If you have preconceived notions of adoption and the young birth mothers forced to relinquish their children during the post World War II years in America, you’ll not have them when you finish The Girls Who Went Away. This book grew from an audio and video installation project that Ann Fessler began in order to interview women who surrendered their children for adoption. An adoptee herself, Ms. Fessler begins and ends her book with her own successful search for her mother, which she chronicles with painful honesty and clarity. Each section is devoted to a different aspect of being the invisible birth mother: “Breaking the Silence” / “Good Girls v. Bad Girls” / “Discovery and Shame” / “The Family’s Fears” / “Going Away” / “Birth and Surrender” / “The Aftermath” / “Search and Reunion” / “Talking and Listening” and within each section are the stories of two different birth mothers. Over and over, these women speak of the anguish of parting with their newborn infants and the purgatory of living in society’s imposed silence of their ordeal. Each birth mother expresses in her own way her rage, terror, and feelings of abandonment by her family and society in addition to the intense love she experiences for the child she is forced to give away.
Some of these women find peace, others are still angry, and others reunite with their lost children, but all of them will live in your heart long after you put this book down. The Girls Who Went Away is so terrifying because the comfortable lies we have told ourselves over the years are shattered by nineteen women and their courageous stories.