"birthmoms" Exploited By Adoption
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"The maternity home was a shame-filled prison"

by Karen Wilson Buterbaugh 

MY NAME IS KAREN I AM A MOTHER WHO LOST HER CHILD TO ADOPTION

   My steady boyfriend, an identical twin, had moved to Norfolk, Virginia at the beginning of our senior year of school. I stayed behind at Annandale High School in Annandale, Virginia. That November of 1965, I traveled with his twin brother's girlfriend by bus to visit for the weekend. That's when our daughter was conceived. I remember how happy we were to see each other. We were both so lost and lonely; he, having moved to a new city and a new high school, and me being left behind in my relatively new high school. (I was transferred from Woodson High School to Annandale at the beginning of my junior year.)

      After four months, I could no longer hide my pregnancy. I called my dad and he and my mom decided to take me out of school. I was to be placed in the home of strangers as an unpaid servant and babysitter. The first was in Northwest Washington, D.C. I lived in an old brownstone in their attic. The people had me serving mixed drinks when they entertained. I was miserable and threatened to run away so I was moved to a home in McLean with a very nice family.

      In the Florence Crittenton maternity home, I went by the name "Karen B." they said - to protect MY reputation and identity. What that meant to me at the age of 17, was that I should feel shame and guilt. The maternity home was a shame-filled prison.

      When I was seven months pregnant, I was admitted as a full time resident of FCH. I finished my last year of high school there. Our classroom was in the attic of the main building. A picture was taken of me in a gown of my high school colors (white and red). I lived in the Dorm with a few other girls, some younger some a little older. We had a living room area with a black and white TV, tables and chairs for playing cards and old books and magazines. We also were allowed to sign out in pairs of two to walk down the street a block or two to the grocery store or the MacArthur movie theater. We were not given any education about pregnancy, labor or delivery.

     The hospital section connected to the other two buildings so that we never had to go outside in order to move between the three buildings. The cafeteria was in the basement of the dorm as was the "clothing room" where we borrowed clothes to wear and then left them when we departed the Home for good. There was also a beauty parlor and an arts and crafts room. Our incoming and outgoing mail was read and censored. Visitors had to be approved. No boyfriends and no other friends were allowed. We had the use of a pay phone and could only get coins from the front office.     

      On July 21st, I was taken to George Washington University Hospital by cab and told to walk in and give my name and tell them I was from the maternity home. I was admitted and prepared to give birth. I was given so many drugs I remember very little of labor and nothing at all of the delivery. My daughter, Michelle Renee, was born the next morning at 2:30 a.m., weighed 8 pounds 1 ounce and had an APGAR score of 10. That same morning she and I rode together back to the maternity home in a taxi. We stayed together in the post partum ward for ten days. My baby girl was brought to me for each daytime feeding and then was returned to the "nursery" to be cared for by the nurses over night along with the other babies. At any given time, there were about ten to twelve new moms in the ward.     

On August 1, 1966, I took my daughter to Our Lady of Victory Chapel down the street to have her baptized. My aunt was her Godmother. It was our last day together. After my mom and Michelle's Godmother left, I was taken to an empty room with just a wooden rocking chair and my daughter was brought to me so we could say goodbye. An hour later, she was removed from my arms forever.

      Thirty years later, I searched for and found my daughter whose name is now Maria. She grew up not too far from Annandale and, at one point, we lived just within miles of each other. Maria said she had searched for me during that time and had wondered if she had sensed that I was nearby. A friend called her for me and told her who I was. We began writing by email and spoke by phone. On February 7, 1998 we met for the "second" time in our lives but for the first time as adults. It was indescribable!

      People are under an incredible misperception that young, unmarried mothers of the 50's, 60's and 70's "willingly gave away" their babies. Not true. We had no choice. In order for someone to choose, they must be given more than one option. We had only one. The maternity homes and adoption agencies, along with our misinformed and pressured parents, coerced us into relinquishing our babies. We were led like lambs to the slaughter. We were told to sign formal documents but we were not told to read them or asked if we understood them. Most of us never received copies of those papers. No lawyer was present at any time nor were we ever advised of our legal rights to sign or not to sign. We were told by the caseworkers that if we REALLY loved our baby we would give it up so it would have a mom and a dad and all of the things we couldn't afford to provide.

      The pain of relinquishment lasts a lifetime and affects every single aspect of our lives. I invite anyone who is interested in the maternity home experience or the experience of a mother who has relinquished a child to read "Wake Up Little Susie, Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade" by Rickie Solinger and "Fallen Women, Problem Girls" by Regina Kunzel. It is my personal mission to try to undo the damage done by erroneous and cruel messages given to society by so-called "adoption professionals" regarding women like me. If adoption has touched you in a personal way, please feel free to contact me.

maternity home

In 1966 I was a high school Senior. I was also pregnant.

maternity homes
Picture of brownstone
Florence Crittenton maternity home
front of FCH
maternity homes
Picture of me in cap and gown, eight months pregnant.
maternity hospital
Theodora Snow Memorial building

maternity homes
Michelle Renee and I

maternity homes

Our Lady of Victory Chapel

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