When Dale Ann Roy got pregnant as a high school senior in the late 1960s, she was immediately shipped off to a secret home for unwed mothers, where she was forced to give up her son as soon as she gave birth at age 19.
“This was 1969 — the word sex couldn’t even be said in public,” recalled Roy, 67, of Simi Valley. “Being an unwed mother was a scourge to society, and even your parents thought this was the worst thing you could ever do.”
Roy is among an estimated 2.5 million women in the United States who were victims of the Baby Scoop Era, which occurred from 1945 to 1975. During this time period, unwed mothers were “coerced” into putting their babies up for adoption — against their own free will.
The Baby Scoop Era occurred prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, when some abortions were made legal, and before 1960, when the birth-control pill became available but often not available to single women as no medical doctor would write a prescription for an unmarried woman.
“These women are now 65 to 90 years old and we’re in the sunset of our lives,” Roy said. “And many of these women are still in the closet and they’re still ashamed and humiliated. That’s why they’ve kept it a secret, even though it’s a different world now and unwed motherhood is totally accepted. It was not accepted back then.”
Roy got pregnant after her first sexual encounter with her first boyfriend. She told her mother after missing a couple of menstrual cycles, and was taken to the doctor to confirm the pregnancy.
“The doctor said, ‘Here’s what you can do — keep her at home or send her away,’ ” remembered Roy, who was living in Massachusetts at the time.
Less than a week later, she was shipped off to a secret home with seven bedrooms for unwed mothers, where a Catholic couple took care of the girls until they gave birth.
“They treated us pretty well but they also let us know what was coming,” Roy said. “They told me, it’s OK to give up your baby, he’s going to have a better life, they’re going to give him things that you’ll never be able to give him. They told me there’s a couple waiting for him.”
“It was all a lie”
Meanwhile, the secret was well-kept.
“No one in my family knew, not even my brother — just my mother and father and they both took the secret to their graves,” Roy said. “My mother died at 94 and we never talked about it, ever.”
Years later, she discovered that her son, Martin, remained in foster care for six months after he was born.
“Those lying sons of bitches — it was all a lie,” Roy said. “They told us to give up our babies and that we’d just go on like it never happened. They said, you’ll forget about it — like it was giving away a pair of shoes.”
Roy went on with her life, but there was never a moment she didn’t think about Martin.
“I never had any other children — it’s a psychological thing,” Roy said. “You’re made to feel you don’t deserve a child. They almost make you feel defective. So it was stuck in the back of my mind my whole life.”
Martin tried to search for his mother when he was around 11 years old.
“He got very, very close, but backed down, thinking it would damage his relationship with his adoptive family,” Roy said.
When she was around 55 years old, Roy decided to find her son — and eventually was reunited with Martin when he was 37. She discovered that he was adopted by a wonderful couple and has three sisters. Today, he is 48 and living in Massachusetts.
“Martin and I have been reunited for about 10 years now,” Roy said. “He’s been to Los Angeles a few times and we see each other every year and a half or so, and try to spend a week together.”
Over the years, Martin has sent her gifts, including flowers, bracelets and a coffee cup with the words: I’m a Mom — What’s Your Superpower?
“He also gave me a little trophy he bought on the Santa Monica Pier that says #1 Mother,” Roy said. “We don’t speak that often on the phone. But we know we are here.”
Roy continues to cope with the aftermath of what happened to her, and gains support from members of Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), which meets in Studio City on the second Saturday of every month at St. Michael’s and All Angels Church.
“It’s just a comforting place to go — you still end up crying like a baby but you’re releasing years of toxins,” Roy said. “These people know what you’re feeling because they have walked in your shoes.”
She also recommends two books. The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child, which clarifies the effects of separation from the birth mother on adopted children; and The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade.
Roy also started her own support group, Birth Mothers and Adoption Aftermath, which meets at the Simi Valley Senior Center on the third Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to noon.
“I just wish women my age wouldn’t stay in the closet — I wish they’d at least know it wasn’t our fault,” Roy said. “They made us think that we are loose women — almost like a prostitute. We have been conditioned our whole life to shut the fuck up and deal with it. We’re still hidden.”
The Girls Who Went Away
In 1968, Lydia Manderson was a 16-year-old student at Simi Valley High when she got pregnant by her boyfriend, Tony, who attended Royal High on the other side of town.
“I was not the only one,” remembered Manderson, 65, of Simi Valley. “There were a lot of us in Simi that got pregnant during high school and we were sent away.”
At the time, the way society viewed unwed pregnant mothers was anything but subtle.
“The way the culture was — it was unacceptable,” Manderson recalled. “You don’t bring a child home without being married. It was just shameful. You’d be the talk of the town. You’d be ostracized. Your family would be looked down upon.”
Manderson is one of several women from the Baby Scoop Era whose story appears in the book, The Girls Who Went Away. She was also interviewed by Barbara Walters on 20/20, and her voice can be heard in the documentaryA Girl Like Her, about the young women who became pregnant in the 1950s and ’60s and were banished to maternity homes to give birth.
In 2004, she wrote a study on the Nature of Infant Relinquishment: A Survey and Analysis, which she presented to the Commission on Human Rights at the United Nations in Geneva in 2005.
“When I did my study I sought out the foremost authorities in thought reform and even brainwashing,” she said. “These women have been shamed into silence and they’ve lived in silence their whole lives. But they have nothing to be ashamed of. That was done to them.”
