Friday, February 27, 2009

A Daughter's Guilt Comes to the Forefront

Continuing yesterday's post about my daughter's first visit to my home on Long Island:


Copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2009
That day I made the case for some leeway in this language business because I needed to introduce her as someone other than “my [amazingly young] friend Jane,” which begged the question, Is she your niece? I told her that sometimes I would introduce her as my daughter whom I had given up for adoption because she that’s who she was, right? She agreed. Or just say “my daughter,” so as not to get into a discussion neither of us welcomed at that moment.

But I had better watch it.

So throughout our entire relationship I was parsimonious in the use of the word “daughter” when she was around. She was free to say “mother” reference to me when the spirit moved her, and she knew that I purred with pleasure when she did. If she saw a man she didn’t know talking to me, she delighted in calling “Mother” from across a crowded room. She came up with her own name for me, Maraine (a combination of Ma and Raine from Lorraine), and the two of us used sometimes when no one was around. I typically signed cards and letters to her that way, only daring in the later years to write Mother. Words do matter. The parameters of our relationship were outlined in the language we used. She who had no control over the biggest event in her life could now control this one thing.

Those three packed days of sightseeing and bonding in Manhattan ultimately wracked her with guilt. On the last day, we spent hours at Macy’s shopping for her. Now I am a good shopper. I like to put outfits together, find the right shoes to go with the right top, the right belt to pull the outfit together. Jane enjoyed this as much as I did, looking over racks of blouses and vests and pants and skirts to find outfits that she could take back to Wisconsin and show off to her friends, clothes from Macy’s, the world’s biggest store!

When we met Tony for dinner at Benihana she was wearing one of her new outfits. Tony and I chose the Japanese steak house because we thought she’d get a kick out of the flashing knives as our own personal chef diced and sliced. We had second-row balcony seats for Evita after that.

Now seemingly out of nowhere, gloom settled in as she became silent and sullen. Tony, who can pour on the charm like heavy cream on plum pudding, did his best to amuse her, but Jane could not be moved. Brooding she was. Tony and I shrugged and continued on to the theater. Same thing. She didn’t seem to enjoy the play at all. She was silent on the long drive back to Sag Harbor.

Later, I heard from [her adoptive mother] Ann that when a road show company brought Evita to Madison, Jane told everyone that she had seen it, and on Broadway! She knew the story, the songs, it was great! Fantastic! Really? I said, surprised. Yeah, really.

And many years after that, Jane told me that everything had gone so well, during her visit, she was having such a good time, she felt so comfortable—and now it was being capped off with dinner and Broadway—that she suddenly felt incredibly disloyal to the family back in Wisconsin. She shouldn’t have so much fun with this new family unit, she shouldn’t feel so comfortable. She should feel like an outsider.

It’s utterly totally impossible to plumb the depths of what it feels like to be surrendered for adoption. It happens pre-verbally; it happens without the consent or, or cognitive knowledge of, the individual being given up. By the time the individual is aware of his life situation, being raised with genetic strangers and not one’s own, it is a fait accompli, its undoing impossible, no matter one’s preference. And to be available to be adopted, you first have to be given up.

Of course there are always reasons why adoption can be a better option than living with one’s mother. Drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, abandonment—all are valid reasons why adoption for many is a life-saving solution. But in situations where that is not the case, it may be impossible for the individual who is given up to truly accept reality and understand a mother’s circumstances and reasons, and ergo, to be able to truly and completely forgive. We are human after all, with all the insecurities and failings homo sapiens is prey to. We are all, birth mother and surrendered child, only human.

And what of the adopted people who never search? Perhaps it’s the impulse that made me a journalist, but I can not comprehend living with such a mystery, such a basic hole in one’s self knowledge, and not doing everything in one’s power to solve the mystery, answer the questions. What we do know is that women search in much greater numbers than men; men often search at the behest of their wives when the time comes to have children; more men than women profess not to be bothered with curiosity about their roots; many who say they do not want to search do so later on, especially after their adoptive parents die, and that adoptees start and stop searches and start again and stop again and start again. Searching can be frightening, who knows what or who we were before we were adopted. --from the upcoming memoir, Hole in My Heart

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Daughter's First Visit: Barriers fell and our bond strengthened

Jane's post got me to thinking about my daughter's (also named Jane) first visit to my house on Long Island. She had just turned sixteen; it was April; we had met the previous fall at her home in Madison, Wisconsin, with her parent's blessing. Yes, I know, I had done the unthinkable by searching--and finding--a minor, but that is what I did. The year was 1982; the World Trade Center was an icon of New York City. My daughter Jane had never been to Manhattan, so I arranged to us to stay at a friend's apartment there while we took in the sights. Here's a snippet of what I wrote for my upcoming memoir:

(Please excuse the way this looks but I can not fix it without retyping the whole thing. Sorry.)

Copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2009

It’s funny what sticks in one’s mind about any event. Sometimes the smallest detail, like the glint of a diamond on somebody else’s hand, is what you recollect, not the size of the rock. And it’s often the gleam that turns out to be the essence of the thing. Like what I remember about the three days Jane and I spent in Manhattan that spring.

She had never been to New York City. We took in all the usual tourist highlights— we shopped in Chinatown for cheap gewgaws, visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, lunched at the historic Fraunces Tavern near Wall Street, cruised around Manhattan on the Circle Line, sat for a half hour on a bench outside at the top of the World Trade Center and watched the helicopters, rode the Staten Island ferry, even had one of the ladies at the cosmetic counters of Saks Fifth Avenue give us the full treatment. I mean, I crammed in everything I could in those three days.

All that was fine fun, of course, but what I remember best is what we shared at the Statue of Liberty. We took the first boat in the morning from Battery Park, and without speaking of it, made sure we were among the first people off. Then together we raced straight for the elevators, not quite running—because that seemed too crass—but almost. Another family made the first elevator with us. When it stopped, we trotted lickety-split out the door ahead of them, trying not to break into an out-and-out sprint. Without so much as sharing a look, we had, each of us, wanted for us to be the first up the steps of the statue. (We had already discovered that we both loved heights.) Once we reached the steps, we clambered up them quickly, wanting to speed ahead of the other family. Only after a couple of twists and turns did we slow down, look at each other, acknowledge our single-minded quest, and giggle like teenagers.

You might dismiss this as not so unusual, lots of people would do this, you can say, but we knew—wordlessly—why it was important to be first up the steps. Just because. Years later, if we ever spoke of that day, Jane would say, “Remember how we had to be first up the steps of the Statue of Liberty?” and smile. I’d nod and smile back. Our particular shared silliness. No one telling the other to “slow down,” or “Hold on, what’s the rush?” Being first up the steps that day was far more important than the view once we got to the crown. That was nice too, yes, but the best part was being first. Standing there just the two of us, looking down over Manhattan, the first of the day to get that view. She knew that too. She was my daughter. Those were magical times, there seemed to be no self-consciousness between us those days. Barriers fell and our bond strengthened.

Because I had written an Op-ed piece for The New York Times about finding my daughter and the sealed-records statute in New York state, the photographer Jill Krementz wrote and asked if we would be willing to be included in a book for children and teens to be called How It Feels to be Adopted. She’d photograph us and tell Jane’s story in her own voice. Jane immediately agreed to the project. She was going from simply being a kid in an L.D. class to someone special, someone with something to say that others people wanted to hear.

In her essay, Jane reveals that though her mother was pleased that I called, she was “especially nervous” once I was on track to visit because she was threatened. Jane says that most of her own friends were pitted against me, saying things like “I wouldn’t let her just walk into your life. You should tell her to buzz off.” The story is mostly a straight recollection of events after I phoned.

Of our days in Manhattan she says…“What I liked best was our just getting to know each other…. Now I understand the problems she had before I was born and why she put me up for adoption. Being adopted had always made me feel a little insecure, and even though I loved my parents, I still had a lot of unanswered questions and stranger fantasies. Actually, one of my fantasies turned out to be true. I’d always imagined my birthmother was a writer….”

