Adoptive parents and children may wonder about the real history of adoption. Closed adoptions were the norm until about the mid-1970s. Before then, teenage and unmarried pregnant women were usually scandalized, sent to homes for unwed pregnant girls and women or to other relatives. They were expected to give the baby up for adoption once it was born. Though premarital sex was actually quite common, even discussing childbirth was considered taboo and scandalous. Simultaneously, effective birth control wasn’t around yet, abortion was dangerous and illegal.

What is less well-known, however, is that those adoptions were often very cruelly forced. Author Gabrielle Glaser documented one such unfortunate case in a biography titled American Baby: A Mother, A Child and the Shadow History of Adoption.

American Baby centers on a woman named Margaret Erle who got pregnant at the age of 16 in 1961. As was common at that time, her family became enraged and sent her to a home like the one described above. The day her son was born, she wasn’t even allowed to hold him and the social workers threatened her with prison unless she signed her parental rights away.

Margaret went on to live a decent life. She eventually married her son’s father and ended up having several more children with him. However, she always wondered what became of her firstborn son. Simultaneously, David always wondered about the true story of his birth and adoption. What neither of them knew was that he was actually living just a few blocks away from Margaret.

Convinced that they were acting in everyone’s best interests, adoption agencies and other related organizations teamed up with doctors and made all kinds of unethical deals. They basically involved “assessments” that were based on some of the pseudoscientific bias of the time, coercing the girls and women to give up their babies immediately after birth. From there, they would present fabricated stories about the babies’ births to the adoptive parents to convince them to adhere to a closed adoption. In almost all cases, the adoptive parents felt obligated to comply.

Even though open adoptions are the rule now, many more adoptive adult children are still having to go through the courts to open their adoption records.