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.