Monday, March 30, 2009

The Daughter I Never Wanted and other lies about adoption in the media

How do we deal with our reunited children--if we don't like them? Or, how does the media deal with adoption?

The topic is the subject of Dear Prudence, advice columnist at Slate.com, this week (3/26/09). Headline:
"My long-lost daughter is a terror, and I want nothing to do with her." Well, the letter doesn't exactly say that.

The writer seeking advice from the ill-advised Prudence says that she got pregnant at 17, her family was not supportive, she gave the child up, but "never forgot her." The writer adds that she reached out to her daughter through the lawyer who handled the adoption, met the daughter, who also had a child at some young age and was living at home with her adoptive parents and the child. After email and phone contact, they met--what a meeting: the birth mother, her mother, another daughter she had five years later...and the adoptee, her baby, and her adoptive mother. Talk about a recipe for disaster!

The birth mother frankly admits that she did not like her daughter: She wrote that her daughter was "rude and disrespectful to her mom, yells at her baby, dresses like a slob, and was a brat the whole weekend." Ya think the girl might have had some issues? She also criticizes her daughter for not being more grateful for the "great gift" she got her. It ends with this note: "She is in school to join my chosen profession, which I think she will suck at." Signed: --What Should I do About the Daughter I Never Wanted.

There are so many issues here one hardly knows where to begin. But before we get to the writer's disappointment with her daughter, let me deconstruct the way the issue is handled by Slate and Dear ImPrudence, who now is going to join my rapidly growing list of obnoxious people I feel cranky about. Really cranky. Though the birth/first/natural/biological/real mother says she "never forgot" the child she gave up for adoption, yet the letter's signature says...the daughter I never wanted...Give me a break, Slate and Ms. ImPrudent. That is the lovely idea of someone in the editing department, or maybe Prudence herself. Does anyone know if she is an adoptive mother? Might be. Because that's just the kind of idea--that the girl was never wanted--that many today want to believe because that makes it easy for adoptive parents to imply...Your mother never wanted you. Meaning: Be grateful you got me, you lucky bastard.

And as someone involved in the media myself, I know that many professional women waited way past their fecund years to have a child and then found a way to adopt. (Further proof is Sunday's (3/29/09) New York Times' Modern Love story, "My Clock Was Already Ticking. You know how that one ends. After an abortion at 34, the writer [creative person, natch] gets married a "couple of years later," and whadda ya know, she can't get pregnant [now she has to be 36,37, at least], even with expensive IVF treatments over a couple of years. So a birth mother provides a child--no two birth mothers provide two children. I am feeling cranky about this tonight.)

But I digress.

Back to Prudence. Dear ImPrudence, those of us who relinquished our children did not want to get pregnant when we could not keep the child--if that was anybody's goal she needs her head examined--but once we were carrying our babies, once we had them, we sure as hell bonded with them and let them go only under terrible duress and unending sorrow. To make up the "daughter I never wanted" line might be satisfying to adoptive parents, but there is nothing in that letter that would lead to that. Nada. Not liking a daughter in person is not the same as "never wanted.

Furthermore, the birth/biological/first mother/letter writer says she initiated the search! If she "never wanted her" it is not conceivable she that would have searched.

In Prudie's answer, she goes on to tell the writer that a) maybe the girl has issues, and b) notes that one of the issues might be that her biological mother kept a second child, also a daughter. Well, there she has a point, through the rest of the verbiage chides the writers for "disrupting" the girl's life. We also get the smack in the face that of course her "mother is the person who raised her." We know that, Dear Pru, it's been drummed into our heads since the beginning of time. We are just the DNA carriers. And gestational wombs. And then we are supposed to exit, Stage Left, never to return and certainly not for the curtain call.

As a last insult to us natural mothers, the link that shows up at the bottom of my screen says this: I loathe my daughter...Really, did the writer say that? This is yet another example of how the media looks upon us. We loathe our children; we "disrupt" their lives if we find them? Prudie the Ignorant shows not one whit of sympathy for birth mothers. But ain't that the way?

Well, there's more to this story. Fellow blogger Linda, as regular readers know, was found by her daughter, had a wonderful reunion and then the daughter cut her out of her life. But Linda did have some less than laudatory feelings about her daughter. Here's Linda after reading the Dear Prudence column:

I smiled as I read about how obnoxious the adoptee is. I can relate, a little. My daughter was 23 when she contacted me, and as I’ve said before, the honeymoon was short-lived…the daily phone call and the all-day-long e-mail blizzard ceased six weeks into our reunion, and I was…shocked? hurt? dumbfounded? confused? Yep.


People who’ve met my daughter have sympathetically said “It’s how she was raised” to excuse her behavior. She wasn’t bratty, but rather cool, aloof, she grew up in a privileged bubble, the polar opposite of me…if we were cast in Titanic, she would have been Kate Winslett in first class quarters and I would be Leo DeCaprio having a grand old time with the peasants in steerage. She was accustomed to getting her own way 99 percent of the time, and then she met me, who knew what she was thinking before she did, and that really freaked her out. No one was more shocked than I when, having had enough of her bad behavior (that snotty sense of entitlement that was just unacceptable to me), I told her “I love you but sometimes I don’t like you.”


Unlike this writer to Dear Prudence, my daughter was wanted, And yes, unfortunately, my daughter inherited many of my least favorite qualities. That doesn’t make me love her less.


I realize a lot of it, if not all of it, boils down to "you gave me away," even though she understands the circumstances and has told me many times she feels very fortunate to have the advantages she’s enjoyed. And it's not just the abandonment issues, it's so much more, as I've learned from the adoptees who I've met and learned from. I realize she'll be struggling with these issues for years to come, even though she swears (at least the last time we spoke, and apparently tells my sister regularly) that she's a shiny happy adoptee. I didn’t hide my feelings and heartache about relinquishment as well as I should have (too much information isn't necessarily a good thing)…but as I’ve also said, if anyone was prepared for reunion, it was me. It's virtually impossible for anyone to be prepared for the post-reunion Pandora’s box.


Oh, what a friggin’ mess this business of adoption is.

_________________________________________________


PS: We'll find out if Madonna is going to take another child out of Malawi on Friday. I know she is going build a school or some such, but why can't she leave it at that? Every time a celebrity adopts, it sets the thought in motion once again: Gee, how great to adopt. I think I'll adopt. I'll get one of those cute starving kids from India. Nepal. Siberia. And so it goes. More kids are stolen to supply the bull market in babies. No recession here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Un-Open Adoption: Adoptive Parents Lie and Break a Mother's Heart

I recently joined Facebook and there have connected with many new people involved in adoption issues. One of them is Vanessa from Texas, a birth mother who was promised an "open" adoption, but it was slammed shut when her son was six. While we bloggers three--Jane, Linda and Lorraine--gave our children up when open adoptions did not exist or were extremely rare, today they are the most common type of private adoption in the country. However, any woman considering entering into such an agreement should heed this tale of caution:

By Vanessa:

When I learned that I was pregnant at 19, the baby’s father and I had recently split up. I was alone, scared, unsure of what to do. By the time I was five months along, I was considering adoption, but I did know that I would not be able to simply give my child up and not know what had happened to him or how he was as time went by. If I were going to pursue this option, open adoption was the only route I was willing to consider. I contacted a local agency, met the director, and made this very clear. It was open adoption or nothing.

I moved into the maternity home provided by the Blessed Trinity Adoptions in Texas, which is no longer in business. While I was still unsure about giving my child up, the pressurized atmosphere of the maternity home convinced me that I would not be the better parent for my child because I was young, unmarried, and did not have a four-bedroom house on a cul-de-sac. The social worker and the agency director strongly encouraged me to look thorough prospective parent profiles and select a couple whom I might discuss open adoption with. I found a couple who seemed to be what I was looking for: a stable, loving people—good Christians—who would be able to provide my child with everything that I could not (or so I thought).

