Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Maine Joins States with Open Records Tomorrow

Happy New Year to Maine,

Come January 1st, which will become the sixth state to have open records! Without the damn disclosure veto! Maine now joins Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Oregon, New Hampshire--all states with open records for adopted people without having a contact VETO provision in the law. Meaning: You're adopted, you want your birth records, you can have them, no restrictions apply.

Congratulations to first mother Bobbie Beavers and adoptee Cathy Robishaw, co-founders of Original Birth Certificates for Maine, both of whom worked tirelessly to unstuck the legislature in Maine. The vote, amazingly enough, was three-quarters in favor of open records in the House, and two-thirds in the Senate. Maine's law sealead-records law dated from 1953. New York's dates from 1933.

According to the Kennebec Journal, more than 130 people have pre-registered to get their birth certificates at the office of vital records which will be open on Friday, January 2. A private reception for adoptees and their families will be held at the August EconoLodge at 5 p.m. on Friday. For more information contact Bobby Beavers, rbbeavers@comcast.net. (Link doesn't connect but copy it and put it in your own email.)

In New York we continue to fight to open records but lobbing is an education in both open hearts and closed minds. You find some sympathetic people who support you, and then you then come up against folks who will never change their minds...who are against opening the records because they fear the well-being and health of us poor birth/biological/first mothers in the closet. Who will only support a bill with a contact veto, which is prima facae unfair, unjust, unequal. Who are against open records and won't tell you why. They just are. They will be tomorrow. Which is how we found adoptive mother Rosie O'Donnell's nasty brother when we lobbied last spring. I was with two adoptees--one has been to court and been turned down; the other has tried just about everything but that. She was in tears when we left.

Pleazzze! we say, but these people listen but can not hear. If you are reading this and you were touched by adoption in some state that still has sealed records please get more involved than simply reading blogs. Bobbie Beavers actually got herself elected to the Maine legislature to make this happen.

Registries are not the answer! they deprive adopted people of equal rights and information about themselves--make a resolution to write, call, lobby your legislators. Without us--making a huge fuss--the records will stay shut.

Act UP! NOW!

Go see Milk, the movie about Harvey Milk and his fight for gay rights, and it will be hard not to relate it to our movement. If we could get the kind of demonstrations that the gays had we would win. Sooner rather than later. Speaking of movies, Australia--though it got so-so reviews--is a big old fashioned movie with great scenery and a wonderful warm adoption story with a half-white, half aboriginal child at its center that gets everything right. Bring tissues but you'll leave the theater feeling good.

We will win this fight someday. And We Will Win this fight someday. Justice is on our side.

Happy New Year everybody. --lorraine

Below is the press release from Bobbie and Cathy.

New Law Affects Maine Adoptees

Maine LD 1084/Public Law 409 – An Act to Allow Adult Adoptees Access to their Original Birth Certificates (OBC) - goes into effect January 1, 2009. Any Maine-born adult adoptee wishing to receive an uncertified copy of their original birth certificate in-person on January 2, 2009 at the Office of Vital Statistics in Augusta, must contact Lorraine Wilson immediately at the following address, email, or phone and provide her with the information (below) she will need to locate their records:

Lorraine Wilson
Deputy Registrar
Office of Data, Research and Vital Statistics
Division of Public Health Systems
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Maine Department of Health and Human Services 244 Water Street 11 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333-0011
(207) 287-3181
1-888-664-9491 (toll free)
Lorraine.Wilson@maine.gov


The adoptee information needed:

  • Name after adoption, Date of birth, Town of birth (if known)
  • The relationship of the requestor to the adoptee (i.e., same person, son, daughter, etc.)
  • Contact information of the requestor

In order to receive a copy of his/her original birth certificate on January 2, 2009, an adoptee will still need to download the official state application form from this website: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/bohodr/documents/Application%20for%20Adult%20Adoptee.pdf. The adoptee must also bring (or mail if not coming in-person) the filled out and notarized form, a certified copy of their current birth certificate, and a $10 check made out to: Treasurer - State of Maine.

Parents of origin (also called birth parents) may also NOW submit information, confidentially, to Lorraine Wilson:

Everyone impacted by this law should read the rules compiled by the Office of Data, Research and Vital Statistics (Maine Center for Disease Control, DHHS), downloadable at this website: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/boh/_rules_documents/Adult%20Adoptees%20Access%20to%20Original%20Birth%20Certificate.pdf.

REASONS FOR SUBMITTING THIS INFO EARLY: If an adoptee applies for the first time on January 2, 2009, it is very likely they will not get the uncertified copy of their original birth certificate that day. If birth parents have filled out their forms, adoptees will have updated medical info and possibly a current contact name and address that will expedite searching if that is what an adoptee chooses to do.

ISSUES TO BE AWARE OF:
  • Adoptees who obtain their OBC before a birth parent has submitted their forms will be able to request that DHHS send them the birth parent contact preference and medical history forms.
  • In about 80-90% of the cases, the birth fathers name will not be on the birth certificate (DNA testing has not been available until relatively recently and birth fathers were not always required to be part of the surrendering process as they are now), unless the couple was married.
  • Medical, genealogical and cultural histories are important to many individuals, yet for others, just having the document (“the deed to my person,” as adoptee Robert Hafetz says) will be sufficient at this time.
  • To help people impacted by this law to work through the emotional roller coaster that this information may stimulate, OBC for ME has two adoption triad support group formats: ONLINE at this website - http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/obcformesupport/ which requires a prior free Yahoo registration, and IN-PERSON with the next meeting on January 17, 2009, at Norway Savings Bank Community Room, Route 1 South, Falmouth, ME, 10 AM - Noon. There are also support groups in just about every state, province and country on this continent as well as in most overseas countries.
,_._,___

Monday, December 29, 2008

Which Pain Is Greater? And it matters because?

I do not understand this need to denigrate how another person feels about giving up a child for adoption, which is what some of the posts have done. Which is what I expect from people who are all for sealed records--throw away the key, never, non, nyet do you deserve to heal this sore inside.

For me, giving up my baby daughter was like a death inside, though I went on living.

For me, now knowing her for fifteen years was an emotional hell the likes of which I have nothing in my life to compare.

For me, her death, by her own hand, was a further personal disaster that I can not relate on a scale of one to ten anything else that has happened.

For me, the Christmas after her death was not as harrowing, as agonizing, as torturous as the years when I did not know if she were dead or alive. If she had been returned like used goods. If she were institutionalized. If she languished at boarding school because her adoptive mother had died and the new wife didn't want her around. If she were abused like Lisa Steinberg.

The holocaust was indeed one of the worst tragedies of life in the last century, but those who suffered did it because of a madman; they did not bring it on themselves. They did not sign papers. The Jews do not apologize for being in Auschwitz, because they have nothing to apologize for. In some circumstances they sent away their children to save their lives. The Jews were, and are, blameless. And therein lies the great difference between enduring the Holocaust and giving up a child.

In relinquishing our children--which we did, no matter what we signed the damn surrender papers, so we have no one to blame but ourselves, even if we felt overwhelming pressures to do so. The source of our deep grieving is that we knowingly participated in an unnatural act. And that is the reason our tears, our pain, our prostrations of grief often fail to induce sympathy in others.

