notes follow the struggle of one birth mother trying to decide whether
or not to place her baby for adoption in the face of shame and stigma.
They illustrate the spread of Freudian
concepts (unconscious motivations, repression, etc.) and therapeutic
approaches to nonmarital pregnancy in the social
work profession during World War II, when geographic mobility
and new employment opportunities were creating new sexual possibilities
and problems for many women. This narrative
also offers evidence that many adoption professionals had changed
their minds about the risks of separating babies from their birth
parents. Instead of seriously considering M’s various
ideas about keeping her baby, the social worker in this case believed
that family preservation was unrealistic. From “a reality
standpoint,” adoption was the only viable option.
Miss M in my office. She is not a very attractive girl, has light
brown hair, gray eyes, medium build. As she sat on the edge of her
chair, she looked more like a scared little girl than a young woman
of 26. I tried to put her at ease but she continued to be very scared
and couldn’t seem to relax in her chair. I told her that we
had not known anything about her before she came and therefore,
didn’t know just how we could help her. We knew that she wanted
shelter but that was all. She was surprised, she thought Dr. B must
have told us some things. I assured her that he hadn’t and
then she became more frightened than ever. Where should she start?
I wondered if she wouldn’t like to start by telling me something
about herself. She talked fairly fluently after that, although somewhat
jerkily. Her voice trembled at times and her hands shook. When I
wondered if the trip down here was pleasant, she said that she had
never been to New York before and that was why the mother insisted
the neighbor come with her. Since the neighbor knew nothing about
Miss M’s pregnancy, this made it difficult. She told the neighbor
that she was coming here to work. She didn’t think the neighbor
suspected anything even though there was [a] girl obviously pregnant
sitting in the waiting room. Miss M quickly said that she noticed
her, however, but then she was conscious of such things. I wondered
how she had kept her small town from knowing about this but she
assured me that nobody but her mother knew. She didn’t tell
her mother even until she was getting ready to leave. She had told
everybody that she was being transferred to a new job with the OPA
but her mother told her that she had guessed what the real reason
for her coming here was. When she spoke of her mother, her lips
trembled and tears came to her eyes. She said that she and her mother
had been like sisters and she could have told her mother, only she
was afraid it would hurt her. Her father must never know because
he is a “victorian.” She expressed some scorn at this
point. I tried to get a little more feeling from her what home had
been like. She had grown up and lived up to two years ago in a small
country village outside of R, New York. Her father is a painter
and decorator and runs a small farm on the side. She has just one
brother, W. . . . I noticed that every time she mentioned
her mother, she started to cry.
Miss M could talk more easily and readily about the father of her
baby. He is a man almost twice her age, who is on the Rationing
Board in the office where she was working. She didn’t think
anyone in the small town of R knew of their relationship, at least
she hoped they didn’t. She thought they had been very discreet.
Of course, they walked to work every day and usually walked home
to her boarding house together but after dark, they met in out of
the way places. He is a Catholic, married unhappily. His wife “holds
the purse-strings.” She knows that nothing further can come
of this relationship but she knows, too, that she can never go back
there again and work with him or “it will start all over again.”
She is crazy about him, she said. She should not be but she is. . . .
She gave me the picture of a girl who had grown up in a small town,
been kept very close to home by a father who did not approve of
dances, and kindred activities. Even when she went down to R to
work two years ago, her father insisted that she come home every
week-end. She gave me no picture of having any special interest
in life or any special things that she enjoyed She just stayed around
home helped her mother with the housework, was very shy and afraid
to mingle with other young people, especially boys. At one point,
she spoke of herself as being her father’s favorite which
surprised me after the bitterness she had expressed toward her father
and I wondered whether this was the way she had wished it had been.
She apparently has been craving affection from him that she didn’t
receive. . . .
. . . . We discussed her plans for her baby more
fully. She had discussed them a little bit in her first interview,
saying then that Dr. B had told her she should “put it out
for adoption,” but she had been thinking of possible ways
she could keep it. She had asked me, however, to put it on the L
agency waiting list in case she made up her mind to place it so
I knew she was pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. I found
that she had not made up her mind yet by any means. She wants the
baby and she doesn’t want it. She cannot talk about it without
her voice trembling. She has thought of all kinds of unrealistic
schemes of placing it in the village nearby her home, of taking
a job here in New York and having it with her and mother has even
suggested that they might place it with a cousin of theirs. I tried
to discuss with her not only her feelings about this baby and her
needs in the situation but the baby’s needs. Her attention,
however, was centered only on her needs and it is almost impossible
to keep her on any discussion of the baby’s needs. She did
say she (as she left my office this time) that she knew she must
make up her mind soon but my feeling is that this girl is going
to find it very difficult to come to any decision herself.
