Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What Does Adoption Reform Activism Look Like?

Lorraine

When  O Lord will adoptees and birth mothers be free from the shackles of bad laws? 

When more of us take action and demand that archaic, cruel and unjust laws be repealed?

Why has the movement for gay rights moved so much faster than adoptee/birth mother rights? 

Because gays were aroused to take to the streets, to stand up and demand their rights and make their voices heard. They still have a ways to go, but they have managed to raise public awareness about their cause to a much greater degree than we have. We understand that many adoptees feel that even asking for what is rightfully theirs seems disloyal to the parents who raised them; that is one of the terrible effects of adoption today: that adoptees are made to feel guilty if they even deign to ask for the truth of their identities. Often they wait until the adoptive parents have died. We can understand this impulse, but waiting until then (a common occurrence) also often means waiting until it is too late to meet your original mother, and father. Waiting will mean that legislators do not believe that large numbers of people would like the adoption practices and policies of the past undone. Waiting too long is doing nothing.

We have often urged mothers and adoptees and adoptive parents, and anyone who cares about justice for a class of individuals who had their rights stripped from them at the time of adoption--and here we mean both first/birth mothers who had no say in whether the records of their children were sealed upon adoption--to do more than read blogs and memoirs, weep, and console each other. Do something to make your voices heard! It does not take long to write a letter, and herewith below I am publishing two recent letters in the Albany Times-Union. The first is by first mother Joyce Bahr, who spearheads the drive to change New York's law; and the second is my follow up to hers which appeared today. 

If you live in a sealed records state, were adopted in a sealed records state, if you relinquished in a sealed records state, please set aside an hour today to write to investigate the current status of your state law at the website of the American Adoption Congress and write your local newspaper, and/or the one in the state capitol, and send a copy to either your own elected representative, or, if you are out of state, to the head of the legislature in that state, or the governor, and tell why you would like to be a citizen with the rights and privileges of the rest of us, that is, the right to fully and knowingly answer the question: Who am I? 

Records Need to be Unsealed
Thousands of adults who were born and adopted in New York now live in other states. Some write to state legislators to ask them to open New York's sealed adoption records and may have received replies. However, some feel they have no representation in Albany and should not waste their time. Meanwhile, some adoption agencies indicate that most of the requests they receive from adoptees seeking to know the basic facts of their birth are from those living out of state.
Joyce Bahr

The Bill of Adoptee Rights -- A8410, sponsored by Assemblyman David Koon, and S5269, sponsored by Sen. Velmanette Montgomery -- has gained support and activists continue to lobby. New York's adoption policy is slow to catch up to accepted practice that advocates for openness and honesty. Its policy that no one should search, when search and reunion have been accepted for many years, is a "Father Knows Best" paternalistic policy. It is extremely unfair.

Many of the old beliefs about adoption have been disproved and social mores have changed. The shroud of secrecy surrounding adoption was a social more'. There were no confidentiality laws for birth parents, nor a right to privacy. Adoptees were not supposed to search because they would upset their adoptive families and find unpleasant truths about their birth families. When these outdated mores collapsed, thousands of adoptees and birth parents began searching for each other; thousands continue to do so every year.

Searching is now seen as a necessary step in adoptee/birthparent healing.

It is the old, discriminatory sealed records law that is in the wrong. November is National Adoption Month, and New York adoptees still have no right to the most fundamental information about themselves.
Joyce Bahr,
President Unsealed Initiative
New York City
First published in print: Monday, November 29, 2010  

Change law, open adoption records
Joyce Bahr ("Records need to be unsealed," letter, Nov. 29) is correct in saying that there are thousands of people who were born and adopted in New York who are stymied in their efforts to learn the truth of their identities. It is the hidebound state Legislature with the backbone of a jellyfish that keeps this bad law in place.

The results of all surveys of the public, including adoptive parents, favor repeal. And birth mothers need to search to heal their immense psychic wound that is the result of surrendering a child.

New York's sealed records law dates from 1935. It was pushed through the Legislature at the behest of then-Gov. Herbert H. Lehman. While he may have believed that this was in the best interest of the three children he and his wife adopted, time and changing attitudes have taught us a new lesson.

