The Cost Of Hidden Stress

The trauma that afflicts many adoptees occurred pre-language and so the source of it’s effects can seem mysterious but the impacts are very real. Today, I learned about this man – LINK>Dr Gabor Mate. It seemed to fit what I am posting so often in this blog that I thought I would make today’s about him.

For example, one of his books is titled When The Body Says No – “disease can be the body’s way of saying no to what the mind cannot or will not acknowledge.” Dr Mate also believes that “The essential condition for healthy development is the child’s relationship with nurturing adults.” And yet, time and again, I read from adoptees that their adoptive parents were really not prepared to be the kind of parents this subset of our population needed. Under Topics, he has many articles related to LINK>Trauma.

During the pandemic, in April 2021, Dr Mate hosted an online event with Zara Phillips. She is the author of LINK>Somebody’s Daughter, subtitled A Moving Journey of Discovery, Recovery and Adoption. The event information noted that adoptees and children who are fostered are over-represented in the prison system, addiction clinics and are 4 times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide. This talk considered why that would be and what, if anything adoptees and their caregivers can do about it. For many, when we talk about adoption, we talk about placing children in need, into loving homes to parents that want them. The assumption behind these conversations is that love will overcome all challenges and obstacles. What we don’t talk about, or rarely, is that the adoption in the new home comes about because another home has ended, or perhaps not even begun. We forget that all adoption is formed from loss. Love is essential but it is not enough. They discussed what it means to carry the trauma of being relinquished. How adoption is not a one-time event but has a lifelong impact. They considered how unresolved trauma can lead to addiction and suicidal thinking. Also what, if anything, an adoptee (and those that support them) can do to heal and recover.

Often adoptive parents think that their love will be enough but time and again that is proven wrong when it comes to adopted children. Dr Mate brings up the myth of the blank slate baby which Georgia Tann used to highlight in selling babies.

There is a LOT at Dr Mate’s website. I believe much that is there could prove helpful to the people who read and follow my blog. Absolutely, he is about how to heal.

Limited

Mindy Stern

I discovered Mindy Stern today and have maxed out my “free” member-only stories on Medium for the month looking at her essays. They are definitely worth reading. She speaks truth about what it is like being an adoptee. That the experience is not better, only different. You can find links to her Medium essays at LINK>The Mindy Stern. If you want insights straight from an adoptee voice, go there.

I don’t know how much my mom tried to talk to her adoptive mother about her adoption. At most, I know that my adoptive grandmother did her best to reassure my mom that she was not one of those babies that Georgia Tann had stolen and sold after the scandal broke. That is about as much as my mom ever told me about it. I do know that my mom went to her grave believing her adoption was inappropriate. I know that the state of Tennessee refused to budge and give her the adoption file that had been closed and sealed. The one I now have completely. I now have contact with genetic relatives though it will always be problematic because I didn’t grow up with them and it leaves a gulf of experience that a late discovery that I am “one of them” never quit seems to bridge. I know my mom gave up trying to do a family tree at Ancestry because in the language of genetic connection that is what DNA is all about, the adoptive families weren’t real and she eventually resigned herself that it was pointless to continue. Just a few of the sorrows and sadness felt by one adoptee and I was fortunate as her daughter to be trusted with her truest feelings about it all but even those were only expressed in a limited way. There is no other way to say it. Adoption robs an adoptee of so much.

I was able to relate to so much in Mindy’s essay – LINK>Don’t Make Us Choose. Because my adoptee parents (both were adoptees) were never able to unravel their own origin stories, adoption limited us as their children from hearing much of anything about them or how my own parents felt. What I know now is what I had to find and reveal to my own self after they died.

The essay describes Mindy’s visit to her adoptive mother at the hospital after emergency heart surgery. The nurse asks her – where did you get your height? – because she is 5’6″ – her adoptive mother is 4’8″. All her life, her adoptive parents expected her to lie and pretend. She says, “pretending was implicit in our contract. Intended or not, their silence told me lying about my identity was acceptable, even encouraged.”

