Friday, July 31, 2009
This is actually being posted on Sunday at...6:11 p.m. as Jane is on vacation and wrote this before she left.
In my last post, Telling my family about my first child – and then going public, I promised readers that I would write about how my daughters reacted to Rebecca and how she reacted to them. In a nutshell, they are not close and seem to prefer it that way. Rebecca lives in the Midwest; my youngest daughter on the east coast; and the other two in Oregon. They are cordial when circumstances bring them together but make no effort to have a relationship.
Although their physical appearances and careers are similar, their differences in life experiences seem to outweigh these similarities. All the girls have occupations which require gathering, analyzing, and presenting information. This is not surprising since their fathers are both attorneys and I am an attorney, turned government administrator, turned blogger. Rebecca conducts and presents marketing studies, my oldest raised daughter is an attorney, my middle daughter is a business analyst, and my youngest daughter directs communications for an elected official.
While the way they think is almost identical, their information base is vastly different which results in major differences in beliefs and values. Rebecca is a Mormon, who opposes welfare, feminism, gay marriage, and sex outside of marriage. My raised daughters are irreligious and supported Hillary Clinton in the last election. In areas outside the LDS Church’s dogmatism, however, Rebecca and my oldest raised raised daughters have common values: helping animals, protecting the environment, and supporting gun control. Rebecca joined the Million Mom March in 2000. My oldest raised daughter wrote a law review article on the liability of gun manufacturers when guns fall into the wrong hands. She and Rebecca both create an environment of ethnic diversity for their children.
The differences in age and family circumstances also come into play. Rebecca is 42; my raised daughters are 37, 35, and 32. Rebecca is married with four children ages 10 to 20; my oldest daughter is married with two young children; the other two are enjoying their single, childless existence.
In Twice Born: Memoirs of An Adopted Daughter, B. J. Lifton describes an adopted person as “the changeling, the imposter, the double.” When I look at Rebecca, I see two women: the natural Rebecca, so familiar, who would be a great “big sister” to my other daughters, and the created Rebecca, with whom they have a relationship only because of an accident of birth. Sadly, the differences that drove Rebecca and me apart also divide Rebecca and my raised daughters.
Lorraine here: My surrendered (and only) daughter fit into my family like a pea in a pod she was temporarily missing from. And I know this was part of the emotional backdrop she had to deal with after I found her. Though she had epilepsy, and took a heavy dose of drugs that slowed down her brain, she told her parents she wanted to be a writer. In fact, the first time I spoke on the phone with her, before she knew who I was or what I did, and I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up (she was 15 at the time) she said: journalist. I have been a newspaper reporter, magazine writer and editor since I was in high school. When she went to junior college, what did she excel in? English Composition. She and one of my brothers got along exceedingly well.
But like Jane's first daughter, she never spent enough time with my entire family to ... blend in easily. I had moved from Michigan to New York as soon as I finished college, and the distance meant that she was not around my larger family often.
What I've learned from all the comments on the last post, When the adoptee keeps the reunion secret, is that openness is often undesirable and best to keep the reunion a secret...because there are too many problems if the adoptee/birth mother reunion is out in the open. And that everybody--first mother and adoptee, need to find his or her own way.
We first mothers need to learn to trust that the adopted person is doing all that he or she can to handle two mothers (yes, one is enough trouble), and maybe, two fathers, or a combination of them. But what this discussion has reminded me of is something that I read elsewhere: how we birth mothers are "thanked," but when we come back, are then often feared, denigrated, and dishonored. And really, there is nothing we can do about that. That is out of our hands.
We are feared because adoptive parents fear our children will somehow prefer us. We are feared because they find it upsetting to see how alike--physically and psychologically--we may be to the "children" in question, who are now teens, young people, or fully formed adults. We are feared because the biological link by its very nature can not be broken; and the adoptive link, because it is based on proper conduct and associations, can be.
I can hear the chorus of people disagreeing with this statement, that the bond of love and relationship between adoptive parents and their children can never be broken, but we have seen indeed that it can. I know of too many situations where the adopted person has moved away, and rarely, if ever, maintains contact with the adoptive parents. And over at Cedar's Blog, On a Little Island in the Pacific, she has just written about how she adopted her grown son back; screen writer Joe Esterhaz spoke at the last American Adoption Conference with his daughter, about how he did the same thing.
If that is the sum of the relationship with the adoptive parents, is it any wonder that such individuals do not feel the need for a close relationship and frequent contact with their natural parents? And while you may cut off contact with one's biological child, or mother, the link is still there and will always be. Disinheritance does not break the biological connection.
But back I'm rambling here, and to go the topic of how adoptive parents deal with us:
We are denigrated because they fear us. So the way to deal with that is to put us down. And we are dishonored because they fear us. Most adoptive parents are now, after reunion, after years of raising the adoptee, not going to be willing to save a chair for us at the dance recital, as adoptive father Brooks Hansen wrote in The Brotherhood of Joseph talking about why he chose to adopt from Siberia.
But now we are talking weddings, christening, graduations. After years of "thanking us" for our child (but being glad we were no where in sight), they are not going to say, Hey, here's a spot up front at the wedding!" And we need to be mindful not to put extra pressure on the adopted person to make sure it happens.
In my own case, I was amazingly fortunate, and indeed, not only did I attend my daughter's wedding, I was asked to read a psalm during the ceremony. Since Jane was my only daughter, I got to freak out over what to wear to the wedding. There is no "birth mother of the bride" protocol. I sat right next to her other mother in the front row. We even had matching corsages. When the parents of the bride danced, there were three parents on the dance floor. I danced with my husband (whom Jane saw as a kind of step-father), and nobody threw eggs at me. My brothers and their wives and some of their kids were also there, and we sat with them at our own table--fortunately we filled the table.
Yeah, I know, amazing.
But there were some hairy moments. The bridegroom's mother was cool (very); I wouldn't say most of the adoptive family relatives were friendly (curious, but not friendly) and two days--hell, at the rehearsal the night before--the wedding, the bride's other mother was not speaking to me over a side issue. I've gotten off here on a tangent, but I just wanted to say there are a million ways to have a reunion.
Let's all just try not to further hurt each other.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
To tell or not to tell one's adoptive parents about an adoptee's search and reunion generated lively debate when I left a brief PS at a previous post (Thanking your birth mother for letting you be adopted). And fellow blogger and birth mother Linda was roundly dressed down by commenters, most if whom were adopted, for suggesting that the reunion in the dark is not a good idea. While adopted people may have many reasons, and good ones at that, for keeping their search and reunion secret, I'm going to tackle it from the birth mother's perspective...because this is Birth Mother/First Mother Forum.
People, it's different for everyone. If you are an adoptee, and for peace in your family and your peace of mind, you have to keep search and reunion a deep dark secret, so be it. It's sad, it speaks volumes about the depth of your relationship with your parents, but it is your right and choice. No one denies that. What you--the adoptee--decide to do is under your control.
But this means that if there is a reunion--no matter who searches, birth mother or surrendered child--the birth mother and her family will never be able to participate in your life other than surreptitious meetings, say, at a coffee shop or some other out-of-the-way place where adoptive parents are never going to show up. And if you want to go visit your birth mother's family, it will be difficult to explain why, say, you are going to Des Moines or Detroit for the weekend.
It means that when there is a birth, and the natural grandmother wants to visit--ohmygod, at the hospital--that has to be carefully orchestrated, lest the other parents show up the same day. Sacre bleu! It means that if there is a wedding, the natural mother can not be there, or if she is, she is the unknown woman fighting tears and sitting by herself at the back of the church, the woman who slips out unnoticed before someone asks who she is. It means birthdays and bar mitzvahs and graduations and the other high points of a life are off limits to the person who gave you life. It means a limited relationship with a woman who may desperately want to know the all of you, and dammit, be included in your life.
