How to make a body disappear

I was born in 1959, still not a great time to get pregnant out of wedlock, or to be an adoptee. Teenage pregnancies were hidden; not the stuff of reality TV; birth mothers were still the object of scorn, and shamed and coerced into giving up their babies for adoption. In 1959, social values were still very much dictated by religion, family, tradition and the perceptions of others. When I was till in single digits, happenings like Monterey, Woodstock, Altamont, and the Vietnam War dominated all two or three channels. It seemed like halcyon days of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, free love and its friend ‘the pill’, were sweeping away all the old values. It gave the appearance of being different from any time in history. Through my research, I’ve found that it was only superficially different: girls still had pre-marital sex; still got pregnant by mistake; still had to decide what to do to hide the shame; still had to make life-altering decisions about what to do with the baby. As at so many times in history, there were places to hide until they delivered; there were the same heart-wrenching “options”.

Of abandonment, adoption, abortion, or infanticide, death was certain with the latter 2, and quite possible with the first. Only adoption gave me a chance. I was adopted out of my Irish and Syrian bloodline and into a Canadian WASP family. I was lucky, I was considered a premium at the time – white, male, healthy. At other times in history, I might have survived against the odds of infanticide, and maybe even abandonment. I may have even survived the brutish life inside the orphanage, the almshouse, the workhouse, the infant asylum, the mental asylum, and I might have even been spared being tossed out in Ancient Sparta.

I survived … to shed light on the whole goddamn mess.

Here’s a sampling of my research from 2014/15,

Philomena, Martin Sixsmith.
Philomena / Martin Sixsmith, 2009

Fiction.

In Cold Blood / Truman Capote, 1965
Oliver Untwisted / M.A. Payne, 1929
Dark Hearts of Chicago / Helen Rappaport and William Horwood, 2007
The Historian / Elizabeth Kostova, 2005
The Tiger’s Wife / Téa Obreht, 2011
The Magdalen Martyrs / Ken Bruen, 2005
Philomena / Martin Sixsmith, 2009

Non-Fiction & Story Research.

Do Penance or Perish: Magdalen Asylums in Ireland / Frances Finnegan, 2001
Do Penance or Perish: Magdalen Asylums in Ireland / Frances Finnegan, 2001Fallen Women and ‘The Shame’.

Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture / Bram Dijkstra, 1986
Do Penance or Perish: Magdalen Asylums in Ireland / Frances Finnegan, 2004
Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work 1890-1945 / Regina G. Kunzel, 1993
The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade / Ann Fessler, 2006

Impoverished & Vulnerable.
The Lost Children: A Study of Charity Children in Ireland, 1700-1900 / Joseph Robins, 1980
How the Other Half Lives, Studies Among the Tenements of New York /  Jacob A. Riis, 1890
The Battle with the Slum / Jacob A. Riis, 1902
Imagined Orphans: Poor Families, Child Welfare, and Contested Citizenship in London / Lydia Murdoch, 2006
Charity and Children in Renaissance Florence: The Ospedale degli Innocenti, 1410-1536 / Philip Gavitt, 1990
Ireland’s children: Quality of life, stress, and child development in the Famine era
/ Thomas E. Jordan, 1998

Emigration.
Empty Cradles / Margaret Humphreys, 2011
The Orphan Country: Children of Scotland’s Broken Homes from 1845 to the Present Day
/ Lynn Abrams, 1998

Abandoned: Foundlings in Nineteenth-Century New York City / Julie Miller, 2008
Abandoned: Foundlings in Nineteenth-Century New York City / Julie Miller, 2008

Bastards, Orphans, Foundlings and the Orphanages, Asylums, and Workhouses.
Abandoned: Foundlings in Nineteenth-Century New York City / Julie Miller, 2008
Lost Girls: Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence / Nicholas Terpstra, 2010
Blood Ties and Fictive Ties: Adoption and Family Life in Early Modern France / Kristin Elizabeth Gager, 1996
“Mother Donit fore the Best”: Correspondence of a Nineteenth-Century Orphans Asylum / Judith A. Dulberger, 1996
Endangered Children: Dependency, Neglect, and Abuse in American History / LeRoy Ashby, 1997
Abandoned Children: Foundlings and child welfare in nineteenth-century France / Rachel Ginnis Fuchs, 1984
Bastards and Foundlings: Illegitimacy in Eighteenth-Century England / Lisa Zunshine, 2005

Body Snatching.
The Traffic of Dead Bodies : Anatomy and embodied social identity in nineteenth-century America / Michael Sappol, 2002
The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London
/ Sarah Wise, 2004
Bodysnatchers : a history of the Resurrectionists, 1742-1832 / Martin Fido, 1988

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A History of Murder: Personal Violence in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present / Pieter Spierenburg, 2008

Infanticide.
Chapter 5: Marks of Innocence: Babies and the Insane, see ‘Throwaway Babies’, and ‘Convergence of Infanticide and Madness’, in A History of Murder: Personal Violence in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present / Pieter Spierenburg, 2008
Nefarious Crimes, Contested Justice: Illicit Sex and Infanticide in the Republic of Venice, 1557-1789 / Joanne M. Ferraro, 2008
‘What Else Could I Do?’: Single Mothers and Infanticide, Ireland 1900-1950 / Cliona Rattigan, 2012
‘A most diabolical deed’: Infanticide and Irish society, 1850-1900
/ Elaine Farrell, 2013
Poverty in Eighteenth-Century Spain: The Women and Children of the Inclusa / Joan Sherwood, 1988

Organ Harvesting.
The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers / Scott Carney, 2011
Black Markets: The Supply and Demand of Body Parts / Michele Goodwin, 2013

Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery / Siddharth Kara, 2008
Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery / Siddharth Kara, 2008

Trafficking.
The Child Catchers: Rescue, trafficking, and the new gospel of adoption / Kathryn Joyce, 2013
Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery
/ Siddharth Kara, 2008
The Traffic in Babies: Cross-Border Adoption and Baby-Selling between the United States and Canada, 1930-1972 / Karen A. Balcom, 2010
Sex trafficking, scandal, and the transformation of journalism, 1885-1917
/ Gretchen Soderlund, 2013
Human trafficking in Europe: Character, causes and consequences / Gillian Wylie, Penelope McRedmond, 2010
Walking Prey: How America’s Youth are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery, Holly Austin Smith, 2014

The Money Trail.
Baby Markets: Money and the New Politics of Creating Families / Michele Bratcher Goodwin, 2010
The baby business: How money, science, and politics drive the commerce of conception / Debora L. Spar, 2006

Murder, Mayhem & Search Reunions.
The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for my Birth Father and Finding … The Zodiac Killer / Gary L. Stewart, Susan Mustafa, 2014

Psychology.
Why do Good People do Bad Things: Understanding Our Darker Selves / James Hollis, Ph.D., 2007
The Psychology of Adoption / David M. Brodzinsky, 1990

Orphans and Foundlings in Literature.

The Raven and the Lark: Lost Children in Literature of the English Renaissance / Barbara Estrin, 1985
Orphan Texts: Victorian orphans, culture and empire / Laura Peters, 2000

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