Monday, November 30, 2009

Adopted People Are Not Allowed Ancestry Because It Might Upset Somebody


There's always a wealth of adoption-related vibrations in the air (Find My Family is on tonight, Ethiopian adoption, in an email) but today I can't stop thinking about a story that was in The Stamford (CT) Advocate the other day written by an adopted woman who just received non-identifying information about her birth family, just the kind of information that we now know is fabricated by some agencies.

The writer, Terri S. Vanech, was informed that she is the daughter of a blond, blue-eyed teenager who was considered "pretty," that she, Terri, is German and English, that her father left school to become a machinist apprentice and that her mother was planning to go to college to "work in the data processing field," and that her (birth) mother had "an upturned nose and an engaging smile."

I guess it's that last bit that would kill me if I were on the adopted side of this painful process called adoption. Upturned nose? Pretty? Engaging smile? I think I would start looking at every face in the supermarket all over again, trying to figure out if upturned noses fall with age (they do) and wonder how "pretty" looks at say, sixty, seventy, or so, to judge from the career choice of her first mother--data processing, the precursor to computers.

It would drive me nuts. Just the way I would look longingly--looking for clues--at every girl in the damn room everywhere I went before I found my daughter. Or rather, paid The Searcher $1,200 in 1981 to give me the name and address he already had on file after he used the clues in Birthmark to locate my daughter. But that's another story. Though adoptee Vanech doesn't talk about how unsatisfying and tantalizing it is to have half a glass full of information, she does add that with the "blessings of my parents and her husband" she is beginning the next leg of this journey of self-discovery. I assume that means she will commence a search for her (birth) mother.

Oh, give this woman her records, would someone please? Slip them to her on a piece of paper, call her up, send her an email, whatever, but what is the damn point of this anonymity, of non-identifying information which her mother most likely does not want, as we have learned from study after study?

But there is something else that bugged me about Vanech's rather touching essay. The overwhelming sense that she must tread lightly in order not to offend her adoptive parents. I know that everyone who has had what he or she considers a "good" adoption is deeply imbued with this sensibility, and I know it's not possible to understand what it means to be adopted, but sometime I would like a simple acknowledgment that adopted people who stripped of their rights have an undisputed right to simply find out who they are, why they were born...without the overblown sense that they can only do this with their parents' permission. Are the adoptive parents just as grateful to you for being a good son or daughter? Don't they owe you some gratitude? For being the person they "chose"?

Maybe this set me off because the other day we got an email from the wife of someone adopted who was searching--"with the permission of his parents" for her husband's first mother and father; the permission was mentioned more than once and that is what got on my nerves. I am afraid that I was a bit harsh in my response because the woman who wrote to us--who was not adopted, she was searching for her husband's (first/birth/you-name-it) mother--was so full of supplication and consideration for the adoptive parents that it seemed that the man in question had never been allowed to get past the "adopted child" syndrome. Had he asked his parents permission to take a toke, have sex, get married, have children, vote, go to war? Was there any other issue, I asked, in which he felt it necessary to ask for their "permission"?

I have an old bumper sticker that says: Adopted People Are Not Allowed Ancestry Because It Might Upset Somebody. I've had it for years, it has an "Orphan Voyage" copyright on it, and I don't remember when or how I acquired it. I used to think that the words referred to (birth) mothers in hiding; but today I read it a different way: those who might be upset if adoptees search are adoptive parents. If you look at the history of sealed records in, say, New York State, you find that adoptive parents were the ones behind the 1935 legislation that sealed the records: Governor Herbert H. Lehman,* adoptive father of two, was the motivating force behind the legislation that slammed shut the records in New York State; the late adoptive father John Tower in the Senate made sure that the open-records provision of changes to the adoption laws was summarily dropped in the early Eighties; and former majority leader of the New York Senate, adoptive father Joe Bruno, now on trial in federal court for corruption of the most flagrant sort. He never met with us, never signaled that he was in the least interested in the Adoptee Bill of Rights.
 Joseph L. Bruno

What do I remember about going to Albany to lobby the last time? One image that ranks high in the memory bank is three or four of us patiently sitting and earnestly lobbying for three-quarters of an hour with two of Bruno's staff people who took copious notes. Bruno probably never looked at those notes, or their report, because he was too busy introducing possible clients in the state to his business partners who were filling his pockets with dollars because of his vaulted position in the Senate. Off with his head!  Err--just find him guilty and send him to jail.**

I know it's a tall order, but maybe with enough education, maybe without adoptive parents who freak out when they hear "real" parent not referring to them, maybe with enough encouragement, we can change the world. Maybe some of this new attitude will even reach the despicable Drexler, she of Cornell and the Huffington Post. But I doubt it.