Ouch. Secrecy about her return into your life now will make her feel once again like the dirty dark secret we first mothers were made to feel when we surrendered our children. We will understand one of two things: that our child's other parents cannot deal realistically with their child's origins (and that sucks); and two, that we continue to be the unworthy ones, those who counts less, "lifegivers" who are to be forever shunted aside. Of course I'm talking here about the mothers such as us bloggers three who chose not to keep our first child, for two of us, our only child, a secret, who wanted to make that child a part of our lives as openly and as lovingly as possible.
So for first mothers like us, the secrecy will be eternally depressing. Apparently in a lot of cases of the people who read and write about adoption here and elsewhere, this kind of clandestine affair with the reunited birth parents will be necessary; that we can understand. But accept that for us, it was always be heartrending and hurtful. Not unlike how adopted people feel when their birth mothers/birth fathers do not openly share their existence with their new families. Yeah, that sucks too. We get it.
Personally, I'd like to shake the !@#$ out of those birth parents, including all sperm and egg donors, who will not meet their children. For god's sake, they are your children, people! Many of the people who comment at this blog have been rejected by their birth parents. My own surrendered daughter never met her natural father because he could "not handle it, not just now," he said, "maybe some other day." And then he died.
Every adopted person has the unalterable unassailable right to meet his or her birth parents, mother and father, face to face, at least once. Common decency would seem to dictate that every birth parent has at least that single obligation to her or his offspring. After that, the choice is up to the people involved. And some will keep the reunion secret. I am sympathetic to adopted people who do not tell their parents, but understand it will be a a slap in the heart to the birth mother, if the person seemingly keeps up a good relationship with his adoptive parents.
Times Past...but not forgotten
When I wrote Birthmark a zillion years ago, I heard from friends that there was a lot of table-pounding going on at dinner parties where the subject of the book came up: What gave that woman the #$@!ing right to write that book! Who in the hell does she think she is? Bleep Bleep Bleep, so I was told by friends who were there and were amazed at the hot heads that erupted. To my face, I was attacked by some media people and acquaintances I loosely thought of as friends. Some friends. As regular readers know, I've been attacked in the here and now (Birth Mothers Attacked as Usual, or Maybe I Need New Friends and Living in Interesting Times) if the subject comes up.
What gave me the right to search for my daughter? Who in the fuck ever took it away? The culture? The state that forced the unholy agreement unto me if I wanted their help? They were wrong. My need to know my offspring was as great as any adoptee's need to know their forebears, and no piece of paper can abrogate either. We are talking basics here.
And who gave the adoptive parents the right to pretend that their child is not the offspring of some other woman, some other mother, some other family, some other culture?
As I said earlier, it's different for everyone. I found my daughter when she was a minor and revealed my identity to her adoptive mother on the phone, so secrecy was never an issue. And we know that some terrific adoptive parents in closed adoptions actually do the search for their children, and those people I commend. Barbara Bisantz Raymond (who wrote both a page-turner biography of the woman who shaped modern adoption more than anyone else, The Baby Thief, The Untold Story of Georgia Tann), searched for and found her daughter's first mother. O Solo Mama's comments here and at her eponymous blog, and Malinda's at AdoptionTalk, for example, keep me cheerful and hopeful. Occasionally I am contacted by adoptive parents who want to help their children--usually in their teens or in college--search, and though I do not do searches, I steer them to someone who does.
But secrecy after reunion? Adoptees will do it as they must, but accept that it will limit your relationship with your birth mother. And for women like we like us, the secrecy will always hurt. --lorraine
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
There were no retreats in my day, the not-always swinging Sixties. I left home in shame and returned pretending my pregnancy and surrender did not happen. I hid in a small room in a shabby hotel in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, a city where I knew no one. When I left San Francisco sans my heart two months after my first daughter Megan was born, I worked mightily to forget why I had been there.
Years later, I attended support groups led by birthmothers where we told of our sorrow and regret. A prime villain in our discussions was the adoption agency social worker.
It’s different today. We were The Girls Who Went Away; today there is a new breed of birthmothers, The Girls Who Came Back. They return each year to attend an adoption agency sponsored retreat led by a social worker (“counselor”), the purpose of which is to “nurture and honor birthmothers.” The mothers “talk about their adoption journey” and are counseled on “transitioning to the role of a birthmother and developing a healthy relationship with their child’s adoptive family.” The women “shared words of wisdom, empowered one another to be honest with their child's adoptive family, and encouraged one another to live life fully."
Participants had chair massages, painted pottery or made beaded bracelets, and ate pizza. They received gifts including cheeses, flowers, candy, soap products, and gift certificates donated by local businesses and adoptive parents. The Seattle women also had a visit from The Heartsparkle Players, a theatre troupe that practices Playback Theatre where members of the audience share their stories and the actors improvise a short piece reflecting the themes from their story.
In spite of the praise and the pizza, the tears flowed. “During these moments, the air filled with incredible empathy and compassion as they passed the tissue boxes from one side of the circle to the other.” The truth is that whether you’re a lifegiver, firstmother, birthmother, natural mother, real mother, or just a mother, adoption is always painful.
I wonder about the counselors who lead these events, seeing women who had recently given birth and placed their infant in the arms of a stranger join older mothers who return year after year. (“The most recent ‘placement’ had been two weeks prior to the retreat, and the longest was nearly 24 years ago.”) What do these counselors feel as they face women whom they caused to lose their child? Can these counselors reconcile their contention that these mothers whom they describe as “beautiful, insightful, and loving” are incapable of mothering their own child?
There is something twisted, even Machiavellian, about a group of birth/first mothers convinced that their value is in “developing a healthy relationship with their child’s adoptive family.” My cynical side thinks the agency has an ulterior motive in these retreats: keep the mothers happy so that they don't cause trouble for the adoptive parents, or bad-mouth the agency to other women considering adoption. The agency social workers who created these events might think they are “servicing” their clients, but it would be better for everyone if they turned their attention to diminishing their client base in the first place. When we post at FirstMotherForum, sometimes an ad pops from Spence-Chapin agency of New York like this:
Adopt a Baby
Loving Families Needed. Domestic & Intl programs
Knowing what we know about the dearth of adoptable healthy infants in this country, their “birthmother” events strike me as specious. As do the “lifegiver” retreats in Seattle and Eugene.
My quarter-of-a-century relationship with my relinquished daughter Jane had its ups and downs, to be sure, but I am so glad that it did not include the words: Thank you for letting me be adopted (by my fantastic parents). Or: I had a great life, thank you.
Would that have hurt? Oh yeah. Because the words really say, as many of you and blogger Jane have noted in the last post: Wow, my life is so much better than it would have been had I had to stay with you.
But I can understand the many adopted people who end up better off, better educated than they would have been had they been raised by their natural parents, and I suppose it's a normal reaction that is usually not meant to drive a knife into the heart of one's first mother. And this "thank god I was adopted" meta-message is often the underlying theme of many an adoptee memoir, as fellow FMF blogger Jane has noted in her posts on adoptee memoirs. I've been on panels with adopted people who shall be unnamed, and I could feel this vibe coming from them, as the light glinted off the three-carat rock one was wearing, or the emphasis on the difference in education that sometimes comes screaming off the page and in their words.
Okay, life is different because you are adopted. Maybe life is materially better, maybe you are better educated than you would have been, maybe whatever. As many of our vocal commenters have noted, words have power, and those words hurt, whether or not the adopted person meant them that way.
But to those first mothers who have been so hurt by such words, let's move on and not let that statement stand in the way of whatever good feelings --for both sides, adopted person and birth mother--can come from reunion. Birth parents need to try to walk in the shoes of their child, raised by other parents, and those children (and we are all someone's children) need to try to understand that for a great many of us who relinquished, the pain is real, the pain is pretty f@#&ing much forever, and at the time of reunion, we are emotionally as ripped open as if we gave birth an hour ago.
What to say back if someone says, Thank you for letting me be adopted? Seems to me that Nancy Verrier's suggestion: I'm sorry you had to be adopted, would work. And no matter what, do not go into a discussion of the culture of times, your hateful parents who forced you into signing the surrender papers, whatever. Just I'm sorry you had to be adopted. Without saying, Hey, that hurts, a simple I'm sorry you had to be adopted would get across that being "thanked" is difficult, even hurtful, to hear, and would go a long way to moving forward to a good reunion.
