I don’t remember how old I was when I learned my mother’s terrible secret. She had been “illegitimate.” She told only a handful of people in her lifetime. Even now, with my parents and grandparents dead, I feel uncomfortable writing about this.
Her mother had been infatuated with on older man in the neighborhood. She knew nothing about sex, but one time, when the two were alone, he had sex with her. She became pregnant, but he refused to acknowledge that he was the father of her child.
The family tried to keep the pregnancy and birth a secret. Mom developed rickets because she was kept in the house for her first couple of years. The family moved, and Mom was passed off as an orphan of World War I. My grandmother married the man I consider my grandfather, and they moved again, passing off Mom as their child.
A number of feminist issues that persist today resonate with me because of my family history. I’m irate that some conservatives want to use shame to try to keep unwed girls and women from becoming pregnant.
This is a case of conservatives forcing their values on others. It reinforces the idea that females must be sexual gatekeepers because they bear the brunt of the shame. People may never know that a man is an “unwed father.” Shaming contributes to the instability of families, and it can result in mental and physical harms to the children. Shaming has economic consequences.
Thinking of my grandmother, I wish all children could get comprehensive sex education. My grandmother could be a terror, but her unhappiness may have stemmed from feeling trapped and abused. That’s another story, but suffice it so say that she knew my grandfather could destroy her life and Mom’s if he had told the truth.
I long for a world in which women have more freedom in entering and exiting relationships, and no child is born into shame.