' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: September 2008
Join Lorraine in Indianapolis! She will be opening the IAN conference on Friday morning. See details on sidebar.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rachael's Origins Don't Include Me

“How did you hear about the ‘American Girl’ show” the grandmotherly voice on the phone asked me? I looked around, and seeing the room was empty, whispered “from my granddaughter.”

I didn’t want Rebecca, my surrendered daughter, to hear me refer to myself as her daughter Rachael’s grandmother. Rebecca made clear when she first contacted me three years earlier that her adoptive mother and her mother-in-law were her children’s only grandmothers. At the same time, she never tried to hide who I was from her four children. I spent time with them when I visited Rebecca at her home near Chicago and later at her home near Bloomington Illinois; they visited me at my home in Oregon. I took Rachael and her sister, Chelsea, on a tour of colleges in Oregon and Chicago. Rebecca, her husband, and children came to our family reunion. Rachael and Chelsea email me occasionally and Rachael sent me the link to her blog.

It was Rachael’s twelfth birthday. I was purchasing tickets to take Rachael and Rebecca to the American Girl show in Chicago when the seller asked me the apparently simple question. But nothing is simple in the world of adoption. I did not want Rebecca to think I was assuming a forbidden role, thus I whispered. Rebecca's adoptive mother sent Rachael an American Girl doll for her birthday so our gifts complimented each other.

Last summer Rebecca and her youngest child Aaron, then eight, came to visit. I took Aaron to a local theme park with a friend and her grandson. My friend asked Aaron if I was his grandmother. He said “Well, she is my grandmother in that she is my mother’s biological mother but….” He stopped there, unsure of what I was.

This August just before Aaron’s birthday Rebecca asked me to stop sending her children birthday presents which I had been sending for a decade. I don’t know the reason for her request but I think it may be related to the Mormon definition of family which is not wide enough to include natural relatives. (See “An Inconvenient Appendage.”)

Rachael is now a sophomore at Brigham Young University in Utah. Recently, she attempted to answer the question “who am I” on her blog as part of a school assignment:

“I am a college student, I work a college job, I love life! I love my family, I love Chicago. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and believe in the truth of the gospel that is taught in this religion….

I am the oldest of four …and have mom, dad, two cats, dog, and rabbit (actually it's my sister's). Here's a little about where we come from. I don't mean Illinois, that shapes me too, but where we really come from. Our origins.

[Her mother’s adoptive father’s]… family has been in the US for many, many generations. Perhaps even back to the origins of this country itself. It's funny that these ancestors ended up in Illinois too, by the Mississippi, when they were taught about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They moved down river to join other latter-day-saint members in Nauvoo and then ended up making the trek West to Salt Lake City with some of the first Mormon pioneers in their escape of persecution. Now I'm back in Illinois.

[Her mother’s adoptive mother]: These ancestors were converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints while in Denmark. They … took a boat all the way to America where they met the Saints out West….

. …I think that by learning about where I came from helps me realize the special worth I have on this earth. God made me for a reason!”

Rachael’s omission of her mother’s actual, biological, natural family may have been because this second second family didn't fit into the context of the assignment. No matter why she did it, attributing her origins to people who have no biological connection with her ignores an important part of her. She is her mother’s daughter, yes, but only through adoption is she connected in any way to the ancestors she writes about. Since adoptees that search talk about feeling unconnected to their adoptive families, I wonder if some might explain how they feel about their adoptive ancestors.

Rebecca’s adoptive parents imparted their faith in the LDS Church to Rebecca who in turn imparted it to Rachael. Her mother's adoptive parents, however, did not give her the interest and talent in writing, the difficulty in spelling, or her blue eyes. Rebecca and her family moved to Chicago when Rachael was seven and to the Bloomington area when she was 13. Her love of Chicago with her sense of connection to Illinois is one of those synchronistic things that occur in families separated by adoption. I grew up in Chicago and Rebecca’s biological father’s family was from Bloomington.

I am sad about being left off Rachael’s blog. I’d like to think that knowing me has had some value for her.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Flashing Neon Signs

For the past two weeks a colleague involved in basset hound rescue has been working many hours trying to find a home for a daschund. His current owner is an older woman whose husband just went into a nursing home; she won’t be able to manage the dog alone. As long as I’ve known her my colleague has insisted that Maddie, my daschund, needs a playmate/companion while we’re at work. So yes, I like daschunds, I’ll take a daschund over a basset hound even though I don’t think I need a second dog; Maddie’s enough responsibility. But my husband and I are up to it, and I want to help my friend.

This decision has been going back and forth for the past two weeks. Yes, they’ll give up the dog. No, they’ll keep the dog. And this whole time, from the moment I completed the adoption form (yes, we adopt pets just as we adopt children and it’s just as complicated, or so it seems), I’m comparing this to my 30 plus years of membership in the world of adoption. My husband and I have discussed changing the dog’s name. He’s called Buster; I don't like Buster. Yet we didn't change Maddie's name because "she already had a name." And I remember thinking back to that benchmark moment (i.e., when I became a “birthmother”) that my daughter already had a name too, but it didn't matter to the people who became her parents.

And this line of thought led to another painful memory. I was a guest speaker at a new adoption support group (99% adopted parents) several years ago. Prospective adoptive parents asked me how could a birthmother agree to relinquish her child only to pull the rug out from under the adoptive parents at the 11th hour and 59th minute? (I simply, sharply told them that child belonged to the woman who gave birth to him and should be considered as such until she relinquished her legal right to be that child’s parent.)