If not for that, we would be able to argue that we too should have the right to find out what happened to our children. Yet lobby for open records for an hour and you understand why we arouse little to no sympathy in those who are the gatekeepers of the records. Because we signed the papers. We did it. No matter how we try to invoke "circumstances" of the day, we ultimately caved in and did the deed. Willingly or not, we gave up our children. The public knows it. My acquaintance Aston, my friend Yvonne knows it. We know it.

But to quibble over whether my feelings--and those of others who have endured the loss of our children twice--are valid or if we deserve to be dismissed and denigrated strikes me as, well--you fill in whatever word you think is appropriate.
--lorraine

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Such a paradox is this conundrum

August, 16,1974, after reading the introduction to In Search of Origins: The Experiences of Adopted (1973, London) people by by John Triseliotis.


I think:
How is she? And the introduction
claims
the more adjusted
and happy
the less
she needs me.
Even in my ethereal form
of the void of the present silence
I want
that she be happy.
(however she perceives such).
Yet
O God
please I beg on the crusts of my soul
that she is searching
and curious.
funny--such a paradox
as is this conundrum.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas to us ALL

Rockefeller Center, 2008

In my local weekly newspaper, the Sag Harbor Express, the Inquiring Photographer asked the question: What would you like for Christmas this year?

One woman wanted her children to be with her; a man wanted good news on the wars in the Middle East and the situation in Africa...and the third person, a woman--smiling broadly--says: "I already have what I want...I adopted a beautiful child two days ago, and what else could I ask for?"

Who is the child, where is he or she from, where is the mother, I wondered. This will not be her happiest Christmas. She is having the worst Christmas of all.

Ah Christmas...the cruelest season, the saddest time, the loneliest day for those separated by adoption. My life seems to have been separated into three kinds of Christmases: those before I had my daughter and surrendered her; the fifteen years when I did not know where she was; and those after I found her. Actually, there is a subset there because there were a couple of Christmases when we were not in touch, when she had pulled back for one reason or another. Some of those, for reasons I can not discern, were worse than others.

But although we never actually spent Christmas Day together (often she would fly to New York the day after Christmas) once I knew where she was, and how she was, my peace of mind was enormous. I could listen to the tremulous notes of "Silent Night" without the lump in my chest feeling as if it were going to explode, right then and there in church. Now I get merely get tears in my eyes. This year I'm getting cards and emails from people referring obliquely to the one-year anniversary of my daughter's suicide and adding that this must be a difficult time for me. How to say this: Yes, it's hard, but not as hard as the Christmases when I did not know where she was: when we were separated by adoption.

Strike you as odd? Unfeeling? Adoption is always in the present in the mind of the mother. There is no past, no getting over the hard part and moving on, because somewhere there is a child with your DNA and all you feel is the loss.

In the present.

Oh, perhaps the second year after surrender is not as bad as the first, but I'm not even sure about that. All I know is that while I miss Jane terribly--I miss emailing her, talking about what we were going to make for dinner, discussing politics, what we were doing that evening, next week, where we were going, how our respective work was coming along, how she was doing in school herself, how my granddaughter was, the million little details that make up a life--this pain I feel this year, a year after her death, is nowhere as searing as when I did not know where she was.

I always said that death would have been easier than giving her up for adoption. Now I know the feelings of both, and I was right. Death has finality; adoption stays with a mother in her present. The only past tense in the mother's heart refers to the days of birth and surrender.

I have no words of solace or comfort for those separated by adoption at this time--whether you know where the other is or do not-- except to tell you what I told myself in my darkest moments: This day will pass. Tomorrow will be another time. This is life. Some days, some times are good; some times are sad, some times are happy. We have to remember the good times, and know that the darkest days will move away from us. Enjoy the family and friends that you do have, and put the sadness in a small chest in your mind, one that you won't visit for now. Go watch "Law and Order," put on your favorite Christmas music, call your niece, enjoy the loved ones you have close.

To all mothers in secret reunion without the adoptive parents' knowledge, I say, be glad for what is. The alternative is not knowing and nothing will ever be as horrible, as wretched, as soul-killing as not knowing. Yes, you would like everything to be out in the open, you would like to be able to coo over the grandchild in the hospital the same day the adoptive parents do. But instead of only bemoaning what is missing, accept that the adoptive parents must have made the subject of her or his origins such a forbidden subject that she or he can not be open and honest with them. Transfer you irritation to the adoptive parents, not your child. Celebrate the person for what you do share, not what you do not, and do not make yourself sick with frustration that your reunion is not all that you wish it would be.

Enjoy to the fullest what you have.

--lorraine

The Privileged and Their Children... Oh, you do want to read this if Alex Kuczynski's story of her travels with a hired surrogate mother interested you. The Public Editor of the Times weighed in with comments--about the photos, the reaction, and the surrogate mother saying that she did not really do it for the money, it just covered her costs of not working. The link will take you there.

And Sunday's (12/21/08) Times had another letter saying that the money issue should have been explored more. I mean, come on--even though surrogate-mom Cathy Hilling denied it, I have a hard time believing that if she were wealthier she would be renting out her body. How many wealthy women feel so generously inclined? Cathy is completely deluding herself.

JOYCE LESLIE of
Piscataway, N.J.asks:

"Why didn’t Alex Kuczynski, who wrote the article in The Times Magazine, acknowledge that this is at least a hard question to answer? Why didn’t she probe Cathy Hilling’s statement that she didn’t become a surrogate mother for the money? And why wasn’t there any follow-up on the interesting fact that Ms. Hilling’s daughter sold her eggs to pay for college tuition? This seems like a family economic strategy in hard times."

Go Joyce!


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Real Parents in the News

Hello Lifegivers! (I see we are still discussing the noxious terms at the end of earlier blogs. Well, why not?)

Photo by Ken Robbins

Just a short note this a.m to tell you that in the Adoption News Service today came a story from Vancouver, B.C., that referred repeatedly to "real mother." I cheered--at least not every writer and editor has gotten the memo that "birth mother" is an absolute PC must.

And the acquittal of a father who left his adopted Russian son in the back of a hot sports utility vehicle has the international adoption world buzzing....will the Russians tighten up on letting their kids go to Americans? Oh my...Now where do we get kids?

Another story about a Korean adoptee raised in Germany has this to say in the OhMy News (you gotta love the name of the publication):

"Miriam Yung Min Stein is not only harsh on her 'home country,' but also rants and raves about the institutionalized altruism that brought her to Germany, highlighting the dark sides of feel-good charity.

"I am not ungrateful, but international help makes me puke. People like Angelina Jolie or Bono make me puke."

While she knows that her German parents meant well and gave her more than she can ever return, it is also clear that the act of adoption affected her life in incalculable ways."

And ours too.

Which is why I hated hated the movie Juno so much. It made the whole situation--pregnancy, finding cool adoptive parents, flirting with the dad-to-be, etc.--such a nightmare for us. Because yes that kind of crap does inform public opinion about what it is like to give up a child. Cry once at the hospital and then..hooray, life goes on. The vapid BF stays.

