Demons in Adoption

Last day to vote: Eighth Annual Demons of Adoption Awards Click on link to vote! and see previous post for our choice.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Adoption on Prime Time

I know I’m not the only one who notices how adoption seems to be a favorite topic of Hollywood writers. Just this week, I spotted these gems:

Today’s (10/30) NY Times has an article about the season premiere (tonight, 9:30 Eastern) of 30 Rock, starring Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin:

Liz, still single, wants to adopt a baby. At the opening of the first episode, she is sauntering down the street to NBC headquarters in Rockefeller Center in a flowery skirt, to “Sex and the City”-style music, dressed up to impress the stern adoption agency inspector, played by Megan Mullally.

Tuesday night, I happened to catch the opening minutes of House, the wildly popular Fox show starring Hugh Laurie. I’ve never watched, but thought I’d give it a try. NOT. House is interrogating his single female colleague with comments such as, "You're smiling, does that mean you have a baby?…Considering you’re at the bottom most desirable list, just behind gay couples...and then I heard the words "crack whore birthmother" and I just said "oh no, no, no, no, we don't need to hear that," and I turned the TV off and got lost in my book. A couple of weeks ago there was another House plot line where an adopted Chinese woman was being treated for straight pins that were imbedded in her brain by her birthparents, who wanted her dead so they could try for a boy during China's one child per family policy (there's also a failed reunion but that's all I recall). Remember the Friends plot line when Chandler and Monica were trying to adopt a baby? I was so upset I joined many viewers, including CUB (Concerned United Birthparents) members, in an e-mail blitz begging them to not go there…it didn’t help.

I’ve been thinking about this all afternoon, how sensitive I am about the proliferation of adoption stories on TV. While it hardly compares, I feel empathy with a Holocaust survivor when they see a Law & Order or CSI episode where a murder victim was a concentration camp survivor; I just don’t need to be reminded. I know most television programming is designed to entertain, not necessarily inform (though it happens occasionally), and can’t possibly capture the emotional impact of adoption on the birthparent[s] and child. Of course, the adoptive parents are usually the only ones smiling.

Several years ago I attended a program for adoption professionals at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. One of the seminars featured a panel of adult adoptees talking about their experiences; one of the panel members was a man well into his golden years who met his family of origin rather late in life. By the end of his speech, he was in tears. I sought him out during a break just to give him a hug, and he told me it doesn’t matter how old one is, “you never get over it [the impact of adoption].”

I know this is just the prelude to thirty days of shiny happy people celebrating the joys of adoption—November is National Adoption Month…just in time for the holidays! (Readers may recall my older blog entry where I stated my daughter’s adoptive parents sent an engraved announcement that Santa had delivered a very special gift that year. While it's a charming sentiment, when my daughter shared it with me, in my mind I was screaming, Santa?! No! A broken-hearted 19 year-old gave her to you!). I know times have changed dramatically for the better since the dark ages of closed adoption, but whenever I see “adoption lite” depicted on TV and in film, it’s an ouch. Like that dear man said to me long ago, you never get over it.

How I wish I could.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Forced to be a Father

The other day Dr. Phil did a show called Forced To Be a Father, about dads who feel tricked into fatherhood. The two guys on the show were very angry they have to pay child support because they say they feel no connection with these children they didn't intend to have. One was a guy in Michigan who says his girlfriend said she was using birth control, and couldn't get pregnant, so he didn't use a condom, and then, bingo! pregnant she was.

He wanted the mother to give up the child for adoption. She did not. So now he pays $500 a month. When asked how he felt about the child, he said that he felt no more connection than would a mother who gave up a child for adoption.

Well.

You can see that comments do not pick up on that remark, but let's join the party and hit that hard.

The other reluctant father was a family guy who found out two years after that the one night he spent with an ex resulted in a child, and a paternity test proved that he indeed was the father. He has two other young kids with his wife. The wife is quite bitter over the $350 a month in child support they pay, and this father also does not want to see his child. Feminist attorney Gloria Allred argued that these fathers are not taking the child into consideration, and, should they so choose, could ask for, or sue for, visitation rights. But neither of these guys were heading in that direction.

Maybe they will soften in time, as happened in the case of a friend who is the mother. She had given up her first born, and when she got pregnant unintentionally sixteen years later, she decided to have the child and raise him. As a single parent. The man's mother did act as a grandmother, and eventually the father came into the picture, has a good relationship with his son, and I believe, paid for his college education.

Back to Dr. Phil. The show ended on a huge upnote when the actor/comic Jay Thomas (the love interest of Candice Bergen on her old show) told of his warm relationship with a son who had been given up for adoption twenty years earlier. Thomas said that he was initially dubious when the son contacted him (the young man's first mother made the first phone call), but after talking to him agreed to see him in a public place. Thomas invited his son to a show he was doing, and asked his best friend to sit next to his son. The friend told him afterward that it had been like sitting next to you twenty years ago!

