We are basically, almost to a person, media types, or married to someone in the media. This is also the class of people that will produce a fair number of adopters ala Scott Simon. Among the twenty people there, I was aware of two couples who had adopted children (college roommates, best friends), and at least one "secret" (not reunited) birth father. Secret in that he's told my husband and me.
A common question among such folk is: What are you working on? or writing?
Ah...the question I most do not want to answer to people I do not know well, or even to the adoptive parents I rather do. If he's around my husband often steps up and says almost immediately: Lorraine is working on something she can't talk about. Which of course intrigues everybody, I get quizzical looks, but at least they know I'm am almost certainly not going to talk about what I'm working on.
The answer to the question, to you, Dear Reader, is that I am rewriting my 1979 memoir, Birthmark,the controversial first memoir from a birth/firth mother. It is the story of my relinquishment and putting my life back together, but that book ends before I found my daughter. This new as-yet-unnamed memoir has not only the reunion story, it also includes the long slow slog of my daughter's life, her suicide, and my reunion with the granddaughter she gave up for adoption, as well as a section on The Path Not Chosen, i.e., the boy I did not marry and my now amazing connection with his daughter. God knows if I'll find a publisher, given the state of publishing this days and my agent hearing, Adoption books don't sell. I say to myself: Adoption books from out point of view don't sell, but anyway, onward I plunge.
Back to the party. The host, someone I have known for nearly 30 years, felt that I was somehow removed from the general merriment that night, and said so in front of a very close friend I was chatting with. I shrugged it off, but later emailed my friend about why I can be like that in a group of people I do not know well, specifically do not know their reaction to my subject matter. And this reminded me that a couple of days ago, on FaceBook, at the site You Know You're a First Mother When...(or was it the You Know You're an Adoptee When...) somebody asked why it is that when we first mothers or adoptees bring up our side of the open-records issue, we hear...Oh, I have a cousin/friend/sister who adopted, and they don't feel that way...but we rarely or never hear any support for what was probably the worst event in our lives, or why all sealed records ought to be open. Anyway, I am sharing here below what I emailed my friend, as well as a response I got from my friend Thomasina, who is neither a first mother or an adoptee, but a committed searcher--for one of the major search companies as well as a Confidential Intermediary in her state--when she tells people what she does. First my email:
"Ah...the adoption thing. It changes the neutral tone of the 'what are you working on?' to one that is often very charged....writing about giving up a child? Shit, that's heavy...and everything drops two octaves, and every other person has a personal story they are going to tell you about on the spot, particularly if they think adoptees don't want to search, or birth parents ought to figuratively drop dead or to their knowledge they have never met a real live first mother.I emailed Thomasina about this exchange, and this is her response to the questions she gets when people hear what she does for a living. Remember, she is neither a first mother or adoptee; however, she is married to an adoptee (who searched and found and has at the very least a great relationship with his siblings).
"Like...well, my cousin/brother/aunt was adopted and she never wanted to know her birth parents, and so what do you think of that... Maybe you shouldn't be touching that subject...hmmm? Or...Wow, I'm adopted and I would never search because it would hurt my mom and dad....or...my best friend just adopted a little girl from Nepal...*(where a few weeks ago the U.N. shut down adoptions again because of the huge amount of corruption aka child stealing there, etc..). Or, the subject is so interesting, you end up having to tell the story all over again...and god is that exhausting. The only thing I can compare it to is say, to being raped, and then saying you are writing a memoir about that and then the person asking...so tell me about rape...You just never know what's going to happen, but trust me, it not like saying you are writing about women and the law (a subject I did write about in the nineties), or the search for the Northwest Passage, or sustainable farming.
"It was very different talking to Fred when he was at your house one night. [Fred was a editor at the publishing house where Birthmark was published and I knew he was adopted but we did not talk about it then. But he shows up 30 years later as a friend of my friend at her house one evening, and in the three decades that have passed has found his mother and sibs in Canada and gets along with them like a house afire, they are all in entertainment. Fred used to be a writer for David Letterman, and we did connect one night with a lot of other people around, but the two of us wanted to talk privately, and managed to, even though we had a couple of interruptions from other guests. We changed the subject as soon as they stepped in our little circle.] With Fred, I wanted to hear his story, he wanted to hear the end of mine, and we were both on the same page and had that earlier connection. That was great.
"Aston Martin, our, er, friend, attacked me quite mercilessly here one night about two years ago when it was just the four of us. Tony [my husband] is still on the board of his nonprofit charity for cancer patients in our area (he'd be off the board if I had my way), but our friendship really went to a much much more distant connection after that.... Aston wanted to know, I'm just curious, he said... 'What part of your pie chart was not selfish when you searched for your daughter?' He was saying, basically, how I was wrecking this family happy family, mom and dad and baby makes three...who never had a thought about where they got their daughter...and that I and others of my ilk outta slink away into the night. (It was hardly worth telling him that in my particular case, they had tried to find me, because of my daughter's epilepsy.)