Yes, she would go home to her other life in a few days, but we had these days. However she felt, to me we were mother and daughter then. It didn’t matter that she called me Lorraine. She mostly called me Lorraine—there were a few exceptions when she called me mother, but they would be later, and always rare. Mom was always the woman who raised her; Mom was back home in Wisconsin. But she also called herself my daughter, when it proved expedient. However I really didn’t have equal rights; if I called her “daughter,” she bristled.

We were in the little supermarket on Henry Street--now it's a fancy take-out emporium called Espresso--but then it was a small grocery story, Federico's Market, located practically across the street from the two-story colonial Tony and I were renting. I introduced her to the woman behind the counter--This is my daughter, I said simply, not explaining further, knowing that the woman already knew the whole story. Jane smiled and said hello, but told me once we were on the street that she did not like being introduced as "my daughter."


Then what should I call you?" I protested. She didn't have an answer. Neither of us came up with "birth daughter," for the term wasn't in vogue then, and besides, it implies that the daughter is a daughter only at the time of birth, as if the ties of blood and strings of DNA matter for naught and had been dissolved with the signing of a paper soon after birth. But here we were, sixteen years later. Jane would always be the daughter of two women: Ann, who raised her, and me, who had given her life.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rachael's Visit

As readers of FMF know, my surrendered daughter Megan and I have had our differences, and we have not been in touch since August. However, several weeks ago, her oldest daughter, Rachael, emailed and asked if she could come for a visit over President's Day Weekend. You can imagine how thrilled I was! Yes!

I first met Rachael, now a college sophomore, when she was nine, a day after I reunited with her mother after a separation of 31 years. Rachael does not consider me her grandmother, however. In answering the question "Who Am I" on her blog, she described her mother's adoptive family as her maternal line, omitting her mother's biological family entirely.

Megan, a devout Mormon, believes that her adoption was God's plan; her adoptive family, the family to which she is sealed for eternity, is her only family. After a public disagreement over whether adoptees had the right to their original birth certificates, Megan (who had searched for me) emailed me and asked me not to send birthday gifts to her four children. (A Daughter's Change of Heart)

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that Rachael who attends Brigham Young University wanted to visit. I waited anxiously for Rachael at the airport and when I saw her I tried to hug her but she turned away. (I'm actually not a huggy person. The first time I met Megan, I tried to hug her in an awkward sort of way and she turned from me. At our next meeting, I kept my hands at my sides and she reached out to give me a hug.)

Rachael and I came back to my place for pizza and lots of conversation. Rachael told me about her work on an Indian reservation last summer, her roommates, her classes, her ham radio club, what her brothers and sister were involved in. All the things that interest grandmothers.

Saturday, we toured an exhibit about 18th century French art and Mme. Pompadour at the Portland Art Museum. We lunched at a Portland institution, Dan & Louis' Oyster Bar. Trying to sound casual, I mentioned that I had not sent birthday and Christmas presents because her mother had asked me not to. Rachael said she hadn't noticed. Hmmm.

I asked Rachael if her if she had told her mother she was coming. She said she had mentioned it just before she left. She did not seem to be aware -- or at least concerned -- that there were issues between her mother and me.

Over the weekend we soaked in the hot tub at my condo, and had dinner with my husband, Jay. Sunday Rachael went skiing -- her first time -- with my husband, our raised daughter Amy, Amy's son Chris and Amy’s husband Geoff.

Dinner at Amy's (take out Indian food). Back at the condo, we watched part of Edith Wharton's "Age of Innocence" (the Martin Scorsese film) and agreed it was slow. Monday, swimming and a trip to Powell's Bookstore, the largest independent bookstore in the country and another Portland Institution.

Rachael is shy, yet self-contained; like me she wears no makeup and dresses casually. Like her mother and my raised daughters, she is willing to try new things – calamari (aka squid) for example. She seems unconcerned with where I fit into her family or how she fits into mine--maybe that's why it all felt so natural. There was no questioning as in, What am I doing here? There was no reason for naval-gazing about anything because the whole weekend felt so natural and normal, as if we were a typical family, who had not been separated by adoption. We talked about literature, travel, history, even religion and politics. She asked if she could have one of my Hillary buttons for her paternal grandfather who collects campaign buttons. She likes Hillary although none of her friends do.

There were some differences of course, particularly religious beliefs. Differences exist in all genetic families. My raised daughter Lucy loves the Clinque counter at Nordstrom's and raised daughters Julie and Amy prefer action thrillers to dramas which Lucy and I enjoy. Overall, however, our similarities, Rachael's and mine, in style, likes, and personalities outweighed the differences by a long shot. Rachael's visit seemed so normal because it was so natural.

When we were in the hot tub, another resident asked if I was Rachael's mother; "No," I said, "grandmother." I looked for Rachael's reaction but she showed none. Amy introduced her children to Rachael as "Your cousin, Rachael" (sounds like a Daphne Du Maurier book?). Again no response. A note about Amy. When she and Megan met back in 1998, they were wearing the same Birkenstocks and had the same hair style. They sat in the same position and had the same "what's this to me?" look.

When Rachael left, she said she would keep in touch. I haven’t heard from her but kids today are not schooled in manners. Both Rachael and Geoff, Amy’s husband have Facebook pages. Geoff received an email telling him that Rachael would like to be his friend.

I’ll email Rachael in a few days. Perhaps I may even venture into new territory and sign up for a Facebook page.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Abuse in International Adoption, Part 2 with new commentary

NEW BLOG LATER TODAY (Tuesday, 2/24/08) FROM JANE, ABOUT HER GRANDDAUGHTER'S VISIT....

I'm not putting this up as a new post, but I did want some to see some of the comments at the Reality Check site regarding E.J. Graff's piece, "The Lie We Love":

Why is it so hard to believe that the women in these countries are any different. I am sure that many of them would like to keep their children but recognize the fact that the best future for their children may in fact lie somewhere else.

Yes, many of the women would like to keep their children...but the idea presented here is that a middle-class life is always better than being raised in one's own culture with one's own kind. And:

I am the mother of 2 Beautiful children adopted from Guatemala, I want YOU to imagine trying to work for $60 or $80 a MONTH while supporting yourself, a child and pay for daycare for said child. This is the "salary" the Birth Mothers of my children made. I know for a fact (after speaking to her personally) that my son's Birth Mother loved him with all of her heart and in that same heart she knew that she was not able to care for him). That is an unbelievable act of selflessness in my opinion. But it seems unselfish and an act of love only if it is someone in the States doing the same thing????

Boy, doesn't that sound like the load of crap that we birth mothers were fed when we gave up our children--how they will have better life with two parents...who can give them what we could not? Doesn't that sound like the same argument that was pounded into our heads, we survivors of the Baby Dump Era? And:

My daughter will not end up in the dumps of Guatemala City. Do some more research--that's where the infants are now being found, often dead or dying since Guatemalan adoptions have halted to be "fixed".

and

During the year long process, much of our money went to care for our daughter since there are no government programs to do this. Our daughter was not "stolen". We met her birth mother and have continued contact. She chose adoption because she had lost 4 children in 4 years due to the fact that she could not feed them or provide needed medical care. She could not bear to watch this happen again. We would love to be able to help her financialy, but cannot for two reasons. One, she fears that she would be killed if anyone knew that she had any money, and two, it is not allowed as it would look like we were "paying her for her child". Yes, our daughter did have one living parent--a desperate parent with nowhere to turn. Her choices were adoption, or abandonment. She made the only choice a loving mother could make.
Why are the women in other countries not allowed the same freedom to make a choice for themselves and their child? When family members, friends and well meaning individuals convince a woman here at home to give her child away, is she not being unfairly coerced? Why the double standard? Does money not change hands in a domestic adoption?