Our first meetings went well. I voiced my reluctance about going through with the adoption—if they were unwilling to agree to regular correspondence and pictures of my child until age 18. At that point, of course, he would be old enough to make his own decisions. The agency did require that the couple agree to a single visitation when my child was one, and held out the promise that there might be more. Yet I was still apprehensive. My hesitation must have been obvious, and so, during our last meeting—shortly before I gave birth to my son—both the man and the woman looked me straight in the eye and promised that they would honor our spoken agreement for an open adoption. I believe they would have said anything to get my child.

I had the agreed-upon one-hour visitation when he was a year old, but that was it. I was never offered any other visitations or meetings with them, or, more importantly, my son. For six years I received the promised pictures and correspondence, and while they were always bittersweet at least I had some connection with my son.

Everything ended when he was seven. The adoptive parents moved and left no forwarding contact information. The correspondence and pictures no longer came. I had no way to reach them. I was devastated. A lawyer I contacted after a few years told me that because I did not have a signed legal agreement specifying certain conditions, there was nothing that I could do. However, I am not sure what good a signed paper would have been anyway because in most states such arrangements are difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.

The people who adopted my son—supposedly good Christians—were people I trusted, yet they deceived me and destroyed my relationship with my son. To anyone who says that getting a child under these false pretences is not coercion, you are wrong. I would never have agreed to let my son be adopted if I knew the couple would not honor their promise. They dangled the carrot of “open adoption” before me, but it was a lie. Living with the knowledge that I entrusted them with my child has been a terrible cross to bear.

Twelve years went by without any word. But when he was 18, I found him and we recently met. After I told him that I always regretted giving him up he looked me right in the face and said that “God put him where he was supposed to be.” The very people who betrayed me have brainwashed him into believing that it was “God’s will” that he was adopted by them. I doubt they also told him that it was “God's will” that they lied to his mother and let her live in a state of despair and disillusionment all of these years.

The adoptive parents who do this are not "loving" parents or good Christians; they are heartless wretches. I would not wish this pain on my worst enemy. If there is anyone out there who is considering embarking on an “open adoption”, please reconsider. While I commend those adoptive parents who do honor their child’s mother and the agreements for openness, there are far too many who don’t. The psychological damage this causes is devastating. I am not the only person who has been tricked into agreeing to an “open adoption.” There are many other women like me.

The adoption industry is built upon the premise that infertile couples are more deserving of your child than a young, unmarried woman because they have more disposable income at the time your child is born. What older couple doesn’t have more money than most 19-year-olds? But that does that make them more entitled to someone else’s child. Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Financial and life situations change. To anyone considering an open adoption, I say...find another way.

____________________

For other posts on "God's Will," see also: God's Will? I don't think so.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mother and Child Separations, Reunions-When will it ever end?

While Big Love, HBO show on Mormonism and plural marriage, got it right in their final episode of the season, hospital drama ER ended with a big fat ugly "adoption is the holy grail" thud last night (3/26/09). Fellow Blogger Linda sends this report from the trenches of ER:

High school mom who left infant at hospital returns two weeks later and says she made a mistake. Her mom will help her with the baby, and besides, she has welfare. Angela Bassett, the black physician who has become the infant's temporary custodian and has been trying to adopt for seven years (why don't we feel much sympathy?), is heartbroken, asks the girl, Are you sure, all the usual platitudes.

The teen spends hours hanging out in ER waiting for social worker, and sees the great doctor saving lives, doing good. By the end of the show the teen mom, who incidentally is white, the baby bi-racial, decides it'll be too much to go to school, make something of herself, and be a mom all at once. She wants her son to be look up to her. Bassett chokes back tears; teen mom says something about not being able to know her kid if he's adopted...Bassett says it doesn't have to be that way, there's "open adoption," the teen would know her child, be a part of his life. Wow! The perfect answer for everyone!

Yet another: Gee, adoption is soooo great plot line, see how much better this will be for the teen mother and the lovely, hard-working doctor gets what she wants, a baby. Tidy, that. A couple of weeks ago adoption was the theme at the noxious Brothers and Sisters, (see earlier post) in which another black mom, this one also a doctor (How unreal is this plot line--the woman is a doctor and she's going to give away her child?) Not only does she do that, she does it without drama, no tears, no regrets. She has the baby, and she is outta there. No, she is not open to having the adoption being more "open" than previously agreed. Pictures. That's it.

Big Love, on the other hand, had a different twist on the mother-and-daughter reunion. It is revealed that one of main wives, Nicki (Chloe Svigney) had an earlier marriage or "sealing" to another man when she was very young and lived among the way-out Mormon fanatics (long dresses, big hair). She had a daughter then, and no one else on the show knew about it, as she up and left the cult and married into a middle-class plural marriage (if there is such a thing, but bear with us) in Salt Lake City. We will pick up the story here. This is at least a close facsimile of what was said between Nicki and her sister wife, Barb:

Nicki: I did the worst thing a person can do. I left my daughter.
Barb: (Incredulously) You had a daughter?
Nicki: I have a daughter.
Barb: (Still incredulous) You left a child?
Nicki:
It was the only way I could get out. It was an impossible choice but I made it. Now she's here and she knows who I am and she wants answers. Everybody has tears in their eyes. (Including me.)

The show ends with the daughter being brought into Nicki's life, and her new marriage. I was cheering at how this revelation and the ending was handled, as the girl is now going to be a part of Nicki's life. At least these writers understood that leaving a child...is not a good thing. Other script writers seem to feel as if it is god's gift to the plot lines, as in ER, Brothers and Sisters, countless soaps, the despicable Juno, ad nauseam.

But it's not always simply adoption that seems to stalk us birth mothers. Linda and I went into Manhattan the other night as she got free tickets to August Wilson's play, Joe Turner's Come and Gone. The play is set in 1911; the characters are descendants of slaves, or in one case, a free man. It's a strong drama involving a man searching for the wife who left when he was taken away for reasons unknown and gone for seven years. Now he and his daughter, who was left in the care of her grandmother, are searching for his wife, the girl's mother. Near the end of the second act, Bam! there it is, the denouement, an emotional mother-and-child reunion.

For Linda and me, two birth mothers sitting there enjoying a night supposedly away from all adoption/separation-related things...it was indeed black humor. Linda gasped, I put my hand on her knee. I wanted to chuckle, and might have if we'd been watching this together on television. Adoption, mother-and-child separations and reunions, they follow us everywhere.

Check in tomorrow. We will have a heartbreaking post from a woman who agreed to an "open adoption." That wasn't.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Allison Quets: Birth-Mother? Surrogate Mother? No Mother?

Allison Quets, the Florida woman who pleaded guilty in 2007 to kidnapping the infant twins that she bore and gave up for adoption, was back in court today (3/25/09) before the North Carolina Court of Appeals seeking to have visitation rights reinstated. Quets was artificially inseminated with others' embryos and sperm, but maintains she was ill after severe medical problems during the pregnancy and signed the adoption papers under duress. She has fought the adoption for three years.

To make this very clear, as she is being called the twins' "birth-mother" on Wikipedia and elsewhere, Ms. Quets became impregnated with donated embryos and sperm. (Yet another way to be a birth-mother. With a hyphen; as almost or merely a surrogate.) As far as I can make out from the complicated chain of events, Ms. Quets planned to keep the children when she was impregnated at 47, but severe health issues forced her to relinquish the girls.