"And then went on about his friends (whom we know) who adopted from Texas [Gladney] and how they moved to Texas from New York as the wife was originally from there, and what a mistake that was because the real mother might live in Texas and someday want to know who her child was. Forgetting that maybe the kid might want to know too...so talking about adoption to someone I do not know is well, work, and emotionally exhausting and typically turns a simple question into an emotional drama."
"Man! I get that one ALL THE TIME. I usually respond with my usual 'informative speech' which goes along the lines of: 'Oh, there may be a few people in special circumstances who don't [search], but what more likely happened is that they gave you the 'socially correct / socially polite' answer instead of the truth, so as not to be accused of being the 'disloyal, ungrateful adoptee' that some people will try to make them out to be.Wow! What a great response, for it must get tiring to have to defend what you do over and over. Coming from her, neither adoptee nor first mother, her words undoubtedly are given more gravitas because she is a "disinterested party." Reading this morning about the death of Jefferson Thomas, one of the Little Rock Nine--the high school students who desegregated Little Rock's Central High School with federal protection in 1957--I thought: we need a Supreme Court decision to open those damn sealed adoption records and original birth certificates. And we need a federal law guaranteeing equal rights under the law for adoptees, and birth parents who were forced to accept perpetual anonymity when they surrendered their children to the state.
"Adoptees quickly learn, and from a very young age, to feign complete disinterest in their birthfamily, especially if they think that there's even a remote chance that the person questioning them might turn around and say something to their adoptive parents or family members. All too often, adoptive parents make talking about the adoption taboo, especially with regard to the birthparents, unless it's in sanitized, flowery pro-adoption language which makes it virtually impossible for the adoptee to openly and honestly question their origins, or express any desire to learn about their background, let alone search for any birthfamily members.
"Adoptive parents have their own rejection issues, which often manifest as fear, resentment and even outright loathing of birthparents, and they then communicate these feelings to their adopted children, directly or indirectly. That's why so many of the adoptees I work with search in complete secret. Some adoptees I know are in 20+ year reunions with birthfamily members, but no one in the adoptive family knows a thing about it, because the adoptee fears a negative or even a retaliatory reaction.'
"If folks let me get to that last part, they are usually totally blown away, and some will say something like, 'They search in secret?' to which I will reply, 'Oh yes, a large majority. They might tell one or two very close friends, but no one else. It's a deeply personal issue, and it can be very disheartening and downright annoying to be peppered with questions -- or to have your motives questioned -- by people who have absolutely no concept of what it is like to have your identity stripped away from you and obliterated without your knowledge or consent.'
"In most states, adoptees are treated as non-citizens, prevented by law from accessing or obtaining their birth certificate, adoption record, or any information about their birthfamily members, because adoption attorneys and adoption agencies and legislators -- with the backing of contingencies of adoptive parents -- have made the release of information illegal. You have a medical history.... adoptees have zero medical history, and no way to obtain medical information without access to the birthfamily.
"You don't have to worry about marrying and having children with a brother or a sister... but adoptees do, because they aren't allowed to know who their siblings are. You have been surrounded by people who bear physical resemblances to you and/or have similar personalities, traits, interests, talents, etc. etc. etc, so you aren't likely to experience isolation and detachment... but adoptees are... and they aren't likely to tell you about it unless they feel safe in doing so. How you ask the question, and what follow-up questions you ask, lets an adoptee know whether or not you are someone they want to talk with about their 'taboo' desire to know about their birthfamily.'
"I think you did a great job of explaining your situation to your friend, especially with the rape analogy. Aston Martin sounds like a mean little powertripping ignoramus. I understand that his mother died of cancer, and that he oversees a worthwhile foundation, but that does NOT give him carte blanche to viciously attack anyone who doesn't share his warped and narrow worldview on an issue. Fuck him." (Thomasina, thank you for this last comment.)
Now we'd love to hear your stories about the reaction you get when educating new folk about why the status quo re adoption in all but six states sucks. And now, back to the memoir. --lorraine
PS: As regular readers will know, because of having written Birthmark I have been very open about my life and adoption. My daughter lived with my husband and me for a while; she knew our friends. They think it's great I found her, and we reconnected, and lately, found my other granddaughter. But above I am talking about strangers, and as I am writing more about this, it's obvious I am continuing to upset whatever apple carts about adoption these folks have in their minds. Yes, it is weird to be writing something you don't want to talk about.
* For more on adoptions in Nepal, see: International Adoption: Corruption as Usual,
and Call it what it is: Child Trafficking as "Adoption".
And check out the Pound Pup Legacy website and blog.