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Old 05-13-2019, 01:26 PM
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Those around before "single mothers" were commonplace: Did you ever know an "unwed mother"?


I mean back in the olden days, when having a baby without being married was considered a disgrace?

There was a 15 year old girl in my neighborhood who went away to care for a "sick relative." She came back six months later with a newborn baby, claiming the relative had died in childbirth, and her family was taking in the child. We all nodded our heads and did the wink*wink thing, pretty sure the 15 year old had had the child.

Did any of you older Dopers have an experience like that?
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Old 05-13-2019, 01:41 PM
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when i was a kid there was an older kid here and there whos male donor "died in vietnam" although there was never any trace of the father in the house ......... in certain parts of the country if someone like that showed up the kid was probably related to us somehow ....
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Old 05-13-2019, 02:01 PM
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EDIT: I realized that my contribution was not really what the OP was after. Sorry.

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Old 05-13-2019, 02:08 PM
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A friend of mine, who's about my age (so, born in the mid-1960s) was born in England, to English parents. My friend was born fairly shortly after his parents were married; his parents then had two more kids, as well.

About a decade ago, his parents finally revealed to him (and his siblings) that they had another, older sibling. My friend's mother had gotten pregnant while she and her future husband (my friend's father) were dating. They weren't in a position to get married at that time, and she gave the child (a daughter) up for adoption.

In fact, the only reason that it was even revealed to the family at that point, ten years ago, was that the daughter had gone on a quest to find her birth mother, and had finally located my friend's parents.
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Old 05-13-2019, 02:29 PM
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Small town Wi, in 1979 a (senior) classmate of mine got pregnant. Carried the child to term, attending class all the way. The father was there, too. Funny thing, no one seemed to care one bit. I can't say if the girls talked behind her back, but I never heard anything, whispered or out loud.

They never got married. I think both still live there. Kid's pushing 40 by now. Wonder what became of her.

Maybe we were on the front lines of the tolerance revolution, I don't know.
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Old 05-13-2019, 03:36 PM
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Yeah, quite a few. In fact, my mother was one. And, although I didn't know it at the time, a number of women my mother's age, and even her mother's age were single mothers. While I know there's the stereotype of the family being 'disgraced' from such an atrocity, I never personally heard any such gossip. Usually there wasn't much to gossip about. Everybody knew who the baby daddy was, and in general the grandparents still wanted to give the child the best opportunity possible.
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Old 05-13-2019, 03:59 PM
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Obviously I didn't know them 'back in the day', but my grandmother's cousin, so... first cousin twice removed(?) was born to a single mother, back in the '40s. She was adopted, by a family who then moved next door to my Great-grandparents, which is probably the only reason anyone talked about it, as Great Grandpa thought it was a good plan to tell his son that the girl next door was actually his cousin before they got too close.

In later years the family admitted the relationship more openly- from what my Great Uncle said, possibly because she looked so much like them that Great Grandpa admitting that his sister had a child out of wedlock was better than people thinking he had an affair with the neighbour... I've never heard anything else about what happened to her birth mother over it all though.

The child emigrated to New Zealand as an adult, but I met her on a visit to the UK a few years back, when she came to my Great Uncle's 80th birthday. They're the only two of that generation left now.
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Old 05-13-2019, 06:02 PM
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There were at least 3 girls in my early 60's high school class who got pregnant and left school before graduation. Two of them were not really surprising, but the third was a "good girl" who was academically near the top of the class. The first two have been through multiple marriages, but the third is still married to the original father.

Stuff happens.
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Old 05-13-2019, 06:18 PM
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I certainly knew of "shotgun weddings," including two girls who were classmates.

At my high school graduates there was a rumor that five graduates were pregnant, plus an underclassman (woman.)
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Old 05-13-2019, 06:42 PM
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There was a high school friend of mine who ended up with a child. I think the father was never in the picture.

It was after I graduated, so I didn't know the details, but she raised her daughter on her own.
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Old 05-13-2019, 06:43 PM
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I just found this out on my last trip to the States last year, but when my mother's aunt got married she and her new husband quickly moved to Las Vegas with her husband, where they discovered that she had a "honeymoon baby." The baby was born nine month later, but for a long time the aunt was too sick before she was well enough to come back to Idaho to bring her baby.

Skip forward many years, and my mother's cousin went to obtain a copy of his birth certificate so he could get a passport, only to be told that no records of this birth existed in the county he was born. Finally, he discovered that he was actually born several months earlier than what his mother had claimed.

He died very young, in his 40s, and his wife ďoutedĒ her mother-in-law by having his real birthday listed at his funeral, which the aunt took offense at.

My sister got pregnant in her teens in the late 70s, and she went to live with our aunt in another city. She gave up the baby for adoption. It was supposed to be a closed adoption, but on one of the papers she had to sign, the adopting familyís name was listed. She later tracked down the girl but has never contacted her, instead just following her on Facebook.
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Old 05-13-2019, 07:20 PM
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There was a girl who rode my school bus in middle school who had a baby. She was in my grade and the baby's father (who also rode the bus with us) was in the next grade up. He was kind of a "bad boy".

I don't remember having any negative opinions about her, though. Could be I did at the time and I just don't remember. I do remember that she impressed me as being pretty smart and "grown up". I don't know what happened to her.

There were a couple of other girls that I went to school with who ended up having babies while we were still in school.

My oldest sister wasn't married when she had her first kid. She wasn't a teen and her boyfriend wasn't a neglectful layabout. But they didn't have a lot of money. This would have been in the mid 90s, so I don't know if this counts as "back in the day". My parents weren't thrilled but I don't think they saw it as a "disgrace" (well, maybe a little). They got eventually got married. Their marriage lasted 23 years.
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Old 05-13-2019, 08:37 PM
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A high school friend of mine got pregnant and disappeared for a semester. Her baby was raised by her parents, as her baby brother.
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Old 05-13-2019, 09:33 PM
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I knew a girl had a kid in the 80's when she was 14. She stayed in school: the nuns were supportive.

Going back further, before my time, there were a lot of single mothers in Aus and France and England in the 1920's, and a fair number in the 1950's. I wonder if the whole "unwed mother" thing was really a feature of 1960's America, rather than "before".
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Old 05-13-2019, 09:43 PM
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Going back further, before my time, there were a lot of single mothers in Aus and France and England in the 1920's, and a fair number in the 1950's. I wonder if the whole "unwed mother" thing was really a feature of 1960's America, rather than "before".
There was absolutely a tremendous stigma for being an unwed mother in Ireland, which was, of course, historically a very conservative (and devoutly Catholic) country. There were workhouses (the "Magdalene Laundries") in which "fallen women" -- including prostitutes, but also including women who had gotten pregnant out of wedlock -- were effectively imprisoned. Some of the laundries operated well into the middle part of the 20th Century.

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Old 05-13-2019, 09:47 PM
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My Mothers older sister had a baby boy. She was never married. She raised the child with help from grandparents. He was the family bastard and not because of his birth issues. He was a hateful man, all in all.
(Would've been in the 50s)

Last edited by Beckdawrek; 05-13-2019 at 09:48 PM.
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Old 05-13-2019, 09:52 PM
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Too late to edit:

This article in the Independent discusses homes for unwed mothers in England during the 1950s, and describes the social stigma that such mothers faced at that time. It describes young women who were disowned by their families, and pressured to give their babies up for adoption after they gave birth -- though, to be fair, the article also notes that unmarried cohabitation was not uncommon in England in the 19th Century.
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Old 05-14-2019, 09:25 AM
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My dad's oldest sister "had" to get married in the 40s, and many years later, my mom told me that my uncle was not my cousin's father. I think that might explain why that aunt and her family lived so far from the rest of us. I expect my grandparents were none to thrilled with the situation.

My youngest sister got pregnant her senior year in high school (1982/83) and gave up her son for adoption because my parents made it clear that they would not raise the child, and my sister was too immature to do it herself. I'd considered adopting him, but I was in the Navy at the time, about to deploy to Sicily.

About 3 years ago, she finally met her son (and granddaughter) and shortly thereafter, the whole family met him and his adoptive parents. We're all FB friends, tho I think my mom is still a bit embarrassed by it all, staunch Catholic that she is.
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Old 05-14-2019, 09:35 AM
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I mean, I was born in 1967 so 'back in the day' has its limits but a few.

1. A friend of my older sister was pregnant at 15 by another 15 year old. She had the baby and finished high school. Both sets of parents kept them from marrying while in high school. I don't know if they ever did. This would have been about 1976 or so.

2. A friend of my mom in the mid-70s had a kid my age. Not only a single mother - if she was my mom's age she would have been in her mid-to-late 20s when she had him - but he was biracial. Even in progressive Los Angeles that raised eyebrows at the time. I never though about it. I just knew he was kid my age with my same first - and rare at the time - name.

