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They peer into every face they pass, or apologetically approach strangers in art galleries. Some leave notes with their adoption agency or join the Soundex Reunion Registry. She was a young, unmarried college student and it never occurred to anyone involved to regard her pregnancy with anything other than shame. So she went to a maternity home to have her baby in secret and then relinquish it immediately for adoption.

After, it was expected, she would return to her carefree life as a college student. The backgrounds of these women are varied as are their individual stories. Some had parents who screamed ugly words at them when they learned of their pregnancy; others were blessed with tender family support.

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Some deeply loved the fathers of their unborn children; others barely knew them. But today almost all agree on one heartbreaking point: It was unbelievably painful to be separated from their children. Yet almost no one around them seemed willing to acknowledge such emotions.

Often, in fact, the new mothers were treated as if they had no feelings whatsoever. Neither, in most cases, did anyone ever suggest to them that keeping their child was even an option. If the young mothers were unprepared and ill-informed, so was society itself, it would seem. Intentions were of the best; there were many families eager to adopt babies and there were young women having children out of wedlock.

Pairing them seemed only natural. It is estimated that between and when abortion was legalized in the US more than 1.

Review: The Girl Most Likely – Rebecca Sparrow

Many went to maternity homes where pregnant women could live in secret until they gave birth sometimes under assumed names and generally insulated from the outside world by lies. Often, all expense were paid at these homes — provided the women agreed to relinquish any rights to their children at birth. Fessler, who is an adoptee, begins the book with her own experience.

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She knew little about her birth mother and had never tried to seek her out. One day, however, as an adult, she was approached by a woman who thought she might be her mother. She simply lets her material speak to us directly — and it does so powerfully — of the unresolved emotions that often last a lifetime. Despite ongoing controversies about abortion, RU the abortion drug , parental notification and other such issues, it is hard to recall just how things were before Roe vs. With its powerful collage from more than oral interviews of birth mothers, this book is an extended keening in the guise of soberly distilled research.

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  • Repeatedly we hear of girls surprised to find themselves pregnant, struggling to hide behind girdles and tent dresses; parents enraged and sorrowing; the pregnancies and births undergone in states of delusion, torpor, shock, or horror. This was a pre-Lamaze as well as pre-Roe era. While some had decent experiences in the maternity homes where most were sent, others share stupefying stories of callousness, ignorance, or maliciousness. As one woman observes, the mandate here was often punishment:. These people were treated as shamefully wayward animals who needed to disappear for a time and then reappear — Presto!

    These girls and women were abandoned, often by deeply loving parents, and plunged into a condition of radical powerlessness; some admit to their complicity with this arrangement, and have had to ponder what this has meant for their conception of themselves as adults. Clearly, though, these are stories of damage and trauma, and in their vivid sorrows and occasional humor they reanimate the feel of an era that, for all its nearness, seems in some ways extremely remote.

    Fessler focuses here on the experience of birth mothers but is clearly fully aware of the claims of adoptive parents and adoptees.

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    Girl Most Likely

    However complicated transparency might be, it seems a more honest way to navigate these treacherous emotional shoals — to balance the desires of adopting parents, the ambivalence of birth mothers, the eventual wishes of the children involved. In this book, the girls who surrendered their children were typically told that the adoptive families would be better parents, that they had better resources or admirable characteristics, that all would be well for the infants.

    Surrendering their children was presented as a noble gift. Certainly it could be. These are stories about the cost of the sexual double standard, in which good girls were not supposed to know anything about birth control, or to express sexual desire.

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    These are also stories about the political economy of families — how people thought about their pregnant teenagers or college-student daughters, and how their desire for respectability could trump all else. And this book offers a window onto institutional history, for many of these girls and young women were sent to maternity homes, which have since largely disappeared or re-configured their mission. As their Web pages now suggest, Florence Crittenton homes — where many went — now devote themselves to helping pregnant unwed teens and their boyfriends fully assess and reflect upon their options.

    Their programs include everything from supporting teen mothers to facilitating open adoptions to arranging foster care, for very young mothers as well as their children. Education and therapy are central to the program. This is truly a new world. Fessler is a visual artist who came to this project through her own art and experience: She is adopted, her parents always open about that fact. Still, her adoptive mother did not want Fessler pursuing information about her birth parents, and she only did so with seriousness after she died.

    Fessler begins and ends with autobiographical vignettes. They are muted, subtle, resisting neat closure. Here Fessler is as nuanced and strong-minded as her informants: Rather than serve up potted stories, these women ask us to consider the complexities of teen sex, family relations, secrecy and shame, kinship given and made.

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    Maureen N. I wish I could give her this book. Wade made abortion legal, about 1.

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    • Many of them had become pregnant without any knowledge of sex or birth control. Their terror persisted through the next nine months and for decades to come. Shunned, shamed, and humiliated, many never told anyone the painful secret they bore until Fessler invited them to talk about it.

      Required to live a lie, many of these women still wrestle with guilt. Not all boys were cads either. Some wept when their parents forbade them to marry and responsibly raise the children they had sired. Fessler portrayed this nuanced subject first in her video installation art and now in this book, with support from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, among others.

      She shows how disproportionately the benefits of the postwar boom accrued to white families — like those that snapped up the 17, homes William Levitt built from to for Caucasians only in Levittown, Long Island. Most of the maternity homes that sprang up to maintain the middle-class mystique during those years did not serve African-Americans.

      Fessler clasps the necklace at either end with her own story as one of those adopted babies. Would she find her birth-mother? A stunning work of art serenely clicks to closure. Anne Grant of Providence is writing about victims of domestic violence who lost their children in custody battles at Family Court.


      You look like the perfect combination of myself and the father of my child. I could be your daughter—I was adopted. The two women compared dates, but the births were 13 months apart. They continued to talk. The stranger asked Fessler if she had looked for her birth mother. That evening she went home and wrote down every word of their conversation.

      The search did not take long, but Fessler could not bring herself to take the last step and make actual contact. She waited 14 years. In the meantime, she began to focus her work as a photographer and videographer on the subject of adoption.