All people need to know where they came from, who their mothers and fathers are, what their real stories are. Denying this information is an injustice.

I relinquished a child in 1966, and was not given a choice as to whether I wanted anonymity. It was a condition of relinquishing a child. I argued against it to no avail. But I was never "promised" anonymity; if my child had not been adopted, her records would never have been sealed. We were reunited happily in 1981.

She was living in Wisconsin, and like the people Ms. Bahr wrote about, had no voice in the state of her birth and adoption, no legislator she might write to. It is long past the time for this archaic and outdated law to be relegated to the dust bin of bad law.
Lorraine Dusky
Sag Harbor
Published: 12:04 a.m., Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Now, sit there and do your job. Without your input, your effort, your voice, nothing will change.

And if not now, when? --lorraine
_______________________
Technical difficulties are preventing me from posting a link to the American Adoption Congress. So I post it here: http://www.americanadoptioncongress.org/state.php

26 comments :

  1. "When O Lord will adoptees and birth mothers be free from the shackles of bad laws?"

    As I prayed last night and this morning, these are nearly the exact words I used.

    Thank you for the practical advice on what I can do now - today - to let my voice be heard.

    Melynda

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  2. We need to be tenacious when the media prints pro-sealed records and "anonymity" bullshit. We need to swarm them with enlightening comments and shut down our oppressors.

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  3. Good points, good article, but I do not know if current adoption reform legislation efforts go far enough.

    "When O Lord will adoptees and birth mothers be free from the shackles of bad laws?"

    Opening records for adoptees-only frees our adult children from the bad laws, but mothers still remain shackled in prisons of powerlessness, unable to do anything but "wait" to be found.

    "And birth mothers need to search to heal their immense psychic wound that is the result of surrendering a child."

    Open records for adoptees does nothing to help mothers search. We still cannot obtain the adoptive name of our child, information we need in order to search and not be powerless.

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  4. Natural parents are not "powerless" to find their children. Almost all of us here have done so. Today with the internet, Facebook etc it is even easier than it was in the past.

    Adoptee access to their own OBC is a different issue from mother's access to the amended BC. Adoptees want their own birth certificate, not necessarily to search, but because it belongs to them. That is not true of surrendering mothers and the amended certificate.

    We are searching and finding without it, and have been for decades. We are not powerless.
    Also, very few mothers say that they have been "healed" by searching and reuniting. Read this blog and many others.

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  5. How do you find your child when you do not have their adoptive name? When they may not be registered with any reunion registry? There is practically no way on earth you can find them. I know moms who have been on registries for 20 years with no results, as they do not have their child's name, have no idea where that child might be living, and no way to contact them. As a volunteer searcher, I have tried to help them. It is a complete dead end.

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  6. How do you find your child when you do not have their adoptive name? When they may not be registered with any reunion registry? There is practically no way on earth you can find them. I know moms who have been on registries for 20 years with no results, as they do not have their child's name, have no idea where that child might be living, and no way to contact them. As a volunteer searcher, I have tried to help them. It is a complete dead end.

    Good point, you will have an extremely difficult time if not find it impossible.

    The laws need to be changed to give access to identifying information to both mothers and adoptees.
    It has been my experience that reunion has been very healing, without my reunion I doubt that I would have come to this place of feeling some sembelance of acceptance and reprieve. My situation is far from ideal but it's so much better than the silence of not knowing.

    Knowing who your child is, what he or she looks like, what their name is, what kind of life they are having, being able to let them know that you love them, that in itself is very healing. Not something I would dismiss.

    The grief and loss associated with adoption is not something I see easy if possible to heal but reunion isn't about fixing everything.

    It certainly stopped me feeling frustrated and crazy.

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  7. Back in the day, you paid someone, a detective, or a person with connections, today a person with data bases and hacking skills, I would imagine. The new name is in several places, not just the OBC, agency files, court records, sometimes baptismal records, sometimes vital statistics of both the county of birth and the state vital stats. Sometimes it takes a long time but I keep hearing about mothers finding their kids, with various kinds of paid and unpaid help, so it can be done.

