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Monday, March 27, 2017

When fate knocks and I walk through the door

Lorraine
February 13, 1965
We are making small talk as we walk across the Genesee River on my first day of work cityside at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. I don’t know it yet but I am brushing up against the man with whom I will soon fall truly deeply madly in love. Our love will thrust me into a life I never could have imagined, but at this moment I am merely walking across a bridge.

He is somewhat older, already established in the profession that I have dreamed about since the fourth grade. It’s early evening, dusk is hurtling toward dark, but it’s not cold for February, it’s foggy and damp but not quite raining. A silk scarf is tied at the back of my neck a la French movie star, and I am wearing a slick soldier-blue trench coat with a red lining—Made in France!—that cost a week’s salary. I am high on life at that moment—hell, I
am practically gliding across the bridge—for I’m the first woman to be hired
for the metro desk at The Democrat & Chronicle since World War II emptied
the newsroom of men.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

How life changes when you became pregnant and have to face adoption for your child

The mother walks in following a child who runs ahead of her. The child is two, could be three. I’m sitting at Starbucks in the morning reading The New York Times, wishing the music was turned down a tad. Sun is streaming through the window behind me. My husband Tony is doing the crossword puzzle. Both of us are writers and it’s nice to get out of the house in the morning.

But for the moment—fifteen seconds or so—my attention is diverted to the child, and then to the mother, and back to the child. Unconsciously I look to see if child resembles his mother.

I want to be able to tell myself he is not the child of someone else.

I want to reassure myself that the woman is his only mother.

I have been doing this ever since she was born.

Probably before. As soon as I knew I was pregnant.--by lorraine from hole in my heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption  [Prologue.]

Friday, March 24, 2017

Excerpt from hole in my heart: A few words about language

Daughter Jane and Lorraine, circa 1992
Regular readers know that I'm moving from a house where my husband and I have lived for 33 years ago another house in the same village.

It's only a mile away, but even moving next door means going through the collection of a life and deciding what to take, what to discard, what is worth taking, what is not, what you cannot live without, what you no longer want to live with. It's time consuming and somewhat emotional. My husband and I are both collectors of a sort--he has 5,000 books and he's getting rid of about a thousand; I've collected various sets of dishes and odd plates and platters that I like, as well as antique butterfly wing trays from Rio, and they are going to go!

We are moving from an Arts and Crafts house built in 1930 to a modern house built in 1990. And I want our new life to reflect the change. I'm going on here more than I meant but this is a way of saying that for the next couple of months (the move itself is in May), I won't have much time for writing. Jane will undoubtedly post now and then, but she too is busy with her life. While this is going on, I will publish excerpts of my memoir, hole in my heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption. The spacing will follow how it reads on the book page. This is the first section, not a forward, but "A Few Words about Language":

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sealed birth records are an abomination of individual rights; CT needs written testimony by TUESDAY eve

Lorraine testifying in New York, 2015
Imagine that you are at a family gravesite. A grandmother is being laid to rest alongside her husband, perhaps a sibling or two, and other relatives connected by birth. You are standing there, head bowed, but you can’t squelch the awareness that when you die you do not really belong in this family plot. You should be elsewhere. You have a whole other passel of relatives, but you don’t know who they are, or where they are. You are adopted.

You have no knowledge of who you really are, where you came from and how you got here, you have no family medical history. You don’t look like anyone in this family, and you wonder where you got your flat feet or why your second toe is longer than your big toe, when nobody else in the family has feet like yours.

You are an orphan in the world.

You’ve known since you were five or six that you came from another life, but you understand that you are not supposed to question, or

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Donaldson Report on 'Options Counseling': No surprises, proceed to adoption as primary 'solution'

Adoption counseling is biased towards adoption rather than providing a full consideration of all options available (parenting, adoption, abortion, foster care, family placement) so that the parents experiencing a crises pregnancy can make a sound and informed decision about their pregnancy, according to a recent report by The Donaldson Adoption Institute and the University of Texas, Arlington School of Social Work, Understanding Options Counseling in Adoption.

