Saturday, October 31, 2009
According to an update of the reunion fiasco at NJ.com, Ryba, with financial help from Catholic Charities, petitioned the court in Mercer County to allow Catholic Charities to contact the other six boys adopted through the organization at that time in hopes of finding Ryba's real son. Petition denied.
But the story adds new details about the person being looked for: That the child-now-adult would have been born at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden in November, adopted through the now-closed St. Elizabeth's Home in Yardville, operated through the auspices of Catholic Charities, sometimes after that, probably in December, January or February of 1976. So that's what we know now about the son Ryba is looking for. This means that someone who was really born on November 25, 1975 almost assuredly has a different birth date on his amended birth certificate.
In the previous post we noted that nothing was said of the birth mother's involvement, or why she was not a part of the story, even though her name was released. From someone who posted a comment to our previous post, we learn that Bloete had not been interested, or was not ready, to meet his mother. Ouch! But maybe if we can find the real son of Kathleen Butler, he will want to know his first mother.
All of this confusion and emotional turmoil for all the parties involved is so damned unnecessary: if the birth records were not sealed by law, Ryba, Bloete, Butler--all could find resolution and their suffering and grief could be alleviated. Bloete now wonders who his real parents are. Butler and Ryba are left with nothing.
It is my understanding that Catholic Charities is on the fence trying to decide if they should support the proposed open-records legislation in New Jersey that Pam Hasegawa and Judy Foster along with many others have been working on for decades. We seemingly get close to open records in the state, but are rebuffed year after year. Currently the bill is stalled the in Assembly Human Services Committee, despite approval by the Senate in a 31-7 vote and the support of 50+ (of the 80) Assembly members. It's the committee chair who is sitting on the bill.
So close but yet so far. We can hope that this case and the light it has shown on the inhumanity of injustice of sealed records will push Catholic Charities to our side of the fence, the side of rightness and charity.
As Lisa Thiabult, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities told reporter Matt Fair: "Our mission is to relieve human suffering. If there was anything we could do to solve this mystery and to bring healing and closure to these people we would do it. We share their frustrations and I can appreciate the incredible suffering that has caused all of them."
Francis Dolan, director of New Jersey Catholic Charities added: "Unfortunately, circumstances are such that the adoption laws of the state and regulations that flow them them really prevent us from doing much more than what we've already done in terms of helping Ron and Phil find the information of their life stories."
Well, you two how about supporting open-records legislation? Would not that be the right thing to do? The, ahem, Christian response to this mess?
Dolan said that they facilitate between 10 and 15 reunions a year with a "90 percent" success rate. That number must indicate the 90 percent rate of willingness of the first/birth parents to meet their offspring, since, as this case demonstrates, Catholic Charities is not helping birth parents locate their children. Which leads me to wonder: how is the NJ law written that it allows the agencies to contact birth parents if their children request it, but not the other way around?
Anyone with a New Jersey connection who wants to help push the legislation over the top to success (either a current NJ resident, or a member of the adoption constellation who relinquished, or was born or adopted as a child in New Jersey) should contact the American Adoption Congress's NJ's State Representative, Judy Foster, at firstname.lastname@example.org. New Jersey needs you!
And anyone who knows a male, adopted through New Jersey Catholic Charities in the winter of 1975-76, please pass on this information. A father and a mother are waiting.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
So...switched at birth? Switched at adoption? Just f@#!ed by the sealed records system?
But a great argument for opening up sealed records for adopted people--and their natural/biological parents.
Just as you're planning to do some sit-ups in front of the tube during Good Morning America--up comes the Adoption Story of the Day. A (birth/real/actual/biological, you pick) father, Ron Ryba, can not forget the son he had at sixteen with his high school sweetheart, Kathy Butler, when they were juniors at the Shawnee (N.J.) High School in 1975. The boy was placed for adoption through Catholic Charities of Trenton but Ron, his father can not forget him. He married, and has other children, but still feels the heart tugs for the son who got away. After many years of bugging Catholic Charities, Ryba received a file about his son, detailing his development through the years, even noting his first words. His name was Philip.
"When you have your own children, you bonds, your thoughts...and I go back..and you know there's a piece missing," Ryba told ABC News.
After repeated requests to meet his son, Ryba and the person thought to be his son exchanged letters through Catholic Charities, and a year later the young man was finally ready. They met at a baseball game and talked all the way through it. "The journey I took was a lot of pain," Ryba said. "A lot that I went through, shame as a 16-year-old...so I thought that meeting and seeing this guy who had a great life and loving parents and was a [good thing on] balance. My pain was his joy."
So far, so good, right? Not so fast.
In time the two men grew close, so close that Ryba wanted to add him to his will. At his lawyer's urging, he took a DNA test, apparently along with the first mother.
You know the result right? Otherwise, what's the story? No match with either parent. A complete case of mixed-up files. Both men are broken-hearted. "I thought of Phil," continues Ryba, "and I didn't know what to say to him because he is a great guy and I didn't know what to say to him."
He adds: "Where is my son?"
Ryba claims he went back to Catholic Charities but the Executive Director Francis Dolan told him they can do nothing to help him. "At that moment, Ryba says, "the moral value of what I did was gone." Yes...that is a feeling I can relate to. The moral value of what I did. Despite all the reasons for my relinquishing, I have never been able to let go of the nagging feeling there was no moral value to what I did. It happened. Zero moral gain on my part; much confusion on daughter's part. But that's not the story today.
Director Dolan says he has no idea what happened, that the switch could have happened in the hospital or very early on, that there were at least six boys in the care of Catholic Charities at the time--but because the records are sealed up tight, he cannot do anything for Ryba or Phil (who asked that his last name not be disclosed). Once again, the moral value of the sealed records is less than zero, a negative injustice.
None of those other boys have approached the agency, and without their consent, Dolan said he cannot look in those files (you wanna bet he hasn't?), but added they are ready if anyone calls and says they might be one of those boys and will do what they can to facilitate the right reunion.
