Thoughts on Wake Up Little Susie by Rickie Solinger

This past month, I finally got around to reading Wake Up Little Susie by Rickie Solinger, a book that has been highly recommended in the adoption community. The book’s focus, though, isn’t adoption, but rather the ways in which unmarried pregnant women and girls were dealt with in the United States between 1945 and 1965.

I want to say two things about this book. First, the information it presents is important for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of women’s rights in this country. It was eye opening for me to learn how political and social policies have determined two separate fates for black vs. white women who have deviated from accepted norms. I came to Susie knowing that, in most cases during this time frame, white unmarried pregnant women and girls were convinced to relinquish their babies for adoption while black women and girls in similar circumstances kept and raised their own children with the help of their families, but I did not know why that was the case or how the system was designed to punish those black women at every turn.

Having myself been born to an unmarried white girl in the late 1960s, I was most familiar with the narrative expressed by the women interviewed by Ann Fessler for her book The Girls Who Went Away. Solinger’s book, however, reveals how social support systems across the country aimed to diagnose women like my mother as psychologically impaired and then rehabilitate them via whisking their babies off to respectable, married couples, thereby satisfying two goals: supplying infertile couples with children who could blend into their white families and providing a means for fallen women and girls to become eligible again for marriage and respectability.

Black women and girls were not offered this same chance at rehabilitation. They were deemed to be immoral by nature, and were therefore required to deal with the consequence of their immorality. Services that might have helped them in raising their children were denied to them, because officials decided that to offer assistance would be akin to encouraging illegitimate pregnancies. Thus, the trope of the welfare queen took hold, due largely to a desire within the white establishment to keep black mothers, and, by extension, all black people, in their place. In reality, most financial assistance to single mothers went to white women, because authorities created onerous roadblocks to keep black women from receiving aid. Black women were also denied space in maternity homes or the option of offering their babies for adoption.

What can a woman in crisis do except to utilize the options that are available to her? What better way to control women than to limit their options.

The more I learn about this period in US history, the more obvious it is to me that control of women’s health and financial options has been used repeatedly as a means of trying to shape our society according the vision of white men in power (and the women who go along with them), without too much concern for the individual people or families affected by those political decisions. And this continues today. We see the current administration attempting to cut back or eliminate services related to sex education, birth control, and women’s health, services that have been in place now for several decades and that have been successful in reducing unplanned pregnancies and enabling women to make informed choices for their own lives. There are people in positions of power in this country right now who want to take us back to that time when women had very little say in what happened to their lives because they had so few options when it came to giving birth or raising children. We cannot allow them to force us back there.

The second observation I want to make about Wake Up Little Susie concerns its format, the actual written words in the book. As I said, this book has been highly recommended, however it was clearly written for an academic audience. Solinger’s research consists of studying a slew of sociological studies along with historical documents. Even when she quotes individual women affected by the policies she’s describing, those quotes are taken from previous studies in which the women were interviewed, so it feels as if the women’s voices exist only in service to answering the academic question that’s been put forth. This is not to deny the relevance of Solinger’s work; her synthesis of all this information is still quite valuable, as I’ve already described.

But, here’s the thing. The way the information is presented is so dry and so academically worded that I fear many lay readers would not have the fortitude to stick with this book long enough to fully grasp the enormity of the very important conclusions Solinger reaches. We need researchers and historians like Solinger, but we also need creative writers and other artists who can find ways to better communicate important information like this to a much broader audience. I believe the key to real change in this country lies in raising the awareness and understanding of a broad swath of regular, everyday people.

Everyday people in large numbers demanding change is what makes things happen. It’s up to those of us who first recognize the need for change to figure out how to communicate that need in a way that many others will feel in their bones. Action requires passion. We must inspire in order to effect change.

It’s Here!

There’s something very satisfying about opening a box fill with copies of your own book. It’s the culmination of many months of thinking and writing and worrying and revising. Now, here it is, a physical product ready to be sent out into the world.

It’s especially satisfying–and doubly scary–to also be the publisher of said book. Though if I can help it, I won’t choose to be on both sides of the process again. I’ll share more on that in a future post.

For now, I’m going to enjoy the achievement of having created something tangible out of sheer will.

An Adoptee Lexicon is now available for preorder. Get all the details here.

What’s It About?

Thanks for asking.

Lyrical and informative, An Adoptee Lexicon is a glossary of adoption terminology from the viewpoint of an adult adoptee.

Contemplating religion, politics, science, and human rights, Karen Pickell, who was born and adopted in the late 1960s, intersperses personal commentary and snippets from her own experience with history and statistics pertaining to child development and the adoption industry. The collection of micro essays is presented as an organically ordered glossary, along with a robust list of sources and suggested reading as well as an alphabetical index, creating layers of association between words commonly used when discussing adoption.

Pickell draws connections between contemporary American political issues and the social climate that led to a tsunami of adoptions in the decades following World War II through the early 1970s—a period known as the Baby Scoop Era—and also touches on the complexity of transracial and international adoptions.

Throughout An Adoptee Lexicon, the focus remains firmly on adopted people—their perceptions, their needs, and their right to fully exist in exactly the way non-adopted people do.

Continue reading “What’s It About?”

The GOP Is Our Health Care Disaster

We are in the middle of a great struggle. These are historic times. No one knows when this period of struggle will end or how it will turn out. Too many changes seem to come too fast. We can’t keep up with it all. Some days, the challenge feels overwhelming and it’s difficult to focus enough to fight effectively.

I’ve spent a good portion of 2017 consumed with the fight to protect the ACA from being repealed. I currently purchase health insurance for myself and my kids via the ACA marketplace. Although my husband is retired, our household income is still fairly high, so I receive only a very modest tax credit and our insurance is not at all cheap. But we are guaranteed coverage for routine exams and immunizations, and we have some security knowing that we’ll get help paying for those unexpected illnesses and injuries that all parents of kids deal with. I have the security of knowing that I can’t be turned away or charged more due to chronic conditions I was diagnosed with twenty-some years ago. We have some security knowing that, even though our out-of-pocket responsibility is substantial, there is a limit to what we’d be expected to pay in a crisis year. And, we have the freedom to structure our life in the way that suits us best without needing for me to obtain a full time job solely to get health insurance. Continue reading “The GOP Is Our Health Care Disaster”

The Perfect World We Do Not Have

If I could stand up and say This Is My Right and receive in response agreement on that statement from all who consider it, then I would never need to explain or fight or beg. In this perfect world of imagination, every person would be born with the knowledge of the complete set of rights due to each of us, and each of us would be treated equally, without necessity of debate.

In the world of actuality, we live in a nation of vast numbers of diverse people who do not all agree on basic human or civil rights. Is every one of us entitled to a living wage, to health care, to education? Is every one of us entitled to marry whomever we choose? Is every one of us entitled to relieve ourselves in the public bathroom that best suits us?

We don’t agree on how basic services should be paid for, who should run them, or what those services should include. We don’t agree on who should be forced to live or be allowed to die, or on who should be able to decide these questions.

When we talk about human rights or civil rights, often an assumption is made that these are so basic, so intrinsic to every person’s well-being, that every person should, of course, at least agree on how these are defined. Except, this is not our reality. We do not all agree even at this basic level, and the fact that we disagree so deeply is the reason each of us must fight for those rights we feel should be basic tenets of our very existence as human beings. Continue reading “The Perfect World We Do Not Have”