by Margaret Benshoof-Holler
She could have been any of the veiled Afghani women that have been written about in the U.S. media since September 11. But the woman I stood listening to one Saturday afternoon last fall in Sacramento, California was an American woman whose veil was invisible, whose story had been silenced and hidden.
Her child had been taken away. It was as if it had died. Except there was no funeral, no wailing wall for her to pound her fists on and cry! The woman was expected to just get on with her life and pretend that she hadn't just given her child away.
With thirty-some years of internalized emotion still causing her voice to quake when she recalled signing her name on the relinquishment papers, the fifty-six-year-
And, if even half of the women who gave their children up for adoption in the 60s had banded together their voices would surely have been heard, but they had not been taught nor encouraged to use their voices. Societal dictates, including puritanical attitudes about sex, women, and pregnancy, silenced the voices of many women for many years.
When one loses a child, mother, father, or husband to death, there is a funeral and a time of mourning. That hasn't been the case for most of the 6,000,000 birthmothers in the U.S. who have lost their children to adoption. Relinquishing her child to adoption is looked upon as a single mother's duty for getting herself into that situation to begin with rather than a deeply painful separation of mother and child. In that respect, not much has changed since the 60s. Societal attitudes towards unwed mothers consider adoption a logical consequence to out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
Guilt and shame kept unwed mothers' voices stifled during the McCarthy and post-McCarthy era of the 60s, but a small group of birthmothers began, in the 1980s, to find the children they gave up for adoption in the 60s. They began to come to terms with their loss. It is only with the advent of the Internet that more birthmothers have begun to come out of the closet. Many still only talk about what happened to them with each other in much the same way that veterans of World War II and Vietnam only talked afterwards with those who understood what they had been through. Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms effect a number of birthmothers.
When President Bush proclaimed November as National Adoption Month in 2001, he did not mention or honor the large group of American women who have lost their children to adoption. He did not present a plan of prevention for unplanned pregnancies or a way to provide free daycare to help financially-
Even though U.S. women have progressed since the 60s in the areas of education and upward economic mobility and many single women are raising children on their own today, there is still a stigma about anything related to a woman having a baby outside of the confines of marriage. I see it in the way that stories about single mothers are reported in the media. Young mothers are made to sound like criminals if they want to keep their children.
One-hundred and forty million people in the U.S. have an adoption in their immediate families. Engrained views and practices pertaining to loss, sex, and adoption help keep many, like the birthmother in Sacramento, veiled and hidden. In this respect, the U.S. tends to fall behind every other industrialized country, most of which have stopped separating the natural mother from her child after it is born except in extreme situations.
The woman that I stood listening to in Sacramento was coerced into giving her child up for adoption in the 60s. She was then encouraged to keep the whole thing hidden. Her story stayed that way for over thirty years. It is time that we recognize and honor her motherhood."Invisible Veil" © copyright 2002 by Margaret Benshoof-Holler
"Burning of the Marriage Hat is a powerful book that uses the medium of fiction to explore serious social issues." --Cynthia Parkhill, Lake County Record-Bee