Within two weeks, Thomas said, the young man--who wants to be a singer, and has just done an album--was house sitting for them, knew his other two, much younger, kids (eight and six, as I recall) and ... all was well. All was, in fact, great! He has so much in common with his son! His wife said, let's not tell the kids yet, let's go to therapy and do it that way. But Thomas, at a two-for-one margarita night/afternoon where he happened to be with the oldest child, blurted out the truth, and as soon as the child got home, told his brother, and all beans were spilled. It all worked out well for everyone.

The truth shall set you free. If only more first mothers--if only all first mothers and fathers--acted on that. Secrecy is what keeps many first/birth mothers from having a relationship. They have been lying so long with their secret, they are afraid to let the air in. I imagine that if I had never told my husband that I'd had a child, and she contacted me, I would freak out. If I tell him now, my thinking would be, it's an admission that I have been lying by omission for more than twenty years.

Dr. Phil's show that day ended on such an upnote--the kid looks like Thomas, you could see how they were kidding around that they got along famously--and I can only assume that it would encourage more people either to have the courage to either search for their first parents, or accept into their lives the child relinquished.

It's well worth watching the show at the site above, and do post a comment about that stupid, uninformed comment from the guy who resents his child.

Be well, stay warm. We're switching from oil to gas (cleaner and eventually cheaper) and it's taken a month so far. The gas company was supposed to be here today...but no such luck. At least it hasn't been too cold. Yet. I'm wearing several layers and drinking hot water with lemon. Life is so much worse in so many places in the world. I think of Afghanistan,where I support a "sister" through Women for Women International.

--lorraine

Monday, October 27, 2008

Egg Donations on the Rise in Tough Times

In 2005, the latest year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has data on egg donation, some 134,260 women had assisted reproductive procedures. Of those, 16,161 women, or 12 percent, received donated eggs. In 1995, there were 4,783 eggs used in 59,142 procedures, or 8 percent of the total.
-from the Good Morning America website.

And this morning on GMA comes more news: since the downturn in the economy, there has been an uptick in eggs and sperm donations--a 30 to 40 percent increase at fertility clinics. (If I could figure out how to have the video play from this site...I would.)

What this all means, of course, is that in 15 and 15 and 20 years, there will be more individuals looking for their biological roots. The reporter notes that the clinics are only keeping medical records for 10 years...and so that won't include diseases that show up later. But my question is: does that mean that after 10 years, the children born of these eggs won't be able to trace their roots?

All this is wrong, prima facea, but I also know that the tide is against this old-fashioned opinion. And while maybe there will be fewer families able to afford someone else's eggs, someone else's sperm, and the services of a fertility clinic, there will be ever more ova and spermatozoa for sale during this recession. At the GMA website, there are a couple of other related videos, all the people say they probably wouldn't sell their ova (such a bother, weeks of hormone pills, and then shots) and sperm (well, that doesn't take too long) if it weren't for the money. But then someone adds, that they probably shouldn't do it if they are in it only for the money.

Hypocrisy at work. It's worth nothing that in England where the sale of sperm has been outlawed, donations...are way down. Way down.

Why is the belief that this kind of baby-making unethical so against the times? Because today's child-bearing generation believe that pregnancy at 39 and up is no problem. Because they believe science will take care of anything. Because they are in denial. Because they are somehow convinced--until too late--that the dictums of biology do not apply to them.

In yesterday's New York Times was a piece in Modern Love column of the Style Section in which the man writing says that his live-in girlfriend gave him an ultimatum for a proposal by a certain date. She's 35, her best reproductive years are already over, and she's giving this slacker an ultimatum several months away, while her biological clock is ticking ticking ticking....and he's having trouble doing the deed because of a 2.5 carat diamond ring in the family. Stay tuned. In a couple of years the writer will be asking for our pity as he extols the trials of trying to have a child when the mother is on the other side of 35, and then deciding to adopt.

Because it's all part of god's plan.
--lorraine

Friday, October 24, 2008

"God's Will?" I don't think so.

Just a short note here responding to a post from UnsignedMasterpiece about God's Will in this business we have unhappily found ourselves as mothers without children and children seeking first mothers:
You hear a lot of talk about God and adoption and I always wonder where "God's plan" has gone when things go wrong,...You never hear anyone referring to how God meant them to have this experience then.
I just can't buy that it was "God's will" that I got pregnant at a time and place when I had to give up my daughter to strangers...they loved her, yes, as well as they could, but both her epilepsy and her being given up put a huge traumatic burden upon her and in the end, she was not able to cope with it all. How can it possibly be "God's will" that we who have lost our children in the closed system of adoption never fully get over it? How can it be "God's will" that we are the "reproductive agents" for some other family? How can it be "God's will" that many of those same adoptees spend their lives looking for their first parents?

If there is such a God, he or she is a pretty nasty piece of work. At times when I hear people talk about God's will in relationship to losing a child to adoption, I find that I just turn away. I was raised in another time--the Forties and Fifties--and wasn't supposed to have sex when I wasn't married. Okay, you can say I sinned when I had that sex with my daughter's father, and the result was conception, but is there no reprieve from this hell on earth? If there is a God, why can he give us no solace? The Republicans talk about "making adoption easier" in their manic quest to make abortions more difficult (or impossible), but they have not walked in our shoes. If they had, they would not be talking this way, nor would web sites offer "a beautiful adoption experience." To give away your own flesh and blood is hell, plain and simple.