Mindy asks her readers to “Imagine what it feels like to worry if answering a basic question about your height will hurt your mother’s feelings. Consider the pain of pretending. The charade begins the moment our records are sealed, birth certificates amended, names changed. They build every closed adoption on lies, and adoptive parents who don’t proudly celebrate their child’s differences conspire with the pretense.”

Similar to my adoptee father, her dad never knew about her until she found him. Her birth mother took the secret of her to the grave. My dad’s father never knew about him. They look very much alike, just like my mom looks very much like her birth mother. Adoption robs the adoptee of genetic mirrors. They never know where this physical or innate trait (like a love of fishing in my dad) came from. The truth in my dad’s case was both nature and nurture. His original father spent his life involved with fishing, my dads’ adoptive parents loved to go fishing. Yet Mindy explains that her adoptive mother kept a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding Mindy’s original parents.

When Mindy does try to touch that place with her adoptive mother, the tears begin. So, Mindy says “I’m not a sadist so I go along with the policy. She won’t ask, I won’t tell, and our relationship will stay limited and distant and my god that is such a shame.”

I have struggled with that need to choose – my parents’ adoption and now knowing the truth they never did – has forced me to confront it, second hand. Who do I love – my adoptive relatives or the ones that came through the birth of my parents to their original parents? I have almost worked through it well enough to be able to love them all equally. Mindy describes a snippet of conversation with her adoptive mother when she touches that place.

“Mom, you get how fucked up this is, right? It’s like telling a gay child you accept them but not allowing their partner to come to dinner.”

“I’m afraid it makes you… regret your life.”

“They (her reunion with genetic family) give me something you can’t, you give me something they can’t. Neither of you replaces the other.” And I appreciate her words because they express the paradox of adoption so well. She notes that after that the server arrived and placed our food down. Her mother changed the subject. Mindy says, “We were done. That was the best she could do. At least she listened.”

Her essay ends on a decidedly happy note and I encourage you to read it for a smile today.

A World Without Adoption

I bring this up frequently – we do not support families well enough in this country. If poverty, racism, and health care inequities were properly redressed, adoption would be a last resort. Very short on time today but picking up a few points from an article in LINK> The Nation – We Should Be Fighting for a World Without Adoption by Michele Merritt.

Remarks from the Supreme Court, most notably from Justice Amy Coney Barrett, in the recent overturn of Roe v Wade position adoption as a viable alternative to abortion. Framing the tragedy of losing reproductive freedoms as a problem easily solved by the relinquishment of a child obfuscates the reality of adoption as an institution that is steeped in systemic injustice. Moreover, such a framing underscores the way adopted people—the ones purportedly “saved” by adoption—are overlooked. 

The social narrative that places adoption on a pedestal and views adoption as an alternative to abortion completely misses the point that it is not a reproductive choice at all. It’s a parenting choice—and one that should be a last resort, instead of being lauded as a great act of charity or a cure for a world where abortion is all but outlawed. 

In the conservative adoption fairy tale, a pregnant person who does not feel that they are capable of adequately parenting hands off these duties to people who have been desperately hoping to become parents. The child, it is assumed, will fare better, escaping a life most assuredly filled with poverty or neglect. Above all, this child “could have been aborted,” so adoption rescues them from annihilation.

Certainly, this was Georgia Tann’s theory when she took my blond, blue-eyed mom from her poverty afflicted parents by exploiting my maternal grandmother’s desperation under extreme circumstances (a missing husband, gone off to another state while working with the WPA to fight an epic flood on the Mississippi River in 1937). My mom did grow up under affluent circumstances in the adoptive home of a banker and socialite mother. Her first mother never had another child (not uncommon among women who lose their first born to adoption).

It is true that many parents who relinquish children for adoption cite financial concerns as a chief obstacle to parenting, but that does not mean that adoption is the solution. Positing adoption as a solution to impoverished parenting ignores the fact that another solution exists: supporting struggling families. You can read more at the link in the first paragraph.

A Near Miss

Almost every Thursday (though I sometimes have weeks long gaps or skip a week), I query literary agents for representation of my third revision of my family’s adoption story. I do not intend to revise it again and if I do not succeed, I’ll simply print a copy for my daughter and for my family of today and be done with it. I do not intend to be pessimistic but at this point, I simply go through the motions like it is my “job” – and in a very real way it is. My husband has taken over most of our businesses functions to leave me plenty of time to write and he remains more hopeful about a positive outcome than I do.

