When I told Rebecca, my surrendered daughter who is a Mormon, that her Church opposed legislation allowing adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates, she asserted that I was misinformed: The Church had no position on opening records; she insisted; it was only the old fuddy duddies who ran LDS Family Services who opposed opening records and they would soon be gone.
Contrary to Rebecca’s assertion, the Mormon Church does oppose opening records. Furthermore, it stretches credibility to believe that LDS Family Services would take a position which had not been approved by the Church. LDS Family Services agencies comprise 26 percent of the 197 member agencies of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) the leading opponent of open records legislation. It sends emissaries to oppose open records at public hearings all over the country; it initiates letter-writing campaigns opposing open records. Without NCFA and its “official” sounding name, it’s almost certain more states would have open records laws by now. Make no mistake; LDS is the enemy of open records.
NCFA claims that it opposes opening records in order to protect "the principles of mutual consent and the option of privacy in adoption," but that’s just a cover for the principles of Mormonism, that is that your only family is the one to which you were sealed in the temple; this is the family with which you will spend eternity. Keeping records closed helps perpetuate the Mormon tenet that single pregnancy is sinful and ought to be concealed by surrendering the baby for adoption. Finally, it actively discourages adoptees from searching for their natural mothers, and makes searching seem like something that a good Mormon would not do. (Ironically, Troy Dunn, also known as “The Locator,” announces that he is a Mormon who searched and found his mother’s biological family in the opening sequence of each show. Go figure.)
Let’s look at how LDS beliefs and practices encourage and further sealed records. It starts with the Church’s reliance on abstinence only-sex education and includes the Church’s opposition to abortion, and insistence that single mothers surrender their babies. These same conditions created a baby glut in 1960's. There’s no hard data but it appears likely that without an aggressive adoption program, there would be more Mormon babies available than couples willing to adopt.
Mormons marry and begin their families early. Thus they have fewer age-related fertility problems than the general population. LDS Family Services excludes gays, single people, and those who are not “temple worthy” from adopting. At the same time, Mormons eschew childlessness, putting pressure on infertile couples to adopt. Many couples, however, are reluctant to adopt if there is a likelihood that the child may reunite with the first family. They may turn to foreign adoptions where reunion with birthparents is often impossible.
The Church actively promotes surrender and adoption. Its monthly publication Ensign has frequent articles encouraging pregnant single women to surrender their babies. Each ward, an organizational unit consisting of about 200 families, has an adoption coordinator who identifies pregnant single women and counsels them on marriage or adoption. Each ward holds annual adoption promotion programs during Sunday services. LDS Family Services has adoption agencies throughout the country. (See earlier post. And post about Rebecca's hurtful email.)
Although Mormon adoptions today commence with some degree of openness, adoptive parents have the power to deny contact between the adopted child and his natural parents. A mother-to-be may meet the prospective adoptive parents at the LDS Family Services offices but they are not given each others’ names or address. Adoptive parents are required to send pictures and letters to the natural mother through LDS Family Services offices until the child is three. The natural mother may send letters and pictures as well. However, LDS Family Services reads the letters and may censor them or refuse to forward them to the adoptive parents. The parties can agree to meet and to continue contact after three years, but this means that the adoptive parents have complete control over whether this happens or not. If they wish to cut off all contact, they may do so; remember that the first mother was never given their name or whereabouts. At this point, the so-called open adoption can in effect become a closed adoption, just as surely as mine was in 1966.
As usual, as in the past, this puts all the power in the hands of the adoptive parents, leaving natural mothers once again at the mercy of adoptive parents, who could turn out to be just like the ones Lorraine wrote about in the previous post.
It seems obvious that Church leaders fear that opening records – giving adoptees the right to their original, first biological heritage -- would encourage reunions which would in turn discourage Mormons from adopting domestically. The inevitable result would be single mothers keeping their babies or placing them with non-Mormon families. But adoption by non-Mormon families would work against the Church’s fierce drive to increase its membership. Remember, one of its main goals is to increase membership -- that is the point of the two-year mission that all good Mormon men undertake. Additionally, if women kept their babies, the single-mother families might draw into question the Church's teachings that a proper family consists of a married man and woman and their children.
How do we combat this? Certainly it is an uphill battle, and with the LDS, we will never win in our lifetimes. But that means that we have to work all the harder to spread the message that the vast majority of first mothers desperately want to know the children they surrendered and pray for a reunion.
In a few days, I’ll post about reading my granddaughter’s blog – and learning that she has obliterated me from her “heritage.”