I dunno. But being incredibly poor with someone standing there waving money and seeming to be salvation does not seem to offer "freedom to make a choice." Most of the comments at the site are from angry adopters who feel maligned. E.J. answered some of their accusations. Here is a section of her response:

The DNA tests have been shown to have been fraudulent at times, with false "birth mothers" coming forward in the interviews, for pay. For instance, the doctor who signed Ana Escobar's child's test, Dr. Aida Gutierrez, has been shown to have falsified other tests; see this AP story: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/11/23/news/LT-FEA-Guatemala-Adoptions-Dilemma.php. Dr. Gutierrez certified hundreds of adoptions and is now under criminal investigation.
The documentation in Guatemala was so in-depth that no other Western country would adopt from there--Canada, England, Germany, the Netherlands, and other major adopting countries closed their doors to those adoptions. A number of international and local human rights groups were standing up for the impoverished birth families in Guatemala: the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, Casa Alianza, the Roman Catholic Archbishop's Office, the Myrna Mack Survivors Foundation, and others. -E.J. Graff

All this makes it so abundantly clear how much of an uphill battle we face in changing attitudes about international adoption. I am sure that the people I know believe with all their heart that they were doing a good deed by adopting from overseas, though thankfully, they I did not hear them express it that way: they merely said that they wanted to have a child and could not conceive. And it was too hard/complicated/lengthy to adopt from America.

At least they were honest about their reasons. As for the academic who adopted from Guatemala a decade ago, our friendship waned as she proceeded. I do not doubt that these people love their children; I just don't want to be faced with them day after day. For whenever I see them, my mind always strays to...the adoption. Save for one couple I see quite often, the adoption is always the elephant in the room. How do others feel about having friends who are adoptive parents? I can't be the only reader who is confronted with this so often. --lorraine

Now here's the rest of the post about "The Lie We Love" from Foreign Policy, Nov/Dec, 2008:

EJ.Graff, the investigative reporter of The Lie We Love that we began writing about yesterday goes on to note that delayed conception in developed countries has led to the uptick in the demand for babies--but that in the United States the drive to adopt overseas is also motivated by a fear of birth mothers--not only our change of hearts, but the specter that we might return someday....That idea was certainly at the heart of the arguments over the last several months I had with with friends who have little to no empathy for the women who bear the children, i.e., their natural mothers. They really would rather have us just drop dead. Oh no, they would say, we don't need to have you dead, we just don't want you to ever reappear. Same difference.

Witness that awful book I mentioned in an earlier post, The Brotherhood of Joseph, the woeful tale of delayed conception, normal infertility, failed fertility intervention, and eventually, of course, adoption...from Siberia. I can still see the face of the father of the author looking at me across a dinner table and saying: You are our worst nightmare after I told him I was a birth mother whole daughter had lived with my husband and I for lengthy periods of time. I did that, I admit, because I wanted to jolt him with a shot of reality. I wanted to let him know that adoption is not that simple. I wanted him to know that his grandchildren (now there are two) have other mothers, other pasts, other lives.

Why is my life surrounded by adopters?

But I digress. Back to Graff on the abuses in international adoption: She notes that women in poor countries have far fewer protections than their U.S. counterparts [that would be us, and we know how much pressure many/most of us had to relinquish our children], and that these huge imbalances are neatly overlooked by people mad to have a baby at any cost. The would-be adopters only see and hear what they want to; the other day on the ABC reality show, "The Bachelor," one of the women stated that she not only wanted to have children, she wanted to adopt. In her mind, apparently there are children going begging on every Third World corner. Not so, says Graff:

In reality, there are very few young, healthy orphans available for adoption around the world. Orphans are rarely healthy babies; healthy babies are rarely orphaned. “It’s not really true,” says Alexandra Yuster, a senior advisor on child protection with UNICEF, “that there are large numbers of infants with no homes who either will be in institutions or who need intercountry adoption.”
That assertion runs counter to the story line that has long been marketed to Americans and other Westerners, who have been trained by images of destitution in developing countries and the seemingly endless flow of daughters from China to believe that millions of orphaned babies around the world desperately need homes. UNICEF itself is partly responsible for this erroneous assumption. The organization’s statistics on orphans and institutionalized children are widely quoted to justify the need for international adoption. In 2006, UNICEF reported an estimated 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. But the organization’s definition of “orphan” includes children who have lost just one parent, either to desertion or death. Just 10 percent of the total—13 million children—have lost both parents, and most of these live with extended family. They are also older: By UNICEF’s own estimate, 95 percent of orphans are older than 5. In other words, UNICEF’s “millions of orphans” are not healthy babies doomed to institutional misery unless Westerners adopt and save them. Rather, they are mostly older children living with extended families who need financial support.

Ah, if only Angelina and Madonna had decided to give financial support to the families, maybe this adoption craze would not be so systemic in the land.

The country that has had the greatest abuses is Guatemala--and I personally know two single mothers who adopted from there--both professional women, one a highly respected feminist academic. In 2006 and 2007 Guatamala was the No. 2 exporter of children to the United States, Graff points out. "Incredibly, in 2006, American parents adopted one of every 110 Guatemalan children born," she writes. "In 2007, nearly 9 out of 10 children adopted were less than a year old; almost half were younger than 6 months old. 'Guatemala is a perfect case study of how international adoption has become a demand-driven business,' says Kelley McCreery Bunkers, a former consultant with UNICEF Guatemala. The country’s adoption process was “an industry developed to meet the needs of adoptive families in developed countries, specifically the United States.' " Graff continues:

Because the vast majority of the country’s institutionalized children are not healthy, adoptable babies, almost none has been adopted abroad. In the fall of 2007, a survey conducted by the Guatemalan government, UNICEF, and the international child welfare and adoption agency Holt International Children’s Services found approximately 5,600 children and adolescents in Guatemalan institutions. More than 4,600 of these children were age 4 or older. Fewer than 400 were under a year old. And yet in 2006, more than 270 Guatemalan babies, all younger than 12 months, were being sent to the United States each month. These adopted children were simply not coming from the country’s institutions. Last year, 98 percent of U.S. adoptions from Guatemala were “relinquishments”: Babies who had never seen the inside of an institution were signed over directly to a private attorney who approved the international adoption—for a very considerable fee—without any review by a judge or social service agency.

So, where had some of these adopted babies come from? Consider the case of Ana Escobar, a young Guatemalan woman who in March 2007 reported to police that armed men had locked her in a closet in her family’s shoe store and stolen her infant. After a 14-month search, Escobar found her daughter in pre-adoption foster care, just weeks before the girl was to be adopted by a couple from Indiana. DNA testing showed the toddler to be Escobar’s child. In a similar case from 2006, Raquel Par, another Guatemalan woman, reported being drugged while waiting for a bus in Guatemala City, waking to find her year-old baby missing. Three months later, Par learned her daughter had been adopted by an American couple.

On Jan. 1, 2008, Guatemala closed its doors to American adoptions so that the government could reform the broken process. Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain all stopped accepting adoptions from the country several years earlier, citing trafficking concerns. But more than 2,280 American adoptions from the country are still being processed, albeit with additional safeguards. Stolen babies have already been found in that queue; Guatemalan authorities expect more.

Guatemala’s example is extreme; it is widely considered to have the world’s most notorious record of corruption in foreign adoption. But the same troubling trends have emerged, on smaller scales, in more than a dozen other countries, including Albania, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Liberia, Peru, and Vietnam. The pattern suggests that the supply of adoptable babies rises to meet foreign demand—and disappears when Western cash is no longer available. For instance, in December 2001, the U.S. immigration service stopped processing adoption visas from Cambodia, citing clear evidence that children were being acquired illicitly, often against their parents’ wishes. That year, Westerners adopted more than 700 Cambodian children; of the 400 adopted by Americans, more than half were less than 12 months old. But in 2005, a study of Cambodia’s orphanage population, commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development, found only a total of 132 children who were less than a year old—fewer babies than Westerners had been adopting every three months a few years before.