I am reminded once again of a note posted anonymously on a wall in New York City: I'm sad I'm adopted but I'm also grateful.

It seems to be those words sum up everything about being adopted. Sad and grateful.
________________
*Until my computer coughed, I had a link to the typed version of the 1935 legislation, as well as a letter from the nun who was the head of Catholic Charities opposing the legislation--it's on line somewhere. If anyone can find it again, I would sorely appreciate it.

** To all the adoptive parents reading this who are in favor of open records, to all the adoptive parents who are not like the above--I know it's not all of you. But adoptive parents and agencies, who support agencies such as Gladney, a prime mover in the National Council for Adoption, have been our biggest stumbling blocks towards open records, and so allow me my righteous anger today.

34 comments:

BD said...

Yeech! Joe Bruno. He is also a huge supporter of baby dumps.

BethGo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Improper Adoptee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lorraine Dusky said...

Let us not forget that Peggy Drexler, of the previous post, is also an adoptive parent.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Yesterday's New York Times had more reasons why getting anything passed in Albany unless you have thousands of dollars is nearly impossible...Read this editorial and weep.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Lorraine. I'm trying it again:

http://abc.go.com/shows/find-my-family/discuss?cat=334979&tid=760099&tsn=1

((HUGS))

unsignedmasterpiece said...

I almost wrote to the woman in that article to warn her that adoptive agencies are sometimes less than truthful in what they disclose at the time of adoption. I sometimes wonder if this is why so many of them resist open records.

The lies are sometimes humourous when you finally meet - sometime not.

The best place to learn about your mother is from your mother.

Terri said...

Please allow me to respond to your thoughtful post.

Like you, I firmly believe I should have access to accurate records about my birth, and the chance to find my mother if she should want to be found.

I must take issue with your comments about seeking permission from my adoptive parents, however. At almost 44, I'm long past seeking their OK, but they are my family. I couldn't possibly undertake such a life-changing endeavor without discussing it with them. Should they be grateful for me? I hope they are, but this issue is not as black and white as you paint it.

Just as First Mothers don't want to be viewed simply as birth canals, adoptive parents shouldn't be set aside. For better or for worse, we're all in this together.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Thanks Terri for writing. Like I said, I was touched--and bothered--by your essay. I understand what you are saying, and I respect that, but so often I hear that adoptees do not want to search because they are afraid of offending their adoptive parents. Of course I don't think that parents ought not to be considered, but your heritage belongs to you, and it should be a matter beyond what others have been led to believe about adoption. Good luck, and we hope to hear from you again. With news. Good News.

Lori said...

Terri, Nothing is ever black and white. It can't be. Life is a tapestry, not a photograph. The colors are what life is about. The issues that are stated here are not about whether or not adoptive parents (adoptive parents being those parents who adopt children and actually do love them and respect that they are their own persons, even as infants and toddlers) are part and parcel with the idea. But that we, as mothers, yes I did say mothers, and fathers have rights and feelings as well.

While you are contented and were well treated and raised with love, the language you used left many of us wondering why instead of stating that you discussed your decision, it stated that you asked permission.

Words are extremely powerful. They are the windows to the minds of others that we don't necessarily get to see face to face. Having said that, you must see why the reaction was what it was.

No one anywhere denies adoptive parents, we do however, deny adopters. There is a huge difference. My child had adopters. If she had told me she needed permission to have contact with me, it would have devastated me.

I think all children/adults are entitled to who they are, who they were born to be when conceived. I don't believe that includes being someone else's child. I hope that you can see the differences in language and how it creates havoc.

Andrea and/or Jeff said...

Touching article, infuriating background.