When her twin girls were 17 months old, she took them to Ottawa, following a visitation. She was apprehended in Canada a week later, and the twins were returned to the adoptive parents, Kevin and Denise Needham, in Apex, North Carolina, and her visitation rights were terminated. A Wake Country District Court judge dismissed her claims, saying she could not seek visitation because her parental rights have been terminated. She was also ordered to pay the Needham's legal fees. A ruling from the the North Carolina Court of Appeals typically takes about three months.

Ms. Quets had been a systems engineer for Lockheed, and is now working at a computer consultant and lives in Orlando.

When I first heard about this story, I thought she was the girls' biological mother; instead she is a woman who tried to become pregnant at a very late age, and ran into severe health issues during pregnancy, which is extremely common with pregnancies after 40. She spent five months on a feeding tube during the pregnancy. She had seizures shortly after the birth, and then came post-partum depression, during which she signed the surrender papers. The adoptive parents were recommended through a former boyfriend of Ms. Quets. At this point, she seems only to want visitation, but I can understand the Needhams' reluctance, as that is when she took the children to Ottawa in hopes, perhaps, of disappearing with them.

I don't know what to think about this mess. I do think that women who want to have children ought to realize there is a cut-off date to their fecundity, and 47 is past that. If more women did not wait until such a late age to get pregnant, single or coupled, there would be fewer families racing around the world looking for children to adopt, fewer children stolen off the streets in India and Nepal and you-name-the-Third-World-country to be placed in adoption agencies (holding pens) where babies are literally sold to anyone who can pay. The whole system is wacky. Stinks to high heaven. International adoption is often no better than baby-brokering.

My sympathy for Ms. Quets is not bottomless. In this last discussion of who is a birth mother, we did not include women such as Allison Quets, but that is what she is being called in the media. What do you, dear and gentle readers (yes, be gentle in your commentary, please) think? Of her? Of the situation?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Birth Parents —an 'endearing' term for expectant parents?

Are a couple considering adoption for their unborn child in the same place as a couple who surrendered a child for adoption? Some Oregon attorneys think so.

An attorney posted a query on the Oregon Family Lawyers list about whether paying travel expenses to bring “birth parents” to Oregon whose child was due in August.


Being the somewhat obstreperous birth mother and attorney I am, I posted a response stating that a couple expecting a baby are not birth parents since the child has not been born, let alone surrendered. Calling them birth parents marginalizes and de-humanizes them. I noted that the term "birthparent" was coined by Lee Campbell, founder of Concerned United Birthparents in 1976.

This led to a flurry of responses. In general, attorneys saw adoption of the unborn child as a fait accompli once the expectant parents were in their office; there was no practical difference between expectant parents and parents who surrendered a child. Here are some samples of what they wrote:


“The term birthparent is commonly used for any biological parent considering or having placed their child for adoption. It is used both pre and post birth. And, at least when I and my clients' use it, it is one of the most endearing, loving terms out there. It does nothing to marginalize or de-humanize. In fact it does just the opposite; it makes that person's relationship to the child to be adopted very real.

I don't know specifically what Mr. Campbell, (he must be referring to Lee, assuming he is a male)or any other anti-adoption group, thinks of when they use the term but for us today it is a wonderful and honoring term.” (Incidentally, the writer is an adoptee as well as an attorney.)

And:

“The term "birthparent” identifies with a sense of feeling and humanity the place of the parents who give life to the child. If one wants to use a term that separates the expectant mother from the child, another term that is cold and without feeling is available. One can always call the life givers "biological parents.” (“Life giver? Biological parents?” They haven’t given life and aren’t parents, but no matter.)

And:

“It is unfortunate,… that in the decades of expanding civil rights, diversity, multi-acceptance and personal freedoms, we have concomitantly developed a narrow and faux sensitivity to the use of words, nominatives etc. which seems to elicit a censorship like obsession, exalting form over content and simply distracting from important productive outcomes by continually fussing about what "we call it". Unless something is simply inaccurate or boorish or indiscreet, let it be.” (Calling someone who has not given birth, a "birth parent," is not inaccurate?)

And:

“Sperm donor and expeller would seem more descriptive.” (No comment.)


Thankfully, a couple of writers were supportive:

“Thank you for adding that. Little things like that tend to drive me crazy.”

And:

“I, for one, appreciate Jane's sensitivity and sensibilities. While I don't always agree, I applaud her intelligence and voice. Thanks Jane. …


As readers of First Mother Forum know, we have discussed the issue of using "birth mother" to refer to women who have surrendered a child in an earlier post. See previous posts:Natural, Real, Biological, Birth...Mother;

Natural and Real Language;

and more just the other day in a postscript as to why we are changing the name above but not the url, which has well over a hundred posts since we started blogging last August. And they are found at firstmotherforum.com.

But "birth mother" or "birthmother" is what people Google, even though many of us are trying to replace it with "first mother.”


Lorraine doesn't mind being called a "biological mother" by people who are not in the loop, but does get her back up when it's very clear people are talking about her or her daughter, whom she knew for 27 years! Or insist on calling her daughter her "birth daughter." Linda finds when she writes "birth mother" comes naturally.


I don’t get excited over whatever term is used to describe me and I can accept “birth mother.” However, I very much oppose calling a pregnant woman a "birth mother." It reinforces the message -- important to adoption attorneys and the adoption industry -- that she is carrying the baby for someone else.


And so dear reader, let First Mother Forum know what you think about referring to expectant mothers to be as birth mothers--I’ll pass it on the Oregon adoption attorneys.--Jane

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Gathering Memories with my "birth" daughter

copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2009

Two years later after my daughter, Jane and I were reunited:

We are Loehmann’s on Long Island, a store since shuttered, and she and I have just found a great black pin-striped suit, man-tailored jacket and skirt, and it fits her to perfection, and I’m staring at her in the mirror and she is smiling at herself, back at me. How to explain the joy that is quaking through me as I smile back at my baby, and that is what she is to me, only she is a teenager but that is okay because we are here in this moment, and we are mother and daughter, plain and simple, not "birth mother" and "birth daughter"—anyone could see that—shopping for clothes for her.

When she smiles, I do not see a girl with swollen gums—the unpleasant by-product of her epilepsy medication—I see her happiness, I see my daughter quite pleased with herself, and I see how this simple purchase will please us both. I slap down a credit card and $79.99 plus tax later, the prized suit is hers. It is just the kind of tailored jacket that suits her to a tee. Me too. If there had been another one in the same size I would have bought it for myself, for Jane and I are the same size—alternations needed only to lengthen the sleeves in both our jackets.

Besides arms longer than the norm, she has also inherited my predilection for man-tailored clothes intact, as if there had been not a single mutation of the style gene when it passed from me to her. So shopping for clothes, or anything, with Jane was always a special pleasure. You might dismiss shopping as a frivolous act of consumerism, but hey! It’s also the modern day equivalent of gathering, as in “hunting and gathering.” We were two gatherers fulfilling a role determined long ago in the millennia before homo sapiens wore hide skirts and hair shirts.

Shopping with Jane brought back such shared moments with my mother. Those shopping excursions did not seem like the stuff of memorable occasions at the time, because once you hit puberty you begin to think all the high points of your life are those spent apart from your parents, but later on, they glisten like little jewels in your memory box. I can summon up the coziness of my mother and I hurrying to finish the dishes after dinner before the sun went down on summer nights. Remember, my mother was a fulltime homemaker, and when we owned the motel, a fulltime cleaning woman who kept the five units spotless and washed and pressed the sheets too, so this hour after dinner was likely to be the only time she got out of the house during the day. Dishes draining on the counter, we’d head over to the nearby mall, specifically to a somewhat upmarket department store called Crowley’s. Mostly we weren’t there to buy anything, we were just browsing, killing an hour before closing. There’s where as a teenager with my own money to spend I learned the name Trifari meant good-quality costume jewelry; where an affable sales woman hooked me on Elizabeth Arden face powder; where I got my first black dress, and where my mother and I tried on hats.