Yesterday, I got the quickest rejection yet – like in minutes. Sharlene Martin of LINK> Martin Literary Management sent me this email – “I’m sorry but I recently did Jane Blasio’s book, Taken at Birth, and this would present a conflict of interest for me.” I didn’t know that of course, just sort of got lucky in choosing her (one of the challenges is deciding which literary agent to query). So, I looked into the author and saw that her book was published in July 2021. That is the closest I’ve ever come to finding a literary agent interested in the topic. I don’t know whether to feel encouraged or not at this point.

I was already aware of the story of the Hicks Clinic in McCaysville Georgia before yesterday evening. Dr Hicks was the Georgia Tann of Memphis Tennessee’s compatriot – with similar practices but in a different state, each seeking to grab their share of a lucrative exploitation of babies and hopeful adoptive parents. Adoptive homes are often an expression of secrecy, lies and shame. Everyone living there is living a false reality. Sadly, adoption is often not much different than human trafficking.

LINK> Jane Blasio is not the only adoptee to uncover the truth of their childhood as an adult. It can be quite unsettling for the person who discovers their parents were not the ones they were born to. These adoptees are often referred to as Late Discovery. Dr Thomas Jugarthy Hicks would tell his expectant patient that their newborn child had died at birth and then, sell their baby out the back door of his clinic to the hopeful adoptive parents.

Jane’s own story is that, at the age of six, she learned she was adopted. At fourteen, she first saw her birth certificate. This led her to begin piecing together the true details of her origins. It took decades of personal investigation to discover the truth. Along the way, she identified and reunited other victims of the Hicks Clinic human trafficking scheme. She became an expert in illicit adoptions, telling her story to every major news network that would have her. Her book is a remarkable account of one woman’s tireless quest for truth, justice, and resolution. 

I first roughed out my family’s adoption story in November of 2017 using the NaNoWriMo effort to jumpstart it with 50,000 words and the title Lost Chances: Frances Irene Moore’s Georgia Tann Story. In 2021, I submitted a short version of 8,431 words titled With Luck and Persistence (my completed manuscript is 87,815 words) to the Jeffrey E Smith Editor’s Prize with The Missouri Review. This year I am doing a very brief version, less than 1,500 words, for the True Family Stories contest with the Kingdom Writer’s Guild titled Surprised by the Miracle. The prize is nothing to get excited about but my husband long ago suggested I write a version for Christians, so this is that – where I won’t make an issue against adoption – I’ll only focus on the miracle that I didn’t end up adopted as well. All this to say, I can’t say I won’t re-write it in some form again but I won’t revise the long manuscript again or try to shop it if this effort ultimately fails. I still think I have a good story but the challenge is getting anyone else to believe that.

The Legacy of Georgia Tann

Stolen Babies Movie Poster

I was reminded today of Georgia Tann’s belief that taking babies from poor families and placing them in wealthier circumstances improved their outcome. Totally not a provable theory but never the less. An adoptee was asking about the effects of changes in socio-economic mobility in subsequent generations for the children and grandchildren of adoptees. I watched the Mary Tyler Moore movie about Georgia Tann on YouTube one night during my roots discovery journey in 2017.

I responded from my own circumstances as the child of adoptee parents (both) – My mom was a Georgia Tann adoptee and would have grown up in poverty had she remained with her original mother’s family. That is what I have been informed by genetic family I’m in reunion with. Her adoptive parents were a banker and his socialite wife. My dad’s socio-economic situation was relatively the same as it would have been if he remained with his natural mother (he was adopted out of The Salvation Army). His adoptive parents had a home based entrepreneurial business and never had any wealth but managed to buy a house. We witnessed two very different socio-economic worlds growing up. My dad was union at a refinery. My mom went to work while we were yet young. We didn’t have a lot growing up but enough. Both of my parents got “some” inheritance when their adoptive parents died. Some is locked up in a trust to be divided by 5 grandchildren when my mom’s adoptive brother dies (generation skipping). I think our perspective was broadly balanced. But whatever residual economic improvement was slight, if any.