Researchers surveyed 20 adoption professionals who worked in different types of settings and had various levels of experience. Less than half reported specifically mentioning "parenting" as an option. Those that did framed it in terms of finding a "resource" ignoring the inherent value of maintaining the natural bond between mother and child. Only a small number discussed terminating the pregnancy.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Ken Robbins: A photographic tribute to my friend

                                                 All photos by Ken Robbins
Ken Robbins, a friend of mine, died in the night the day before yesterday. He was a great photographer, and a generous, wise, intelligent man who will be missed by his friends. His photos were collected in two books; he did the pictures for numerous book jackets, LP albums, and magazine covers, including for Time; took author photographs, and wrote more than 20 children's books he illustrated with his pictures. He was a brilliant mind, and conversation with him might range from philosophy to politics to pop culture. Whatever the subject, his observations were sharp and sometimes challenging, as he relished lively discourse.

For the last couple of years, he was on dialysis and lately had an infection that he could not shake. At the same time, he was caring for his wife, who has advanced dementia, at home with limited help. We all knew his life was difficult, but Ken kept a positive attitude about everything and never appeared to feel sorry for his lot.

This isn't a usual post for First Mother Forum, but I wanted to share some of his photos here as he let me use them for the blog whenever I asked. This is a tribute to Ken and his talent.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

This Is Us: Adoptive mom says she's sorry for hiding the truth

Lorraine
Triggers. They are everywhere. We can try to avoid them, but they will keep on popping up like weeds in your yard that you pullout year after year and they keep on coming. Having lived for more than half my life with triggers that remind me of my daughter lost to adoption, I've stopped trying to pretend that I can avoid them. I just go with the flow.

With that in mind I look forward to watching This Is Us, NBC's breakaway hit that has an adoption reunion in one of its subplots. For most of the season, it has been THE story line dominating the series. It centers around a biological father found by his adult son (Randall, played by Sterling K. Brown), an adoptive mother (Rebecca played by Mandy Moore) who knew who the father (William, Ron Cephas Jones) was all along but never shared that information--with anyone, even her husband.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Paula Fox: Author and first mother

Lorraine
The writer Paula Fox died recently and she rated a half page obituary in the New York Times. I scanned it immediately to see if the fact of the daughter she gave up for adoption was included. I knew she had written about it in one of her memoirs.

Well, there it was: 
"At the end of Borrowed Finery: A Memoir Ms. Fox tells of being reunited with the daughter she had borne at 20, the offspring of a brief liaison after her first marriage had ended. She gave the infant up for adoption, a decision, she wrote, that pained her the rest of her life. In middle age, the daughter, Ms. Carroll-Barraud, found Ms. Fox. (One of Ms. Carroll-Barraud’s children, it transpired, is the rock singer Courtney Love.)"

Friday, February 24, 2017

When an adopted teen wants to live with his birth/first mother

Lorraine
Two steps forward, one step back is how I'm feeling about open adoption today after reading family-expert John Rosemond's recent column about a 14-year-old who "now wants to go live with his birth-mother."

The adoptive mother writes that at the onset of the adoption, the first mother was out of the picture even though there was an open-adoption agreement. A few years ago she phoned, saying she had changed her life, and "wanted to re-establish contact with 'her' son." Phone calls led to visits, led to overnights, and apparently eventually the teenager wanted to go on vacation with her last summer. Whether or not he went is not included in the column. The teens grades have taken a nose-dive, he's become difficult to live with and now, the column question is framed:  "He’s told us he doesn’t want to live with us anymore. I think he believes there will be no rules with her and he’ll be able to eat ice cream all day long, figuratively speaking. What should we do?"

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Telling first mothers to shut up--again!

Lorraine
Apparently we are not supposed to say in public that adoptions in general remind us of the mother and family of loss. Yesterday's post noting that Hoda Kotb's new adoption--which generated happy congratulatory tweets and well-wishes from more than 60 thousand people--did not make us happy because we knew that somewhere out there a mother was bleeding on the battlefield of loss.

