That baby was not brought in a basket by the Easter Bunny. Though I love this one . . .
Sadly, some adoptees are actually found in a dumpster. It can be hard to understand the world we live in. I believe in Reincarnation and so the Easter Story about Jesus represents an interesting twist. He died but didn’t have to go the usual route of being reborn a baby. However, birth and death are both necessary to human evolution and continuance. Death clears out life that is no longer viable. I (for one) am grateful there is a way out and that I won’t be stuck in a body that is more like a tortured living hell for eternity. I believe each generation of new human beings improves on the previous version.
The stork did not bring babies to a family’s home either. A common meme when I was a child in the 1960s. I heard the birth mother profiled in American Baby by Gabrielle Glaser – the latest in reveals related to adoption talk about “no sex education.” The birth mother says she didn’t know how babies were made. I think I remember my mom saying something similar – that her mother didn’t talk to her about sex. No wonder these women ended up pregnant in high school.
I came of age with early 70s Feminism. Heard a snippet last Sunday on NPR Witness History about Our Bodies, Our Selves. There wasn’t a transcript but I did find something about that extraordinary effort in the NPR archives. The book was the first comprehensive book on women’s issues ever published by women for women.
By middle school, I had boyfriends. And I had been given the nice girls don’t do that (have sex) until marriage talk by then. I’m certain my mom’s only intention was to save me from repeating her own experience. About that same time, I discovered that I was conceived out of wedlock. Clearly, the message had been delivered to me that woman had the sole responsibility of preventing an unwanted pregnancy because I was angry at my mom but not my dad and I think that is why.
Heck, while I may have had more of a birds and the bees talk than my mom had by high school, I didn’t even know how to find my own vagina to insert a tampon. I’m certain that my own young daughter may have questioned my sanity when I felt compelled to demonstrate for her where to find her own. She probably knew much more by then than I gave her credit for. I remember her once saying something about boys having been “dirty” for years by the time she was in middle school.
Happy Easter. Happy Spring Renewal. Happy life ever returning and reminders that it does.
I have previously mentioned in this blog the new book – American Baby by Gabrielle Glaser. She is getting a lot of press for her new book which focuses on one particular story of a mother and son but also documents the “shadow” history of adoption or so much that has been mostly hidden from public view.
One of those aspects was how babies, before they were relinquished for adoption but not yet adopted and often actually orphans, were given or “lent” as practice babies to home economic students in colleges, passed around, Glaser says, “like footballs.”
From the 1920’s to the 1950’s, college home economics programs across the country set up ‘practice homes’ where students set up temporary residence. The women were graded on their ability to live cooperatively, keep a tidy home, and plan meals.
On some campuses, this domestic practice was taken a step further. Schools would obtain temporary custody of babies from orphanages or child welfare departments and move the children into the practice home. The students would then raise the baby in shifts, each taking a turn to act as the house ’mother.’
After a year or two, the babies would be put up for adoption. While potential parents considered these ‘scientifically raised’ babies particularly desirable, the practice died out as educators and government authorities began to worry about the effects of having so many people involved in a child’s early life.
Many people react to learning about the ‘practice baby’ story with a desire to know what became of the children later in life. Since adoption records are closed and the practice children were referred to by fake names in university records, it is difficult for researchers to find these now-adults. However, at least two former ‘practice babies’ have come forth to talk about their life experiences.
Shirley Kirkham was a practice baby at Oregon State College in Corvallis in the 1930s. In an interview given to The Euguene Register-Guard in 1999, Ms. Kirkham described feeling used by the college, as she feels that her early childhood left her with emotional scars. She is attempting to locate her birth parents.
Donald Aldinger was a practice baby at Cedar Crest College in 1947. He reconnected with four of his practice mothers in 1993. The reunion was a joyful one.
While the baby behind the controversy at Illinois State Teachers College, ‘David North,’ has never been identified, some of his former practice mothers have publicly reminisced about their time with him.
The links above include a few other tabs if you wish to explore this piece of history related to adoption further. The Adoption Network has announced that they are having a presentation with Gabrielle Glaser on Monday, February 8th in the evening which you can register for.
