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Adoption is an honorable act, but it can be heart wrenching when the infant is surrendered under coercion or false pretenses. For the adopted parents, adoption creates instant parenthood; for the birth parents, it takes enormous courage and love to surrender a baby. Birth mothers often suffer pangs of guilt and sadness as the years tick by. They imagine how their relinquished child is faring . . . This is the story of an adoption in the Deep South of a baby girl, just under five pounds, who was stolen from her mother eight hours after birth. Prior to the Great Depression, from 1925 and through to 1950, a woman named Georgia Tann operated the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis. She began her career by legitimately placing babies in adoptive home in Tennessee for a fee of $7.50. Quite soon, however, she realized she could ship babies on a night flight with a nurse to affluent families all over the country. She cared only about their ability to pay, not if they were suitable parents. Her fees ranged from $1,500 to $2,000 per baby, plus expenses. During this period, the average annual income in the United States was just $1,200 - $2,000. Georgia Tann’s modus operandi was to shelter unwed, pregnant girls to seek out babies of the poor and promise their families care and schooling. While women were in the throes of childbirth and under sedation, Georgia Tann would have them sign surrender papers. These new mothers thought they were signing permission for her to care for the baby until they could do so themselves, but they were later told their babies had died or were stillborn. Georgia Tann was able to continue this criminal operation with the protection and help of city officials, judges, police, etc., to whom she gave kickbacks. She accumulated great wealth, but purporting herself as ‘just average’, lunching daily from a paper bag at her desk. During Georgia Tann’s tenure, she placed over 5,000 babies, most illegally. To the parents who chose to adopt me, my heart is full of gratitude for the wonderful life I was given.
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I am Devy (Devereaux) Bruch, born Nell Howell in Tennessee, 1937. As an infant, I was stolen from my mother, Lena Mae Howell just eight hours after she gave birth and sold to a wealthy family through an illegal adoption in the state of Tennessee. Lena was a very young woman at the time and was told that she had given birth to a boy, who had died during delivery. My mother never saw me, nor held me. Many decades later, she went to her grave still suspecting that her baby may have survived. She had heard me cry. She knew in her heart that I could be alive, but she had nowhere to turn. One cold December day, just before Christmas, a chauffeur driven limousine with a nurse and Georgia Tann delivered me to my new home. The year was 1937 and I was a sickly, five-pound weakling, six weeks of age. I had been delivered to my adoptive parents totally sight unseen, until that knock on the door - “Here is your baby.” The years between my illegal adoption and finding my true origins were many faceted, as one climbing up a totem pole, falling down and getting back up to the top over and over and over again. At 71 years of age, I learned that I had sisters and a real, caring, loving family. Nothing in my life has affected me so deeply. It turned my life around. I now realize that I spent many years craving a big family. I always opened up my home to everyone, and provided a warm, cozy place for people to enjoy good food and drink. This was my way of creating family. I reached out to my confidants, my friends, and invited them into my heart, but all in their own way, drifted apart from me. The feat of abandonment was present in my life, but no more. The Howells and the Ganns of Tennessee are my people, my blood, my family. The love they have given me and the knowledge that we are one has brought me a joy and fulfillment I never imagined was possible. There is no denying my roots; the resemblance to them is unmistakable.
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