Other than noting that she is 52 without further comment, I didn't specifically attack Hoda and I said that I didn't have more details about the adoption.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why we aren't celebrating with Hoda as she adopts a baby


The Today Show star Hoda Kotb adopted a baby girl. She is thrilled. This is her picture with Haley Joy on Kolb's Twitter account. She writes: "Welcome to the family, Haley Joy! She is the love of my life."  Followed by 63K likes and still going. Her co-hosts tweet the good news.

Friday, February 17, 2017

First Mothers: What not to do at the start of a reunion

Lorraine
In an earlier post we urged first mothers to react with their hearts when a child--now adult--lost to adoption first makes contact, even if the words you hear put you off. What about the next step, once the first flurry of words and excitement is over, and the conversation continues?

From listening to adopted people for the last several decades, I've learned that a great many of them have spent their lives past the age of reason reassuring their adoptive parents in ways large and small that they love them, fully, deeply, completely. Because of what parents have said about them and to them--You were the answers to our prayers; I couldn't love you more if I had given birth to you, when we found you we knew our family was complete, I thank God every day for bringing you to us...they have fully absorbed the message that they are responsible for their parent's well-being and happiness. This message will be inculcated further if the individual was adopted after having children via nature failed, or a biological child's death. The burden the adopted person carries is heavy indeed, no matter how great the parents' affection.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Here's how to write good adoption law

Although adoption experts—the Donaldson Adoption Institute,* the Child Welfare League of America,** and others--agree that children should be raised in their biological families if possible, state laws are tilted to increasing the supply of infants for adoption resulting in the unnecessary separation of mothers and children.

These laws allow mothers to consent to adoption before or immediately after birth with little or no opportunity to revoke their consent and with little or no counseling. Open adoptions agreements which may encourage mothers to relinquish are often unenforceable.*** Unmarried fathers have few rights.

Those of us interested in reforming adoption so that it coincides with its original purpose—to find families for children who need them—are faced with well-funded and well-organized opposition from the adoption industry. While adoption is governed mostly by state laws, adoption reform must occur nation-wide. Otherwise, those who put profit before child welfare will simply move their operations to “adoption-friendly” states. Adoption reform organizations throughout the country must come to a consensus about adoption laws so that they speak in one voice to state legislators and the media.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

To First Mothers: When your adopted 'child' calls out of the blue

Lorraine
This is for the mothers (first, birth, natural, biological) who search on the web for how to react to a phone call they are either waiting for or fearful of--that from their child lost to adoption. Years ago I would have assumed that every mother on earth who gave up a child would be overwhelmed with joy and say something like: Oh my god, you found me! I have been waiting for you to find me! 

Today I know that is not true. Not only have I heard of so many birth mothers rejecting reunion that it makes my head spin in sorrow, but I also had a long-time neighbor and friend who did not admit that she had a child that her other children did not know about--until she was on her deathbed. For years we managed to maintain a friendship while we argued about what I fought for, mystifying me and her children. One of them figured out the truth before she came clean, only weeks before she slipped away. If such a mother was that close to me in real life, there are many others out here.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

When first parents adopt their surrendered 'children'

Jane
A father wrote to advice columnist Amy Dickinson recently about his wife's adult daughter whom she placed for adoption as an infant. His wife was reunited with the daughter, Betsy, now 30, ten years ago. Now she wants "to divorce her current adoptive parents" because of "irreconcilable differences", and for legal reasons involving her own 8-year-old daughter. Betsy wants her natural mother, and her biological father (who has been out of the picture for 30 years) to adopt her. The man who wrote to Amy says he and his wife (the natural mother) have children together, as well as children from prior marriages.

Apparently the letter-writer will be asked to go before a judge and make a public statement that his wife and Betsy's biological father are now the adoptive parents. He identifies himself as "No Prior Precedent" (NPP) feels uncomfortable about doing so. He asks if he is being "an oversensitive territorial man"?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Making the first contact with a first mother: What not to say

Jane
"One reason I had searched for [my birth mother] was that I wanted to tell her that she'd done the right thing. I always felt she deserved to know that" wrote Jean Strauss in Birthright. "I proudly said it now on the phone, sure this one sentence would make her feel good about her decision thirty-three years earlier to relinquish me for adoption. 'You know, you did the right thing when you gave me up.'