There is this quote from Euripedes that I think sums up what we read on this blog:
“No man lives happy to the end of his life. Or avoids his share of bad luck. We inherit grief merely by being born.” --Euripides.
Amen.

--lorraine

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Heart to Heart

I spent the weekend before last in Denver with a charming group of about 30 mothers who came together for a few days to share their stories, their pain, and their hopes. These women met through an online support group, Heart To Heart (hearttwoheart@yahoogroups.com), and have been coming together each year since 2003. Next year H2H, as they refer to it, will meet in Boston.

Many of the women were younger than I; a few young enough to be my daughter. Some had forged strong relationships with their excised child although others had been rejected and one had not been able to find her child. The younger women did not appear to have the same “hang up” about being pregnant “out of wedlock“ that women of my generation had.

Their reasons for surrendering their infants, however, were the same. “Don’t come home with that baby,” they were told. “If you love your child, you will give him away.” “You’re too young to be a mother.” "You’ll forget and get on with your life.”

The H2H agenda was simple: A trip to the mountains with great views of the rocky peaks when the clouds parted; an afternoon ceremony honoring ourselves for the births of our children; and a buffet dinner. We received small mementos including three CDs with songs of motherhood and empowerment. “Lullaby” by the Dixie Chicks; “I Will Remember You” by Sarah McLachlan; “Mother and Child Reunion” by Paul Simon; and many others.

It was a sweet and sad day.

Sweet because these women were so supportive; they put aside inevitable personality conflicts to comfort each other.

Sad because their presence was a reminder that the carnage of adoption is continuing. I wish I had known these women before they signed away their children so I could have warned them. Would they have listened to me? I question whether I would have listened to Lorraine or Carol Schaefer or Meredith Hall or Pat Taylor or any of the other mothers who preceded me. I fear that we mothers are modern day Cassandras, doomed to tell the truth but never to be believed.


PS Regarding Linda’s post, I knew another mother whose sister cozied up to her daughter and the two of them cut her out. The sister’s reason may have been jealousy; she never married and had no children. The daughter may have been using the sister to get back at her mother. It was also a way for the daughter to maintain a connection with her birth family without conceding anything.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dump-Your-Unwanted-Kids Law in NE

Well, things are really heating up in Nebraska, where the dump-your-kid law has led to all kinds of abandonments of children under eighteen. The last one is a doozy, and what we who do not believe in adoption as a fairy tale feared: that parents would get rid of children they had adopted. While The Daily Bastardette has been telling the tales of the kids dumped regularly, the one today caught my eye because, yep, the child was 13, and adopted. Of the 17 children abandoned since the "safe haven" law took effect in July, only four are younger than ten.

Which brings me to a story from my life, which seems to abut adoption at every opportunity. After I divorced my first husband--who came into my life shortly after I gave up my daughter, and you know how that goes, let's get married quick! I need to think of myself as other than a slut--I spent an evening with an old BF from college back in my home state of Michigan. My ex- BF was now also divorced. Nobody back in Michigan, where I'm from and went to school, knew that I had a daughter, and had given her up for adoption, so the ex has no knowledge of this.

I didn't expect bells to ring because the ex-BF and I had never been..."in love," or at least, I hadn't and I'm pretty sure he had never been either. But we were having a pleasant enough evening, sparring as we had done during our senior year as we worked on the campus daily newspaper.

His story turned out to have an adoption twist, not surprisingly. He and his wife had adopted a boy who had been three or four at the time. Oh, I say, betraying nothing, but now listening on all burners...then the wife got pregnant and they had their "own son," as he put it. People cavil about this language--his son, but I'm just telling the story here and you get the drift, right? Okay, I think, your own son, go on....When they split a few years later, he said, the wife announced: I’ll take our son, but the adopted one, one, he’s yours, I don’t want him, too much trouble.

And then? Then what happened? Are you fathering the boy? Sure you are, say yes, I'm thinking. ...but the boy was too much to handle, he said, me a single guy, I couldn't hack it, and so I went back to court and undid the adoption.

Oh, It was hard, he said.

Yes, I said, I imagine it was, thinking, can you take me home now so I can throw up?

Today, all they would have had to do was drive from Michigan to Nebraska. Which the couple who dropped off their 13-year-old son did.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

this Birth Mother Is Uncomfortably Numb

Since I joined the virtual world nine years ago I’ve referred to some of the citizens as walking wounded, i.e., most people are in chat rooms, blogging, etc. because they’re striving, seeking, finding. Honestly, all is well in my world and I’m considered a happy, upbeat person, except when it comes to my life as a firstmother. Last week while I marked my daughter’s birthday I was thinking about this passage from The Giver, a futuristic young adult book by Lois Lawry that I read in the aftermath of 9/11:

Lily sighed. I hope to get assigned to be a Birthmother.”
“Lily!” Her mother spoke very sharply. “Don’t say that. There’s very little honor in that Assignment. The birthmothers never even get to see the new children.”

