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Entries in adoption (3)


Film Review: A Girl Like Her

-Review by Kelly N., BADP blog co-manager

A couple weekends ago I noticed that the San Francisco Documentary Film Festival was showing a film called A Girl Like Her, described as “an affecting and timely account of unwed mothers in the 50's and 60's, most of whom were coerced to have their babies in secret maternity homes and surrender them for adoption.” The film is directed by a woman named Ann Fessler, who wrote a book on the same topic called The Girls Who Went Away, which I read last summer. Having found the book extremely interesting and moving, I was excited to be able to attend a screening of the film.

At only 48 minutes the movie was not very long, but offers a concise companion to Fessler's 368 page book. The shorter audiovisual format definitely makes the stories of the women interviewed more accessible to a wider audience. These stories were central to the film, where they were told in the women's own voices paired with vintage footage of sex education films and public service announcements. I recognized many of the stories from the book, and the oral history format proved even more powerful than reading from a page. The women featured in the movie covered a variety of topics relating to their experiences, including dating as a high school student in the 1950's and 1960's, finding out one was pregnant, dealing with family reactions and attempts to hide the pregnancy from the neighbors, being sent to a maternity home, laboring without much support or care, not knowing one's rights in signing adoption papers, and reuniting with birth children many years later.

Most of the unwed mothers who were forced to surrender their children during this time were white and middle-class, and concern with keeping up appearances with the neighbors was a theme mentioned by many of the interviewees in the film. As one woman described, her mother felt that their “social climbing was under threat.” Judgment and uncaring within one's family was common, as women talked of being called “sluts” and “whores” by their fathers and other family members. One woman's mother forced her try to induce a miscarriage with an extremely painful Lysol douche. The walls of the maternity homes many were sent to offered no respite as they were subjected to “therapy” where they were told they would “get over it” and that they should not look at or hold their babies upon birth.

As a full-spectrum doula I found it informative and heartbreaking to hear the lack of support these women endured throughout their pregnancies, during labor, and in the postpartum period. Some of the words used by the women in describing their feelings upon leaving the hospital were “terror,” “shame,” “defeat,” “trauma,” and “turmoil.” Only one woman spoke of having had an ally during her pregnancy and birth experience, a nurse who had asserted her right to see her son whenever she wanted after the woman's mother tried to hide him from her. “You never get over this,” asserted one of the interviewees. “I turned myself into a stone,” said another. Social stigma, lack of emotional support, and lack of autonomy deeply impacted the lives of the women interviewed in the film and probably many other women forced to surrender their babies during this time. The state of adoption and societal attitudes surrounding sexuality in this country have certainly improved since the 1950's and 1960's, though much stigma is still attached to many of the reproductive and sexual choices people make every day.

Overall, A Girl Like Her does a great job of preserving and reflecting upon the stories of some of the people who faced unexpected pregnancies in the days before Roe v. Wade. I recommended the film for those of us who are passionate about supporting folks throughout the spectrum of reproductive choices.



Notes From The Salon: Situating Adoption in the Reproductive Justice Movement

 By Sarah Whedon, BADP doula and blogger

I was so moved by the vulnerable, honest storytelling around adoption at the Salon on Situating Adoption in the Reproductive Justice Movement.

The evening's discussions focused on the experiences of birth mothers, and framed adoption as a reproductive choice.  We heard from Susan Collins about the experience of relinquishing her eldest son; from Gretchen Sisson about her sociological research into birth mothers' experiences; and from Randie Bencannan about her work as Co-Director of Adoption Connection, a pro-choice, open adoption agency.


Gretchen opened the evening with a disclaimer that the topic was far too big to be covered in a short evening, and that language around adoption is often tricky.  Since the topic is new to me, I hope I'll be forgiven if I misstep with my language here.


