More than half a century ago, young, single American women in the upper and middle classes had sex before marriage. With no birth control available, some of these women found themselves pregnant.
Within their strict social structure, these women had only three alternatives from which to “choose, ” as single motherhood was sadly not an option at the time.
The most desirable alternative was marriage but, too often, the parents forbade them, adding heartbreak to an already devastating situation.
The second was the expensive and life-threatening risk of a back-alley abortion.
The third alternative: to be sent away to a maternity home (today called “decision centers,” although only one “decision” is allowed). It was at these homes that the young women lived out their pregnancies only to have their firstborn taken from them.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the irresponsible fathers who had technology (the lack thereof) on their side, and so claimed license to stroll casually off into the sunset.
Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away reveals the poignant stories of the hundreds of thousands of these young women caught in the decades following WWII and before Roe v. Wade.
Yet, there remain hundreds of thousands of stories untold: the stories of their firstborn children.
Today, hundreds of thousands of men and women in their 40s, 50s and 60s struggle with the after-effects of an industry that was, at the time of their adoptions, itself in its infancy.
Nearly nothing was known during that time about the effects of separating the mother/infant dyad – neither the effects on the mother nor on the child him/herself. Agency guidance and practice was based solely on wishful thinking. Their primary concern was matching; that is, familial skin, hair and eye color, with barely a nod to talents, interests, or characteristics.
No one knew that infant brain development started in utero, with the first growth spurt in the third trimester. No one knew that an infant imprints on its mother in utero through the odor of the amniotic fluid. No one knew that healthy brain development after birth was experience-dependent, particularly during the first several weeks of life outside the womb.
The practice of the day was to “warehouse” the newborns earmarked for adoption for approximately 6 weeks. This, purportedly to ensure that the adoptive couple was getting a healthy child. Warehousing constituted minimal contact, and feedings were supplemented with Phenobarbital or Paregoric, ostensibly to keep the babies manageable.
If the babies survived the warehousing, they were then made available for adoption.
Not all survived.
No one was aware of the shattering damage of weak attachments with unsure adoptive mothers who missed the benefit of the attachment hormone oxytocin which childbirth would have pumped into her system. The baby got its own dose of oxytocin but was then abandoned, leaving him/her without the necessary counterpart.
These babies survived but never forgot this life-altering trauma. What they needed most was to sense empathy from their nurses and new caregivers for the horrendous physiological and psychological ordeal they were experiencing – that of the disruption, the permanent disruption – of the much-needed and expected dyadic relationship that all human infants should be heir to.
To ignore this trauma compounded the original one. And, to add insult to injury, the new caregivers behaved as if it were only a happy occasion.
Self-proclaimed “experts” were advising parents to let their children “cry it out” rather than comfort them. Questionable advice at the time, it is now considered barbaric.
Add to such child-rearing practices the (then) unknown trauma experienced by the infant due to losing his/her mother, and the result is over three generations of traumatized human beings who, to this day, cannot seem to get more than a few scraps of empathy, validation, or even acknowledgment of their losses.
Bleatings of a Sacrificial Lamb is just one of these stories, but it is representative of many thousands that deserve to be heard. And it is a warning. It is a warning to those who continue to deny the losses inherent in adoption to the detriment of the very child they desire so desperately, the child who will one day become an adult.