Over the years, dozens and dozens of hats. This one looked good, this one was silly, this one was gorgeous but way too expensive, and this one was positively off the charts, who in their right mind would wear something as silly as that? We always ended up laughing, usually stifling our mirth so as not to raise the eyebrows of the sales ladies, but sometimes we laughed so hard we had tears in our eyes. Not that we didn’t buy one now and then. We did. Hats back then were not optional at Sunday Mass, and they had to change with the seasons. We always got new bonnets for Easter.

One evening my mother found a particularly fetching model and I could tell how much it suited her, how much she wanted it, but it seemed too pricey by our modest standards, $25 back in 1961. It was the summer between freshman and sophomore years of college, and I had been working as a waitress both lunch and dinner, socking away everything for tuition and books. Between shifts I studied for the two classes at the local community college I took in the mornings. To make the schedule work, my mother had washed and hung up to dry my nylon uniforms, supplying me with a fresh one every day. Let me buy the hat for you, I said, knowing that $25 would eat up the cost of a couple of text books. Really, she said, smiling, hoping I was serious. Her delighted surprise is one of those precious frozen-in-memory moments. The hat is a circle of feathers in a vivid Crayola ® color called Burnt Sienna. It has flashes of red and orange among the umber, and a jaunty tuft of feathers pointing skyward at the back. She left nothing monetarily valuable when she died nearly forty years later; the hat was in a box in the hall closet. I have it now.

So you can imagine the blissful buzz the time Jane and I ended up in an antique shop, and there on the second floor, among the old Victorian vanities and early plastic-and-paper “vanity dresser sets” of a comb, brush, mirror and hairpin box, we came upon a cache of chapeaus from the Thirties and later. On and off they went, the more outrĂ© the better, the more our merriment. It was a hot day in October, late afternoon sun peered through the windows in skinny stripes, dust motes floated in the light, we kept insisting the other try on the craziest ones.

Later that day, I tried to tell her about my mother and me and hats, but it was lost on her, and in truth, would have been if I’d raised her, just as my mother’s relationship with her mother seemed of little consequence to me when I was a teenager. All that Jane said about that half hour of hats was, You had a better time than I did, but something about the way she said it just broke my heart. The slight look of distance, a second’s hesitation before she spoke informed me that she was thinking: Well, you didn’t raise me, did you? How can you expect me to know what that was like? I hardly knew your mother.

Stuff like that came up now and again and despite the joy of the moment, I could quietly be reminded of what had been lost, what we could never get back; but that is what reunion is in the living of it. Pinpricks invade the moment, like thoughts that flit in and out when you are learning to meditate. But any prickly shards of remorse quickly become diffused with the content realization of what is. After all, you know in your bones, you did give her up, you tell yourself without realizing you are having this conversation with yourself, anything shared now is pure gold. Be grateful.

--from the upcoming memoir, A Hole in My Heart by Lorraine Dusky ______________________________

Jane will be here next week with a post on the use of the term, birth mother, before a child is born.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Dark Side of Overseas Adoption

Talk about birth mothers and adoptees not being able to get away from media adoptamania...on the way to getting a haircut on Thursday I heard part of Fresh Air on NPR, but in this case I was glad to hear what I did. Terry Gross was interviewing journalist Scott Carney, who had written a piece about a particular child who was kidnapped in India and sold into adoption in America. It's in the current Mother Jones.

Carney apparently located the parents of one child--Indian name, Subash--being raised in the Midwest and knocked on the family's door with photos, police and agency documents, and the story. Though the adoptive parents reluctantly listened, they are unwilling to open up the adoption to the boy's natural parents. The boy's mother, Sivagama, and father, Nageshwar Rao, do not want to uproot the child who has no memory of his native tongue or India itself. They realize is it probably too late for him to return to them. Carney says of the boy's (birth) mother:
After Subash disappeared [in 1999], Sivagama fell into a deep depression. Ten years later, she's still fragile, her eyes ringed by heavy dark circles. At the mention of her son's name, she breaks into tears, dabbing at the corners of her eyes with her sari.

"Why should we pay like this," she pleads, "for what criminals started?"

Indeed. They only want their son to know that he was not abandoned and to have some contact with him. Even though the connection was made many years later, the boy's father picked him out of a photo lineup immediately. But the American adopters--yes, in this case I am going to use that word even if some find it offensive--refuse. Nor will they submit to a DNA test. They will not tell Subash what is going on. He does not know that on the other side of the world from Wisconsin--I'm guessing here but the adoption agency in this country was located in Portage, Wisconsin--there are two other people who love him and with whom he is intimately connected by blood. They are not genetic strangers; they are his natural mother and father.

Subash's adopters--solid, Midwestern folk--are abominable people. They are the kind of adopters who make me crazy, who only care about getting a baby or a toddler at all costs. They are the kind of people who do not want to adopt children languishing here in the United States because they are too old or not cute enough, or have some noticeable problem. They want fresh blood. Cute toddlers. Kids without "issues."

I am a birth mother who relinquished a child to adoption and I hate these people who go overseas and take possession of children who were kidnapped off the streets in India, Guatemala, China, Nepal, wherever. In their ignorance, they are just as criminal as the person who actually steals the child. If you buy an art work on the international market, honest people demand a clear provenance of how the painting came to be available; those who buy without such documentation can have the art work reclaimed without compensation. Yet one can purchase a child, and that is that. Subash's kidnapper has admitted to nabbing the infant when he was left unattended for a few moments very close to his home, and selling him for 10,000 rupees ($236) to an orphanage that paid cash.

The Hague Convention that was so touted at the recent conference on international adoption at NYU, does nearly nothing to stop this type of child trafficking, Carney writes:

The Hague Convention on intercountry adoption, which addresses this type of criminal exploitation, was ratified by 50 countries—the United States signed on in 2007—but the pact is toothless, according to David Smolin, a law professor at Alabama's Samford University who has adopted two children from India. "The Hague itself has the weakness of relying on [the] sending countries to ensure that the child was properly relinquished," Smolin told me via email. "Receiving countries cannot afford to simply take the sending country's word."

Smolin is a hero to me. He is an adoptive father of two sisters from India who discovered that his children were placed in orphanages in Andhra Pradesh by their birth mother to receive an education—not to be sold into adoption. According to the story in Mother Jones, their illiterate mother was tricked into signing surrender papers and was later turned away when she tried to get the girls back. The girls, 9 and 11 at the time, had been coached to say their father was dead and their mother had given them up. After Smolin learned the truth from the girls once they learned English, he tracked down their mother, but six years had passed. The girls could not speak their native tongue anymore, and I believe he said they are now college students in America. (Smolin was also interviewed in the same segment on Fresh Air. I've tried to find it at the NPR site so we could link to it here, but have been unable. Help, please. If anyone can find it--it was last Thursday's program (3/12/09), please post the link below and I'll put it here.)

Smolin described the emotional meeting between the girls and their birth mother full of compassion for her, while Terry Gross, the interviewer, focused almost entirely the feelings of the adoptive parents. To her, the birth mother barely mattered. She apparently does not have the heart to comprehend that adoptive parents like the ones Carney wrote about are no better than kidnappers here in America who steal children because they can. Yet we give them no sympathy.

