Thursday, April 30, 2009
My coming out as a birth mother happened under quite different circumstances and back in the old days of the Seventies. Once I decided to write Birthmark (after my first marriage ended), the days of not being a birth mother publicly were over, more or less. I'd previously written two magazine pieces under a pseudonym about it.
I already knew how controversial the book would be when I met a prospective publisher for a drink in Manhattan one evening in the fall of 1978, and he brought along an editor with him, a friend as well as employee. This man, Arnold, did not know anything about me but when it became clear to him, BAM! the guy became extremely agitated, red in the face, practically spitting at me. WHAT RIGHT DID I HAVE! etc. I excused myself and headed for the ladies room; when I returned he had gone. It turned out that he had been raised in an orphanage and was more than a little angry with his birth mother. I'm not sure he was ever actually adopted. I felt he would have shot me on the spot had been possible. His friend had no idea he felt this way--or that he had been raised in less than propitious circumstances.
I turned 37 the summer before the book came out in 1979, and was sharing a house in Sag Harbor, where I live now, with other writers and editors. One woman I had never seen before walked up to me at a cocktail party and handed me a hand-written note with that little poem about "you grew in my heart, not under it" or however that goes and walked away, turning to smirk and stare back angrily. I never found out who she was, or whether she was an adoptee or an adoptive parent.
Talk of the audacity of what I had done--write a book about this taboo subject, that is, say that I had not forgotten my daughter and wanted to know her one day--made the rounds and the discussion, I would later hear from a friend who had been there, often became quite heated. So-and-so, I was told, pounded the table one evening in anger: What right has she? Who in the hell does that woman think she is? And all of this was further exaggerated when I wrote my first My Turn on the subject for Newsweek, for if news of the book hadn't reached you--and it was hardly a major publishing event--the Newsweek piece got people's attention.
But my friends were all supportive (only one of them a birth mother, and we were friends before our mutual reveal), and so I was largely insulated from nasty personal attacks. I told myself I had to expect a lot of criticism, but you can never insulate yourself enough. No one has a crocodile skin. Of course I was fair game during the publicity for the book. Most interviewers were sympathetic, but now and then someone who had been civil before the camera started rolling would turn out to be Raging Arnold in another guise. One adopted radio interviewer was so upset that he wore a full face mask--the kind they wear in Venice--during our half-hour chat to show his natural mother that he was going to stay hidden from her! Yet amazingly, this man--while he was plenty angry about being adopted--was not cruel to me.
That was then. Of course things have changed somewhat since then, and naturally, I do not like to make my feelings and status as a birth mother the subject of every conversation with someone new. I dread it when I am introduced, as one adoptive mother used to do, as the birth mother who wrote that book...because then there was no other conversation possible. I hate to talk about this issue at parties because a) it's not fun, and b) you never know what you are going to unearth. Once people hear this about you, they are likely to pepper you with questions for the next hour. (I stopped seeing that adoptive mother mentioned above much.) If I have to be polite to someone because she's the sister-in-law of a friend, and the sister-in-law is crazy curious, I will go along and do my best to educate someone on a subject that seems so amazingly foreign to them. But boy, am I then glad to change the subject! To get away!
So when new people I meet ask what I have written, I typically do not mention Birthmark, the blog, or any of my adoption-reform writings. Books on health and business, lots of magazine pieces on diverse subjects, I reply. I want to talk about gardening, backyard bird watching, movies, books, the sad state of book publishing, our mutual friends, whatever. When people--even acquaintances--ask what I'm working on now, I'm very likely (and so is my husband, if he's asked) to be coy and just say, Ahem, I'm not talking about it, even thought that sounds off-putting. Regular readers of FirstmotherForum know that revealing the subject even to people I felt quite close to has led to some pretty awful attacks, as I wrote about in previous posts. There and here and elsewhere.
About a dozen years ago when friends started adopting (and it is contagious), I had a tearful telephone discussion with one woman who was unable to get pregnant, and her husband really really wanted a child. They eventually adopted from China. A year later, I was sitting with a mutual acquaintance, and she said...X did it, I'm going to adopt, I'm going to get a Chinese baby. And so she did. And so did someone else we all knew, a year after that. A college roommate of X also adopted, this time a white infant who looks Irish and is being raised Jewish. Another friend's sister got two children in the last couple of years from Rhode Island. I walk into some dinner parties and immediately count three, four, adoptive parents and pray the subject does not come up. And so it goes in my world.
Like fellow blogger birthmother Jane, I do not talk about adoption with people who say they are going to adopt. I nod and look away and change the subject. I'd have to say that many of my friends in this adoption-YES! world do not know how I really feel. Adoption-reform pioneer Florence Fisher--the woman who really furthered our fight to open records by opening up the subject for discussion--once told me that if someone wants to talk about adoption at a party, she tells them, This is a party, I'm here to enjoy myself, this is not fun for me, I don't want to talk about this now. I've kept that in mind more than once and have used the same line myself. If they don't get it, I add, "Look, this was the more horrible thing that ever happened to me, it would be like talking about what it was like to be raped." That usually stops them cold. I can't say I've made any friends that way.
One time someone I know told me his daughter in college was doing something about adoption, could she email me? Sure, I said, thinking I might be able to educate someone. It turned out that she was writing a paper supporting this thesis: Why adoption records should stay sealed.
I xeroxed and sent her loads of material and told her taking that point of view was like arguing for slavery. Ah, I thought, I might make a convert. I never found out what she ended up writing--my offering probably got looked at and thrown out. Some months later we were at a big party together, and she pulled me over to meet another woman. "You two have so much in common," said the chirpy college student. "Lorraine has written a book about giving up a child, and you've [to the other woman} wrote a book about adoption..." Turns out the "other woman" was a adoption social worker. Then the college student walked away.
I thought of Florence and told the social worker calmly that giving up my child was the worst thing that ever happened to me, and did not want to talk about it. I did check out her book--it was not written with birth mothers in mind.