And that's what we have been saying here. Bribery, kidnapping, corrupt attorneys and hospital and government officials combined with illiteracy and poverty lead to hundreds--thousands--of babies suddenly being "available" to be adopted. As Graff writes:

In August 2008, the U.S. State Department released a warning that birth certificates issued by Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City—which in 2007 had reported 200 births a day, and an average of three abandoned babies per 100 births—were “unreliable.” Most of the hospital’s “abandoned” babies were sent to the city’s Tam Binh orphanage, from which many Westerners have adopted. (Tu Du Hospital is where Angelina Jolie’s Vietnamese-born son was reportedly abandoned one month after his birth; he was at Tam Binh when she adopted him.) According to Linh Song, executive director of Ethica, an American nonprofit devoted to promoting ethical adoption, a provincial hospital’s chief obstetrician told her in 2007 “that he provided 10 ethnic minority infants to [an] orphanage [for adoption] in return for an incubator.”

...
Most of the Westerners involved with foreign adoption agencies—like business people importing foreign sneakers—can plausibly deny knowledge of unethical or unseemly practices overseas. They don’t have to know. Willful ignorance allowed Lauryn Galindo, a former hula dancer from the United States, to collect more than $9 million in adoption fees over several years for Cambodian infants and toddlers. Between 1997 and 2001, Americans adopted 1,230 children from Cambodia; Galindo said she was involved in 800 of the adoptions. (Galindo reportedly delivered Angelina Jolie’s Cambodian child to her movie set in Africa.) But in a two-year probe beginning in 2002, U.S. investigators alleged that Galindo paid Cambodian child finders to purchase, defraud, coerce, or steal children from their families, and conspired to create false identity documents for the children. Galindo later served federal prison time on charges of visa fraud and money laundering, but not trafficking. “You can get away with buying babies around the world as a United States citizen,” says Richard Cross, a senior special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who investigated Galindo. “It’s not a crime.”
So that means that two out of three of the Brangelina's adopted kids were acquired through suspect means. Now I believe that National Enquirer story about the mother of one of the kids. And maybe now with her and Brad having their own kids, she won't opt for more adoptions, but continue humanitarian efforts to help poor families worldwide. I want to like her, I really do. But serial adoption is not the way.

ROCKING THE CRADLE

Buying a child abroad is something most prospective parents want no part of. So, how can it be prevented? As international adoption has grown in the past decade, the ad hoc approach of closing some corrupt countries to adoption and shifting parents’ hopes (and money) to the next destination has failed. The agencies that profit from adoption appear to willfully ignore how their own payments and fees are causing both the corruption and the closures.

Some countries that send children overseas for adoption have kept the process lawful and transparent from nearly the beginning and their model is instructive. Thailand, for instance, has a central government authority that counsels birth mothers and offers some families social and economic support so that poverty is never a reason to give up a child. Other countries, such as Paraguay and Romania, reformed their processes after sharp surges in shady adoptions in the 1990s. But those reforms were essentially to stop international adoptions almost entirely. In 1994, Paraguay sent 483 children to the United States; last year, the country sent none.

For a more comprehensive solution, the best hope may be the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, an international agreement designed to prevent child trafficking for adoption. On April 1, 2008, the United States formally entered the agreement, which has 75 other signatories. In states that send children overseas and are party to the convention, such as Albania, Bulgaria, Colombia, and the Philippines, Hague-compatible reforms have included a central government authority overseeing child welfare, efforts to place needy children with extended families and local communities first, and limits on the number of foreign adoption agencies authorized to work in the country. The result, according to experts, has been a sharp decline in baby buying, fraud, coercion, and kidnapping for adoption.

In adopting countries, the convention requires a central authority—in the United States’ case, the State Department—to oversee international adoption. The State Department empowers two nonprofit organizations to certify adoption agencies; if shady practices, fraud, financial improprieties, or links with trafficking come to light, accreditation can be revoked. Already, the rules appear to be having some effect: Several U.S. agencies long dogged by rumors of bad practices have been denied accreditation; some have shut their doors. But no international treaty is perfect, and the Hague Convention is no exception. Many of the countries sending their children to the West, including Ethiopia, Russia, South Korea, Ukraine, and Vietnam, have yet to join the agreement.

Perhaps most important, more effective regulations would strictly limit the amount of money that changes hands. Per-child fees could be outlawed. Payments could be capped to cover only legitimate costs such as medical care, food, and clothing for the children. And crucially, fees must be kept proportionate with the local economies. “Unless you control the money, you won’t control the corruption,” says Thomas DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, which represents more than 200 international adoption organizations. “If we have the greatest laws and the greatest regulations but are still sending $20,000 anywhere—well, you can bypass any system with enough cash.”

Improved regulations will protect not only the children being adopted and their birth families, but also the consumers: hopeful parents. Adopting a child—like giving birth—is an emotional experience; it can be made wrenching by the abhorrent realization that a child believed to be an orphan simply isn’t. One American who adopted a little girl from Cambodia in 2002 wept as she spoke at an adoption ethics conference in October 2007 about such a discovery. “I was told she was an orphan,” she said. “One year after she came home, and she could speak English well enough, she told me about her mommy and daddy and her brothers and her sisters.”

Unless we recognize that behind the altruistic veneer, international adoption has become an industry—one that is often highly lucrative and sometimes corrupt—many more adoption stories will have unhappy endings. Unless adoption agencies are held to account, more young children will be wrongfully taken from their families. And unless those desperate to become parents demand reform, they will continue—wittingly or not—to pay for wrongdoing. “Credulous Westerners eager to believe that they are saving children are easily fooled into accepting laundered children,” writes David Smolin, a law professor and advocate for international adoption reform. “For there is no fool like the one who wants to be fooled.”


This is absolutely the best piece of journalism I have ever read on international adoption. Though I have quoted directly most of the piece here, I urge everyone to go to the site at Foreign Policy or Reality Check, where E.J. Graff has her own blog. At Foreign Policy, there are links to other papers of similar interest.

But how do our readers here feel? I'm relieved this is coming to light aat last, but since I'm surrounded by so many who have adopted from overseas (Romania, China, Guatemala, Siberia) it's obvious that the word has not been spread wide enough. Yet do I have the nerve to send this to a man I know whose girlfriend is hoping to adopt from China, and if not there, Nepal, which so far has not allowed any out-of-country adoptions? He is already the divorced father of a Chinese teenager. I don't know. Every parent I know who has adopted from overseas seems to live in a cocoon of self-induced ignorance. Whenever we mothers from FirstMotherForum see a child that is clearly not white Anglo, we look up to see who the parent is. And if the genetic makeup is from the same race, we silently saw: Yeah! Maybe the kid is not adopted!

I asked E.J. (We've never met but I'm beginning to think of her as a friend) how she became interested in this subject. She emailed that a family friend was in line to adopt from Cambodia in 2001. When the shutdown came*, and the corruption info came out, her friend was sickened to think she'd come so close to paying someone to steal her a child. Graff then became interested in the topic and began researching, hearing more and more heartbreaking info, until she could finally interest an editor in the story. Last night (2/21/08) I caught Graff on another subject--teenage sexual harassment on the job--on NOW on PBS. Do many of us remember when the slimy manager of the coffee shop where we worked in high school put his hands on us inappropriately? I do. One such guy drove me home after work and when I wasn't interested in a quickie, fired me the next day. I'd say I was lucky. And did I ever tell my parents? Of course not. Now I worry about my granddaughter.

Both of them. The one I know and the one I don't. Very soon, we'll hear from Jane about her granddaughter's (the daughter of her adopted daughter) visit over the long holiday weekend. There are some good stories, after all. --lorraine

Friday, February 20, 2009

Abuses in International Adoption: The Lie We Love

"Ethical and effective legislation and policy create families...reads the line under the flier for the Center for Adoption Policy's Sixth Annual Conference to be held March 6 at New York Law School.

