Tuesday, April 28, 2009

To Tell the Truth or Not, Continued: Secrets and Lies


I am reluctant to discuss my birth motherhood outside of adoption circles. I did not tell anyone about Rebecca, my surrendered daughter, except my husband the day before we were married in 1968, two years after Rebecca was born.

I’ve read about birthmothers who were euphoric when their surrendered children contacted them; they called all their relatives and friends to share the glad tidings. When I learned from a relative in 1997 that Rebecca was trying to contact me, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread. I knew calling Rebecca (the relative gave me her number) would force me to reconcile the events of 31 years ago with my current life.

I decided to call Rebecca, partly out of curiosity and partly because I had always told myself I would find her some day. After she turned 18, my thoughts about searching became increasingly intense, my grief at losing her more acute. Yet I procrastinated; the time wasn’t right; it would be a long and expensive process; I needed to wait until I did not have other things going on in my life.

I had no idea how to prepare for the reunion. The adoptee activism/birthparent support movement had evaded Salem, Oregon where I lived. I rented Secrets and Lies (the only “resource” I had heard of) and watched it several times over the weekend. On Monday, November 24, 1997, I dialed Rebecca’s number.

For several weeks, I communicated with Rebecca secretly. As I became more comfortable (she lived two thousand miles away and was not a deranged stalker hell bent on revealing my secret), I shared her entry into my life with my husband and a few close friends. A month later, in January, 1998, just before I was to leave for Chicago to meet Rebecca, I told my other three daughters about her.

During the spring of 1998, supporters of adoptee rights collected enough signatures to place a measure on the ballot which would allow adult adoptees to receive their original birth certificates. I watched with envy as other birthmothers boldly went before the media telling their stories and supporting the measure, something I just could not do. I met with the supporters, however, and suggested they run an ad with the names of birthmothers who favored the measure.

The supporters decided to create the ad and I agreed to appear in it in a photograph with four other Oregon birthmothers. The ad ran in the Oregonian two days before the election. The ballot measure passed by 57 percent of the votes. Since 2000, after court challenges to the measure failed, adult adoptees born in Oregon have had full access to their original birth certificates.

Besides the fact that it was the right thing to do, I agreed to be in the ad to impress Rebecca (if it did impress her, though, she didn’t let on) and as a way of telling everyone I knew about my birth motherhood without a face to face encounter. The day after the ad appeared, a co-worker tried to engage me in conversation, saying “that happened to a friend of mine.” I turned away.

Since 1998, I have had several letters to the editor about adoption issues published, disclosing my birthmother status. Still face to face conversations are difficult. When I’m with acquaintances and someone mentions adoption as in “Isn’t it wonderful the Xs are adopting a baby girl from China,” I just smile and say nothing.

About five years ago, I was having a physical from a nurse practitioner who worked for my doctor. I can’t remember how it came up but she told me she was a lesbian and that she and her partner were considering adopting a baby through Open Adoption, Inc, Oregon’s largest (and most chic) domestic adoption agency. She had had a baby two years before, a product of artificial insemination, and she and her partner wanted another child. She couldn’t go through a second pregnancy and her partner was infertile. Her partner rejected adopting a child in foster care because the available children were older than their biological child. I told the nurse practitioner that I knew women who had lost children to adoption. Whether an open or closed adoption, these women grieved for their children.

I realized that I was being less than honest and eventually told her I was a birthmother. She had a zillion questions: was I in reunion, how often did we see each other, were we alike? My comments made her re-think adopting an infant and she told me she was going to have, as she put it, “an interesting talk“ with her partner that evening. As it happened, my doctor retired soon after and I never saw her again.

How do I answer the question “how many children do you have”? Before my reunion, I said “my husband and I have three daughters.” I didn’t betray Rebecca but I also didn’t reveal anything. Truthful, but not the whole truth. After my reunion I answered “four daughters.” People rarely asked follow-up questions and I didn’t volunteer more information. Several years later, after Rebecca made it clear that she did not consider me her mother, I reverted to “three daughters” without feeling guilty.

I find it so difficult to tell people about Rebecca because I have no excuses. I was 23 when I became pregnant. I knew about condoms (we called them “rubbers” then) and in the past, I had insisted my partners use them. I continued a sexual relationship with Rebecca’s father even though I had had enough doubts about his character that when he had proposed over a year earlier, I had deferred. My mother didn’t force me into surrendering my baby; indeed she didn’t even know I was pregnant. I'm sure she would have let me and my baby live with her. I had a college degree and although it was difficult for women, even college graduates, to get good-paying jobs in 1966, I could have gotten something.

I took the easy path, signing the paper and pretending it didn’t happen, rationalizing that my daughter was better off. I told myself that I would find her someday and make it up to her. I shut out the voices that told me giving my child to strangers was unnatural and wrong.