Smolin is now one of the nation's leading advocates of adoption reform. He says the Hague Convention is deeply flawed because it does not cap the fees paid by rich countries for children. In this case, ignorance is not enough of an excuse. Carney writes:

"If you don't sharply limit the money, all of the other regulations are doomed to failure," Smolin says.

Police, lawyers, and adoption advocates in India echo this sentiment. "If you didn't have to pay for a child, then this would all disappear," says Deputy Superintendent S. Shankar, the lead investigator in Subash's case (who requested that his full name not appear in print).

Yes, there are some children who need families and homes, but the demand has pushed the system way beyond need, since so much money changes hands, corruption and dealing in human trafficking--which is what this is--will not only continue, it will flourish.

As a final note, the Midwestern adopters above have two other children from India, most likely from the same agency in Portage, Wisconsin. The entire piece is worth your time, and you will also find at the site a follow-up interview with Carney about the latest developments, ie, more stone-walling from the adopters. There's also a place for comments, please add your own.

_____________________

The reason for a possible name change of FirstMotherForum has to do with letting our views be heard by people fresh to the concept of reunion and adoption reform. They know the word: birth mother. First mother may be more politically correct, but it's not what the world uses. Google birth mother (with our without the space between birth and mother, and you'll find lots of ads for adoption agencies looking to buy "birth mother" product. Ya know, a baby.

One more note, apparently one of the people on the committee in South Dakota who received our letter was the prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Nygaard. Email him your thanks at

Rep.Nygaard@state.sd.us

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Review of Coraline and Perfection: Perfect Parents, Perfect Children

Last Sunday my husband and I saw Coraline, a 3-D film using stop action technology based on Neil Gamain’s book of the same name. It was a welcome break from finding and perusing the manuals needed to re-set the clocks on the micro-wave, the CD player, and loads of other gadgets.

Coraline is an 11 year old girl who moves with her loving but work stressed real parents to a new home, a large and mysterious mansion divided into three apartments. She discovers a birth canal-like passage which leads her to a fantastical world. There she finds loving, perfect other parents, appearing identical to her real parents except that they have buttons for eyes. After several visits to the other, button-eyed parents, they tell her she can stay if she agrees to have buttons sewn into her eyes. Horrified, she refuses. The other parents morph into witches and Coraline’s real parents become trapped in the button-eyed world. Coraline must rescue her real parents as well as three lost souls who had agreed to have buttons sewn into their eyes years before.

As a birth mother, my first reaction was that the story was meant to convey one of those trite pro-adoption messages. You know the kind; a seemingly wise character says to the confused adoptee “Your real parents are the parents who raised you. Don’t search for them that birthed you; you’ll just open a can of worms (or find a bunch of buttons.)

But I got to thinking. The characters identified as the “real” parents looked like Coraline and shared her interest in gardening. The button-eyed faux parents disguised themselves to look like the real parents but underneath they were evil witches. So maybe the message is that first parents are real parents and adoptive parents are false and untrustworthy.

Perhaps, of course, the story has nothing to do with adoption (the reviews I’ve read don’t mention adoption but then adoption themes are rarely seen by non-triad members unless adoption is spelled out in capital letters.) Coraline may be a modern version of The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland telling children that the magical land over the rainbow, down the rabbit hole, or at the end of a tunnel is scary and there’s no place like home.

I recommend Coraline. It has wonderful graphics and a thought-provoking story line regardless of how one’s thoughts progress.

While Coraline explores the search for perfect parents, Perfection, a play by Measure 58 mother Helen Hill, recounts the quest for perfect children. (Measure 58 was a 1998 ballot measure which gave Oregon-born adoptees the right to obtain their original birth certificates. Ms. Hill largely funded the process.)

Perfection was produced in Portland and ran for three weeks in February. It takes place in 1934 when states routinely sterilized those deemed to be genetically inferior. In the play, a doctor at a state institution prepares to sterilize a resident who recently gave birth to a child which was taken from her. The woman is poor and uneducated but not mentally disabled. The doctor convinces her to submit to an operation (he does not disclose the nature of the operation) by telling her the operation is necessary for her child to be returned.

Thus, the play blends themes of eugenics and adoption. Helen Hill has experienced both. She was adopted as an infant and her adoptive father was a Creek Indian who had been sterilized under a eugenics program. She used money she inherited from him to fund the Measure 58 campaign.

Much of the dialogue in Perfection is in the form of an argument between the doctor and his nurse about the righteousness of eugenics, some of it bordering on a polemic, a method which never works well. The play as a whole works, however, because it has sympathetic characters and good drama.

My first thought, though, was “you’re beating a dead horse.” After the disclosures of Nazi atrocities, eugenics was thoroughly discredited. Being against eugenics is like being against slavery. No one is for it today.

As I thought about it, however, I realized the belief that tinkering with nature can create better human beings is very much alive today. Adoption, after all, is a form of social eugenics. Pre-natal testing gives prospective parents the option of aborting embryos found to have genetic flaws.

The counterpart to preventing the birth of inferior people is the creation of superior ones, something the Nazis also pursued. Spend five minutes on Google looking at egg donor websites and you’ll see how important genetics is to the process. From a March 15, 2006 article in USA Today:

“Advertisements in campus newspapers and on websites plead daily. ‘Egg Donors Needed. $10,000,’ says one in The Daily Californian, the student newspaper at the University of California, Berkeley. The ad, from a San Diego broker called A Perfect Match, seeks women who are "attractive, under the age of 29" and have SAT scores above 1,300.”

Conceive Abilities, a fertility business with clinics in Chicago and Colorado tries to soften the reality that fees paid to donors relate to the quality of the donor:

“Our agency compensates egg donors anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000 and can be dependent upon a number of considerations some of which include location, number of previous donations and ethnic diversity.

Then there is The Egg Donor Program which boasts:

“The Egg Donor Program is the premier egg donation agency in the United States for solving female infertility by IVF donor egg treatment. Our Los Angeles based egg donor clinic has the most beautiful and accomplished donors in the country. Our egg donor center is also known for its extensive database of Superdonors, which includes hundreds of women from many diverse ethnic backgrounds. For over 15 years we have specialized in matching couples with exquisite young women whose motivations are heartfelt.

If you are interested in becoming an egg donor and want to be listed with the country’s most prestigious agency, we will ensure that your journey is safe and gratifying and we will reward you for your gesture with commemorating gifts and the highest level of compensation. We will treat you like the angel you are.”

In the end, the message of both Coraline and Perfection seems to be: let’s accept what nature has given us.
__________________________
PS: Lorraine here. Serious consideration is being given to changing the name of this blog. Stay tuned. All the old posts will stay but the only consideration is the links we have from other bloggers.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Confusion in South Dakota: Open Records Die at Adoptee's Hand

First the Bad News:

The testimony of an adoptee on a legislative committee in South Dakota apparently quashed the open-records bill we had trumpeted yesterday. (Information is hard to get out of SD, so if anyone has new and better information, please post.) Not withstanding what we said earlier--when we thought the bill had passed--it did not.

And yes, you read that right, an an adoptee--who to the best of my knowledge is on the committee himself--killed the bill. Drives me absolutely crazy. It's a way of saying, Hey I prefer these chains and I am so incredibly grateful that was I was adopted, and I don't ever want to know anything about who I REALLY am, fully and completely, and so not only am I not going to look, not only are my feelings about being adopted subsumed under thick lawyers of gratitude and self-hating, I'm not going to make it possible for anybody to have that right!

I am so steamed right now I can hardly type straight. So if you are reading this and if you are adopted or a birth, real, biological, natural, first mother, take a moment and write to the people below.