Very little honor indeed. And a simple phone call to my sister this morning was a grim reminder that in the world of adoption, we birthmothers are merely, to borrow a phrase from Lorraine’s July blog entry, “reproductive agents.”

I phoned my sister, Judasina (the name Lorraine and I call her, you’ll see why in a moment), to ask her if she wanted to join me for a Sunday drive to a craft show, and we caught up on the past week’s events. She knew from her daughter, my beloved niece, that I had sent myself a bouquet on my daughter’s birthday. She knows that’s always a difficult day for me and she leaves me alone until she’s given the all clear sign. I told her I had discovered my daughter’s address but that I wouldn’t use it because I didn’t want to upset or anger my daughter any more than I have, but that it was a comfort to me to have the information.

And then my sister confessed what I knew all along, she’s been in touch with my daughter over the past several months. This soap opera began over three years ago, up to and during my daughter’s wedding. My sister basically usurped my role…she met my daughter’s adoptive mother before I had the chance, despite knowing what a huge moment that was for me. She’s visited my daughter, who lives several states away, and bounced my grandson on her knee, yet I’ve never seen a photo of either of my grandsons, let alone told about their births (like everything else over the past three and one-half years, I discovered that information on the Internet) While my daughter has cut off all contact with me, she sends my sister photos of her two young boys (whom I jokingly refer to as my sister’s grandchildren), they e-mail occasionally, and apparently they tried to have a clandestine get together this past summer while my daughter had a month-long stay at the family home at the Jersey shore. My sister’s back stabbing and secrecy over the past several years has earned her the moniker Judasina. Suffice to say her ongoing relationship with my daughter (she’s not the firstmother so it’s OK to connect) has caused me a lot of heartache and long estrangements from my sister, and my sister ceased being my confidante long ago.

So, while I calmly let my sister share all the details of my daughter’s life, she saved the best for last: my daughter was recently diagnosed with cervical cancer. There’s absolutely no history of cancer on either side of her birthfamily, so I suspect it may be stress-induced. When I heard the words “cervical cancer,” all I said was, “that’s a shame,” as though my sister was talking about a work colleague, or an acquaintance.

I went to my craft show, did some errands, and by mid-afternoon I was just dumbfounded. If my daughter is so angry, so hurt, so overwhelmed that she can’t share serious health news with me, then I’m screwed. She really, really doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. I know and understand adoptees' struggle, but this—not being able to tell me she has a serious, life threatening illness, is just more than I can bear. One of the comments in my previous post told me to keep fighting, but I have no fight left in me.

I was going to send my grandson a first birthday gift this week, but decided against it. Jane commented in the previous post, perhaps we’re being spiteful. NO! This is self-preservation; I need to protect what’s left of my heart.

When my daughter’s first son was born, I--crazed, stalker birthmother than I am--phoned hospitals in my daughter’s city, and I found her on the second attempt. My sister, unable to keep the news to herself, told me she was having a Caesarian and the scheduled date. I just wanted to know that mother and child were well, and was it a boy or girl. Before I had a chance to react, the receptionist connected me to her room. My daughter answered the phone, and all I could say after not hearing her voice for nine months was..."Congratulations. And what did we have?”
It took her several moments to recognize my voice, and all she said was “Thanks for calling,” and hung up. I immediately sent an-email to Lorraine that I felt as though my heart was cryogenically frozen and it shattered into thousands of shards. Thankfully, I don’t feel anywhere near that at the moment, actually, I don’t feel much at all, and that hurts even more. I’m not angry, I’m not sad, I’m not wistful. I’m just numb.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Sarah

Here it is. My version of 9/11. Today is my daughter's 32nd birthday. But I'm not sad or angry, just wistful. Frequent visitors to FMF know that my daughter hasn't spoken to me for the past three and one-half years, but thanks to my Internet search skills I know that she has two sons, 2-1/2 and 1, and that she moved, but didn't know where. Tonight the guardian angel/goddess of first mothers was on my side and within minutes I had located her new address (I have no idea how I found it, it was as though some force was clicking the mouse for me). Satisfied with that information, I went to bed. But I could hear my heart pounding in my chest, my ears, and the tears started to fall. Last year was the first October 16 in 31 years without tears, and that's how I planned to spend this one. I'll go to work, have my lunchtime walk, come home, pay bills, and settle in for "Holy Night," my night to veg out in front of the TV.

At the urging of adoptive and birthmothers alike, I've tried to stay in touch, but my attempts at contact have been fruitless. I sent her firstborn son a small birthday gift on his first birthday in 2006 and Mother's Day and Christmas cards in 2007; all were unacknowledged, but I know the Christmas card unsettled her (she contacted my sister, who she'll contact on an as needed basis) because I addressed it to all the family, including her second son, whose first birthday is in eight days, and she was shocked that I discovered she had a second child (such information is a matter of public record, and again, the Internet is my paintbrush/cleaver/stethoscope, i.e., it's essential to my vocation.)