15 comments :

  1. As an adult adoptee, I wish all birth mothers would come out of the closet all at once and declare "war" on the culture of sealed birth records.

    Birth Mothers: PLEASE join forces with adoptees and help us expose the adoption industry for what it really is. This "industry" is full of rich adoption lawyers and adoption agencies who take advantage of women in unfortunate situations and convinces them that if they want what's best for their child they should give them up for adoption. But it's REALLY all about MONEY. They don't CARE about "what's best for the children". We are simply flesh commodities for them to sell and finance their new BMW's and trips to Cabo.

    These lawyers and adoption agencies convinced our government (U.S. "land of the free") to forcibly silence us by sealing our birth records. This silence is what keeps this multi-billion dollar industry of baby pimping alive and well in this country!!!

    PLEASE come out of the closets, birth mothers!!!! Your children need you to help fight to restore our civil rights. Please come out of the shadows and help us. Being a birth parent isn't shameful. Don't let the "industry" control you anymore!!!!!

    Your name should never have been removed from your child's birth certificate. A child is only born once! Amended birth certificates are govenment-sanctioned lies and are frauds. (Adoptees are routinely denied passports because their birth certificates are "amended". Do you want your child held hostage in their own country because they were adopted? It happens every day in the good ol' USA.)

    Want to see what lawmakers in California want to impose on adoptees in the name of birth parent confidentiality? Google: AB 372. If you care about your child, this bill will make your blood boil!!!!!

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  2. Wow, I wonder what it is like to be on the other side of this story.

    My mother's story is a bit more of a classic, young girl being railroaded. I really wanted my own child too, so this is hard to relate to.

    I am actually very career oriented, and always have been, just didn't love my job more than my baby kind of thing.

    It is interesting that you brought up the activism again as a way to manipulate Megan's feelings, I remember the other posts about being disappointed in her.

    It makes more sense now.

    I believe your side of the story, absolutely, but I am wondering just what went on with her. I know how hard it was for me, and my story is a lot more easy to swallow.

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  3. I'm a little confused about what's meant here by "out of the closet".
    I believe women who have relinquished have an ethical obligation to contribute to adoption reform, and of course that includes being up-front about their experience when the circumstances demand.
    However, I don't think they should feel obliged to wear a sandwich-board announcing their 'birth mother' status every time they walk down the street.
    Nor should they have to proclaim themselves whenever they express their opinions about the ethics (or general lack thereof) of contemporary adoption practices. I do, but that's me. I'm a quiet person, but, um, mouthy. It also helps that the world in which I now move is a tolerant one. Where I came from was much less so. Consequently I'm very aware that not everyone is fortunate in that respect, and if they are more inhibited it may be with good reason. Besides, as Angelle pointed out, there are the feelings of one's loved ones to consider.

    Now I come think about it, the only occasion I got seriously bitten by social prejudice was circa 1963 when I confided in my employer - who initially pretended to be sympathetic, but 1/2 hour later sent me a pink slip with a note telling me to get the hell out of there. A real learning experience, and one that nearly pushed me over the edge.
    It didn't send me scurrying back to the closet though - just taught me to be (much) more circumspect.

    However, not telling everybody everything in miniscule detail all of the time is NOT the equivalent of lying, and I hope that is not what is meant by the header.

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  4. No, I agree. Circumspection is not lying.

    I have a question. The adoption industry makes the argument that because those who oppose openness are themselves in the shadows, it is impossible to figure out how many first mothers support or oppose open records. I've had this conversation with people where this has come up. Can anyone shed light on this?

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  5. Dunno.
    I don't doubt that such shadow mothers exist, "living, living and partly living ...".
    In what numbers I have no idea.

    I do think the industry uses them as a sort of false constituency to sway public opinion.

    It seems to me that women who chose, for whatever reason, to remain anonymous, can't reasonably be expected to influence decision making - or to have anyone else do it for them. They've opted out.
    Phantoms don't get to vote.

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  6. For what it's worth, osolomama, about 10 years ago Bill Pierce claimed that NCFA was organizing bmoms who wanted to keep records sealed. You know, giving voice to the voiceless. After his announcement nothing else was ever said He admitted later there wasn't anybody. It was just blowing smoke.

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  7. In the way that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, our opponents may be right on this one. Because so few statistics of any kind are kept on adoption or mothers who have surrendered, it may well be impossible to know how many mothers are in favor and how many opposed to adoptee access to OBC's.

    The only thing that might give a clue is the reaction of mothers who have been contacted by their adult child, and that seems to be running heavily in favor of adoptee access. I am not at all a numbers person, but conservatively would say at least 75% of mothers welcome contact, probably more. I suspect estimates running into the high 90s may be skewed by self-selected populations, but random contact numbers are always way over 50% acceptance.