As I watched, I kept waiting for the reporter, Yunji De Nies, or someone to give the salient facts--such as: Where exactly did this happen? And what is Phil's birthday, so if a relative or friend of the right man is watching, or the person himself...but nada. I watched the story twice and the only way you know that this is happening at the Trenton Catholic Charities is by reading the word "Trenton" carved in the building as Dolan walks out. Nor did the reporter or GMA host Diane Sawyer give the birth date, which fortunately are in the written story. Made me crazy.
So the birth date of the boy, now grown man, we are looking for: November 25, 1975. Hospital unknown, but almost certainly in the somewhere in New Jersey. Placed with Catholic Charities. Maybe the mother of another of those boys will read this and find her way to the Catholic Charities...and contact at least that son, and either be reunited or find Ryba's missing son. We will stay tuned.
But not all was lost with the airing of the story. Publicity about the injustice and stupidity and heartbreak of sealed records is always a good thing. The story did end with a short discussion between Sawyer and De Nies that touched upon the injustice (no, they did not use that word, but it was implied, so they get points for that) of sealed records, but that thought sure was left in the minds of all viewers except say, those legislators in New Jersey and New York who will not support opening up the sealed records. Makes me nuts, yes it does.
So...if you happen to know a 34-year-old adopted man born near or on November 25, 1975, tell him that someone might be looking for him and to contact the Trenton Catholic Charities. A father is waiting. Here's the link to the video clip: Attempt to Reunite with Son Given Up for Adoption Brings Frustration.
Well, you ask, where was the mother in this story? Her name was given--Kathy Butler--so supposedly she allowed that, but there was no mention of her searching or not, or what kind of reunion she had with her son, or did not have. She did agree to the DNA test however, so she is not completely MIA. This was a complete turnabout from the usual birth mother-searching-father-doesn't-care-much story that is more common, and while it was refreshing to see a father who wanted to find his offspring, I did feel that the missing mother was somehow like the ones I read about on FaceBook, where so often someone posts about having a rejecting mother, or a found natural family that does not treat him or her well. However, she did allow her name to be used, so at least she's not in the closet. Maybe she just didn't want her 15 minutes of fame.
If you live in a sealed records state--there are 42 of them--write your state legislators today and demand that in the name of justice, the records be opened. How long do we have to wait? Depends on how many of us--adoptees and birth/first parents--act up.--lorraine
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Not in today's world.
Two Sundays ago I read the New York Times's Modern Love in the Style section (To Nurture Again, With Courage), and discover early on that it is the story of how a woman feels when her two-year-old daughter adopted from China is ill, as this girl is a replacement for her natural daughter who died a year or so earlier. Okay, I'm thinking, that's got to be weird, growing up knowing that you only ended up in that family because--somebody else died. I think about writing a letter, but you know, sometimes I am just tired of it all.
That night, or the next, I watch Criminal Minds and come upon a story about a nutjob and his just-as-sick dying wife who pay someone to abduct blonde, blue-eyed girls of child-bearing age whom they lock up in the basement, impregnate and hope for a boy to replace the boy-child who died several years earlier. If a girl is born, she is left at a church and put up for adoption. (Shades of China, right?) The nutcase couple have already given away a couple of girls, the guy has killed the teenagers who were unfortunate to give birth to girls, but the investigators can amazingly enough trace one of those kids (through DNA left on the corpse which has been dug up, yes, it's icky but that's modern science) to the real grandparents. (Real, I said, real, yes I did.)
You, dear reader, can already see where this is going. Do we have another Baby Anna Schmidt/Jessica DeBoer/Anna Mae He case on our screens? Will the grandparents sue for custody, ripping the child from the loving arms of the strangers who have given her the only home she knows? The script contains a bit discussion about the grandparents' legal right to their offspring, and what's in the best interest of the child, should not the child stay in her stable home? Someone says that the grandparents would probably not have any trouble getting the kid back, as they are her biological grandparents, and I'm thinking, What planet do you live on, scriptwriter? No problem? And the kid is....what six or seven? Have you read about these kinds of cases in the last twenty years? Now I'm hooked, for sure. No changing channels til I see how this plays out.
Of course, by the hour's end, the secret basement jail is found, the young mother who just gave birth to a boy still there is happily reunited with her child immediately, but the darling blond boy found upstairs watching television when the cops came in? Who is currently being raised by the nutjob parents? Mom is dying (stage four breast cancer), dad is clearly going to prison. Is the boy going to go "into the system?" No, we have a tidy ending to make everybody happy. Fortunately, he is also the offspring of the aforementioned grandparents, sharing their DNA, and the fade out shows them meeting him while a voice over informs us that the adoptive parents of their other grandchild has agreed to some sketchy idea of visitation. Whew!
Yesterday afternoon a friend who is the health honcho at Consumer Reports sent me a press release from the University of North Carolina informing me that children adopted from overseas have no greater disabilities than children adopted domestically:
For immediate use: Monday, Oct. 26, 2009
UNC study: Disability rates similar for internationally, domestically
CHAPEL HILL - Children adopted from overseas have disability rates similar to those adopted from within the United States, according to new research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Results of the first national study of disabilities among internationally adopted children appear in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics. The study's authors are Philip N. Cohen, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology in UNC's College of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the Carolina Population Center, and Rose M. Kreider, Ph.D. of the U.S. Census Bureau.
Cohen and Kreider examined data from the 2000 U.S. Census for about 82,220 internationally and 972,200 domestically adopted children with sensory, physical, mental and self-care disabilities. They found that disability rates for internationally adopted children (11.7 percent) and domestically adopted children (12.2 percent) were more than twice the rate for all children aged 5 to 15 (5.8 percent).
