On a recent trip from D.C., I took my seat on the plane and started to play my usual “Guess Their Story” game in my head. An older man took his seat next to me. Based on a handful of clues (brown sport coat, jeans, Apple laptop, messenger bag) I guessed that he was a professor traveling on business. I don’t usually get a chance to check my answers, so when he asked me if we could trade seats, I said “sure!” and struck up a conversation. I asked if he was traveling for business or pleasure (business – ding!) and what he did for a living (professor – ding again!). After patting myself on the back for winning this round of “Guess Their Story”, we continued our conversation. He asked me what I did for work and I started to talk about TruAdopt. I talked about our mission and how we are a nonprofit law firm dedicated to representing women who are placing a baby for adoption. I described a typical client and what she endures as she faces an unplanned pregnancy and decides to make an adoption plan.
When I stopped talking, there was a long pause. At first, I wondered if he had even been listening, but I could tell by the look on his face that he was letting it all sink in. More long pause. And then his entire demeanor changed and he began to share a story with me.
When he was a junior in high school a girl from his high school got pregnant. The rumor mill began to swirl and then…she was gone. No one talked about it – teacher, students, parents. Everyone knew that she had taken up temporary residence at the Pregnancy Facility two towns over. Tucked away from her family, friends, and community, doing her time, paying penance for her sin and getting rid of the evidence, while the father of the baby continued living as a regular high school boy, going to football games on Friday nights, studying for history tests and working part-time.
“The rumor mill began to swirl and then…she was gone. No one talked about it – teacher, students, parents.”
And then, nine months later, she was suddenly back. From the outside, she picked up where she left off and resumed normal life as though nothing had ever happened. Except, there was a certain aura of both scandal and shame that followed her through their high school graduation.
“The Baby Scoop Era”
His story came as no surprise to me. Reading excerpts from Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler opened my eyes to the fact that this experience was all too common from 1945 to 1973 or, as it’s commonly called, “The Baby Scoop Era.” It’s a book about a time when sex education was non-existent and cultural attitudes toward young girls were extremely regressive. Young girls who got pregnant were “persuaded” to surrender their baby to adoption and no one talked about it, ever.
“Young girls who got pregnant were ‘persuaded’ to surrender their baby to adoption and no one talked about it, ever.”
I’m not naïve enough to think this scenario doesn’t still occur in 2017, but, I’m encouraged to see firsthand that domestic adoption industry has changed significantly in the last twenty, even ten, years. There are conversations taking place online and off about the good and bad of adoption, women who want to parent are at least being offered support, both from the private and public sector and importantly, there are support resources available for women who have made an adoption plan and who are grieving the loss of their baby.
Changing the Culture of Shame
I’m truly hopeful that these differences between the “old way” and the “new way” of doing adoptions will become even more pronounced. Education and transparency are the keys to remaining on that trajectory and being able to replace the “culture of shame” which was once not too long ago associated with placing a child for adoption with a culture of community, openness, and support.
“Education and transparency are the keys to remaining on that trajectory and being able to replace the “culture of shame” which was once not too long ago associated with placing a child for adoption with a culture of community, openness, and support.”