Should first/birth mothers search for the children they gave up for adoption? Or should I say: Surrendered to forces greater than one's ability to resist--maybe we should start substituting that every time someone uses the damn phrase "made an adoption plan."
But the question remains: Do first mothers, or birth mothers, or whatever we are called have the "right" to search for our children?
Yes. We have the right to know our own children. We have the innate right to know what happened to them after they were surrendered to adoption. Neither law, nor custom, can violate this sacred bond, despite law and custom. The right remains.
Lawyers, friends of adoptive parents, many adoptive parents, many people in the general population think that birth mothers searching for the children they gave up for adoption is an abomination. We are going to absolutely ruin a perfectly happy family and destroy the child in the process! Who's going to be the mother? What right do you have? To destroy .... !!! You gave up the child and now you want him back? Are you crazy? That's the kind of attitude first mothers face, or think we do, when we start to think about searching.
I've written about this before when a "friend"--an attorney, asked: What part of my pie chart was not selfish when I decided to find my daughter? When I told an adoptive grandfather whose son spent at least $25,000 per child to get two from Siberia, he looked me in the eye and said: "You are our greatest nightmare." In truth, I don't mind being this guy's greatest nightmare. It's what I think of when I run into him and smile and say hello at the ATM machine in town. I didn't think I was nearly that powerful.
I found my daughter when she was fifteen. I did not want to destroy her family, uproot her and bring her to New York from Wisconsin, or destroy her relationship with her adoptive mother, which I fervently hoped was strong and loving. But I had a crying need inside of me to know what happened to her, and how she was, and that was damn near destroying my life.
I was going to ALMA meetings at the time, and Florence Fisher, who ran them, was very clear: No searching until your child was eighteen. But through contacts at ALMA I learned about the great mysterious "Searcher," who damn near seemed to be able to find anybody--adoptee or birth parent, as I recall, but it was mostly birth mothers I heard who used his services.
I had hoped that with the publication of Birthmark (my memoir of relinquishing my daughter) and the clues inside of who this child must be, surely she, or her other mother, would find me, however young she was. I did get letters from kids her age, but none of them were my daughter, and I had to write them back and tell them I was not their mother. I probably would have gone along with Florence's dictum to not search until she was eighteen, but a few weeks before I was to get married a friend of mine, one night after dinner, simply asked what was so damn sacrosanct about waiting until she was eighteen--I wasn't going to go nab her, was I? He was a Brit, well educated, and England had already opened its records to all adopted adults. Tony, my husband to be, chimed in too: Why are you waiting? Why not use the lifeline you've heard about out there? This not knowing is killing you.
That was all the encouragement I needed. Within days I called someone who called someone and put the process in motion. When we got back from our honeymoon, in the pile of mail waiting for us was a letter telling me she had been found. Hallelujah! All I had to do was pay $1,200 in cash.
A few week or so later we drove to New Jersey where I gladly paid the money, and within days after that I got the phone call that gave me her name, her parents' name, their address and phone number. For me it was incredibly simple. A few days later I made the call, talked to her adoptive mother, and told her who I was. We both wept. Because of our daughter's epilepsy, her parents had tried to locate me, but the agency did not even answer their doctor's inquiry about me--written about the same time I began writing to the agency. I was told that she was "happy with her new family" and I needed to stop writing them.
That's only one story, and my search was, in a sense, short and simple. Later I learned that the anonymous "Searcher" had figured out who my daughter had to be and had the information on her before I asked. How he or she did it I will never know.
Jane, my daughter (who shares a name with my fellow blogger, Jane Edwards), told me that she was glad I searched because it helped her feel that I had not abandoned her lightly, that I cared enough to find her, that I did not forget. I have heard other adoptees profess an interest in their birth parents but add: if my birth mother wanted to find me, she would.... Conversely, first mothers feel...I cannot interrupt his or her life...if he wanted to find me, he would....
You can start by registering with the International Soundex Reunion Registry, which is free, and tracking down whatever adoptee/birth parent organizations exist in your state. Birth parents can join organizations such as Concerned United Birthparents, and Origins-USA or Origins-Canada; You can join the American Adoption Congress. The Internet has made searching easier, and search angels, who provide the service for free or a minimal cost, may be able to help you. A word of caution: Not everyone succeeds. Birth mothers have the information of when/where/what agency, but not the all important name of the new family; adoptees may have more limited information to work with.
What happens after reunion? Whoa, that's a whole other issue. But to answer the question--Do birth mothers have a right to search for their surrendered children?
Yes. Unequivocally yes. It is time to push aside the voice that says--if he wanted to know me, he would search, I can't interrupt his life. Trust me, by surrendering him to adoption you interrupted what would have been the normal course of his life and let him begin the age of reason with a question he cannot answer unless he is in a good open adoption. IF you truly want to know him one day, IF you are willing to put yourself out there and be ready to accept that he may not wish to have a relationship at the time you find him, IF you can find the courage to go on this journey, take the matter in your own hands and start the search yourself. You may not find who you are seeking, but you will at least have the peace of mind of having done your part. Your child, no matter what age, may need you. Mine did.
So though the search is not always easy, and you may face rejection and disappointment once you find who you seek, the promise of answered questions, the ability to look in the face of your daughter, your son, to not carry around with you this nagging feeling that maybe...should I...what if...is worth this journey however fraught it may be. You will at least have tried.--lorraine
Postscript to search: Some months after I found my daughter I ran into an acquaintance I rarely saw, he was a friend of a friend. He asked her if I had had a facelift or something done "to my eyes." Florence said she noticed the same kind of difference in birth/original mothers after a reunion. A cloud is lifted from your heart, your brain, your soul. Closed adoptions are death knells to many of us.
The Adoption Reader is a wonderful, heart-breaking collection of essays by birth parents, adoptees and adoptive mothers, including Louise Erdich, Nancy Mairs, Florence Fisher, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Shay Youngblood and moi. Highly recommended for all groups touched by adoption for its breadth of point of view.
Who Am I? is a good book for adolescents and teenagers. I don't agree with everything in the book, but it honestly answers the questions young people have. I'd give it to an adolescent myself. I ordered a used copy from Amazon and found this inscription inside: Cheryl--On your 21st birthday--Thought you should know. Opps. Someone forgot to tell her. How can any loving parent be that cruel?
I urge anyone who has suggestions on how to search or who to contact in any state to leave a comment with contact information or website. If you are adopted, read previous post: Do First/birth mothers want to be found?
And to answer questions left by adoptive parents, Yes, I totally think that adoptive parents who entered into closed adoptions, whether at home or abroad, should search, and search while the trail is still "hot." What a gift this could be to your young child. When they are older, it is trickier. Then whether or not you are involved should depend on them. Some adoptees may want you to search for their birth parents; some will prefer to do it on their own. The important thing is to let them grow up feeling that they have that right, and that by doing so they are not putting a knife in your heart, or in any way should they feel guilty for searching for their birth mother. Too often adoptees wait until their adoptive parents have died--both of them--and then...it is too late, because so have the birth parents.
WuHu Diary by Emily Prager is the story of one woman's return to China with her adopted daughter. Emily is the daughter of a good friend, and now makes her home with her daughter in Shanghai. Emily herself spent part of her very young years in China when her father was a military attache stationed there. Emily is somewhat controversial among adoptive parents of Chinese daughters for her appreciation of the Chinese culture, but I think many of the adoptive parents who come here will find the book and Emily's approach to raising Lulu affirming.