Yet saying nothing to friends who are pursuing international adoption is difficult now, especially as the information about kidnapping and various other nefarious means to get children for export is becoming known. For instance, we know someone whose fiancee is trying to adopt from Nepal. We spoke up a bit at dinner (fiancee was not present) at his house, but I could see right off that he was not ready to hear because he immediately said: Well, there are all those poor people in Nepal...Meaning: obviously, we ought to be able to get some kid from a poor family. Later, my husband emailed him and sent him a link to the UNICEF report about adoption from Nepal, that we wrote about here. We did not hear back.
But sometimes it just feels right to reveal. I once told a woman I'd met twenty minutes earlier I'd given up a child for adoption, and her eyes immediately glistened. Right. Turned out, she was a birth mother too, and we had a sweet, private conversation. You just never know. I guess you have to go with your gut.
As for Linda revealing her status to a woman she did not know at work, I can only say, Good job! If she is determined, the woman will probably find a way to adopt, but at least Linda let her know that kids don't come without strings, ancestors, other mothers and fathers. And lots of them are nice people you might know.
So like my fellow bloggers and commenters, being a birth mother is something I will readily cop to when I feel it will do some good, and like Jane says, it is easier being public about the issue without having to confront it one-on-one. But I don't want to be seen as a person who drags around a soap box with me.
Though to some, I am sure that is how I seem.
So it goes. --lorraine
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I’ve read about birthmothers who were so euphoric when their surrendered children contacted them that they called all their relatives and friends to share the glad tidings. When I learned from a relative in 1997 that Megan was trying to contact me, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread. I knew calling Megan (the relative gave me her number) would force me to reconcile the events of 31 years ago with my current life.
I decided to call Megan, partly out of curiosity and partly because I had always told myself I would find her some day. After she turned 18, my thoughts about searching became increasingly intense, my grief at losing her more acute. Yet I procrastinated; the time wasn’t right; it would be a long and expensive process; I needed to wait until I did not have other things going on in my life.
I had no idea how to prepare for the reunion. The adoptee activism/birthparent support movement had evaded Salem, Oregon. I rented Secrets and Lies (the only “resource” I had heard of) and watched it several times over the weekend. On Monday, November 24, 1997, I dialed Megan’s number.
For several weeks, I communicated with Megan secretly. As I became more comfortable (she lived two thousand miles away and was not a deranged stalker hell bent on revealing my secret), I shared her entry into my life with my husband and a few close friends. A month later, in January, 1998, just before I was to leave for Chicago to meet Megan, I told my other three daughters about her.
During the spring of 1998, supporters of adoptee rights collected enough signatures to place a measure on the ballot which would allow adult adoptees to receive their original birth certificates. I watched with envy as other birthmothers boldly went before the media telling their stories and supporting the measure, something I just could not do. I met with the supporters, however, and suggested they run an ad with the names of birthmothers who favored the measure.
The supporters decided to create the ad and I agreed to appear in it in a photograph with four other Oregon birthmothers. The ad ran in the Oregonian two days before the election. The ballot measure passed by 57 percent of the votes. Since 2000, after court challenges to the measure failed, adult adoptees born in Oregon have had full access to their original birth certificates.
Besides the fact that it was the right thing to do, I agreed to be in the ad to impress Megan (if it did impress her, though, she didn’t let on) and as a way of telling everyone I knew about my birth motherhood without a face to face encounter. The day after the ad appeared, a co-worker tried to engage me in conversation, saying “that happened to a friend of mine.” I turned away.
Since 1998, I have had several letters to the editor about adoption issues published, disclosing my birthmother status. Still face to face conversations are difficult. When I’m with acquaintances and someone mentions adoption as in “Isn’t it wonderful the Xs are adopting a baby girl from China,” I just smile and say nothing.
About five years ago, I was having a physical from a nurse practitioner who worked for my doctor. I can’t remember how it came up but she told me she was a lesbian and that she and her partner were considering adopting a baby through Open Adoption, Inc, Oregon’s largest (and most chic) domestic adoption agency. She had had a baby two years before, a product of artificial insemination, and she and her partner wanted another child. She couldn’t go through a second pregnancy and her partner was infertile. Her partner rejected adopting a child in foster care because the available children were older than their biological child. I told the nurse practitioner that I knew women who had lost children to adoption. Whether an open or closed adoption, these women grieved for their children.
I realized that I was being less than honest and eventually told her I was a birthmother. She had a zillion questions: was I in reunion, how often did we see each other, were we alike? My comments made her re-think adopting from Open Adoption, Inc and she told me she was going to have, as she put it, “an interesting talk“ with her partner that evening. As it happened, my doctor retired soon after and I never saw her again.
How do I answer the question “how many children do you have”? Before my reunion, I said “my husband and I have three daughters.” I didn’t betray Megan but I also didn’t reveal anything. Truthful, but not the whole truth. After my reunion I answered “four daughters.” People rarely asked follow-up questions and I didn’t volunteer more information. Several years later, after Megan made it clear that she did not consider me her mother, I reverted to “three daughters” without feeling guilty.
I find it so difficult to tell people about Megan because I have no excuses. I was 23 when I became pregnant. I knew about condoms (we called them “rubbers” then) and in the past, I had insisted my partners use them. I continued a sexual relationship with Megan’s father even though I had had enough doubts about his character that when he had proposed over a year earlier, I had deferred. My mother didn’t force me into surrendering my baby; indeed she didn’t even know I was pregnant. I'm sure she would have let me and my baby live with her. I had a college degree and although it was difficult for women, even college graduates, to get good-paying jobs in 1966, I could have gotten something.