Other findings related to international adoptees' gender, age at
adoption and country of origin included:
* Girls (10.2 percent, compared to 13.7 percent of boys) and infants (7.2 percent, vs. 15.2 percent of children adopted at ages 2 to 4, and 9.9 percent of children adopted at ages 5 to 9) were less likely to have
* Disability rates for Chinese and Korean adoptees were noticeably lower than that of domestic adoptees (3.7 percent and 7.1 percent vs. 12.2 percent); however, the rate was close to twice as high among children
adopted from Romania (21.1 percent).
* Internationally adopted children were significantly more likely to have sensory disabilities (2 percent vs. 1.4 percent), but less likely to have mental disabilities (9.7 vs. 10.9) than children adopted from within the U.S.
* Internationally adopted boys; children aged 8 to 13; those who lived with single parents; and children with non-Hispanic white parents were most likely to have a disability.
Cohen, the parent of two daughters adopted from China, said he hoped the finding that international adoption by itself does not constitute a greater risk for disability than domestic adoption would dispel some
stereotypes about international adoption.
(Okay, a comment--What stereotypes about adoption? We are pelted with pictures of adorable girls from China, cute boys from Ethiopia, sweet girls from Guatemala.)
"I hope it will help prevent alarmism about international adoption," he said. "The information is important for health, education and social services professionals as well as adoptive parents, and it may help policymakers assess the risks and challenges these children face and identify the resources necessary to address them."
Cohen said all adopted children face risks, but parents and service providers can prevent and respond to those challenges. "Children in need of families are our youngest, most vulnerable citizens," he said.
Last night on the Wendy Williams Show, the Times said that The Locator, Troy Dunn, would be a guest. But I could not even find the "Wendy Williams Show" on the tube so I missed that. But give me a few hours. I'm sure I'll run into an adoption connection before the day is out. I'm going to see Capitalism in a few hours, but I'm sure something will come along.
But I think I'll avoid having a burger afterward at the Corner Bar where a paper placemat in the past featured an 800 number for women with babies to relinquish to call.--lorraine
Sunday, October 25, 2009
"The economy has made them take a second look at adoption," says Scott
Marsof American Adoptions, a private agency in Overland Park, Kan. In the past year, he's seen a 10% to 12% increase in women inquiring about placing a child for adoption and a 7% to 10% increase in actual placements, as strong demand for healthy infants continues to outstrip the supply.
Elsewhere I read that Adoption Associates, an agency in Jenison, Michigan had trouble paying its bills and asked families to cough up an extra $2,500 per family if they wished the agency to not go under. Since agencies are prohibited by law from soliciting funds while an adoption is pending, the state took its license away, but the agency has since gotten it back. From Woodtv.com in Grand Rapids:"We've seen a dramatic increase in girls calling us from the hospital," says
JosephSica of Adoption By Shepherd Care, an agency in Hollywood, Fla. He says they expect to get help to raise their children, so they wait, but after they give birth and no help arrives, they call. He had 14 such adoptions in 2008, up from 11 in 2007 and four in 2006. "Finances are one of the major reasons women feel compelled to place their children for adoption," says Adam Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research group.
Amy Rivera is one parent who is skeptical. She says days before she was to bring her daughter home, the agency told her she had to cough up $6,000 more dollars.
"At that point, you do anything to bring your baby home," she said. Rivera credits the agency for connecting her with her little girl but the adoption process left her cold.
"I don't feel they were straightforward with the process, what the cost would be, how much we'd have to invest. I feel like we were deceived when it came to how much we paid, overall." Private adoptions can cost anywhere between $16,000 - $32,000. Adoption Asssociates says 90 percent of their families agreed to pay the fees.The comments below the story are not kind about the agency. I happen to know that part of Michigan, and it is a poor area indeed, and not at all heavily populated. I'll hazard an informed guess here, and suggest that their clientele of adoptive parents come from all over the state, and especially more affluent areas, making this yet another examples of how poor women are the carriers of babies for the wealthy, the moderately well off, or simply, the better off then the natural/birth/first mother.
If you want to have your hair curl in righteous outrage, see Osolomama's excellent post on the Christian push to adoption: Adoption: When Satan Doesn't Want You To.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
According to the 2008-09 Report, adoptions were down from 56 in 2007-08 although it’s not clear by how much. It claims 53 completed adoptions although other figures in the report indicate 47 placements in 2008-09. The decrease may have resulted from the poor economy – if you’ve lost your high-paying hi-tech job, deferring parenthood or taking a freebie from the foster care system rather than plunking down big bucks to an upscale adoption agency is a good way to cut costs. Still, according to its 2007 990 report, filed this May with the IRS, OA&FS had revenues of $1,273,898 which translates to $22,500 per kid in 2007-08 which of course would have gone a long way to helping their natural families raise them.
OA&FS is dealing with this downturn through marketing aimed at Prospective Adoptive Parents who were considering black and brown kids from abroad. US ratification of the Hague Convention and reports of widespread corruption in foreign adoptions has made these kids more difficult to acquire and OA&FS is hoping to benefit from a new-found, recession-spurred interest in domestic adoption.
Of course, as OA&FS creates more demand, it needs to produce more supply. According to the Annual Report, it “conducted outreach presentations to over 2,500 health professionals, social workers, and others regarding its “unique open adoption services.” The outreach included a “Pregnancy Options Dialogue” with Planned Parenthood and other partners.
OA&FS has trained over 200 Oregon Department of Human Services caseworkers about its program. “Having the ability to make a voluntary adoption plan through OA&FS supports birthparents in making a proactive choice, provides the child immediate permanency and diverts a case away from the already burdened state system.” One can only wonder how voluntary the adoption plan is with a DHS caseworker breathing down a mother’s neck. (“Don’t want the State to take your baby? GIVE him away!”)
OA&FS is increasing its efforts to plow the fertile teen ground. According to the Report currently only about 25 percent of the 13,000 to 14,000 women who surrender newborn infants are teens. “Agency staff reached out to Planned Parenthood Teen Councils and teen support groups.” In addition OA&FS “presented a workshop at the Oregon School-Based Clinic conference. ...Throughout the year, OA&FS counselors shared information about open adoption to over 350 teens attending public and alternative high schools, and the professionals who work with them.”