Today, I found an interesting LINK> blog – Until We Learn from the Legacy of Georgia Tann, We’re Doomed to Repeat It by (I believe) Rebecca Vahle who is the admin for the “Family to Family Support Network. She describes her own self this way – an adoptive parent since 1998, the founder of a hospital-based adoption support program since 2004, a radio host hearing 5 years of stories of people impacted since the era of Georgia Tann. In addition, I have trained thousands of nurses in adoption-sensitive care in Women’s Centers around the country. I have heard stories coast-to-coast from mothers, fathers, adoptees, birth mothers, birth fathers and adoptive families, and I have seen first-hand the invasion of technology in this process. Yes, it has been an invasion. The Internet has poured gasoline on the embers of Georgia Tann’s legacy and until we address what it happening, I worry her legacy of corruption will continue.

She refers to the books by Lisa Wingate – the fictional but accurate Before We Were Yours I have read (and it was riveting for me). She then offers perspectives on “Why & How Georgia Tann’s Legacy Continues.” You can read through them at the link. Her bottom line was this – “When couples don’t know what they don’t know and, like myself, find out too late that their adoption placement was saturated with unethical tactics and financial profits for the agency.” She adds – We cannot look away, justify behaviors, ignore the impact of the Internet and discount the shadow of Georgia Tann that continues to fall across portions of the infant adoption industry. 

Understandably, she is promoting her own efforts of providing a hospital-based standardized program of training for healthcare professionals. This blog is not a recommendation – just bringing awareness only.

Vital Record Fraud

One of the issues that disturbs adoptees the most is that their original birth certificates were changed to make it appear as though their adoptive parents actually gave birth to them and usually their names were changed as part of that. This happened to BOTH of my own adoptee parents.

Some one adoptee asks – If birth certificates are such a “vital” record – why are the vital records of adoptees sealed and fraudulent ones put in their place?

At the Adoptee Rights Law Center’s LINK> The United States of OBC anyone can search the status for their state. There you can find out about any restrictions that limit an adult adoptee’s right to obtain an original birth certificate. Only in eleven states (indicated by checkmark) do adult adopted people have the right to obtain their own original birth certificates upon request. Early in my own roots discovery journey, I bumped my head against both Virginia and California who said I would have to get a court to approve my request (thanks to my mom’s adoption being part of the Georgia Tann scandal in Tennessee, when I received her full adoption file records, her original birth certificate from Virginia was there). The birth parents, the adoptive parents and both of my parents were already deceased. As their descendant, under such circumstances which would reasonably mean no one who had reason to object was still alive, I was still denied.

I enjoyed the answer from one adoptee – Because it is vital to maintain the “as if born too” facade. It is much like entering a witness protection program.

Initially the original birth certificates were sealed only from the public. Eventually, the reasoning became to protect the adoptive family from interference by the birth family. According to a document in the University of Michigan Journal of Gender and Law titled LINK> Surrender and Subordination: Birth Mothers and Adoption Law Reform

For more than thirty years, adoption law reform advocates have been seeking to restore for adult adoptees the right to access their original birth certificates, a right that was lost in all but two states between the late 1930s and 1990. The advocates have faced strong opposition and have succeeded only in recent years and only in eight states. Among the most vigorous advocates for access are birth mothers who surrendered their children during a time it was believed that adoption would relieve unmarried women of shame and restore them to a respectable life. The birth mother advocates say that when they surrendered their children, their wishes were subordinated and their voices silenced. They say they want to be heard now as they raise their voices in support of adult adoptees’ rights to information in government records about their birth mothers’ original identities.

Opponents of restoring access, in “women-protective rhetoric” reminiscent of recent anti-abortion efforts, argue that access would harm birth mothers, violating their rights and bringing shame anew through unwanted exposure of out-of-wedlock births. Opponents say they must speak for birth mothers who cannot come forward to speak for themselves. Birth mother advocates respond that the impetus historically for closing records was to protect adoptive families from public scrutiny and from interference by birth parents, rather than to protect birth mothers from being identified in the future by their children. They maintain that birth mothers did not choose and were not legally guaranteed lifelong anonymity. They point out that when laws that have restored access have been challenged, courts have found neither statutory guarantees of nor constitutional rights to, anonymity. They also offer evidence that an overwhelming majority of birth mothers are open to contact with their now grown children.