I took the easy path, signing the paper and pretending it didn’t happen, rationalizing that my daughter was better off. I told myself that I would find her someday and make it up to her. I shut out the voices that told me giving my child to strangers was unnatural and wrong.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Those who were supportive during my pregnancy, relinquishment, and beyond—my sisters, my college friends, my husband—were thrilled; others, not so much. Even though she initiated contact, I was perceived as interfering in her life. The best example, oddly enough, is provided by my estranged sister. Minutes after I spoke to my agency that afternoon in January 2000, I phoned my sister at work and said, “Sarah called.” At first she didn’t understand, but then she was like a parrot, repeating everything I said—my daughter’s “new” name, where she grew up, where she went to school--and she shared the news with one and all. She had just started a new job and became fast friends with the woman who was training her, who often remarked that she felt as though she already knew my sister. Suddenly this woman was avoiding my sister, and my sister had no idea why. A few days later we learned that the woman’s son and my daughter attended the same school; she knew my daughter’s parents well. Within the week my daughter called to tell me that this woman contacted her father (her parents had been divorced for several years) and told him about the drama that had unfolded; thankfully her father was well aware of the reunion and told this woman he thought it was wonderful, but it was apparent she didn’t share his sentiment. My sister finally shared an elevator with her, and all the woman would say was “I’m never going to speak about it again, but these are two of the most loving parents I’ve ever known,” referring to my daughter’s parents. My sister quipped that the woman felt as though she knew her because, in fact, she knew her niece, and the woman couldn’t get out of the elevator fast enough. This woman, who never met me, wasn’t happy that I was reunited with my daughter.
For me, that reaction is typical of women who aren’t members of the adoption triad. The men who know I'm a birthmother see it differently. It’s very black and white to them…I lost a child to adoption, she found me, and now she doesn’t speak to me because I gave her away. She’s angry and hurt, and surely confused.
I interact with more men than women in my work. In the past several years the universe has arranged for me to cross paths with a lot of adoptive fathers. It happened again this past week. I attended a networking event at a chic local restaurant. I was having a wonderful conversation with a man my age, and we got to the subject of kids. I said, “I’m childfree, for many unselfish reasons,” and I could see the puzzled look on his face. So I joked and said, “I rarely bring this up on the first date, but I’m a birthmother. I lost my daughter to adoption 32 years ago, she found me, we had a rocky reunion, and she hasn’t spoken to me in the past four years.” And then I said, “You’re childfree, too?”
He smiled and said he had three children, adopted siblings. I just rolled my eyes and commented that every other man I meet these days is an adopted father. His kids were in and out of foster care, their mother wasn’t a good girl gone bad, more the stereotypical crack whore version of a birthmother. I just told him what I’ve always said, the birthmothers I know are among the most courageous, tenacious, responsible women I have the pleasure to know. He confessed he never met a birthmother before. I laughed, pirouetted and said, “Well, this is what a birthmother looks like. We’re everywhere.”
And it’s true. We ARE everywhere. We’re your neighbors, your colleagues, your best friends. We’re in your book club, your gym, your church. And yet, here in the 21st century, so many of us still harbor a secret life, and haven’t told a soul that they lost their child to adoption. How often have you been lauded for relinquishing your child to adoption? Probably never.
I think the adoptive dad I met this week gets it, but how much would you like to wager that he tells his wife he met a birthmother and she was a woman just like her?
Adoption touched me in another way this week. Last Monday I was perusing the online corporate classifieds at work when I spotted an ad from a woman requesting adoption information. I instantly responded by directing her to NJARCH, the New Jersey Adoption Resource Clearing House, the Heart Gallery, a nationwide, online photo gallery featuring foster children awaiting stable, permanent homes, and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. She responded in kind, mentioned she was still reeling from adoption “sticker shock.” I explained that was precisely why I steered her toward the state agencies versus the “boutique” adoption agencies; if she was serious about providing a loving, stable home for a child in need, she could do the most good through these public agencies. And yes, I provided full disclosure, i.e., I let her know I was a birthmother and involved in all things adoption for over 30 years.
When I mentioned it to Lorraine, she said it was a brave and good thing to do. I don’t know about brave, but I do know it was the right thing to do. Even though my adoption odyssey didn’t have a fairy tale ending, I have to believe that contemporary adoptions hold the promise of a win-win, happily ever after ending for one and all.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
"My parents were poor, and they never gave me to anyone," Mrs. Bail recalled. "I was not going to give my son to anyone either."--the New York Times, April 23, 2009.But the courts did take away her son and let him be adopted by a couple in Missouri while the Guatemalan woman, Encarnacion Bail Romero, sits in jail, according to Times reporter Ginger Thompson. Aong with many others, Mrs. Bail was arrested during a raid on a poultry plant near Carthage, Mo. two years ago. While many workers who had small children were quickly released, Mrs. Bail got caught up in the government's crackdown during the Bush administration on illegals. Because she was using fake identity papers, she would have to serve out a jail term before being deported. Her son, Carlos, was six months old at the time.
Two aunts, each with three children, also living here with no legal status, were unable to keep Carlos in their already crowded living situations. When local teacher's aide offered to find someone to take the boy, the women agreed.
The teacher's aide finally visited Mrs. Bail in jail and told her that a couple with land and a beautiful house wanted to adopt her son. They had become very fond of Carlos, she was told.
A few weeks later, adoption papers arrived at the jail, and with the help of a cellmate from Mexico, a guard and an English-speaking Guatemalan visitor, Mrs. Bail wrote a response to the court, according to the Times:
"I do not want my son to be adopted by anyone," she scrawled on a sheet of notebook paper on Oct. 28, 2007. "I would prefer that he be placed in foster care until I am not in jail any longer. I would like to have visitation with my son."She was appointed a lawyer but he was removed from the case after he pleaded guilty to domestic violence. Ten months passed. During that time, letters sent to Mrs. Bail by the prospective adoptive parents were returned unopened. Mrs. Bail cannot read Spanish, much less English. When she asked a new lawyer to find Carlos's whereabouts, he told her that he only handled criminal matters. "I went to court six times, and six times I asked for help to find my son," she said. "But no one helped me."
Last June she got a Spanish-speaking lawyer to represent her in the custody case, but by the time he reached her--she had been transferred to a prison in West Virginia--it was to late. The couple privately petitioned the court and last year Judge David D. Dally of Circuit Court in Jasper, Mo., terminated Mrs. Bail's rights and charges of abandonment and for making no effort to contact the baby or send financial support while she was incarcerated.
The situation varies from state to state, court to court, the story adds. An advisor to the Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Dora Schriro, said that the agency was looking for ways to deal with family separations. Some effort, in some states, is being made to send the children like Carlos back to relatives in their home country.