Some of the commenters from the last post, Telling Your Birthmother She Made the Right Decision is Wrong, noted that reunion is not about the birth parent. Well, that's not accurate, because reunion is about the birth mother as much as it is about the adopted person. Without either one, no reunion. What I hope readers--both birth mothers and adoptees--not yet in reunion can take away from this discussion, it that watching what you say very very carefully is a good idea. Of course, that's always a good idea in any situation, but particularly here, where feelings on both sides are raw, susceptible to hurt and the possibility for misunderstanding is high. Does this mean I'm against "letting it all hang out?" Yeah. Have the thought if you will, but find another way to talk about what happened and how your life turned out.
My daughter Jane and I talked about my raising her once, after about fifteen years of reunion, and when she said, Lorraine, you know it would have been hard for you to raise me, I nodded. She then pointed out that she had, "pretty damn good parents," and I also agreed. To recap: when she was born I was alone, it was 1966, I did not have resources; by the time I met her, when she was fifteen, I did, and I know she had some pretty complicated feelings about not being raised by me and the man I eventually married, whom she came to see as a kind of step-father.
My daughter, as it would turn out, had epilepsy, and needed serious medical care and that she got in the family which adopted her. In her simple statements, she compressed everything we both knew and accepted. It still breaks my heart to write this--and dammit I'm crying now--but what she said was true. That didn't mean we did not love each other like a mother and a daughter, but it did mean time and circumstances were what they were, and that we accepted that, and each other.
And for all her neurosis and the difficulty of being dragged into them, I thank her in my heart (because I can't thank her in life) for being so considerate of my feelings. Oh daughter, we had our good moments and I miss you terribly.--lorraine
PS: For those commenters who noted that maybe it's not such a big deal to NOT tell your adoptive parents that you are searching or have found your birth parents, and that it's part of growing up and growing apart, thank you for that perspective because that had never occurred to me. But...since the "being relinquished" is such a big part of an adopted person's life--bigger than say, having an affair or having sex the first time--it still seems like omitting that piece of salient information indicates there exists is a huge wall between adopter and adoptee. And it's sad that it has to be that way.
Monday, July 27, 2009
To those who focused on the word: guilt in yesterday's post, Desperately Seeking Birth Mother (including the woman who placed the ad), let me further explain. Unless they were in unhappy circumstances, adoptees seem to need to stress repeatedly to the birth mother how wonderful! their adoptive parents were. And that stems from a certain amount of guilt for wanting to search for birth parents at all. We birth/first mothers basically assume and hope that unless they are ax murderers or otherwise monsters, they have been pretty good parents.
For Caribbeanspa22@gmail.com, the reasons to include those words may not have been the case because of health reasons, but many adoptees feel that simply by searching they are "hurting" their parents. We have heard of countless cases where adoptees do not tell their adoptive parents they are searching, not even if they have a reunion, even many years after the fact. That situation alone begs the question: how close could they possibly be if they leave this factoid and reality out of their relationship with their adoptive parents, but then...closed adoptions are based on the lie that your past and heritage does not matter. And we also know many adopted people who only decide to search once their adoptive parents are dead.
This must be changing with more openness, and greater numbers of understanding parents (many who post comments here), but the culture has infused the sense that adoptees "owe" their parents love, and to seek out the other, i.e, the birth mother, often leads to feelings of guilt because of their loyalty to the parents who raised them, and whom they love,and towards whom they feel immense loyalty. That's all I meant, and I am certainly not critical of the woman who placed the ad. It was a cool thing to do, and let's all hope her mother sees the ad and makes contact. (If so, please let us know, firstname.lastname@example.org)
In that vein, and because I think it deserves more important billing, I'm lifting this morning a letter fellow blogger Jane included in the comments in the last post:
My daughter told me much the same thing: “You made the right decision “No,” I responded. “I made the wrong decision; it may have turned out well. But the decision was wrong."
As a reunited mother, I believe there are two myths that need to be put to rest along with “you’ll forget and get on with your life” -- that it's comforting to a mother to be told that she made the right decision and that mothers give away their children because they love them.
These were brought home to me when I read Birthright (1994) by Jean Strauss, an adoptee. Strauss describes her first conversation with her birthmother:
“One reason I had searched for [her birthmother] was that I wanted to tell her that she’d done the right thing. I always felt she deserved to know that. I proudly said it now on the phone, sure that this one sentence would make her feel good about her decision thirty-three years earlier to relinquish me for adoption. ‘You know, you did the right thing when you gave me up.”
Her answer burst my hallucination. ‘I’ll never believe that. I should have never let you go. I wish I had taken you and run.’”
Decision-making requires adequate information and viable options. We were depressed, frightened, and alone. The information we received from our families and the “professionals” was incomplete, inaccurate, and in some cases, outright lies. Our families wanted to avoid shame; our babies’ fathers wanted to avoid responsibility, and the adoption agencies needed the baby to stay in business.
The correctness of a decision has to be judged by what we knew at the time, not by how it turned out. (If I spend my life savings on lottery tickets and win, it doesn’t mean that the decision to invest in this way was correct.)
We did not know what would happen to our babies once we gave them up. By telling us we made the right decision, our children are saying in effect: “any person would have been a better parent than you would have been; any situation would have been better than living with you” These are not comforting words.
The counterpart to telling a mother she made the right decision might be for the mother to tell her child “I’m glad I gave you away.” No child would want to hear that.
Strauss’ mother also says to her in their first conversation: “I want you to know that I have always loved you.” Strauss responds “‘I never doubted that … My mom taught me that giving a child up for adoption is an act of love.”
We did not give up our children because we loved love them. We gave them up in spite of the fact that we loved them. We gave them up because of self-loathing, fear, anger, depression, hopelessness. We gave them up because we had no resources. We gave them up because we had been told to act with our brains and not follow our hearts, that this was “the mature” decision, the “responsible” decision. We gave them up because we felt sorry for the unknown but perfect couple who would adopt our child. We gave them up because we were told that if we loved them we would give them up.
Yes, that was what the message was and to read the happy birth mother blogs (from which we have been "banned," that is still the message birth mothers are fed. I gave my daughter up because I could not keep her; because I surrendered to a situation that I could not see how to manage otherwise. I did not give her up because I "loved" her and telling her that after I found her surely would have sounded absurd.--lorraine
Sunday, July 26, 2009
But unless there were a thousand people screaming for their rights, the real impact on legislators was minimal.
Yet taking part in something that you feel strongly about brings a wonderful lift to the soul because you are part of something larger than just your own dark feelings about OPENING UP THE DAMN RECORDS for all adopted people, regardless of race, creed, gender or sexual preference--or the state they live in. I add those unnecessary qualifications--adopted people come in all shapes, colors, sizes, etcetera--because these qualifiers are part of the "rights" language, but adopted people are somehow left in the dust because not enough of them control the power structure in this country. Yes, the movement has adoptee Paula Benoit, and she was the sparkplug in the legislature in Maine; but we need one of those in every state that still has sealed records.
Until then, we are going to get this, courtesy of fellow blogger Linda today:
Well, I know why she had to add that about her adoptive parents: Loyalty, and guilt because she is looking at all. Look, I am not going to beat adoptees over the head for feeling loyal to the parents who raised them--it's only natural if they had a good fit with their families--and if that has to show up in the "adopted girl's" [noted without comment] ad, so be it. It's good for everyone to read between those lines. Jane, my only daughter, my surrendered daughter who was adopted by genetic strangers, felt guilty for having too good a time with me, feeling too comfortable, especially at the beginning, and this colored our relationship in some ways all through the years.