One had some interesting contemplations – thinking all about adoptees and how we basically prove a large side of nature bs nurture. And I mean the nature part. Our world likes to think that nurture is most important and that we always have a choice. We are a puzzle piece that society and the world doesn’t want us to fit into the big picture, we challenge people’s beliefs that they think are naturally instilled in them, when really it’s all just a bunch of bullshit that has been shoved down everyone’s throats. Even with doctors – good luck getting into the genetics department. The whole thing is gate kept. Really makes me wonder if our existence proves something scientifically that we are aware of, that would change the way people see things.

Recognize Your Worth

Many adoptees don’t even realize that they are carrying unhealed trauma with them throughout their lives. Because for infants who were adopted, this trauma occurred during a per-verbal stage of their lives, they lacked words to describe what their emotions were saying to them. Both of my parents were adopted when they were less than one year old. My mom was adopted after having been placed temporarily in Porter Leath orphanage as my desperate maternal grandmother tried mightily to find a way to support the two of them with Georgia Tann circling them like a vulture. My dad was adopted after the Salvation Army coerced my paternal grandmother into relinquishing him. So both of my parents were carrying unhealed trauma throughout their lives.

The various ways people anesthetize themselves . . . is a wail from the deep. I once listened to Marianne Williamson’s A Course in Weight Loss on cd. I gained a lot of insight into my own compulsive eating experiences listening to her. I see how clothing our bodies in excess weight is a protective device. Both of my parents were more or less overweight their entire lives. I am told that my father was still breastfeeding with his original mother when he was taken for adoption. My mother struggled with her body image due to an adoptive mother who was obsessed by eating and weight issues. I have one memorable experience of that with my adoptive grandmother when she took me to England and embarrassed me dining at The Dorchester in London when I reached for a warm dinner role. I didn’t talk to her for almost 24 hours but gave it up in favor of not ruining our whole experience there together.

Your Blogger at The Dorchester

My mom was passive and secretive about eating. Some of that behavior certainly filtered down to me. My dad struggled with some drunken experiences, one that I didn’t even learn about until after he died, when my sister and I found a letter from him about spending a night in jail for DWI and praying not to lose his job and family over it. But after he was “saved”, he didn’t stop drinking – though he was never a violent alcoholic – and able to work even double shifts and nights at an oil refinery.

Joel Chambers writes about The Lifelong Challenges of Adoptees at the LINK> Search Angels website – Adoptees face more traumas, and more challenges, than many other people, and it affects their lives in ways that we are just beginning to understand. He has also written a post, speaking at great length about how addiction, in all of its various forms, is all too common among adoptees. These have experiences such as grief and loss, self-esteem and identity issues, substance abuse and addiction, mental health, and challenges to the types of relationships that they can form with their adoptive families. Adoptees also deal with feelings of grief, separation, and loss for their biological parents and birth families, even if they never knew them. 

A healing I didn’t even know I needed started in the Autumn of 2017, when I began learning what my parents never knew – who my original grandparents were. Then, it was only natural that I really begin learning about this thing called adoption. My daughter once said to me – “it seems like you are on a mission.” True, guilty as charged.

Losing My ?

As the child of both parents being adoptees and as the sister to my only two sisters, who both gave up babies to adoption – I’ve said “adoption” was the most natural thing in the world for me. But that isn’t quite right – it’s not natural – and all of the kids I grew up going to school with didn’t have adoptee parents (though thankfully, my parents were NOT my adoptive parents) and adoptive grandparents and adoptee uncles. So, I can’t really say it was commonplace to have adoption be so primary in our lives.

The closest I can come is that it was the reality. Not having a medical history for my parents when asked about that in doctor’s offices was just the reality.

Not knowing our racial heritage was just the reality. In fact, it may seem a bit odd but until I knew better (in 2017, when I was already 63 years old and both of my parents deceased), I honestly thought my mom was half African American and my dad was half Mexican – not kidding about that – that is how I was able to explain to myself that my parents had been given up for adoption – they must have been mixed race, which made me at least 50% mixed race along with 50% white (because I was definitely light skinned, blond haired and blue eyed). The truth was far from my creative imaginings. My mom had a lot of Scottish along with some English and thanks to slavery a smidgeon of Mali. My dad is half Danish.

My 4 adoptive grandparents were all wonderful people. My mom’s original parents were highly thought of and loved by their relations. My dad’s mother was loved and his dad, well he was a lot like my dad. Never knew he had even one child, let alone a son. More’s the pity – I think they would have made great fishing buddies.

Yet for about 5 years now, I’ve been reading the thoughts of adoptees wherever I find them and my perspective has entirely changed. I do not think adoption is a good thing in most cases. I actually thought my parents were orphans for the longest time – like until I was grown and heard from my mom that she was trying to get the state of Tennessee to release her adoption file to her because she was CONVINCED her adoption had been inappropriate (to a great extent because Georgia Tann had been involved) and she wanted to contact her original mother. Then, the state of Tennessee broke her heart because they told her that her mom had already died a few years earlier. She knew her dad was likely (and even that was not certain) older than her mom, so probably dead too. About 2 years after my mom died, I was able to do what she never could – get her entire adoption file from the state of Tennessee.

I do have Ancestry as well as 23 and Me to thank for most of my progress on my dad’s side. I now know who all 4 of my original grandparents were (something my own parents died never knowing). I have contact with some genetic, biological relations who are still living. I feel whole in a way I never even knew I did not feel before I learned all of that.

Somehow this song speaks to my feelings about all of this . . .

Hard To Believe But True

To keep the knowledge of this from an adoptee is so unconscionable. Even in the 1930s, when my parents were adopted, they always knew they were. Since I now know more about my original grandparents, my grandmothers would have always made great mothers to my parents. It was simply two factors – the times for my dad’s unwed mother and Georgia Tann’s machinations for my maternal married grandmother (though her husband appeared to have deserted her and there is no one left alive who could answer what my heart wants to know about why).

From an adoptee – How could you not tell your kid but then tell other people??? Like wtf. There’s something incredibly wrong with that picture.

From another adoptee – (BTW the child is already 8 years old) – that would be where I would have to ask for a conference with the adoptive parents. I could not knowingly and wrongfully withhold such information from a child and still be able to look them in the face daily. Idk if said child could remain in my class, although I’d want to be a support for the child. What a horrible situation for a teacher, especially if also an adoptee, but what a horrible bunch of bullshit for that child. School aged is beyond old enough to have already had those conversations. I’m not happy with these adoptive parents AT ALL.

Just a personal note – when my dad was 8 years old, he was adopted a second time when his adoptive mother remarried and his first name was changed from Thomas to Gale. Thomas was his first adoptive father’s first name. Gale was his new adoptive father’s first name. A completely understandable decision. Fortunately for my dad, he was always known by his middle name Patrick.

An adoptee who is also an adoptive mother writes – I am also a behavioral interventionist. This would be a “HUGE” trigger for me mentally. I couldn’t imagine looking into that poor innocent face knowing she is probably struggling internally (even without her knowing it) and then, knowing what she will face later on when she learns the truth. It would be very hard for me to navigate without yelling from the rooftops at the parents – what you are doing to this child is so wrong and mentally abusive. Even more so, that they are sharing this information with everyone else (savior complex, most likely or just narcissistic) but the child. Does your employer know you are an adoptee? I do a lot of advocating for adoptees and foster care youth in my district.

Someone else commented –  Imagine everybody knowing your story but you. I hope they are setting aside a sizable amount of money for this child’s therapy because OMFG.

Another writes – And at what age does this go on until ? Where is that child’s human rights. They have no right to deprive that child of their roots. It’s seldom done to protect the child, it’s to protect the adopters from the reality that this child has another family and help them play out their fantasy. It’s disgusting and should be illegal.

