Giving Up Baby – Susan
Some of my women freshman students at Montclair State University chose abortion as the subject for one of their essays. As glibly as saying you can get takeout when you don’t feel like cooking, my students advised women in a crisis pregnancy to consider giving their babies up for adoption. My friend Susan did that.
We graduated together from Montclair High School in 1959 and both went away to college. The following summer we were back home and contacted each other. Susan confided that she was pregnant – she seemed sure of only one thing – she didn’t want anything to do with the young man who fled after learning he was going to be a daddy.
Her parents were also apparently confused because they passed the ball to a psychologist aunt, and I drove Susan to Connecticut for their meeting.
I waited in the car for an hour and a half while they talked, and then Susan climbed back in the car, looking dazed. “I’ll give the baby up for adoption,” she announced. That is what her aunt had advised. Though I couldn’t imagine myself doing such a thing, I didn’t torture her with any more “what-ifs” than were already in her head. It was her life and her decision.
In those days, women who got pregnant were expelled from college, so Susan had to cancel her plans to continue college – at least until the baby was born. She went off to an unwed mothers’ home, and we lost touch.
When our 30th high school reunion list came out I learned that she had married and “had no children,” though of course she did have a child – a child she was not permitted to mention under the social mores of the day. I no longer have the letter she wrote me around 1990, when her daughter would have been 30 years old, but I remember its essence perfectly: “Ann, you don’t know what I have gone through. I spent 15 years looking for my daughter, nearly ruining my marriage. I finally found her in Belgium, and we met, but she didn’t want to have a continuing relationship with me.”
I understood Susan’s heartbreak better when I read Ann Fessler’s 2006 book, The Girls Who Went Away. In it, Fessler relates the stories of dozens of women who had been told to forget and move on after giving up their babies for adoption, but much like Susan, they never could. Fessler, who was herself adopted, finally met her own birth mother, who remembered, “Yes, when you walk down the street you look at every little face and wonder.” One of the birth mothers in the book, “Diane IV,” reflected on her loss this way: “People talk about the worst thing that could happen to you is to lose a child. And no one talks about that in terms of a birth mother. … Why would it be any different? It’s in your cells, and in your guts, and in your consciousness, and in your heart.”
My job as a professor is to help students express their opinions clearly and coherently, not to challenge the conclusions they come to. But oh, how I would love to bring Susan, and Miriam (from my previous posting) into the classroom to shatter their glibness about giving up a baby.
In my book, published on Kindle, The History of Abortion, I tell the stories of several other women who made this choice, and the Fessler book is 354 heartbreaking pages of stories about the catastrophic grief of giving up a baby at just the moment when Nature has prepared a mother to bond. In those days it was much worse, because there was no way to know where the baby went, but I wonder. Today, even if you know the adoptive parents, you are nevertheless relinquishing your power to protect, teach, and raise your child. The exclusion from asserting any power over your own child must be painful in its new, unique way.