With 40% of babies in the United States currently being born to single mothers, it's easy to forget how much of a stigma it was to get pregnant "out of wedlock" in the 1950's. Birth control pills hadn't been invented yet, and abortion was illegal and very dangerous (more women died of illegal abortions than the number of Americans who died in Viet Nam). The shame and consequences were strong enough to make teen sex outside of marriage very uncommon.
Of course many teenagers did have sex: they got married in those days, some as shotgun weddings if a pregnancy was already involved and others married just to have sex within acceptable circumstances.
For many young women who got pregnant, a common "choice" was to give the baby up for adoption. But it wasn't actually a choice; these teenage mothers were pressured by their parents into "letting go" of their children, even when many of them were in love and wanted to get married and keep their babies. The women disappeared from the community to hide the pregnancy, with an excuse that they were "visiting an aunt on her farm" (or whatever), while in reality many of the pregnant young women were sent to "homes for unwed mothers" until they gave birth and the baby was immediately taken from them.
These women then returned to their communities and were expected to resume life as if the birth never happened. But the old adage, "Time heals all wounds," did not work.
As the years passed, some of the women, now married with children from this union, still felt tremendous shame and tried even harder to dismiss that year, and that baby, from their minds. This shame was so strong in many cases that they never told their husbands about their first, adopted child. These are women who are shocked and uncomfortable, even angry, if the truth comes out -- if the grown child searches and finds the birthmother.
But more often, the mothers whose children were taken from them under pressure from their parents grieved for these lost children as the years went by. Researcher Lee Campbell, Ph.D., found that many of these women quietly celebrated the birthdays of their lost firstborns and wondered what might have been if they had been allowed to keep their babies. In this way, the lost child has parallels to the lost love that I have researched.
For example, lost loves are particularly driven to find each other and reunite if parental pressure forced them apart. Birthmothers are particularly drawn to search for their lost children if the surrender had been forced on them; birthparents who attributed the surrender to "personal reasons" were more content with their decisions and less likely to search.
As with lost loves, the lost children became idealized over the years. The couples who rekindled their romances often reported that the lost love became a kind of standard against which their other relationships were measured. Birthmothers often felt this way about their lost, surrendered firstborns.
The more years that passed, the more likely it is that lost loves, and birthparents, will search for their lost loves/children. Like lost loves, birthparents talk about the wish to connect the first half of their lives to the present. They hope to reverse the damage to their personal history that was caused by the forced separations.
And both groups express a need to reduce anxiety that stems from burying their longings. They were always aware that there was someone important "out there somewhere;" when they were reunited with their grown children, they felt an instant comfort, familiarity, relief, and love.
And there is another connection: Some of the teen couples had been in love and had wanted to marry, but the parents wouldn't allow it. These birthparents later reunited and married; then they searched for their lost children. Or, sometimes the women found the children first, then located their lost loves, as was the situation for this woman in her forties:
"My lost love and I were forbidden by our parents to see each other after they discovered I was pregnant. With lies they told us, they were able to keep us apart. I was sent to a home for unwed mothers until my son was born, at which time he was put up for adoption. My lost love was told that I had an abortion.
We totally lost contact for more than twenty-five years, until such time as I was able to reunite with my son. All he knew about his father was that he had been sent to Vietnam, and he wanted very badly to meet him.
At this point, through family, I was able to get my lost love’s telephone number, and I contacted him to see if he would be interested in meeting his son. It was then that we discovered the lengths that our parents had gone to, to keep us apart. He had been told I had an abortion, so he never knew he had a child. We spent a lot of time on the phone, as we lived thousands of miles apart. After two months of talking we decided to meet each other again and find out if we could renew our relationship.
We were married eight months later and are very happy to be together and have a chance to know our son. We feel doubly blessed, and are all back together as it should have been years ago. Our parents, who were instrumental in breaking us apart, are now happy to see us finally find happiness."