions did happen, but not on a large scale. Only later, as the numbers of unwed pregnancies began to rise and social work became a "profession," did Flo Crit and other such establishments morph into adoption-oriented clearinghouses.

With the emergence of the field of social work on  that scale, came the concept of adoption as we know it now. It was the "perfect solution" for the perceived problem of teen/unwed pregnancy and the increasing numbers of couples wanting to adopt. In many cases, hubby came home from the war with infertility issues due to a "case of the mumps." The mumps were not always what caused the problem for these fellows. But it seems that, by that time, rather than dealing with and accepting the fact of their childlessness, more childless couples wanted to adopt. Thus the rising numbers on both ends began the burgeoning adoption industry and the adoption-minded response from state agencies. Looking at it from this end of the time scale, it was cause and effect and the attitude that human beings could engineer anything. The good, old American way of supply and demand went into high gear.

Adoption, which was not the way most mothers before had handled pregnancies while unmarried, became, more and more, the Idea Whose Time Had Come. It was supposedly a win-win situation. The parents of the pregnant girl got their shameful secret swept under the rug, childless couples got an adorable infant and all was well. If the mother got a bit stubborn and wanted to keep her baby, well, she's the one who lifted her skirts and it was perfectly legal to mistreat these wanton girls to "rehabilitate them." We were isolated and treated like criminals, sneered at by medical professionals and sent home, broken-hearted, with the advice to say nothing to anyone about our terrible secret.

The numbers spiked as the war babies and post-war boomers started growing into nubile young girls and randy young boys. The hypocrisy of the times was ubiquitous and the autonomy of women was not even a spoken concept. The popular theory of the mental health profession at the time was that girls who became pregnant (i.e., had sexual activity) prior to marriage were psychologically defective, even delinquent, and gestating, laboring,delivering and surrendering their child in secrecy was a way to cure that emotional and psychological defect. The religious leaders saw the loss of our children as our way to redemption for our sin of fornication. The reason we were singled out is because we were the only ones whose fornication bore fruit. So it was either a shotgun wedding...hard to do if the father denied paternity and the burden of proof was on the head of the frightened mother...or a trip out of town to "visit an aunt," during which time, the "problem" would go away and the family honor would remain untarnished.

As the sixties progressed into the latter years of that decade, women started looking askance at the double standards and outmoded attitudes towards us, our contributions to society, our abilities and our sexuality. By the early 1970's, things started to change. Women became more outspoken, more in control of their own destinies and less inclined to allow others to make decisions for them. With the legalization of safe, medical pregnancy termination and the increasing availability of birth control for even the single woman, there were more choices for women. In 1976, 13 years after I had been coerced into surrendering my second child, I was invited to a baby shower for the daughter of a friend at work. She was single, in her freshman year of college, and had the loving support of her parents in HER decision to keep her child. The father had reluctantly signed an agreement to help support the baby. I attended for a short while, then went home and wept bitter tears, holed up in the bathroom so that my two raised children couldn't hear me. Keeping and raising a child by a single mother was no longer a horror and a shame to the majority of people.

As these new choices started appearing, the number of adoptable infants started declining. From what was a bounty of baby-flesh for the facilitators to market, it dropped to around one infant for every 40 potential adoptive couples. In pockets of backwardness and for parents who were still trying to present themselves as the progenitors of perfection, there was still pressure on young women to surrender and agencies and attorneys who made their daily bread from this were not about to let these isolated cases know their options.  It was also another way of after-the-fact birth control. For those who complain about abortion being used in this manner, this was seen as more "acceptable." For the religious, thus was born the adoption rather than abortion campaign and more social engineering to be had by all. Hooray. A lot of the newer mothers who "made the decision" to surrender are now in support groups, dealing with their grief.