Near the end of her life, when we seemed connected like two peas in a pod, Jane wrote that while she felt as if my family was her true family, that we accepted her no matter what, I know that feeling that her adoptive mother had turned away from here hurt her deeply. I could be her "Lorraine" or "Maraine," but I could never be Mom, the mother who raised her and never replace that woman in her heart, no matter that her adoptive mother said some pretty cruel things to our daughter. I will never forget the time Jane called, sobbing--I picked up the phone and she said: Tell me that you love me. Her adoptive mother, Jane said, had just told her on the phone that she did not love her. I don't know much about the rest of the conversation, so I won't presume to fill in the blanks. Yet they made up within the week. Not so when we had a break; Jane would walk away justlikethat and cut me off for a year.
My troubled daughter did have a conflicted relationship with her adoptive mother, who always seemed more than a little pissed off that Jane had problems. At least the woman (she is 23) who placed the ad above has parents who understand her need to search (to give them their due, so did my daughter's parents), and support it. We at First Mother Forum once posted a story about a woman who was seeking her natural parents in Korea, and within 24 hours were contacted by the woman to take the post down, lest her adoptive mother here in the United States see it. And presumably break the adoptive mother's heart--which was more or less the topic of our last blog, Adoption Is Always Painful.
Checking the blog roll at the bottom of the page, with adoption reform stories that Google has picked up, there's a story from the Palm Beach Post about this ad, as it apparently ran in several newspapers across the country, since Linda picked it up in New Jersey. (If anybody else saw it, please leave a comment and tell us where.)
But that story from the Palm Beach Post contains a line about women who are fearful of being reconnected with the children they surrendered that makes it seem that most do not want reunion. I basically don't know what to think; my informal survey of people who contact birth/first mothers came up with results all over the place, from close to half to one or two out of a hundred. I can only conclude that the fear of contact does lie deep inside some women who were brainwashed into thinking they should forget about their first child (and pretty much have) and then do not deal with a sympathetic voice, or birth mother, who helps them overcome their fears of letting the child out of the bag.
The point is, all of this does she or does she not want to meet me baloney should be moot; adoptees everywhere should have the right, the unrestricted right, to the honest and true information of their birth.
Birth mothers in the closet, get some damn backbone and tell your families about your first/surrendered child or children (yes, that does happen, life being life). Those states that insist on using confidential intermediaries should hire an army of evolved birth/first mothers to make the contact because their percentage of successful reunions seem to be way higher than that of neutral voices who have not been through the war of giving birth and surrender, and lord, that feels like war. And adoptees need to let it be known, through ads like the one above, through talking to their adoptive parents, to admitting to their friends, to writing to legislatures that their curiosity is as natural as being born.
Girls just wanna have fun, like Cindy Lauper sang, and adoptees just wanna know. --lorraine
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
This is for all adoptive parents who do not want to talk about the biggest thing in their adopted child's life: being relinquished by one mother and adopted by another....
This is for every prospective adoptive parent who reads the ads directed at pregnant women and urging them to make a nifty adoption plan for their babies....
This is for every prospective adoptive parent who thinks adopting a child will make their families "complete" and only think about how much they want a baby--anybody's baby....
This is for the commenter the other day who said that against the will of many people around her, she was beginning a search for her daughter's natural mother....
And most of all, this is for the young teen who left a comment recently at Birth Mother/First Mother Forum. She said she was crying inside because she doesn't know who she is. "I want to know if I have my dad's eyes and my mother's nose," she wrote. "Can anyone help me to start to search? My parents can't--actually won't...."
Breaks your heart, doesn't it?
She asked us to keep this confidential--but I think she thought we could reach her by email. We have no way to reach her because when someone posts a comment, we can not respond to her or him because we do not have access to his or her email address. So I'll leave her name off here, and no one will ever connect it to the young writer, whom I hope has come back to find this. We are thinking about you and we send you all the love we can through the air. And we wish from the bottom of our hearts that we could reach across the nether and somehow find your first mother for you.
But what can we say to stop the hurt, what can we realistically do to fix the problem? Though we have the power of the word and the communication offered by the Internet, we can't go in and shake up those adoptive parents, like we would like to, and tell them how much their daughter is pain, and how much they could help by simply opening up the conversation. Nor can we do a search for the girl.
Maybe, we think, maybe she's lucky and lives in a state where the records will be open to her when she turns eighteen. Maybe she lives in Alabama, Alaska, Oregon, Maine, New Hampshire, or Kansas where she would have the unfettered right to her birth records when she grows up; maybe she lives in Tennessee or Delaware where unless her first/birth mother has filed a "no-contact" veto, the girl will get her original birth certificate. Or maybe she lives in one of the other states where a crazy quilt of various degrees of openness will work for her.
Or maybe not. That leaves a lot of states where searching for one's original/natural/genetic/real/biological parents is like walking through a maze blindfolded and being beset with trap doors that lead nowhere at every turn.
What can we do for her, and the millions of other people like her? We can start by fighting for open records for all adopted people. If we live in a close-record state--and that includes most states--we can join the campaign there to open records. (Learn how at American Adoption Congress and join us. There is strength in numbers, and AAC is not only for adoptees and birth parents, but also adoptive parents.)
If you are a birth mother who haven't told your family about your first child, and fear that knock on the day from a stranger who looks like you, dig down deep and find the courage to do so. Fellow blogger Jane admitted recently how difficult it was her for to tell her three other daughters about her first, and her recent posts here and here should be encouraging. Once the cat is out of the bag, then you won't be afraid when your son or daughter comes back. Then you won't be afraid, may be even able to start the search yourself. Maybe you will find your son or daughter is looking for you. Maybe your daughter is the one who wrote to us.
Adoptive parents can begin the conversation with their children about what it feels like to be adopted. The other day, Blogger Malinda (one of our followers, I'm pleased to say), wrote a wonderful, enlightened post over at her blog, adoptiontalk, about the importance of talking about adoption to your adopted child. It's something that every adoptive parent ought to read. It's about recognizing that your child thinks about adoption, whether or not he or she lets you know.
I think back about 30 years--when I was working in Manhattan and had a business lunch with some PR guy, and I knew I was going to quit my magazine job and finish Birthmark--I thought, what the hell, and told him I was a birth mother (though I probably didn't use those words back then). This was quite a shocking revelation back in the mid-Seventies. I'm not even sure I had told my mother yet. Do you know what he told me? That he was an adoptive father, that their daughter was at college and in her twenties, and that a couple of years ago they got a call from the girl's birth mother...and decided NOT TO TELL HER.
She's never asked about her, he said, she's never talked about it....God, I wanted to scream at him: What right did you have to make that decision on your own, you @#%head. It's her mother, it's her information, it's her right.
And to those people considering adoption, think deep and long and hard about what you are doing. While you are thinking about your happiness--and worrying that the mother of your child is eating junk food or vegging out on soap operas rather than listening to Mozart--ask yourself whom you are doing this for....the child, or yourself, your husband? One adoptive mother I know said that if she had to do it again, she would adopt both the teenager who had her baby, and the baby. She would, in other words, keep mother and child together.
While it is sad to want a child and be unable to have one of your own, that does not entitle you to someone else's.
Remember: Adoption is always painful.
And Joyce Bahr has a good essay worth reading. Joyce was in Philadelphia yesterday at the adoptee-right demonstration.
We may be a little slower with the posts around here....we need a vacation. First Mother Forum was a year old on July 18.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Telling the Family
When my first daughter, Rebecca, whom I relinquished for adoption contacted me through an aunt, I had to deal with telling my three other daughters about her. My husband knew about her – I had told him the night before we got married—but I was concerned, and a bit terrified, I admit, of telling my younger daughters who were 25, 23, and 20 at the time.
None of them were living at home, and the oldest was getting married in a month. It was late November, and I did not want to distract from my daughter’s wedding or the Christmas festivities by announcing a new family member, so I decided to wait until after Christmas to tell them. This also gave me some breathing time to digest everything.
Even though Rebecca and I emailed everyday and spoke frequently on the phone, I waited ten days before I told my husband. It is hard to bring up the matter of child who has been relinquished. As I wrote in an earlier post, it felt as if my world was shifting. And of course, it was.
