Book review of The Family Roe: An American Story by Joshua Prager

In McCorvey’s family, the history of unintended pregnancies is long and fraught. The traumas were influenced by the conflicting pressures of religion and sex and often bred painful family secrets. McCorvey’s grandmother Bertha had a rushed, if not shotgun, wedding after she became pregnant with McCorvey’s mother. McCorvey’s unmarried mother, Mary, gave birth to a child named Velma, who was given to grandmother Bertha to raise as her daughter. When McCorvey was born she was led to believe that Velma was her aunt when in fact she was her half sister. McCorvey gave her firstborn daughter, Melissa, to her mother, Mary, to raise. Mary eventually gained legal custody of Melissa, and only later did Melissa learn that McCorvey was her biological mother, having been led to believe that she was her sister. McCorvey’s other unplanned children, Jennifer and Shelley, the “Roe baby” born in 1970, were adopted and yearned to know the truth about their origins. McCorvey’s daughters hoped to break from their mother’s pattern and maintain stable families, but their lives have been varyingly touched by divorce, substance abuse and violence.

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