11-2 to 11-16-44
During this period M in my office about every other day. Said she
couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep all she could do was sit
and think. Her voice trembled and her hands shook as she talked.
Each time she brought up new plans for keeping the baby. To each
plan she proposed I pointed out as clearly as I could the different
factors involved from a reality standpoint. She herself began to
reject plans she at first proposed such as boarding the baby in
a nearby town. In our first interview she had been very sure she
could do this without any one knowing, now, she was able to admit
that this wouldn’t be possible in a small rural community.
The baby might even look like its father and that would start all
kinds of talk she thought. She had another plan of boarding the
baby in Connecticut but she discarded this since she knew people
from the town of Connecticut who came to her town in the summer
time. Her plan of keeping the baby and living in New York she admitted
couldn’t work out because father would never accept the baby
and that would cut her off from her own home. She couldn’t
stand that. In all of these plans her own need for security was
paramount; any suggestions of rejection by her own family or ostracism
by her community was a threat to her future security.
M asked me if she could see me about something important. When she
came in instead of proposing new plans she said directly, “I
have now decided; I am placing the baby for adoption.” There
was less indecision in her voice than formerly and I felt that she
was relieved by her decision. I accepted it matter of factly without
further discussion, then asked if she would like me to talk with
the L agency worker now about an appointment to discuss adoption
procedure with her. She said any time and left the room without
any further discussion. . . .
11-30 to 12-20-44
. . . . Doubtless underneath she has considerable
ambivalence about her decision to give up the baby but I felt she
was too neurotic a girl to ever completely make up her mind, but
the definite release her decision has given her seems indicative
of its rightness to her. . . .
M went to the clinic and was kept there, as she was definitely in
labor. Her baby, a boy, was born about 3:00 P.M. that afternoon.
The hospital social worker said that M was one of the most stoical
girls in labor that she had seen.
Notified the L agency and they will definitely take the baby when
it is ready for discharge as it weighed at birth 6 lbs. 14 oz. and
is described as a “bouncing boy.”
Mrs. H, hospital social worker, telephoned that M was much disturbed.
Some one had brought around a paper asking M’s consent for
circumcision which had upset her greatly. . . .
. . . . My feeling is that the circumcision request
stirred up in M all her unconscious feeling about this whole thing
and was a great threat to her. I took her letters from her mother,
some spring flowers and stayed with her almost half an hour. She
was like a little girl wanting her mother to calm her fears. When
I left I talked with the head nurse whom I think was feeling a little
guilty about having upset M. . . . I explained to
her that M was a very neurotic girl, who had a good many fears about
this whole thing that she was not conscious of. . . .
. . . . Telephoned L agency worker, Miss B. They
will take the baby directly from the hospital on 1/12. Told her
that M is again exhibiting some indecisiveness and thinking of unrealistic
schemes whereby she may keep her baby.
Baby taken to L agency foster home by their worker.
M taken from the hospital to W House. . . .
. . . . During her last week at W House she was as
happy as I ever saw her. She seemed almost reluctant to leave the
girls. She looked well, always insisted she felt well and was only
staying because the doctor advised her. All of the unconscious anxiety
and guilt she must be feeling was completely repressed again. In
her interviews with me and with the L agency worker she talked very
little. She did say her mother might help her with possible plans
for keeping the baby but I felt this was said without real conviction.
It was more as if she felt she ought to say it.
M was a very unhappy girl inside herself. Whether she is able to
hide all her feelings and become more repressed as time goes on
or whether she goes to pieces depends I think upon how she is received
back in her family and her community. If she continues to feel that
no one knows but her mother and the doctor she may function adequately
in a limited way as she did before, but if she finds that her father
or the community knows I wouldn’t be surprised to see her
become very depressed and perhaps in the end take her own life.
As one talked with M it seemed very clear that her trouble lay in
her familial relationships—a stern, unloving father, a mother
who was more of a sister than a mother, a younger brother who appeared
to be, prior to going into the service, a more normal outgoing person
than M. Unconsciously I feel that M was working out a love relationship
with a man her father’s age who represented her father to
her but of all this she was totally unaware.