Although Rebecca and I discovered we had major differences in religious and political views – she was a Mormon and a Republican; I am not religious and a solid Democrat -- we were alike in many ways, having the same sense of humor, enjoying the same movies, making the same spelling errors. We shared details of our lives; we were soul mates. As time went on, Rebecca pressed me to tell my daughters about her. My oldest raised daughter was working in Washington DC, the youngest was attending college in New York, and my middle daughter lived in Salem, Oregon where my husband and I lived.
Rebecca and I arranged to meet in Chicago where she lived in January. I had come to a place with Rebecca where I trusted her and decided to tell my other daughters about her before I left. I believed that the shared pain of our separation had forged an unbreakable bond between us. I wanted her to be part of my life, and I knew this could not be if I kept her a secret.
A week or so before I was to leave for Chicago, I asked my two youngest daughters who happened to be at home to come into the kitchen and talk to me. I began haltingly – “There’s this girl, woman….” (The girls told me later that they expected me to say that I was a lesbian and had a lover.) “She is a daughter I placed for adoption before I met your Dad.” I’ve always been political and my middle daughter blurted out “Oh, so that’s why you never ran for public office.”
I told them I regretted giving Rebecca up. The girls questioned whether their Dad would have married me if I had kept Rebecca. I pointed out that their Dad took in stray cats so that a stray kid would not have been a stretch. After a few more minutes, I left for a walk allowing them to talk among themselves. I forbade them from calling my oldest daughter, telling them I would do it when I returned.
When I came back, they both shouted at me to call their older sister—the one who had just gotten married. She had called from the china counter at Macy’s in the Pentagon City Shopping Mall outside Washington with some questions about her china. The girls told her she had a “new” sister. I can only imagine her expression when she heard the news. I called her immediately and we had a tense conversation. It certainly wasn’t the best way to hear about this new family member.
The girls, especially the oldest and youngest were particularly upset that I wanted to have a relationship with Rebecca, that I could possibly care for this daughter -- whom I did not know, they insisted --as much as much as I cared for them. Their response was much like the lament of an adoptive mother who learns her adopted child is having a relationship with her birthmother: “How can she care for this woman who gave her away? I was the one who changed her diapers, stayed up with her when she was sick, paid for her braces," and so on.
My oldest daughter felt displaced; she was no longer the primo daughter. My youngest daughter, my fourth child, felt that I was excising her. In the twisted thinking we experience when we are stressed, she reasoned that since I apparently wanted to have three children, that, if I had kept Rebecca, she never would have been born. Since I regretted giving up Rebecca, I clearly preferred Rebecca to her.
My middle daughter had less difficulty than the other girls perhaps because as the middle daughter, she did not lose her place in the family. She put together family photographs for me to take along to Chicago.
I gave them copies of B. J. Lifton’s Journey of the Adopted Self to help them understand why Megan searched for me and why I wanted to have a relationship with her. My youngest daughter asked sadly, “Where is the book for sisters?” Fortunately I came across an excellent pamphlet Sibling Reunion: A Letter to Those Who Have Been Contacted by Randolph Severson (1991). I gave my middle daughter a copy and sent the other girls a copy with a letter assuring them that my relationship with Rebecca would not diminish my love for them. (Unfortunately the book seems to be out of print. Amazon is asking $162.65 for its one copy. The only other book I know of that deals with sibling reunions is The Other Sister, by S. T. Underdahl, a fictionalized account of a sibling reunion written by an adoptee in the persona of the raised sister.)
My visit with Rebecca and her family seemed to go well. When I returned home, she began to email less frequently. She came to visit in April and June, though, and met all three girls. They got along well enough and visited each over the next several years. In 1999 and 2002, Rebecca came to our family reunions and met her aunts and uncle and most of her cousins.
Soon after Rebecca and I connected, I learned about the struggles going on across the country for open records. In March of 1998--only a few months after our reunion--I saw a news clip about Ballot Measure 58 that would amend Oregon law to allow adult adoptees to have their original birth certificates. I drove 50 miles to Portland and attended an outdoor rally for the Measure. I knew no one else and felt lost. One of the speakers was a birthmother. No way could I tell a group of strangers about my daughter.
In the fall of 1998, a birthmother friend hosted a fund raiser for Measure 58. I suggested to Helen Hill, the chief petitioner of the measure, that she run an ad in the Portland Oregonian with names of birthmothers who supported the measure to counter the false statements by the adoption industry that mothers wanted confidentiality.
Several days later, Delores Teller, a birthmother working for the Measure, asked if I would appear in the ad along with several other mothers. While I was not yet comfortable with my status as an “out” birthmother, I agreed. This full-page ad appeared two days before the election and was a huge success. I was in a picture along with four other mothers surrounded by the names of close to a thousand birthmothers. Lorraine’s was one of those names. Measure 58 won with 57 percent of the vote.
As for being pictured in the ad, I found that it was a good way to tell co-workers and acquaintances about Rebecca, a whole lot easier than telling them in person. A few mentioned that they had seen it but mostly I didn’t get any response. (Most of my closest friends had met Rebecca when she visited in June.)
Rebecca had tried to get her original birth certificate shortly after we connected, but the State of California, where she was born, turned down her application, as per its law. I had hoped Rebecca would appreciate what I had done, perhaps increasing her esteem for me. I sent her a copy of the ad, but she did not respond.
Once Rebecca met me and I had answered her questions, she began to pull away. She made it clear that I was second best, a bastard mother. The only “compliment” she ever gave me was telling me that “you made the right decision in giving me away,” which was painful to hear. While our relationship continued -- she was responsive to my suggestions that I visit, or that she visit, and we got along when we were together -- I had increasing doubts about her commitment to a continuing relationship. Far from being a soul-mate, she did not even feel like a friend.
We went on in this vein with less and less communication and more and more disagreements through emails, primarily over adoption. Rebecca, a true-believer in Mormonism, insists that all children born “out of wedlock” should be placed for adoption with married heterosexual couples. I believe that adoption often does more harm than good and as a society we should support keeping mothers and babies together. This is the substance of our quarrels, but I think there is a deeper issue. Rebecca believes that God had a hand in her adoption. If she were to question the institution of adoption, she would have to question whether she should have been adopted; thus questioning God, and, more personally, questioning who she would have been if she had not been adopted.
To keep up our connection and to help out their stretched finances, I sent Rebecca and her four children birthday and Christmas presents each year. A year ago she emailed me and asked me not to continue. She said it made her uncomfortable. I think, though, that part of her reason was a desire to deny the bond between us. I could not be her children’s grandmother since God had made her someone else’s daughter, and thus I could not act like a grandmother by sending presents.
In January her oldest child, Rachael, a college student in Utah, asked to come and visit and did come this past February. Rebecca was aware of the visit and apparently did not try to prevent it. I’ve written about these events here. Her next child tells me she wants to come this fall.
I have met adoptees whose birthmothers met them once and said, “I’ll answer all your questions now but I do not want to see you again. I haven’t told my family about you and I don’t intend to.” I have thought this to be incredibly cruel; these mothers were rejecting their children a second time. Now that things have not gone well with Rebecca, I sometimes think I should have done this and spared my daughters the stress of learning about their biological sister. On balance though, I think it was best to tell them.
Next I’ll blog about how my daughters’ reacted to Rebecca and how she reacted to them.
Friday, July 17, 2009
More on the story from China where babies were "confiscated" and "legally" adopted overseas in 2006 and 2007, thanks to one of our intrepid readers. This from the AP in the Wall Street Journal where you can read more:
BEIJING – Chinese authorities have punished six government officials after three baby girls whose parents were still alive were sent to an orphanage in southern China that subsequently put them up for adoption overseas, state media and an official said.
Family planning officials in impoverished Guizhou province's Zhenyuan County sent the babies to a state-run orphanage during 2003 and 2004 without properly investigating their backgrounds, the county government said on its Web site.