Her answer burst my hallucination. 'I'll never believe that. I should have never let you go. I wish I had taken you and run.'"

Strauss is not alone in her lack of understanding of the dynamics of surrender. We mothers who have ached for reunion are roiling under the long buried grief of loss, and yes, guilt, even if we don't recognize it as such. We someone thanks us for something, the usual response is something along these lines: Oh, you deserved it; I'm so glad you liked it; or, It was nothing. Anyone can see how none of the typical responses to "thank you" fit the situation. We suspect that mothers who hear the "thank you" that seems to be popular today feel a tad weird but ignore thinking about how to react because they are so glad to be found.

What does a "thank you" really imply when said to a first mother by her child? Thank you for giving me up because I've had a better life than I would have had with you. I got this great education you never would have been able to afford, I have a life that is of a higher social class than yours...I made out just fine so thank you! 

Now we suspect that adoptees who want to say "thank you" don't understand the meaning that creeps into our mind, or we hope they don't--but that attitude has spilled out some adoptee memoirs. Sarah Saffian's Ithaka: A Daughter's Memoir of Being Found comes to mind. (As we recollect, Saffian didn't say "thank you" because she was uncertain about being found in the first place, here we are talking about the general attitude her memoir conveys.

Here are some more clueless comments that we have heard from adoptees which make us cringe:

Friday, January 13, 2017

Lion: An adoptee returns home

If you haven't already seen Lion, grab a hankie and catch it before it is gone. Besides being a compelling story and a well acted film, it reinforces what we who live adoption know to be true: the need to know one's original family is universal. It could be the story of a young girl from Kansas or a weary warrior in Greece. No matter how difficult the journey, it must be attempted.

Lion is based on the Saroo Bierley's memoir "A Long Way Home." Five-year- old Saroo lives in abysmal poverty with his mother, sister and older brother, Guddu, in a small village in India. One evening he goes with Guddu, whom he adores, to the train station. Guddu tells him to wait there while he seeks work. When, after many hours, Guddu does not return, Saroo crawls into a train and falls asleep. The train leaves the station. He is unable to get off the train until it arrives in Calcutta several days later. Saroo has to survive on the mean streets, which is particularly difficult because he speaks Hindi, not Bengali, the language of Calcutta.  Eventually he is taken to an orphanage which arranges his adoption by a kind and loving Australian couple, Sue and John Bierley. The contrast between the hovel where he lived for his first five years and the Bierley's beautiful home and opulent surroundings in Tasmania could not be more stark.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Mr. President: Pardon Sandy Musser

Sandy Musser
Dear President Obama:

In 1993 Sandy Musser was sentenced to federal prison for four months. Her crime? Finding a way to reconnect individuals separated by adoption--mothers and grown children who had no legal recourse that led to reunion. At the time all but two states--Alaska and Kansas--had legislation that forever denied an adopted individual a way to reunite to his family of birth, and vice versa.

What Sandy Musser helped effect is becoming increasingly commonplace as state legislation slowly but surely is ending secrecy and anonymity in adoption. In 20 years, what Ms. Musser did will be seen in a whole different light, and her "crime" will be seen as a courageous act of compassion.

Some background: From the Seventies onward, a movement comprised of adoptees and mothers who relinquished children to adoption began demanding an end to the anonymity and secrecy that had ruled adoption for the previous half century. The forced anonymity of closed adoption was a practice that began in the mid-teens of the last century, as state after state sealed the original birth certificates of individuals when they were adopted. Neither adoptees nor their mothers--the two groups most affected--had any input into this legislation. For both sides, there was no recourse, for the anonymity was designed to be for all time. Health histories were not possible. Even descendants of the adopted could not learn the true family of origin.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

When an adoptive mother says...My daughter isn't interested in searching

Lorraine
What do you say to someone you meet at a luncheon who says that she has an adopted daughter who "isn't interested in searching" as soon as she hears the subject of your recent book. Daughter is in her late twenties.

