American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption (Hardcover)
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The shocking truth about postwar adoption in America, told through the bittersweet story of one teenager, the son she was forced to relinquish, and their search to find each other
During the Baby Boom in 1960s America, women were encouraged to stay home and raise large families, but sex and childbirth were taboo subjects. Premarital sex was common, but birth control was hard to get and abortion was illegal. In 1961, sixteen-year-old Margaret Erle fell in love and became pregnant. Her enraged family sent her to a maternity home, and after she gave birth, she wasn't even allowed her to hold her own son. Social workers threatened her with jail until she signed away her parental rights. Her son vanished, his whereabouts and new identity known only to an adoption agency that would never share the slightest detail about his fate.
Claiming to be acting in the best interests of all, the adoption business was founded on secrecy and lies. American Baby lays out how a lucrative and exploitative industry removed children from their birth mothers and placed them with hopeful families, fabricating stories about infants' origins and destinations, then closing the door firmly between the parties forever. Adoption agencies and other organizations that purported to help pregnant women struck unethical deals with doctors and researchers for pseudoscientific "assessments," and shamed millions of young women into surrendering their children.
Gabrielle Glaser dramatically demonstrates the power of the expectations and institutions that Margaret faced. Margaret went on to marry and raise a large family with David's father, but she never stopped longing for and worrying about her firstborn. She didn't know he spent the first years of his life living just a few blocks away from her; as he grew, he wondered about where he came from and why he was given up. Their tale--one they share with millions of Americans--is one of loss, love, and the search for identity.
Adoption's closed records are being legally challenged in states nationwide. Open adoption is the rule today, but the identities of many who were adopted or who surrendered a child in the postwar decades are locked in sealed files. American Baby illuminates a dark time in our history and shows a path to reunion that can help heal the wounds inflicted by years of shame and secrecy.
About the Author
Gabrielle Glaser is a New York Times bestselling author and journalist whose work on mental health, medicine, and culture has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, and many other publications. She has appeared on many national radio and television programs, including NPR's Fresh Air, All Things Considered, WNYC's On the Media, and The Brian Lehrer Show, NBC's Nightly News, and ABC's World NewsTonight.
“A searing narrative that combines the detailed saga of one unwed teenage mother with deep research on all aspects of a scandalous adoption industry…Throughout, the author deftly follows this genuinely human story, exposing the darker corners of adoption in 20th-century America. In 2006, Ann Fessler's The Girls Who Went Away lifted the curtain on the plight of other women just like Margaret, and Glaser accomplishes an equally impressive feat here. In a narrative filled with villains, a birth mother and her son exhibit grace. A specific story of identity that has universal appeal for the many readers who have faced similar circumstances.”—Kirkus Reviews (*starred review*)
"Combining personal tragedy and overall history, this book evokes sympathy for a wide swath of mid-century American women."—Library Journal
“Through powerful empathy and tireless reporting, Gabrielle Glaser lays bare the coercive system under which three million young mothers surrendered their babies for adoption in the years leading up to Roe v Wade. Piecing together the heartbreaking parallel stories of one woman and the child she could never forget, Glaser skillfully unearths the attitudes toward sex, marriage, gender, and race that underlay this chilling chapter in a not-so-distant American past. American Baby will shatter once and for all the comforting myth that relinquishing an infant to a stranger in a ‘closed adoption’ was invariably ‘better for everyone.’”—Janny Scott, author of The Beneficiary and A Singular Woman
“This moving story of one teenager's experience with coerced adoption in the 1960s is also an eye-opening expose of an entire industry built on lies, greed, racism, sexism, and stunning amounts of medical malpractice. Riveting—and sobering.”—Stephanie Coontz, author of The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap and Marriage: A History
“This extremely intimate portrait of an adoptee and his birth mother comes closer than any other book I’ve read in describing the interplay of nature and nurture that shapes the human personality. The book is at the same time a triumph of investigative reporting about the abuse of birth mothers and adoptees: many of us are familiar with the stories of the Catholic girls whose babies were seized by nuns in in early 20th century Ireland, but who knew this was happening in New York in the 1960s and was done by Ivy League educated doctors and social workers. It is an eye-opener in so many different ways.”—Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy
“Gabrielle Glaser shines a searing light on adoption during the post-WWII Baby Boom years, a time of celebration of family. She illuminates the cruel, secretive, and shaming aspects of adoption, a stark contrast to the prevailing view of adoption as a happy solution for birth mothers, babies, and adopting families. The story of Margaret and David, a mother and son pulled apart at David's birth, will break your heart.”—Elaine Tyler May, author of Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era and America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation