American Baby

A Mother, A Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption


A searing narrative that combines the detailed saga of one unwed teenage mother with deep research on all aspects of a scandalous adoption industry…Throughout, the author deftly follows this genuinely human story, exposing the darker corners of adoption in 20th-century America… In a narrative filled with villains, a birth mother and her son exhibit grace. A specific story of identity that has universal appeal for the many readers who have faced similar circumstances.
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Through powerful empathy and tireless reporting, Gabrielle Glaser lays bare the coercive system under which three million young mothers surrendered their babies for adoption in the years leading up to Roe v Wade. Piecing together the heartbreaking parallel stories of one woman and the child she could never forget, Glaser skillfully unearths the attitudes toward sex, marriage, gender, and race that underlay this chilling chapter in a not-so-distant American past. American Baby will shatter once and for all the comforting myth that relinquishing an infant to a stranger in a ‘closed adoption’ was invariably ‘better for everyone.’
Janny Scott, author of The Beneficiary and A Singular Woman

The shocking truth about postwar adoption in America, told through the bittersweet story of one teenager, the son she was forced to relinquish, and their search to find each other.

During the Baby Boom in 1960s America, women were encouraged to stay home and raise large families, but sex and childbirth were taboo subjects. Premarital sex was common, but birth control was hard to get and abortion was illegal. In 1961, sixteen-year-old Margaret Erle fell in love and became pregnant. Her enraged family sent her to a maternity home, and after she gave birth, she wasn't even allowed her to hold her own son. Social workers threatened her with jail until she signed away her parental rights. Her son vanished, his whereabouts and new identity known only to an adoption agency that would never share the slightest detail about his fate.