In his decision granting the adoption he noted that the adopting parents couple made a comfortable living, had rearranged their work schedules and had support from their extended family. By contrast, he wrote, Mrs. Bail had little to offer:
"The only certainties in the biological mothers future is that she will remain incarcerated until next year, and that she will be deported thereafter....Her lifestyle, that of smuggling herself into the country illegally and committing crimes in this country, is not a lifestyle that can provide stability for a child."Yes, it is true that Carlos will grow up in a wealthier, more stable situation than if he waits for his mother to get out of jail, and they return to Guatemala. But she is his mother.
Reading this over coffee this morning, I could not help but think that we have not come really so far from the time when we women lost our children in the Sixties and Seventies, when there was so much pressure from the world to relinquish so the child would "have a better life." The culture may have switched who offers up the babies from white girls to poor women, but the concept is the same: Someone will provide babies for prospective adoptive parents.
I could not help but think that Mrs. Bail had become another handmaid for the wealthy who wish to adopt. I know nothing of the adoptive parents, but that they were inured to a mother's desperate plea from a jailhouse cell to keep her son. They would have their Carlos, despite the pleas of his real mother.
Will he, I wondered, ever know that his mother loved him and wanted to keep him? "My parents were poor, and they never gave me to anyone," Mrs. Bail recalled. "I was not going to give my son to anyone either."
But he was taken away because she was poor. --lorraine
The photograph of the mother, Mrs. Bail, at the Times site is beautiful.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
At least my social worker at Northaven Terrace, Mrs. Mura, and I spoke straight. We never said I was there to “make an adoption plan,” the genteel language preferred today that obfuscates reality; I was there to arrange giving up my baby. Make an adoption plan? Sounds as if you are choosing a college curriculum: Political Science or Creative Writing. Engineering versus the Humanities. I like the harshness of the words, Give up a baby. It excuses nothing, bares all, tells the painful truth.
I’ve argued with people over these words, because adoptive parents are likely to wince when they hear “give up a baby.” They do not want to imagine that a woman is giving up because she has no other options, that she is surrendering to forces greater than her resources, but that is what she is doing: giving up as surely as if she were drowning in an ocean. I imagine they want to think giving up a child is a decision calmly entered into after considering other viable options. But no mother gives up a child without giving up.
In the large tree-filled backyard of the house where I live now, various birds set up housekeeping every summer, and when there is an attempted poaching of an egg or a fledging, all hell breaks loose. Others of the same species of the baby in the nest hear the crisis calls and fly in from hither and yon to enter the fray. The squawking, the attack, goes on for as long as it takes to send the intruder packing. I’ve seen robins beat back a jay with amazing ferocity and determination. I wish I could have been like that, a fighting robin-mother; but I felt defeated at every turn. I was not strong enough to keep my baby. I failed her. You can say that I did what was best for her, in a time when life was so very different and single mothers were treated like pariahs, that to give her a stable home with two parents was the best for her, but it has never felt that way to me. It has always felt second best.
I accept that I did this, that I did not find a way to keep my baby, and it has been the worst thing I ever did, my greatest failing. It doesn’t matter that social psychologists and cultural historians point out that women in my position did what I did in great numbers, and 1966 seems to have been a plentiful year for out-of-wedlock births, and adoptions. Born in 1966, her adoption finalized the following year, she was one of the 72,800 children adopted that year in the United States by non-relatives. Many of the women who are leaders in the movement to open birth records for adopted people have children born this year, or very near. We got caught in the blur between the onset of the sexual revolution and the era when condoms are carried in women’s wallets.
Today women like myself would have been more astute, recognized the pregnancy earlier, and had an abortion, regardless of the stupid movies coming out of Hollywood that indicate otherwise, or kept the child. Some in that generation had illegal abortions, of course; but those of us who did not by and large did not keep our children. Plain and simple, we signed the papers, we gave them up. Without resources, with the scorn of society, as well as my Catholic upbringing hanging around my neck like a scratchy St. Teresa scapular, having a baby alone and announcing it not only to my family, but to the world, and finding the means of then raising that child, was simply more than I could fathom. It did not seem possible.
Mrs. Mura, and the bureaucracy she represented, may have been making an adoption plan. I was drowning in the zeitgeist. I was giving up.
Giving up a baby is always a plan of last resort. --lorraine
Sunday, April 19, 2009
For my own part, I had wondered--no, more than that, presumed--that Ms. Wetzstein was someone who wanted to adopt a baby in this country, but alas, could not find one available. Call me crazy, but that's how I read the "too-bad-no-more-babies-all-these-willing-couples attitude" that permeated much of the story.
It does seem that no matter through which prism one read the piece (and as readers here have informed me in the previous comment section many read it differently from me), Ms. Wetzstein's own personal history is hugely relevant, and in this case, her having relinquished a child to adoption seems to at least make the piece a justification for her own act of giving up a child. Since posting this blog piece, I have heard from more than one person that Ms. Wetzstein was a mother who relinquished a child, and in her own comment below said she is indeed a birth mother.
Now of course I'm curious to know more: open adoption? Did this happen recently? Does she see the child? Is she continually pleased that she made some couple happy with her baby? Etc. I know I am sounding somewhat hard on another birth mother, and I try to empathize with anyone who has gone through this experience, one that I can only call dreadful. But while giving up my daughter not only seemed the only reasonable thing I could do, it also turned out to be a life-changing decision that would reap sorrow and grief for me and for my daughter. However, young women today who have fully open adoptions do seem to be not as emotionally affected by giving up a child as the women of my generation, possibly because with our decision to surrender came forced anonymity, a mandate of the state shackling us with the yoke of emotional slavery.
Some of the postings below remind me of what was posted anonymously in New York at a place where people left such various musings on life: I hate that I'm adopted but I'm also grateful. In those few words, the writer compressed both the grief of being given up and the relief of having parents. But given normal circumstances, would that be anyone's first choice? To be someone "adopted?" I hardly think so.
As for the statistics about the paucity of babies available, it has long been known that very few women/teenagers give up their babies, and that has led to the paucity of available infants for a huge market for them. To that I can only say Hooray!
