Growing up in the Maritimes during the 1970s, it was common to hear it said of an unmarried mother that she “got herself pregnant,” a physical impossibility that placed the onus for the situation – its prevention and remedy – squarely upon females. The maternity-clothing models in the Simpsons and Eaton’s catalogues all sported wedding bands, a detail that didn’t appear in any other section. For most of human history, in all cultures, to be single and with child was to be disgraced. Parents of daughters everywhere lived in dread of the possibility.
In Shameless: The Fight for Adoption Disclosure and the Search for My Son, former Canadian politician Marilyn Churley uses her own experiences to examine how traditional attitudes toward pregnancy, illegitimacy, abortion, and adoption have scarred so many lives. As an Ontario New Democratic Party MPP from 1990 to 2005, Churley introduced five member’s bills regarding provincial adoption disclosure reform and was instrumental in bringing about the 2005 passage of Bill 183, the Adoption Information Disclosure Act.
Churley deftly outlines her successful search for the son she gave up for adoption, and takes a partisan approach to explain the arduous effort required to get Bill 183 passed. The book’s strength, however, is in her description of the sexual and cultural mores of mid-20th-century Canada. She deftly evokes time and place, and is spot on in her illustration of the ignorance, shame, and fear regarding sex during the baby boomers’ teenage years.
Churley describes 1968, the year she gave up her child for adoption, as “a time when hiding things and living a lie often seemed like a safer idea than telling people the truth.” Although her experience as an unwed mother is both ancient and common, her particular story needs to be heard by today’s children and parents. Shameless is the account of how one courageous woman overcame the narrow beliefs with which she grew up, and her message can help many others do the same.