You can believe they are not talking about the families the birth mothers create: they are talking about the big business in "creating" families by taking children away from their mothers, their countries, their culture. Elizabeth Bartholet, high priestess of the international kid-grab and a feminist law professor at Harvard, is the key note speaker; Joan Hollinger, of the University of California at Berkeley, and the reporter who wrote the proposed Uniform Adoption Act that included the wonderful provision that an adoptee's original record would not be open and available for 99 years--yes, you read that right--is moderating a panel of folks from the State Department; another panel is loaded with adoption attorneys and agency folks. Funny, I don't see anyone from any of the organizations that, ahem, think that maybe moving kids around the world is less than a stellar idea and leads to all sorts of abuses.

Missing from the speaker line up at NYU are triad member organizations or independent advocates for adoption ethics and reform such as Ethica, notes Gina Pollock, president of Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform (PEAR), which is sending three of their board members to be present in the audience. PEAR is hoping others with an alternative point of view, including some adult international adoptees will attend as well. (For more information, see http://www.pear-now.org/.

There's a part of me that would like to go and raise hell, but a) I'm not an expert on international adoption, and b) having been an "alternative" voice from the audience over the years, I know that it is extremely frustrating to sit there and then, when you do get to speak at last, be looked upon as something who just flew in from outer space. A voice from the audience is like a voice in the wilderness: not taken seriously. The best thing would be a group of international adoptees and birth parents to disrupt the whole proceeding. Now that would make news.

Yet there is hope that an alternative opinions regarding international adoption are beginning to be heard. E.J. Graff, associate director and senior researcher of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University wrote the following in the November/December 2008 issue of Foreign Policy:

Westerners have been sold the myth of a world orphan crisis. We are told that millions of children are waiting for their “forever families” to rescue them from lives of abandonment and abuse. But many of the infants and toddlers being adopted by Western parents today are not orphans at all. Yes, hundreds of thousands of children around the world do need loving homes. But more often than not, the neediest children are sick, disabled, traumatized, or older than 5. They are not the healthy babies that, quite understandably, most Westerners hope to adopt. There are simply not enough healthy, adoptable infants to meet Western demand—and there’s too much Western money in search of children. As a result, many international adoption agencies work not to find homes for needy children but to find children for Western homes.

Since the mid-1990s, the number of international adoptions each year has nearly doubled, from 22,200 in 1995 to just under 40,000 in 2006. At its peak, in 2004, more than 45,000 children from developing countries were adopted by foreigners. Americans bring home more of these children than any other nationality—more than half the global total in recent years.

Where do these babies come from? As international adoptions have flourished, so has evidence that babies in many countries are being systematically bought, coerced, and stolen away from their birth families. Nearly half the 40 countries listed by the U.S. State Department as the top sources for international adoption over the past 15 years—places such as Belarus, Brazil, Ethiopia, Honduras, Peru, and Romania—have at least temporarily halted adoptions or been prevented from sending children to the United States because of serious concerns about corruption and kidnapping. And yet when a country is closed due to corruption, many adoption agencies simply transfer their clients’ hopes to the next “hot” country. That country abruptly experiences a spike in infants and toddlers adopted overseas—until it too is forced to shut its doors.

Along the way, the international adoption industry has become a market often driven by its customers. Prospective adoptive parents in the United States will pay adoption agencies between $15,000 and $35,000 (excluding travel, visa costs, and other miscellaneous expenses) for the chance to bring home a little one. Special needs or older children can be adopted at a discount. Agencies claim the costs pay for the agency’s fee, the cost of foreign salaries and operations, staff travel, and orphanage donations. But experts say the fees are so disproportionately large for the child’s home country that they encourage corruption. (Italics mine.)

To complicate matters further, while international adoption has become an industry driven by money, it is also charged with strong emotions. Many adoption agencies and adoptive parents passionately insist that crooked practices are not systemic, but tragic, isolated cases. Arrest the bad guys, they say, but let the “good” adoptions continue. However, remove cash from the adoption chain, and, outside of China, the number of healthy babies needing Western homes all but disappears. Nigel Cantwell, a Geneva-based consultant on child protection policy, has seen the dangerous influence of money on adoptions in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where he has helped reform corrupt adoption systems. In these regions, healthy children age 3 and younger can easily be adopted in their own countries, he says. I asked him how many healthy babies in those regions would be available for international adoption if money never exchanged hands. “I would hazard a guess at zero,” he replied.

ALEXANDER MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images


This is only a part of the delights that awaits at the site. Thank you E. J. Graff--and I will be posting more about this in the next couple of days. Follow this link to see an interactive map of which countries supply babies and which countries buy them on the open market. And be sure to check out the related photo essay. It will break your heart and...goes right to the heart of those celebrity adoptions so, ahem, dear to our hearts. You can also read the story at Reality Check and post a comment.

The other piece of good news is that the Buffalo Human Rights Law Review recently published a piece to counteract Bartholet's thesis that few abuses (i.e., kidnapping, baby selling) occur in nations that export most of the kids. One of the authors is the founder and former president of Ethica, Trish Maskew. We'll get into that piece later.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Grieving for my daughter's adoptive mother

But if all unhappy families are the same, every adoption is quite different. Consider this one between first mother Alison Ward and her daughter's other mother, Sandra. Last week Alison, who now resides in Fort Myers, Florida, wrote to me after her daughter's adoptive mother died. Alison and I both searched for minor children (she ahead of me) in the early Eighties, when most of the adoption reform movement disapproved of that. Alison spent several years on the board of Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), was a co-founder of Origins in New Jersey, and was involved with the defense of Mary Beth Whitehead in the Baby M case (which resulted in a surrogacy ban in NJ). Alison and I, and our daughters, Holly and Jane, were featured in a New York Times story, "Mothers Find the Children They Gave Up," by Judy Klemesrud on August, 29, 1983. (Yes, we do go back.) We were also in the Jill Krementz book How It Feels To Be Adopted. Holly's adoptive family is also pictured there.

by Alison Ward


When we all searched so long ago to reunite with our children, I don't think we ever gave much thought back then to anything but the early years, the ones following the loss, and the present. We were so much younger than the adoptive parents. Now, all our children are grown, the ones we lost and any whom we raised. We are all grandmothers now, although sometimes are not recognized as "real" ones.


My daughter, Holly, had adoptive parents who raised her and loved her. They invited me for a weekend at their home several months after I made that first phone call to a 14-year-old. They asked me to stay with Holly when they went away to horse show when she was 15, which was when Jill Krementz came to tiny Dacula, Georgia to interview Holly, Sandra, and me. Sandra allowed the picture of the three of us to be in People magazine way back when, and we were later all on Oprah Winfrey's show in Baltimore
(before Oprah went to Chicago) with the late Bill Pierce of the National Council for Adoption and a sworn opponent of openness in adoption. I doubt if Sandra and Holly's adoptive father, Allan, received much support from their friends when they allowed Holly to spend Christmas breaks and summer vacations with me when she was a teenager.

Certainly it was difficult for Sandra and Allen when Holly lived with me and my second child, Daniel, whom I had when I was 36 and was raising as a single mother in New Jersey. Holly was going to college in nearby, and t
hings seemed to be going well when one day she simply walked out and left. She was 24 at the time; we had known each other for nearly a decade. Letters went unanswered and the years rolled by.

After Holly withdrew from our relationship, any letter or package I sent her went c/o Allan and Sandra. Although I never received any response from Holly, Sandra reassured me that she gave everything to
Holly and I believed her.

I did not hear from Holly for 17 years. Four years ago when Holly was 41, she wrote me, told me about her life and her son, Matthew, enclosed a picture, and asked for medical information. I responded and sent a baby gift, but did not hear from her again for a couple of years. Then, in 2007, she mailed me a wonderful album full of photos of Matthew, in kind of time lapse photography fashion. It was then that I knew we would meet again. Matthew is Holly's only child. He was born when she was 36, the same age I was when I had Daniel.

Sandra and Allen knew that Holly met me again on Sanibel over a year ago. She knew I met Matthew, who was four at the time, and her husband, Phil. Last October, when Holly told me that Sandra's health was rapidly declining, I wrote Sandra a note to wish her well and to thank her for all she had done for Holly and for me. She wasn't a perfect mother and, God knows, I'm far from it.