And yes, there are many reasons for infertility, and sexually-transmitted disease is one. But age continues to be a critical factor as today's generation largely believes that they can wait past graduate school, past the first/second and third apartments, until they become vice presidents at the bank or have climbed Kilimanjaro, to delay child-bearing. Talk to young college-going or just-out-of-college women and that is what you hear: they will have their children later. And then it becomes: too late. Then comes years of in-vitro-fertilization, possibly surrogacy...and finally, let's adopt.
Young women having years of sexual freedom with numerous partners is precisely how sexually transmitted diseases are transmitted. I am not Victorian about sex not do I decry the lack of Victorian or Fifties morality regarding it, but the message of decreased fertility with advancing age seems to be a large vacant space in the mindset of today's younger generation. The problem is not simply that women want to put off having babies; men delay settling down with one partner because so much sexual variety awaits them. A woman might want to get married and have babies say, in their late twenties, but the guys are yawn...just not that into it. Yet. And by the time they are, the girl of their dreams is likely to be pushing forty.
I recently read a letter from a gynecologist in a alumna magazine saying just that: today's young women and men do not understand their most fertile years are in their teens and twenties, and that after 35, fertility decreases rather dramatically. The other issue that comes with older parents, including the father, are greater numbers of children with severe problems: bi-polar disease, schizophrenia, and the one that gets the most headlines today: autism.
We may have changed our lifestyles, we may have more opportunities to climb mountains and push through glass ceilings, we may have a thousand good reasons that a generation delays having babies, but our bodies have not yet made the switch to a more modern way of being. And we are paying the price. --lorraine
Friday, April 17, 2009
Quoting federal data that notes that only about 6,800 babies a year are relinquished at birth for adoption, writer Cheryl Wetzstein notes that is "a minuscule number out of nearly 3 million unwed pregnancies." Plus, it's only white women giving up their kids! Black families are keeping their babies to such a degree that those placed for adoption are "statistically zero." Legal abortion is part of the reason, of course. But what's also blamed is an anti-adoption attitude that is being pushed, and that the option that was once "no way" that is, keeping the baby, is now "OK." Yet woe to Joe and Jane Q. Public who wish to adopt:
"Meanwhile, millions of Americans remain willing, even anxious, to adopt, and this number is likely to grow because infertility among men and women is expected to rise due to the epidemic of sexual disease."Not mentioned: the number of women who wait until 30, 35, even 40 before they try to conceive, long past their fertile time span. Implied here: My god, we had better do something for these poor people! Ladies, let's multiply and give them our babies! But it isn't going well, Wetzstein writes, for since 1973 (when the attitudes of the Sixties caught up with real life) the number of adoptions dropped to roughly 1 percent, and relinquishments are becoming so rare they are nearly impossible to study statistically. I'd call that a victory for the end of stranger-adoption. Ms Wetzstein calls it a "perfect storm" that has beset domestic infant adoption.
Those nasty anti-adoption websites
Wetzstein implies that anti-adoption websites which call adoption "barbaric" are at least partly to blame. Gee, I don't think that was moi, but we do have among our readers a variety of opinions on how sane and healthy adoption is for both the birth/first mother and her baby, and I'd have to say that we bloggers three at Birth Mother, First Mother Forum are not all that wild about stranger adoption except in cases of demonstrated and dire need. We personally might not like the Palin family body politic, but we cheer that Bristol decided to keep her baby! And if Wetzstein counted us among the "anti-adoption" websites, we would be honored. Judging from the tone of the story, I would say that anything that didn't urge young women to give up their babies to supply the huge demand for healthy white infants would be called "anti-adoption." She quotes a site (without specifying which one) that states "No mother who has lost a child [to adoption] fully recovers."
Of course the adoption agencies weigh in on this dire state of affairs of Not Enough Babies To Supply Demand.
"We hoped we would see a 'Juno' effect, but it hasn't happened,'" said Teresa McDonough, who directs the adoption program at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington."She adds that since previously there was no acknowledgment of the birth mother's grief--"No wonder they couldn't let it go"--but now, since some genius sociologist figured out that we do grieve our children lost to adoption, we are much more "empowered." In other words, give us some counseling and support services (an unlimited lifetime supply of Kleenex? A memory-eraser?) and Voila! we are "settled and at peace."
Giving up a child, Ms. McDonough concludes, is "really a loving option."
Okay, all together now, how many children who have been reunited with their birth mothers have thanked them for loving them so much they gave them up? How many of us have been reunited with our children to find that they had no issues with being adopted? That they were ... thrilled to be adopted? They they loved us for making that decision? That they harbor no resentment?
NCFA to the rescue...Not
An employee of the Maryland Bowie-Croft Pregnancy Clinic (and ministry) comments that a few years ago they sent about 25 volunteers for adoption training from the National Council for Adoption.* While the training improved the workers' comfort level in promoting adoption...it did not affect the number of girls choosing it! Sad, notes a NCFA spokesperson, because he estimates that there are 10 million couples who would like to adopt "an infant domestically."
At least the story quotes someone who doesn't look for more teens to be like the despicable wise-cracking birth mother in our least favorite movie of all time, Juno: (Read more here about movies.)
"Juno was a horror show, said Jessica Del Balzo, founder of the adoption-eradication advocacy group Adoption: Legalized Lies and author of Unlearning Adoption: A Guide to Family Preservation and Protection."The story also includes interviews with two women who are at peace with their decision to have their children be adopted. One had a ritual in a Catholic church with a priest presiding over the"entrustment ceremony," after which the baby went home with the new parents, and the mother when home with her parents. (One wonders what the scene was like in the car on the drive home.) The birth/first mothers quoted, both in open adoptions that have remained open, do sound at peace with their decision to relinquish their children. Birth mother Jessica O'Connor-Petts even went from a partially open--updates without names--to a fully open one, and her relinquished son, now eleven, was the ring-bearer in both her and her sister's weddings.
While that did sound like an outcome that would be at least livable, and the adoptive parents did not go back on their words to keep the adoption an open one, Ms. O'Connor-Petts had these wise words to add:
"If you make the decision that you really believe is the best one for you and the child, you will be able to live with yourself," she said. "The only way you won't be able to live with yourself is when you make a decision that you sense is not the best decision for you or your child."
"For some people," she added, the best decision "may not be adoption. But for me, the joy of watching him grow up in his family far outweighs the grief of separating from him."
