By Pamela Ditchoff
Liverpool, NS, Canada
A woman today that suspects she may be pregnant can go to the nearest drugstore and purchase a "kit." Within the hour she can confirm or deny her suspicion. The results may be joyful or tearful, or frightening. She has the choice of keeping the results completely to herself; she has the option of abortion, and she has the option of keeping her baby. And that fact that the result is not hinged to whether or not the woman is married is a revelation that our mothers and grandmothers can appreciate. You can appreciate it as well by reading Anne Petrie's, Gone to an Aunt's.
Until the late 1960's, a single girl who had "gotten herself pregnant" was "in trouble." She had brought shame on herself and her family. Keeping a baby without a husband was unthinkable. In most cases a single young woman would be sent away to a home for unwed mothers, where she would stay in secrecy until her baby was born and given up for adoption. Afterward, according to parents and institutions, she could return to her normal life as if nothing had happened.
Petrie takes us back into these homes for unwed mothers through the experiences of seven women, including the author, who were placed in maternity homes. They talk openly, some for the first time, about how they got pregnant, the reaction of their parents, friends and boyfriends. The women discuss how they managed to cope with rules and regulations – no last names, no talking about the past – and the promise of salvation that could come only through work and prayer.
The gap in social implications between then and now was for me most telling in Petrie's exploration of what happened after the young mother handed her baby over to a social worker for adoption. If she was in school, she could not return. She was without funds; she was dependent on her parents for food and shelter. In some cases, parents had kicked the girl out, so she had no home to which she could return. What she did have was an aching hole in her heart that could never be filled.
Gone to an Aunt's is written in a journalistic style that allows the reader to be as non-judgmental as the author. It is a moving and compassionate wake-up call that when we long for the fifties as an age of innocence, we need to consider and remember the hundreds of young mothers society forced into hiding.