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  8. @Anon12:09,
    I wonder that myself. Without a name or any access to court/legal documents, how would a fmother even know where to search?

    @Maryanne,
    Also, very few mothers say that they have been "healed" by searching and reuniting."

    I agree with you that search and reunion are not the panacea that takes away all the issues caused by the separation. But I know that at least in my experience it did help to alleviate to a significant degree the endless sadness/emptiness I felt by not knowing my fmother and why she gave me up. As we all know reunions aren't perfect but for most of us they are a great help. I think it is even hard to go on with our lives when adoption separation keeps us locked in the past.

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  9. "Why has the movement for gay rights moved so much faster than adoptee/birth mother rights?"

    2 Possibilities:

    1. The gay rights population affects a larger segment of the population.

    2.The gay rights movement is more cohesive in their goals and objectives (i.e. legalizing gay marriage). I believe there are still a lot of ambivalent fmothers and adoptees out there who aren't sure if they want open records or reunions. Many people believe it's best to just let sleeping dogs lie. I also think there are still many natural mothers who for a number of reasons want to remain in the closet.

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  10. I feel I have been very much healed by having a relationship with my son.It has made a tremendous difference in how I feel about myself and my life.I feel I was traumatized when I was younger but am not any more.

    However I have been reading more and more writings of mothers who say reunion made the pain worse, they were vastly disappointed, that they will never heal, one even was sorry she searched and helped other people search because she was rejected and it was all too painful.

    I don't really understand this, just am reporting what others have said, and what some people are saying is that reunion hardly makes a difference, they are still grieving the lost baby, even some who have a fairly decent relationship with their adult child. Perhaps some people do not want to heal, as they are too identified with their wounds and victimhood. I just read an interesting book excerpt about that, not about adoption but about healing and self-help groups in general.I can't say I agree with all of it but it does make some relevant points:

    "Woundology And The Healing Fire"
    by Caroline Myss

    http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/myss-heal.html?_r=2

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  11. maryanne points out that with some sleuthing, many mothers find their children. After all, if a private in the army can obtain volumes of state secrets by pretending he is listening to Lady Ga Ga CDs, nothing is secret today.

    The point is that mothers should not have to go through a lot of hoops to learn their child's new identity. The only people who benefit from these laws are those who make money from doing searches and paranoid adoptive parents.

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  12. I hear from adoptees all the time who have no way to find their original first mothers, who spend years looking, who hire searchers such as OmniTrace, which takes cases when they should not since the adoptee or first mother does not have enough information...and all of that could be taken care of with a simple original unamended birth certificate in the hands of the adoptee. To imply otherwise is, in my opinion, uninformed.

    Maryanne, you and I had it easy, in a way, compared to how it is today when more record keepers are aware that the law in their state seals the records. I have no idea if I would have been able to find my daughter if I had not paid The Searcher $1,200 back in 1981. She was baptized in the hospital under my name, and given the first name Mary; she was born and adopted upstate; her parents moved not that much later to Wisconsin. I do not think I would have ever found her.

    And Yes, to those who were surprised that Jane and I came out in favor of first mothers being given identifying information of their (adopted) children: we do believe that, but having spent time lobbying for adoptees getting their birth certificates, and sensing the opposition, I do not believe that is reality in this country in my lifetime. Of course, I'm an old warrior. Maybe for some of your first mothers, it will happen. And it is the right thing to do. Open adoption--truly open adoption--should make this unnecessary in the years to come.

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  13. I hear from adoptees all the time who have no way to find their original first mothers, who spend years looking, who hire searchers such as OmniTrace, which takes cases when they should not since the adoptee or first mother does not have enough information...and all of that could be taken care of with a simple original unamended birth certificate in the hands of the adoptee. To imply otherwise is, in my opinion, uninformed.

