Here’s a story that shows the corrosive effect of secrecy/lying in a context that is nearly the reverse of the one we’ve focused on. It’s actually the obituary of Judy Lewis who was the daughter of Loretta Young and Clark Gable.
Lewis was conceived when Gable was 34 and married to someone other than Young. Young was 22 and a rising star. Given the mores of the time (1935) and out-of-wedlock birth could have ruined Young’s career (and perhaps even compromised Gable’s.) So Young gave birth to Lewis secretly and Lewis spent the first 19 months of her life hidden from view. At that point Young brought Lewis back into her home, asserting that she had adopted the child.
Thus Lewis grew up with one of her genetically related parent being told she was not genetically related. A lie for sure but the reverse of the lie we’ve mostly focused on here–which is that you are related when you are in fact not.
When a family lies about something like this I think it can be quite hard to separate the harm caused by lying from any harm that might have been caused by the underlying truth about which one was deceived. What I mean is it may be hard to separate harm from concealing adoption from any harm that might actually come from the fact of adoption, or it may be hard to separate harm from concealing use of third-party gametes from harm that might actually come from the use of them. Presumably you can get at this in studies by comparing those lied to and those not lied to, but there are many reasons why those studies are very difficult to do.
There’s something terribly sad about this story. Lewis believed she was adopted when in fact she was not. She was raised by the women who gave birth to her but didn’t know it. She also didn’t know that Gable was the man involved in her conception when everyone else did. This seems to me quite clearly a case where the secrecy inflicted far more harm than the truth ever could have.
I think about what drove the parties to this concealment, which really must have been difficult for Young? Shame and fear, I think. Fear of intolerance and social opprobrium. I’d like to think the story would come out differently now because we’ve learned to accept the unmarried mother and Young could be honest with her child. But it’s a cautionary tale, too, about the harm that can be inflicted on a single child by the fear of social condemnation that once ruled.
And of course, the fact that single mothers may be more widely accepted (I think this is largely so, though not universally) there are still family forms that people want to condemn. I understand that this condemnation may be rooted in the idea that the to-be-condemned family form is a bad one (as was the case with single mother families), but whatever the motivation it’s good to remember that social condemnation can exact a price from real children.