Oregon and Washington have recently mandated more comprehensive sex education in public schools and OA&FS has found sex ed classes to be “an ideal opportunity to increase access to adoption resources for students and to increase adoption-related training for teachers, counselors, and school nurses.” OA&FS’s well-paid Executive Director, Shari Levine ($103,283 including benefits in 2007-08), boasts that using her position as co-chair of the Teen Pregnancy and Young Parent Network for Multnomah County (Portland), she “has made great strides toward the inclusion of pregnancy options as part of sex education in schools.”
OA&FS has found a potential goldmine in the Latina population because, according to the Report, 53 percent of Latinas in the US will have at least one pregnancy before age 20. To mine the supply of possible babies from the Latina population, OA&FS has added bilingual staff to recruit Latinas, a group that has been resistant to giving their children to strangers, apparently because Latinas are unfamiliar with the more “advanced” customs of their adopted country.
OA&FS reports that the average age of OA&FS birthmothers was 25; the average age of birthfathers, 28; adoptive parents, 40. Me, I wonder how many of those parents, average age 40, consider themselves to be "infertile." Which is of course, the biological norm for a woman aged 40.
Seventy-four percent of the children surrendered had zero to mild prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol. By including this information about the natural parents, OA&FS makes its product more attractive to those considering “building their families through adoption.” Of course, these facts also raise the question of why these infants are available for adoption in the first place. It’s kind of like banks today which only lend money to those who don’t need it.
OA&FS also reports that fourteen or 30 percent of its adopting families in 2008-09 were gay or lesbian. I have mixed feelings about this. When I surrendered my daughter in 1966, it was so she could have a married mother and father which I had learned from health ed classes and the media (particularly Ann Landers and TV sit coms) constituted a proper family. The desirability of the nuclear family, however, is apparently a thing of the past, except perhaps to religious conservatives.
I have no love for the “Leave it to Beaver” family model which would have excluded me as a single parent. On the other hand, the image of newborn infants leaving their mothers’ arms to be raised by a couple of men in their 40’s who have no biological connection to them leaves me cold as well, particularly when their natural mothers are healthy women in their 20’s, not at all like the hip and smart-ass teenager portrayed in Juno. Let me add before I get accused of homophobia, that I have no problem with gays, single persons, or anyone else adopting or fostering children who need homes.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
By the time my relinquished daughter was around eleven or twelve news of the adverse side effects of DES (diethylstilbestrol), a hormone given to women to prevent miscarriages, were making headlines. And although I had not taken DES, I had taken birth control pills after a pregnancy test was negative--when I was indeed pregnant. Consequently, I took birth control pills for the next four and a half months, spotted menstrual blood and called that proof I was not pregnant, clinging to the youthful delusion that I was not with child. (Though I suspected I was, but as as a single woman in 1965, I soooo wanted to believe that I was not having a baby.)
Now it's several years later, I've become a health writer, and because I looked into it, I know that the birth control pills from the mid-Sixties when I was pregnant were several times stronger than what they would later be. And just like DES, they are hormones, and I was taking them in the first trimester, when drugs can have a severe reaction in the developing fetus. My first thought was: What if my daughter is having problems caused by the birth control pills I took? Her parents need to know pronto! What if...she needs to be checked by a doctor, what if...I wrote to the agency immediately, and told them my concerns. And I also thought it would be a way of letting my daughter's family--and quite possibly, my daughter herself--know that I still thought about her. And then, I waited. For weeks.
This was actually the second time I had written to the agency; the first time was just a letter when she was around five asking if someone could let me know...how she was doing. I felt as if somehow she had been contacting me, urging me to get in touch with the agency. I could not put the thought out of my head that my daughter needed me. Somehow, she needed me. I could just feel it.
No, the social worker who wrote back could not tell me anything about her, she said in a letter, adding that she was fine and "happy with her new family." I no longer have the letters--I gave them to my daughter--but I remember those words as if I could read them again today. Fine and happy with her new family. Words that both cut like a stab to the heart--that she had a new family-- and yet a blessed relief--that she was not languishing or had been returned as defective goods.
Eventually a letter came back to my second letter about the birth control pills repeating that she was fine and settled with her family and wishing me well with my life. (I read: Thanks, but no thanks, and here's some advice: Get on with your life. Stop thinking about her, and stop writing to us, we can't help you.) The letter was much more definite about me moving on.
Unbeknown to me, my daughter's physician, who was treating her for epilepsy, had written to the agency, Northaven Terrace in Rochester, New York, around the same time I had written the first letter. That letter, I would later learn, went unanswered. Nada. Her epilepsy came with both grand mal and petit mal seizures. They were severe, frequent, and their after effects, emotionally devastating. To prevent injuries when she fell over, she was wearing a hockey helmet to school. Yet I only heard she was happy and fine with her new family. Her doctor had wanted more information about me, but given the state of New York's sealed records law, the agency did nothing.
But when I wrote the second time, and again received the pat answer that she was fine, someone did write the family and tell them about the birth control pills. Jane's other mother said when they got that letter--six or seven years after they had written the first time--she thought: Where were you when we needed you? Why is this letter coming so many years later?
