by: Liz DeBetta
I teach writing at a university in Utah, which is a very white, conservative, pro-adoption state. Just this week my students gave presentations in class called “Book Talks” based on a memoir/non-fiction book of their choice. I had given them a list of options at the beginning of the semester and each group chose different books. One group decided to read Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away and presented their reactions and analysis to the class. I was impressed with the amount of thought these college freshman put into their presentation and the level of insight they had on a time period and subject matter that has little to do with them and is so far removed from the time and place they live in.
Perhaps the thing that stuck out to me the most was that these three students were acutely aware of the fact the the women in Fessler’s book were victims of society. My students grappled with the horrifying facts of these women’s situations and discussed their feelings of anger and disgust at what had happened to them, what had happened to the children they were forced to relinquish. One student, whom I’ll call Shawn, said, “I don’t really know any adopted people and I never really thought about adoption in this way before. I only knew what I had heard from movies and TV and that story is always that the mother doesn’t want the baby and so adoption is a good thing because the baby gets to go to a family that wants them. Reading this book opened my eyes to the fact that that’s not really true, all of these women wanted to keep their children and they weren’t allowed to and now so many of them are really messed up because of it”.
And that folks is the rub. These young people who had never thought about adoption before in any other way except the way that most people do – the narrative that the media spins, the dominant narrative that highlights the positive and erases the negative – these young people were disgusted, horrified, and angry. They felt that these women and their children had been treated unfairly (to put it mildly), they recognized the societal double standards that existed for women around sex and sexuality, the deep shame and guilt attached to it, and the ways that parents and church leaders controlled and forced them to make a choice that was never a choice at all. These students understood the deep wrong that had been done and made it clear that their minds had been changed about adoption.
How will you change your mind about adoption? Will you read to learn like my students did? Will you listen to adult adoptees who are the children of “The Girls Who Went Away”? Will you feel anger and disgust when you see a couple desperate to adopt because it’s “God’s Plan” posting a Go Fund Me because you realize that no loving God would make any woman give away her child as part of a divine plan? Tell me, what will you do to change your mind?