For thirty years, Barbara J. has been searching for the child she gave up for adoption early in the 1940s. The records of the adoption are closed, so there is little hope that she will ever find her son.
“I’ll probably go to my grave without ever knowing anything about him” Barbara says sadly. “I can only hope he has been blessed with loving parents and that he has had a good life.”
Was Barbara wrong in surrendering her baby for adoption so many years ago? There is no easy answer to this question. Adoption has always been – and will continue to be – an obvious, intelligent choice in some circumstances. On the other hand, there are many young single women who are highly capable of raising their own children. Only one thing seems certain: making such a choice is agonizingly difficult and whatever decision a young woman makes, the emotional price can be staggering. In the words of Sister Margaret Laffey, Executive Director of Rosalie Hall: “Our goal is to educate our young mothers to enable them to evaluate their future in a sound informed way. By reflecting God’s love and compassion, I believe we are helping to remove any uncertainties that might lead to poor decisions.”
If Barbara J. had the benefit of such compassionate guidance, she may not have been so emotionally torn by her decision. Although the arguments surrounding her ability to parent at such a young age would be the same today as they were fifty years ago, her rights and feelings would be far more vigorously defended in today’s society.
I must confess to having held the belief that most teenagers are not capable of raising a child. That was my sincere conviction – until I visited Scarborough’s Rosalie Hall and talked with some of their young mothers and mothers-to-be.
In their information materials, Rosalie Hall is described as a community support centre that provides a range of services to young single women and their children. But what I heard and saw within their walls make that brief description seem far from adequate.
From the moment a young woman enters Rosalie Hall, whether she has chosen to reside there during her pregnancy or simply access their services while living at home, she has the benefit of the care and guidance of a dedicated team of counselors, teachers and medical professionals.
I was tremendously impressed with the valuable training each young woman receives in preparation for motherhood. It occurred to me that every expectant or new mother would benefit enormously from the nutrition and childcare lessons that are part of the Rosalie Hall program.
The individual counseling that each young woman receives enables her to review all her options calmly and rationally and make an informed decision concerning the future of her baby. Whether she chooses to place the baby for adoption or raise the child herself, the staff of Rosalie Hall support her decision in the most meaningful ways.
Among the most serious difficulties that the young mothers often face is the lack of opportunities for employment. Because they will have a far better chance with a high school education, Rosalie Hall offers an accredited secondary school program and an on-site Infant/Toddler centre that enables a new mother to focus on her studies, without concern for the child. Many of the young women finish high school and go on to post-secondary education, thanks to a number of scholarships offered to successful students.
It was during my tour of the school that I realized how courageous and determined these young mothers really are. It takes a lot of courage to strap on a book bag, pick up a diaper bag, put your baby in a stroller and head for school. But that is precisely what many of them do.
Even those who once disliked school now make it their first priority. In the words of one of the young mothers I interviewed: “I know I’m young and single. I know it won’t be easy but if I have my high school diploma I’ll have a better chance of providing a decent future for my daughter. I believe in myself and I know I can do it!”
A lot of the credit for the courage and optimism with which these young women face the future goes to the counselors and teachers at Rosalie Hall. They work with each one – individually and collectively – to teach the life skills and provide the tools they will need to be effective parents and productive members of our society. Evidence of their success can be seen in the uncommon high degree of assurance and self esteem exhibited by many of the young women. I couldn’t help but think of myself at the same age and, frankly, my level of maturity and self assurance would have paled in comparison.
Yet, in spite of all I saw, I was curious about the long term results of the Rosalie Hall program. In response to my question about past clients I was treated to a visual history of the Hall in the form of their “family wall.” It’s an entire wall that’s been devoted to pictures of families of staff members and former residents and community clients.
There were old, fading pictures of new mothers with their babies. Beside them, there were more recent pictures of the way the children look today, many years later. Almost every family pictured had grown to include fathers and siblings.
I spent a long time looking at those pictures. For me, they were an unimpeachable testimony to the value of the services that Rosalie Hall provides – and the right of a single mother to raise her own child.
If Barbara J. could have had the type of support offered by Rosalie Hall, her decision might have been very different. But, fifty years ago, she would still have had to contend with a great deal of societal prejudice.
Thankfully, times have changed and many hearts – including my own – have softened to the plight of young, single mothers. There will always be people who believe that they should not, under any circumstances, keep their babies. And indeed, there are cases when adoption is far more advisable. But I am of the opinion that many of these young women can and do make wonderful parents and I salute Rosalie Hall for helping them achieve that goal!