I said that many adoptees don't search until their parents are much older or dead, because then they feel that are free to do so. I said that adoptees don't search because unconsciously you [adoptive mother] have made it clear that doing so would hurt you very much. She understood. And she added that she always thought her daughter would search one day. I realized that my new acquaintance instinctively understood that the desire to know one's history and reconnect with kin on some level was instinctual, and not unusual. She wasn't being aggressive; I think she was simply surprised to meet a birth mother in real life, at a New Year's luncheon in an artist's studio.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Life lessons from Downton Abbey

Lorraine 
It's New Year's Day and I've been hearing from first mothers and adoptees who had a difficult time this holiday season, but then...all major holidays can be difficult for us because we are either missing people, or a whole family, in our lives; or we are alienated from someone we don't wish to be at odds with.

You know the drill--should I make that phone call? Will I be rebuffed again? Can I talk to my mother without the daughter she lives with (my half sister who sent me a wretched email) listening in? If I send a card/gift to my son/daughter will they acknowledge it? If I call my 15-year-old daughter will I be able to talk to her, or will this upset her adoptive parents and make life more difficult for her? Will she be cold if I call? What if she doesn't answer the phone? Should I contact a cousin, the only one in my biological family who is willing to be in contact with me?

Monday, December 26, 2016

What Happens to women who give up their babies for adoption?

In today's New York Times: 

RE: Emboldened by Trump’s Victory, Abortion Foes Vow ‘Onslaught’ ” (front page, Dec. 12):

The increasing difficulties that women are likely to face in getting an abortion make clear that two things will inevitably rise in response: More women, denied access because of distance and cost of travel, lodging and so on, will try to self-abort, and many will be permanently injured as result; and there will be increased pressure for women to carry to term and give up their babies for adoption.

The short-term reaction to such a loss is expected, but the long-term consequences for a mother to lose a child to adoption are nothing short of disastrous. Poor grief resolution for a great many women leads to lasting

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas. Happy Hannukkah Everyone!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Festivus for the Rest of Us...

 Gulls at Otter Pond on half frozen ice; above Manhattan skyline from tram to Roosevelt Island.
there are more photos...read on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

At Christmas first mothers and adoptees get the blues

Our Christmas tabletop "tree"
I'm reposting a blog from a few years ago, with some updates:

We had a Christmas lunch at our house yesterday--friends came by for Champagne punch and sustenance. Two guys my husband made sure to introduce to each other were both Vietnam vets. One was a journalist who was captured and briefly imprisoned; the other was a Naval officer who had spent two years in combat. After my husband made the introduction, they spent a long time talking. Later my husband said: It's the most intense experience of their lives--no one who hasn't been through it can quite understand. My husband was in the Army between conflicts, and after ROTC, only spent six months on active duty. But he understood immediately why these two men would bond.

I thought: That's what being a birth/first mother is like. No one who hasn't been there can understand the immense loss and grieving that comes with relinquishment--except another first mother. And yet, most of us don't go around talking openly about our experiences so that it's unlikely that I'm going to end up at a party one day and the host will introduce me to another person and pass on what we so deeply share: that we both lost a child to adoption.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why do some first/birth mothers reject reunion?

Lorraine
Why do some first/birth mothers reject reunion?* Or even resist acknowledging a lost son or daughter? It's a question that won't go away, and at the holiday season the slings and arrows of adoption and separation hit their mark ever more keenly. With families every where planning celebrations, the hurt of every rejection by a natural mother is magnified.

Adoptees call and write us asking for suggestions on how best to reach their mothers, especially when the mothers are not responding to a letter or email--when other first mothers are praying and waiting and hoping for that phone call--and so I've done a fair amount of thinking about why do some mothers reject when others rejoice. There are multiple causes:

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sofia Vergara sued by her own frozen embryos in unethical case

Lorraine
I did not want to get pregnant when I did, but once I had my baby I knew doing anything but keeping her was wrong. I knew I would "never get over it." I knew I wanted to keep her and take care of her and watch her grow up and be her mother in every sense of the word.