I'm not exactly sure why I have been affected so much by Sandra's death, but we were connected for the last 42 years (even the first 14 when we didn't know each other). While Sandra's obituary won't mention me, she leaves me behind as well as her family. I know that, while she could never replace me, I can never replace her.



Tuesday, February 17, 2009

One Messy Minefield: A birth mother's relationship with her child's adoptive mother

(c) Lorraine Dusky, 2009

Our relationships with the adoptive parents, especially the mothers, is fraught right from the first moment of adoption. And if one's child has had a good relationship with her adoptive mother, we are the outsiders looking in on a close bond. How the adoptive mother reacts to us--whether they fear us, are resentful that the adoptee is curious, are angry that a search was completed, and so on--determines to a large degree what kind of relationship the adoptee will maintain with her first mother.

In my last post about my daughter Jane's pulling away from me for well over a year, and it had everything to do with Jane's other mother, to wit:

As I wrote the other day, even after I "apologized" without caveats, Jane kept her distance for several more months--maybe up to another year. And then one day she simply started calling me again and we went on as if a break had not occurred. She did not want to talk about what caused her behavior, and I did not press the issue, but eventually I did understand it.

When one of Jane's brothers (a biological son of her parents) died in a tragic skiing accident when he went off a cliff on a Double Diamond run. Jane called me, still crying, with the news almost as soon as she heard. The memorial service was to be out west, where her brother had lived at a ski resort. Jane and her parents, as well as another biological son, lived in Wisconsin. Initially the parents only wanted their other
biological son to go to the memorial service, and offered him and him alone airplane fare. Jane's adopted brother lived near the ski resort and would be there. Jane was understandably very upset, and only after she made this clear to her parents did they invite Jane to come west with them.

At the memorial service, her mother uttered these fateful words about her dead son: He was my favorite.

Now that's tough to hear when you are a biological sibling, but if you are adopted, it brings home how immense the difference is between you and the blood siblings in the hearts and minds of your parents. While books and movies sometimes like to play up the good-for-nothing biological son in contrast to the upright and stalwart adopted son, or son-in-law, who is favored by the patriarch of the family, this is rarely the case in real life. At the service where the unspeakable was spoken, Jane's adopted brother apparently said something unprintable to their mother, and didn't talk to her for about a year. Jane's reaction was to retreat almost completely from me in an effort to prove that she was A Good Daughter, worthy of her adoptive mother's love.
There is no way around this harsh reality: Being adopted into a family is not the same as being born into it. DNA counts.

One issue that certainly came into play with my relationship with Jane's adoptive mother is how long Jane and I had our own relationship. Though it had its off times--as well as on--her mother came to deeply resent my continuing presence in Jane's life, especially it seemed, after Jane had a "perfect" daughter who did not have the physical and emotional problems that encumbered Jane. If I had been tolerated before as Jane's other mother, now I was actively disliked. What right had I to be Gramma? Furthermore, she felt angry because the golden granddaughter began living with the adoptive grandparents when she was six as Jane was unable to provide a stable home for her. (Yes, my story is complicated.) So there were reasons for her resentment.

And along the way, Jane's mother instilled a sense of guilt into my granddaughter about our relationship, the same way adoptees have guilt over searching, reunion, a relationship with their first mothers. That seems to be dissipating, but not before it hurt me deeply. I had hoped my granddaughter would be spared that.

But not all adoptive families are the same. Tomorrow Firstmother Forum will have a post from Alison Ward, who, like me, searched for and found a daughter when they were minors. Alison reflects upon the death of her daughter's adoptive mother, with whom she had a different kind of relationship. --lorraine

Monday, February 16, 2009

Thank You, Margaret Wise Brown





I have just returned from a 10:30 a.m. theater presentation of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, Margaret Wise Brown's timeless children's books. I purchased my ticket weeks ago, and feared that I'd receive sideways glances when young parents saw a middle-aged woman sans children sitting next to them; thankfully my fears were unfounded. It was just 45 minutes long, but it was charming and magical. I'm sure most FMF readers have read the book countless times to the children in their lives, or perhaps there are some readers who have had it read to them.

As I sat in the darkened, beautifully restored vaudeville-era theater with the enthusiastic, appreciative, and very well behaved toddlers, my heart just soared and my face was wet with tears, but they were happy tears. I had discovered The Runaway Bunny not long after my reunion with my daughter, and I had sent her a copy for some occasion, perhaps Easter. Like just about everything at the time, I saw this simple tale as an allegory for our relationship. You know the story, don't you? A little bunny keeps saying he'll run away--become a fish in a trout stream, a rock on a mountain, a bird, a sailboat--and his mother always assures him that she will find him, wherever, whatever he is. It's a comforting, sweet story beloved by children since 1942.

Several years ago I had lent the book to my male colleague, an adult adoptee. He said when he read it he cried, because when he was young he had in fact packed a suitcase and planned to run away, and his [adoptive] mother wasn't all that concerned; I guess it was one of those "kids will be kids" moments. I never got the book back, and eventually purchased another copy. My daughter was planning a baby shower for a friend several years ago, and she had created a bunny-themed gift, complete with copies of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. Watching the production this morning, I was reminded that yes, there were some bright moments in our five-year-long on again/off again reunion, just as Lorraine mentioned in the Valentine's Day post. And I smiled to myself and thought maybe I wasn't such a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad birthmother after all.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine's Day Message: I'm sorry without caveats

Hello...this is blogger Linda's cute house, decked out for Valentine's Day, Saturday.

While mostly we write about what is tearing our hearts out, I want to share today and through the weekend the wonderful heart-warming card that I received from my daughter Jane in 1984, when she was seventeen.

This is really huge card--by huge I mean it's 20 inches by 12.5 inches--and the picture on the front is of a little guy in red outfit, a "Ziggy" character who is surrounded by a sea of people, doctors, nurses, tennis players, firemen, ladies in hats, cops, students, a Frenchman in a beret, a guy with a cello, hippies, a witch, a woman with a briefcase, a hobo, a waiter, a maid, and so forth...and the message above Ziggy's head says:

JUST THINK, VALENTINE! ONCE WE WERE PERFECT STRANGERS, BUT THEN FATE STEPPED IN, AND THROUGH SOME MIRACLE, OUT OF ALL THE MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, OUR PATHS CROSSED!

Inside the card says: NOW WHAT?

Jane had written a note inside that said: I just wanted to say I love you (underlined several times) in a very special way, to a very special person, on a very special day. Love, Jane.

She added and a smiley face.

So now you understand that though we mostly write about the troubles of a relationship with our children, there were some very warm/loving/happy times...which I need to remind myself because I also remember this:

I hadn't seen her for a while and she was not speaking to me, when I was asked by her parents to come to Wisconsin to take care of our granddaughter while they were away. I jumped at the chance. Jane was married and living with her husband in a one-bedroom cabin in the woods, but granddaughter Kim, who had moved in with the grandparents when she was six, was still living with them. Jane was probably working full time at that point, and anyway, her ability to manage a job and Kim was questionable. I know it's confusing, but so was Jane's life. Her epilepsy made her life unstable.

The adoptive family returned, and we went to Mass Sunday, the day before I was to leave. I had not seen Jane the entire two weeks I was there. Jane and her husband were expected to be at Mass, as the Catholic church in their small town in Wisconsin has only one service on Sunday. I was standing at the end of a pew. Jane came in as the Mass was starting and said hello to what seemed like half the people in the church, continuing to nod to this one and that one even after she slipped in next to me. I felt like an absolute idiot, as half of the people she was saying hello to knew who I was (the dreaded birth mother!) because I had been there several times, knew the priest, et cetera. After what seemed like an interminable amount of time, Jane at last turned to me and said, Hello.

If there was ever an way to show me how angry she was with being adopted that was it. We--her adoptive parents, granddaughter, Jane and her husband--went out to brunch afterward, but again she barely acknowledged my existence. Her parents tried to normalize the situation without much success. After brunch, I did speak to Jane and her husband without anyone else around outside the restaurant. I do not remember what was said. The next day I flew back to New York. I still had absolutely no idea what I had done to cause her to reject me. We had not had an argument. She never gave a reason, she had just drifted away. I felt terrible, I cried a lot. Linda talked me through Jane's birthday one year.