This story does not have a happy ending, as regular readers know. All her life my daughter had to take strong drugs to control her seizures, and even then, she was still prone to the short, absence (the new name for petit mal) seizures. After we were reunited in 1981, research on epilepsy finds that birth control pills leech Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) out of the body, and another study found that a lack of B6 may lead to epilepsy, and that some epileptics are helped by the vitamin:
Once in a great while, seizures in newborns and infants are caused by a deficiency of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). It is important to recognize the deficiency because it is a very treatable cause of seizures. The diagnosis can be established by seeing whether the seizures improve when vitamin B6 is given by mouth, or by recording the EEG while injecting vitamin B6. An improvement in the EEG patterns indicates a vitamin B6 deficiency.Elsewhere on the net I read:
For some, the answer just might and probably is in vitamins. In all accounts, epilepsy is the same as convulsions, which can be caused by a lack of Vitamin B6 and Magnesium. It was documented that children were given one teaspoon of Epsom Salts in juice for breakfast along with 25mg of Vitamin B6 with each meal. In one week, the medications were ceased. None of the patients had another seizure.What do I think? Of course, I knew. The birth control pills I took caused her epilepsy. By the time we met, when she was fifteen, she was well into treatment with Depakane, and later, Depakote, both strong drugs that were later found to have a connection to suicide. She never did try the B6 therapy.
I found my daughter in 1981, nearly three decades ago; but this is how the sealed records law from 1935 still works in New York State. The law is as broken and defective as our current health care system, and yet the records are still by and large sealed in 42 states. This is an outrage of justice. I can only find hope in these words by Martin Luther King: “The moral arc of justice is long, but it bends towards justice.”
I grant that I knowingly and solely am responsible for relinquishing my daughter in 1966. Other than the pressures of the times against a single woman keeping her child, I was not coerced into giving her up. I did it, yes I did, and I take full responsbility for that. Yet considering the totally devastating effects that my daughter's relinquishment had on my mental state over the course of my lifetime and continuing today, more than four decades later, considering how the medical information her doctor should have been privy to at the time of her first seizure and how that might have changed the course of her life, I am not a fan of adoption as it was practiced when I relinquished my daughter, and it remains today.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
If the curiosity were not natural and normal, genealogists would be out of work, the Ellis Island website would not exist, adopted people would not be hankering for their original birth certificates. Everyone, at some level, desires to know who we are, how come we exist today, what our stories were before we were born. Only someone who has put on blinders to stifle this need denies such basic questions of identity.
I have one acquaintance who has done this--after going so far to hire a searcher but pulled back before he completed the search--and adoption, surrrender, et cetera is something we simply do not talk about. We did once, after she learned who I was--someone who had given up a child. I like her, we have many shared interests, but we can never be truly close. We will remain friends as a foursome--two couples, and we two women will not stray beyond those bounds. Not because she's missing a piece of her identity, but because she choose to shut down this part of her, and because I believe she does not want to be too close to me either. So be it.
Second, there is long story in the New York Times (9/8/09) about single women in South Korea who keep their babies (Group Resists Korean Stigma for Mothers on Their Own) have bonded together to give each other the support society denies them. The Korean society descrbied sounds very much like the one I had my daughter in back in 1966:
Societal pressure drives thousands of unmarried women to choose between abortion, which is illegal but rampant, and adoption, which is considered socially shameful but is encouraged by the government. The few women who decide to raise a child alone risk a life of poverty and disgrace.Okay, abortion was hard to come by in this country in 1966 unless you had a connection or were wealthy. I was neither connected nor wealthy. But how does the South Korean government treat these women today who keep their babies, how does it show an actual preference for adoption?
The government pays a monthly allowance of $85 per child tho those who adopt children. It offers half that for single mothers of dependent children.The single mothers also have trouble finding jobs, and one woman said that she was turned down eight times, and each time that a company learned she was an unmarried mother, they accused her of dishonesty. The story in the Times did not shy away from the brutality of giving up a child. As one woman who chose to keep her baby said:
My brother said: "How can you be so selfish? You can't do this to our parents," said Ms. Choi Hyong-sook, 37, a hairdresser in Seoul. "But when the adoption agency took my baby away, I felt as if I had thrown him into the trash. It felt as if the earth had stopped turning. I persuaded them to let me reclaim my baby after five days."Yet some women persist, and they have found a champion in seemingly the most unlikely of persons: Richard Boas, an ophthalmologist from Connecticut who adopted a Korean girl in 1988. He said he was helping other Americans adopt foreign children when he visited a social service agency in South Korea in 2006 and began rethinking his "rescue and savior mentality." He encountered a roomful of pregnant single women, all around 20 years old. "I looked around and asked myself why these mothers were all giving up their kids," he said. His aha! moment led him to start the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, which lobbies for better welfare services from the state. A Korean-born adoptee who grew up in Minnesota had this to say:
What we see in South Korea today is discrimination against natural mothers and favoring of adoption at the government level," said Jane Jeong Trenka, 37, who now leads Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea, one of two groups organized by Korean adoptees who have returned to their homeland to advocate for the rights of adoptees and unwed mothers. "Culture is not an excuse to abuse human rights."Well, after reading that statement I wanted to cheer. Can we get these two on talk shows to reach out to the celebrity crowd (Madonna, Katherine Heigl, Angelina, to name a few) who seem to think they can save the world by adopting from poor countries? (See 73Adoptee for her thoughts on the Heigl adoption.) and all the people who follow their example.
The story from South Korea reminded me of sharing a bus to the airport in Pittsburgh after the kinship and identity conference two years ago with a Korean adoptee, a PhD candidate here in the United States. She was clearly conflicted about having been torn away from her culture halfway around the world, for the poetry she read the night before at the conference was not celebrating her happiness and bliss about being raised in a foreign land. Quite the opposite. That sunny Sunday morning she was irritated, she said, because the program for creative works such as poetry, prose and film was scheduled late in the evening and held in one of the more distant buildings, pretty much guaranteeing that it would be poorly attended. In fact, the only people who were present were a handful of adoptees, their friends and partners, and ALL the birth mothers (uh, that would be three of us by then, as one had already left) at the entire conference, as the overwhelming participation was of adoptive-mother-academics. They were most interested (or in many cases, only interested) in the kinship their adopted children formed with their new, imposed culture, that of the academic adopter. Everyone was at least marginally polite, but I did feel like a stranger in a strange land there. The academics did not seek me out. I was more of a...um, pariah. But I digress.