But those words at the end were so far outweighed by the overreaching attitude of the piece: Gee, why can't adoption be made more palatable to girls who have babies? As I read, I kept remembering Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. And thinking that family columnist Cheryl Wetzstein was an advance man for the society depicted therein.
You can read Wetzstein's latest on this story...Adoption Success a Reality.
Email the paper with your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Email Ms. Wetzstein at email@example.com
And a second installment, on embryo adoption, is coming on Sunday. Stay tuned.
You know, I never write about adoption without full disclosure--that I am a birth/first mother, and if I did, I would be hooted out of town on a journalistic rail. But we have no clue as to Ms.Wetzstein's connection/desires regarding this life event. It would be good to know. Let's ask the paper to inform us. All we know is that she writes a bi-weekly column called, On The Family. I think I may send her a copy of Birthmark. Yes, I'm shamelessly promoting my 1979 out-of-print memoir about the reality of giving up my daughter for adoption.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Madonna has said that she wants to adopt Mercy so that her other Malawian child can have someone around who looks like him. Well, I suppose with that line of thinking, she could adopt the whole country to come and live with her. Ethica has a good post about the situation from a social worker in Michigan, Madonna and my home state.
As the average annual income in Malawi is $160, the amount needed is under $3000 to support Mercy James until she is eighteen. As times are tight, donations as slim but one still imagines that raising $2,240 would not be difficult, but the money is not pouring in. As of yesterday, Ethica was still short of this goal, more than a week after asking.
People, I'm asking, give a damn here. We have written about the corruption in international adoption here and here, and Madonna in particular, and readers who post at least agree with us that more must be done to stop the wholesale sale of children from impoverished countries. One way is to start by sending a donation, however small. Ten dollars from ten people is more than half a year's annual income in Malawi. Surely the readers of FirstMotherForum can pick up the slack.
Please donate for Mercy James. Go to: http://www.ethicanet.org/malawi. Or send a check to: Ethica, Box 130822, Ann Arbor, MI 48113, which is what I did, noting that it was for Mercy James. I won't use PayPal because I get too much phishing once I use the site. And do check out Daily Bastardette for gory details of Madonna and Malawi. Marley has posted a lively rundown of the chain of events.
Now, off to the computer fix-it man. My PC has been acting up lately. Protesting god knows what, possible the really late and cold spring we have been having on Long Island.--lorraine
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
When I tried keeping a journal what came out was either a daily dose of woe-is-me or perfunctory notes about the books I was reading. Instead I wrote a long letter to my baby, typing it out at my small wooden desk. It was a real antique I’d picked up cheap in Saginaw and moved cross country. Now it sat beneath a western window where the sun went down through fragments of colored glass hanging there.
…You kick me, you cause hard bulges in my stomach, you do not let me sleep for more than a few hours at a time. Sometimes I think you are standing on your hands kicking your feet against the wall of my stomach….Now that you have announced your presence, I cannot help but love you, because you are me and you are him….You’ll look around sometimes and you’ll see that other lives seem easier, a little gentler on the mind: Why am I adopted? You’ll ask. Try to think only that you have got to learn more than others because you have more to do passing through. Don’t ask why. Such things just are.
But I have to admit that being philosophical doesn’t help much when you’re hurting. I guess I am trying to say that since we can not do anything about the pain, we might as well try to make some good of it.
Our separation is not going to be easy on either of us. I have to give you away and you have to be given away. Oh, baby I wish it didn’t have to be that way. Afterward, both of us will always be different from most of the rest. There will be a mark deep inside that only you and I know about. Only you and I will know how it feels. I know you didn’t ask to be born a bastard, and if I could have chosen, I wouldn’t have been born female. All we can do is make do.
…there is so much I want to tell you, so much love I want to encircle you with, so much I can not do for you, so much that must go unsaid. I tried to kill you, but do not hate me. I love you. I love you. I love you.
I did not dwell anymore about wishing I had been born a man; those thoughts fled as my body and mind were flooded by female hormones overwhelming all earlier considerations. Nonetheless, yin/yang conversations played in my head.
The part of me that leaned male, XY: Someday, when this is over, you’ll see, you’ll have your career back. It’s the only way. The only way.
XX: But will that be worth it? I will have lost my baby. I want my baby. I want to be with Brian and our baby.
XY: Grow up. You got yourself into this mess. If that’s what you thought, that you wanted a baby to keep, your timing is off. By the way, why didn’t you use some kind of contraception, sweetie?
XX: That’s a long story, and you don’t have to be condescending, hon. Brian—he was impotent at first, and then he wasn’t—
XX: So that’s how it happened. Come on, don’t you have any pity—
XY: I am not interested in that anymore. That’s done. Now you must buck up and give away this baby. Tomorrow is another day.
XX: But my baby, don't you see, my baby, not someone else’s. I want to keep him, nurse him, watch him grow up, be his mother….
XY: Too effin’ bad. You made your bed, now lie in it.
Every three weeks or so, I went to see the social worker at Northaven Terrace, the adoption agency. Mrs. Mura, who had become a confident, friend, therapist. Until the day everything changed.
“But we’ll be able to—find each other when he’s eighteen, right—or twenty-one?” I said matter-of-factly one afternoon. It’s half a statement, half a question. She is already looking at me with a kind of shock on her face. “Right?” I add. “Right?”
“NO.” Mrs. Mura shakes her head back and forth slowly.
“What do you mean?” Surely she does not mean what I already know she must mean. Yet she can not mean that. That is unbearable, cruel and unusual, nobody would make that kind of law, nobody with a heart…. A quick hot layer of sweat swept over me.
“But that’s inhumane—that can’t be right, that we never—” I could not even raise my voice, I did not have the strength to do that. She was The Man. She was in charge. I was—nothing. A baby bearer, the woman shamed, someone without rights. Of any sort.
“Lorraine, I thought you knew, once you sign the papers it’s over. I mean, for good. The records are sealed. For good. You can’t find him and he—”
“That is the most horrible thing I ever heard of, what would be the harm? I mean when—when he’s older. Surely that’s what this secrecy is about—why I can’t meet the parents—so that I don't interfere when he’s growing up.” My voice has taken on a plaintive whining tone, tears are welling up.