My regular parking area at work is being repaved so I have to walk to another lot further away from my building, near our onsite childcare center. It’s nice to see the happy little preschoolers burning off energy at the end of the day while they wait for their parents to take them home to dinner and baths and books and bed. The other evening I was walking past the playground and I heard this little voice calling out. I turned to see the voice belonged to a cute blond boy, probably around Tyler’s (the grandson who doesn’t know I’m his Grandida, about 2-1/2, 3) age. So I just smiled and waved, and he waved back. Another reminder of my selfless, courageous act: I’m a grandmother yet not a grandmother.

I just finished reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book of essays about the state of our country-- from Wall Street to religion--and she was discussing abortion, and how that which we take for granted can easily be taken away from us, and that those who have benefited from safe, legal abortions in the past need to speak out to protect that right for future women. And she admitted to having two abortions of her own because she couldn’t afford more children at the time, and praised working/welfare moms struggling to get by on next to nothing. Should I have been one of those struggling women instead of choosing adoption?

My mother called me over the weekend to tell me my aunt, her brother’s wife, passed away a couple of weeks ago. She was 85, it wasn’t a surprise. Her obituary said she was born in Charlotte, NC; I didn’t know that. (My daughter lives in Charlotte, at least I think she still does). So everywhere I turn it’s like there’s a flashing neon sign screaming Wendy, the name my daughter has been known by for almost 31 years. And no matter how many concerts I attend, how many movies I see, how many books I get lost in, how many miles I walk, she’s living rent free in my head.

And I hate it.

And after all that, Buster’s owner didn’t let us have him after all; she didn’t feel we’d be a good match.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Daughter's Change of Heart

My surrendered daughter Megan, a Mormon, searched for me for over 10 years, finally locating me in late 1997. Shortly after we reunited, she asked me what her original name had been. It was Rebecca. She said that her adoptive mother told her that I had not given her a name. Soon after that, Megan wrote to the State of California requesting her original birth certificate (OBC). Given that California still seals records and steals the name, she did not receive her OBC.

After our reunion, I tried to learn more about adoption. I attended conferences sponsored by the American Adoption Congress and Bastard Nation, advocates for allowing adoptees to receive their original birth certificates. While I had kept Megan’s existence a secret from most of my family, I became an activist for open records and encouraged Megan to become one as well. In August, 2000 she wrote the following letter to the Chicago Tribune:

“I've long been an advocate of open records. I am an adoptee. The birth certificate that I must rely on to get a driver's license, passport, etc., is a lie. It lists my place, date and time of birth and has a signature of the attending physician. And then it has the names of adoptive parents who were not there on that day. It places them at a place and time they were not. It is a cover-up.

I have long wanted to own a Certificate of Adoption that I could use for identification. It would list the place, date and time I was adopted. Really, my identify began at that moment.

I have a pretty good relationship with my adoptive parents, and I know they would never understand this.

Before I found my birth parents, I spent a lot of time scrutinizing my birth certificate, trying to make sense of it, trying to find my birth parents names listed somewhere between the lines. The certificate contained other facts about my birth, yet it left off the most important fact. I could not make sense of it. I want my original birth certificate because I want the complete truth, in writing, of who I am. I will still use the ammended [sic] one for legal purposes, but getting the original one would give me great satisfaction.”

Over the past eight years, however, Megan’s connection to the Mormon Church has hardened and our relationship has deteriorated. When we are together, we get along, agreeing for the most part on subjects like movies, raising children, protecting the environment. We enjoy the same activities, walking, theater, family dinners. We both wear simple clothes -- jeans and T-shirts -- and use little make-up. We make the same spelling errors -- we both routinely spell “amended” incorrectly. However, Megan cannot tolerate any discussion that she considers to be a criticism of the LDS Church or adoption. She believes that her adoption was God’s plan for her; that her adoptive family, the family to which she is joined for eternity, is her only family. I and my other children and her father and his daughter are inconvenient appendages. She recently emailed me and asked me not to send birthday gifts to her children, my grandchildren.

Early this year I forwarded Megan emails from an Illinois member of Bastard Nation with information about an open records bill in the Illinois legislature, HB4623. In a complete turnabout of how she initially felt, Megan wrote the following letter to the Bloomington (Illinois) Pantagraph.

“I am an adult adoptee. About 10 years ago, I made the choice to search for my birth mother and I found her!

I knew nothing about the "adoption rights'' movement. It was just something I wanted to do for myself.

The reunion with my birth mother was satisfying for me, and we still correspond and visit each other. After we met, I even attempted to obtain my original birth certificate, but was denied.

Since that time, I have been exposed to many, many communications from various groups pushing for legislation that would allow all adoptees the right to obtain their original birth certificates, regardless of the wishes of birth mothers.

At first, the political arguments made a lot of sense to me. However, after much careful study, pondering and prayer, I have decided for myself that I cannot embrace these groups' basic philosophy regarding family.

God has a plan for families. Children should be nurtured in loving homes by a father and a mother who are also husband and wife. "Redefining kinship,'' as advocated by the some of these groups, is a dangerous thing.

Furthermore, to obtain one's original birth certificate is not a civil or human right.
Because I don't believe in the basic goals of “adoption rights'' organizations, I cannot and will not support their political agendas, including open records for all adoptees.”

The letter created a ripple in the adoption rights community. A blogger in Australia ripped her for writing the letter pointing out that she had what she wanted but now would not let others have the same.