    Maryanne, you and I had it easy, in a way, compared to how it is today when more record keepers are aware that the law in their state seals the records. I have no idea if I would have been able to find my daughter if I had not paid The Searcher $1,200 back in 1981. She was baptized in the hospital under my name, and given the first name Mary; she was born and adopted upstate; her parents moved not that much later to Wisconsin. I do not think I would have ever found her.

    And Yes, to those who were surprised that Jane and I came out in favor of first mothers being given identifying information of their (adopted) children: we do believe that, but having spent time lobbying for adoptees getting their birth certificates, and sensing the opposition, I do not believe that is reality in this country in my lifetime. Of course, I'm an old warrior. Maybe for some of your first mothers, it will happen. And it is the right thing to do. Open adoption--truly open adoption--should make this unnecessary in the years to come.

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  14. People say that open records for both adoptees and natural parents can never happen, but I have seen it happen in 4 provinces and 1 territory here in Canada all w/in the last 15 yrs. 2 more provinces are seriously considering it.

    Adoption laws in the US and Canada have more differences within nations than between nations. There are for-profit agencies, black-market babies, newborns and expectant mothers being shipped from one nation to the other for "production and sale," and a powerful industry lobby in both nations. The same market forces. The same social pressures on mothers. The same lobbying from adopters and baby brokers who want records to stay closed.

    Every time I say this, I am told that I am wrong and that I do not understand the U.S., that as a Canadian I should shut up and mine my own business. Maybe you who tell me this are right that I am wrong and should shut up, but I think that unless an equal-access open records campaign is actually tried in a U.S. state, we don't know if it will fail or succeed.

    But as a searcher helping people in the U.S. find family in Canada and vice-versa, I want to see the (Canadian and U.S.) moms I help who lost children in the U.S. have what we in 4 provinces now take for granted.

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  15. Maryanne wrote:
    "However I have been reading more and more writings of mothers who say reunion made the pain worse, they were vastly disappointed, that they will never heal, one even was sorry she searched and helped other people search because she was rejected and it was all too painful."

    I think there is not enough realistic preparation and support for people who search. At first searching and reunion were touted as "THE ANSWER" to the pain caused by adoption. Searcing adoptees were never even told we might be rejected. All I kept hearing and reading was how devastated first moms were and how much they wanted their child. I was shocked to hear how many people got rejected. I know that possibility never even occurred to me. And the same for fmothers, they were told their child was pining away for them and wanted to be part of their bio family and then they got rejected. Also, many of us adoptees were not prepared for how ugly some of the stories were. We were not all born to college students in love who were just too young to marry.

    I think search and reunion are good things. Not everyone is the same and no one knows in advance how they will react to what they find. I do think that more realistic information about what one might encouter would be very helpful. Also, not having closed adoptions in the first place would really help. Obviously, this is too late for many of us.

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  16. I DO believe reunion makes a difference. It gives mothers
    A certain sense of wholeness, knowing that their baby survived and is alive.
    Personally, I find adoption to be a cruel and inhumane act.
    Especially, closed era taking a baby at the moment of birth
    Isn't even done to animals. It's was wrong then and it's STILL WRONG for mother and baby.

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  17. I came across this comment when going through some old blogs. Sorry I can't remember the name of the person who posted it.

    "Adoption just destroys the bond between the mother and son or daughter. It really does. Reunion cannot ever recover the damage done to us by being separated."

    I think for most of us this is true.

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  18. Lorraine wrote"
    I do not think I would have ever found her. "

    I was thinking about this a lot when you wrote the blog about the anniversary of your daughter's death. According to the closed adoption system you were not even supposed to know your own daughter. You were not supposed to know about her struggles in life, about your grandchildren or whether she was alive or dead. This
    is cruel in the extreme and has been an affront to our human dignity.

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  19. Robin (adoptee) wrote:"I do think that more realistic information about what one might encounter would be very helpful."

    Amen to that, and to everything else you said about neither adoptees nor birthmothers being prepared realistically for the variety of reunion experience, good and bad, they might encounter. I was one who thought my son was pining for me. Not so, and devastating at the time.