Now imagine that someone else is trying to force you to become a mother because in a moment of craziness you donated an egg and it was implanted with your boyfriend's sperm, and then frozen away for use (as in birth) at some future time. Then imagine you decided the boyfriend was a creep, broke up with the guy, met and married someone else and now the ex wants to hire a surrogate to nurture the embryos because he wants...your children. Nightmare scenario, right? 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Giving up a child may mean giving up a grandchild

When I gave up my infant daughter Rebecca half a century ago, I did not consider that I was giving up my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, that giving up a child could create a cascade of loss and mystery. I am one of the lucky natural mothers, though. Since my reunion in 1997, I've been able to spend time with Rebecca's children. I've been to their weddings, They've visited me at my home in Portland. I spent my birthday last October exploring a park on the Great Salt Lake with one granddaughter. I traveled to Peru with another.

Many natural mothers--like Jane Guttman author of The Gift Wrapped in Sorrow: A Mother's Quest for Healing--are not so lucky. Their lost child shuts them out. They are told in no uncertain terms, "You are not my children's grandparents. Please go away." Or worse, they are threatened with legal action if they dare, dare send a birthday card. Guttman writes:
"Soon Adam [her grandson] will be two and a half. I long to see him. I long to hold him. His smile and laughter are such significant moments

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

First Mother Forum under construction

Patience please!

First Mother Forum is being updated and getting a new look but we aren't quite there yet. You may have noticed tonight that the blog appearance was changing as we were reconfiguring the layout, and it is still under reconstruction. All the posts are there if you scroll down, but we removed some of the clutter of the sidebar to focus on the posts themselves. Suz Bednarz was most generous in giving us her time and expertise as we work through this. Another change will be coming in a day or two. But in the meantime, none of the posts are missing, and the pages can be accessed in the pull down menu, as can our popular posts and our bios on the right. We hope to get this all finished tomorrow! --lorraine

Sunday, December 4, 2016

This Is Us gets adoption right

Lorraine
Does media attention to the issues of adoption change society's perception of adoption?

Absolutely.

Every show that focuses on adoption moves public opinion--media attention is a major reason the acceptance of LGBT individuals and marriage equality moved seemingly quickly, compared to the adoption reform. But progress on our issue is being made and more states have at least limited access to birth information for adoptees. Shows also now portray adoption in less than a glowing light. Sixteen and Pregnant, for instance, went from showing Catelynn and Tyler's giving up of their daughter in at least partly positive light so they could go about their teenage lives and finish school, et cetera, but a few years into their semi-open adoption, the audience learns that not all is happy in adoptland, and the limited contact with their first daughter Carly is far from ideal. In 2013, The Baby Sellers on Lifetime with Kristie Alley showed the dark side of international adoption.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

What's the Use of Regret?

                                                                                        Photo by Ken Robbins
Regret is a concept, a feeling, that we first mothers deal with one way or another once we give up our babies to the unknown--or sometimes to the known--parents. We mourn, but unless we end up mad we eventually find a way to get on with our lives. My life after relinquishment included the career I always wanted, but I recognize that it came at a great cost that was unexpected and in fact, changed the course of my life. The cost was not only to my damaged psyche and altered prospects, but to my daughter's also. She would be born already fragile, subject to seizures, and so she was handed the double-barreled whammy of epilepsy as well as the sense of abandonment that being given up instills.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

On Thanksgiving: Accepting reality

Lorraine
For all those from families that are separated, Thanksgiving is the beginning of the long season of remembering who is not present in our lives.

It's not easy, it's a long hard slog to the other side of tranquility sometime in January after the holidays because the lives of first mothers and the adopted are so full of what-ifs. The other life. The other mother. The missing child at the table, in the will, in the family tree. Where there should be a face, there is only a blank. Where there should be an extra person at the table, there is no one. And because families in general do not talk about the missing person, there is no glass raised in remembrance, with the added hope that he or she is having a good dinner with the adoptive family. We might raise a glass to someone who died, or is far away, but the particular etiquette of silence about lost children prevents that. Perhaps that has changed today, with openness in adoption. If that is so, it is a welcome change, a somber but realistic acknowledgment of who is missing.