Officials and relatives mislead the families who lost their children, but the number is the story is three, not the eighty reported earlier. Whatever the number, these children's adoptions should not be considered "legal." That's like saying, I kidnap your child in one state, go to another state and have the adoption validated legally by saying, Gee, this child was abandoned...and then I get the paper saying: This adoption was legal. Only in this case, it's a given that the children are not growing up in China.
What if the original parents want the child back? Poor peasants are not likely to get them back. Is the Chinese government doing anything about getting the children back? Or is the one-or-two child only policy means...end of story. The official word is that six Chinese officials were punished, but they were not named nor was the punishment specified.
I am having a hard time feeling user friendly about China. --lorraine
PS: On another note, regarding an earlier post about the gaga adoption sites (such as adoptionvoices.com) owned by Nathan G. William of Arizona, who owns a thousand domain names connected to adoption, we are hearing that people trying to post respectful, but, ahem, less than glowing comments about adoption...are not getting their posts up. Let's keep acting up. Thanks to Cedar for this latest information.
Good women seldom make history.
And again...Spence-Chapin wants to entice me to adopt...apparently they have loads of babies in need of homes...or they are in need of cash. This agency goes out of its way to appear to be great friends of the (birth/first) mothers who relinquish their children...but it seems to me from these ads, they are most worried about staying in business. Remember, babies are a cash crop for adoption agencies. Yes, I'm feeling cranky about this today. The ads are offensive.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Though China maintains its one-child-only policy in an effort to halt population growth, rural families were allowed to have two, if the first child was a girl. But a third child? Then the poor farmers were required to pay a $3,000 fee, a charge completely out of reach for them. If you could not pay, you were forced to turn over the baby, which was then sold for $3,000, with the local orphanage and the corrupt local authorities splitting the fee.
Here's a snippet of the story you'll find here:
By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
BEIJING, China– An investigation by a Chinese newspaper found that about 80 baby girls in southern China’s Guizhou Province have been sold to childless families in the U.S. and Europe for $3,000 each. These baby girls were “confiscated” from families when the parents could not pay the $3,000 fine for violating China’s Family Planning Policy.
Chinese families in rural villages, unlike those living in urban areas, are allowed to have a second child to continue the family name and to help out with the farm if the first child is not a son. However, if the rural families have more than two children, they face a fine of $3,000, which is several times a farmer’s annual income. Accordingly, this is an unpopular policy among rural residents, and families in Guizhou Province who could not pay the fine had to hand over their babies to the local authorities.
Abandoned babies in China can be registered for adoption, but the investigation alleged that the local authorities confiscated the babies and then forged documents by labeling the babies as “orphans.” The adoption fee of $3,000 per baby was split between the local authorities and the orphanages. This type of foreign adoption program has been referred to as “Baby Economy,” and the local orphanages made huge profits.
This is not the first time child trafficking from China (or India)has been uncovered. We've previously written about the international trade in babies, all documented and published in magazines such as Foreign Policy and Mother Jones--from the poor nations of the world, such as Guatemala, Vietnam, India, Nepal, Russia, Kazhakstan and others. Because the baby economy is a cash cow for poor nations and demand is high, unscrupulous individuals will find a way to provide the goods--even when there are no babies available through honest means. Children are kidnapped, mothers are tricked into giving up their babies for what they think is a temporary time, papers are forged and children are stolen. Why? Because people are willing to not look deeply into where the children come from, or if they are indeed orphans.
What creates this market? People who believe that they are entitled to a child, simply because they can afford one, when nature does not provide. The comments of a prospective adoptive parent to the previous post (Banned by Adoptionvoices.com!) calling FirstMotherForum anti-adoption led me to give this answer to her and the others like her. We repeat, as we do so often here, that we understand that adoptions must happen in some circumstances. But today the demand for babies has irrevocably skewed the system towards adoption at any cost--to the mother, to the child.
While treatments such as DES years ago led to infertility among the children whose mothers took the hormone, a great deal of the pressure simply comes from a culture where it is seen as normal to wait to have children after thirty-five, after a woman's ability to conceive has dropped precipitously.
Sometimes adoptions are indeed necessary, but the demand for fresh, healthy infants today has led to the wholesale trafficking of children worldwide. If speaking out against that makes us anti-adoption, so be it. If speaking hard truths on sites promoting adoptions gets us banned, so be it. We are far too aware of the emotional fallout for both natural mothers and the children to support adoption as the common solution it is today for people wanting a child.
Yes, it is sad when one cannot have a child, but that does not entitle you to someone else's.
I write this today knowing that my voice is one of a few crying in the wilderness, that it will be heard by only a few, that it will offend some, and in the larger picture, our voices will be drowned out by the group-think of a generation. Sadly, the baby economy is completely integrated into society today, and I do not have the force of government behind me to change policy. And it will take a sea-change to alter attitudes.
But I will go on speaking and writing this until my last breath. --lorraine
PS: In an irony of magnitude, when I edited this post...up popped an ad for Spence-Chapin:
Loving Families Needed. Domestic & Intl programs.
Loving families needed? to fill the coffers of Spence-Chapin.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
More news on Adoptionvoices.com (from which I have been gloriously banned!) and adoption.com. which has a zillion forums, but all designed to promote the happy-giving children-away/surrendering/relinquishing of babies to complete other people's families. Cedar Trees from Vancouver and a blogger worth her words says that the person (Nathan@gwilliam.com) who sent me the email saying that Lorraine Dusky is banned from adoptionvoices was the owner of a "thousand" domain names and is based in Provo, Utah. Duh. Provo, as in Utah as in the base of Church of the Latter Days Saints.
Until otherwise informed, I am going to assume that he is a LDS paid blog administrator , which as we have written about earlier (Mormon Opposition to Open Records) and also here (An Inconvenient Appendage), and that Mr. Nathan G. William is very very pro take-away-the-babies-from-single-women and promote how incredibly happy and relieved the mothers are to have given their children to some other family, and will go on in that vein all their lives.
Right. They must be lobotomized first.
When I wrote on adoptionvoices.com that adoption was not so friggen' blissful for the adopted people involved, and that first/birth mothers suffered quite tramatic pain and sorrow that lingers on, the happy birth mothers writing found me oh-so-offensive. The one that really got to me was a woman named katie shelly or something like that who said she relinquished at 26, when she owned a home and was a lawyer....yes, she said all that. I wanted to barf.
Well, folks, I invite you all --birth mothers and adopted people--who have not been banned to take a run at these sites and inject some reality into their bubbles. Don't swear and do not personally attack anyone because you won't make it past a post if you do that. Adoption.com has a long list of no-nos at their register page.
And do let us know what happens. Inquiring minds want to know. --lorraine
PS: Cedar Trees has up at her blog an explanation of the term: Birth mother. Or birthmother. Since I use the word so that newbies looking for information about adoption from our point of view, I prefer it as two words...as I don't see adoptive parents saying or writing...adoptiveparents every time they refer to themselves. Apparently they hate the term natural mother because it makes them the unnatural mother. Well, they said it. That would not have occurred to me.
I still smart when I see the woman who insisted on calling my daughter...my "birth daughter." But I don't have the nerve to refer to her adopted daughter as her adopted daughter. I simply try to avoid her.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Like one of our regular readers, Maryanne, I revolted when I learned that the adoption records and my daughter's birth certificate would be sealed to her after her eighteenth birthday, and began quietly searching for her when she was quite young. Okay, as soon as I read about Florence Fisher and the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) in the New York Times on July 25, 1972 in a story headlined: Adopted Children Who Wonder, "What Was Mother Like?" (Note: those interested will probably have to pay to read the piece, as it is in the Times archive.)
Reading the piece it was as if the scales fell from my eyes. My daughter was six years old. I did not realize it then, but that was the day in my heart that I began searching for her. And within the year, I met Florence, began writing about the adoption reform movement, and tried various means to find my daughter's new identity, but all were unsuccessful. I did not formally institute a search for my daughter until she was fifteen, and because all other avenues had been blocked, I simply paid $1,200 to "The Searcher," as he was known, and within weeks had her name, address and phone number, along with that of her parents. They were in a state (Wisconsin) a thousand miles from where I lived on Long Island, New York.