At the stroke of midnight, I pulled out a long-neglected necklace from my jewelry drawer and put it around my neck, hoping it might be a talisman. The necklace was a Christmas 2001 gift from my daughter--a spontaneous, very unexpected holiday surprise, our only Christmas together. We had been joking about those cheesy jewelry commercials for Kay Jewelers and J. C. Penney, so I thought it might be a heartshaped diamond necklace for $99. I was sitting by myself on the floor when I opened the box. The necklace was under a piece of cotton; I took it out, held it up, and started to cry. I held it up to my sister, she started crying. My niece started crying. It was a silver mother/child pendant, an abstract circle design that represents the eternity of a mother's love. The brick walls just tumbled down, we were kissing and holding each other. I had been holding in so much until that moment, it just all came rushing out; I swear I cried enough tears to fill a stream. That was the closest we've ever been, and one of my fondest memories.

And here I am, sitting in the dark illuminated by my computer screen, aching to send her flowers for her birthday, anonymously, knowing that I shouldn't because it will ruin her day knowing that I'm stalking her. And why do I want to, after the way she's treated me? Well, quite simply, because she's my daughter. And while I haven't always liked her, I've always loved her. I'm thinking of the moment I first saw her, and how in awe I was that something so beautiful, so perfect, came from me. The image is so vivid that it feels as though it happened a few hours ago, not 32 years ago.

So, readers, I'm asking for your help. Adoptee fans of FMF, if your birthmother sent you a birthday bouquet out of the blue, how would you feel? And first mothers, would you be able to resist temptation, or just go with your gut instinct? I suspect in the light of day this too, shall pass, but I'd like to know what you think.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Increasing Adoptions Act....NOT

A new law designed to help states cope with foster care has some good provisions--it encourages greater efforts to keep siblings together, for instance, but it appears that it might also streamline the process for parental rights to be terminated. As the AP notes, it has "enhanced adoption incentives," which is the kind of language that gives me the creepy-crawlies.

From the AP story:

"As encouragement to the states, the bill calls for doubling the per-child bonuses they receive for placing foster children in adoption. Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, says this could aggravate an already worrisome phenomenon.

That means an even greater incentive for quick-and-dirty, slipshod placements, for placements more likely to disrupt, and for the creation of more legal orphans, as states rush even faster to terminate parental rights," Wexler said in an e-mail."

But what does the bill not do? It does not take on the worrisome problem of combating neglect and abuse so fewer children are removed from their families in the first place. There is not one penny for keeping families together.

The name of the new act says it all:

Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act

I know that adoptions are necessary, and in some circumstances good, but we need to encourage keeping families together, and whether that means helping the parents reform, giving them more financial aid, or whatever, the country is going down the wrong road on this. A friend's sister adopted a baby from a fully-formed family in Rhode Island a couple of years ago. That was pitiful--the story I heard was that poverty was the reason the child was available. So somewhere in Rhode Island there is a family--a mother, a father, siblings--who have lost a member of their kin. I wonder how often the mother thinks about the child when she sets the table.

Then I recall that gee-chucks Sarah is in favor of "adoption made easier."

You betcha I'm going to oppose that. You betcha.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Adoptees have right to know who they are

Lorraine
Joyce Bahr of Unsealed Initiative, the force behind New York State Adoption Reform recently posted this on their blog, and so I decided to publish it here:
From the Albany Times-Union:

Adoptees have right to know who they are

By LORRAINE DUSKY
First published: Sunday, June 1, 2003

More than three decades ago, when I was a reporter at the former Knickerbocker News, I was nursing a fresh wound: Only months before I started working in Albany, I had surrendered a child to adoption. And I was bleeding all over the place.

During the day, I took uppers to dull the depression, and at night when the drugs wore off, I cried. I ate. I wallowed in my shame and secrecy. I was "making a new life for myself," just as my case worker said I should.

In time, I crawled out of the hole. Life did go on, but it did not go on without the daughter I did not have. That child is always with you. You stare too long at someone her age at the mall. You see a flower that was in bloom when she was born. You are invited to a baby shower. You don't have a child in your body for nine months and forget.

Records of birth mothers' preferences kept by states, adoption agencies and adoption reform groups indicate that the vast majority of us joyfully welcome our lost children into our lives.

Yet a mother's supposed "right to privacy" is the smoke screen trotted out in opposition to letting adults who were adopted as infants have their original birth certificates. Only six states let adoptees [as of 1/1/09, it will be eight, when Maine opens its records] have them for the asking. New York [where my daughter was adopted] is not among them.

Opponents of open records insist, in some misguided interpretation of the Bill of Rights, that a secrecy-seeking woman's right to privacy trumps an adopted person's right to know the answer to the most basic of questions: Who am I? Identity is many things, but surely it begins with the knowledge of one's own birth and heritage.

It's not just for psychological reasons that adoptees seek their origins. Genetic research is continually expanding heredity's role in shaping our well-being, for genes are turning out to be the biggest window into who we are. Medical histories from birth mothers taken at the time of surrender are by their nature incomplete. All this weakens the argument for birth parents' "right to privacy" from their own children, no matter what we were told, or what the unfortunate circumstances were 20, 30 or 40 years ago, or how deep the secret is buried today.