And then we end up dealing with folks like my "friend," Aston. Got an invitation from a mom of a Chinese girl for a Christmas Eve party tonight in an email. She noted, incidentally, that Aston and his wife would be out of the country for the holidays and so we could come without hesitation...so the news of our frisson has indeed spread. Ah...life in the adoption lane....

Dear Significant Other Tony doesn't even want to know the reaction of another friend, also mom of a girl from China, because she's a bit more (actually a whole lot more) morally absolute about her take on life and is super sensitive about being an adoptive mother. She twice felt it necessary to correct me when I referred to Jane's "adoptive parents." As in: They are her parents. Said with stern face daring me to counter. I did not. But !@!%ing hell, I wish I had. For the sake of our conversation, she couldn't hold her tongue? Ah...off to brunch today and I am sure that the adoptive mother who had to correct Tony when he referred to my daughter as daughter, no modifiers, and say: "birth daughter" will be there. This is just after we got back from the funeral. I will do my best to avoid her. I'd have to have a lot of punch to ask her outright about her "adopted daughter."

Look, the two Chinese girls mentioned above are great friends and they do seem to be thriving, so though I have reservations about adoption in general, the likelihood that these two girls would have languished in a Chinese orphanage does not make me think that's where they should be. They have good parents and good homes. One of the girls was, in my opinion, traumatized by being in an institution for a year, and she has, with much patience and love, come a long way to being a normal teenager.

We are visiting my husband's family (a passel of niece and nephews and their kids) on The Eve, and then onto Pennsylvania to see my step-son and his wife and nine-year-old son on The Day.

The picture above? The photo on the Christmas card of photographer friend Ken Robbins.
--lorraine

Saturday, December 20, 2008

At last, Respect: Amherst Establishes First Chair in Adoption

Interesting news out of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst: Harold Grotevant, formerly of the University of Minnesota and a lead researcher in the 20-year Minnesota-Texas study of open adoption, has been appointed to the first chair that will focus on adoption.

At last. Andrew and Virginia Rudd, who endowed the chair along with matching state funds, have a daughter, Alexi, who studied psychology and sociology at UMass. In a press release, the Rudd family said: "Our goal is that the professorship should act as a catalyst in focusing academic research on the emotional and psychological trauma often experienced by adoptees. (Italics mine.) Eventually, we hope research might be able to suggest potential avenues toward a better understanding of adoption issues.” (This inquiring minds wanted to know, but could not learn, what their connection to adoption is. Hardly likely this is a random interest. One of them is adopted, I'll bet. Or gave up a child.)

And here's what the head of the clinical psychology at UMass, Sally Powers, had to say:

“Within psychology, there are many areas of basic and clinical research that have important implications for understanding adoption and its effects,” Powers said. “These include studies of biological, emotional and social processes involved in attachment and bonding; the effect of stress and trauma, particularly early separation trauma; family processes such as parenting and marital relationships in families of origin and adoptive families; the interacting influence of genetics and the environment on child development, and factors that foster resiliency and coping in children exposed to early family disruptions.”

In an interview , Grotevant was asked:

A major part of your research is with the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project, a 20-year study of open adoption, begun in the 1980s, where both sets of parents share information, and involving hundreds of adoptive parents, adopted children, and their birthmothers. What did you learn from the longitudinal study?

One thing we’ve seen is that as time goes on, the needs of the adoptive parents and birth parents tend to swap. At first, many birth mothers want some form of contact to make sure that their child is in good hands. Over time, as she feels reassured that it’s working out for the child, or she marries and has other children, her need for contact may diminish. The adoptive parents, on the other hand, are eager to establish their family and may not be so sure about involving the child’s birth relatives. But over time, their needs for contact may increase, because their children have questions about their birth mother, for example. Some of the families in our study began by having no contact with the child’s birth family, but moved to open contact. We’ve also seen that there are many ways to “do” open adoption. Families figure out what works best for their situation and fine-tune their arrangements over time.

We do have to realize that it's not always the adoptive parents who put the kabosh on a continuing relationship. Not all mother are the sensitive, caring people who visit this blog....

It will be Christmas in a few days. I'm plugging away on my book--A Hole in My Heart--reliving the parts when I first met Jane and those early days, and it's okay. This is a part of my life. I write in the hope that I can shed some light on adoption and its sad aftereffect to those numskull legislators who have their heads in the sand and worry only about those small percentage of mothers who haven't told a soul and are worried to death lest their perfect image be ruined by what happened--and who was born--twenty, thirty years ago. Well, we might not be able to move these women out of the quagmire they've sunk into, but if the opportunity arises, tell someone your story. I once got into an amazing conversation with a woman at an airport; I told her I was going to speak at a CUB retreat. She turned out to be an adoptive mother who was most interested, and open to my point of view.

Who knows? The words you speak to stranger might be just the lift they need. She or he could turn out to be adopted, and wondering if that other mother is thinking about her or him at the holidays. And you just might change someone's mind. --lorraine

PS: Christmas post come Monday. And remember, Christmas will pass. It's only a few days out of the year.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Natural, Real, Biological, Birth...Mother

They call me "biological mother." I hate those words. They make me sound like a baby machine, a conduit, without emotions. They tell me to forget and to out and make a new life. I had a baby and I gave her away.

But I am a mother.


That's a quote from my memoir, Birthmark that was used on the cover, back in 1979 when birth mother was not in vogue yet. Yes, it caused quite a stir then.

Language frames how we think. How the world thinks, reacts, responds to a thing, a person. It's why women object to the use of "his" when we actually mean "his" and "hers." In writing on other subjects, I will often substitute "she" for "he" or avoid using a masculine or feminine pronoun at all if possible. But that language frames how we think about someone, or something, is a given. We know this; adoptive parents know this, and that's why everyone is so sensitive about the the words we use to describe ourselves and our relationships.

There are times now, however, I don't mind being referred to as "biological mother" because it gets to the heart of the matter: it conveys conception, gestation, labor, birth, DNA, blood, lifelong connection, inheritance of traits, the whole nine yards.

At my daughter's wake last year--come to think of it, that would be a year yesterday--a woman with a group of four or five other people approached me and quite enthusiastically said: "You're Jane's biological mother, right?" She was smiling broadly, for she must have known the answer.

Everyone waited.

Yes, I said, nodding. As nearly everybody in the room at the funeral parlor were friends and relatives of Jane's adoptive family, it was clear this group were friends of Jane's, and Jane's alone. It was also a relief to be sought out. Who are these people? I was thinking.

"She used to talk about you all the time," the woman said. "We're from Toastmaster's." Jane had been a member of the local club, amazingly overcoming her fear of giving a speech. The people in this little crowd waited for me to say something. "Jane was so proud of you," someone else said.

"That's so nice to hear," I responded. They then introduced themselves--the group included the mayor of the town, Reedsburg, Wisconsin--and we chatted for a moment longer. I realized right then and there that I preferred the term biological to birth in this instance because it felt as if the woman was not thinking the PC way, she was not schooled by adoptive parents on how to refer to me, and biological suited me just fine. It meant, that woman you knew, who won trophies for her humorous speeches--yeah, she was my daughter. She got that touch with language from me, the writer, not her other parents.