Let it rip! Let them know how you feel! Let this know that what they are doing is wrong and a flagrant violation of rights! Let them know that birth/first mothers were never promised anonymity! That most of us do not want it from our children! Tell them you were not promised "confidentiality." To most of us, that is a dreaded concept.

If you are an adoptee, tell them that the bill doesn't demand that anyone get their records, it just allows them to if they so desire. Tell them why you need to know. Just because works for me.

When I wrote my letter, I pasted all the emails into one and sent it to everyone. One email. That's all it takes. One. Do you have five or ten minutes (You know you do) to spend on giving adoptees their rights back, rights that were stolen when they were adopted? Your letter could be the one that breaks the back of some legislator who voted against this bill.

Do it now. Do it on your lunch break. Do it before dinner, but do it! Please.


Rep.Nygaard@state.sd.us,
Rep.Cutler@state.sd.us,
Rep.Dreyer@state.sd.us,
Sen.Jerstad@state.sd.us,
Sen.Dempster@state.sd.us,
Sen.Adelstein@state.sd.us

RE: SB153

To: Representatives Nygaard, Cutler and Dreyer
Senators Jerstad, Dempster and Adelstein

Dear Members of the South Dakota Legislature:

Open records bills will never pass if we are silent. I'm not going to post my letter because all need to sound different. You don't have to be a genius or a "writer" to make an impact, you just have to make your voice heard.

Okay, there is no good news about this other than...we are getting close--lorraine

PS: Over at Huffington Post, someone idiot has posted a commentary that Bristol Palin's little boy would be better off adopted. Right.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

First Mother Help Needed in SD: No Confidentiality Was Promised

The good news from South Dakota--that they passed an open-records bill with a contact preference--NOT VETO--is tempered somewhat. Apparently there is still some kind of hold up because some in the legislature believe that mothers were "promised" confidentiality.

Hold on there, ladies and gentlemen! I was not "promised" confidentiality, it was forced on me if I wanted to use the state system of adoption. Anonymity from my child was the biggest problem I had with agreeing with the adoption (other than the sense I was doing something against nature, and I was), and I argued with my social worker for weeks over this provision of the law.

Surrender papers carry no such "promise." In fact, the great majority of women long to be united with their children, if only to learn what happened to them and that they prospered.

Letters and emails are needed to reach the SD legislators who are apparently rethinking this bill, and want to add a contact veto. If you are a first mother, please please take the time to email them.

Just copy the information below into your email and let them know the promise of confidentiality is a crock! And that it has been used to keep records sealed in the face of all evidence to the contrary. A mother does not need or want "privacy" from her offspring. And should she be so heartless as to desire it, the adopted person's wishes in the name of human decency must trumps her. Her right to privacy should not trample another person's right to be able to answer the most basic question of all: Who Am I?

Of course it would be better if we had a hundred South Dakota mothers emailing, but let's let them know, wherever you are from, that a right to "privacy" does not included anonymity from your offspring. And if you are in contact with other first mothers, please urge them to write. The time is now.


To: Representatives Nygaard, Cutler and Dreyer
Senators Jerstad, Dempster and Adelstein

RE: SB153

Dear Members of the South Dakota Legislature,

Here are the names and addresses:
Rep.Nygaard@state.sd.us,
Rep.Cutler@state.sd.us,
Rep.Dreyer@state.sd.us,
Sen.Jerstad@state.sd.us,
Sen.Dempster@state.sd.us,
Sen.Adelstein@state.sd.us
___________
Eugenics and the theater, coming up on Saturday.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Television's Love Affair with Adoptamania

Oh, this evening’s full moon is not my friend, dear reader. I haven’t exactly been slammed by adoption, my often-cited favorite quote from The Girls Who Went Away, but adoptamania, as Lorraine calls the phenomenon, has been kicking me in the derriere over the past few days.

I stumbled across this seemingly innocuous celebrity story about Kelly Clarkson, the first American Idol winner, online this afternoon:

(March 10) - Kelly Clarkson's plate is too chocked full of hit singles and concert dates to be thinking about actual dates or marriage right now, and the 'My Life Would Suck Without You' singer says in a new interview that being a rock star "is too selfish" of an enterprise for her to be a good mom.

“Oh, my God, I have no desire. I would not be a good mother," Clarkson, 26, tells USA Today about having kids. "I used to want to, like, adopt 10 kids -- because I had friends who were adopted, and I thought that was the coolest thing, to be chosen. But again, my job is too selfish." (Bold emphasis mine).

There’s a bit more to the piece, but I stopped reading after the bolded sentence. Early in my reunion, my daughter told me about a male colleague, also an adoptee. He overheard her telling another colleague about finding me and he peered over the cubicle wall and said, “So you’re a chosen one too?” That phrase--"chosen one"--stayed with me. And after reading this gossip item I thought, “Hmm, I don't think the adoptees we know feel that being chosen is the coolest thing...” But then, I’m not adoptee, so readers, please weigh in. Is being chosen the coolest thing?

Last Thursday I made one of my favorite dinners--beef paprika served with basmati rice--and looked forward to Holy Night, which is what I call Thursday night TV, the only night of the week that I’ll watch for three hours straight. Once again, I couldn’t get away from all things adoption. Regular readers may remember last fall’s blog about how it seemed television writers couldn’t come up with anything new so they were sticking to the tried and true birth mother/adoptee plot lines all across the dial (I’m dating myself, what’s the nickname for digital television?). I take great pride in being on the cutting edge of hipness, except when it comes to adoption. I can’t get away from it--it’s in my head, it’s in my e-mail, at times it makes me feel as though my heart was cryogenically frozen and splintered into thousands of shards. Consequently I don’t want adoption in my living room!

The first show, Ugly Betty, is about a bright ugly duckling with a heart of gold who works, where else, at a fashion magazine, Mode. There’s a subplot involving her self-absorbed coworker Amanda, who has only recently learned that she’s an adoptee and her mother was the late editor-in-chief of Mode. Last season we followed her slapstick search for her birth father, now she’s not speaking to her adoptive parents because they lied to her all her life. She’s chatting with the surrogate mother of the magazine’s evil female editor’s baby boy; (the surrogate mother gave birth to a Petri dish baby created with his dead father’s sperm procured while dead dad was on the slab in the morgue, still with me?) and the surrogate mother is of course attached to the baby she carried for nine months but says something to Amanda along the lines of, “Well, you’re adopted. You should know. The baby has two “real” mothers, the one who gave birth to him, and the one who’s raising him, kissing the boo boos, making sure he’s well cared for.”

Well, that was a lovely sentiment, but it’s not a sentiment shared by the other two sides of my particular adoption triangle. By the end of the show, Amanda phones her adoptive parents out of the blue after a year’s absence. Nice, tidy, ending, no one wants reality to be messy.

Then, on my favorite/won’t miss show, CSI, a 16-year-old girl (played by country star Taylor Swift) is found dead. This was adoption noir. The girl, an adoptee, never knew her adoptive parents had a biological child who died in infancy (right there, that's some secret to keep); the baby was murdered by a negligent, drug addict babysitter who left the girl to drown in the bathtub. The babysitter was sent to prison for the murder, bore a daughter, in prison, and asked this couple to raise her daughter as their own, sort of a life for a life. And they do.

Of course this child is a bad seed, just like her junkie birth mother, or is perceived as such by the adoptive mother, who just can’t bear the sight of the girl because every time she looks at her she’s reminded of the woman who killed her child. She didn’t want this kid to begin with, but she endured. When the birth mother was released from prison she went to Vegas just to steal a glance of her daughter from afar. The adoptive mother kills the woman who killed her daughter, and then the adoptive mother, in an argument with her adopted daughter over a hairstyle (identical to the birth mother she never knew), accidentally thrusts a pair of scissors into her torso, killing her. A real Shakespearean tragedy.