In the middle of this separation and silence, I was on a panel at a CUB (Concerned United Birthparents) retreat. There I was talking about how to normalize our feelings and heartache, trying to help other mothers learn from my experience, when my own daughter wasn't speaking to me. At an imaging workshop given by Carol Schaefer, author of The Other Mother, I ended up in tears as I visualized Jane walking across a bridge with a present for me, a small package wrapped in rich pink tissue paper. Who knows what that was except my fondest hopes....
I heard Nancy Verrier, author of The Primal Wound, say that we mothers should once say to our surrendered daughters and sons: I'm sorry. I'm sorry you were adopted. That's it. No adding, It was the times, you don't know the pressure I was under, my parents made me do it--just a simple, I'm sorry I let it happen. I'm sorry.

I called Jane a few weeks later on a Saturday afternoon, and, with pounding heart and a flush of sweat (yes, I was anxious), did just that. Said I was sorry, plain and simple. She said she didn't know what to say, but we spoke for over an hour. It was a good conversation. She did not call back the following week or month. More time passed.

But one day, Jane called out of the blue, and we went on as if the disconnect had never occurred.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry you were adopted. If it's possible, every adoptee needs to hear those words once. Maybe the occasion of Valentine's Day--an ancient holiday with roots in the pagan culture--is the time to do it. Adoption leaves a lot of broken hearts in its wake. If it's possible to help a healing, and mend a sorry heart filled with hurt, maybe this is one way.--lorraine

PS:
In the bizarre-news category: Kristen Chenowith, whom we previously blogged about as she said in her memoir that she was not interested in searching for her mother, says that she believes her natural mother may have congratulated her at a beauty pageant before disappearing in a crowd. Could be true, I suppose, as some of the stories in the National Enquirer are. And having heard a million strange stories about mother/child relationships, this just might be true.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Correction Regarding Wisconsin Adoption Records Search Law

Just a correction today:

Here is what the Wisconsin Adoption Records Search law law says, per the website:

Birth parents are required to provide medical/genetic information to the court at the time parental rights are terminated. Updated medical/genetic information may be filed with the Department of Children and Families at any time thereafter. Upon written notification from a licensed medical provider that an adoptee has developed a genetically transferable disease or condition, an effort will be made to notify birth parents.

Actually, the law doesn't say that they must provide updated medical information, only they it "may" be filed....So that gets around the directive to provide the information.

I will correct the original post. --lorraine

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wisconsin Adoption Records Search Program, continued

Yesterday Jacy Boldebuck of the Wisconsin Adoption Records Search Program and I talked at length and here is the gist of our conversation, and an email from her today:

Our search law became effective on May 16, 1982. We are required to do a “diligent” search for both legally identified birth parents. The term “birth parent” is defined by statute as the mother listed on the original birth certificate and the husband of the mother at time of conception or birth, or the legally adjudicated birth father (paternity hearing, blood test). Most of the time (roughly 90%) we do not have legal paternity, the fathers are “alleged” and we are only contacting the birth mother. If she does not already have an affidavit of consent on file, we locate her and facilitate an outreach at the adoptee’s request to see if she would like to release her identity to the adoptee. If she is deceased we cannot release her identity without a court order for good cause. We do not keep any statistics on how many adoptees are successful in obtaining the identity of deceased birth parent through a court order request.

If we have a situation where we must search for both birth parents, if one is deceased and the other signs an affidavit of consent, we may release the identity of the consenting birth parent. If one is not located after a “diligent” search, and the other signs an affidavit of consent, we may release the consenting birth parent’s information.

Once a parent is located--apparently this is not difficult for Boldebuck's office--the outreach statement is read to her and--if a father is named--him over the phone. A copy of the statement is mailed to the parent or parents within three days. So the mothers have time to thoughtfully consider the request. Even if they reject releasing their names, they are asked--but not required--to provide updated medical information. (See correction.)

The older the mother, the more likely there is a refusal. "What will the grandchildren think of me?" is a question Boldebuck sometimes hears. While you are Granny and being held up as a model of rectitude, it must be more than a little problematic to admit...that you had sex outside of marriage, or were raped, and a child resulted that no one knows about. I get it. I asked my husband of 28 years how he would feel if I came downstairs and told him such a secret, and he said he would feel that I had been lying to him for all these years, and he would wonder what other secrets I had. Fair enough.

But. But still.

Boldebuck does not feel it is role as a state employee to actively encourage reluctant parents to release their identities to the adoptee, and while we might wish that were not the case, she is right. Her job is to be a neutral intermediary. A private search angel is under no such constraint, and if she is also a birth mother, is likely to be able to talk a reluctant mother through the painful part of revealing her secret kept for decades from the family. Boldebuck added that sometimes there is a change of heart, and she hears from the mothers weeks or months later, and that adoptees are free to request the information every year.

However, there is hope for the adoptee is only one of the parents named is willing for the identity to be released. That nugget of encouraging news is passed on, and with an affidavit stating that, the adoptee can go to court, and judges routinely grant the request for the identity of the willing partner to be released. The law is explained at the Department and Health and Family Services website: http://dcf.wisconsin.gov/children/adoption/ADSearch.HTM There are several pages to click on to.

It was clear from our conversation that Boldebuck is completely sympathetic to searching adoptees. She only works parttime, three days a week, and is a therapist on other days. When I said that I was completely open to my granddaughter knowing me, she said that was music to her ears. Remember, she is the one who has to give adopted people the sad news that their mothers do not want their identities revealed.

My late daughter, who surrendered a daughter in 1986, told me that the father's mother had initially asked to raise the child, but my daughter would not agree--nor was she willing to look into open adoptions which were available in Wisconsin from 1980 on. Neither the girl's father or her mother ultimately contested the adoption. In an ironic twist, his mother lived in Inkster, Michigan, a town directly adjacent to where I grew up,Dearborn. And supposedly that is where my granddaughter would have been raised.

One last note: through the Wisconsin Adoption Records Search Program I may be able to let my granddaughter know that severe PMS, which my mother, myself, and my daughter had, is a possible mental health issue for her also. I am convinced that PMS is at least partially to blame for my daughter's suicide. An aunt of mine committed suicide, and had made a couple of attempts earlier; and for years I myself nurtured thoughts of suicide. Only in my late thirties did I relate those black moods to my menstrual cycle. I got relief--enormous relief--from progesterone prescribed by a progressive doctor in New York City, Niels Lauersen. I could never quite convince my daughter that her blackest moods, like mine, were related to one's menstrual cycle until almost the very end of her life. And even though she finally got medical progesterone shortly before she killed herself, she wasn't using it. I couldn't force her to remember to take it. That and other factors pushed her over the edge. It's a story I'm telling in detail in the memoir I'm working on. And now I'd better get to it. --lorraine

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Search Angel reports nearly 100% success....part two

This is the continuation of Linda Burns's essay on searching and her near perfect reunion rate:

Most siblings happily unite, and the non-adopted siblings find the experience of having a new brother or sister to be exciting and affirming, but I am aware of several families where there has been one child who has not been receptive. In general, those who resent the new sibling fall into one of two categories: either she (or he) is the youngest child, the one who is used to being coddled by her siblings and is the center of attention in the family; or she has been the “only” daughter in a family of boys. Now their special status has been taken over by the exotic “other” that the family wants to welcome.

One family that has very happily reunited consists of a large family of males. Their adopted sibling is female. This lady is being spoiled beyond belief! These guys had always wanted a sister—they said they just wished she had found her Dad earlier.The sister and one of the brothers are both university professors and have become very close.