    One bit of advice, never assume that the mother or child you are searching for feels or thinks or believes what the people in your support group who are searching do. Non-searchers can have a very different point of view, ranging from indifferent to wary to very angry to be found.

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  20. @Maryanne,
    Amen to everything you said, too. Finding out that the one you are searching for feels very differently than you can bring you back down to earth with a THUD. I was lucky that my first mother was as devastated at losing me as I was at losing her.

    I agree that we start to get tunnel vision from our support groups and it is great advice to remember that not everyone thinks the same way. Hard to remember this though when everyone is cheering you on and supporting your point of view.

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  21. Robin (mother) wrote:"Adoption just destroys the bond between the mother and son or daughter. It really does. Reunion cannot ever recover the damage done to us by being separated."

    So, which one is it, a mystical biological bond that lasts forever, or something that adoption destroys?I know I have heard both from you.

    If the bond is destroyed, why search at all? I feel and have always felt just as "bonded" to the son I gave up as to the ones I raised. They were beautiful babies and they are fine men and I don't have to own any of them to love them.

    Reunion has helped me tremendously to heal from sadness, anger and despair. I know others for whom this is true as well. No, it can never fix all the damage, but it can alleviate a lot of the pain if it is a good enough reunion. But that depends on the searching party being able to recognize "good enough" even when it is not perfect. Expectations have to realistic, and sometimes downscaled to correspond to the reality you find.

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  22. P.S. I am not saying that every reunion is healing because mine eventually was. Some are disastrous, some find a person so damaged or hostile that there is no chance of any reconciliation. When I thought I was permanently rejected for almost 20 years, the fact that I was "reunited" gave me no comfort, so I can understand the feelings of those in that situation or dealing with other bad outcomes to search.

    Maybe because I waited so long for any response from my son, what I do have seems so amazing and precious. I just got to send him a unique gift only I could give, a copy of his hospital newborn picture. I debated if this would upset him, then just asked, and he said "sure, send it:-) So it went into the box of Christmas gifts for him, his wife, and kitties!

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  23. "Why has the movement for gay rights moved so much faster than adoptee/birth mother rights?"
    jmho but because none of them are simply interested in who gets to wear the tiara.
    Instead of working together as one force the adoption reform movement has a miriade of Orginizations and splinter groups all over the damn place and they are either too busy making sure the other groups don't know what they are doing or making sure they get the credit for what they are doing (and sometimes they are so busy doing both at the same time that they might as well be none exsistant!).
    oh and let's not forget the avenues that, under the guise of reform, encourage adoptees and Natural Mothers who are fearful to Not deal with their fear or anger but to remain angry at each other and/or themselves!! I mean, really - they don't know each other and what they are fearful of is really a non-issue. It's 2010 and if you think the people you love could stop loving you because you were pregnant and abandoned (by your parents and/or the father of your baby) and had to surrender your child to adoption... well, if you believe that then I have news for you - those people never loved YOU to begin with. We (children and Mommies) need to love and support each other - and if you have been in reunion and it was less than stellar, then love and support someone else's child or Mommy FGS! My half-sister doesn't want to have anything to do with me. BFD! I'm not going to spend the rest of my days stewing about it (it's her damn loss anyway), there are things to do and laws to change.

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  24. This post inspired me to update and post something I wrote several years ago. It's not perfect, and I know that it is too "idealistic," but here it is: A Tool for Adoption Activism - Model Open Records Legislation

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  25. @Anon searching...

    Don't give up. I had my daughter's fake name. They said they would keep it, they didn't. I had little information, first names of adopters, nothing else except that they were married in Florida, and I managed to have friends find out their last names, and everything else.

    There are ways. It is very difficult sometimes, but don't give up, that's the biggest challenge. Search with all your heart and soul, and keep those doors open. There are search angels out there to help.

    I found my daughter, but unfortunately, perhaps I wasn't prepared enough for the negative response and vile coming out of the adopters mouths.

    I know that I am forever broken by adoption. I have tried any kind of healing for the past 12 years, and I know I will likely never be "healed". So, I've decided that I am going to bury it, and hopefully that at least helps me to get along from one day to the next.

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