When I considered writing an article rebutting the adoption-promo piece in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin (“Family Man,” June 2009), I was nervous. Unlike Lorraine, who told her story to the whole world in 1979 in Birthmark, I was deep into the closet until my daughter Megan found me in 1997. I did appear in a 1998 ad for Ballot Measure 58 (giving adoptees the right to obtain their original birth certificates) but I quickly changed the subject if anyone mentioned it.
Frankly I did not want my colleagues to know that I had had sex with the wrong man at the wrong time and didn’t have the good sense to use birth control or have an abortion. I had never even been able to explain to myself why I, a middle class woman with a college degree, had become pregnant at 23. Being pregnant “out of wedlock” was for naive 16 year olds who hadn’t been taught the facts of life.
I thought of my “unwed motherhood” as a personal failing, not because I believed sex outside of marriage was wrong (I didn’t) but because it did not fit with my preferred view of myself. I had spent years trying to understand why this had happened. If I could not reconcile my actions with the Jane I worked hard to present, I could not expect others to do so. Even after my reunion with Megan, I continued a dual existence: a professional woman, a wife, and a mother who most certainly would not have borne an illegitimate child who kept her mouth shut when acquaintances spoke positively of adoption; and a birth mother easily sharing her experience when in adoption circles.
Another concern was that both my husband and one of my daughters were members of the Bar and surely it would be embarrassing for them.
On the other hand, if we are going to do something about the injustices perpetrated on young mothers every day, we need to reach out to people who don’t know about us. At my age, it was now or never. So with some anxiety, I asked Lorraine to help me write an article to counter the rosy picture of adoption the Bulletin presented to Oregon attorneys.
After the Bulletin editor refused to print our article, we posted it here. I emailed the Oregon Family Lawyers’ and the Oregon Women Lawyers’ lists alerting them to the post. When the first responses came to my inbox, I just peeked at them, fearful of what they would say. After all, attorneys, particularly women attorneys, are in the “adopting class,” not the "surrendering class," people with means who pursue careers until it’s too late or single sex couples.
Much to my joy, I found only positive responses in my inbox. And, most exciting, an attorney who wanted to join me in reforming the Oregon consent law. He had represented a birth mother who attempted unsuccessfully to rescind her consent for the adoption of her son, signed within two days of giving birth while still in the hospital. Oregon has one of the worst laws in the country with no waiting period before which a mother may sign an irrevocable surrender. I’m meeting with the attorney and others soon to develop a bill and strategy.
Here are excerpts from the responses:
A legal aid lawyer:
"Right on. It would be great to get Willamette Week [a weekly tabloid with a long record of exposing the peccadilloes of powerful Oregonians] to do a story on adoptions from the birth mother and birth father point of view.”
An attorney whose wife is a birth mother:
“Keep up the fight for birth mothers; they have little or no voice and too few advocates.”
A Family Law attorney:
"Thanks for this article which focuses attention on the impact of the happy story of adoption (for the adoptive parents) on the mothers involved. I’m embarrassed to say that I never thought about this much before, but I will from now on.”
“I liked the article – it must have been very hard to write. …Just wanted to tell you that I do know from talking to my own birth mother, how hard it was for her. … She says that me coming to look for her ‘made a bad thing come untrue.’ I feel so lucky that I get to know her, that everyone, me, my family, her other children, all have the chance to know each other. The attorney who brokered the deal actually gets the most demerits.… [My birthmother and I] discovered that he told a few lies to make the thing happen. Nothing that had a material impact on the overall situation in the end, but despicable nonetheless. I won’t say who it was as he still practices....
…. I want to tell you that, at least in my lexicon, the term “birth mother” confers not shame or denigration, but honor and sacrifice. The more I learn about how some babies ‘become available’ for adoption, the more saddened I am, for our society still needs for children to be adopted, it’s just getting shady and losing dignity. ….
Who at the bar should hear from people like me, objecting to the lack of balance?”
"I and my firm represented a birth mother who, after giving birth prematurely, changed her mind the minute her child was swept from her arms by the eager adopting parents, less than 24 hours after the birth.
We went to the court of appeals, making many of the arguments in this article, about Oregon laws allowing 3 days to rescind a consumer sales contract, but no time period for a birth mother to change her mind. Physical relinquishment finalizes the adoption. Period. …
Having been told by our court of appeals that it was for the legislature not the courts to decide whether Oregon's adoption laws deny birth mothers their rights(!), I could only tell our client that when her baby grows up and they find one another again, that she will be able to tell her she did everything possible to try and keep her.
This sad case still haunts me. I am so glad there is at least a forum on this issue…. Thank you for speaking to this issue of gross injustice."
Faith Ireland, a retired Washington Supreme Court Justice and birth mother whom we quoted in the blog:
"Thanks for the update. I continue to speak, where possible, about my experience as a birthmother and work to overcome the archaic and counterproductive shame which surrounds adoption. The point you make about poverty replacing shame as the primary reason for adoption is an important and often overlooked one.
A note from the Ethica rep in Oregon, Ansley Bernatz:
“This is an excellent article. What is happening here in Oregon is very similar to what is happening to women in Korea, so I understand your point all too well. It really is a human/women's rights issue rather than an adoption issue.”
Finally, I received requests from a couple of law professors asking for copies with the footnotes and references.
As for my husband and daughter, no problem.