Reviewing: “Without a Map, a Memoir” by Meredith Hall

The year was 1965; the place was a small town in New Hampshire. A 16 year old high school student with plans to go to college finds herself pregnant after a brief summer liaison. The ensuing unraveling of her life begins with the admission to school staff that indeed, she is pregnant. The swift reaction of her parents, her family, her church, her community is unexpected. She finds herself shunned, sent away and given no option but adoption for her baby. A casualty of “pretend it never happened,” Meredith Hall spent the next 21 years a lost and wandering soul. Although she never uses the word “forgiveness,”  she does recount the years of rebuilding her life. 

This intense memoir tells in poignant prose the extent to which an erasure of those nine months of her life affected who she became. And who she became is a strong female writer, a voice of that era caught in the cusp of social transition. It’s as if one of Anne Fessler’s interviewees in “The Girls Who Went Away” published in 2007 stepped out of the book to tell her personal story.

Halfway through reading this book, I did the math. Meredith Hall was 16 in 1965; so was my little sister, who also got pregnant that year.

My parents — with Sis in tow — appeared unannounced at the office to take me to lunch. Overjoyed to see them, but wary because they had never driven 50 miles to meet me for lunch, I drove the family car off the lot of the business where I worked as a secretary. In the backseat, my mother burst into tears. “Your sister has to get married.” “Be careful,” said my dad, “she’s driving.” (Like I couldn’t see this coming, I thought to myself.) My sister piped up: “But we wanted to get married anyway. This way, we just hurried it up a little.”

My mother was mortified. Raised on ‘what will people think,’ a generation of girls had come to put our parents’ reputation first — their standing in the community. “What must her mother think” my mother would say every time another peer got married and had an eight pound premature baby less than nine months later. “Her Mother!” I would silently think to myself. “What about HER!”

It’s hard to remember the binding morality of those days. Teenagers today hardly believe those seering days of control by image, although as I did private interviews of prospective adoptive parents through the years I would hear them say, “I never misbehaved. I wouldn’t have dared to; it would have killed my mother!”

So, are we better off as a society without that crushing burden of protecting our families’ reputation? Is the trend of pride about being a parent at 16, at 15, even younger — a healthier attitude? What about the fatherless boys and girls growing up wondering what they did to drive away an absent parent?  When I started doing pregnancy counseling in 1979, in my mind the student had four options: marriage, abortion, adoption, single parenthood. “I’m too young to get married,” my startled students would say, realizing the magnitude of sustaining a relationship over the years. Why didn’t they also think, “I’m too young to be a parent”? But they didn’t. These young women would blythly step into parenthood, more often than not to be disappointed by the friends who promised to ‘help’ them. I began to suggest to my clients: Ask them How will they help? Will they provide a ride to the 24 hr pharmacy to pick up ear-ache medicine at 3 AM? Will they buy formula for your baby? Will they provide diapers? Shoes?

The teen pregnancy recidivism rate is high; I pressed onward, informing the students of their options. Maybe in a few years one would say to me, “I remember you. You came to my school with a panel of teens who had placed their babies for adoption. I didn’t want to listen to you then.” And she would drop her eyes to her hands in her lap and say, “I never thought I would be where I am today.” She would explain how deserted and alone she felt with the decision of what to do with a second, a third or a later baby. All their ‘helpers’ were going on with their lives; had new boyfriends, were going away to school — these young women had learned that ‘helping’ meant ‘come and talk to me when you’re blue.’

The decision of adoption is still a lonely path. Getting to know other women who have made the same choice somewhat eases the pain, but it’s still an isolating event. In my new career as counselor to people with adoption-related issues, I listen as women in their 30s, 40s and even older — recall the baby they never met. As they prepare to search, as they wonder if they have the audacity to interrupt a life they said goodbye to years ago, I encourage them to open the door and seek the child, now grown. I have a new quote for them, from Meredith Hall:  “He looked for me.  I didn’t realize I should have been the one looking for him. He needed to know I loved him at least that much!”

And onward we travel that path, finding a few friends along the way to share the journey.

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2 Responses to “Reviewing: “Without a Map, a Memoir” by Meredith Hall”

  1. Abbey Bridgeford Says:

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  2. bethkoz Says:

    Hello, Abbey. Thank you for your comment. I will PM you and hope to read more of your posts.

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