“That she has said all this AFTER She has *reunited* and REMAINS *reunited* with her Mother who gave birth to her and they still correspond and visit each other and not only that but the whole reunion was 'satisfying' for her...( I should be so lucky)

“BUT What Megan about all those other poor sods out there who NEED Their Original OBC To even 'begin' their search ? did you think about that ? What about them ?

“No sorry but your views are antiquated and self serving and certainly NOTHING To do with GOD.”

I don’t know why Megan wrote the letter – to get back at me for something? To reassure herself that her adoption was the right thing? I can only think that Megan struggled with the need to be true to her feelings and the need to be true to her church. In the end, the Church won out.

How did I feel when I read her letter? Disappointed, wistful, sad. Five years earlier I would have been distraught. I’m disappointed that Megan isn’t like Marley Greiner and the many other adoptees that fight for open records. I wish Megan and I could share our feelings about adoption. I’m sad Megan is so controlled by the LDS Church that she suppresses her feelings in order to support the Church’s fanciful views on the family. I’m sad that Megan can’t accept that she has two families.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mormon Opposition to Open Records

When I told Rebecca, my surrendered daughter who is a Mormon, that her Church opposed legislation allowing adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates, she asserted that I was misinformed: The Church had no position on opening records; she insisted; it was only the old fuddy duddies who ran LDS Family Services who opposed opening records and they would soon be gone.

Contrary to Rebecca’s assertion, the Mormon Church does oppose opening records. Furthermore, it stretches credibility to believe that LDS Family Services would take a position which had not been approved by the Church. LDS Family Services agencies comprise 26 percent of the 197 member agencies of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) the leading opponent of open records legislation. It sends emissaries to oppose open records at public hearings all over the country; it initiates letter-writing campaigns opposing open records. Without NCFA and its “official” sounding name, it’s almost certain more states would have open records laws by now. Make no mistake; LDS is the enemy of open records.

NCFA claims that it opposes opening records in order to protect "the principles of mutual consent and the option of privacy in adoption," but that’s just a cover for the principles of Mormonism, that is that your only family is the one to which you were sealed in the temple; this is the family with which you will spend eternity. Keeping records closed helps perpetuate the Mormon tenet that single pregnancy is sinful and ought to be concealed by surrendering the baby for adoption. Finally, it actively discourages adoptees from searching for their natural mothers, and makes searching seem like something that a good Mormon would not do. (Ironically, Troy Dunn, also known as “The Locator,” announces that he is a Mormon who searched and found his mother’s biological family in the opening sequence of each show. Go figure.)

Let’s look at how LDS beliefs and practices encourage and further sealed records. It starts with the Church’s reliance on abstinence only-sex education and includes the Church’s opposition to abortion, and insistence that single mothers surrender their babies. These same conditions created a baby glut in 1960's. There’s no hard data but it appears likely that without an aggressive adoption program, there would be more Mormon babies available than couples willing to adopt.

Mormons marry and begin their families early. Thus they have fewer age-related fertility problems than the general population. LDS Family Services excludes gays, single people, and those who are not “temple worthy” from adopting. At the same time, Mormons eschew childlessness, putting pressure on infertile couples to adopt. Many couples, however, are reluctant to adopt if there is a likelihood that the child may reunite with the first family. They may turn to foreign adoptions where reunion with birthparents is often impossible.

The Church actively promotes surrender and adoption. Its monthly publication Ensign has frequent articles encouraging pregnant single women to surrender their babies. Each ward, an organizational unit consisting of about 200 families, has an adoption coordinator who identifies pregnant single women and counsels them on marriage or adoption. Each ward holds annual adoption promotion programs during Sunday services. LDS Family Services has adoption agencies throughout the country. (See earlier post. And post about Rebecca's hurtful email.)

Although Mormon adoptions today commence with some degree of openness, adoptive parents have the power to deny contact between the adopted child and his natural parents. A mother-to-be may meet the prospective adoptive parents at the LDS Family Services offices but they are not given each others’ names or address. Adoptive parents are required to send pictures and letters to the natural mother through LDS Family Services offices until the child is three. The natural mother may send letters and pictures as well. However, LDS Family Services reads the letters and may censor them or refuse to forward them to the adoptive parents. The parties can agree to meet and to continue contact after three years, but this means that the adoptive parents have complete control over whether this happens or not. If they wish to cut off all contact, they may do so; remember that the first mother was never given their name or whereabouts. At this point, the so-called open adoption can in effect become a closed adoption, just as surely as mine was in 1966.

As usual, as in the past, this puts all the power in the hands of the adoptive parents, leaving natural mothers once again at the mercy of adoptive parents, who could turn out to be just like the ones Lorraine wrote about in the previous post.

It seems obvious that Church leaders fear that opening records – giving adoptees the right to their original, first biological heritage -- would encourage reunions which would in turn discourage Mormons from adopting domestically. The inevitable result would be single mothers keeping their babies or placing them with non-Mormon families. But adoption by non-Mormon families would work against the Church’s fierce drive to increase its membership. Remember, one of its main goals is to increase membership -- that is the point of the two-year mission that all good Mormon men undertake. Additionally, if women kept their babies, the single-mother families might draw into question the Church's teachings that a proper family consists of a married man and woman and their children.

How do we combat this? Certainly it is an uphill battle, and with the LDS, we will never win in our lifetimes. But that means that we have to work all the harder to spread the message that the vast majority of first mothers desperately want to know the children they surrendered and pray for a reunion.