But it did not all go so pleasant. My sweet nephew who flew up from Tampa was standing next to a group of people and they were looking over the photographs that had been set up. On a small table were a few framed pictures--including a studio shot I had taken of my mother, Jane, Kim and me...four generations. My nephew, Donald, overheard someone derisively ask--"What's this?"

He volunteered the information: That is my grandmother, that one is my Aunt Lorraine, that is my cousin Jane, and that is Kim, her daughter." Information given. They glared at him, harrumphed and moved away.

So today, birth, biological, natural, real...it's all the same. We wish we could eradicate the modifiers, but for clarity we can't. Yet I am more than a little pissed off when people insist upon modifiers when they are not necessary, to wit:

My husband and a good friend, Genie, were talking about the aftermath of my daughter's funeral at a New Year's Day party last year. (I was not present, as I was still bawling my eyes out.) As I had known my daughter for 27 years, as she had lived in Sag Harbor off and on for some years, Genie knew her quite well. Another woman--adoptive mother, poetaster--was standing there, and she didn't say anything the first time Genie referred to my "daughter," but the second time she couldn't hold back and she corrected her: birth daughter.

Screw her. Why is it necessary for this adoptive parent to go out of her way and insert the PC language and in doing so, diminish me? Because she felt threatened. Because she's a small-hearted person. Because her poetry is second-rate.

I've always avoided this woman since, but now she goes out of her way to track me down at parties and be friendly. For what purpose, I'd like to know? I'd still like to smack her. Or maybe just ask: How is your adopted daughter these days? I see that she doesn't visit often....

I'm sure that Jane's other mother referred to me as Jane's "birth mother" when I wasn't around, just as I referred to her as Jane's "adoptive mother," but when talking about our daughter, that's how she referred to her: our daughter. And that's what she was. Our daughter.

Below is one of several lists of "preferred" language, obviously written by adopters. Yes, I am using that word here because the list doesn't include a shred of sensitivity to our feelings...the ever gracious "life-givers." I don't know what my favorite is, perhaps that "is adopted" should be replaced by "was adopted." Hmmm...so that means that being adopted is a one-time deal and then after the decree is final you are not an adopted person, you are born to--tell me, exactly whom? The stork?

Incidentally, we use birth mother here as two words. It at least leaves the word "mother" alone. I don't think adoptiveparents want to be one word. Notice that while we could be listed below as "parent....birth parent," yet "adoptive parents" are always supposed to be "parents." Not in my book, kiddo.


--lorraine

PS: I'll be back on Saturday with a new post about a different subject. The joys of Christmas as a mother, perhaps.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Natural and Real Language

Some years ago, I went to the LDS Church with my surrendered daughter, Rebecca. She introduced me as her “birth mother” to an elderly African-American woman sitting near us. The woman gave her a puzzled look and then said “Oh, you mean your real mother?

As we left the church, the woman signaled Megan to come over to her. After we got into the car, Rebecca told me the woman criticized her for using "birth mother," saying that it was disrespectful. Megan asked if the term offended me and I told her “no,” displaying what I felt was appropriate deference to her adoptive mother, her full-fledged mother.

Although “birth mother” was coined by a birth mother (Lee Campbell, founder of CUB), the adoption industry has seized upon it, using birth mother to refer not only to women who surrender a child but to pregnant women considering adoption and women whose child is in foster care. (Birth mother may not be with us much longer, however. “Life-giver” is coming into vogue as in industry-sponsored Life-Giver Celebrations honoring selfless women who keep adoption brokers in business.)

In arguing over whether a birth mother is the real mother (an argument nobody can win since there is no scientific test or accepted definition for real mother), those of us who support family preservation have missed the real issue: the need to frame language surrounding adoption in a way that causes people to agree with us. Positive framing is no mean task. Political think tanks spend millions on it: For an overview of the power of framing see the UC Berkeley article on George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics and cognitive science.

The adoption industry has seized the upper hand when it comes to language. The Adoption Information Institute (founded in 1996 as Celebrate Adoption), an adoption promo organization has created “A Journalist’s Guide to Adoption” listing what it considers negative and positive adoption terms.

Not surprising, topping the list of verboten words are “natural” and “real;” the Adoption Information Institute's approved alternative is birth mother. The Institute knows that the public identifies positively with things that are natural or real (natural foods, natural child birth, reality TV) and eschews things which are unnatural or artificial (genetically modified foods, synthetic materials, artificial lawns).

If we want to convince the public and decision-makers to support preserving and reuniting families, we need to use the words “natural” and “real.”

Keeping families together is natural. The woman who gives birth is the real mother. Losing a child to adoption causes real pain. Mothers produce milk because it is nature’s way of nurturing an infant. An adopted person has a natural need to know his roots; a natural mother has a real need to find her child.

The corollary is that we need to associate adoption with “unnatural” and” artificial.” Surrendering a child for adoption is unnatural. The adoption and reproductive industries construct families through artificial means.

The wise woman at Rebecca’s church knew I was the real mother -- the mother nature created --of the young woman sitting next to me who looked like me and spoke like me

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose

– Gertrude Stein, Sacred Emily, 1913

Ah, the power of words. In her December 8 post, Lorraine noted, “By the way, I've seen some new list of acceptable language [to adoptive parents, one assumes], and reunion is now verboten.)” And I had commented that I was curious enough to do a little homework. I located the list, a reprint of an OURS Magazine May/June 1992 feature in Adoptive Families magazine, which indicated that “reunion” was negative language, while “making contact with” was considered positive language, and it was one of several spirited threads on this post. Those who commented agreed that reunion accurately described the dynamic, i.e., brought together again. One commenter wondered if “forever family” would be added to the list; I certainly hope not. Five years ago, Building Blocks Adoption Service, Inc. of Medina, Ohio, a Christian agency specializing in international adoption, placed the following ad in my local paper:

Did you know there are thousands of children residing in orphanages and foster homes overseas in need of homes? These children are in need of forever families. You can make a difference in the life of a child. Children from newborn to school age are immediately available for referral. Call and learn how you can make a difference in the life of a child through Adoption.

As soon as I saw “‘forever families” I went ballistic and sent an e-mail to the agency that the term was offensive and disrespectful to me and all biological families. While these children might need safe, stable, permanent homes, they already had families who grieved for their lost children. Surprisingly, I received a response and apology. Several months later this same agency had a new ad announcing an adoption seminar in my area:

Adoption is an Option…Millions of people have completed their families through adoption. The joy found in making a difference in the life of a child is great—and the joy that child will bring you is even greater.

Much better, don’t you think? I don’t know how much influence I had, but I felt as though they heard me, and listened. At the same time they adopted a new slogan as well, “Creating Families Through Adoption, and Making the Impossible Possible.” Wellll, I dunno. Discuss amongst yourselves.

But back to adoption language. Take a look at the list. Why is biological parent more positive than natural parent? What’s the difference? I’m not crazy about birth mother; as I said in one of my first blogs, it makes me feel like a character in a science fiction novel, it’s just so clinical and cold.