A Picture of my hero, Ann Fessler, and me. I am Linda in her book, The Girls Who Went Away

We have been asked to find about twenty fathers in all these years, and my husband talks to the men—except for a few who needed a little mothering. An ordained minister, Tom has devoted most of his ministry to Texas Search Ministries, our little group of searchers. He handles the contacts sympathetically, and so far, none of the fathers have turned down a reunion. Only one man asked me to find his son; all the others were adoptees looking for their fathers.

Children sent out of the country

One heart-breaking issue is finding adoptees who were born in Texas sent to Mexico, France, and Spain. Texas Cradle Society of San Antonio, Texas sent at least 20 percent, perhaps as much as 30 percent, of their babies outside the United States, usually when they were at eleven days old. I doubt they ever checked on these children again. Young mothers were trying to give their babies the all-American life, but if the adoption agency had the word "international" in their name....the babies were often adopted out of the country. (The Edna Gladney Home in Ft. Worth is doing the same today.)

These children did not have the physical traits of those where they were sent. They lost their American heritage and citizenship. Those I have talked to say they never felt truly accepted in their new homeland. Most were adopted by very rich families. The adoptees say they were on display to demonstrate the wealth of the family, and that the biological siblings often did not like them. One lady said that because she was fair, blonde, blue-eyed, in a family of darker Hispanics, she always felt a freak. She was "different".

The mother of one of Texas Cradle's International adoptees will be at the march on February 13—this coming Friday—in Austin. With the help of a searcher who speaks Spanish, we found her daughter living south of Mexico City. We found another child in France and were horrified to learn that he did not know he was adopted. However, he was so happy to know the truth of his origins because he could now understand why he is so different from everyone around him. There was nothing wrong with him! He said any fool should know you can't make a Texas boy into a Frenchman. I certainly see his point for I just can't see my husband as a Frenchman.

The law will get you if you search…

We mothers signed papers saying we would never look for our children, and we were told that if they ever searched we could be sent to prison for fraud. I am not making this up. This wasn't in the surrender papers, but this was drilled into us by the social workers. This is what I heard, and I have heard many other mothers say they were told the same thing. We were told our signing the relinquishment papers meant we had to let go forever. I believe this is why there are not as many mothers searching. But I am living proof that a mother will not serve a day in prison if she searches. I can also testify that a mother who does not search, will live her entire life in a prison of her own making. I hope every mother will attempt to find her child. To those who are afraid to search, let me say, Don't be a prisoner of the past. Be free to live again.

It is typically fairly easy to find adoptees in Texas. There are always exceptions, but usually it can be done quickly. Mothers need to search and give their child the choice to know them or not.

I am not going to openly share the way I search is that that could lead to avenues being closed. I am very thankful to David Gray at adoptionsearching.com because he taught me how to use the various records that are available to the public to my advantage. David’s brother wrote, Men From Mars, Women From Venus, but David wrote new life for parents and children when he began compiling open records for Internet use. Ancestry.com also has these same records, but the price difference and the ease of using adoptionsearching.com makes that a better choice. David has tips on his site which are very helpful.

I have seen recent statistics about reuniting, but they do not hold with what I have seen in Texas. Either we are different from the rest of the nation, or the record keeping in other states is not very good.

In closing I want to add that when the mother and child are reunited, they need to meet personally as soon as possible. Until they have touched each other, they are still a name, not individuals. After that first hug and kiss, they are REUNITED!--Linda Burns

email her at: momoburns@yahoo.com

Friday, February 6, 2009

Search Angel reports nearly 100% success

Since the statistics--that specious 50 percent refusal rate coming out of Wisconsin--continues to baffle us, today we have a report from a birth mother who became a search angel, Linda Burns of Red Rock, 30 miles from Austin. She has reunited approximately a thousand adoptees and their first/birth/natural/biological mothers. She led the demonstration at the state capitol there that is featured on the blog to your right. Linda's story is including in Ann Fessler's The Girls Who Went Away. Linda's refusal rate is exactly two women, and that is seemingly because of missteps made by members of the adoptive families. But hey! Two women represent--two tenths of one percent. That's right, .2 percent.


Even if she has done fewer than a thousand, say only eight or nine hundred reunions, her success rate is fabulous and what we expect, compared with other statistics. So exactly what is going on in Wisconsin? I hate to say it but it could very well be that many mothers need to be brought along to resurrect the pain of surrender of their children, and be willing to tell their families, deal with the fall out, and face a reunion. And birth/first mothers are of course the best to counsel and encourage them on this difficult emotional journey. As of this morning (2/6/09) I do have not have an answer from my request for further information from the Wisconsin Adoption Records Search Program. Here is Linda's excellent report:

I learned how to search from those helping me reunite with my daughter and I promised that I would help others with the knowledge that I gained. I have helped reunite about 1,000 families. There are several of us that work together so we can solve cases that are very difficult. Lately, we have been aging and not able to work as we did in the past. Living on social security makes travel a little difficult these days so we try to limit cases to our own areas.

Out of these 1,000 or so families, only two mothers have refused contact. I always ask the client (whether adoptee or birth parent) to let me or someone working with me to make initial contact. If I am working for an adoptee, then I can call the mother and hopefully bond with her. If my client is the mother, I make the call to the adoptee to protect the mother--in case there is a refusal. Also, I don't want anyone, mother or child, to say the other "tracked me down." If the adoptee refuses contact, it will be easier for the mother to hear the news from me, rather than her child. However, I have never had an adoptee not want contact.

Adoptive families are often very unkind, trying to keep the adoptee away from any of the first family. However, sometimes the enthusiasm of some family member gets the better of them and they make the call instead of waiting. Twice recently I have had son-in-laws make the call before I was able to find the correct phone number for the mother. These are the only two mothers who refused contact. I have had a few adoptees make the call to mothers, but everything turned out okay there.

One of the mothers who refused contact said to "just let it go". I am still upset about the use of those words--her child is not an it. I have emailed her, but we have not been able to speak. The husband of the adoptee made the initial call, and the adoptee then got on the phone. After being rebuffed by her first mother, the adoptee no longer desires further contact with her. Now I am working on her genealogy--she has two siblings and a lot of cousins, but does not want to cause problems by calling them. In the other case, the adoptee's husband only spoke to the adoptee's mother--it was exactly the same story. I sent this mother a copy of The Girls Who Went Away, wrote her a letter, and asked if I could visit. The mother was in her seventies, and ill, and died shortly afterward.

I did have a first mother once tell me she was not the mother of her daughter. She told me she was a mother, but that I had the "wrong mother." I thought she was lying. Later, she called me back, and asked for more details. She started crying and said, "They told me my daughter had died at birth. I am so glad she is alive!"

I have never spoken to a mother who has not reunited, joyfully, with their children. I believe it is because I am open about my daughter's adoption. I begin the conversation with, "My name is Linda Burns and I am working on your "maiden name" genealogy and I would like to ask you just a couple of questions if you don't mind. I will be glad to give you a copy of the work that I am doing if you are interested in genealogy. It's free!"

Then, I tell them that I am working for "adoptee's name", who is related to someone in the family. I explain I help people who are searching for their roots because someone helped me once, as I am a mother who had to surrender a child for adoption in 1966. Since we have been reunited, we both help others all we can, to show God how thankful we are for all He has done for us. Then the mother and I usually get to chatting, and each and every mother I have spoken to has a special place in my heart for her relinquished child. No one can possibly understand how that feels except another mother who had to surrender a child. I have never spoken to a mother that I did not feel closely connected to, and by the time we get off the phone, I always feel that she is a friend.

I helped an adoptee who had a court intermediary locate his mother. The mother refused contact. Oddly enough, I knew the mother as I was with her at the maternity home. Her son asked me not to contact her as she told the intermediary that she was not ready at this time, and he wants to respect her wishes. I believe this mother has suffered a lifetime from surrendering her son. I know my husband and I could help her, but we always follow the rules that are set out by the one searching.

Linda Burns and her husband Tommy. "Tommy says I must learn to say 'our daughter' and not 'my daughter'. He is not her biological father, but he is a father to her and loves her with all his heart."

To be continued on Sunday, 2/8/09.