And it continues. I know House has a story line of the single female doctor in the midst of adopting an infant who was born to a teenage patient of hers…how convenient for the doctor! And Lorraine has been following Brothers and Sisters and gave me this report after Sunday’s show:

"Brothers and Sisters was worth seeing just for how ludicrous they made the birth mother. Throughout the show there were many references made to "our" birth mother having "our" baby--the guy who is running for governor (Rob Lowe) even says that at a press conference...so I gotta go. During labor someone says: "Our birth mother is in labor," and "Your baby is on its way." You get the drift. It was so detached from reality that I could not get more than repulsed but not emotionally invested. The mother is not shown ever holding the baby, wanting to hold the baby, shedding a single tear or otherwise having any emotion that would make her real. In fact, a day after giving birth this wonder woman is up and dressed and leaving under her own steam, nary a tear, nary a regret, nary a desire to see the baby. It was as if she were an automom, which is what I suspect a lot of adopters long for.
When Kitty (played by Calista Flockhart, an adopter in real life) asks if the mother would like to be more involved than the pictures once a month they had agreed on, she says, No, I think that will be fine. The sense was that the deal to hand over the kid was signed, sealed and delivered before the woman actually gave birth. Then of course the baby goes home with Kitty, and all is well. Either serial adopters conceived, wrote and acted the script, or this is the picture they have of NATURAL mothers. The show portrays a woman/mother who may have gone through the deprogramming that Elizabeth Bartholet espouses (see earlier post). But then...this mother was hardly poor: she was--get this--a doctor. An African-American doctor. I doubt it is even worth letting the show or ABC knows that their premise is un!@#$in" real, but what I hate is that maybe this is what is forming public opinion about first mothers today."
I wrote letters to NBC during the Chandler-and Monica-adopt-a-baby years of Friends; my pleas went unacknowledged. The only time I can recall television listening to its viewers who raised quite a brouhaha was for the once-and-it-was-gone Who’s Your Daddy on ABC, where a woman had to guess who among several men was her birth father. It was downright creepy on several levels; there was even a rose ceremony a la The Bachelor.

Most television programming is designed to entertain, not necessarily inform (though it happens occasionally), and can’t possibly capture the emotional impact of adoption on the birth parent[s] and child. But still--could we have at least a nod to reality? Probably not, not when the world is so enamored of adoption. So I’ll just brace myself for the next very special adoption episode that will show up where I least expect it…Dancing with the Stars perhaps?

Coming up Friday: Coraline, the movie, and Perfection, the play.

Further Data on How to Steal a Baby from overseas

If anybody feels like disrupting their happy little cocoon with information about stolen babies, please do so. This came yesterday through the Adoption News Service, but apparently enough of us complained that these noxious meetings will no longer be publicized through ANS.
Thank the lord, and thank everyone who complained!


Reminder from: Adoption-News-Service Yahoo! Group

Title: FREE INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION MEETING - OPEN PROGRAMS

Date: Thursday March 12, 2009
Time: 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Next reminder: The next reminder for this event will be sent in 4 days, 3 minutes. (FMF: I love that they warn you when you will get the next email.)

Location: New York City
Phone: 212-558-9949 ]

Notes: YES, YOU CAN STILL ADOPT: INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION OPTIONS MEETING
Date: Thursday, March 12, 2009
Time: 6-9 PM
Location: JCCA's main office 120 Wall Street in Manhattan. (Easy access via #2,3,4 and 5 train lines)

Join JCCA's Ametz Adoption Program staff and the Children's Home Society and Family Services, Adoption Hope International and Homeland Adoption Services as we explore many OPEN INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMS, including Russia, China, Ethiopia, Estonia, Ukraine, India, Colombia, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Ecuador and also newly-opened adoption programs in Nicaragua and Madagascar. (FMF: Ah...does anybody think these are poor countries which are exporting babies as a cash crop?

Representatives will be on hand to present their country programs, answer questions on the process, time frames, costs, ages, and backgrounds of children, and how to begin the process.

While this is a FREE meeting OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, we ask that you register www.jccany.org/ametz_internationalmeeting If you have any questions, call us at 212-558-9949. (FMF:If you feel like giving them a piece of your mind, please do so!)

JCCA’s Ametz Adoption Program assists singles and couples through the adoption process by providing homestudies, post-adoption supervision, education, and support services. Ametz also provides professional training. Ametz is Hague accredited through 2013.

Kathy Brodsky, LCSW
Director, Ametz Adoption Program/JCCA
120 Wall Street, NYC, NY 10005
212-558-9949 www.jccany.org
Agency licensed in NY and NJ
Hague Accreditation received through 2013

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Corruption in International Adoption? Highly Over-rated.

Rev. Mark H. Diebel of East Greenbush, NY, attended the 2009 Adoption Policy Conference on International Adoption, The United States, and the Reality of the Hague System, presented by the Center for Adoption Policy, The Child Advocacy Program of Harvard Law School, and The Justice Action Center at New York Law School on March 6 at the New York Law School. We met Mark a year ago when we were in Albany to lobby for open records; he’s a cool guy and an Episcopalian minister. An adoptee, he found his mother in Hawaii, and connected with a large family.


We asked him to share his impressions and thoughts about the conference. The keynote speaker was Elizabeth Bartholet, Harvard adopter of two from Peru and adoption-corruption enabler and author of Family Bonds, about the glories and rewards of international adoption. She told me when we appeared on PBS together the day Anna Schmidt was returned to her rightful parents from the DeBoers that her children were meant for her. In the introduction to Family Bonds, she reveals her underlying thesis that would lead to a Brave New World of adoption:

“It would be liberating for women and for their children if we were to enable birth parents to think more positively about giving their children to those who cannot bear children but who want to provide the nurturing piece of parenting.”

Why doesn’t she just come out and write: Hey, we’re rich, we want kids, let us have yours! She is a completely heartless on what it is like to relinquish your own flesh and blood.

So…without further ado, here are Mark’s impressions of the Conference:

What is the impact to International Adoptions of America's signing on to the Hague Convention?


William Bistransky, Chief of the Adoption Unity, Office of Children's Issues, Department of State; Anna Mary Coburn (DOS) attorney-advisor, Miki Stebbing (DOS); Richard Klarberg (Council on Accrediation); USCIS -- immigration services people explained details, answered questions from the audience, many of whom seemed to be adoption agencies and adopting moms, law students...representatives from Ethica, PEAR, NY Statewide Adoption Reform and one embassy representative from Kyrgyzstan.

Who was not on the panel? Not one international adoptee.

Things overheard during the meeting: an adoptive mom's thirty-something daughter is getting married. "Things do settle down," she said to the gathered adoptive parents. I thought, "Do adoptees have problems?"

Someone on a panel asked quite seriously, "Is poverty a reason to separate a child from their family?" Silence. The subject changed. I had the feeling that children from poor countries and their families had better be watching for well-meaning rescuers. This is another potential pool of ungrateful adoptees.

One howler from Dr. Bartholet was the statement that "heritage is over-rated." This was said in respect of the millions of children who are left to languish in appalling conditions because some people think that it would be better for them to remain in those conditions "with their heritage" than be "set-free" for international adoption. A response came from Karen Moline (member of PEAR) who called her out. "This sounds racist," says Moline, especially as she herself considered her adopted child who was from Vietnam.