    Just guessing that a majority of surrendering mothers welcome contact, but only a relatively small number actively search or join reform groups, for a variety of reasons, including fear,denial, and ignorance that such groups even exist.

    But like anything else in adoption under the wonderful secret seal, there are no hard numbers because nobody is counting.

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  8. Because the number of mothers who refuse contact is so hard to determine, and yes, they seem to be more for than a'gin, it was hard to believe the fifty-percent figure that Jacy Boldebuck reported out of Wisconsin. But it may be that if you call a woman on the wrong day, and she's not ready, and the voice on the phone is offering no support either for or against...I must admit I do not know what to think. I do remember testifying in DC once right after one of NCFA's anonymous birth mothers testified...Wow she made me so mad! I have to say before I gave my prepared testimony I ripped into her. Florence Fisher, who was with me, said Anonymous started crying during my testimony. Afterward, two of her NCFA "handlers" had their protective arms on her when I finished.

    The testimony was given in the early 80s, when there was a chance that even birthmothers might be able to find out what happened to their children. As I have said before, the fight against an open-record guideline emanating from the federal government was stopped by adoptive father, womanizer and drunk, Sen. John Tower of Texas.

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  9. Regarding how many mothers may oppose allowing their surrendered children to have access to their original birth certificates --

    After Ballot Measure 58 (allowing adult adoptees to have their OBCs) passed in Oregon, opponents of the measure (adoption attorneys and the LDS church) ran ads in newspapers asking mothers who opposed the measure to become plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at striking down the measure. They also contacted women who had surrendered through LDS Family Services. Eventually they got six plaintiffs who appeared in the case as Jane Does 1, 2, ... 6. The supporters of the measure learned through depositions that most of these women had surrendered recently -- their children were toddlers --and so they could very likely change their minds later. One of the six did change her mind and dropped out.

    There was a birthmother who did ads against the measure (hiding behind a screen.) She was not from Oregon and her daughter had already contacted her. I'm sure if the opponents could have found more women to do ads, they would have.

    The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the Ballot Measure in 2000. There have been NO media reports of mothers upset at being contacted by their child.

    The birthmother confidentiality is a smokescreen to protect adoptive parents and the industry. It can't be disproven because no one can contact all the birthmothers in the country. Undoubtedly there are a few that fear their child's arrival (what kind of monster do they think they gave birth to?)

    As a matter of policy, however, the government should not encourage women to stay in the closet, thereby reinforcing the idea that having a baby out of wedlock was shameful.

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  10. Thanks for the info, everyone. Very interesting.

    There's an additional reason for first mothers coming out: the stereotypes about first mothers perpetrated in lots of adoption forums. Illiterate. Drug-addicted. Capricious. Selfish. Criminal. Heck, I've even heard "better off dead". Coming out might open a lot of eyes.

    One of the stupidest stereotypes that exists (and it would be funny considering present company if it wasn't so warped) is that birth mothers really aren't very robust or stable people, emotionally or intellectually. Have you ever noticed that? And they need to be "reminded" of things by the a-parents.

    It's so frickin' hilarious given the level of conversation here and at other forums. Never ceases to amaze me.

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  11. Have you ever noticed that? And they need to be "reminded" of things by the a-parents.

    Wondering what these "things" are that mothers need to be reminded of?

    Seems I reminded my son's adopter that he wasn't her child. So she
    turned on her "loyalty" venue.

    He reminded her that she knew her mom and dad.

    Seems he wasn't supposed to want to know me or his family. He knows, I have made sure of that, as I searched, found, and reunited with him. Sucessfully.

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  12. For the controlling a-parent, the reminder is about who's in charge here and whether or not you (first mother) have done enough to let go. Ultimate a-parent fear: you take back your child. I believe this is the core of most antipathy.

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  13. "One of the stupidest stereotypes that exists (and it would be funny considering present company if it wasn't so warped) is that birth mothers really aren't very robust or stable people, emotionally or intellectually."

    Oh gawd is that stereotype ever annoying.

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  14. I disagree with anonymous. There are birthmothers who do not want to be found...and they made the choice to place for adoption with a clear head. It's not fair to them that the promise made for confidentiality is now being violated by law. Sometimes certain doors are better off closed.

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  15. More than 500 mothers signed the Oregonian ad in 1998 - all stating they wanted to anonymity from our kids:

    http://www.plumsite.com/oregon/
    oregonian-ad.html

    I remain, after all these years, self-protective how and when I chose to "tell," though I have been out of the closet and "public" since the 70s.

    I wish more adoptees would "come out" look at all the gays that do! THOUSANDS should be marching! Instead a recent blog post said that only a small umber of (malcontent) adoptees are concerned about falsified BCs!

    Mirah

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