|About to be swallowed up by the deep photo by Ken Robbins|
I am holed up in my apartment, and don’t venture much beyond a nearby
grocery store, the pharmacy across the street, and the library a few blocks away.
One day at a specialty food shop a few miles down the road, I see another reporter
with his wife and ran out of the place as quickly as I could. I go to a mid-week
matinee of The Sound of Music, and learn how much I will always hate the
movie— all those saccharine singing children. With so few outlets for human
interaction, my every-other week visits with Mrs. Mura are anticipated with both
dread (for what they represented: adoption), and bottomless need (the relief of
being able to talk to another woman about this).
She is non-judgmental, even sympathetic, as my woes flow out like molten
lava. I hadn’t known what to expect when we met because I was, after all, owning
up to an affair with a married man—an older married man in my office, how
cheesy is that? Why hadn’t I insisted that we not go all the way that afternoon—
when I correctly calculated the timing was bad? With so much at stake, what kind
of an idiot gets into this predicament? How stupid am I? I not only feel sorry for
myself, I feel like an idiot. I am radioactive with shame.
But wait—it’s about to get worse.
As I sit there on the third or fourth visit, she is saying that I will never be
able to know who my baby is, or what happens? That can’t be right. “What are you
saying—of course I’ll be able to find out who he is, when he grows up, right?” I
Why doesn’t she say something? Something’s wrong. “Right?” I repeat insistently.
“Right? We’ll be able to know one another one day? When he’s eighteen?
Twenty-one? He’ll get my name? And me, his? ” My heart is already fluttering
like a hummingbird’s wings as understanding comes into focus.
“No.” Mrs. Mura shakes her head almost imperceptibly. “It’s not like that,
Lorraine. I thought you knew.”
No, I didn’t know!
Surely this cannot be the only option—what monster would make that kind
of law? I had been sailing along under the silver lining that someday my baby
would be able to know who I was, and I would be able to know him. We would
meet. I didn’t get beyond that. But surely we would meet one day.
“Lorraine, I thought you knew,” she repeats, speaking barely above a whisper, “once you sign the papers it’s final.” When I do not respond, she releases a second arrow. “When he’s adopted, a new birth certificate will be issued with only the adoptive parents listed.”
“That is the most horrible thing I ever heard of! I mean, when—when he’s older. Surely that’s what this secrecy is about—it’s why I can’t meet the parents, right—so that I don't interfere—but later?” I am covered with a hot flash of stickiness. “You never said anything about this before.”
She offers me a glass of water, she pushes the box of tissue toward me, but
sends no mitigating signal. She’s trying to be gentle, I can tell that, but how can
she not see herself this is wrong? I think she does! She’s not saying how this is the
best for everybody, she’s just talking about the new birth certificate, records
sealed, it’s the law, blah blah blah.
I turn to the windows, they are high up and all I can see is the sky—the
better for privacy, I am suddenly aware. A patch of clear bright blue filled the
window. How can today be sunny?
True, I don’t want this baby announced in the newspaper under Births, I
have been desperate to keep my pregnancy secret, to not embarrass Patrick and
myself—the pathetic pregnant numbskull—but I can hardly believe I am never—
we are never—going to be able to meet. I am looking through a chain link fence as
a child goes from baby to toddler to adolescent to teen to adult, and now the fence
is covered with black plastic film one cannot see through.
But I am not down for the count yet. After all, it is my baby and I was sure
that whoever wanted this special baby—two healthy college graduates, surely we
are desirable breed stock—would agree to something other than this. “What about
if we ask the adoptive parents? Or can’t we find a couple who would agree—can’t
we do this another way? Can’t we have an arrangement that when he is older, that
he can find out who I am, and me too, about him? There must be some people
She is shaking her head, no, I keep interrupting her, until she finally says,
“Lorraine, if you won’t agree to this, we can’t help you. There is no other way.”
We can’t help you. There is no other way. The impossibility of arranging an
adoption privately is incomprehensible—I’m in a strange city with no connections
and Patrick says this is what I must do. I notice the floor is sickly pale green, the
color of vomit, even in the place where the sun hits it.