A lot has come down the pike in the 65 years since that sailor smooched that pretty nurse in the middle of that huge celebration. Most of the women of my daughter's and granddaughter's generations would no more put up with what was imposed on my generation than they would shoot themselves in the foot. I have gotten a good bit of my information for this post from reading some books about the times, most notably Rickie Solinger's "Wake Up Little Susie" and Anne Fessler's "The Girls Who Went Away." I also have been able to read a lot of the articles written by Karen B. W. Buterbaugh who has done extensive and exhaustive research into the subject. But, more importantly, I lived it. I watched it happen. I saw the effects of repression and change, first hand. And I believe the evidence of my own eyes and ears.

I saw a president assassinated and another chased out of office for his own arrogance. I saw the first steps of a human being on the moon. I went from "My Little Margie" to the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" to "Murphy Brown." I was delivered by a woman doctor and always thought that was something unusual. Now, three women who have specialized in the OB field are delivering babies on TV. To anyone who says that women who came after us had no choices, I have to say, not knowing their family situation, horse feathers! I, myself, have helped mothers-to-be avail themselves of social programs to help them until they could get on their feet. I have also gone with one to the Department of Local Health to obtain birth control after she terminated her pregnancy. That was also more than 15 years ago.

I am not here to argue any of these points, what I know, I know. What I have seen, I have seen and what I have learned, I have learned. I cannot be forced to defend my position by leading questions with an eye to debate. As far as I am concerned, the issue is non-debatable. It happened...call it the EMS or the BSE or just "those days," it still happened and within those time frames.

So here you have it, as I have witnessed it. I won't argue it and it needs no defense. It is not our duty to justify or prove our facts to anyone. Most people can look this stuff up  for themselves. The truth stands up to anything anyone else might want to say. Again, I wish all people in this battle success in the areas they have chosen for activism.

Me, I'm all about us EMS mothers, aged into grandmothers and AARP members, who went away and came home, changed forever.

6 comments:

Chris said...

Excellent blog Robin and every bit the truth for My Generation. I was born to an Unwed Mother..circa 1946 in England. Mom entered the English Version of the maternity home when she was 6 months pg with me. My mother would hold most of this secret til the day she died. She was sent there to rid herself of the contents of her womb..ME! But because the wholesale BSE/EMS was not quite into effect yet and maternity homes there did encourage the mothers to stay with their babies til the baby was 3 months old. That 3 months after I was born, gave my grandmother time to think about ME. And luckily grandma changed her mind and allowed mom and ME to come back home. While mom was alive I got sketchy stories about that time in utero and immediately after I was born. It would be after my mom died and looking at my bastard birth certificate...that I noticed something..is amazing how you can look at something several times and not notice the noticable. I did, an address. I then began my journey for answers and soon I received them. Is why I now know the truth. My mother was going to 'give me away', because she could not return to her war-torn home with me in tow..so said grandma. But that 3 months allowed grandma to adjust to the idea of ME and my mother's 'sin'. My grandmother even then was very Victorian and would stay that way til she died in 1968. I believe that so many families would have remained intact, if the mothers had just been given more TIME. TIME for the grandparents to settle down and adjust to the new circumstance in their lives. My mother's sister, my Aunt Josie (who was 17 yrs old when I was born)would tell me about 6 years ago...how much she and my grandmother came to love me. Especially grandma. How much they missed me when mom and I left England to immigrate to the states. My mom did tell me on occasion, how her mother told her..if she had to go to America..to leave me with her (grandma) and Aunt Josie. My mom would not leave me behind and I would come to America when I was just over a year old. My mom was just 21 yrs old at the time.
My tale is different than my mom's. In 1964 the BSE/EMS was in full gear and I made the hugest mistake of my life, by visiting Lutheran Child and Family Services adoption agency...ONE TIME!! And that ONE TIME is a proven fact from the agency itself written words. I went there because the hospital clinic social worker where I was getting my prenatal care said *they* could help me...me at 17 thinking OK..I need some help right now...little would I know *they* were going to help themselves to my newborn. Mom couldn't help..she was a 38 yr old woman with 6 children..I being the oldest..and a new Widow...with no money, no friends and no family. And all of us living in a small cramped apartment. My step-dad didn't provide for his wife and children while he was alive, he provided less after his death. Mom left it up to me at the age of 17 how I was going to handle my pregnancy and my baby, as she had no worldly idea what to do with her own life and 5 young children. So off I went to LCFS seeking the "help" that the hospital social worker said *they* would offer me. We all know the rest of that story..if the ending had been different..I would not be here writing today.
Some mothers of My Generation may want to debate the particulars of My Generation...but it was what it was..and no one can re-write History to suit themselves or their individual circumstance. All I know is many, many a young unwed mother in My Generation did lose their newborns to adoption, without choice, because they were offered NONE!
So ONE visit is all it took to a place of "help", for that "help" to appear at my hospital bedside..to include as soon as I opened my eyes after the birth of my newborn..for the nurse to tell me when I asked "Did I have a boy or girl"? To be told..."YOU don't need to know, THE BABY is up for ADOPTION"!! HUH?????????