I sure hate adoptive parents like this -- gives the rest of us a bad name -- and worse, seems to make almost all adoptees feel they "owe" us over and above what kids owe parents. (When really to my mind adoptees owe less, I mean we really didn't "give them life.") I really hope my daughter continues to feel she can search for her first and second (foster) families and can tell me about her feelings if she wants without fear of hurting mine. So far she does, but she's not even 6 yet, so there's a long way to go.

I wonder if you think I should try to search for her first family, or at least do preliminary work. My daughter is from China, so it is hard to find anything, but harder yet as time goes on. I have heard some adoptees say that adoptive parents should leave that to the adoptees -- and I completely respect that -- but at the same time I don't want to trail (if there is one) to go too cold. What do you think? Not looking for a definitive answer from you or anything, just any input you'd like to give.

Jane Edwards said...

Andrea, Jeff,

I think you should definitely gather all the information that you can about your daughter's family in China, where she spent her early life, the local people who arranged the adoption, and so. I'm sure she will thank you for preserving this information.

As a birthmother I'm happy to hear about adoptive parents letting their child know they support her in searching. However, I really object to adoptive parents taking over searches and trying to control the relationship between the adoptee and the birthparents.

Here's a true story told by a birthmother in a support group I was in. Her son's adoptive mother contacted her just before his 18th birthday and invited her to his birthday party. The adoptive parents paid her expenses to travel cross country. They met her at the airport and took her to a hotel. They picked her up that evening and brought her to their home where the birthday party was taking place. She met her son and a zillion other people. The next day the adoptive parents took her back to the airport. Reunion accomplished.

I'd suggest that if you accompany your daughter when she goes to go to China to meet her first family, you stay in the background until her birthmother and she are comfortable with including you.

BD said...

Per telling your parents if you search/reunion, I think it's would be nice to share that information, but hardy necessary. My cousin, who is not adopted, taught me years ago that it's none of your parents business what you do. My obc was never sealed and I got it in 1980 I never told my mother It was none of her business. I'd say it's nobody's business what you do, including spouses, if you're unfortunate enough to have one.

Toff said...

You're thinking of http://www.bastards.org/activism/local/ny/hollymemo.htm I think.

maryanne said...

Lori wrote:"No one anywhere denies adoptive parents, we do however, deny adopters. There is a huge difference. My child had adopters."

Aha! Someone finally comes out and says that word "adopter" is meant as an insult. That is indeed the only way I would use it, to imply that very bad adoptive parents who were "less than" parents. But other people use it for all adoptive parents, some with malice and some with no harm meant, just a generic term. So is it the word, or the intent? Same with "birthmother" and other terms that have become controversial for some.

This is why it is not good to get too hung up on words, but listen to the context and meaning that the person speaking wants to convey. Only an adoptee can define what they feel about their parents, natural or adoptive. I do not think it is up to any of us parents to tell them how they SHOULD feel toward any of us,what they should call us, nor to deny or belittle their feelings.

I do not see the point of jumping all over adoptees any time they indicate they feel gratitude to their adoptive parents, especially those parents who are supporting their desire to search. I do not think second-guessing other people's feelings or telling them they should feel differently is helpful or productive of understanding. But that is just me; I know this is a sore point for some mothers.

Anonymous said...

I believe that as long as the people who raised you have been loving, respectful and honest, it is natural to care about their feelings, regardless of their parental status. Caring about the feelings of loved ones doesn't mean being held hostage by them. Nor does it have to blind one to one's rights.

I am glad Terri has spoken up, because it seems to me that her concern wasn't grounded in fear or uncertainty, but was simply a matter of consideration for the people she loves.
Furthermore, since her concern didn't prevent her from searching, it appears to have been a passing thing and easily resolved within herself.

Of course there are many, too many, adopted people who really are (often unwittingly) kept in thrall to possessive, insecure and manipulative adoptive parents, and adopters like these are among, as Lorraine said, "the biggest stumbling blocks to open records".
But Terri is clearly no emotional serf to her parents, and I totally agree with her that the issue is not as black and white as has been painted here.

Little Snowdrop

Anonymous said...

Lori, I think you must have misunderstood. It was Lorraine who first used the word "permission".
Terri makes it clear in her comment that she didn't feel the need for it.