In a few days, I’ll post about reading my granddaughter’s blog – and learning that she has obliterated me from her “heritage.”


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Open Adoption is "one free baby-sitting scam"....

Last night I couldn't help myself, I delved into that book that started the terrible argument with my friend Yvonne over whether or not the givers of life have any rights--any rights at all--to find out what happened to that life. And I read enough into The Brotherhood of Joseph by Brooks Hansen to realize how far--how incredibly far--we have to go before we are going to change hearts and minds among adopters. I know that word--adopters--invokes revulsion in many and I'll grant that it does seem like a cruel term, but Mr. Hansen says that when he hears a kid on the bus ask a girl if she's ever going to look for her "real" parents, the word evokes in him the same feelings as if he had heard "nigger" or "cunt." So for the moment, let me call him and his wife Elizabeth, ADOPTERS. Because that's what they are; for the record, he prefers "actual parents." He never says what he would prefer we first parents would be called. Actually, he would prefer us dead, though he doesn't say that. He doesn't need to.

A brief rundown of the story. He and his wife, age 36, want to be parents. Are desperate to be parents. Somewhere between the wife's age of 36 and 37 they hop on the fertility-industry train. Apparently they missed the biology lesson that says that after age 29 a woman's fertility starts to decline and .... keeps going down. After four years of the awful business--and it is pretty grim--and going into debt, they try a donor egg from a relative of the wife's That fails also. He admits freely that they wanted their own kid: "...we are a species, 'let's face it--that prizes the blood-bond uber Alles. And the law makes that pretty clear...Even distant grandparents can wedge a child from the arms of adopted parents just by showing up in court." (As if, but that's another story.)

He then explains why an open adoption is repugnant: "Just because we'd been through the IVF wars and lost, that didn't mean that Elizabeth should always have to save an extra seat at the dance recital." He's incensed that prospective adopters could pay for the care and "late-night Whopper runs" of a pregnant woman who was considering giving them her child and then "change her mind, keep the baby, and not have to pay back the prospective couple one red cent..." He calls open adoption with its "update letters, report cards, scheduled visits, etc., "seem like one giant free baby-sitting scam."

So it's off to Russia to adopt where they get Ilya or Theo, I can't quite tell. And though the book seems to end there, I'm aware--remember, he's the son of friends of Yvonne, the adopting grandparents live in my little town and are people I occasionally run into at the supermarket or the ATM--they get a second child from Kazakhstan. Apparently the well-educated Mr. Hansen and his wife never read Cicero:

Not to have knowledge of what happened before you were born is to be condemned to live forever as a child.

They want a kid that will never be able to have a relationship with any kin, or most likely, never be able to learn more about his ancestry than the adopters know and tell him. By choosing this kind of adoption, they are choosing to form person that can never know, never have a history other than the one they create.

I awoke early this morning in one of those aggravating mind frenzies, thinking, if this is what Yvonne ( see earlier blogs) thinks is not only possible, but preferred, if this is what informs the opinions of people like Aston (the moneyed class, let's be clear), if there are people like Brooks and Elizabeth Hansen, we have so much further to go than we thought. I try to be sympathetic to people who adopt, but lord, since there is no reciprocity evident in so many of them towards the women who gave their children life, it's kinda hard to be understanding of their plight. And feelings. (To make the book even more in my face, it's blurbed on the back by another friend, this one a writer and the adoptive father of a darling Chinese girl. She really is darling, I'm not being sarcastic.)

Which brings me back to The Locator. I've seen all four episodes and they have all been adoption-reunion stories, and no matter how much Troy Dunn charges for people who aren't his pro bono cases, these stories pack a wallop in a half hour, and the more people that see them the more we are going to change public opinion about open adoption, and open records for adoptees and birth parents.

The other day I got an email from a compatriot in the fight to open records and the basic gist of it was--tell stories. Tell stories about separation and reunion. Get to people on a gut level. You can quote statistics about "unresolved grief" from the Donaldson report on birth mothers, but that doesn't do as much good as one heart-breaking story of loss and reunion. So let me encourage all of your nay-sayers about The Locator, and its media commercialization of one of life's most basic stories--mother and child separation--to think about it in a different light. The more people who see it, the more we are going to be able to reach the hearts and minds of legislators, and people like Yvonne and Aston and their friends.

The Locator website at WE has a silly mind game, Troy Dunn's blog, a reunion registry (yeah, really), summaries of the episodes, but in the end, the television show reminds the audience that life does not begin with adoption, that the need to know one's past is universal, and only those who have been brain-washed not to think about the past, or have been too hurt to let themselves wonder, shut off this curiosity.

It's on in back-to-back episodes on Saturday evening, starting at nine p.m.

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Abortion Not Adoption" the Mantra of the GOP

Officially, Firstmother Forum is not taking a position on the upcoming presidential race, but there are issues raised and comments made by people running that deserve our attention--and form our opinions. Such as: during the interview with her good friend at ABC, Charlie, Sarah Palin made a quick reference to adoption in lieu of abortion. Any mother worth her hormones knows that the two are not interchangeable.

Senator McCain also made the same statement at another time. Both candidates are opposed to abortion to varying degrees. Sarah Palin, the veep choice of McCain, would only allow it if the mother's life were in danger; McCain, I believe, is a wee bit more liberal. Perhaps you can get an abortion if you were raped.

