Bastard Child

In chapter two of my book Ragdoll Redeemed:Growing Up In The Shadow Of Marilyn Monroe I write about the stain of the title “bastard”. How the dominate culture’s attitude imprinted a type of permanent deformity into the very soul of such children. I know because I was one of those children, as was Marilyn Monroe. “Shameful, embarrassing, defective,” became the standard by which everyone, myself included, measured me. After all didn’t the Bible say, “The bastard shall not enter the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation” (Deuteronomy 23:2)

Young people of today have little if any of the stigma illegitimacy brought to bear upon the shoulders of children born outside of marriage. It was not until the early 70s that a series of Supreme Court verdicts eradicated the common-law disabilities of bastardy. For the most part, the term “illegitimacy” has been replaced by the phrase “born out of wedlock” or not acknowledged at all.

Even while the laws were changed, there remained embedded within the culture notions that children born out of wedlock were marred, tainted in some way. To be illegitimate was to be shammed and shunned.

Here are some little known facts about being a bastard child.

1). “Illegitimacy”
The term designated unmarried mothers, unmarried fathers, and their unlucky children as deviants

2). As a label, illegitimacy described their collective status as outcasts who were legally and socially inferior to members of legitimate families headed by married couples.

3). Unmarried birth parents and children suffered penalties ranging from confinement in isolated maternity homes and dangerous baby farms to parental rejection and community disapproval.

4). Before the 1960s, unmarried mothers were usually considered undeserving of the public benefits offered to impoverished widows and deserted wives. They were generally denied mothers’ pensions, which virtually all states granted beginning in 1910, and Aid to Dependent Children, a federal program created by the Social Security Act of 1935. (Divorced women and non-white women were also excluded.)

5). Eugenicists were also dismayed by illegitimacy because they considered it a major factor in the reproduction of mental deficiency, disease, and anti-social behavior. “.

According to their view, “feeble-minded” children were more likely to be born to unmarried women because illegitimate pregnancies were byproducts of retardation, insanity, epilepsy, or other mental defects. (The Adoption History Project)

Besides Marilyn and me, there was:

Oprah Winfrey (our national treasure)

Sarah Bernhardt (great actress)

Sophia Loren (actress)

Eric Clapton (musician, singer)

Jack Nicholson (actor)

Bobby Darin (singer, politician)

Sir Paul Nurse (Nobel Prize winner in Physiology and Medicine)

Ted Bundy (serial killer)

Charles Manson (American criminal who led Manson Family)

Shaquille O’Neal (Former NBA champion basketball player)

Steven Paul Jobs (Co-founder, Chairman and CEO, Apple Inc)

Leonardo da Vinci (famous painter, sculptor)


Today there are no adverse labels or stigmas placed upon the child born out of wedlock.

I can’t help but wonder, how, in the span of 40-50 years our culture has grown to accept, even “legitimize” such an event that was once considered so disgraceful that the child would be relegated to hell for the “sin” of his/her parents.

What do you think about children born to unmarried parents from a moral standpoint?

Baby picture: Veronica Dawn Nadeau, Laskavitch, Kelley, DiMaggio, DeLisa, Novotny

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  1. Bill Morris says:

    I always believed the ‘parents’ were to blame, not the child. Accidents can happen, but the so-called adults are more often careless and / or irresponsible.

    Oprah may be your national treasure, but she isn’t ours. Consistent with the other descriptors would be (Popular retired talk show hostess). I know I’ll get flack for that statement and more because I am probably the only male that has commented on your blogs.

    I anticipate and read every one. The last paragraph of the ‘My Week with Marilyn’ blog hit home with me. I have worked that situation years with your assistance. I love your work. Don’t stop.

    • Hi Bill,

      Thank you for commenting. You are actually the forth male that has stopped by and left comments. Thank you for your perspective. I suppose it would easier to just blame the parents if we must “blame” someone but the bible says……….

      Please stop be again.

      Warm regards, dawn

  2. Crystal C says:

    This is my first time being here on your blog/webpage. I’ve read a few of your blogs/stories. But this story is one of the many reasons I am not a Christian. The bible in it of itself is contradictory. One minute is is praising “ALL” of “Gods” children, and the next calling them deviants because of the choices the PARENTS made. And that is just one example of how it is contradicting. I was conceived out of wedlock, born in a marriage. My mother divorced shortly after my brother was born, and the father came around once in 26 years. My oldest son was conceived out of wedlock, but also born in a marriage. My daughter, whom is my youngest, conceived and born out of wedlock. What kind of “God” would treat a child, or even call a child, like a deviant when a child (let alone a newborn) wouldn’t know any sin? If anything, religion (not all of them) has become tainted.

    Sorry, I could go on and on about religion. But thanks for “listening”.

    Crystal C

    • Thank you so much for “voicing” your feelings about such complex issues. I am deeply grateful that, for the most part, the children of today do not have to suffer such debilitating beliefs, values and labels (at least in our culture). The God that I have come to understand offers ALL of us peace without judgment which passes all understanding.
      Thank you for stopping by my blog site, I hope you keep coming back.

      Warmly, dawn

  3. I found out at age 52 that I was a bastard child! This was found when my “father” had been scheduled for heart surgery and I offered to give blood for him in case he needed it. No medical chance he is my Bio-father. Personally, my issue was not so much my being a product of affairs by my mother (deceased) but the fact that the two people that you are supposed to be able to trust lied to me for 52 years! I was treated like a step child by my Dad all my life and felt it was my fault for not “being a good enough son”. The irony of the situation is now I’m stuck caring for my “father” who is in poor health. In my opinion, all this biblical crap can kiss my bastard arse! It just got much easier to stick him in an old folks home. Sorry to sound harsh, but it’s the way I feel!