3. My now-deceased former Mother-in-Law. When we were cleaning out her home to help her move to a retirement community we found a letter from an adoption agency in LA telling her how the baby she'd given up had found a good home. A picture was included. She would have been about 33 or so in 1964 when she had the baby. It cost her a career - she was a nurse in the USAF and they booted her - and she had to do some quick job shifting to keep things together. Still, she did it.

So, three tales of unwed mothers in the 1960s and 1970s. Three women and three very different stories.

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Old 05-14-2019, 09:47 AM
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I don't know what era you are considering "the olden days". If 1978 qualifies then I was one of those single mothers. I got pregnant in the winter of my junior year. I was able to finish the school year. I'm not sure how many of the kids knew other than my friends that I told. No one ever said anything to me. My boyfriend had already graduated and was in community college. Our daughter was born at the end of September. So I could have gone back to regular school, but at that point, I didn't feel like I fit in. I felt I didn't have anything in common with the other kids. I had already grown up. There was a teen parent school in town that I attended for senior year. I finished up my credits in January. I was able to graduate with my regular high school class in the spring.

I had a very supportive family, although my dad was not happy in the beginning. That was probably the hardest part of the whole thing.........telling my dad. But it didn't take long for him to come around. His granddaughter was the apple of his eye and she loved her Papa. My daughter and I lived with my parents until I finished business school and got a job. My boyfriend lived with his mom until he finished school and got a job. We got married when our daughter was 3 and bought our first home. We're still together 37 years later. Our daughter will be 41 (!!!) this fall. She has 4 kids of her own.

We survived it. But if it wasn't for my wonderful family, it would have been really hard.
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Old 05-14-2019, 02:12 PM
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There were at least 3 girls in my early 60's high school class who got pregnant and left school before graduation. Two of them were not really surprising, but the third was a "good girl" who was academically near the top of the class. The first two have been through multiple marriages, but the third is still married to the original father.

Stuff happens.
Yeah, a girl I was in school with got pregnant at 13. She and the boy married. She didn't return to our school until junior year in high school. She became a cheerleader and was homecoming princess in senior year. She was smart, and they had lots of family support.

I was a bit surprised at my 20th reunion to see they were still together. They'd both finished college and had a couple more kids a few years later.

Sometimes it works.

Edited to add: the year she got pregnant would have been '66 or '67.

Last edited by carrps; 05-14-2019 at 02:16 PM. Reason: forgot to mention date
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Old 05-14-2019, 02:53 PM
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When my grandmother was in her dotage and in a nursing home, it was difficult to get her to talk coherently about anything current, but she was fine about things that happened fifty years ago. Unfortunately, she had no filter, and did not consider that she was talking to her grandson. I learned lots of things about her side of the family that I did not necessarily need to hear. Being pregnant outside of wedlock wasn't even the worst of it.

And my first girlfriend was being raised by her grandmother. That would have been around 1968 or 1969, and was still considered scandalous. Only one pregnancy in my high school class that I am aware of. She raised the baby on her own, also with her family's help (her father had died). Don't know what became of any of them.

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Old 05-14-2019, 03:08 PM
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Oh my goodness yes. I graduated from a Catholic girls' high school in 1966. Getting pregnant before/without marriage was THE worst thing that could happen to a girl. The boy? He wasn't in as much trouble as she was. After all, it was a girl's job to say NO and keep her knees firmly together. Marriage was required and if no marriage then the baby was given up for adoption. No ifs ands or buts.

I know a story [names redacted]... a woman a few years older than me told me about 15 years ago. She went to New York City after high school--early 1960s-- got a job, went to a party and met an up and coming songwriter/poet a bit older than she. They had a two-week relationship and she got pregnant. She told him, but he wasn't interested. Turns out he had several such children scattered around and he wasn't interested in them either. Her parents sent her to a home for unwed mothers and she gave the baby up for adoption. The father went on to become a living legend and a household name, a name you would absolutely recognize. Decades after this happened my friend searched out the child, a boy-- now a man-- and formed a relationship with him. Then they had some kind of falling-out and lost touch. The end.

So yes, I've known an "unwed mother."

What I can't figure out is how the stigma of having a baby before/without marriage has completely vanished in mainstream society in only a couple of generations.
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Old 05-14-2019, 03:33 PM
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I was pregnant at 16.
Was in a home for unwed mothers for a few months.
Then surrendered my child for adoption.
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Old 05-14-2019, 03:36 PM
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A girl in the grade above me had a baby in middle school. She "went away" for a semester, and no one really spoke of it.