Robin said...

I wonder if it is the fact that some EMS-era moms, here and there, was not put through the same wringer as we were and want to waste time challenging this reality for that reason? They are the minority. Most of us were young, controlled by our parents, unable to be financially independent and let down by the fathers of our babies. I remember sitting in the room I shared with 5 other girls in the Flo Crit in Savannah, and talking about our situation. Two of us were raped by acquaintances and the rest were the regular story about love gone wrong. In every case, we were under the thumbs of our parents and the SW's and had no recourse. Different girls from different places, we were all in the same boat...choiceless and hopeless. There were 37 of us at that time and no one was over 21. The youngest in Savannah was 15. The youngest in Charlotte, where my daughter was born, was 13.. She was mentally handicapped and had been raped by her uncle.

Sandy Young said...

One thing that is often overlooked in so many conversations is that history is viewed from the current day, so we erroneously assume that what is present today was then.

When the young men went off to war, pennicillin had just been discovered, in 1941, in Great Britain. Because of the war, the Northern Regional Research Labs, in Peoria, IL was the recipient of the research that had been on-going but was no longer safe in war-torn England. There, researchers discovered ways to produce it in large enough amounts to make it practical. It was a revolutionary drug, but it wasn't available until well into the war, for treatment of the wounded, and very little, if any, was left over for the men who developed 'social diseases'.

By the end of the war, and especially as they were shipped home, they were treated with the penicillin that cured them, but by then the damage had been done and they were not able to produce a child.

The pressure was on these young men to conform to the wife, yard, car, 2.2 children in their middle-class home.

Conformity was the order of the day following WW2, during the 1950's and into the 1960's. There were consequences for families that went outside the norm. McCarthy was in power, the radical right-wing saw a Commie in every corner, and towering careers were toppled by the hint of scandal. If that is in doubt, read about the Hollywood-types who were blacklisted for their real or imagined transgressions. Hollywood stars were not the only ones whose careers were brought down; they were the ones we heard about.

When the children of the returned soldiers entered puberty, the wheels had already been set in motion by the social workers. Adoption was the win/win to protect careers, to protect daughters, to rid a family of a problem and to protect the image of the 'no-longer-fertile' as the typical American family. And, when the Boomers hit, there were unprecedented numbers of babies for sale.

Even during the early 1960's, with the price of a brand new car at just over $1200 and a nice house for $10,000, the going rate for an infant of $300-600 was a significant cost. And, with the largest number of children ever entering puberty during the same time, the adoption industry must have envisioned a Baby Boom of a different kind! Even during the height of the EMS, when babies were freely available, there were still waiting lists and more people who wanted one than were available.


Imagine the Adpoption Social Worker's dreams that must have been shattered of yachts, luxury homes, when Roe passed the Supreme Court and women finally had the right to decide that a problem pregnancy no longer had to mean they were married off, or incarcerated!

Sandy Young said...

Thanks, Robin, for posting this. This information is good to get out there....

jmomma said...

Yes, thanks Robin. And thanks to Chris and Sandy too. I was on the tail end of the EMS. It's weird to have seen things change so fast after me.

Von said...

Me too, saw and lived and protested and marched it all.I remember it clearly, I was there, a late war baby.
Excellent post..who can argue that?