Short of opening up the records to adoptees, New York and several other states have set up registries that match adoptees and birth parents seeking one another. But overly restrictive provisions, underfunding and understaffing make most registries nearly useless. Since December 1983, when New York's registry was set up, more than 18,000 people have registered; 680 matches have been made. That's a "success" rate of less than 4 percent. But the low number does accomplish what those who push for registries rather than open records want to accomplish: Make it nearly impossible for adoptees to learn the truth of their origins.

Many people with no connection to adoption instinctively grasp that all individuals, adopted or not, should have an unfettered right to the knowledge of who they are, and that such knowledge begins with their original birth certificates. Assemblyman Scott M. Stringer, a Manhattan Democrat who is sponsoring legislation that would do just that at age 18, is one. [Stringer is no longer in the legislature, and today David Koon in the Assembly sponsors our bill.] Many connected to adoption agree, such as Sen. William J. Larkin (R-Orange), an adoptive grandfather who's backing the companion bill in the Senate. Yet open-records bills have died in committee for the last 11 years. [Make that 16.] Unless enlightenment strikes soon, this year will be no different.

One way to make open-records legislation palatable appears to be to tack on a provision that allows birth mothers to file a paper asking for no contact. The adopted individual could still get his original birth certificate but would be informed his mother doesn't wish to hear from him.

Fine. The news might be disheartening, but so be it. Yet some states that have opened their records have also included language that carries an implied penalty for contacting a birth parent who filed a veto, and it's possible that New York will follow suit.

The birth parents named on the birth certificate would, of course, have to inform the police that the child has broken the law by, say, phoning her or him. Punished for contacting your birth mother? We are not talking about stalking, or harassment, for which anyone can get an order of protection, but simply making "contact," however that is. How do birth mothers warrant such special protection? How is this in the state's vested interest?

The state never promised birth mothers anonymity from our own when we signed the surrender papers. Why now? Some people bury their divorces in the past and pray that their exes never return to "out" them. But the state doesn't let them file a "no contact" veto just because they might be embarrassed. Nor are fathers who are sued for paternity likewise protected.

That being the case, the state should not penalize adopted individuals who want answers that only their birth mothers can give. "No contact" vetoes are the repugnant remnants of outdated ideology. Adoptees deserve their original birth certificates as a matter of course. Penalizing them for simply contacting the person who gave them life is both unreasonable and absurd.
___________
Lorraine Dusky of Sag Harbor is the author of Birthmark, a 1979 memoir that broke the silence of birth mothers. She and her daughter have been reunited for more than two decades.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On Guard: Adoptive Parent Approaching

My life is totally surrounded by adoption. Maybe because I live in the demographic (though I am slightly older than this) of women who had careers, delayed conception, were unable to conceive in their late thirties when they got around to trying, and then ended up adopting. This means that I almost never can go to a party of say, twenty or thirty people, without there being one or two adoptive couples present. Some of them are relatively good friends that I see often enough so that ADOPTION is not the first thing that comes to mind when they walk in.

But then, one friend's (an adoptive mother of a Chinese girl) college roommate is out for the weekend, and she too is an adoptive mother. With a kid as Irish-looking as they come who is being raised in a quite different religion. And bang, I see her, and I think: adoptive parent, how is the child, do they know who the mother is, do they ever think about her? And I wonder if the first thing the woman thinks of when she sees me is that I am a birth/first mother. Who found her daughter. I wonder how her son is faring, is he interested in searching, and I pray that adoption never comes up that evening. And I am on some sort of edge until we say goodnight, and relieved that I got through the evening unscathed.

And there's another friend--the divorced dad of an adopted Chinese daughter--whose new girlfriend, in her late 30s, maybe even her 40s, wanted to have a kid but waited too long and now...she's shopping countries for a baby. Our friend tells my husband that you can either get in line at the countries that allow adoptions, albeit ever more slowly, or you can go to the head of the line at countries that have not yet allowed international adoptions but are thinking about it. That's the route she chose, and is applying for a child in Nepal, which has not yet opened up to foreign adoptions. Our friend and his fiancee are not getting married, in fact, because it will be easier for her to adopt as a single parent rather than as a couple, because then the father-to-be has a Chinese daughter from an earlier marriage. Incidentally, my friend is in every way a great divorced dad. (This is certainly a plot line for a soap.)

And another friend is Arthur, adoptive grandfather to Emily Prager's daughter, who moved to China with her daughter. And of course there's my somewhat tenuous but real connection to Brooks Hansen, author of the despicable but honest, The Brotherhood of Joseph. His parents live nearby, and are good friends of a friend, who used to have us to dinner together...until I introduced myself as a first mother who searched, found, had a relationship. And there's lots of other friends of friends....

Because I'm 66, many of our friends have children who are of child-bearing age, and when I hear that someone's daughter, or son, is having a baby, I cheer inside, because then I won't be faced with having to deal with yet another adoption, so close, so personal. I won't be drawn into conversations I don't want to have, and I won't be the subject of gossip I don't want to be.