What will it take to educate the world that coercing women--through culture pressure, through financial incentives, through some Christian group out to "save the children"--that giving up their children leads not to the warm and fuzzy outcome trumpeted today? Certainly not conferences like that. Certainly not the programs on television such as Adoption Diaries where teary prospective adoptive parents "thank" the young woman who bore a child for her great "gift" as she hands over her baby.
Gift, my eye. Giving a gift should not lead to a lifetime of sorrow and regret of the giver. And unless we are some kind of new senseless automatons, without emotions, that is the outcome.
I cannot rewrite my personal history; I can never have my daughter back, and now, she is dead. But I can rail against the spreading of the lie that giving up a child is a good deed because it makes someone else happy. For two of the parties involved, adoption is always painful.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
For at least the fifth time, according to the New York Times, the Supreme Court yesterday (Oct. 5, 2009) declined to wade into the heavily litigated question of whether states can be compelled to offer specialty plates that say "Choose Life." The Court declined to hear Choose Life Illinois v. White, and thus let stand a lower court ruling that Illinois was NOT required to offer plates with the tag Choose Life, along with some 60 other styles because it had "excluded the entire subject of abortion from its specialty plate program.
But don't go dancing in the streets just yet: Twenty-two states across the country, including Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, already have "choose-life" plates. Choose Life Inc. the Florida-based organization that started the nationwide campaign, has raised over $6 million there from at least 40,000 drivers. As Linda noted, it's the inherently pro-adoption message in the slogan and how Choose Life Inc. uses the money it gets from the plates that gives us a migraine: "The fees raised from the plates in New Jersey would go to crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes and nonprofit adoption agencies selected by the Children First Foundation."
And who started the Choose Life campaign? And how did it get that slogan? According to NJ.com:
Elizabeth Rex, president of the Children First Foundation, said "Choose Life" isn't actually the motto of her organization. "Our slogan is 'Adoption, it's the best choice,'" she said.
After she and her husband, Charles, adopted two children, she decided she wanted to support women with unwanted pregnancies in making that decision.
We are not advocating that any group start a fund-raising campaign to get "Choose Living Death: Adoption" on a plate any time soon, but let's hear it for the Supreme Court for not giving the pro-adoption lobby yet another toehold in the public consciousness. Now we need someone in each of the 22 states that does allow the Choose Life plates to bring suit against the states--and get the bleepin' Choose Life plates off the road. --lorraine
We're not done talking about medical histories and sealed records, and will return to the subject later this week. Please continue to post comments of personal stories of how updated medical information would have been helpful to someone to yesterday's blog, below.
Monday, October 5, 2009
According to the National Cancer Institute, studies have indicated that women who carry these gene mutations have a 60 percent or higher risk of developing breast cancer over the course of their lives. That's right, sixty percent. Now how would you, dear legislator, dear Helene Weinstein (to name one who is adamantly opposed to open records in New York) like to be walking around carrying that gene inside you and not know it?
Yet Ms.Weinstein (of Brooklyn) and other legislators of her persuasion continue to block giving adopted adults their original birth records--the only way adoptees can realistically access their family medical histories. As it stands now, if you're adopted in 42 states, you're out of luck. The state claims that it is "protecting " women from being harassed by their children coming back and saying, Hello, can you tell me what I should be on the lookout for? Breast cancer in the family? Heart disease? Depression? PMDD? Oh, I'm not supposed to know anything because that might embarrass someone?
How anyone can justify keeping original birth records sealed--and preventing the six million adopted people from knowing their medical histories--is quite frankly beyond my comprehension. Given what we know about the importance of a medical history, keeping them from adopted people is a willful act of cruel and inhumane treatment. It is sacrificing the health and well-being of an entire class of people to protect the "privacy" of another--who, in all likelihood knows all the details of their family medical history.
Legislators who oppose open records (because it's going to bust apart their vision of the happy adopted family somewhere in their OWN family) hide behind the skirts of women who gave up their children. Instead of admitting they are looking out for the adoptive parents who support sealed records forever! they say that we first/birth mothers want to be, and thus must be, "protected" from our children. In fact, most of us desperately want to know the children we lost to adoption.
Apparently the legislators have not read the data (which we give them) that now overwhelmingly supports birth mothers in favor of open records. I'm looking at a draft of a study that may come out of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute soon, and the first item notes that "In one study, 82 percent of birth parents said they would be interested in meeting their children." In Tennessee, which has open records, 99 percent of the women were found to have welcomed contact from the children they surrendered for adoption. In other states with corresponding date (Arizona, New Jersey, North Carolina, New Mexico and Washington) 95 percent of the women share this view.
That's why this whole business of keeping the records sealed because of the promised secrecy is so bleepin' phony. If the legislators actually looked at the facts and figures of who wants to know what happened to their children and how they are, and who is going to drive their car into the river if the records are open, and balance some outrageous claim against the good that would come from giving adoptees access to the information of their birth, the records would be open in all 50 states tomorrow.
I'd like to strap Ms.Weinstein and a few other jokers in Albany (any any state capital) who oppose opening the records to a chair and make them watch back-to-back-to back episodes of The Locator where birth mothers are reunited with their children.
As for Ms. Raezer, she discovered a lump in her breast, and her doctor blew it off originally, but because she knew she had the mutated gene, she insisted on getting further testing, and indeed, what was thought to be a harmless cyst turned out to be malignant. She, along with her sister who was adopted, had both breasts removed. And today Ms. Raezer is the contented mother of a one-year-old. Her sister's name was not revealed because her adoptive parents do not know she searched and found her first biological genetic real family. Maybe they are friends of some legislator who votes against open records. But I digress.
How important is knowing your medical history? From the AOL story:
Carrie Zabel, MS, a genetic counselor with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, says the story of Raezer and her sister is not surprising. Even though Raezer doesn't carry a mutation of one of the BRCA genes, it's possible there are other gene mutations carried in families that scientists haven't discovered yet. "For most families, these gene mutations are inherited," she says. "Therefore, looking at your family history is important." In a case like Raezer's it's especially important. "Being a young age at diagnosis is a red flag to a genetic predisposition," Zabel adds.
