Finding Me in a Paper
Searching for Both Sides
by Sally Howard
Gateway Press, Inc.,
Reviewed by Barbara
book is a first-person account of the author, who is both an adoptee and
a birth parent. The title refers to the fact that she was literally left
in a paper bag on someones porch, as a newborn infant, in the winter
of 1939. Brought inside by the family who lived in that house, she was taken
to the hospital, where the nurses named her Judy. After several weeks, when
no trace of her birth parents could be found, a dentist and his wife, who
had read about her in the paper, adopted her and gave her the name Sarah
Throughout her life, from the time she was
told of her adoption at age five, Sally, as she was called, tried to find
out about her origins. Later, as a young adult, she conceives a daughter
through rape, and relinquishes her with a broken heart. This book, then,
is the story of both her searchesfor her own birth parents, and for
her birth daughter.
The author learns a great deal about herself
in the process, even though she never learns all the facts about her origins.
This is a compelling book to read, with all the twists and turns as she attempts
to find out her true history.
It is also a compelling argument against anonymous
baby abandonment. In 1939, a young, single mother had few options, and must
have been terribly desperate and frightened when she dressed that tiny baby,
wrapped her in a blanket and put her in the bag, and deposited her on that
porch. In those days, there was no public assistance for single parents,
no day-care, no WIC program; only shame and social disapproval for having
a child outside of marriage.
It is difficult to compare that womans
situation with society today, hut the abandoned persons situation is
little different, growing up without knowledge of birth family, medical history,
and only a supposition of ethnic identity.
Sallys pain as she searches is not just
for her birth mothers name or identity, but the yearning to know who
she is and why she was abandoned. Her pain is deepened by her own reluctant
relinquishment of her daughter. Her grief is compounded by guilt. Only her
persistence persuaded a nurse to give her the barest of information, that
she had given birth to a daughter.
The hospitals policy was that relinquishing
mothers would feel less pain if they were unconscious for the delivery, given
no information about their child, not even the sex, and certainly not allowed
to see this baby they had carried all those months. In 1959, and even much
later, this was the policy of many hospitals and so-called unwed
While this is not a happily-ever-after
storyfor either of Sally Howards searchesit is an important
book for reading by anyone searching, and should be read by anyone seeking
to understand the impacts of the closed-adoption system, closed records,
and anonymous child abandonment. Such policies were originally put in place
to alleviate someones personal pain, but the results have been more
pain, not less.
Excerpted from the April 2004
edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2004 Operation Identity