This was in the mid-1980s.
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Old 05-14-2019, 04:04 PM
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My mother was 15 when she got pregnant with my oldest sibling. That was in the '50s. She went on to get married to my father and have 6 kids with him. They divorced and she hooked up with my step-dad. She had a kid with him, fought all the time, then they got divorced. Common law marriage was still a thing in Iowa in the '70s. She ended up staying with him until he passed away.

As for the oldest sibling's father there were stories of "he went away to the war and died in combat". Which war was never specified but I guess it was the Korean War. I'm sure at some point my mother told that sibling more information but they have never shared that with the rest of us.
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Old 05-14-2019, 04:20 PM
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In the late 70's, I took a summer English class and one of my classmates was taking the class so she could graduate early. She was an A student and said that she didn't want to have to go through her senior year during her pregnancy. She never talked about getting married or who the father was.
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Old 05-14-2019, 04:48 PM
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. . .The father went on to become a living legend and a household name, a name you would absolutely recognize. . . .
Let the guessing begin!
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Old 05-14-2019, 04:51 PM
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Let the guessing begin!
Given the timing, and the term "songwriter/poet," I might suspect that his name would rhyme with Rob Nylan.
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Old 05-14-2019, 05:49 PM
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Given the timing, and the term "songwriter/poet," I might suspect that his name would rhyme with Rob Nylan.
I thought Reonard Nohan
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Old 05-14-2019, 05:53 PM
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Sorry, guess until you turn blue, but I'm not sayin'.
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Old 05-14-2019, 05:54 PM
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I thought Reonard Nohan
Reading "Nohan"'s entry on Wikipedia, it sounds like he wasn't in New York at that time. He'd been there for a while in the mid '50s, going to school at Columbia, before returning to Montreal.
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Old 05-14-2019, 05:57 PM
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Sorry, guess until you turn blue, but I'm not sayin'.
Oh, I wouldn't expect you to. Just idle speculation.
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Old 05-14-2019, 09:50 PM
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though, to be fair, the article also notes that unmarried cohabitation was not uncommon in England in the 19th Century.
I worked with a man in the 80's who's grandmother told them they were in for a surprise when they finalized her affairs. The only surprise they found was that there was no marriage on record...
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Old 05-15-2019, 09:01 AM
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What I can't figure out is how the stigma of having a baby before/without marriage has completely vanished in mainstream society in only a couple of generations.
Because in the 1960's women got more rights, and pointed out the total hypocrisy of blaming only the woman for getting pregnant. It takes two, you know. Yet women were sluts and men were studs. Go figure.

Several pregnant single women started suing the employers who fired them, and men started getting involved in child rearing, with or without marriage. The term "unwed mother" became "single mother" and "single father."
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Old 05-15-2019, 09:58 AM
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Several pregnant single women started suing the employers who fired them, and men started getting involved in child rearing, with or without marriage. The term "unwed mother" became "single mother" and "single father."
In the early 1960s, my mother was an airline stewardess. At that time, the airlines had policies which let them fire stewardesses for getting pregnant (and for getting married, as well).

While my mother left the industry when she got married, several of her roommates (who were also stewardesses) were involved in the lawsuits against the airline industry to get those policies thrown out; they wound up becoming career flight attendants, even through marriage and motherhood.
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Old 05-15-2019, 01:05 PM
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My mother, although a political conservative, was a very liberal thinker when it came to women's rights in the 60's and 70's. She provided haven for a couple single women who needed help for the final parts of their pregnancies. This included my aunt who was a respected single career woman in a small New England town. She lived with her mother until her death. Somewhere out there I have a long lost cousin who was given up for adoption at birth.

My mother was a free spirit who joined the Air Force and left home, shocking behavior in her mother's eyes. She herself got pregnant and had to quit the military (to the day she died she could never get over seeing pregnant military officers - they weren't allowed in her day). Because she then married my father, also an Air Force officer, she lived away from her home town so our house was a safe haven from the gossip of the nosy neighbors in town, and my mother just happened to be an obstetrics nurse.

My mother was also the only one in her family to show support for a cousin of hers who fell in love and got pregnant with a black man. Except for my mother her entire uptight New England family disowned her for such a disgraceful thing! (They did get married, but I don't know if that wasn't just as bad in her family's eyes.)