Manderson was about six-months pregnant when she was sent to the Booth Memorial Maternity Group Home in Los Angeles.
“You’re at your most vulnerable point — you want to be with people who care about you and love you and are supporting you,” Manderson said. “I was 16 and I had not ever been away from home.”
Upon her arrival at the group home, she was given a number: 4552.
“You did not use your real name, and certainly your last name was never uttered,” she said. “To make it worse, you had a number and I still remember my number. When you think about numbering a young lady like that because she did something so bad — that stays with you.”
The conditions in the group home were “horrific” as she was forced to live with other girls — some of whom were gang members.
“It was a strange environment and it was really scary to me,” Manderson said. “I didn’t feel supported, I didn’t feel physically safe. I had been threatened by several of these girls.”
She lasted about two weeks at Booth Memorial before begging her father to come home.
“I told my father if he didn’t come and get me I was going to run away,” Manderson said.
Her dad brought her back to Simi Valley, where Manderson later gave birth to her son, Michael, at Simi Valley Hospital.
“I was in the hospital for five days and they wouldn’t let me see him,” she said. “They kept me in my bed, leaving the catheter in for five days so I could not leave the room. I was like tethered to the bed.”
The morning after she gave birth, still heavily sedated, “They woke me up and shoved papers in front of me,” Manderson said. “I was exhausted and medicated. They made me sign papers and told me it was so they could do medical things — that’s what I thought I was signing. They lied to so many women to get our signature on paper. And once you signed that paper, you had no rights.”
Michael was adopted after spending about two months in foster care. Manderson continued to move on in her life, but she never had another child.
“About 80 percent of us never had another child,” she said.
In 1999, Michael tracked his mother down when he was 30 years old. And after he was confirmed to be her son through a DNA test, the two started a new relationship as mother and son.
“My son lives in Portland with his wife and I have a 15-year-old granddaughter now, so they’re all in my life,” Manderson said. “We talk throughout the month and I’m very close to his wife. We love each other and we both feel so fortunate to have each other in our lives.”
Although she is “content at this point,” Manderson continues to help other Baby Scoop Era mothers by speaking out on the subject and through her continued research.
“They don’t call it Baby Scoop for nothing — there were well over 2.5 million women in the United States who lost their babies that way,” she said. “All kinds of things were said to us by the churches, doctors, social workers, parents … to get these young women to just surrender their babies.”
The children who had no voice
Many women from the Baby Scoop Era have remained “closeted” their whole lives — and they’re even hesitant to share this information with their therapists, according to a 69-year-old woman affected by the era who has asked to remain anonymous.
Today, she is a marriage and family therapist in Southern California and a member of Concerned United Birthparents.
Her experience occurred in 1965, when she was a 17-year-old student in high school. She came from a middle-class home, and discovered she was pregnant by her boyfriend, who was five years older than she was.
“I found myself on my own, trying to figure this out,” she remembered. “With a very strong feeling that this is my baby, I was going to figure this out somehow and no one is taking my baby from me.”
Eventually, it became clear that there was no way she would be able to support herself and a child.
“With great shame I let my parents know because I really had no resources,” she said. “My parents were very, very upset. They were really worried for me. What this said to them was no one’s ever going to marry their daughter.”
And even for their growing grandchild, “That child is a bastard” — that’s what it meant in 1965.
Her parents immediately took her to a Salvation Army home in Pasadena, but her location was never revealed.
“My family and friends were given an address in Texas because they were told I was doing something with horses in Texas,” she recalled. “They would send me letters to Texas, and the Salvation Army home would put them in another envelope and mail them to me in Pasadena. And the reverse would happen when I answered those letters.”
While she was adamant in the home that she was not going to give up her baby, she was constantly dissuaded. For instance, a social worker that visited her weekly told her that keeping her baby was selfish.
“She said, if I really loved this baby, I would surrender her.”
When her daughter was born, “I signed the papers and she was surrendered for adoption,” she said. “I went on with my life, went to college … and was being encouraged by everyone to just forget.”
Her daughter was in her late 30s when they finally reunited. And while their relationship is “cordial” — it’s also quite distant.
“I made it really clear that I’m available for whatever relationship she would like.”
The mothers affected by the Baby Scoop Era are not the only ones who suffer, she added.
“The only people who are not considered in this were the children who had no voice,” she said.
“For those who are struggling with issues around their own identity, they don’t know who they are and they don’t have anybody they can ask,” she said. “Most people don’t realize these adults who were adopted as children are not legally allowed access to their own birth certificates, and that’s really a serious problem.
Manderson noted that in 2013, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered a national apology to victims of forced adoption practices that were in place from the late 1950s to the 1970s.
“We say sorry to you, the mothers, who were denied knowledge of your rights, which meant you could not provide informed consent,” Gillard stated. “You were given false assurances. You were forced to endure the coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and in many cases illegal.”
Manderson believes that women in the U.S. also deserve an apology — at the very least.
“No one has ever apologized to us or acknowledged our loss,” she said. “Nobody ever acknowledged that this was a very traumatic event in our lives, and for the rest of our lives, as old as we are, it still has an effect.”
For more information on Concerned United Birthparents, go to www.cubirthparents.org or call 800-822-2777.