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‘A Girl Like Her’ sheds light on a difficult past Unwed mothers forced to give up children for adoption

I did not give up my child, my child was taken from me, said Susan Schnirring. Schnirring was featured in Anne Fessler’s documentary “A Girl Like Her.” Fessler’s documentary told the story of millions of single women who were pregnant and forced to give up their children during the 1950s and 60s.

According to her film and extensive research, Fessler explained that women were forced by their parents and society, indirectly, to give up their children and pretend that their entire pregnancy wasn’t real and to completely forget about their children.

Prior to the Suffrage Movement, it was legal to deny women jobs and/or the right to go to school if she was unmarried with a child. This was even true for older, established women. Age was never the concern.

Women who decided to keep their children were exiled and considered promiscuous by society. The majority of the women affected by this were middle class, Caucasian women, according to Fessler.  Anything that could be detrimental to the social status of a woman at that time was strictly banned.

Fifteen to 20 of the women Fessler interviewed were pro-life. Their parents offered them the option to abort, but they refused, viewing adoption as a more viable option. However, these women did not have the choice to keep their babies, so these were their two options.

During this time, another option offered to women was to leave town, birth their babies and return after a considerable amount of time upon their return would lie and explain how their husband had died in the war. This excuse, however, was not always used because it was still risky.

The documentary highlighted several stories about these women and for some, this was the first time they had talked about it with anyone else. “Every one of those interviews was emotional,” said Fessler.  She went on to say that she would leave “really drained.” In some the interviews, she recalled, the interviewee was crying so much that she was unable to put them in the documentary. She was able, however, to put them into her book.

Fessler, herself, was an adoptee. Her mother, like other women of that time, was forced to give up their baby and that was the only way they would be able to be functional members of the society. She said that unlike other adoptees she was more accepting and understanding of her situation. She said they she never recalled herself being upset with her mother for putting her up for adoption.

After having the baby and their baby being taken from them, they had to live the rest of their lives a lie. They were unable to tell friends or other family members and had to bear a smile and grin when they were told they did not know anything about children or about having children. According to an audience member, Fessler did a great job at capturing these women’s lives and what they had to endure.

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