Susan's story really brought home for me the intensely personal experience of birthing and relinquishing a baby.  I won't attempt to re-tell a story that belongs to her, but I'll share what she said were some things that that helped her on her path: she had a choice; she had good counseling including after placement; she was able to explore a lot of information; and her counselor strongly encouraged her not to make any final decisions until after the baby was born.
"My adoption experience is more than a moment in time. It's woven in to my life." - Susan
Gretchen then put Susan's story into historical and sociological context.  She said that pre-Roe adoptions were nearly all closed and coerced, and that these were traumatic experiences for the birth mothers. Before Roe about 20% of unplanned pregnancies resulted in this kind of adoption.


After Roe adoption numbers dropped a lot, but adoptions still remained closed. Adoption started shifting to semi-open in the mid 80s, and today most adoptions are at least partially open, generating new ways of thinking about family.


According to Gretchen, birth mothers considering relinquishing their babies are often in circumstances (money, age, relationship status) that will change later, so she raised the question: to what extent are these good reasons and to what extent should activists work to change the external factors so birth mothers can choose to parent? Most women Gretchen has spoken with said that under different circumstances they would have kept their babies.


Randie explained that her agency does 100% some form of open adoption. She said that, "It would be deceptive to say that open adoption takes away grief," but that it is generally better for parents and especially children to live with a sense of honesty and knowledge about where they came from.


Randie said coerced relinquishment is something they are very careful to steer away from, and she can sleep at night knowing that women don't give up their babies if it doesn't feel right to them.


I am grateful to the Salon organizers and presenters for creating a context where I could learn a great deal about adoption. For me, questions remain about how doulas can best bring compassionate care to all parties in an adoption. Have you done adoption doula work?




 Want to learn more? Check out Adoption Connection's Blog Post about the event.


Salon Series: Situating Adoption in the Reproductive Justice Movement

Adoption has long been the least-examined option within our movement. As a reproductive choice, what does adoption involve? Why, to what extent, and when is it chosen? What is the lived experience of a birth/first mother during and after the adoption? Join us as we discuss the evolving options, policies, and practices around adoption. Particularly, we will focus on the birth mothers' experiences, discussing how best to frame discussions for women considering adoption and where, as reproductive justice activists, we should be focusing our attention for increased support and further change. Join us for conversation on Wednesday, October 24th.

Bay Area Doula Project Salon Series Presents:
Situating Adoption in the Reproductive Justice Movement

Date: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Time: 7:00 to 8:30pm
Location: Langton Labs
32 Langton St., San Francisco
Just three blocks from Civic Center BART!
Cost: Free
$5-$15 Suggested Donation for Bay Area Doula Project, no one will be turned away for lack of funds

RSVP on Facebook!

Bay Area Doula Project - November Training
Randie Bencannan, LCSW, MS, is the Co-Director of Adoption Connection, a pro-choice, open adoption agency for the past 25 years. She has a long standing and passionate commitment to reproductive health, as exemplified in her roles as a college and high school sex educator, the director of San Francisco Planned Parenthood's Teen Clinic, and as a clinic escort at Washington, DC Planned Parenthood. Adoption Connection has worked with doulas as pregnancy and labor support for birthmothers, and as postpartum and early parenting support for adoptive parents. Randie is the mother of two daughters, both social justice activists themselves.
Susan Collins has a business degree from Santa Clara University and a variety of professional and volunteer experience -- but she feels her greatest accomplishments have been connected to her role as wife and mother. Susan has three children ranging in age from 25 to 17; her eldest son was relinquished at birth.
Gretchen Sisson, PhD, is a sociologist and researcher focusing on issues of parenting and reproductive justice, specifically teen pregnancy and young parenthood, infertility, and adoption. She has previously worked with the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy and the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund, and currently serves on the board of directors of Backline, an organization devoted to supporting experiences related to pregnancy, parenting, abortion, and adoption. Gretchen has also worked as a birth doula and blogs for the Abortion Gang. You can find her on Twitter @gesisson.
The evening will be filled with great conversation and great people! We hope to see you and your friends there!