"Know your family history, and remember your dad's relatives are important, too," advised Zabel. She recommends that women begin performing monthly self breast exams at age 18 and that they make sure to receive a clinical breast exam from their doctor every year as well. While the standard recommendation for the general population is to start getting annual mammograms at age 40, Zabel says that even if you have a family history or a genetic marker, that doesn't necessarily mean starting mammograms earlier. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that the radiation from mammograms can actually put women with damaged DNA at even greater risk for cancer.
So even though knowing your family history might save your life, Weinstein and her ilk still stand at the gate and keep the records sealed. Why? Because they can.
And while legislators are rethinking their dumb and unjust position on sealed records, they ought to go the whole mile and allow the women who surrendered their childre access to the names and addresses of the parents who adopted them. To tell me I agreed to the sealed records is friggen' poppycock. It was sealed records or "We can't help you." And it was not written down in the papers I signed.
But don't get me started on this.--lorraine
We'd love to hear stories from anyone about what the lack of medical records has meant to them.
Friday, October 2, 2009
It ain't easy. In my own case, I was able to keep my pregnancy secret from my family, and so I had to deal with coming out of the first/birth mother closet years later. I was living in another state, New York, quite far away from home in Michigan, when I became pregnant. I was twenty-three, less than a year out of college, and kept up the pretense that I was still working as a newspaper reporter in Rochester, when in fact, I had quit my job and was hiding in my apartment.
My window to the outside world was through the father of my child, Brian, who came every day (he worked) after he was done for the day. On a newspaper, the hour one leaves the office is often on a sliding scale--you might work through "lunch" on deadline, you might be filing a late story, you might be out on a long-term assignment. Thus he had a certain amount of leeway. Yes, he was married and had a family. I was the "other woman." Which is why I suppose I have a certain amount of sympathy for John Edwards' other woman, Rielle Hunter, and the father of his last child. Yes, I do, but that's another story.
Eventually my parents tried to call me at work and the operator told them I had not been there for months! But she put them through to the City Editor, a good man who knew about me and knew the secret I and his star political reporter were keeping. He told them I was working on a undercover operation.
Right. I sure was.
But I was able to get through this sticky situation without my having to fess up, and amazingly enough, I had the baby without my family back in Detroit knowing anything about it. Considering all the grief that would have entailed, it was easier to go it alone than have to look my parents in the eye and admit I was pregnant. The year was 1966. A few months after my daughter was born I found a job in Albany.
Two years later, my father died. He never knew. His death was a huge blow because I loved him intensely. We were alike in so many ways beyond the physical. But his death meant I would never have to tell him how I had screwed up. You see, he and I had fought for years over whether I should go college, and then over whether I would ever get a job as a reporter, because he did not believe girls needed to go to college because they were all going to get married and have children anyway. Old world, poor family, old school. After what had transpired between us, telling him that I had indeed become pregnant as a single woman would not have been, ah, easy. I threw two flowers in his grave over the casket--one for me, one for my daughter--but I was relieved of admitting what I had done, how I had failed him, myself, everyone. I was still stinking with shame.
At one time, my mother quizzed me about the "undercover" operation--what ever happened to that story you were supposedly working on, she wanted to know, what was it about?--and somehow the story morphed to me having mononucleosis during that period, I did not want to worry them, et cetera, and while she was doubtful, I kept to my story. Oh, a tissue of lies.
I married the same year my father died, and told my first husband my horrible secret with my heart palpitating, boom boom, feeling the hot flash of an anxiety attack, will he change his mind? when he asked me to marry him. Yes, it was not easy. Yes, I did not know what he would say. Yes, I was terrified, like jumping out of an airplane. But I got through it and we got married.
Fast forward seven years later. I was divorced, and had become involved in the movement to open records for--hell, everyone, not just adopted people, but mothers like me too! Why not? I had only agreed to the ridiculous and stupid "sealed forever" part of the contract because I had no choice. As I noted before, when I protested, Mrs. Helen Mura, my social worker, said, "Well, then we can't help you. You have to agree to this." The law that had sealed all the records from me had been in place in New York since 1935, and the agency, and Mrs. Mura, were not about to try any shenanigans getting around the law with anyone who balked at signing her child away. Northaven Terrace, the agency, would not help me with the adoption unless it was according to the letter of the law, and that meant, she--and I--were doomed to a fate of anonymity. My child would get a new identity, and I was supposed to act as if I never had a daughter. Maybe this is why I do not flinch from comparing the current adoption model in most states to slavery, because I felt totally coerced into signing papers I did not agree with. I was alive and conscious, yes, but forced to enter into an ageement I did not agree with. The state had all the power as surely as if it held a gun to my head.
I had nowhere to turn. I remember going home from the agency that day full of even more tears and sorrow and telling Brian this latest and unbelievable insult being added to the injury of giving away a child in the first place. Left without a choice, I went through with surrendering my daughter knowing full well that the secrecy I was forced to agree to was further punishment for giving her up. What monster wrote this law? I wondered.
Yet because I could, I had kept this secret from my family for years. But after I had testified in court twice for adoptees hoping to get their original records in New York and New Jersey, I knew I had to spill the beans to all and everyone concerned. Now I had to tell my mother. I went home for a long weekend with this on the agenda. I took her to lunch at a nice place, we ordered gin and tonics and fish as the entree, but between the drinks and the main course, I told her. You just have to start saying the words and hope for the best. Somehow a version of I had a baby and gave her away gets the story across economically. You can fill in the details later.
My mother was absolutely great. Her first words were "Oh honey...." She first said that she was sorry that she had not been there to be a comfort to me, and then...after I told her about the fight to open the records and all, that I was going to be public and she might see my name in the paper and the neighbors would talk...she said, I think you are doing the right thing. I think everybody who is adopted must wonder who their real parents are--how could they not? I hope I live long enough to meet her.