But she did not send any mitigating signal. She is trying to be kind, I can tell that, but that’s like offering me a smoke on the way to the gallows. Yet I could not give up.
“Can’t we do this another way? Can’t we have an agreement that when he is older, that at least he can find out, and me too? There has to be another way, there must be some parents who….”
“I know you can’t see it now, but you will make another life for yourself. The pain will lessen in time.”
I stared at her blankly, so this is how this will end, my life in an abyss of not knowing. Who dreamt up this vile law? Who was the monster?
“You’ll see, you will make a new life for yourself,” she repeated.
I looked out the window, it is high up and all I can see is the sky—the better to keep away prying eyes from the parking lot—it was a sunny day and a patch of clear bright blue filled the window. How can it be sunny today? How can today be a sunny day? I want to scream and rail against this injustice, I want to roll on the floor and moan in misery.
“What about if we—ask the adoptive parents? Or can’t we find a couple who—”
“Lorraine, if you won’t agree to this, we can’t help you. There is no other way.”
We can’t help you. There is no other way.
“This is the law. Once you sign the papers, you have to walk away. You will never forget her, but there is no going back. The records are sealed for good. It’s best for everyone this way. For you, for her…. ”
Are you out of your mind? Best for me? This will never be best for me. I want to grab my purse and run. To where? I can not go home to my family. Brian hasn’t made a move.
And I have no Plan B.
I slunk down into my chair, inspected the tiled floor, the pale green of vomit. This is so much worse than I thought it would be. This is going to be a living death. I have no say so about how this happens. I am a woman without rights. Of any sort. They think I am garbage, to be disposed of, once I hand over the baby.
This is not right. This is wrong. Every part of my being is screaming: this is wrong.
I remembered what the Chinese palmist said the time she read my hand: You have one child but something is wrong. Like he's adopted.
I did not know what she meant at the time. Yet I may have been already pregnant. I just did not know it. --lorraine
Monday, April 13, 2009
by Lorraine Dusky
Copyright (c) (2009 Lorraine Dusky
Juno, the 2007 movie, made the title character’s learning she was pregnant into one long hip joke. Juno, the teenage character, takes a pregnancy test at a convenience store, and wisecracks with the store owner who responds with a rhyming couplet when it comes back positive, pre-go rhyming with eggo. Ha ha. To Juno, and the storekeeper, her pregnancy will be seen as a minor inconvenience, that’s all, the storekeeper and he knows she will deal with it in her usual wise-ass manner.
If that is the normal reaction today, how can I expect young people, say, my granddaughter, to comprehend what it was like back when her mother was born? When abortion was illegal and having a child “out-of-wedlock”—the phrase even sounds archaic, does anyone even use it anymore?—was a major scandal? Reviewers and the public loved both Juno, the character, and Juno, the movie, which played for months at a nearby theater. Or maybe it seemed like months, I wanted it so to go away. Because I couldn’t bear to sit through what I knew would be emotionally wrenching in a theater, I saw the movie on DVD, alone in my bedroom, tissue box at hand. It made me alternately livid and tearfully upset, as oh-so-clever dialog made light of one of life’s most traumatic experiences. Or at least, my most horrific experience. It made giving up the child on a par with learning one has not gotten into the college of one’s choice. I wanted to throw up, yell at the writer, shoot a missile at the television. The next day I came down with a cold. Compounding the distress the movie caused every single birth mother I know, the writer, a young woman and former stripper who took the uber cool name of Diablo Cody, won the Oscar for best original screenplay the following year. She said she wrote it imagining what it would have been like if she had gotten pregnant in high school. No comment.
Can giving up a child ever be so flippant and amusing as Cody/Juno makes it seem? The character Juno stays in school, wears tight t-shirts that show her belly button popping through as her middle expands, flirts with the adoptive father-to-be before he takes off. She picks out the parents of her baby from a penny saver. Drives over and meets them. Tells them, and the lawyer—their lawyer, she doesn’t need one—she wants the adoption, “old school,” no ties, that way, it goes without saying, she won’t have any responsibilities or expectation to visit. But it’s not going to be old school anyway because—hey! She knows who the mother is! She’s picked her out! The flirting father has split by this time. Yes, there is one tearful scene at the hospital after the birth, but mostly it’s all chillingly unemotional, cheeky instead of devastating. The final scene shows Juno and her callow, maybe boyfriend—someone with the emotional depth of a kiddie pool—singing together, lah-de-dah, life goes on as before.
Then, it was so different then, when I got pregnant with Jane. I came back from Puerto Rico and quit my job within a week. Made up a flimsy excuse that I had to return to Michigan because my father was sick. I had to leave the paper before I showed, nobody would have wanted a pregnant woman—single at that!—working at the newspaper. It was too scandalous to contemplate. Besides, for Brian’s sake, I could not be waddling around pregnant.
At first I cried, feeling oh-so-sorry for myself. But ultimately one has to stop and I pulled myself together and slowly but surely the “problem” became a baby. My baby. “It” became “he.” Our baby. Made from our love. We said, What a great kid he will be. In retrospect that sounds like two blowhards congratulating themselves on the great genes they’ve bestowed on their progeny, Hey, this kid’s lucky to be born. We couldn’t imagine anything but a perfect child with a good brain, an inquisitive mind, a long, lean body. A star pupil! An athlete! Surely someone wonderful. And once that bump in my belly become a real live baby—someone not a “mistake” or a “problem,”—I could not fathom how I was going to give him up. How anyone could give up a child.
Brian and I always called the baby a “him,” as if there were no doubt about the sex. For me, it was obviously wishful thinking. I can’t recall the exact moment when I knew I wished I’d been born male; it must have been during that argument with my father about girls and college. If I’d been born male, I told myself, everything would have been easier. I only saw demerits to being female. Boy or girl, if before I had cried and thought about killing myself because I was pregnant—yes that was the easy way out and my mind went there—now I was crying because there seemed no way to keep him.
Brian said: You need to call the adoption agency.
I recoiled. How can anyone do that?
He said: You must.
And eventually, I did.
