In the Wausau Daily Herald on January 11, 2009, the piece I refer to is a sweet reunion story: Fifty years later, daughter finds her mother. The writer, Robert Mentzer does not even use the word "birth mother," which is amazing enough in itself.
The daughter who searched, Chris Barrington, finds her mother through the Wisconsin Adoption Records Search Program and for seemingly only a $25 registration fee gets her mother's name and current address, and they have a great reunion. Chris's adoptive mother and father are both deceased. Chris is photographed sitting next to her daughter, who looks like her mother's spitting image. The first mother is not photographed or named, seeking privacy.
Jacy Boldebuck, the adoption social worker who is quoted, says that her office gets between 600 and 700 requests a year, and she and her three colleagues can clear most of their requests within a month. "Locating the birth parents is not difficult," she says. "We average less than 30 days to open and close a case. The law gives us six months." Whoopee! Sounds fabulous.
Boldebuck notes that although adoptees can request their records at eighteen, most do not come in until they are in their thirties. She adds that approximately a quarter are only seeking updated medical information; some want merely to let their mothers know that they are okay and that they were raised in a loving family. "A lot of time the gift is really just saying, 'Forgive yourself. I turned out fine,'" Boldebuck comments.
So far, so good, but then: "About half of the parents Boldebuck contacts say No to contact. That could be because a birth parent 'was hidden away in the home and shamed,' Boldebuck said. Sometimes the adoption file reveals the child was conceived as the result of a rape."
Half of the parents say NO? Are we talking mothers only? Are fathers included in this statistic? How many rapes are we talking about?
We don't find out.
The story goes on: "Boldebuck makes calls and has conversations with both parent and child. The agency requests an 'outreach statement' from adoptees that tells the birth parents why they want to get in contact, what they are seeking. And as much as she works to smooth the reunion process, she said each one comes with an emotional weight.
'It's almost always emotional, and it always changes the people,' Boldebuck said. 'The adoptee is never the same.'"
Now sometimes I think from reading various blogs that there are, indeed, a great many mothers who don't want to meet their children. As readers of FirstMotherForum know, my late daughter sadly was one of them. All I was able to extract from her was an unenthusiastic promise to tell her daughter, my granddaughter, how to contact me and that I was willing, should "Lisa" ever return. My daughter seemed to have inherited this attitude from her father, whom she never met because he refused to, and then he died. He could not handle emotionally difficult issues, and for her own reasons my daughter had buried her daughter so deeply that nothing--and I mean nothing--seemed to be able to open that door. Also, she had at least two siblings who I know were aware of her existence but made no contact. And I am not exactly hard to find. So maybe all this played a part in her sensibility.
But about that statistic-- half of the parents do not want contact. I have a copy of a letter from Dolores Helb, the adoption registry coordinator in New Jersey, dated Dec. 13, 2004, that states: "Despite the face that the majority of parents we search for are not registered with us, 95% 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."
And in a 2000 study from Britain, The Adoption Triangle Revisited), John Triseliotis, Julia Feast, and Fiona Kyle found that in their sample of both sought and seeker mothers, 94 percent of them were pleased that their son or daughter had made contact with them. Ninety percent said the contact and reunion experience had been a happy and satisfying experience.
What is going on here? How can these statistics from Wisconsin be so wildly different? A fifty percent refusal rate? Versus a three to six percent?
I once was in contact with a confidential intermediary in Michigan, who was also a first mother, and she said that she was able to talk to reluctant birth mothers and bring them along. Does that account for the difference in the statistic? If someone is a Michigan intermediary, or an intermediary anywhere, please contact me. I'd like to explore this further.
Note: Though the newspaper story does not mention it, a sidebar on the webpage says that birth parents can file an affidavit stating their preference, the search service is not available to us poor wretches who had to agree to closed adoptions. The phone number is included. As for myself, I contacted Jacy Boldebuck and left word that I was more than willing to be known to my granddaughter, and she promised that it would be in her file. So far, she had not come back. Or chosen to make contact. ---lorraine