So the question becomes, did the Baby Scoop Era (BSE) really happen? Well, here’s one way of looking at it. One generation is usually considered to be 20 to 25 years. I bet 90% of the adoptees who read, blog, and comment on family preservation and adoptee rights were born between 1950 and 1975. In other words, from one generation. Famous adoptee Steve Jobs was born in 1955, singer Faith Hill in 1967, actor Ray Liotta in 1954 and actress Kristin Chenoweth in 1968. And these are just a few of the many well-known adoptees born during this period. Delta Burke (b.1956) is the only famous person I can think of born out of wedlock during that era who was not given up for adoption. After her mother married, she was adopted by her stepfather and uses his last name. She has never met her biological father.
Adoption during this era was the politically correct choice in my opinion. I realize PC wasn’t a term back then, but if it means to do what society says is the correct course of action, then adoption was politically correct back in the day. There were so many messages back then telling unmarried expectant mothers that adoption was the right course of action, and from what I understand (not having actually lived it) there didn’t seem to be many, if any, other options for most young women. I, for one, did not expect my natural mother to be the one unmarried, white, middle-class mother to buck all of society and keep me. Now, she did have the option of turning to her parents and siblings for help, which she didn’t do. And whether that would have changed the outcome is something I can only speculate on. But her unwillingness to share her predicament with our family does tells me that the shame and stigma of an out of wedlock pregnancy must have been beyond anything I can imagine.
One issue I especially have trouble with about the BSE is the oft-repeated statistic that 20% of unmarried mothers at the time relinquished, implying that 80% kept their child. And that this 20% figure is used to explain why the 1950s and 60s are remarkable for their unprecedented number of adoptions. But 20% sounds ridiculously low to me. I certainly believe that if 80% of unwed expectant mothers ended up keeping their babies, my mother would have kept me. Or, at least, she would have felt able to go to my grandparents for help with her situation. I am convinced that if unwed mothers were broken down into categories, the figure for relinquishments for single, white, middle-class women of that era would be more like 80 to 90 plus percent.
The BSE sounds like a misogynistic era hell-bent on denying women’s sexuality, where women’s sexuality was expected to be suppressed except within the confines of marriage. Since the stigma against having sex outside of marriage has largely been eliminated, I must admit I would have a much harder time accepting my mother giving me up for adoption if I have been born, say, in the 1980s, or later. I mean, one of the reasons for the immense popularity of the recent Fifty Shades of Grey* trilogy is because it acknowledges and accepts female sexuality. Whatever your views might be on the series, it does have a female protagonist who, if nothing else, is unabashedly and unashamedly sexual. And the books even have an adoption story line. It seems no work in popular culture these days would be complete without adding to the stereotypes about adoption. The adoptive mother in the book is a pediatrician (of course), and the first time the male protagonist meets her he thinks she’s an angel. The adoptive father is a highly successful attorney…why am I not surprised? And the birth mother is described as a crack whore, literally, who dies when the book’s title character is only four.
So given all the changes in attitudes and social mores that have occurred in the last thirty plus years, I think I would have been hard pressed to understand and/or accept my mother’s reasons for relinquishment if she had any family support. Many of the younger first mothers have explained that coercion most certainly still exists and that they were never informed of the long term effects of adoption on the mothers and adoptees of the BSE. That they were, in fact, still being fed the same gobbledygook that adoption is always a wonderful option for the child. That they would be able to move on with their lives and that the child would be forever grateful for the ‘better’ opportunities adoption supposedly provides. I do try to have compassion and be understanding, but being relinquished for adoption is certainly easier to accept having been born at a time when all of society colluded in the belief that adoption was the only option for mother and child.
*Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James, Vintage Books, 2012