On that bright, desperate day in early 1966 a yoke of hopelessness clamps
down on my shoulders, locks around my neck. Who am I to go up against the law?
I am a mere cog in the busy machinery of passing children out to people more
respectable than me. I have no rights. I am an unfortunate nobody.
“In time this won’t be so intense,” Mrs. Mura says, bringing me back from
somewhere else. “You will never forget your child, but it will get easier. You will
move on, there will be another life.” At least she has the good grace not to tell me
it is best this way.
When I tell Patrick this utterly horrible news, but he does not share my
outrage. I am more aware than before that I am having this baby alone. He is not
having this baby. I am. He is still insisting yes, one day, later, we will be together,
he loves me, he loves me.
Patrick brings me a thin gold band and I slip it on my ring finger. Now I can
pretend I am a married lady.
I have no choice but to stay suspended in that slurry fog of hope and doubt.
That is March.
Erasing a paper trail to the natural mother in adoption is a modern
phenomenon. Up until the middle part of the twentieth century people who were
adopted had access to their original birth certificates. Accounts of earlier adoptions
clearly show that when adult adoptees—or their mothers—came back asking for
information about each other, the agencies complied. In Family Matters, a history
of the adoption-reform movement, I read about a desperate woman who gave up a
son around the turn of the century when he was four. In 1929—more than three
decades later—she wrote to her local welfare agency asking someone to find him
because “her mind turn[ed] constantly to the thought of this son.” The letter was
forwarded to the Children’s Home Society in Washington where a caseworker, a
Miss T., was assigned to the case. She contacted his last known address, she called
the local credit association, she looked him up in an old city directory. Nothing
turned up a lead. Yet somehow this tenacious woman found his ex-business
partner, who supplied the man’s current address in California. To make sure he
was the right man, Miss T. wrote to him before forwarding the information to his
Right up until the middle of the twentieth century whether or not to reveal the information in the agency records was at the discretion of the social workers involved, many of them sympathetic like Miss T. But though there have always been people who understood that cutting off the past of a person is not in his best interests, the attitudes changed as adoption became more prevalent. Sealing the original birth certificates from the parties whose names are listed supposedly debastardized the infant who would become an integrated member of the new, adoptive family with all the rights of a natural child. In the process, the mother was saved from humiliation at the time of the birth. Minnesota became the first state to
seal original birth records of adopted individuals in 1917. Except for a few, other states followed suit.
Yet there were always naysayers to this harsh and irrevocable severance of
mother from child. In 1935 the head of the New York Foundling Hospital wrote to
New York Governor Herbert H. Lehman stating her opposition to such proposed
“(1) It legalizes the falsification of permanent public records.
“(2) It nullifies the inalienable right of a person to know the actual
facts of his birth.
“(3)” Any special provision for illegitimate children which will single
them out from the group of legitimate children is bound to be a cause of
embarrassment to them in later years.—Sister Dominica Maria, April 25th,
Her warnings were ignored, and by the late 1930s, New York was one of the
early states to seal the original birth records, seal the adoption agency records, and
seal the court records.
Yet the legalization of total and final separation of mother and child would
never completely banish the sense of our human and innate need for connection to
one’s natural family. Before the mid-1960s, adopted individuals, their natural
mothers, and even adoptive parents were more likely to get identifying information
if they went back to the agency and asked than they are today. As late as 1960,
some forty percent of the states left open the right of the adoptee to access his own
birth records at various ages. 
But a cultural shift was underway as adoption became increasingly
acceptable as a way to have a family, and as changing sexual customs made more
babies available. By 1966, my baby and I were being scooped up whole into the
awful net of laws dictated by that “cultural shift.”
We were never supposed to know one another. Period.--lorraine from hole in my heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption (pages 35-40) Previous excerpts available in scroll; go to Home Page, and scroll down.
 E. Wayne Carp, Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption (Cambridge, MA: 1998), p. 78.
 Elizabeth J. Samuels, “The Idea of Adoption: An Inquiry into the History of Adult Adoptee Access to Birth Records,” Rutgers Law Review, Winter 2001, Vol. 53:2, p 367.