Reunions: Giving up her baby derailed her life, but she got it rerouted

Published May 13, 2007

In 1965, a pregnant teen might have welcomed a Hester Prynne-inspired shunning. At least the community would acknowledge her newly scandalous status: a scarlet "P" pinned to her sweater. Like a contagion, mothers would use this teen as example, wagging a stern finger to accompany remarks about what happens when good girls turn bad.

But author Meredith Hall's shunning was more like a vanishing.

In one day, Meredy – the studious, popular 16-year-old ballerina -– became Meredith, the castoff soon-to-be mother. Her carefree high school days were part of the past. The church that helped raise her set her free. And her mother's love proved incapable of withstanding a tiny New Hampshire town's scorn.

Hers became "a life erased."

With Hall's achingly poignant memoir Without a Map, hers becomes a life remembered.

Bitter secrets, childish bravado and soul-deep loss spill from the pages in cathartic release. Sadness and anger woven through Hall's sparse prose recount her fall from grace a lackluster night of passion on the beach at summer's end, her jail sentence (an attic room in her father and stepmother's home to await the baby's birth) and her loss (a son's adoption).

This pregnancy becomes Hall's secret life – the cliched elephant in the room –  never to be discussed in her family's presence. Fear from her instant thrust into adulthood simmers below the surface. Hall writes, "The grief I carry every single day has burrowed deep by now, and its residue is recklessness. I am an isolated and pissed-off girl."

Her life soon spirals out of control. She quits college, protests the Vietnam War and fishes the ocean as part of a two-person crew with a longtime lover in Gloucester. She runs from adventure to adventure, all the while trying to push thoughts of the child she was forced to give up further from her mind.

While she is walking barefoot through Lebanon and Syria and selling her blood at Red Cross shelters for a couple of bucks, the bottom drops out. "I have accomplished the disconnect, and my wanderings are entirely solitary, free of any voices from the past. . . . as the child grows bigger, the hole carved in me grows, too, " she writes. "Silent, solitary, moving -– step by step, I measure the distance between me and the woman I thought I was going to grow up to be."

Without a Map offers an honest, unflinching glimpse into motherhood. There's Hall in her teens, trying to understand why the strong bond between her and her unborn child exists after his birth and disappearance from her life. There's Hall in her 20s, yearning for her mother to explain why she would abandon her daughter when she needed her most. And then, there's Hall in her 30s, standing on the porch to finally welcome her firstborn to her home.

Elegant prose makes Without a Map an evocative, thought-provoking read. But Hall's heartrending candor on love, loss and hope turn this first-time author's book into a one-sided conversation among new friends.

Jennifer DeCamp can be reached at (727) 893-8881 or jdecamp@sptimes.com.

Without a Map

By Meredith Hall

Beacon Press, 220 pages, $24.95