Monday, March 19, 2012

Conceived in rape, but joined by a daughter's love

Jane
Katherine (Kathy) Stockton was born in 1960, blind, severely retarded, and physically disabled because her mother, Linda, contracted German measles early in her pregnancy.* Linda and her husband, Dale, divorced and Linda was left to care for Kathy and Kathy's older sister alone.

Following  doctors’ advice, Linda placed Kathy at Fairview Hospital and Training Center in Salem, Oregon. Fairview, opened in 1907 as the State Institution for the Feeble-Minded, was a hell hole when Kathy entered and was little better by 1979 when Kathy’s daughter, Amanda Campbell, was conceived through rape.

After a series of lawsuits beginning in 1987 brought by the U. S. Department of Justice and advocates for the disabled, Oregon shut down Fairview in 2000. (Oregon's record for caring for the disabled is less than stellar. Its mental hospital was the setting for Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest.)

DISAPPEARING INTO ADOPTIONLAND
Nurse Ratched from "Cooko's Nest
Although Oregon had a eugenics program until 1981,** Kathy had not been sterilized in 1979 when she was raped by a Fairview aide, Emanuel Sistrunk.  A convicted rapist, he nonetheless was hired to care for severely disabled, bed-ridden women. Kathy became pregnant, as did another resident Sistrunk raped. Fairview authorities did not discover the pregnancies until the women were five months along, too late for abortions, the authorities believed.

I lived in Salem at the time and I remember reading news accounts of these cases. The babies disappeared into adoptionland, one, a girl placed with relatives, and the other, a boy, placed with genetic strangers. I soon forget about the mothers and their children.

Amanda Campbell
The girl, Amanda Campbell, was adopted by her mother’s older sister and her husband. Amanda never connected with her adoptive parents. She didn’t look much like them. Her skin was darker than theirs and her hair was much kinkier. Amanda suspected she was adopted but her adoptive parents insisted she was not.

SEARCHING FOR THE TRUTH ABOUT HER ORIGINS
Although the family had difficulties--her adoptive father was an alcoholic and the parents divorced--Amanda survived, graduating from college, marrying and having a son. When she became pregnant with twins, her adoptive father was admitted to a nursing home suffering from brain degeneration with a possible genetic component. Concerned that she might pass something on to her twins, she decided to find out if she had been adopted and ordered her birth certificate. (Oregon is one of a handful of states which allow adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates.) The birth certificate showed her mother as “Katherine Stockton” and her father as: "unknown.”

Her adoptive mother told her the story of her conception and that Amanda’s birth mother was dead. Amanda could find no death certificate for Katherine Stockton, and decided to find her. She learned through a documentary, Where’s Molly, about the possibility of finding former Fairview residents. This excellent film tells the story of Jeff Daly who searched for his younger disabled sister, Molly, who disappeared when he was six. He knew only that she had been sent to a place for “people like her.” The family never spoke of her. (This scenario is all too familiar to many birth mothers, sent away to give birth among strangers; their sojourn and their babies omitted in family histories.)

REUNITING WITH HER MOTHER
Forty-seven years after his sister disappeared, Jeff Daly searched for her. Although Oregon officials denied him any information, citing privacy laws, absurd in cases like this, he eventually learned where she was living. Jeff and his wife, Cindy, visited Molly—her first visitors ever--and she has become a part of their family. The Dalys also lobbied successfully for a change in Oregon’s privacy laws to allow family members to learn the whereabouts of their formerly institutionalized relatives.

With Cindy Daly’s help, Amanda found her birth mother, Kathy, in a group home. Here’s author Nina Burleigh’s description of their meeting:
“Kathy…was curled up in an adult-size jogger stroller, her hands over her face. Amanda had made her a tiny cloth book about herself, with bits of feather and fluff taped in for tactile sensation—the kind of gift you’d give to a baby. She sat down on the couch and began stroking her mother’s arm, telling her who she was. After a few minutes, Kathy crawled out of her jogger and into pregnant Amanda’s lap.
“…For Amanda, meeting the frail, wordless woman whose body had formed her was surreal. ‘I am such the mother. I fell in love with my babies in my womb. How do you hold something in your womb and not know you gave it life? I picture her feeling so alone and being ignored when she was pregnant and when I was born. What did she think of the life moving inside? I cannot believe she felt nothing.’”
EVIL IS NOT GENETIC
Several months later, Amanda found the newspaper clippings telling the story of her conception. She learned that her father, Sistrunk, served only a couple of years for raping her mother and the other Fairview resident. A social worker testified in a pretrial hearing that the sex was “consensual.” Her testimony induced, perhaps, by the desire of Oregon officials to escape responsibility. He is now in serving a 30-year-term for raping an 11-year-old girl. He is up for parole in 2015. Amanda has decided not to contact him, but plans to attend the parole hearing to speak up for her mother.

Amanda has learned that Sistrunk has children from several relationships and she has contacted a half-sister. "After being the 'black girl who thinks she is white,' Amanda is anxious to build a mixed-race family network for herself. 'Emanuel is evil,' she says, but 'I don't believe evil is genetic.'"

CODA
Amanda continues to visit Kathy, “the first member of her family to regularly visit her, to speak kindly to her, to touch her, to rock her in her lap. The first not to try to erase her. ”

Kathy and Amanda can teach us all about the mother and child bond, no matter how it was forged, or how late it came to both of them. 

What happened to the boy conceived about the same time as Amanda is unknown. It it sad there is no way for the Oregon adoption community to reach out to him.

_________________________
*The facts in this post are from "The Race to Find Myself" by Nina Burleigh, Elle, October, 2010
**Julie Sullivan, Oregonian, 6/30/02

From FMF:


5 comments :

  1. I am a first/birth mother who is neither mentally nor physically disabled, and yet my social worker used to repeatedly tell me that I was just my son's 'physical' mother,"just" -the old dichotomy between body and mind. Life happens. Isn't it beautiful. While I am certainly not advocating rape, this story is both sad and beautiful-most beautiful of all is the daughter who is so kind to her mother. Life is hard. I don't judge anybody but plenty of people judge me.

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    Replies
    1. It just amazes me to this day what these disgusting social workers said to young women. Unchecked, unregulated by superiors they wrecked many young lives. Tore apart families because they had no one to hold them accountable. It was get the baby at any cost.
      While being helped by the others drs, nurses, clergy, and let's not forget our parents. These people should be held for the crimes they committed against mothers and babies.
      Criminals get more help when they murder. I think that speaks volumes.like this rapist who committed a crime not once but twice and who knows how many other times. He walked away
      With not a friggen care about what he had done.

      Delete
  2. How sad, how beautiful.... how very human she is.... a mother/child/mother..... how very poignant.

    I cry for both children and those that continue to live life in the dark regions of living.....

    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for sharing a beautiful story.

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  4. What a sad and touching story. Betty Allen is an older adoptee who was conceived under similar circumstances. Her first mother was a deaf mute consigned to life in an institution. It is not clear whether she initially also had mental retardation but after spending years in an institution her comprehension was limited.

    When Betty searched, she found her mother still living in the institution and was able to be a comfort to her in the final year of her life. The father was probably a worker in the institution, nobody knew and Betty will never know.

    Betty wrote a beautiful, compassionate book about her life and search called "Mother Can You Hear Me? She is also a long-time activist for adoptee rights in NJ.
    It is available here:

    http://www.abebooks.com/9780896961944/Mother-Hear-Extraordinary-True-Story-089696194X/plp

    ReplyDelete

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