It turned out that he had already found her, and had done the search based on what I had written in Birthmark. I had put all the significant clues in there, hoping her adoptive family would find them, and reach out to me. Wishful thinking, I know. Later I did learn that someone had told my daughter's adoptive mother about Birthmark, but she chose to ignore it. I do not know if the person who suggested she read my memoir saw the similarities in my relinquishment, and their adoption, of a daughter in Rochester, New York on 1966.
But hey, if it was a friend or family member, they had to know the age of their daughter, and where she was adopted...so today I'm going to assume that person was aware that Jane was likely to be the adopted daughter in question. And Mary (my daughter's other mother) did not want to pursue the matter. Remember, this is way back in the dark ages of 1979. Reunions were rare. Very rare.
So, I was what is known as a "seeker" mother; fellow bloggers at FirstMotherForum, Jane and Linda, were sought. Linda was called directly by her daughter and reacted positively immediately, as she has written earlier at FMF; Jane was contacted by an aunt and had a more difficult and lengthy internal emotional process to go through before she was ready for reunion, as she told us in the previous post. But no matter how we reacted to the situation, all three of us became staunch supporters of giving adopted people their original birth records--hell, we're in favor of adoptions never being closed!
Are we anti-adoption? Let me put it this way: I'm not against some form of adoption when the natural mother and her family are totally and completely unable to care for the child. But I have seen too much pain and destruction on the part of both birth/first mothers and adopted people to be much in favor on "adoption" without a zillion caveats. It was just this tone of mine that got me banned from a website chat room of blissful birth mothers called "Adoption Voices." (And by the way, I was invited to join the chat.)
Except for the one first mother who was in an open adoption and eight years later cried buckets when she looked at the son's pictures, or got on the plane after a visit, they were all quite content and happy to have provided a child to complete someone else's family. I posted a couple of times, trying to inject some reality into their gaga stuff I was reading, but whadda know, the administrator yanked me off; told me that the site was about "adoption, not anti-adoption." Linda did some spade work and discovered that a number of the birth mothers posting were...from Utah, the Land of the LDS, The Church of the Latter Day Saints. No comment. Readers might want to join Adoption Voices themselves. I've found other birth mother chat rooms are often supported by an adoption agency....looking for birth mothers who want to tell other birth mothers what a great thing they did.
Now, to the other data from a Confidential Intermediary from Indianapolis, Katrina Carlisle, who is also an adoptive mother.
I am a CI and have been for 18 years. I have 70% birth mothers accepting some form of contact and 30% saying no. Some of the "no" answers end up calling me later with changed minds. When I reach adult adoptees (for the birth mothers) I have almost 100 percent agreeing to at least some form of contact, especially after I remind them this is an opportunity to receive updated medical info.
I am not a birth mother. I am a social worker and an adoptive parent who strongly believes all adult adoptees can benefit from re-connecting with birth families. My daughter is 31 and found her birth family at 23 and it has provided her with a lot of healing and enriched her life. My 34-year old son refuses to consider a search, but I hold out hope that he will change his mind in the future. I also recognize the benefit to the birth mothers in re-connecting with their adult children. I just think it is an all around good thing for everybody. I do a lot of counseling with the adoptive parents to help them understand their child’s need to search.
One thing that has really helped though is asking the adult adoptee to provide me with a non-identifying letter explaining why they are searching and what they are hoping for and also having them include photos. Then I can ask the birth mother if she would like me to send that letter to any address she says, and to read the letter (from her child) before she makes a decision. They have a hard time turning down that letter. I also do counseling and try to support them through telling their husbands or other children about their adoption experience. Our agency is over 100 years old so some of the birth mothers I locate are in their 70’s, 80’s and some even 90’s. They are usually so scared to have this exposed.
I offer birth mothers the opportunity to stay anonymous if they wish. They may correspond with their child through me. I forward the non-identifying letters and pictures they send. Many of the birth mothers choose this option first. It helps them feel protected from someone arriving on their doorstep before they are ready. They feel safer and more in control of the situation. Then, after they correspond for awhile, they begin to feel comfortable and then agree to exchange identifying info. Almost everyone ends up meeting in person eventually. Although, one couple I have has been writing each other for 5 years and still have not agreed to meet.
Katrina Carlisle LSW, BSW
Adoption Search Specialist
St. Elizabeth Coleman
Pregnancy and Adoption Services
Thursday, July 9, 2009
I went to San Francisco in September and Megan was born there in November. She was placed in a foster home and I struggled for a month about what to do. Giving my baby to strangers was wrong but when I tried to visual how to keep my baby, I stared into a blank wall. I finally signed the paper but I told myself our separation would be for only 18 years. I knew that records would be closed but I figured I would go to law school, learn how to beat the system, and find her when she turned 18. By making this promise, I was able to rationalize abandoning my newborn daughter.
While I was in the hospital after Megan was born, an attorney who had been referred by a doctor I had seen who handled private adoptions came to my bedside. The attorney placed babies with Mormon families and knew a Mormon family in Idaho that wanted a baby girl. Idaho and Mormons did not appeal to me and I sent the attorney away.
After I signed the surrender paper at the San Francisco County Social Services Department which served as the adoption agency, the social worker asked me about religious preference, telling me that, while they could not guarantee any religion, my preference would be respected. I had been raised in a liberal Protestant church but I was not religious. I preferred either a non religious family or a liberal Protestant one. However, if it was necessary to give my baby a good home, a Jewish or Catholic family was okay. Remembering the attorney and the Idaho Mormons, I added as an afterthought that that I did not want my daughter to go a family with a non-mainstream religion like Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Seventh Day Adventists. I thought it was unlikely this would happen – after all, I was in ultra-liberal San Francisco. I considered Mormons and the rest as kind of loony. I had known some Mormons in college and they didn’t even drink Coca-cola. One had tricked me into going to a service of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) church by telling me we were going to a meeting which would be beneficial to me. The social worker and I crafted a statement containing my preference for either no religion or a mainstream religion and specifically stating my objection to Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists. Over the years as I learned more about the LDS Church (its racism and opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment), I thought “at least I didn’t let my baby be raised by Mormons.”
I graduated from law school four years later. When 1984 came around, I was living in Salem, Oregon; I had a good job as an administrator for the State of Oregon, was married, and had three more daughters. I decided to put off my search until Megan was 21 telling myself 18 was really too young. While my husband knew that I had placed a baby for adoption, we had not talked about it since the day before our wedding in 1968. My daughters knew nothing about this older sister. In fact the only people close to me besides my husband who knew anything were my now deceased uncle’s widow, a few friends, and of course Megan’s birth father, all of whom lived in Fairbanks, far enough away that I felt secure that my secret would not reach Oregon.
In March of 1987, I came home one evening and my husband told me that my aunt in Fairbanks had called telling him a young girl in Utah or at Brigham Young University, I forget which, was looking for me. My husband had written the girl’s name and phone number on a napkin. I barely looked at the napkin and I did not learn her name for more than ten years. I thought immediately that the caller might be, probably was, my daughter. I refer to her now as my daughter but until we united I always thought of my first born as “the baby.”
I was stunned, terrified. I had heard of adoptees searching but not this young; she was barely 20. I called my aunt reluctantly; I did not want to know anything about this girl in Utah. My aunt told me that she had refused to give the girl my name and phone number. “Did I do the right thing” she asked. “Yes.” I assured her. She said something to the effect that since you have the information, I don’t need to send this. Later I learned that Megan had sent my aunt a letter and I think that’s what my aunt was referring to. At the time, I would have agreed to anything. I wanted to get off the phone. My aunt is a good person but we were not close and I did not like her being involved in my personal life. I was also angry that she had passed along information to my husband instead of waiting until she could talk to me. Since the young woman who called lived in Utah, she was probably a Mormon. I rationalized that it could not be my daughter. It did not occur to me that the social worker might have gone against my wishes.