Little Snowdrop

osolomama said...

Andrea/Jeff, I'm searching for my daughter's parents in China and you can get in touch with me to get the name of an excellent support group for this purpose should you wish to pursue it. I'm at jessica.pegis@rogers.com

osolomama said...

I have searched the Terri Vanech article and I cannot find where it stated she asked permission. It said, and I quote:

"Two summers ago, I finally decided to request the information sealed away all these years.

I once worried that searching would hurt my parents' feelings, but I needn't have feared."


Terri is searching and she is continuing to search yet somehow I get the impression that her feelings are not good enough for the assembled. But they are what they are.

Terri said...

It's me again. Osolomamma quotes my column accurately. I did not ask permission, but I did discuss the search with my parents.

My father said no one has more right to this information than me. My mother would someday like to meet my birth mother to thank her for giving them a family.

Not discussing the matter with them seemed dishonest and disrespectful to me, but I did not ask their permission. They've always said they would support me no matter what, but for years I stuffed my feelings about being adopted, refusing to face my many conflicting emotions.

I don't downplay the emotions of anyone caught in the adoption triangle; indeed, there is plenty of hurt, frustration and anger to go around.

May I say, too, that never, in two decades as a journalist, has anything I've written struck the chord this has. Thank you all for your candid posts and food for thought.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Folks, before you jump all over me (well, some of you have, but gently), notice that I did not say she asked her parents "permission" directly, but noted she had received their "blessing."

Blessing or permission? In this case, the difference is purely semantic, as "blessing" implies "permission," just as in the case of an offspring (and potential heir) seeking the "blessing" of his/her parents when getting married. The wife of the person who sent me an email about searching for her husband used the word "permission." Together, the concept drove me nuts. Adoptees have the undiluted right to learn their heritage, but today that right is certainly not a given. In fact, in most states it's forbidden.

I totally get it that adoptees do not want or need to offend their adoptive parents when they decide to search for their birth mothers, but my point is that this idea should not have to be a part of the equation when it comes to looking for one's original parents--it should be the norm. As it is now, the "offend if searching" is part of the understanding of adoption as it is practiced today.

And that's just wrong. To change adoption, we need to change the thinking.

osolomama said...

Just to clarify, I was responding to Lori's comment.

Anonymous said...

I gently disagree that the difference between 'blessing' and 'permission' is merely a matter of semantics.
A blessing is a gift of approval or goodwill, one that is freely given and speaks to love. Permission, on the other hand, implies consent or authorization and speaks to power.
Whether an adoptee chooses to discuss searching with their adoptive parents or not is entirely their own business. My son did with his adoptive mother, for the same reasons as Terri has described. It was his choice to do so, and had no bearing on what he knew to be his right to his full identity.

Little Snowdrop

Lori said...

How very interesting. The reaction to my statement regarding permission - Yes, Lorraine is correct, blessing was something that culturally I was taught was permission - was as if I was stating that I did not respect her decision to discuss it with her adoptive parents.

I think I said - mmmm - let me check - that nothing was black and white. That includes many things, including the need to be in my face about my use of the word permission rather than blessing. I respect any adoptive parent and adopted person relationship that is exactly as it should be, as the design was intended in the beginning.

Obviously, Terri has this relationship. My statements were simply a clarification regarding the reactions that appeared to me to be "what! she needed permission!"

Now, if I mispoke, I totally apologize. However, I think that the one thing that is overlooked here is the fact that Terri, and every adopted person out there, is and are individuals. Their lives are as individual as ours. Their stories are unique to them in some way.

The parents in this case are "adoptive parents". Cool, I respect her decision to discuss it with them, as I think we all should.

There is one thing, children, no matter how they come into a family, biological, adopted or foster, have no reason to be "grateful". If anything, parents should be grateful, not the children. Children are a blessing in any religion or culture in the world, and teaching them that they have to be grateful for their lives, or whatever, that makes them feel as if they owe someone something, or as if the world owes them.

I tell my neice and her brothers, frequently, "I love you, I don't have to like you. I am glad you are here." That's all - nothing about gratitude - not the way it is taught in adoptive situations that are about the parents and not the child. (My neice and nephews have many aunts and uncles - but my husband and I are "the Aunt" and "the Uncle").