During the first days and weeks of our reunion, my daughter and I wrestled with vocabulary. She’d refer to her adoptive mother by name; she was almost uncomfortable saying “my mother,” and I was always Linda. Once when I didn’t recognize her voice on the phone she exclaimed, “It’s your daughter!” followed by a sense of shock that she referred to herself as my daughter. Eventually, quickly, she simply gave up and her mother was “Mom” or “my mother.”

A mother is a woman who conceives, gives birth to, or raises and nurtures a child. I may not be my daughter’s mother, but she was, is, and always will be my daughter. I conceived and gave birth to her; there’s no other euphemism to describe our connection. While being fitted for the dress I wore to my daughter’s wedding almost four years ago, I explained to the Italian dressmaker that I was the mother of the bride but we were separated by adoption, so I wasn’t her “real” mother. One of her immigrant assistants, a seasoned woman, was sitting at her sewing machine, carefully eavesdropping on the conversation. As I was leaving the shop, this woman smiled at me, nodded her head, and in her heavily accented English said firmly, “You’re her mother.” And of course I thanked her and started to cry, just as I’m tearing up right now at the memory of being acknowledged as a mother.

Somewhere along the line I began using the phrase “childless mother," a takeoff of the old spiritual “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” I lost my child to adoption; ergo, I’m a mother without a child. Looking over the list, I suspect everyone will have one or two terms that will rub them the wrong way. I think my favorites are substituting “terminate parental rights” for “give up” and “make an adoption plan” for give away. Though I know she feels differently, I didn’t give my daughter away. But hell yes, I gave up! Every time I wrote my list of pros and cons whether to parent my baby as a single 19-year-old without resources or surrender her to a couple who could provide the financial security that I couldn’t at the time, it was clear which side would be the victor, so yes, I gave in, and gave up.

How much of a difference, if any, does positive adoption language make to triad members? Is it kinder and gentler for adoptees to be referred to as “born to unmarried parents” rather than “illegitimate," the term widely used during the dark ages of adoption? Does it relieve single mothers of decades--even a lifetime--of guilt? Who distinguishes between adoptive parent and parent? Oh, wait! I just looked up the definition of parent, “One who begets, gives birth to, or nurtures and raises a child; a father or mother.” Ah, I see.

I wish I had answers; I only have more questions. If it’s any consolation, remember a rose by any other name would still be as sweet.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Letters...Her Body, My Baby

Well, before I make the pumpkin custard pie I'm making this afternoon (company tonight), I couldn't help but check out the letters in the Sunday New York Times Magazine regarding the cover story, Her Body, My Baby, (Nov. 30, 2008) that we wrote about recently. We apparently were not the only ones offended by Alex Kuczynski's rich-girl-rents-a-womb tale with photos of the perfectly groomed and elegant (up do, cocktail dress) uterus-renter next to a casually dressed (khakis and a sweater) body-for-hire. I didn't even notice that in the picture of the very pregnant surrogate, sitting on her porch that needed painting, she was barefoot! It seems the photographer, dear reader, was as offended by the whole detailed saga of how-it-feels-to-be-rich-and-rent-a-womb as we were.

I urge you to read the letters (link here) but here's a savory taste: "If prostitution is unethical, immoral, and illegal, why is it O.K. for one woman to pay for the use of another woman's body? If it's unethical, immoral and illegal to buy and sell body parts for transplantation, why is it O.K. to rent a uterus? Our morality seems so malleable in the hinds of those who feel entitled."--Lisa Wilson, Yarmouth, Me.

Lynda Swanson of Daly City, California, however...calls the baby the surrogate's: "...another woman, living in less far less well off circumstances, can go through the physical ordeal and emotional pain of having and giving up her baby. Yes, it's her baby, not Alex Kuczynski's." Try to tell that to the courts. However, in some countries, the sperm-and-egg donor parents (who use somebody else's womb) do have to adopt the baby in question. Tricky business, this baby-making industry.

Janet Benton of Wyncote, Pennsylvania understands that having a baby in your body is a transforming experience: "As infertility and intervention increasingly muddy the meaning of the word 'mother,' we must traverse that terrain and not take shortcuts. A woman's body and the growing being inside her participate in an astounding symphony for about 40 weeks to build from egg and sperm a human that can survive outside the woman's body. The woman's feelings, thoughts, meals and actions influence that symphony, helping create what the growing being experiences at every moment. Yet Kuczynski literally reduces the Cathy's [the surrogate] whole self to her uterus. This is a disturbing denigration of a beautiful, astoundingly complex phenomenon that builds life and that bonds most living beings and their offspring for life."

Isabelle Rostain of Philadelphia is disturbed that the surrogate mother's daughter (baby making a family business, apparently) had been an egg donor to help pay for her college education. I just about threw up when I read that in the story--this is in America, supposedly the richest nation on earth (no longer) and the girl is selling body parts to get an education? Isabelle herself is a recent Ivy Grad--the kind most courted by those looking to buy eggs--but she and her friends were horrified that "many young women in this country have apparently had no choice but to turn to the invasive and emotionally complicated procedure of harvesting their eggs to pay for the exorbitant costs of higher education."

Judith Newman of New York City is sympathetic towards Ms. Kuczynski (and is critical of those who would criticize, aka US) but lambastes the editors for using the photos selected, finding them "shocking" and "inexcusable." This from a woman without the big bucks of Ms.Kuczynski but also struggling with infertility. Oh, I thought,what is your age, Ms. Newman? No, the Times did not use our letter--see our previous post on this--or make any mention of the infertility statistics that I found so wanting and incomplete. Infertility is not a disease past 30; it is normal for a great many women.

Then of course there were a few letters from adoptive parents who empathized with the writer who was able to ski down a mountain and go to yoga twice a day while her servant was gestating the child. (Yes, someone who rents out her womb is a servant.) Tracy Glaser of Cortlandt Manor, New York, was reminded of "the many benefits of being 'pregnantless.'" One of which was being able to fit into her jeans when her son was a month old. Yes, the lucky Ms. Glaser adopted a child. She writes: "As we all know what Kuczynski stated, that it's not the nine months of pregnancy that make you a mother but everything after that."

Well, yes, and no. If I'm not a mother--is there a word for a mother whose child has died?--then why did I feel the loss of of my daughter so severely? It was because she was my daughter. She was a troubled soul, her adoptive parents ended up not really liking her, she exhibited many of the difficult traits of adopted people who do not take to that status lightly, but Jane was my daughter and I loved her in a way that only a mother can.

It was a year yesterday that she committed suicide. I didn't mark the day in any way special, the year has been difficult enough without more reminders or a special ceremony. I did not email my granddaughter and remind her, I just asked her what she wanted for Christmas. I did light a candle for Jane last night, but I do that quite often. Yet everywhere reminders hit me like fresh wind.

This morning at Starbucks a song of the Beach Boys came on...we had gone to a concert of the Beach Boys together once. On our last wedding anniversary (our 27th), we went to a foodie's paradise on the North Fork of Long Island for a sumptuous lunch. Among the dessert cheeses was one from Uplands Farm in Wisconsin; ah yes, I thought...Uplands cheese. Jane had sent Tony and I a quarter of a wheel of their excellent cheddar for Christmas last year. It arrived before she died. I keep the note that come with it in my jewelry box. It reads: Merry Christmas, Love, Your daughter.

