by Joyce Bahr
When they surrendered their babies, first mothers were never given a right to privacy. They were never informed that adoption is a loss, bringing with it postponed grief and mourning. Under current law, first mothers have no right to identifying information on the child they placed for adoption. But first mothers do have a right to be contacted by a searching adoptee, and the right to heal that brings. Searching for our lost children, being found by them, helps to heal an old wound, and lessens severe grief so many thousands like me have experienced since relinquishment.
Some first mothers were empowered to search by the women’s movement of the Seventies. Some were empowered by friends, adoptees, adoption agencies, and the media, in newspaper and magazine stories, as well as television reunion that were popular in the Eighties. Searching proved cathartic, relieving years of suppressed emotions surrounding birth and surrender. For example, many of us were finally able to address the anger issues we had struggled with for years. We could finally acknowledge our children after keeping unhealthy secrets for so many years. Although the words we were told at the time of surrender, "no longer think of this child as yours" and "forget this" were etched into our minds, we no longer believed them. We could also let go of another word drilled into our hearts, disrupt, as in, Do not disrupt the adoptive family.
We have been liberated and healed by reunions. Whether or not a reunion is ultimately successful, through it a first mother is finally able to heal and move forward. Many of us are still angry because of the counseling we received at a time of personal crisis, counseling which later proved not only to be misinformed, but harmful. Even today in 2010 first mothers are being mistreated by outdated policies and attitudes.
Searching has helped many first mothers and adoptees heal. The New York State adoption policy that no one should search is unhealthy and inhumane. The sealed records law violates the adoptee’s basic human right to know the facts of his birth, his birthright. It’s past time to give adoptees this foundational human right and to acknowledge the positive aspects of searching for both adoptees and first mothers.
None of the old myths about first mothers are true. In those states which have opened their records, the overwhelming majority of birth mothers have expressed their desire to have contact with their children. The secrecy surrounding adoption is a product of the twentieth century when the closed adoption system took root and spread. It has been shown that the records were sealed not to protect the birth mother or the adoptee but rather to protect the adopting parents from any interference from the birth mother. Secrecy also seemed to be necessitated by the mores of the times which saw illegitimacy as a terrible social stigma.
A recent film, Mother and Child, touches upon the issues of a mother forced to surrender and her path toward empowerment and healing. The fictional first mother in the film needs the support of others in order to reach out and search. When will our state adoption policies support mothers who desperately need to search for the children they were forced to surrender decades ago? The damage done to both birth mothers and adoptees by the secrets and lies of the closed adoption system should be recognized by the state. New York should acknowledge search and reunion as the only means of healing for those the system so terribly ill treated.
We could use all the help we can get, and anyone in New York interested in helping our effort should contact Joyce at UnsealedInitiative@nyc.rr.com. For more on the issue in New York see last two blogs at FMF: Give the Gift of Life: Help give back your child's true identity and Opening Sealed Records for Adoptees: It is just, it is right, and it is time.
And if you haven't written a letter yet, please take the time to do it today. The life you change...may your own.--lorraine