My husband and I were going out of town for a conference in a few days. I decided not to think about the call and the name on the napkin until we returned and I didn’t. When we came home, I could not find the napkin. My mother-in-law had come to stay with our daughters; she had thrown the napkin away while tidying up. I was relieved.
I feared meeting my birth daughter. She became a ghost, haunting me, ready to strike. For the next few weeks I jumped when the phone rang or someone came to the door. A few months later as I was doing “spring house cleaning,” going through drawers and closets, throwing out the worn, the useless, and the meaningless, I came upon a picture of me taken a few days before Megan was born and the identifying bracelet put on my wrist right after she was born. I had saved these objects for 20 years because it was all that I had of her. I cut them up and threw them away to keep the ghost from returning.
What was I afraid of? Unlike many birthmothers, I was never afraid that people would find out I had sex without being married. I never thought that was wrong. I was afraid of people learning that my life had been out of control, that I had failed myself and my family by getting pregnant, that I was not who I pretended to be: competent, professional, knowledgeable.
My mother died in July of 1988. Death brings to us a need to strengthen the bonds with remaining family members. I began to feel Megan’s absence acutely. My mother never knew about her and never would. I begin thinking about conducting a secret search. I did not think of calling my aunt to ask for the name of the young woman who had called a year and a half earlier. It doesn’t make sense but I had completely blocked out this phone call.
That winter, I came across Florence Fisher’s The Search for Anna Fisher on a table at the library. I snuck to the back of the stacks and read the book in one sitting. It included information about ALMA (Adoptees Liberation Movement Association) which Fisher had founded. I sent in the membership fee and reunion registry information with a note asking that any correspondence be in a plain envelope. Several weeks later I began receiving newsletters with words like adoption, reunion, search spread all over the front page in big letters. I cancelled my membership. Sometime later I received a call inviting me to an ALMA meeting in Salem. I hung up on the caller. I was upset that someone, perhaps someone I knew, a neighbor, a co-worker, a parent at my children’s school, knew my secret.
My aunt, the same aunt, called again. I remember it being in late 1990. She told me a woman was looking for me who said she knew me in college. She gave me the name but it meant nothing. I told her I did not know the woman and asked her not to give the woman my phone number. Again I was terrified. Later I learned that Megan had contacted my aunt in 1991 asking for my number which my aunt refused to give her. That may have been the call that I remember receiving in 1990.
As time went on, I thought more and more about searching. I registered with AOL’s search registry which resulted in a slew of emails from private investigators offering to search for a fee. I thought of writing to the adoption agency in San Francisco but I was afraid my daughters would see the envelope when the agency wrote back. I checked into renting a post office box so that I could keep my correspondence secret and learned that the post office would not rent boxes to people with street addresses.
I can’t explain my thinking because it doesn’t make any sense. On the one hand there was this ghost which if it appeared would change my life for the worse, damaging my relationship with my husband and children, adversely affecting my career, and diminishing my image in the community. I did not want to be seen as a woman who could not manage her life, who at 23 was less rational than a 16 year old in the back seat of a Ford tussling with the high school quarterback. In failing to respond to Megan’s overtures, I did not even consider that I was rejecting her; I deluded myself into thinking that I could excise a part of my life that never should have happened.
On the other hand there was this baby out there somewhere with whom I desperately wanted a relationship in order to restore a missing part of my life. I hid from the ghost and feebly pursued the baby. What I wanted – and needed – was the ability to control the timing and pace of a reunion.
On November 18, 1997, the day after Megan’s 31st birthday my aunt called for the third time and told me my daughter had called and had written again. This was the first time she referred to the caller as “your daughter.” My aunt indicated she was tired of dealing with this woman. I told her I would take care of it and asked her to forward Megan’s letter. Although in retrospect it would be easy to criticize my aunt for not passing along me Megan’s letters or pressing me to contact her. I believe that my aunt meant well. She was trying to protect me. I’m sure she assumed as many do today that I did not want contact. I also think that she had an irrational fear that the story of my pregnancy would be circulated again in Fairbanks which somehow might occur if she cooperated with my daughter. She and my uncle were prominent in Alaska and very concerned about scandal when I became pregnant. Alaska is a dull place for the most part, particularly in winter. The most interesting goings on tend to be the negative, who ran off with who’s husband, who crashed his car while driving drunk, and so on. My aunt was so fearful of possible scandal that she waited until she took a trip to Seattle a few days later to mail Megan’s letter. Apparently she feared someone at the Fairbanks post office would see the envelope and know what was in it.
I could focus on nothing while I waited for Megan’s letter. One minute I wanted to jump off a bridge. The next minute I was euphoric. I knew my life was about to change. While I had read an occasional newspaper article about reunions and The Search for Anna Fisher, I knew little about the search movement or why adoptees searched. I knew nothing about AAC, Origins, Bastard Nation, the local Oregon support group, the International Soundex Reunion Registry, the fight for open records, Lorraine’s memoir Birthmark, Betty Jean Lifton's writings, or any of the other “books." I knew of CUB (Concerned United Birthparents) only through adoptive mother Lucinda Franks’ biased and mean 1993 New Yorker article, “The War for Baby Clausen” about DeBoer case. With work and three daughters I did not have time for morning news shows or daytime talk shows. I barely knew who Phil Donahue was. I prepared to call Megan by watching Secrets and Lies, a 1996 British film about a mother/daughter reunion.
I called Megan on November 24, anticipating the conversation would last less than 15 minutes. It lasted two hours. It was an awkward conversation, however. Megan had a lot of information and misinformation from the adoption agency and I was on the defensive much of time. I learned she was indeed a Mormon to which I expressed my displeasure. I later learned that the social worker had simply written “no Jehovah Witness” on my file. So much for the carefully crafted statement.
Megan told me about her search. In the fall of 1986 when she was 19, she obtained her non-identifying information from the adoption agency. It was so specific that she was able to determine her father's name, where he lived, and my maiden name. She wrote her father. He wrote back (against the wishes of his wife) giving her some information about himself and the name of my aunt who he knew was aware of Megan’s birth. He asked her not to contact him again.
Megan did not tell my aunt who she was, only that she was a young woman in Utah. She believed that if she told my aunt who she was and my aunt told me, I would be less likely to call her. The opposite was true. If I had known who Megan was I would have been more likely to have called because I could not have pretended I did not know who called. Over the years Megan contacted my aunt several more times, keeping her informed of her address in case I should ask for it. My aunt soon realized, if she had not known at the beginning, who this woman was. Several times my aunt told her that I did not want anything to do with her. Learning from some of our readers who have not had contact with their first mothers, I can only imagine how much this must have hurt her.
In the fall of 1997, Megan was living near Chicago where her husband was going to graduate school. He brought home The Joy Luck Club and Tender Mercies as part of a class assignment. These movies about reunion with lost children brought her to tears. Encouraged by some church members, she considered searching again. Although the LDS church discourages searches, it has no formal position against it. Megan prayed to God for guidance. She signed on to alt.adoption, a former newsnet group, and met a birthmother online who encouraged her to search again and be more forceful in her telephone conversations. Megan wrote and called my aunt once more. She also called her father. He was now divorced and agreed to meet her at his home in California where he had moved from Fairbanks several years earlier.
Megan also knew nothing about the search movement. If she had obtained help from a search group, she probably would have been able to find me without going through my aunt. If Megan had contacted me herself I believe I would have responded positively.
I’ve met adoptees who think they can soften the blow on their birthmother by asking a relative (even her husband!) to be a “go between.” A big mistake, I tell them. “Reunion is between you and your mother. Don’t let anyone else, who, for all you know might be your mother’s enemy, get between you.” I suspect that the reason that some confidential intermediaries claim a low reunion rate (fifty percent some assert) is that mothers become angry that a stranger knows their secret. They react negatively and the CI uses that to confirm what the CI believes, that mothers don't want contact. The best practice is for states to give adopted persons their original birth certificates and leave the search to them. Unfortunately this is only possible in six states.
Next: Telling my family, coming out in a full-page newspaper ad for Ballot Measure 58.