Yes, I did not know her for fifteen years. Yes, she was someone else's daughter too. But she was once in my body, she was a part of me, she was my daughter. And I was her mother. --lorraine

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An impossibly simple thing

In August, my surrendered daughter Megan asked me not to send her four children birthday presents although I had been sending them for over 10 years.

I let pass Aaron’s 10th birthday in September and Rachael’s 20th birthday in October without even a card. I ignored Megan’s birthday in November.

Now Christmas is coming. I'm thinking Megan’s insistence that I not send her children birthday presents may not include Christmas presents. I realize I’m parsing her words, thinking like the attorney I am.

Lorraine passed on to me a column by Philip Galanes of the NY Times with advice to an aunt who is in a legal dispute with her family. She wanted to send Christmas presents to her nephews. Galanes told her “there’s no reason for the boys to suffer because their parents and favorite auntie are so pigheaded they can’t resolve a simple disagreement. … Mail the presents with a polite note to the parents telling them that you miss the boys and hope they’ll pass your gifts on to them in the spirit of the holidays. Be prepared for the packages to be returned, unopened.”

It’s not that simple. The woman who wrote Galanes was certainly the children’s aunt; Megan made clear from the outset that I was not her children’s grandmother, a status reserved for her adoptive mother and mother-in-law.

I could ask permission to send Christmas presents but I don’t want to appear weak or pleading. I could send presents without permission. Rachael, at least, is an adult and can receive presents without her mother’s permission. (There’s the lawyer in me again.) But that’s putting Rachael and the other children into the middle of whatever it is that has upset Megan.

I wish I had a more relaxed and open relationship with Megan like I have with my three raised daughters. Although we have had some good conversations about movies, religion, politics, communication can be stressful. I strategize on what to write or say, walking the line between being direct and subtle, emotional and cold, familiar and distant.

I’ve read a great many adoptee memoirs and I see myself in the descriptions of their birthmothers. We are supplicants, seeking forgiveness, walking on eggshells trying to appease our children.

The adoptees’ memoirs are filled with unresolved bitterness and anger towards their birthmothers. They seek out faults perhaps to assure themselves that their adoption was “for the best.” It seems that just about anything can be perceived as a slight worthy of cutting off communication.

I dislike this situation which keeps me from performing simple, kind gestures.

I think I’ll go watch television, perhaps a “Law and Order” re-run and try to take my mind off the whole thing. I’ll pretend Megan, Rachael, the whole pack of them don’t exist.


Hi, Lorraine here – Though my daughter and I had a mostly good relationship for a quarter of a century, a few Christmases passed when she had cut off communication, and we did not even exchange the simplest greetings, let along presents. I would have to shrug it off, just like Jane says, and move on. We birthmothers feel sometimes you are damned if you do (send a present to the grandchildren) and damned if you don’t (same thing).

Giving up a child for adoption is the hurt that goes on giving.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Can Feminists Adopt and Still Be Feminists?

Can a feminist adopt in good conscience?

No, says one Korean adoptee. Read what Kathie Leo has to say about that in the Minnesota Women's Press.

While we talked about international adoption lately, and then we've had the surrogacy and embryo debate, we skirted around the issue of what makes these issues so distasteful: the caste system inherent in all such transfers of human commodity. Because that's what babies are in our current milieu: a commodity, just like electric shavers and cheap toys. It's cash that makes the export of infant human flesh such a thriving business.

Is France sending us their excess babies? NO. Great Britain? NO. The babies are coming from Third World, undeveloped countries where the women are too poor to take care of them--and thus wealthy white women swoop in and buy them. Yes, I use that word buy because cash is what makes the transfer of babies from one country to another possible. In China, the one-child-per-couple policy led to the massive baby-export business, so lucrative that today China has a problem with baby and child kidnapping. HBO recently aired a documentary about it, China's Stolen Children.

Where are the baby farms where surrogate mothers are willing to take on the job of bearing children for wealthy foreigners? India, a country where great poverty exists side-by-side with great wealth. Once some enterprising capitalist gets wind of this, more poor countries will be setting up baby-gestation farms.

And the same monetary principles, generally speaking, work in adoption. It is not wealthy girls and young women who by and large are offering babies to adopt; they are having abortions or keeping their children. It's girls and young women and mothers in poor families who can not keep them who say, Here, take mine, I can not afford to keep her. The humane thing to do would be to make it possible for the poor woman to keep the child. A few years ago, the sister of a friend adopted a child from an intact, but poor, family in Rhode Island. What is that if not baby-selling? Would it not have been more humane to simply help support that family?

This caste system is why we find surrogacy and egg donation for money repugnant. Why adoptions from Third World countries--or China--are so prone to abuses. I have, among my acquaintances, a far-left feminist law professor. But where did she adopt?

Guatemala.

Did she not see the apparent dichotomy in this act? Obviously not. Elizabeth Bartholet, a feminist law professor at Harvard, imported two boys from Peru. She showed up to be on the television when the Anna/Jessica transfer the wicked DeBoers (now divorced) back to her natural parents, the Schmidts (ah, also divorced) was going on. She and I had a shouting match on the McNeal-Lerher Report that day. The jacket to her book (Family Bonds), says that she "produced" one child (drum roll, please) then "endured her own struggle with infertility" for ten years before she flew to Peru to adopt, some eighteen years after her first child was born. Interestingly enough, her age--when she was "struggling" with infertility aka perimenopause--is not mentioned there. The timing had to be up to and into her forties. But because you want to have children beyond the reasonable time frame of your fertility and your body refuses does not make your lack of fertility a disease. It is, dear ladies, a reality of aging!

Yet the snarky Ms. Bartholet--who told me the research showing that adoptees were prone to more mental health problems than the norm was "garbage,"--saw nothing anti-feminist is taking boys from their poor country to give them a "better life."

For that is what is stated or implied in all adoption stories: that life that the adoptive family offers is better than the original one. Here's how Kathie Leo put it:

The story further implies certain suppositions about what "a better life" means. In this scenario, "better" clearly means American, but it also suggests wealthier, Caucasian, and most important, not with my birthmother. This notion of "a better life" has permeated adoption narratives since the practice began, often used as justification for its existence.

Amen. Ms. Leo's piece has more to say. It's worth reading. As for me, I tried for years to get a piece in Ms. magazine about birth mothers with the above theme. No luck. The feminists who were putting out the magazine had the mindset of Ms. Bartholet and friends. No--wait, they were Ms. Bartholet's friends.--lorraine

PS: Tomorrow we'll hear from Jane.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Generations After Me Are A Part of Me

I have my own mitochondrial DNA. When it becomes a part of another person--no matter how that is done--that person is a part of me, I am a part of her or him, and will be for generations hence.

I have a granddaughter whom my daughter gave up for adoption. I only learned about her after she was born. I never met her. Yet she is a part of me and I am a part of her. I worry that she needs to know who she is, why she was available to be adopted, who her biological, genetic, real non-adopted relatives are. I wonder if her adoptive parents--genetic strangers--are good to her/good for her. I wonder if she has an ability to write and express herself. I wonder if she has flat feet. I wonder if she is allergic to cats and ragweed. She should know that several grandparents died of a heart condition, and that cancer is rare in the family. I wonder how she feels about being adopted, if she questions her identity, and where she came from.