We need to realize, as mothers, these are not children, we are not going to cure them of "adoption" or anything else. All we can do is what we already do, love them, no matter what.

Geez ladies and gents, relax. The young woman is doing something totally foreign to her in many ways. Respect it. Maybe positive ideas for a good reunion that culminates in a good relationship would be more in line with something that we, as mothers, should do.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Lori.

Gaye Tannenbaum said...

"I believe that as long as the people who raised you have been loving, respectful and honest, it is natural to care about their feelings, regardless of their parental status. Caring about the feelings of loved ones doesn't mean being held hostage by them. Nor does it have to blind one to one's rights."

Unfortunately, my loving aparents never wanted me to know I was adopted. They are both deceased now. I doubt if they would ever have given me their "permission" or "blessing" to search. Luckily, my stepmom had a change of heart and now would love to meet my first mom.

Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry your a-parents weren't honest, Gail, but glad your stepmom has seen the light.
Situations like yours demonstrate why records should be opened to all adopted people without exception.

Little Snowdrop.

Anonymous said...

Little Snowdrop

"I believe that as long as the people who raised you have been loving, respectful and honest, it is natural to care about their feelings, regardless of their parental status. Caring about the feelings of loved ones doesn't mean being held hostage by them. Nor does it have to blind one to one's rights"

I don't believe a caring, loving,respectful relationship can be built by the lies that adoption creates. There is NOTHING honest about covering up truths to protect oneself. Adoption creates falisified legal records, the adoptee is then told continuous lies whatever works at the age he asks.

Truths forged with lies=adoption.

maryanne said...

So, brave "Anon", you believe there are no caring, loving relationships in adoptive families? What a compassionate, smart comment....NOT!

Anonymous said...

Anon (who dares not speak her name), hard though you may find it to believe, truth isn't always accessible.

Little Snowdrop

Anonymous said...

Imagine you are a 45 year old woman who innocently goes to the bank vault to get her last parents will. What do you find? Not only the will, but tucked in the box next to the will you find your adoption papers. You were never told. You grew up thinking you were their daughter. I was and still am devastated. I can't get passed it. I no longerwant anyrhing to do with my sibling ( who does not know I know) and the rest of the lying group. I was adopted throigh the NY state system, so I will never know the truth. All in all I wish I was aborted. Please tell your children when they are old enough to understand. I would not want anyone to go through this pain and what I see as betryal by all involved.

Jane Edwards said...

Anonymous,

My heart goes out to you. If you haven't already, I encourage you to check out the websites by late discovery adoptees. Try www.latediscovery.org run by Ron Morgan, a LDA.

It's a tragedy that people still believe the best way to deal with adoption is to pretend it didn't happen.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

Whoever wrote, above, that "adoptive parents should not be set aside" -- why not? Because they paid good money for me and therefore I belong to them for life, even into adulthood, like some piece of property? Um, no. I'm a human being. Just because you paid someone a big sum of money for me does NOT mean that I should not or did not just "set you aside" as soon as I found my real family. People who think that you can buy a child are so deluded. My life was NOTHING until I was reunited with my family. All you are are people who bought a baby decades ago. I have news for you, I never loved you, I was just waiting to go back home. Get over it. Why don't you petition the agency for a refund and see how far you get?

Jana Purcell said...

Hi I wanted to give the side of the adopted child. My parents never hid that my brother and I are adopted. My birth mother chose to make it closed so I waited until I was 19 to contact them and it has been an amazing experience. Every adopted child deserves the great journey I have been on. My parents drove me to meet my birth mother and five of my eight siblings. I now know depression does run in the family and I finally have a sister. She is a year older than I but we should be twins with how alike we are. I appreciate my adopted family more now after understanding why I was given a different life and I love my birth mom for that. Now I have two loving families. If this helps the cause in any way then I've don't my job. My biological family isn't my real family. They are both completely real but my adopted family has been mine since I was only seven days old. I wish it was easier to find my older brother and sister and my little brother. It hurts knowing I'm not completely done. My siblings and I will not give up until we find the rest of our family since our mother won't give any details.