Abortion is either a simple procedure not involving a crisis of conscience, or a morally difficult solution. But it is final. It has a beginning and an end. It is not a living death with out peace, as is giving up a child--particularly in a closed adoption. Given the emotional fallout after the heated discussion with the aforementioned Aston(I became physically ill by the end of the week), I took to re-reading parts of the Donaldson Report on birth parents and came upon these words on Page 50:

...Birthmothers in fully disclosed adoptions (all parties share their identities) had significantly better grief resolution than those in confidential adoptions at both the first and second follow-up periods of [the study].

Paraphrasing here, the study goes on to say that at approximately eight years after "placement," only 30 percent of the women had a good or very good level of "grief resolution" in closed adoptions (as in the case of Jane, Linda and myself, the three bloggers here ) and 25 percent of the women involved in "time-limited mediated" adoptions which I presume means a limited period of time when one gets news of the placement but without contact or the names of the adopters; and "ongoing mediated," 52 percent had good or very good grief resolution; and fully disclosed (which I would take to mean an open adoption), 68 percent.

That means that 70 percent of the women who were forced into, or given no choice, or agreed to a "closed adoption" have poor grief resolution eight years after the relinquishment. Sounds like a pretty poor rate of success, for the life-givers.

More than a dozen years ago I wrote about the first Bush advocating "adoption not abortion" an op-ed that was picked up by newspapers around the country. That was about crack/AIDS babies; I didn't get into the unresolved grief of the person who gave life to the baby. Because, as most of us are aware, in the minds of many--if not most of the people who have not walked in our shoes--the emotional turmoil and long-time grief that we suffer is too effin' bad. When I was having that dust-up with Aston, I said something about how adoptive parents really wish us dead; he demurred, but I was right. They do want us dead. If they don' t think about that literally, they certainly want us dead figuratively. They don't want to have to deal with us, or the idea of us coming back. They want us gone. Forever.

And the other day I happened to catch Barack Obama on the tube answering a similar question about children, and I swear to god, I heard him say that the country needed to provide support for mothers who wanted to keep their children.

There you have it.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Birth Mothers Attacked as Usual...or, Maybe I Need New Friends

I seem to be attracting fireballs lately--mainly because a) I'm writing about my daughter and telling people, so that brings up the whole idea that I found her, not the other way around; and b) I live in a world where adoptions are plentiful--everybody knows at least three people who have adopted and so far, so good. The kids are generally doing fine and so...the elephant in the room is the specter of the birth mother coming back.

That would be me.

So after just having had that horrible eruption with my close friend and neighbor, Yvonne, I got gob-smacked the other night by childless successful corporate attorney, also a friend. Call him Aston. He is godfather to one Chinese adoptee, who lives down the street from us, she's now fifteen; friend to another women who also has a Chinese girl, now fourteen; and one of his very best friends has a white son...from Gladney in Texas, one of the agencies that supports the National Council for Adoption.

Anyway, those are only the adoptions we know about that Aston is close to. God knows what started it, but he went on a long nasty harangue about how any birth mother coming back is always interfering, always upsetting this nice family, and after the parents have "invested" so much, both financially and emotionally, this WOMAN HAS NO RIGHT TO DO THAT!!!!

After I tried to make a case for the agony of not knowing, and gave him a brief history of sealed adoptions (Kansas and Alaska didn't count because they weren't big enough states) he came up with this question: What part of the pie chart of a birth mother who searches can be ascribed to self-interest? ....

Tell me, how do you answer that?

My husband Tony was there throughout and took Aston on as much as I did because that question left me speechless. The "discussion" might have taken place in a courtroom. Aston didn't know (why would he?) there was any research about birth mothers. Or the great mystery in the life of an adoptee. I did have him leave with both a copy of The Adoption Triangle and the Donaldson adoptee report. He's never had kids, when he and he wife wanted to adopt, his mother talked them out of it.

Damn, I can't even write about this without crying. All I know is that birth others are really seen as the pariahs by the elite class of adopters who have never been in the position of being poor, or feeling they had no options. Yvonne is one, Aston is another. Aston's wife, who did want to adopt quite badly, it came out, mostly said nothing but she at least got it that birth mothers would feel ...what is the word? Aston and I ended up using agony to refer to the pain birth mothers feel.

Here is what I emailed him the next day:

What I never got around to saying during your prosecutorial attack--the pie chart question seemed only designed to make birth mothers look bad and in doing so denigrate me--was that adoptees often want to be found because it indicates that their mothers do think about them, want to know them, want to know what happened, that the baby wasn't just dropped off and the woman/teenager went on with her life as if the child was a mere temporary inconvenience.

I'm just one person but I have had stacks of letters over the years thanking me for what I do from adopted people; what they want is for their mothers to find them. Adoption is painful, and keeping everything locked up--no matter who does the searching--does not make it less so. Only in the minds of people who have never walked the walk. Since you have such strong opinions that I'm in the wrong in such a major way,
I hope you will take the time to read some of the material, including the birth mother survey that is at the site I sent yesterday. (you don't need to read it all, you can find the relevant sections from the TOC.
Unless you walked in my shoes, I don't think you can understand the depth of feeling that goes toward one's one flesh and blood. As someone one said, we can be casual about our own parents, but our kids always have us by the balls.
In a message dated 09/07/08 10:10:49 Eastern Daylight Time, nccar@mindspring.com writes:
I have given the following young lady your email and asked her to contact you, as her adoption was handled in New York. Please if you can pass her along to anyone who might be of assistance to her. She contacted me through the Care2 network.