    • Dear Gary,

      Your situation sounds difficult. I am sorry that you are having to deal with a parent who mistreated you in anyway.

      On the other hand, please know that forgiveness is salve for our hearts and has very little to do with the other.

      I have made a choice to not die with filled with resentments no matter how justified.

      Be soft with yourself. Dawn

  4. I have recently moved from the North to the Deep South. I left the Catholic church as a teenager, but it didn’t carry much stigma in the North. Down here everyone goes to church and is always encouraging me to go. I’ve been dealing with a lot of guilt because I just can’t have faith in a thing which calls me evil, and my mother worse.

    • Hi Leanne,

      I am deeply sorry that you ever had to even consider that you were less than or outside of God’s love. Not all religions believe that every word of the bible should be taken literally. If you are truly interested in attending a church and becoming part of a community perhaps you could speak privately with a few pastors/priests of different religions which would give you a sense of that particular church’s beliefs in such matters. For example, Lutheran, Episcopalian, or Presbyterian, personally, I do not choose to believe in a God who punishes me for the sins of others. Moreover, I would look for a church that was inclusive toward everyone not just church’s that give lip service of being inclusive. Good luck in your search and trust you inner guidance. Blessings, dawn

  5. Being an illegitimate/bastard child has disturbed me for most of my life. I’m 40 now and you’d think I would’ve gotten passed it by now. I tend to overlook it often, but as today is Father’s Day I tend to feel depressed and bitter. I met my father a few times when I was younger, but he always gave excuses about why he couldn’t be around. The fact is, I didn’t matter. I have three step-brothers that I met a few years ago after his death. All three of them are great, and honestly, I feel bad for hating their dad. I still can’t truly call him my dad after all of these years.

    I’m married with a son and I do what I can, for the most part, to be the dad I always wanted. Of course, I falter at times, but it’s not by anyone’s standards other than my own.

    Anyway, I guess I’m just reaching out/venting at this point, as this is always the most depressing day of the year for me. Thank you for the blog post, it was a good read. I found it while searching about illegitimate children.. just self medicating with words and insights 🙂

    • Dear J,

      I loved how you talked about being there for your own sons. We grow spiritually and emotionally when we give better than we got.

      I so hope that you can find a way to forgive your father. One of the ways in which I’ve been able to forgive people is to look at my own mistakes (some of them have felt huge). Who knows the reasons why your father felt he couldn’t be in your life, shame, guilt, wanting to forget the encounter with your mother, etc. etc. The only thing I know for sure J is that what we don’t forgive and find a way to let go of comes back to haunt us a thousand fold.

      Find a way to heal your heart. Pray for him and wish him the best. Oddly enough, you will be the beneficiary of your good wishes. Good luck my friend and Happy Fathers day. Dawn

  6. My mother and father’s marriage was turbulent. They both died before I found out publicly that I was the product of a longstanding affair she had with our fundamentalist minister.

    It has my personality twisted – sometimes – into a pretzel. Thanks for the article, seems very little written on the pain and suffering of not being blessed or legitimized by someone you (I) treasured, as I had been told privately that this man was my father that I couldn’t claim.

    All for my own good.

    Thanks mom! Arghhhh.

    • Hi,

      I sorry that you have had to experience pain and suffering resulting from others choices. I have come to believe that these situations are a lose/lose for everyone involved. However, and more importantly, I have also come to believe that we are the legitimate sons and daughters beloved in our Creators essence no matter the circumstances of our birth. Be well blessed one, dawn

  7. Linh Vien Thai says:


    Thank you for posting this message board. I will get a copy of your book. I am an Amerasian born during the Vietnam War in 1968. Right in the middle of the Tet Offensive. My mother worked on a US Base and had a relationship with a soldier. He left Vietnam and we were separated. My mother was 19 and in essence abandoned me twice. I was mostly raised by a grandmother. Eventually after escaping my home town and to a refugee camp; I made it to the US. I was reunited with my mother who married another American. I have a half brother who carries his father’s last name. I myself carried and continue to carry my mother’s maiden name. I was able to meet my real father at 22 for 10 days. It was a wonderful experience at first until his true character surfaced. He turned out to be a very angry and broken Vietnam Vet who hides behind the crutch of PTSD to render his hateful and angry existence. I know he went through a great deal, but so did people like my grandmother. She never came out of terrible things which happened to her a mean and hurtful person. Despite being looked down upon from my Vietnamese people and having a few uncomfortable moments of explanation. Being illegitimate never overtly effected me; I thought. It was only until I got married and had a daughter did many terrible emotions and a sense of no belonging surfaced. When I filled out the papers to register her name for example. Knowing that it was my mother’s last name and the surname of a family who for the most part rejected me seemed uncomfortable. Also factors such as how much I love my daughter and saw a child who was likely much like me and think how my mother and others around me treated me. I’ve always considered myself a very strong person, but I had no idea there was a very negative cloud of pain and uncertainty which I carried all my life. It’s strange when even today at 48 things surface. I need to look more into this. All the things perhaps is why I waited so long in life to get married and when I had child I was terrified. Mostly a fear of not going to be a good enough person for her. Also a very subtle fear of perhaps a shame attached to me. I guess it is life and part of my journey. I will read about your journey and hope to learn from your insight.

    • Wow Linh, what a story? I’m not surprised all of these hidden emotions came to forfront around your daughter. A perfect example of ‘the body remembers what the mind forgets.’

      I rarely look at this web site any longer which explains why it has taken me so long to respond. God bless your gentle spirit on your lifes journey. warmly, dawn

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