From one adoptee’s experience – I was in a similar situation. I didn’t find out until I was 9. It shattered my view on pretty much everything. I feel badly for those children; finding out your life is a lie part way through childhood is just…heavy. The worst part about having a family that is secretive about adoption is that once I did know, I was told I still needed to lie about it because not everyone in the family knew. I shared it with my cousins of a similar age once and got laughed at by them because they didn’t believe me. It got me in terrible trouble with my adoptive parents for telling them. Those kids have a rough road ahead. An entire early childhood predicated on lies is no way to live.

Are We Entering A New Baby Scoop Era ?

Before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, >LINK Time magazine carried an article – What History Teaches Us About Women Forced to Carry Unwanted Pregnancies to Term by Kelly O’Connor McNees on Sept 30 2021. She is the author of The Myth of Surrender about two young women in a maternity home back in 1961.

Her article was motivated by Texas’ severe abortion law back in 2021. Reproductive rights advocates are justifiably concerned about a potential increase in unsafe abortions and adoption activists are right to be concerned about more adoptions taking place that will leave more people dealing with the trauma of separation from their original mother.

The image of coat hangers may seem obsolete in an era where medication abortions can be safely self-managed at home, but we also know that there will be some women who lack access to health care. They will resort to desperate measures to avoid the physical, psychological, emotional, social and economic trauma of being forced to complete their pregnancy and give birth against their wishes.

We have been here before. In the decades from 1945 to 1973, now known as the “Baby Scoop” era, more than 1.5 million pregnant girls and women in the US were sent away to maternity homes to surrender children in secret. In realizing that my adoptee mom conceived me out of wedlock in 1953, it has become to my own heart a minor miracle that she did not get sent away to have and give me up for adoption. I will always believe I have my dad’s adoptive parents to be grateful to for encouraging him to do the right thing when he had only just started at a university in another nearby town. This is why I was born in Las Cruces NM but I am happy to claim I am a native of that state.

It was believed back then that both the child and the birth mother would be better off. It would be a win-win scenario: the baby would be saved from the stigma and shame of illegitimacy, and the birth mother could put the unpleasant chapter behind her and make a fresh start. Meanwhile, the young men who shared equal responsibility for the pregnancies typically carried on with their lives unfettered by social stigma.

Birth mothers sent to these homes received little to no counseling on what to expect from labor and delivery, and were not advised of their legal rights once the child was born. They endured psychological abuse from nuns and nurses, and gave birth alone in sometimes terrible conditions. This is the scenario I imagined my paternal grandmother endured at a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers when she gave birth to my dad. Many women still foggy from the effects of anesthesia following a birth under “twilight” sleep were coerced into signing papers terminating their parental rights. That was a tactic employed by Georgia Tann during her baby stealing days up until her death in September of 1950. Those who wanted to keep their babies were threatened with financial penalties, since many homes only covered the cost of prenatal care and room and board if the child was surrendered. Some women who refused to give up their babies were committed to mental institutions.

The promise that birth mothers would surrender their babies and “move on” turned out to be a lie. They did not go back to normal; they did not forget. Many were haunted for the rest of their lives by the uncertainty of their child’s fate and were prevented by strict adoption statutes from acquiring any information that might ease their minds. My maternal grandmother, exploited by Georgia Tann, reverted from her married name of Elizabeth to Lizzie Lou, the name on my mom’s original birth certificate, and even has that name put on her grave stone, when she died many years later. She never had another baby after my mom.

Unplanned pregnancies create a complex constellation of decisions that resist a tidy narrative. Sometimes they are the result of love, sometimes casual sex and sometimes rape. That was true in 1945, in 1965, and it’s true today. Given a different set of circumstances—access to legal abortion and open, non-coercive adoptions—the women caught up in the Baby Scoop era might have chosen to terminate their pregnancies, carry their pregnancies to term and make a plan for adoption, or keep and raise their children, and they would have made these decisions for all kinds of individual and personal reasons. In that more humane version of midcentury America, the decisions would have been theirs alone.

Women with unwanted pregnancies are no longer physically warehoused, but many of them are still trapped by what happens when they lose the freedom to choose whether or not to give birth. The overturning of Roe v Wade, and the rush in almost half these United States to totally ban any access to abortion regardless of the circumstances that caused the pregnancy, now guarantee that more women will face the same formidable future that women were facing back in the Baby Scoop Era.