Hello Ms. Roberta,

Thank you for responding to my inquiry. The main dilemma that I have been encountering is that I was born in Miami FL, but taken away from my mothers arms (when she moved up to NYC I might have been 1 yrs old) and put into foster care in Bronx, NY and that eventually led into an adoption by a family that was not well receiving of me as the adoptee. I somehow remembered from the time I was 4 1/2 yrs old that the foster care agency was located on 349 East 149th Street; Bronx, NY 10451 because of the building structure and the CitiBank logo on there; however, nobody knew the name of the agency that was once in the basement area of CitiBank back in 1984-1990's. I was told by CitiBank reps that that organization left during the 90's. This is the only detail I could recall of that has made me continue asking people if there's a way to get the agency's name during 1984. I even wrote Governor Pataki to please help me in this search and he replied with several agency's names in the Bronx and they claimed that I don't exist on their system.

I greatly appreciate your interest to assist me in any way, I hope to receive guidance if that's possible so that my life mystery can come to an end. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.



Do you think this woman would feel that her birth mother was causing an unnecessary conflict in her life if she were to call upon her daughter?

One more thing, that I did not bring up that night: Aston's father was the guardian ad litem for the Schmidt/DeBoer child, Baby Anna/Jessica. Who argued in the Michigan court that the baby's best interests were with staying with the DeBoers....Who in my mind were nothing but baby snatchers as the real mother asked for the child back within the time limit but fought her for two years in the courts. Incidentally, the DeBoers later divorced.

Oh yeah, where did all this take place? At my dinner table, just the cozy four of us. I'd love to hear from other birth mothers about the reactions they get when it becomes clear they were the ones who did the searching.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Virtual Twin Studies Show that Nature Wins Again

Adoption news is popping up everywhere...in the Home section of the New York Times on Thursday (9/4/08), in the TV reviews on Saturday (The Locator) (9/6/08).

In Studies of Virtual Twins, Nature Wins Again (By Sarah Kershaw) the headline reads. The story is about what happens to children who come into a family fewer than nine months apart, usually the result of a couple doing all they can on several levels (trying to get pregnant, having multiple feelers out for adoption) to acquire a child and voila! two babies arrive at the home less than nine months apart. So...how do these "virtual twins" fare?

Are they alike? After all, same environment, same parents, pretty much...same everything....Are they as alike as two regular twins would be?

Not by a long shot.

Nature's pull is stronger. One family quoted says the differences between their two daughters are striking, and that the girls became more different as they grew older and were less influenced by their parents. The researcher, Nancy L. Segal, who has been studying twins for seventeen years, has come to the conclusion that there is clear evidence that genetics play a greater role than environment in intelligence and a range of personality traits. Quelle surprise! The research is scheduled for publication in the fall in Personality and Individual Differences, a psychological journal.

There was so much about my daughter that I could recognize from myself, and her father. The way she walked; a similar style in dressing, a potty mouth, a deep sense of irony. She smoked and loving hanging out in a pub--sound Irish? Well, her father was. And he certainly loved doing those things. Some of these traits absolutely drove her adoptive parents mad and turned them away from her. There was so much about her they simply didn't get. We all wanted her to quit smoking, say, but her husband smoked, and hey! she met him in a bar. I might not have liked it, but I understood it.

Jane, one of the other bloggers here, told me once that her first daughter Megan was sitting there once with her sisters telling them how she wasn't like them in many ways, but she and one of the other daughters both had on Birkenstocks, which you have to agree are popular but still, a very specific taste, and they all wore no makeup, same kind of hair style, same posture.

Last night when I got around to watching the birthmother/daughter reunion on The Locator, wouldn't you know the two women both wear lots of eye makeup and were dabbing their eyes as they cried when they met. The Times reviewer made a sarcastic remark about them not forgetting they were on camera, but hey, anybody who wears that much mascara is aware that tears are not mascara's friend. Both women had on blue tops. When I met my daughter, we both had on pink sweaters. We both loved men's style clothing.

As for The Locator, we can criticize this kind of reunion, but it seems rather snobbish of us to do so. If the only way you can get someone to find your mother is to approach a guy you know does searches in a bookstore and start weeping when you want to talk to him, who are we to criticize? To find my daughter I would have done it on camera if necessary--hell, I would have done it at Grand Central Station with a thousand people watching under the camera lights, if those were the conditions. I didn't have to, but I'm not going to criticize anyone who does--or even the shows that exploit this heart-tugging material.

And the mother says all the right things, how she never stopped thinking about her daughter, how she had this hole in her life, etcetra. Yes, I cried by the time the reunion came. If the show furthers our agenda--to open records, to show that closed records are cruel and unusual punishment for being adopted--what's to complain about? I'm hoping the show airs again, so check WE and if anybody finds it, please post a comment telling us when.

We are only going to win the war against closed records when we reach the public--and because of deeply ingrained feelings that "forever families" should not be "interfered" with by natural mothers who search--we still have a long road to go.

see you around campus--lorraine


Incidentally, the story was written by the same person who wrote the story written about in an earlier post (Loss and Gain Collide in Adoptee's Search for His Birth Family) about the probably identical wins who had been separated, and the remaining son tracked down the adoptive family of his brother. Sarah Kershaw. She gets it! Anybody know her?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Locator Starts Tonight!

Ah....The Locator, which we blogged about a few days past, begins tonight on WE. According to the review in the New York Times everything goes well, including the birth mother/adoptee reunion. Two half-hour segments are tonight, beginning at 9 p.m.; the first is a reunion of siblings; the second is a birth mother/adoptee reunion. Troy Dunn finds the birth mother even though an aunt, who arranged the adoption, wouldn't tell the girl searching anything. Boo on her!

