From the beginning of the 20th century through the 1950’s and 1960’s, unwed pregnancy was considered extremely shameful. Although a thin cloud of shame remains, the sexual revolution of the 60’s changed forever the way families dealt with unwed pregnancy.
In the first half of the century, it was common for pregnant girls to be “sent away” to maternity homes or to a distant family member's home to have their baby in secret. Someone made arrangements for the baby to be adopted. After the birth, the child was whisked away from the birthmother. She often did not even know if she had given birth to a boy or a girl. The adoption worker told her it was best if she knew nothing of the baby. She was told to forget about the whole experience and get on with her life.
The issue of shame drove the train of secrecy. It was shameful for a woman to pregnant out of wedlock. The thought followed that a child born out of wedlock must therefore come from "bad blood." Professionals involved in adoption advised birthparents and adoptive parents that it was best for adoption to remain secret.
The adopted baby grew up in his adopted home. Adoption workers told the families to move on with their lives as if the child was born biologically to them. Sometimes the child was never told he was adopted. The children who were not told of their adoption at an early age, usually found out later when a friend or relative accidentally let “the cat out of the bag.”
Sometimes children were told of their adoption, but it usually was not a topic that families discussed. These adopted children grew up with questions about their birth heritage, but had no one they could go to for answers. Consequently, many made up their own answers through fantasy. Some imagined their birthmother as a Fairy Princess who would one day return for him. She was perfect in every way and would never discipline him like his mom and dad.
Sometimes adopted kids would imagine that they must have done something very bad. That could be the only explanation of why their birthparents “gave them away.” Some adopted kids, with many unanswered or avoided questions, experienced emotional and behavioral problems. Many adopted kids began to search for their birthfamily when they became adults to get answers to their legitimate questions.
Of course not every adopted person experienced these negative issues. There have been many happy and well adjusted people who were adopted through the closed system of adoption. We just never hear about them on the TV or in the papers. Their stories do not make for interesting news. The media typically reflects only the negatives of adoption and other family systems.
It is easy to see why adoption has gained a poor reputation over the years. Birthparents (birthmothers, birthfathers and even their extended families) suffered deep emotional wounds for which they could find no healing. Some adopted people felt like “non-people” and had great longing to search for their identity. They wanted to find out who they really looked like. Where did they get their talents? Why did they have a funny little laugh?
They needed a connection that even the love from their adoptive family could not provide.