We sent back the fish pretty much untouched. Then I had to tell my two brothers, one older, one younger, and since I did not see them together that weekend, I had to go through this twice more than weekend. They were cool about it too.
What a relief to not have this secret anymore! What a relief to share with my mother on Christmas why now I always got teary during the carols sung during Mass. Silent Night has such a mournful tune, and it seemed to be a dirge for the baby I did not have. Now we could talk about this huge thing that had occurred, and I did not have to pretend all was fine when my daughter's birthday rolled around. My mother, a Catholic who never missed mass on Sunday, started praying for this new granddaughter and our hoped-for reunion.
And then I started writing about being a first mother--I didn't use that word, I did not even use birth mother then--I was a mother who had a baby and gave her away. The more I wrote about it, the easier it got. I've had people say nasty things--one psychiatrist who was dating a girl friend told her that she "didn't want to end up like me." And you know, he's right. No one should end up like us. It's a life of grief and tears and sorrow.
Most media interviewers have been understanding and sympathetic--Regis Philbin had me on his show in 1979 when other people wouldn't even touch the subject--but some have been incredibly nasty and accusatory, practically calling me a slut. Most of the criticism comes in the form of: HOW DARE YOU? Who do you think you are that you can disrupt the very very very happy adoption and family that I am utterly positive your daughter is situated in!
Nearly all of the criticism expresses sympathy for the saintly adoptive parents...who took in my poor child when I did not want her (wrong) and now, I'm coming along to bust up their Leave-It-To- Beaver-Cleaver-happy-intact-family existence. The critics never stopped to consider that maybe the adopted individual might have another take on the matter--that they might want to know from whence they came. That seems somehow to not be the concern of those throwing stones--then, or now. They assume that the adopted person is perfectly happy with the way things are. Period.
I still get brickbats thrown at me, as regular readers will remember, and wrote about it here and here. And here. Actually, I don't think it will ever end. Not in my lifetime. That's why I get so crazed when I read on some websites about the great "gift" that a wonderful selfless teen mother made in giving up her child, and go on to praise her, blah blah, blah. But they praise her in absentia. And as long as she remains in absentia.
But to get back to the point: telling someone your secret--if the relinquished child is a secret--is never easy. I was fortunate in that my family and husbands (two) were both supportive and understanding. I never had other children so telling other children was not an issue. Fellow blogger Jane has written about the difficulties of telling her other family.
I'm not saying that you have to tell everyone on every street corner, or everyone you date, or every casual friend you have, or every person in your office, and there are plenty of times when I keep my mouth shut about this issue because it's still a hot topic that inflames people. Whom you tell and whom you do not is a personal decision.
However telling at least those close to you--friends, lovers, husbands, family--sure does ease the mind. And so, if someday you are so fortunate that you receive a phone call that begins...Does fill-in-the-date mean anything to you...you can answer Yes! and simply be thrilled. And not worry about now having to reveal the painful secret you have buried so deep it hurts, hurts like hell.--lorraine
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Carrie Fisher, in touting her book and one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, on The View this morning, said that revealing the truth about yourself makes it impossible for others to hurt you. "You are only as sick as the secrets you keep," she said.
She went on to list her particular maladies--years of drinking and drugs before rehab, being bipolar, bed-hopping (sounds like an aerobic exercise, joked Joy Behar), marrying a guy who became gay, and I thought, Wow, keep going, add the really big one: Giving up a child for adoption. That's a lot bigger than drugs and rehab. Of course, she didn't because I don't think that's on her "been there, done that" list. But I kept ruminating about the wisdom of her words: "You are only as sick as the secrets you keep."
Once you tell your husband/children/neighbors/friends that you have given a child up for adoption--no one is going to whisper behind your back...Do you know she did? She gave up a child for adoption--because what is the point of whispering?
Tell your family now and it won't come back to bite you later on. Without any scientific evidence whatsoever and only anecdotal information to go on, I believe that is at the heart of the first/birth mother rejections that we hear about and that are so damaging and hurtful to the individual who has been given up.
Hiding the truth from your loved ones doesn't put any trust in your relationship with your family because you feel you will be rejected if they only knew the truth about you. Yes, it's not a great thing to have to tell anyone because it's not a great thing to have done, we know, we know, we have been there, but it is a part of who you are today, and who you will be tomorrow. And being open about it will make your load so much lighter.
If you feel the sting of hurt from your husband/family after you tell them what has been the secret in your heart, it is because they will feel they have been lied to by omission, and that you felt the relationship was not strong enough to bear this secret. Trust them, trust your love enough to tell the truth. Explain how shamed and awful a thing you felt you did, and how that led you to bury this all these years. Ask them to understand how different it was when you had your child. Ask them for their forgiveness--for not having told them sooner.
If you are afraid, think how good it will be to not have to keep this secret. You are only as sick as the secrets you keep.
If you think you can not do it, think: I can do this one thing for that child. My child.
If you stumble before you get the words out, think: I can do this one thing for my child. I will acknowledge her/his existence. I could not keep him/her, but I will acknowledge his/her life. And I will accept her/him if I am fortunate enough to know her/him one day.
And do it. Remember, you've got a lot of company. Six million adoptees were not delivered by the stork.--lorraine
Remember Anita Tedaldi? The woman who adopted and terminated the adoption when she and the child did not bond? Here she is on the Today Show this morning. I don't have anything to add that has not been said before elsewhere, but you have to ask, why in the world was Anita Tedaldi, with five biological children, and a husband who apparently is deployed somewhere, allowed to adopt in the first place? Did not the agency think that maybe the woman already had had hands full? This story originated in the New York Times and this evening I noticed that the comments were closed after more than 300. But it you care to read Number 317, you'll find another woman considering the same thing: sending back a child she can't bond with.