So by February, I was sitting with a social worker, a fortysomething woman named Mrs. Mura, pouring out my heart and liberally taking tissues from the convenient pop-up box on her desk. I could not see how we could keep him, I could not see how I could give him away to strangers, however nice they might be. Giving away a baby was a deplorable, terrible act. Unforgivable. A sin against nature. You know those documentaries on PBS that show animals who stick by their young after one is injured, downed by a lunging predator but not quite killed, and the mother needs to run with the herd if she is to save herself, but she stays anyway, pawing the ground, nudging her offspring, trying to make it stand and run away with her? Remember how the mother stays long after it is safe for her to be there? I would be the doe who cut and ran. I would be the doe who repudiated her mothering instinct, who left her fawn there to be eaten by the lions. Today when I see such a scene anywhere memory plunges into me like an ice pick wielded by a madman. I say nothing of course, not to anyone. I simply feel.
Then, I wept. Oh, I wept and felt sorry for myself, and for my baby. Yet I went forward, filling out forms on family medical history, his and mine. Going to the pre-natal checkups Mrs. Mura arranged free of charge. Religiously taking the vitamin pills the doctor prescribed. Eating little and not gaining weight—no one told me that I needed to. Like today’s hippest movie stars, my belly grew, my thighs became miraculously thin. As the months passed, I hid under heavy sweaters and sweat shirts when I went to the market. I did not walk baby proud with my belly sticking out. I stooped slightly, all the better to hide the bulge. And everywhere I turned there were women in the street with babies. In their bellies, in strollers, all coming at me like rocket fire.
One day, after I came back from my meeting with Mrs. Mura, I said: I can’t do this. Let’s find a way to keep her. I don’t think I can….
Brian said: No, we can’t do that. You have to do this. Give her away went unsaid.
There was no room for argument.
A daughter was born three days before Easter. More tomorrow.
Easter has always been a difficult time for me.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Will NPR Report the Truth about International Adoption? It's legitimated kidnapping in many poor countries
Although Neal Conan introduced Talk of the Nation on Tuesday, April 7 by referring to the brouhaha over Madonna’s attempted adoption of a little Malawi girl, the program, “Why Did You Opt for International Adoption” was simply an international adoption promo piece.
The program perpetuated the myth that millions of infants and toddlers have been abandoned at train stations, along roads, or church doorsteps and are living in crowded orphanages waiting for generous American to take them home, and that the children thus blessed live happily ever-after in middle-class America.
Conan interviewed Susan Soon-Keum Cox, Vice-President of Public Policy and External Affairs for Holt International of Eugene, Oregon, the largest US agency specializing in arranging adoptions of children from poor countries, and Isolde Motley, adoptive mother of two IA children, former editor at Time, and co-author with Susan Caughman, editor of Adoptive Families, of You Can Adopt: An Adoptive Families Guide to be released in July 2009.
Cox and Motley reminded me of the old dope peddler in the Tom Lehrer song, “Doing Well by Doing Good.” Thus Cox, (who is well-paid from the money Holt rakes in pedaling foreign children for $35,000 a pop) and Motley (profiting from her status as an adoptive mother) told listeners that adopting a foreign child had the twin benefits of “building a family” and “saving a child.”
To her credit, Cox did dispel the notion expressed by some callers that adopting internationally kept those pesky bio-families out of the picture. She noted that many foreign-born adoptees including herself search for their original families and that some agencies encourage ongoing contact with birth families. Cox also stressed that prospective adoptive parents adopting a child of a different race will face difficult cultural and racial issues as the child grows up.
Interestingly, Motley and the adoptive parents who called in had biological children as well as adopted ones. Cox noted that infertility was only one of the reasons people adopted from abroad and adoption was contagious (my word). Once someone adopts, Cox said, their friends often decide to do the same. (Keeping up with the Joneses I would call it-- Lorraine adds that she has seen it spread among the Hamptons like …well, not quite like wildfire, but spread just the same.)
Neal Conan approached the topic much as he might have in discussing whether to buy an American or foreign-made car. He and his guests omitted any consideration of the parties most affected: parents who lost children to adoption and the children themselves. Indeed this may be a habit of NPR – when discussing adoption. A recent program on open records did not include a single adoptee; instead adoptive father and head of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, Adam Pertman, spoke on their behalf. Maybe they would like to have us on as bigtime bloggers speaking on behalf of – adoptive parents.
I’m emailing TOTN suggesting it does another program on international adoption, as it claims that its coverage “must be fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest”. A good place to start to reach that goal would be to interview the authors of two recent articles exposing the realities behind the international adoption myth: “The Lie We Love” (Foreign Policy November/December 2008) by E. J. Graff and “Red Thread or Slender Reed: Deconstructing Prof. Bartholet’s Mythology of International Adoption” (Buffalo Human Rights Law Review, 2008) by Johanna Oreskovic and Trish Maskew. Graff is a senior researcher directing the Gender & Justice Project at Brandeis University's Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Oreskovic and Maskew are attorneys. Maskew is also the founder and former president of Ethica, Inc, a non-profit dedicated to adoption reform. (See side panel here –Ethica is raising money to support Mercy in Malawi; let’s all chip in.)
Among their findings that we have reported here and here previously is that babies in many, if not all, countries are systematically bought, coerced, and stolen away – i.e., kidnapped--from their birth families. Nearly half of the 40 countries that are the top sources for adoption have at least temporarily halted adoptions or have prevented agencies from sending children to the US. Yet though this will prevent more children from being kidnapped, this policy was soundly criticized by Cox and Motley on the NPR program.
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. Ninety-five percent of orphans are older than five, living with extended families that need financial support. The supply of adoptable babies rises to meet demand and disappears when Western cash is no longer available.
To add grist to the mill, a 2008 report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) unequivocally states that the intercountry adoption business in Nepal has created a culture of child abuse including the abduction, trafficking and sale of children.
Of the some 15,000 children in orphanages or children’s homes, a significant number of admissions in these homes are a result of fraud, coercion or malpractice, according to the 62-page report. Only four out of every 100 children adopted in Nepal are adopted by a Nepali family and many children put up for adoption are not orphaned but are separated from their families.
Let’s hope NPR does a report on that.