I was reminded of all this by a piece in Newsweek this week about how American interest in foreign adoption is as strong as ever, but the number has dropped ten percent due to countries such as Russia, Guatemala and China dialing back their programs or ending them entirely. I don't really know how I feel about that because poorer countries have used their children as a cash crop, and that has led to all sorts of abuses (baby-stealing, kidnapping, extortion from poor women), but at the same time, a kid who might otherwise grow up in an orphanage anywhere is almost certainly better in a home with someone who cares. Yes, of course, there are abuses, and kids end up frozen in freezers, and sexually abused, but that has to be the exception.

So, am I alone is thinking ADOPTIVE PARENT, Be On Guard! whenever I encounter one? Or am I just obsessed...? Inquiring first mother wants to know.

--lorraine

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Making "empowered" Choices...Not

Thanks to Joyce Bahr from Unsealed Initiative for sending this:

SUPPORTING PREGNANT TEENS TO MAKE EMPOWERED CHOICES

A Free Half-Day Training for Professionals

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

This conference is an integral component of the Options Awareness Project in Nassau County and enjoys the support of the Nassau County Department of Health and the County Executive’s Common Sense for the Common Good Initiative.The Project is coordinated by Spence-Chapin, a nonprofit adoption agency with a 100-year history in New York City and a significant presence in Nassau County. Spence- Chapin’s mission is to find adoptive homes for infants who need them, to promote understanding of adoption throughcounseling and public education, and to continuously strive to improve adoption practice.

Exactly what is an "empowered" choice for pregnant teens? Abortion? Keeping the baby? What do you think that the meaning of "empowered" would be at a conference sponsored by an adoption agency? Hmmm... I would guess that would be to make the "informed" choice to surrender your baby...not to keep it, because if you kept him/her, then how would the agency stay in business?

Yes, we would like to see the agency improve adoption practice by making it NON-EXISTENT EXCEPT IN THE MOST RARE CASES, where the parents abuse the children, where there is no possible other way, where there are no family members who can care for the children, and then we would like to see the adoption, with the force of law, be O-P-E-N.

If that is what Spence Chapin is promoting as "empowered" than I can support this conference...but somehow I don't think that is it. More likely it's a conference on how to make girls feel they are making the "right" decision by giving up their babies. Truly "empowered" would be counseling by first mothers who haven't gotten their lives back together the way the social workers said they would, so that those considering adoption could look at it from all perspectives; "empowered" would be enough aid from the government to be able to have good day care and food to take care of your baby and not give him or her up for adoption.

If Wall Street can go begging for aid from Congress, why not us? Oh, I see because we are not CEOs of financial corporations whose idea of hard times is to have to sell our art work worth millions, or unload that house in Hamptons in a down market.

Any readers who feel they made an "empowered" choice when they relinquished, please post a comment. Firstmother would be interested in hearing your thoughts. And first mother will not argue with you. Adoption, we know, adoption is always painful.

--lorraine (feeling feisty this morning)



Monday, October 6, 2008

I Did Not Want Anonymity

I've been thinking about all the pain and anguish that is evident from our own postings, and those that come through in the comments, and how this can be translated into something for the good of mankind....and the only way I can see out of revisiting the grief, like an old phonograph record stuck on a groove, is to work for change. Open the records. Get them out of those moldy, dusty basements and into the light. Free everyone from feeling they have to decide whether to search but let them have the idea that it's not a slap in their adoptive parents' sense of well being but normal and natural....so I say to all, adoptees and first parents, get involved in your state, and the state in which you were adopted or relinquished parental rights.
When we go to lobby, legislators will say that they haven't heard from enough people to warrant a change in the law. That they have to "protect birth mothers in the closet." Which makes me particularly crazy and mad. Unless you let them know how you feel, they are going to go on protecting you until the end of your days.
Change is not going to happen until we make our voices heard. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and write a letter. Call your legislator and make your voice heard. Do it. Do it now. Do it again tomorrow.
A few weeks ago, I called Sheldon Silver, the head of New York's Assembly, and let them know I was a birth mother in favor of the Adoptee Rights Bill, and would they please move it out of committee and pass it. ! Last weekend I got a letter from him saying that my "situation will be useful during future discussions on this matter." Damn straight.
I unearthed a piece I wrote for womensenews, in 2004, just before New Hampshire opened its records for adoptees, and it explains my "situation" as well as any. The piece is going to be reprinted in a book of some sort--womensenews didn't tell me the name of the book.
And a note to Mairaine:Thanks for correcting the source of the quote in the previous post. I fixed post.

To get more involved, check out these sites:
American Adoption Congress
Origins-USA.org
Concerned United Birthparents
and in New York:
Unsealed Initiative
For information on Illinois, click on 73Adoptee website on fav blog list at right.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Conflict Is Built into Adoption

"In all of us is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are, and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning, no matter what our attainments in life, there is a most disquieting loneliness."

