Canadian Council of Natural Mothers' Library

The Girls Who Went Away
Ann Fessler

Ann Fessler's book The Girls Who Went Away has given a voice to all the women who in past decades were forced to remain silent because they had committed what was, and in a lot of cases still is, considered an unpardonable sin: they became pregnant and were not married. The saddest part of all is the fact that in spite of all the evidence that separation of mother and child causes mental and physical harm to both the mother and the child who gets adopted, the practices of the past still continue today. The double standard of the past is still alive and flourishing. (The new carrot that has been added to the mix today is the "open adoption," which is not enforceable in any court of law in North America once the mother has signed on the dotted line, relinquishing her parental rights.)

This book dispels all the myths surrounding adoption then and now. It tells the stories of 100 women who found themselves pregnant in an era where birth control and sex education/ knowledge were virtually unavailable and in some cases illegal to obtain. Fessler interviewed more than the 100 women whose stories are in her book. Most of these women had never discussed what happened to them with anyone because of the guilt and shame they were forced to endure. They were convinced of the erroneous belief that they must remain quiet to save their reputations. These women were told they would just forget and move on with their lives. Any women who has given birth to a child knows that this is impossible to do. Any mother who has lost a child and is not allowed to grieve that loss knows the irreparable damage unresolved grief can do.

These women were shunned by society, abandoned by their families, and often abandoned by their boyfriends during the most vulnerable time of their lives. Those who were victims of sexual assault became the guilty person, instead of the abuser. They were made to believe that because they were unmarried they were not fit to raise their own child, that they would endure a lifetime of ridicule, that their child would be better off being raised by strangers, and that if they really loved their unborn child they would give them up for adoption.

This book is a must read for every person who has been adopted, every person who is counselling mothers and/or fathers who lost a child to adoption, and most especially for all mothers who lost a child to adoption. Every adoption social worker should be forced to read this book. This book is a step towards helping the mothers/fathers/adoptees find a path towards healing and hopefully more and more mothers/fathers will break their silence.


Reviewer: Dorothy Noreen Hunter-Talbot (adoptee)


(2006) New York: Penguin Press
ISBN: 1-59420-094-7


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