Last edited by Big_Norse; 05-15-2019 at 01:06 PM.
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Old 05-15-2019, 01:28 PM
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I guess I should add my contribution to the discussion. I was born in 1963 when my mom was 19. She was very open to the fact that she and my dad had a civil marriage first and then had a Catholic wedding to satisfy the religious members of mom's family. It wasn't until I was a teenager, reading through the baby books that mom kept for me and my brother (fantastic nostalgia!) and saw that in one of the books (mine, I think) she had written in the date of their marriage, a year before my birth. And then crossed it out and wrote another marriage date about two months before my birth. That was when I realized they had a "shotgun" wedding. Because of me.

I have always liked having such a young mother. I remember when I was around 6, she would put her hair in ponytails and lip-sync to a 48-rpm record of "Hold your Head Up" (by Argent) played on 78-rpm. Later, we shared a love of rock and roll, and she was always a liberal/progressive and very supportive parent.

Also my aunt, mom's youngest sister, got pregnant in high school. I was about 5 or 6 at the time, and remember her being huge and living with us for a few months. I was too young to understand any conversation around her situation but she seemed to move out on her own after my cousin Todd was born, and was a single mother for many years before she finally married a nice man. I don't remember anybody saying anything critical of her, though. She was family, that's all.

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Old 05-15-2019, 02:16 PM
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I worked with a man in the 80's who's grandmother told them they were in for a surprise when they finalized her affairs. The only surprise they found was that there was no marriage on record...
There was a old man whose wife of many, many years had died, and whose 3 sons rarely visited unless they needed money, but it was his 80th birthday, and he got word to them that he really hoped they could come over for dinner on his big day.

His first son arrived and said, "Hi Dad, Happy Birthday, I wanted to get you something, but I have been really busy lately, but I know you understand." and then helped himself to a beer from his Dad's fridge.

The next son comes in and says, "Happy Birthday, Pop, I went to the store and picked you up a bottle a few nights ago, but I ended up drinking it myself, but I know you get that it is the thought that counts, right?" and then sat down and started fixing himself a sandwich.

The youngest son gets there last, and says "Dad, good to see you, I meant to buy you a gift for your birthday, but I have been chasing after this hot 19 year-old stripper, and all of my money has been going to her, if you know what I mean, but I know you don't mind!" and then starts helping himself to the spread on the table.

So the old man stands up and says, "Boys, there is something I need to tell you, I have been waiting until you were old enough, and it is long past time. You see, your mother, God rest her soul, and I, well, we never got officially, legally married in all those years, we were going to, but somehow, we just never got around to it."

His shocked sons, in unison, manage to splutter out, "You and Mom weren't married?!? Does that mean, we're, we're, B......?"

"Yep, and damn cheap ones, to boot!"
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Old 05-16-2019, 12:19 PM
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2 high school girl friends disappeared after finding they were pregnant. As we had been friends, their parents asked me what I knew, which of course, was nothing. IDK if they ever turned up. Fear of parents, so sad, this was the very early 70's.
  #41  
Old 05-16-2019, 01:08 PM
MeanJoe is offline
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My mother got pregnant with me in 1968 in a small and mostly Catholic town in rural PA. I was born in April of 1969. She was not forced to give me up for adoption but in that environment getting pregnant out of wedlock was strongly looked down upon. She left the Catholic Church over the comments made publicly during mass by the priest and it is hard to believe a "Man of God" would be so cruel. Only one priest in her parish during her pregnancy treated her like a decent human being and she gave me my middle name after him.

My mother was also a child of an unwed pregnancy. She was born in 1950 in a home for unwed mothers in Pittsburgh and around the age of 4 was adopted along with 3 other orphans (all brothers). Although she has never been able to identify her birth mother (records sealed), she has learned she has a sibling born there a few years earlier.
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  #42  
Old 05-16-2019, 06:38 PM
dorvann is offline
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Two of my older sisters had babies as teenagers in the 80s. My parents ending up with custody with most oldest sister's child.

My parents did watch my other sister's child a lot but she always retained custody. It was her senior year of high school so it scuttled her plans to go to college. She ended up having another baby 3 years later as well.
  #43  
Old 05-18-2019, 05:01 PM
Grim Render is offline
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In Norway, there seems to have been a lot in the generation born in the 60s. I knew 3 people among my peers born outside of marriage. One scandalously early, one was raised by grandparents, one had a stepdad who had met and married his mother after he was born. Also a couple of people whose parents had married really young as a result of pregnancy.

During the 70s, there were sex education and contraceptives available. These days, sex ed starts at age six. In my generation, I neither knew nor heard of anyone. And when I was in the US in the 80s I was surprised to see pregnant high school students. I was surprised they would want children so young. Despite knowing several people resulting from unwanted pregnancies, by then my brain had relegated that to something that just did not happen any more.
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