This quote from Alex Haley is what inspired a 62-year-old adoptee in North Carolina, Raye Hedden, to search and find her natural/biological parents. Though reunion stories are rife today, this quote caught my eye because it sums up everything about the need to know. Contrast that with the comments from singer/actress Kristen Chenoweth, also adopted, and a memoir in progress, A Little Bit Wicked, about why she has not searched. In the interview Chenoweth says she gets sick of people pointing out that Brangelina have adopted children; that's she tired of the pressure to search and:

One thing it's [the book] not about is the search for her birth parents. "It's actually kind of the opposite, about what it's like not to do that, and what it's like not to have that family history, but to connect with the people who raised you," Chenoweth said.

"There's so much pressure," Chenoweth said. "Every time I meet somebody, and they say, 'You're adopted — have you found your birth parents yet?'

"If you met my parents, you'd know, (Chenoweth) is so their kid. I mean, we don't look alike. If I'm going to be honest, they're tall, brunette, they can't sing. They're engineers."

Asked about her brother, she said, "He should never, ever sing. Not ever."

When it was suggested that her family probably wonders sometimes where someone like her came from, she nodded. "I talk about that. I talk about like a little bit of depression that happened in my life and where that came from, and rosacea, and just things that people who aren't adopted know about."

Adoption-reform pioneer Florence Fisher, who remains a good friend, talks about "good adoptees," who tow the line, do everything possible to make their adoptive parents happy and...not do anything to offend them in any possible way. It sounds like they are afraid of losing their parents' love. Sounds like Chenoweth.

How sad. How pathetic. How unreal, but then, that is their reality.

In the years that I knew my daughter, Jane, before she committed suicide last December, I often would be so aware of her not being able to freely connect with me because of hurting her other mother. The first time Jane visited us, we spent the day shopping for clothes for school for her at Macy's (The world's biggest store! In New York City!), had dinner with my husband at Benihana, which we thought she would enjoy, and then went to see Evita on Broadway. She was fifteen.

She was non-nonplussed and didn't seem to like the show--even though we had first row balcony seats. Okay, I thought, maybe it's not her cup of tea.

But later, years later, she confessed that she only did that because she was having such a good time that day she felt disloyal to her other parents. One can truly understand the conflict, but it's sad. Sad that she could not be free to be loved and feel loved by both sets of parents. (My husband was not her father, but he took on the role of step-father rather easily, and that's how she saw him.)

And this again came into play when she stopped talking to me after her adoptive mother said at the funeral of her eldest biological son: "He was my favorite."

Jane barely spoke to me for a year. She needed to prove that she was worthy of her adoptive mother's love and the way to do that was to cut me out of her life. It was a hard time.

--hugs to every single adoptee out there reading. We first mothers are sometimes so screwed up ourselves that we can't connect with you...of course I'd like to give all those rejecting first mothers a smack on the head...but that's another post.

--lorraine

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"Adoptions Made Easier" Does Not Get My Vote

Oh there they go again, the Republicans urging as ever, "adoption not abortion," which has been the slogan of the two Bushes in office, and now of course we have Sarah coming on strong...

This is from the Katie Couric interview that was broadcast on Tuesday.

Palin: I am pro-life. And I'm unapologetic in my position that I am pro-life. And I understand there are good people on both sides of the abortion debate. In fact, good people in my own family have differing views on abortion, and when it should be allowed. Do I respect people's opinions on this. Now, I would counsel to choose life. I would also like to see a culture of life in this country. But I would also like to take it one step further. Not just saying I am pro-life and I want fewer and fewer abortions in this country, but I want them, those women who find themselves in circumstances that are absolutely less than ideal, for them to be supported, and adoptions made easier.

My question is, Easier for whom? First Mother would like to keep politics per se out of firstmother forum, but when a candidate makes a inane, uninformed, asinine, hurtful, BS comment like that, there's nothing I can do but blast her and the party of grand old guys that she stands for.

No one is for abortion; neither should anyone tell another person what to do with her body.

So for Sarah Palin to blithely suggest that Hey, girls, we'll make adoption even easier for you than it is now! I just want to punch her in the gut.

Let's start with the fact that there are so few available infants for adoption that giving up a child is amazingly streamlined in this culture. It could be quicker, first mother supposes, if women signed the relinquishment papers before the baby was born! Or before they were completely out of anesthesia! Or within the hour after birth!

If someone wants to place a child, just look at the place mat at your favorite hamburger joint, you'll likely find an ad there for prospective adopters. Or like Juno, find someone in your local penny saver, or the classified ads in your hometown newspaper. Or type in the word "adoption" in your gmail, and whadda ya know? Three ads pop up--one for surrogacy, one for a list of agencies, a third for a lawyer in North Carolina. I clicked on one of the sites one day and found that it promised to make the surrender of your child "a beautiful adoption experience."

I'm not kidding. And I'm mad as hell at anyone who tells me that "adoption not abortion" is the answer.

I don't have a link to it, but I did hear Obama say once that he wanted to provide support for single mothers. I don't know if we can get him to take on the issue of open records for adoptees, but at least he's aware that if his father hadn't married his mother...his life might be a different story and he wouldn't have a clue what his roots were.