50 years after the unwed teenage mother gave birth in a maternity home and lost her son to adoption through the Louise Wise agency, mother and son finally were reunited not long before David died of thyroid cancer. She was a victim of the baby scoop era. Their story really isn’t all that remarkable to anyone who has been deeply researching all things adoption for any length of time.
However, thanks to a new book – American Baby: A Mother, A Child, And The Shadow History Of Adoption by journalist Gabrielle Glaser recently published, their story joins legions of others who have endured similar trajectories. And like many others, the revelations they were hoping for came by way of inexpensive, publicly available DNA testing. In this case, 23 and Me.
The journalist was working on an article about kidney transplants in 2007 when she met David Rosenberg. He admitted to her that that one reason he’d agreed to media coverage was his dream that “somewhere on the vast internet,” a young Jewish woman who’d given up a baby for adoption in 1961 would see his picture, “his black eyes, his thick, strong hands, cleft chin, and broad smile” — and recognize her son. Even so, it would be another 7 years before his dream came true.
There was a woman, Margaret Katz, who had a matching dream of finding the son she lost in 1961, when she was a 16 year old and rather than let her marry her high school sweetheart, her parents sent her away to a maternity home on Staten Island. These stories hit “close” to home for me personally. My mom was that 16 year old unwed mother. Her high school sweetheart was my dad. They have both passed away. I sincerely believe that if my dad’s humble adoptive parents had not intervened to encourage him to forgo his dreams of a college diploma (which he had only just embarked upon) and marry her, I would have been adopted similarly. In learning about the stories of both of my parents, both of whom were adopted, the surprising realization for me has been the miracle I was not given up, that my mom wasn’t sent away by her banker dad and socialite mother to have and give me up.
Many people have heard about the Georgia Tann scandal involving the Tennessee Children’s Home in Memphis Tennessee. She was involved in my mom’s adoption. Some people may have been aware that The Salvation Army was known for its own homes for unwed mothers. My dad was born at their Door of Hope in Ocean Beach, a suburb of San Diego, California. Some people are aware of the role that Catholic Charities has played in the adoption – for profit – industry. Some may have watched the old movie, Blossoms in the Dust, about Edna Gladney who also became renown for facilitating adoptions.
In the case of David and Margaret and the new book, it is the Louise Wise agency – which I have had less awareness of except – oh yes, there were the relatively recent revelations known as “Three Identical Strangers,” about triplets separated at birth as part of a nature vs nurture study. Louise Wise is notorious for the medical and psychological analyses, hare-brained experiments on newborns, that she is pilloried for today. In the meantime, having separated the baby from the mother (who wasn’t even allowed to hold him after his birth), these infants were kept in foster care for months, while the agency extracted money from hopeful adoptive parents, who had to pay to remain on waiting lists.
Many adoption agencies lied, as I now know Georgia Tann did in the case of my mother. They would often obscure the race of a baby. (Since most white couples wanted white babies, biracial children often languished in foster care till adulthood.) They lied about how they came by a baby (if they had snatched the baby from a Native American reservation, for instance). They also embellished the biographies of the baby’s birth parents. And this is what happened in my own mother’s case – where her poverty stricken parents were presented as unfortunate college students who got caught by pregnancy for having sex before marriage (all of that untrue and they were married but separated).
In the case of this new book’s story, Louise Wise wrote that Margaret was a gifted scholar who wanted to continue her studies at a prestigious science school (untrue), and that George was a fair-skinned, freckled college student (he was swarthy and still in high school). Couples who couldn’t conceive were so desperate for a child that they didn’t ask questions. Also true of my own mother’s financially comfortable parents when they adopted her, only to later discover what they were told and some of the information in the surrender papers was contradictory. By then she had been in their home for a couple of years and they were not going to give her up, though they lacked complete peace of mind about her pre-adoption circumstances.
I don’t know if I will actually read this new book. I’m certain it is a good one and it is easy to find rather detailed reviews simply by doing a Google search. I’ve just read so many and I have more or less moved on from that intensive research period I went through myself, as I learned my own parents pre-adoption stories.