#47 ~ Without a Map

November 11, 2007 at 4:29 pm | Posted in Adoption, Beach, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Inspiration, LIfe, Memoir, Parenting Dilemmas, Post-Partum Depression, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity, Writing | 2 Comments
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Without a Map: A Memoir by Meredith Hall

I am angry. Correction. I am pissed. Really, I’m f*cking pissed off after reading this book. I am angry and hurt for Meredith in specific and for all women in general. That one woman should have lived through a teenage pregnancy is horrific to me. That this is by no means an isolated incident makes this even worse.

Meredith Hall became pregnant, at the age of 17. This happened after a non-conventional summer romance that ended with one sexual encounter on the beach before Anthony, five years her senior, returned to college. Meredith’s mother, who had been left to raise her three children as a single mother, also found love that summer with a hippy. After spending so many years using negative pressure to keep Meredith a virgin, she began staying out until all hours of the night herself. She, in fact, left Meredith alone at the beach most days while she worked with her new lover. Going from suffocating boundaries to nearly none at all made that summer confusing for Meredith. She ended up paying dearly for it.

Meredith’s family was seen as an upstanding family in their small New Hampshire town. After her father left, Meredith’s mother became extremely involved in her local Protestant church. Once it was discovered that she was pregnant, Meredith was permanently expelled from her school. She was then abandoned immediately by her church and her mother. When Meredith’s father asked what they were going to do about the pregnancy, her mother simply replied, “She can’t stay here.” Meredith went to live with her father and step-mother, but being forced to stay alone in the house (and mainly in her upstairs room) for the remainder of her pregnancy was of no comfort. There was no one for her to cry with. There was no one to explain what was happening to her body. She was not allowed to take an active role in the decision to place her unborn son for adoption – except she was forced to set up a meeting with the baby’s father by herself and get him to sign the adoption papers. I will not even get into the verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of the obstetrician who allowed an abusive family adopt the baby.

I read this portion of the book on the plane from Atlanta to Denver last week. It was enough to make me want to lash out at society. Sex is a shame that is only worn by women, and most especially when they get pregnant outside of socially acceptable settings. There was no shame for Meredith’s father when he left his family with almost nothing to settle down with another woman. Yet, no one could speak to or about Meredith because her unplanned pregnancy was so shameful. I could scream.

So, Meredith was told either directly or indirectly by everyone who was supposed to love her that she was a dirty, shameful person. One sexual act and your life is judged as unworthy of any respect. You are shunned by the rest of society. She was not even allowed to have a roommate at the alternative school she graduated from after the birth of her son. No one wanted her to have the opportunity to even share her experiences with another girl for fear of “infecting” the others. Yes, because this was all working out so well for Meredith, right? Wouldn’t every young woman want to sign herself up for a complete societal shunning? So, alone in her grief and full of shame, Meredith did a lot of wandering after she graduated. The relationships she became involved with were not (in my opinion) good enough for her. They were only good enough for a woman who thought she was tarnished and trash. The reactions to her pregnancy became a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is what happens when people and institutions only use principles to guide their choices and reactions instead of love.

I have the greatest respect for Meredith Hall. She ultimately discovered her own self-worth. She has raised two exceptional sons and has established a warm and familial relationship with her first son. Due to circumstances, she was not able to ever confront her parents about how they abandoned her when she needed them the most. Her mother developed MS. When she needed her children the most, Meredith did not abandon her. Although it was painful for her never to get the opportunity to even tell her mother how the shunning impacted her life, she was an ever faithful daughter. Even though her brother and sister’s families were always invited to her father’s house, Meredith was not allowed because of an argument with her step-mother. Still, she made a point of meeting with her father before he died to tell him that she loved him.

This memoir stirred up many personal things in my heart. I can only hope that I can forgive as Meredith did. She was able to do for her parents the very thing that they and her church failed to teach her by example.

Meredith, thank you for sharing your story.

To buy this book, click here.

#45 ~ The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn

November 7, 2007 at 2:21 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Reading, Religion | Leave a comment
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The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn by Janis Hallowell

The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn tells the story of Francesca, a young teenager from a broken home, who comes to believe the hype when a local homeless man makes his belief that she is the holy mother of a new savior. This is an interesting story that explores the nature of fantastical spiritual beliefs on a girl, her friend, her family, her neighbors, and her town.

There are many different themes that could be discussed here:

  • Single mothers and the struggle to raise children without losing oneself
  • Religious/spiritual fanatics
  • Schizophrenia and the homeless
  • Young girls cutting themselves
  • Phantom pregnancies

What I am choosing to discuss is the role of the parent when a teenage daughter becomes pregnant. Francesca believes that she is pregnant and her body is showing the physical signs, including morning sickness. Francesca lives at first with the fear of being pregnant, but this fear soon skews as she grows to believe that she has spiritual powers and that the life she is nurturing inside her womb is someone special.

Francesca’s mother, an atheist, at first overlooks the changes in her daughter’s body because she is shocked and overwhelmed at the role that religious fanatics are playing in her life. When Anne finally asks her and learns that Francesca is pregnant, she is doubly shocked. She immediately makes arrangements for a pregnancy test and abortion with her gynecologist. Francesca knows that her mother plans on getting her an abortion, but she has no intentions of letting that happen.

Had Anne forced her child to keep her child or even place the child for an adoption, she would have been portrayed as a villain. Although I did like her character, I found it equally wrong to push an abortion upon your child – even more so when you do so under the guise of “taking care of everything.” Yes, women have fought for the legal right to have an abortion, but does that mean that this should always be the plan of action when an unplanned pregnancy occurs? How is a forced abortion any better for women than forcing a woman to raise or place a baby for adoption?

So, what are the rights of pregnant teens or any other expectant mother who is suffering from a mental illness? Should the wishes of these mothers to abort or to carry a child to term be honored or should a parent or guardian be able to determine what is best? As the mother of two young daughters, this book gave me a lot to think about.

Although elements of the story line are not probable and seemingly dictated by the author’s agenda (gynecologist ends up getting shot by religious fanatic who turns against Francesca after he/she believes that an abortion has taken place), it was an enjoyable book with interesting characters.

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