Adoptees also lack family medical records at a time when doctors place increasing emphasis on them. At least, I told myself, that was something I could give my daughter when I gave her up for adoption.
A DETAILED MEDICAL FORM...
My social worker insisted that I fill out detailed medical histories on myself and her father, and I eagerly complied. Through the years, I volunteered to pass on additional information; responses to my letters always indicated that the agency's social workers had no further contact with the family after the adoption was made final. The letters said her family was delighted with her at the time of the adoption. The tone of the letters was friendly, conciliatory; I accepted their content on faith.
I wrote three letters in as many months before I received a reply. After seven more months, the director wrote and said that my daughter's doctor reported that she did not have the symptoms that I was concerned about. I was assured that her medical needs were being met. Yet when her parents and I met for the first time not long ago, [in 1981] we wondered on what grounds the director had made that statement, since Jane--that's my daughter's name--had never had a gynecological examination. They also wondered why their doctor's letter to the agency--written when Jane had her first outbreak of epilepsy at age 5--never was answered. They were asking for the information I was volunteering to give.
As for the medical histories I filled out, who knows? Jane's parents were not given a shred of medical information; the only thing they knew was my nationality. Nor was the adoptive mother, who has Irish ancestors, told that Jane's real father also had Irish ancestors. It may not seem like much to know that you are part Irish, but it is alt least a tangible piece of information for a teenager grappling with questions of identity.
WAS IGNORED BY THE AGENCY
They did receive a letter about the birth control pills, but it was worded so casually that it was treated with no seriousness. Perhaps the director of the agency assumed that I was lying when I reported what the doctors had told me. We know that the letter from Jane's doctor was received because that's how the agency traced her family to its current address, a feat that took them from August 1978 to March 1979. Is it possible that the agency's filing system is so disorganized? Hardly. It is likely that the social workers were following the letter of New York State law, which says that the original mother and adoptee should not have access to each other's name except for "good cause." Although with medication my daughter did not had a seizure for the past two years, for many years they were frequent and furious. What are the criteria for "good cause"? Whose needs are being served?
Jane's adoptive mother thinks she knows. "The agencies forget who the primary client is--the adopted person. We pay the bills and so they do what they assume we want, even at the expense of the child." Her adoptive father regrets that he was not more aggressive in seeking information, had not written more letters. Our daughter said nothing, and I couldn't think of anything to add.
It is in the nature of man to find people one is connected to by birth. The Italians have a saying: Blood seeks blood. At last, my search is over. The injustice of sealed records can do no further damage to me or my daughter. But there are the others. They number in the millions.--lorraine
This originally appeared on February 6, 1982 in The New York Times. I came across it the other day when going through my files, and decided to record it here. So far, I have not been able to pull it up on the Times website, though it must be there in the scans of the day to day paper, but I haven't found it yet. Though easily I can pull up the two regular columnists who appeared that same day. How easy it is to disappear. Fortunately, I have a hard copy of the whole page, though now it is quite yellow with age.
Birthmark was published three years earlier, in 1979, when I did not know where my daughter was; I had hoped the book (with relevant details about where and when she was born and adopted) would yield up my daughter, but that did not happen. Jane's adoptive mother had been told about the book, but, I believe, not that the natural mother gave birth in April of 1966 in Rochester, New York. In any event, two years after publication I paid a searcher and my daughter and I were reunited; later I learned he had already searched for and located my daughter, from the clues in the book. He was just waiting for me to ask.
Later research about seizures show a connection to a lack of vitamin B6, or pyridoxine. Oral contraceptives negatively interfere with B6 absorption. I took birth control pills for about three months during the early stage of my pregnancy, after an early test (done in a lab) indicated I was not pregnant. I had gone to the doctor too early in the pregnancy. I knew, but I didn't want to know.
NOT THE SIXTIES MANY IMAGINE
Nineteen sixty-five was far removed from the Swingin' Sixties and the Woodstock vibe, which really occurred in the Seventies. In the Sixties I knew "out of wedlock" pregnancies were scandalous and single mothers were shunned. I was a Catholic girl with little knowledge of birth control and felt deeply deeply shamed. Abortion was illegal and not easy to come by.
I never imagined that 32 years later, I would still be at this, still trying to get New York and all the states to give adoptees the right to their own, true identities. While sorting through the Times on line yesterday, I came across the quote by Cyril Means, the (late) attorney on the suit brought by ALMA to unseal birth records for the adopted: "Apart from slavery there is no other instance in our laws, or in any other jurisprudence in civilized system of jurisprudence, in which a contract made among adults, in respect of an infant, can bind that child once he reaches his majority."
Change is coming, yet in most states this is still true.