Like one of our regular readers, Maryanne, I revolted when I learned that the adoption records and my daughter's birth certificate would be sealed to her after her eighteenth birthday, and began quietly searching for her when she was quite young. Okay, as soon as I read about Florence Fisher and the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) in the New York Times on July 25, 1972 in a story headlined: Adopted Children Who Wonder, "What Was Mother Like?" (Note: those interested will probably have to pay to read the piece, as it is in the Times archive.)
Reading the piece it was as if the scales fell from my eyes. My daughter was six years old. I did not realize it then, but that was the day in my heart that I began searching for her. And within the year, I met Florence, began writing about the adoption reform movement, and tried various means to find my daughter's new identity, but all were unsuccessful. I did not formally institute a search for my daughter until she was fifteen, and because all other avenues had been blocked, I simply paid $1,200 to "The Searcher," as he was known, and within weeks had her name, address and phone number, along with that of her parents. They were in a state (Wisconsin) a thousand miles from where I lived on Long Island, New York.
It turned out that he had already found her, and had done the search based on what I had written in Birthmark. I had put all the significant clues in there, hoping her adoptive family would find them, and reach out to me. Wishful thinking, I know. Later I did learn that someone had told my daughter's adoptive mother about Birthmark, but she chose to ignore it. I do not know if the person who suggested she read my memoir saw the similarities in my relinquishment, and their adoption, of a daughter in Rochester, New York on 1966.
But hey, if it was a friend or family member, they had to know the age of their daughter, and where she was adopted...so today I'm going to assume that person was aware that Jane was likely to be the adopted daughter in question. And Mary (my daughter's other mother) did not want to pursue the matter. Remember, this is way back in the dark ages of 1979. Reunions were rare. Very rare.
So, I was what is known as a "seeker" mother; fellow bloggers at FirstMotherForum, Jane and Linda, were sought. Linda was called directly by her daughter and reacted positively immediately, as she has written earlier at FMF; Jane was contacted by an aunt and had a more difficult and lengthy internal emotional process to go through before she was ready for reunion, as she told us in the previous post. But no matter how we reacted to the situation, all three of us became staunch supporters of giving adopted people their original birth records--hell, we're in favor of adoptions never being closed!
Are we anti-adoption? Let me put it this way: I'm not against some form of adoption when the natural mother and her family are totally and completely unable to care for the child. But I have seen too much pain and destruction on the part of both birth/first mothers and adopted people to be much in favor on "adoption" without a zillion caveats. It was just this tone of mine that got me banned from a website chat room of blissful birth mothers called "Adoption Voices." (And by the way, I was invited to join the chat.)
Except for the one first mother who was in an open adoption and eight years later cried buckets when she looked at the son's pictures, or got on the plane after a visit, they were all quite content and happy to have provided a child to complete someone else's family. I posted a couple of times, trying to inject some reality into their gaga stuff I was reading, but whadda know, the administrator yanked me off; told me that the site was about "adoption, not anti-adoption." Linda did some spade work and discovered that a number of the birth mothers posting were...from Utah, the Land of the LDS, The Church of the Latter Day Saints. No comment. Readers might want to join Adoption Voices themselves. I've found other birth mother chat rooms are often supported by an adoption agency....looking for birth mothers who want to tell other birth mothers what a great thing they did.
Now, to the other data from a Confidential Intermediary from Indianapolis, Katrina Carlisle, who is also an adoptive mother.
I am a CI and have been for 18 years. I have 70% birth mothers accepting some form of contact and 30% saying no. Some of the "no" answers end up calling me later with changed minds. When I reach adult adoptees (for the birth mothers) I have almost 100 percent agreeing to at least some form of contact, especially after I remind them this is an opportunity to receive updated medical info.
I am not a birth mother. I am a social worker and an adoptive parent who strongly believes all adult adoptees can benefit from re-connecting with birth families. My daughter is 31 and found her birth family at 23 and it has provided her with a lot of healing and enriched her life. My 34-year old son refuses to consider a search, but I hold out hope that he will change his mind in the future. I also recognize the benefit to the birth mothers in re-connecting with their adult children. I just think it is an all around good thing for everybody. I do a lot of counseling with the adoptive parents to help them understand their child’s need to search.
One thing that has really helped though is asking the adult adoptee to provide me with a non-identifying letter explaining why they are searching and what they are hoping for and also having them include photos. Then I can ask the birth mother if she would like me to send that letter to any address she says, and to read the letter (from her child) before she makes a decision. They have a hard time turning down that letter. I also do counseling and try to support them through telling their husbands or other children about their adoption experience. Our agency is over 100 years old so some of the birth mothers I locate are in their 70’s, 80’s and some even 90’s. They are usually so scared to have this exposed.
I offer birth mothers the opportunity to stay anonymous if they wish. They may correspond with their child through me. I forward the non-identifying letters and pictures they send. Many of the birth mothers choose this option first. It helps them feel protected from someone arriving on their doorstep before they are ready. They feel safer and more in control of the situation. Then, after they correspond for awhile, they begin to feel comfortable and then agree to exchange identifying info. Almost everyone ends up meeting in person eventually. Although, one couple I have has been writing each other for 5 years and still have not agreed to meet.
Katrina Carlisle LSW, BSW
Adoption Search Specialist
St. Elizabeth Coleman
Pregnancy and Adoption Services