History | Did You Know

Pregnant Teen Locked Away In Mental Institution Faced With An Unthinkable Decision

I know everyone says they want to go back to the olden days, but sometimes I think we forget how imperfect times were. Sure, there may have been more of a focus on family values as opposed to technology, but there were also common practices that we'd rather avoid today.

Just ask Julie Mannix, who was thrown into a medical institution by her parents just because she was pregnant.

Love Them Pants

Who Is Julie Mannix?

Julie was every parent's dream. A 19-year-old debutante in Philadelphia, she was setting herself up for an amazing future. The teen had fallen in love with a man named Frank von Zerneck, however, who was nowhere near what her parents had envisioned for their wealthy daughter. Frank, who Julie describes as having an "infectious enthusiasm for life," was working on Broadway shows behind the scenes. The duo met while Julie was working as an apprentice at a theater in Long Island, and they fell madly in love.

There were just two problems.

1) Julie was pregnant with Frank's baby.

2) Frank was married.

The Pregnancy

"I found out Frank was married. I was devastated — and I was also pregnant. Just like that, the life I'd known suddenly came to a halt."

Julie's gynecologist revealed that the teen was expecting, but instead of telling Julie, she told Julie's extremely religious mom.

"When my mother informed me I was pregnant — something the family gynecologist had revealed to her, not me — she also told me that he had, conveniently, diagnosed me as severely depressed," Julie wrote in an essay for Redbook. "Although my mother was a staunch Catholic, she had so convinced herself that an abortion would save my future that she was able to justify an act she normally would have abhorred."

Redbook

Despite abortion being illegal at the time, Julie's mother had come up with a plan. By saying her daughter was severely depressed, she could be admitted to a mental facility where abortions were fully legal.

Julie could either have an abortion, lose her baby, and live a life of regret, or she could live in a mental facility until her child was born.

"I was committed to a private psychiatric facility, where an abortion could be performed legally," Julie said. "Except, much to everyone's dismay, I wouldn't sign the papers to authorize the procedure. I held out even after they moved me to the state hospital."

And so Julie was confined to a hospital, where she began to fall apart.

The Hospital

Darling daughter,

It is obvious that you are so overwrought that you are not able to think clearly. Your father and I are terribly afraid that you might try to hurt yourself. Therefore, it has been arranged that you will stay where you are until this dreadful ordeal is over. We will think of you every day.

Mother

Julie was locked up in a "dirty and white" room which had two single beds and dented lockers. She was being forced to live in a hospital all because her parents disagreed with her decision to keep her child.

"Being betrayed so horrifically by my family — and Frank, I couldn't even think about Frank — shattered me," she said. "I wanted to shake the psychiatrists so hard their heads would roll off. 'I am not insane,' I screamed into their faces. But no one would listen to me. So I stopped talking. I would not speak another word until the end of my stay at the state mental hospital."

Redbook

To pass the time, Julie would dream about her future child and what that life might look like.

"I lay in bed for hours every day, imagining a happy little child — always a girl — with long blonde hair like mine, and brown eyes like Frank's," she revealed. "I imagined her laugh. Little by little, I began to think of what I would want for my daughter when she was born: a mother, a father, a home, a room of her own, and a happy, ordinary life."

But knowing what she wanted for her child, and knowing what she had to offer, Julie came to the conclusion that it would be best to give her baby away.

But it wouldn't be the last time they saw each other.

Aimee Veronica

After six months of living in seclusion, Julie's water broke. She gave birth a baby girl on April 19, 1964, who was perfectly healthy. Aimee Veronica was born to a caring and dedicated mother, but she was soon rushed away to be given to another family.

"As I signed the adoption papers, my heart ripped apart," Julie wrote. "I put down the pen, turned away, and, on shaky legs, I left my baby behind."

The adoption record was totally sealed, meaning that despite decades of trying, Julie couldn't find any information on her daughter. She fell into real depression, but found comfort in knowing that her child was living a good life thanks to Julie fighting to keep her alive.

But Julie wasn't alone for long.

Then Comes Marriage...

While Julie was being held in a mental hospital, Frank was trying to get in touch with her. He divorced his wife while the mother of his child was locked away, and tried to get in touch with her all the time. Countless phone calls and letters were sent, but each and every attempt was intercepted by Julie's parents. They didn't want their daughter in contact with the man who they believed ruined her life.

However, Julie and Frank did end up reconnecting. Julie had moved back to New York in order to pursue her acting career, and she began seeing Frank again. Less than a year after Aimee's birth, Julie and Frank were married.

"On January 15, 1965, we were married," Julie wrote. "When my parents found out, I was, unsurprisingly, disinherited. We had two more children: Danielle, born in 1965, and Frank Jr., born in 1968. Every year on April 19, Frank and I celebrated Aimee's birthday, the date of which we had engraved on the inside of our wedding rings."