And amazingly enough, Troy Dunn is indeed a Mormon (see Jane's previous post) who has written about child-rearing, his Mormon faith and his work....the review states that he's been so succesful finding people since 1990 that he is now able to take on free cases. That he is a Mormon who reunites mothers and children goes so against the tenants of the LDS--maybe we could get him to knock some heads at the National Council for Adoption, the enemy of open records and reunions.

Stay tuned. We're recording it tonight.

Review at

Friday, September 5, 2008

Adoption and the Mormon Church

My surrendered daughter Rebecca is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS, Mormon). In spite of a childhood marred by not knowing her origins, she accepts without question the Church’s precepts that all unmarried mothers should surrender their children for adoption. This doctrine is founded not only on the Church’s concepts of morality but on its beliefs about family and immortality.

The Mormon Church advises couples who conceive a child out of wedlock:

“…The best option is for the mother and father of the child to marry and work toward establishing an eternal family relationship. If a successful marriage is unlikely, they should place the child for adoption, preferably through LDS Family Services. … Adoption is an unselfish, loving decision that blesses the birth parents, the child, and the adoptive family.” (Quotations are from the Church’s website, www.LDS.org.)

According to Mormon doctrine we are put on earth to work towards perfection. After our death and resurrection, we will stand “before the Lord to be judged according to our desires and actions. Each of us will accordingly receive an eternal dwelling place in a specific kingdom of glory.” The kingdoms of glory in descending order are the Celestial the Terrestrial, and the Telestial Kingdoms. Those who are unworthy will be called the sons of perdition and “will have to abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory. After death we may be reunited with family members who are in the same kingdom.

The Church’s rules on family formation are set forth in its 1995 “Proclamation to the World.”

“…Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and … the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

“…God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

“ Individuals who violate covenants of chastity … will one day stand accountable before God. … The disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

By surrendering her child for adoption, a natural mother “ensures that the child will be sealed to a mother and father in the temple” and thus may have “an eternal family relationship” after death. Surrendering the child allows unmarried parents to atone for violating the covenant of chastity and “enhances the prospect for the blessing of the gospel in the lives of all concerned.” Finally, surrender protects society against disintegration and calamity.

If the threat of being excluded from a kingdom of glory is not enough, the Church adds the familiar arguments:

“Young women who choose adoption are more likely to complete high school and go on to higher education. They are more likely to be employed and less likely to live in poverty or receive public assistance. They are also less likely to repeat out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Children who grow up without their fathers are three times more likely to have a child of out of wedlock, twice as likely to drop out of high school, and two to three times as likely to have emotional or behavioral problems, and they often become the poorest of the poor.”

Each ward (a church organizational unit of about 200 families) has a volunteer adoption counselor. The counselor contacts pregnant unmarried women, and if marriage is not possible or desired, refers them to LDS Family Services.

Each ward also holds periodic adoption promotion meetings during which the ward leader (bishop) reminds church members of the Church’s teachings on adoption. Adoptive parents provide favorable testimonials. The Church publishes articles it its monthly magazine Ensign urging pregnant single women to surrender their children.

Until recently, Mormon adoptions, like other adoptions, were closed. Now expectant mothers may select adoptive parents from profiles online and meet with them. The parties may agree to further contact.

The Mormon adoption mandate appears to be successful. Few Mormon women keep their babies. Those that do suffer condemnation from Church members. I have been told that while they can attend Church services, they are not permitted to participate in prayers nor sacred temple ceremonies.

This is the second of a series on the LDS Church and adoption-related issues.

Lorraine adding a note here:

The greatest most organized opposition to open records for adoptees comes from the National Council for Adoption. They send people to testify at hearings, they write letters, they have money to fight open records because they collect fees for adoptions...right?

And who make up a large--if not majority--of their agency members? The LDS adoption agencies. Given what Jane has reported (from their own website) NCFA will never support open records, and when any of you good soldiers in the fight against stupid sealed records come up against them...this kind of information should be made known to your legislators. NCFA must lose! NCFA not now, NCFA (Nik-Fa) never!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

When a 'mistake' became a child

The Bristol Palin story has opened up the debate about abortion because of course...some are thinking, Bristol could have had an abortion. And then there's the language that calls the baby a "mistake," and how that impacts adopted people.

It's a tricky labyrinth because for those of us who gave up children, the pregnancy--there's no way around it--was a "mistake." The pregnancy was a "problem." It was a life--our lives--that were being turned upside down by an unplanned, and yes, unwanted pregnancy. Those of you who have read Birthmark know that I tried to have an abortion. At the time, I was 22, not married to the father (who was married to someone else), living on my own just out of college, without resources, and yes, my pregnancy, was a "problem." It was 1966 when it seemed unthinkable to raise--even admit I was pregnant--on my own.

But once you don't have the abortion, once you go go through the months of having your body and mind turn to a child, your child, everything changes. The "problem" became "him." (I thought I was having a boy up until the moment she was born.) And no matter what I felt before, my feelings turned to love and an aching desire to keep my baby, even though that seemed impossible at the time. So what was once a mistake becomes a child, your child, who you love more than you ever thought possible.

My husband, who was his mother's second child, was born at a time when the family was in financial difficulty, and he once heard that he wasn't particularly wanted...when his mother got pregnant. But that didn't alter one whit the love he felt from his mother; in fact, he turned out to be closer to her than his older brother.

