“A JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND MILES BEGINS WITH A SINGLE STEP.” I read these words, engraved on a wooden panel above the door to the assembly hall, every day at Chicago’s Hyde Park High School. My 50th reunion is coming up next year. It’s time I begin stepping up to end unnecessary adoptions and keep families together.
I’ve been involved in lots of causes over the years, end the war, keep abortion safe and legal, encouraging Oregon’s governors to appoint more women to top positions. Other than appearing in an ad in 1998 for Oregon’s Measure 58 which gave adult adoptees the right to obtain their original birth certificates, I’ve stayed away from being publicly involved in reforming adoption laws. Standing up in front of strangers, confessing my birthmotherhood, has just seemed too hard. But now at age 67, I know I’m running out of time.
For the next few years and perhaps more, I’m committing myself to trying to change Oregon’s surrender law. This law allows a woman to sign an irrevocable consent for the adoption of her newborn immediately after she leaves the delivery room, exhausted from the delivery, experiencing hormonal changes, and likely still under the influence pain killers. The prospective adoptive parents may have been in the delivery room and she is under pressure not to disappoint them. Although the law requires that she be informed that the surrender is irrevocable, the explanation is usually provided by an employee of the adoption agency and may be couched in terms of the necessity of irrevocability to keep the baby from going into foster care.
While women considering adoption are entitled to three counseling sessions before birth at the prospective adoptive parents’ expense, the law does not specify any particular information be imparted The counseling as a practical matter may be directed to helping the mother deal with her loss rather than giving her the power to prevent the loss.
Oregon is one of the worse states in terms of protecting mothers’ rights but other states have joined the race to the bottom. Legislators across the country have accepted as true the adoption industry’s claim that giving up a child needs to be made “simpler.” As Prof. Elizabeth Samuels points out in a 2005 Tennessee Law Review article "Time to Decide," “Many state laws appear to value an increase in infant adoptions over the goal of encouraging careful deliberation.” Heck, even President Barack Obama in his Notre Dame speech said adoption should be “more available.”
Participating in this blog gave me the push I needed. Lorraine and I wrote an article for the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, responding to a glowing article about an adoption attorney who represented birthmothers. The attorney’s duties include obtaining his client’s signature on a surrender document and delivering her newborn child to the adoptive parents. The Bulletin refused to print our article (which we posted here) but it did print a shorter version in the letters to the editor.
Last month, a politically-experienced attorney who had represented a woman challenging the adoption of her infant son saw our letter and contacted me about working to change Oregon's surrender law.
Birthmother Delores Teller and I met with the attorney, who has brought about legislative reform on two other tough issues, and his good friend, a professional lobbyist. “What are your organizations? Who are your supporters?” they asked. “Surely women who have been victimized as you have would have banded together and demanded change.”
“Well, yes, sort of,” we responded. “There is CUB and Origins, and folks from Ethica are supportive, perhaps AAC would get on board. Maybe some adoptee groups.” “How many people are we talking about in Oregon?” they asked. “Not many we admitted.”
Ah, there’s the rub. We could have the best of bills, the best of logic, but if we did not have the numbers, we would get nowhere. Surely, if, as we claimed, thousands of women in the US were suffering from the loss of their children, they would have banded together and demanded reform. If they’re not telling their stories, politicians assume they don’t have stories to tell.
“It’s not that simple”, I whimpered. “Women are shamed into silence. We don’t have heroines. Feminists, who should see us as the victims of the patriarchy, are too busy adopting to care.”
As I drove home, the French National Anthem popped into my head. “Aux armes citoyens!” If we are going to storm the Bastille, we have to come out of the closet.
Here’s a challenge to our readers. Find out the time periods for surrender in your state and post them here. Your state statutes are probably on your state’s legislative website and you can access the information under “adoption”. And if you can’t find it, contact your state legislator or state senator and ask for help. Not only will he get you the information but you may be commencing the process of educating him about an injustice.