However, the laws of Wisconsin, where she was born and adopted, deny me this information. I am left only with eternal questions. It is true, my longing to know this granddaughter is not as all encompassing as was my need to find my daughter. That ruled my life until I found her.

As regular readers know, my daughter--my granddaughter's mother--died last year, and even if she were alive, the state would not search for her daughter; only the adopted person can initiate a search, as I recently learned when I emailed someone in the appropriate Wisconsin agency. I do have on file my willingness to be contacted, and the news that her mother is deceased--information that will be given to her should she contact the state. This unknown young woman, born April 3, 1986 in Madison, named Lisa by her mother, is a part of me.

Though I cannot walk in the shoes of the childless who yearn for a child, simply saying, Here, take some of me and make a baby, and we'll go on living as if that individual has nothing to do with me, is against any and all reasonable laws of nature. Embryo adoption as well as egg and sperm selling--they are not "donations" since donations are just that, donated--are abominable prima facie. Though the urge or procreate is what continues the human race, the world has enough people in it without making more when nature is trying to put on the brakes.

With all we know today about the need to know one's heritage, we should not be cooking up people in laboratories who will never be able to learn from whence they came. If anyone doubts this, look up the websites of sperm-donor babies searching for their fathers and siblings. Go to a meeting of adoptees in search. Read their postings on the Internet. Talk to a late-discovery-adoptee and hear their pain.

The need to know one's roots is basic and universal; no one should be denied this. Laws that seal records of adopted people are abominations that go against the grain of reality, nature, any ethical standard. They are the remnants of a culture that condoned slavery.

Because someone wants to have a child, no matter how deeply felt the desire, no matter that the science makes it possible, does not make creating that life from this one's eggs and that's one sperm right. Because someone cannot have a child does not give them the right to someone else's, whether as a living baby or an embryo frozen in a tube.
--lorraine


PS: Aston, a friend who let loose one night about how selfish birth mothers are who search, and I have reached a rapprochement of sorts. He called, apologized, came over, we talked. He said he read the Donaldson study of adopted people and had gained some new insights, but if I made any headway on his harsh and unyielding attitude towards birth mothers (that we have absolutely no right to ever initiate contact, because that might be disruptive) is unknown. Aston is a church-going man, and--only when I asked for compassion for the birth mother's point of view--did he seem to respond positively and think it over.

I did use what one of our readers wrote: that adoptees are told they are selfish for searching because they might upset the birth mother's neat little life. That seemed to hit the heart of the matter: both sides being told they are selfish to seek reunion. (By the way, I've seen some new list of acceptable language [to adoptive parents, one assumes], and reunion is now verboten.) When the conversation started he seemed only to want to tell me that I should warn people that adoption was a subject not open to discussion, which seemed a bit boorish on his part. I have been treated better by hostile attorneys when I testified in court for adoptees asking for their birth records. Aston ought to try discussing the reasons against international adoption with our mutual friend who has a Chinese daughter. She gets apoplectic if you mention Emily Prager's name. (more on this later.)

Perhaps the good that came out of this whole disagreeable incident is that I was confronted head on the attitude of many today--many today in our legislatures--and because of our friendship and numerous connections, possibly I opened Aston's mind a bit to the concept of birth mothers other than Juno. And that would be a good thing. If only he were not the kind of person we encounter in Albany when we lobby for open records.

The I-Ching says: Work on what has been spoiled.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What To Do With the Kids in the Freezer?



Adam Fuss

Reproductive news is certainly all the rage these days. Following the story about surrogacy we've been discussing in the previous post, Thursday's (12/04/08) New York Times has a story about parents with frozen embryos who have all the children they want but don't know quite what to do with the leftovers. Feed them to science? Keep them frozen until they are no longer viable? Simply stop paying the annual $200 fee and let happen what will? Ask for them and hold a burial? Have them implanted at a time when the woman knows she can not conceive? Let them be adopted by strangers?

Here in the U.S. where we have some of the most absurd and unregulated reproductive legislation, doctors can make as many embryos as they and their clients please, and the trend seems to be make as many as possible...since you never know. In Italy, however, more common sense has taken hold: Fertility clinics can make only as many embryos as can be implanted at one time, and so there are no excess embryos lying about in vats of frozen nitrogen. Sixty-six percent of the people surveyed said they would likely donate their extra embryos to science, but amazingly, that option was available only at four of the nine clinics surveyed. Disgustingly irresponsible? Yes. Illegal? No.

One woman said a freezer full of embryos was "like an orphanage." I suppose she has a point--but that would be an orphanage that has 400,000 potential people, according to the study, give or take a hundred thousand or more since not all are going to be viable when, uh, defrosted.

The Times was reporting on a new study in the Journal of Fertility and Sterility which found that 53 percent of the couples whose embryos are frozen did not want to donate them to other couples, mostly because they did not want someone else bringing up their children. That leaves a whopping 47 percent who do not object to passing out their DNA to strangers. And that I find distressing.

One woman quoted--with nine frozen embryos--said that she had a queasy feeling about donating them to science, but was against adoption because she would worry too much about "what kind of parents they were with, what kind of life they had." At least She is aware what stranger adoption actually means. That someone else--genetic strangers--are raising your children. However her teenage daughter is for adoption, a reflection of our pro-adoption culture, especially among the younger generation.

But progress has been made on the adoption issue: If you want to donate your embryos to another couple, you must be screened for infectious diseases, sometimes at your own expense. And clinics no longer suggest that people give their embryos to other couples anymore, something that was common a decade ago. I can imagine the marketing: "Well, you can chose between a possible blue-eyed blond baby or a green-eyed redhead, or are you more in the market for someone with more Semitic features? There we can talk about possible IQ points. Looking for ability in mathematics? We have several Asian choices, Japanese, Korean, Chinese...take your pick." Talk about "chosen baby."

Yes, I'm being flip but all this is yukky and frightening.

Of course, I never had to face infertility. After I had Jane and surrendered her I never wanted another child, for several reasons, one being the sense that it was so unfair to have a child and give her away, and then keep another. It's called secondary infertility; studies show that birth mothers fall into this statistical category more than most, and as I recall, the numbers of women who surrender children and have no more vary from a low of 17 percent to a high of 34 percent . (For more information, see the Donaldson survey of birth mothers, p.46) I never tried to have another child. I recognize that my rationale could simply be that, a rationale, for I did want to have a career rather than be a mother with all the responsibility that entails, and without more money than I have ever had--nannies did not seem to be in my future--I did not see how that would be possible.

I felt that way before I became pregnant; but once I was, everything changed, and every microcosm of my being screamed for me to keep my baby. I did not and I have been paying the interest on that decision since. --lorraine




Thursday, December 4, 2008

So What Do You Think of Surrogate Mothers?

Well, back from Manhattan today where I met my new agent for the first time. Yes, I am working on a memoir about my quarter-century relationship with my daughter. Heard about dismal publishing milieu today. Editors will be fired, some companies not even looking at new manuscripts. (Sounds like the auto industry, no?) Check. How this can't be just "another birth-mother memoir." Well, okay, I'll do my best. How I can't come across as still a victim...at that point, the years of frustrations from being victimized by the closed records system back in 1966 pinged inside and tears welled up...I felt like Hillary Clinton when she became glassy-eyed after being asked, "How do you get up and do it every day?" When I told the agent I'd never cried on television, she said, "Well, that isn't always bad...."

