By Nancy Tannler
Portland author Lani Jo Leigh tells a poignant story of young love, motherhood and how much the times have changed in the last 50 years in her recently published novel/memoir. UNFIT takes place in the deep south in the late 60s. Despite the fact that other parts of the country were experiencing a liberal revolution, her small town in Oklahoma was not known as a hotbed of progressivism.
She was raised a Southern Baptist while being imprinted with the music of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and the revolutionary music of the times. Southern Baptist teachings were the rule of law for their congregations’ spiritual and moral lives – no dancing or alcohol, no sex before marriage – lots of NOs. In Leigh’s case, these strict regulations went against doing what she knew in her heart was the right thing to do.
She was young, idealistic and in love, so when she found out she was pregnant, her reaction was to believe it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, she was in love. Leigh figured she would marry her boyfriend, have the baby, finish high school and live happily ever after.
Unfortunately her own extremely conservative parents and her boyfriend’s parents as well didn’t see it that way. It was decided that Lani Jo would go away to a home for unwed mothers, give birth, put her child up for adoption and return to life as if nothing had happened.
UNFIT is a heart-wrenching story that stirs up outrage for those times when women were meant to be obedient and do what they were told. During that era 1.5 million girls and young women were sent to maternity homes and coerced into giving up their babies because they were told they would be unfit mothers.
Most of these young women had little or no sex education or access to birth control. Abortion was illegal, so that wasn’t even a consideration. Their fate was left in the hands of a harsh and judgmental society.
For some young women, as was the case of Lani Jo Leigh, this decision made by those they loved and respected dramatically affected their lives. UNFIT is her meaningful story. The book is available at Powell’s and the Clinton Street Theater as well as online at Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.