The Girls Who Went Away


This past summer I read The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. I was interested in this topic because I had watched a documentary film titled When Abortion Was Illegal: Untold Stories (1992) earlier in the year and was fascinated by the testimonies of women who were my grandmother’s age and older. These women told personal stories about their experiences with “illegitimate” pregnancies, adoptions, and botched and illegal abortions. The film also gave horrifying stories of countless women who died from amateur abortions and untrustworthy “doctors.” What initially drew me to both of these topics, adoption and abortion, was the fact that my grandmother became pregnant at age fourteen, married my sixteen-year old grandfather in Mexico (Mexico because nobody in the U.S. would marry them) shortly after, and gave birth to my mother at age fifteen. During the seventy-two hours she was in labor she almost died. I later learned that my grandfather’s parents desperately wanted her to give my mother up for adoption when they found out she was pregnant, but my grandmother’s father, Great Grandpa Perkins, would not allow a family member to be given up. I also learned from my grandma that she had never been given “the sex talk”; she hadn’t even been told what a period was or what it means for a woman. I find her story so unbelievable. While I’m glad my mother was not given up for adoption, because I would have never met my grandparents, I’m also partly infuriated that she was pushed into such a difficult life just because it was too risqué to talk about sex.

The book’s author, Ann Fessler, decided to write this book because she is an adopted child. Her research began with the desire to find her birth mother, and it eventually not only led her to her bio-mother but it also led her to a string of women who are much like her mother and my grandmother. It led her to respectable, older women who had been shamed into allowing their children be taken from them. Although the testimonies were painful to read I’m glad the author Ann Fessler did all the research for this book because I think this is just another part of American history that has covered up by society.