So all I can do is the best that I can do.

Though I had no idea before I submitted my partial manuscript to her, she was the agent who sold the best book on being adopted: Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self by Brodzinsky (adoptive father) Schechter (married to an adoptee) and Martanz Henig (good writer who put it all together). Meanwhile, let's get to Sunday's (11/30/08) New York Times Magazine piece: Her Body, My Baby. Adventures of a rich girl who tried to have babies at age 34 and up and after eleven attempts with IVF and four failed pregnancies, she gave up and for $25,000 hired a womb from a nice 43-year-old woman in Pennsylvania who needed the money to help put her kids through college...

New York Times Magazine Cover In the end I didn't actually hate the writer (Alex Kuczynski) and mom-with-the-perfect-body (though many if not most of the hundreds of people who commented on the New York Times website did). Eleven IVF cycles is a hell of a lot, and from what I've read, they are not pleasant, the miscarriages must have been devastating, and so I have some sympathy for this woman. How can you not?

Almost Baked
Cathy Hilling at home
in Harleysville, Pa.
Gillian Laub for The New York Times

But what is galling is how the statistics for infertility were treated in the piece, that is, as if infertility was an illness--not a normal reality of advancing age. I'm 66--and pretty sure I'm infertile. Should I be counted in this statistic? Here's the letter I fired off to the Times magazine Monday.

To the Editor:

While the writer of Her Body, My Baby (November 30), Alex Kuczynski, notes that infertility affects 7.3 million people in the United States, this is an erroneous figure, for it equates infertility among older women as abnormal, as if they all had the flu. There is no difference today between fertility rates of the past and today--what is different is the age at which women and men try to conceive. According to the Mayo Clinic, a woman's fertility peaks between the ages of 20 and 24, begins slowly declining until the early 30s, after which fertility declines quite rapidly. At age 30 to 35, fertility is 15 to 20 percent below maximum. From age 35 to 39, the decrease is 25 to 50 percent. From 40 to 45, the decrease is 50 to 95 percent. The writer of the piece did not try to conceive until she was, at best, 34. Savvy marketing of fertility services often makes no mention of these facts, and many men and women today are lulled into believing that technology can easily help them get pregnant when they are ready.

However, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, age affects the success rates of infertility treatments as well as your natural ability to get pregnant. According to a 2003 booklet put out by the organization, a healthy 30-year-old woman has about a 20 percent chance per month to get pregnant. By age 40, however, her chance is only about 5 percent per month. In many cases, these percentages are true for natural conception as well as conception assisted reproductive technology.

Although Ms. Kuczynski, best known for her exhaustive research into numerous anti-aging treatments and surgeries, treats the realtionship with the surrogate mother candidly, pieces such as this one further encourage the wait-too-long mentality and then, the somewhat yukky trade in rent-a-womb. Lorraine Dusky

Let me know what you think about surrogate mothers--I really am interested how this plays with adoptees and other birth mothers. As the piece in the Times makes clear, its a lot less complicated emotionally (quel surprise!) when the egg isn't the surrogate's. But it still makes me queasy. I have less trouble with a relative having the baby since there is usually no exchange of filthy lucre. I saw one case where a mother did it for her daughter.

Gotta go--having my annual visit to the gynecologist in an hour. Delightful. I'm sure I put on a couple of pounds since the last weigh-in. Too much whipped cream on my pie.
--lorraine

PS: Yes, Kippa, Mairaine is right about which mothers were actually visiting with their children, and who was in touch only through communication at a distance, i.e., phone call, email, a written note. (See previous post and comments.) Although my daughter Jane periodically cut off communication for some reason or another, we basically had a relationship for a quarter of a century. At the end, it was close and great, but I couldn't save her from her demons. Next week it will be a year since she committed suicide, and though it's on my mind, I'm certainly not marking the day in any way special. That would just exacerbate what is already a river of grief.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Birth Mothers Happy to Reconnect

Hey Everybody, thanks for your kind posts--and the different takes on who is selfish. I had completely forgotten about adoptees being told that search and contact with their first moms was "selfish." What a crock! According to a small but rigorous study of birth/first mothers (93, some who were seekers, some were sought) in Great Britain, 94 percent of them were pleased that their son or daughter had made contact with them. Ninety percent said that the contact and reunion had been a happy and satisfying experience. After eight years, 70 percent were still in face-to-face contact, and 86 percent were still in indirect contact.

John Triseliotis, who headed the study, did an earlier work called In Search of Origins (1973) that was the first serious study to talk about the ramifications of being adopted and searching, as it was five years before The Adoption Triangle, our bible for opening records by Sorosky, Baran and Pannor.

What was fascinating in the current study was the differences Triseliotis found between the seeker birth mothers (32) and the sought birth mothers (61). Seeker mothers were found to have poorer physical and mental health, lower self-esteem; and were affected more severely by the loss of their child. Nothing surprising there. I certainly fall into that group, and to judge from what we read online, so do mothers who blog. I remember a good friend (a birth mother, but we were friends before we discovered this)always yapping at me about my low self-esteem, and how I let guys walk over me when I was dating after my first marriage (shortly after I gave Jane up) ended. Shortly after I found Jane, she paid for the same searcher and found her daughter; they remain in frequent contact and see each other regularly. Now back to the new research:

Triseliotis found that sought mothers were healthier: "on the whole and in spite of their sadness, [they] were not found to be significantly different from the general population, before contact took place." However, "79 percent of both groups reported guilt as one of a number of lasting impacts arising from the parting decision.... The guilt arose mainly from the belief that, irrespective of the circumstances, they had 'rejected' the child."

The numbers in Britain were identical to what the New Jersey Department of Human Services reported back in 2004. In a letter to a NJ senator, Dolores Helb, Adoption Registry Coordinator, wrote: "Despite the fact that the majority of parents we search for are not registered with us, 95 percent do agree to some form of contact with the adoptee. Though this percentage has not changed since 1996, newer technology has brought us greater success in the number of people we have been able to locate." (Thanks to Pam Hasegawa and Judy Foster for providing the above data.) Let me add that The Adoption Triangle and a companion book by Annette Baran are well worth reading for anyone in the triad.

And a personal note...Hi Mairaine, Aston was apologizing but I said I wanted to see him in person...and that didn't happen. Now I just wish I had had a ten-minute conversation with him on the phone and let it go. Yes, I've known him for a long time but he's not one of my closest friends. So it was time to not make a great deal out of it, talk over the phone, accept his apologies, explain a bit, and I did not do that. I kept asking for a face-to-face. He and his wife knew I was upset as soon as I sent her the email saying so. But I'm reading into my response that indeed, I was one of the seeker mothers who has deep reservoirs of grief and sorrow and am acutely sensitive about this issue.

Tomorrow I'll post about the cover story in this week's New York Times Magazine: Her Body, My Baby. Grit your teeth and read it.
Take care, y'all--lorraine