Dr. B replied that she has been involved in civil rights in America all her life, and figures that one just has to take comments like this for standing up and saying challenging things...second, that her two adopted "children" were from Peru and wants them to think well of their heritage. She is concerned that the heritage argument is used to manipulate international adoption and reduce its attractiveness (my word.) (I think her "children" are in their twenties.) —True, they must be by now because the are pasts toddler stage when her book was published in 1993--FMF.

Corruption is important. A woman in the audiences talks about corruption in a Guatemalan adoption that she is directly involved with. Another woman trying to adopt from Guatemala tells the story that "her child" came with what turned out to be falsified DNA records. Apparently, doctors were colluding to falsify these records. The adoption faltered, the child remains in Guatemala. She wondered what could still be done to get the child to America. Someone I don't know, who runs an adoption agency that is involved with Guatemalan adoption, stood up shortly afterwards and complained that the Hague shut-down adoptions from Guatemala. Was it the Hague (Convention) that shut it down? Or was it the corruption? Her point was the corruption is minor, exceptional; and that adoptions from Guatemala should continue. (See Firstmother’s previous posts on the corruption in international adoption.)

I asked, can the Hague Convention provide a foundation for opening a new discussion in America for opening records? The reply came from Dr. B, who said how encouraged she is to see that records are getting opened across the country. Apart from that, not one word from the panel, but there were a few words of support from the audience. Someone said to me after, "what world is she from?"

The conference had good parts. There was food and refreshment; registration was free. There was opportunity to ask questions. The panels were informed about certain things, especially if you wanted to adopt a child internationally. A professor of social work from Virginia Commonwealth University complained that the conference design lacked any real engagement with adoption fraud, and no social workers who conduct home studies. Who designed this? How can one get international adoptees involved with policy discussions like this?

My final story is a personal one. After the conference I spoke to Dr. Bartholet. My adoptive uncle taught at Harvard Law and I wondered if she knew him. Yes, for many years. And she explained something I didn't know about how he got there. Then, she said, "I'm sorry about his death." I hadn't heard. When I told my wife that I had the "adoptee experience", she replied, "my family is screwed-up too. It's not just adoptee's." I said, "but I bet no one is looking to tell me."


How did I feel about the conference?


How did I feel? Hey I'm an adoptee. I'm still figuring it out. Am still getting over the fact there were no adoptees speaking at all. I thought...I should stand up and say thank you for all your hard work. But I am not grateful.

The passion exhibited on the panelist's part was all pro-adoption, about getting children to America. Very little self-criticism. No deconstruction going on, which was all strange since that is very "in-school" these days. Old school human rights talk...fifty years old. I did say to the group..."You all sound like my parents fifty years ago." I am too indirect perhaps?

[Self: Keep a low profile. Don't draw fire more than need be to survive.]

Was it a up or down for the overall conference?


Definite down in that it did fail to come to grips with the larger picture. Furthermore no discussion of things like family formation; gay/lesbian adoption; surrogacy.

For those interested, the conference was videotaped, and will posted on the NY Law School web site sometime in the next few months.



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New Post on adoptamania in the media coming Tuesday evening. --lorraine


Friday, March 6, 2009

They Steal Babies, Don't They? for the Bull Market in Babies

Carla Bruni, the 41-year-old wife of the president of France says she is considering adoption. Now Bruni has a seven-year-old from a previous relationship, and hubby Sarkozy has three grown children from previous marriages.

You might think that might be enough for the singer/model/wife/mother/stepmother/wife of the pres of France. Oh no. "I'm not obsessed by blood ties," says Carla. Meaning: I want a kid, another one, you know for damn sure that I'll be able to get one. There are so many babies...available, aren't there? So many poor families/or wretched women without means who should give me one of their kids who will have a better life with us, here in the Palace.

Why don't you do the right thing and simply support one woman so she can keep her baby? Adopt them both, if you will.

Last night I heard that a friend's fiance is trying to adopt from Nepal. Why Nepal? Because China is pretty much shut down and especially if you are single, and Vietnam, where she had been investigating before, has just shut down (too many babies being traded for incubators, hmmm? as reported in Foreign Policy, also see previous posts) And Cambodia? Read about the deception that takes child away from their families (for $300) in The Washington Post. But Nepal, hey, that's a poor country that is still using babies as a cash crop. So this morning I googled Adoption in Nepal and found this swell statement at adoption.com:

Initially, we were planning on adopting a child through the state of New Jersey, but as we got deeper into the process and started talking to more people, we realized there were too many uncertainties about the birth parents' rights. Now we are planning on adopting from Nepal. But plans, we know now, are fickle.

Yeah, and we know how fickle those birth mother are. They might actually find a way to keep their children. They might want to be involved in the kid's life. They might never forget. They might...not die or go away.

and
We have been taking our application slowly. My husband Jonathan put the brakes on a few months ago, and he was right to. We had to be sure that our own relationship is so rock solid, we'll be able to open our home to a second child with grace. We've been seeing a personal coach, Michael....

So let me say this right here: Any kind of regulation that slows down the baby drain from birth/first mothers from poor countries, we are in favor of, just as various regulations in Bible Belt states have made it hard to get an abortion in there. We are not against adoption when IT IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY and even then, the adoption should never be a closed adoption, it should always be open, and adoption by kin (not genetic strangers, no matter how wealthy, straight, religious, etc.) should be explored first.

And we are not against open adoptions for kids truly languishing in institutions, for older kids who have been passed by, for kids with disabilities who have been neglected, kids whose prospects are truly dim.

So if there are rules that stop adoptions by single people, people over 40, left-handed people, right-brained people, people with a BMI over 20, gays, women with PMS, people with blue eyes, people who already have a child, whatever regulation you can think of to slow the steady and increasing stream of adoption...we are all for it. If it were truly difficult to adopt, if adoption did not seem like such a cool thing to do, maybe we would not have a celebrity such as Carla Bruni say, Hey, I think I'll adopt. Maybe we would not have had Naomi on the last series of The Bachelor tell Jason that she wants to adopt one day. Will either Bruni or Naomi adopt a special-needs child?

However, in the case of relative adoption when necessary, all bets are off, and those people ought to be considered first, no matter if they are gay, obese, left-handed, or whatever. Whenever possible, people have a right to grow up among people who look like them. People should not be traded around the world, around America, as if they were baseball cards.

Why do we feel this way? Why so militant?

Because all the adoptamania that has been blanketing the world of late, led by celebrities such as Angelina and Madonna and a long long list (Tom Cruise and Nicole, Hugh Jackman, just to name a few more) has created a bull market in babies. And that means that babies are being stolen (Guatemala, China, Cambodia, Samoa, as we just reported), mothers are coerced (Vietnam), and that leads to more pressure to find more babies for export. Nepal, a country of 26 million, is a very poor country. Look for it to be the next baby-export center. This is baby stealing, baby buying, baby kidnapping, no matter how it's gussied up.

And on another note, apparently MTV Real Life (which we were approached by several months ago to help them find a teenager who wants to relinquish; we declined, not terribly respectfully) is real soon featuring a story on a woman, who after three weeks, caved and agreed to an adoption. According to someone (the open-adoption facilitator who was involved), the film crew said it was the most poignant show they had worked on. Dam straight. The woman kept the kid for three weeks before finally giving up. I'm hoping at least one of the crew was hoping the woman kept her baby. But then, it would not have been the story Real Life wanted.

I remember walking off the set of one of The Today show in the Seventies when I first came out of the closet and a woman who worked on the show gabbed my arm and said, she too, had relinquished a child. Her son was twelve, she said. "You never forget, do you?" she said. I always wonder what happened to her, where she is today, if she ever found her son.
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As for our next post, look for a report from Mark Diebel, who is attending the Conference on Adoption Policy at New York University today. I hope to post it Sunday evening.