The couple hoped their daughter was living an extraordinary life, but one phone call told them she desperately needed a family.

Kathy Wisler-Hatfield

After she was adopted, Aimee's name was changed to Kathleen Marie Wisler. She was adopted just one month after she was born, and was described by the nuns as "a screamer." But according to her adoptive father, the second she was placed in her new mother's arms, she stopped crying.

Kathy was a middle child, with one older and one younger brother, and they all got along great.

"It was as if I had been dropped into the first chapter of a fairy tale," Kathy wrote in her piece for Redbook. "But we all know how fairy tales go."

When Kathy was four, her mother diagnosed with breast cancer. Because children were not allowed in the cancer ward, Kathy and her brothers could only see their mother as they stood in the hospital courtyard and she looked out her third-floor window. Two years later, Kathy's mother passed away in 1970.

Redbook

Kathy found out she was adopted when she was 10 years old, after her new step-sister told her during a typical sibling argument.

"I ran into the house, pinballing through the rooms, sorting out the implications," Kathy wrote. "My brothers aren't my brothers, and then, like dominoes, one realization touched on another until I was left with this one: My mother, the one I had loved, had longed for — she was never my mother. I couldn't even think of Dad not being my dad; it was too painful."

After talking to her dad, who assured Kathy that he "never thought of [her] as anything but [his] daughter," Kathy continued on with her life. She married her high school sweetheart, Bryan, and thought about starting a family of her own.

It wasn't until she gave birth to her own kids that Kathy began asking more questions about her birth parents.

Reunited

Kathy gave birth to two daughters, and suddenly she had more questions. Why were her daughter's eyes blue when she and her husband both had brown eyes? Why was her other daughter athletic, when it didn't run in the family? Then, Kathy's neighbor's son was diagnosed with a genetic disorder, and that really set Kathy's curiosities into motion.

"I wrote a letter to Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia requesting my background information," Kathy recalled. "Three weeks later a large white envelope arrived. I held it for nearly a minute before slicing it open and pulling out the document. First, there was the information about my mother: age 20, Catholic, 5-foot-4, blonde hair. And yes, blue eyes. Then my father: age 23, Jewish, 5-foot-6, black hair."

Kathy wasn't sure how to process this information. She thought she was ready to find her birth parents, but she wasn't. She tucked the envelope away for another day, and only turned to it again after her adoptive father died. She felt "orphaned and alone," and happened to find the envelope when cleaning out some files.

She found her birth name, Aimee Veronica Mannix, and began digging. Countless google searches led her to Julie Mannix and Frank von Zerneck. Because both her birth parents, along with her birth siblings, had pursued careers in show business, there was video of them for Kathy to watch. She studied mannerisms and facial features, and came to the conclusion that these people were her family.

And then it was time to make contact.

Dear Mr. & Mrs. von Zerneck:

How do I begin a letter like this? Well, I think I'll simply just start with: I was born on April 19, 1964, in Philadelphia. Based on the documents Catholic Social Services provided me, I find it plausible that you may know some information concerning my birth family.... It is not my intention to interrupt their lives; I simply want to connect on any level they feel comfortable.

Please, at your convenience, let me know if you can assist me with additional information.

Sincerely,

Kathy Wisler-Hatfield

Two days after she mailed the letter, Kathy got a phone call.

"Is this Kathy?"

"Yes, this is she."

"Hi, this is Julie Mannix. I received your letter. I have some information for you, but could you first tell me a little bit about yourself?"

"I was adopted through Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia — I think I mentioned that in the letter. I had wonderful parents, but [pause] my mother died when I was 6."

Kathy heard a loud gasp on the other end.

""Kathy— I'm your mother. I want you to know, I—We—We did not want to give you up."

Redbook

"Your father wants to talk to you. May I put him on?

"[FRANK] Julie and I cried when we read your letter. We married after you were born. We had your birth date inscribed in our wedding rings, and we've celebrated every one of your birthdays. I just want you to know. You were loved all along."

Their relationship only grew stronger as time went on, and now Frank, Julie, Kathy, and her family all share an incredible bond.

“I never imagined I would feel like a daughter again, and yet here I am, cherished by two strong and thoughtful parents who worry when my kids are sick and who call for no reason,” she gushed.

Kathy calls her birth parents Mom and Dad, and her kids call them Grandma and Grandpa. They Skype all the time, and Kathy finally feels home again.

Redbook

Julie and Kathy co-wrote a book together, called Secret Storms: A Mother and Daughter Lost then Found, which documents their respective lives.

Julie was faced with an unthinkable choice, losing her baby or being committed to a mental hospital, and it's abundantly clear that she made the right choice.

[H/T: Redbook]

Meagan has been a writer with Shared for two years and has an intense love for Netflix, napping, and carbohydrates. Please feel free to contact me with questions or story ideas! meagan@shared.com