So adoptees, though the word "mistake" is hard to hear, know that it doesn't refer to you as the baby or the person you became. My mistake turned into my daughter Jane and though she had a difficult life, I was always glad to be a part of it when she let me. --lorraine

And here's a comment from Linda:

I keep reminding myself that no one pointed a gun to my head, no one forced to to choose adoption (though therapy decades later told me "of course being a student at a Catholic women's college influenced my decision." My parents would have supported an abortion, in fact, my father sent me money for that purpose and I banked it. A single pregnant woman will believe anything, and I believed the sperm donor.

I know a couple of women who have expressed regret over their choosing abortion, but most, as Lorraine has often told me, can live with their choice without much remorse. I always said if I had to do it again I would still choose adoption, but my position changed post-reunion. I don't know what I'd choose (to raise my child or abort) but I'm 99 percent certain I wouldn't choose adoption.

I was 19 and believed the social worker and the whole "my child will have a better life with a loving couple" myth--marriage wasn't even on my radar. I wanted a brilliant career with a home on both coasts. Sarah Kershaw's article in today's (Thursday 9/4) NY Times more eloquently expresses my sentiments I posted yesterday in response to your blog:

Sociologists say that what drives the failure of teenage marriages — and some also say the postwar young marriage boom may have contributed to the divorce explosion of the 1970s — is the complex condition of being an unformed adult.

“They may not know quite what they want in a lifetime partner,” Dr. Popenoe said. “They still often have years of education to complete, as well as getting settled in the work world, and those two things may change their outlook on life considerably.”

And from Jane:

Giving up a baby is totally different from an abortion or a miscarriage. It causes extreme depression and obsessive thinking, not just an occasional sigh. I thought reunion would resolve some of these feelings -- it has helped but there is still pain.

I cringe every time I see bumper stickers that say "adoption, not abortion."

Lorraine again: Yes, it is sad when people who want to have children can't have them, but that doesn't entitle them to somebody else's baby.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bristol Palin will be more than a firstmother.

Sarah Palin. Bristol. Five months pregnant. It might be a personal tragedy in their family, but given the background, maybe not. It's not clear that Bristol is giving up college for baby and marriage to the hockey hunk Levi. She is following in her mother's footsteps, who was pregnant when she got married. In terms of marriage, that has worked out.

Linda, one of the other bloggers on Firstmother Forum, has been upset about this and the girl's life going forward, but perhaps I'm more jaded. I just see the pregnancy as the typical response to having abstinence-only sex education classes, which is what Ms. Palin advocates. And I would assume, she would work to further abstinence-only sex education should she end up as vice president. Here's a snippet of a column I wrote for a local newspaper a year ago:

Everyone can agree that abstinence will prevent pregnancies as well as sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinence-only programs have been promoted by every GOP Congress and president since Ronald Reagan, who instituted them in 1981. In 1996, a GOP Congress mandated that $50 million each year go to abstinence-only programs, with another $37.5 million coming from the states in matching grants.[Obviously they had no trouble getting this money in Alaska.] Since then the government has spent $1.5 billion on such abstinence-only sex education, despite plenty of evidence that they are simply bogus.

They don't work in the long run--heck, they don't even work in the short run. The studies are numerous, but a favorite of mine is one done jointly by Columbia and Yale universities. It found that while "virginity pledges" seem to encourages teenagers to delay sex the effect was short lived. Eighty-eight percent--call it an overwhelming majority--of those who signed such a pledge ended up having sex not only before they married, but--equally fascinating, before the study ended. Hmm...sounds like most of the virgins stuck to the pledge when it was convenient, but not once they found someone to love.

Two other bits of data from that study stand out: Those taking the pledge had the same rate of sexually transmitted disease as those who did not. (Zero gain.) And they were less likely to use a contraceptive when they put their booties under someone else's bed. (Negative loss.)

And if those same teenagers are having unprotected sex, they are more likely to have unintended pregnancies. [I'm going to assume Bristol's pregnancy is unintended.] Which brings us back to that nagging abortion rate that's been stuck in neutral under Bush's watch, this is, not going down as it had under Clinton. In short, abstinence-only programs lead to more unintended pregnancies. According to the Guttmacher Institute, half of the 6.4 million pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unintended. Half of them are carried to term.

In April of 2007, the Department of Health and Human Services quietly released a long-awaited, Congressionally mandated evaluation of Title V-abstinence-only programs. The conclusion: "Youth in the program group were no more likely than the control-group youth to have abstained from sex, and among those who reported having had sex, they had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same mean age."

The good news was the the Democrats finally pulled the plug on such an inane and failed program. They planned to let a $50 million grant expire in June, 2000. Conservatives were outraged.

Along with their outrage, I would assume conservatives had more unplanned pregnancies in their teen population. I am a old-timer who went to Catholic schools and had sex at the time when guys who said that they didn't like using condoms got away with it. (Yes, my daughter's father did say that.) Today, more teens are having sex than they were in my day, but in a sane world they are given the education, and easy access to contraception, they need to have sex that is not only safe, but does not lead to an unplanned conception.

No matter how we feel about this family personally and politically, no matter how we feel about abortion, what I applaud and feel good about is that this child will not be given up for adoption. That would be the real tragedy. And we might not hear, as both the Bush presidents have been want to spout--"adoption not abortion."

Bristol's road will not be an easy one, but she will have her baby. And keep it.


PS: For those of you who listened to my lament about Yvonne, we spoke. She denies, denies that she could have ever called women who give up babies "reproductive agents." I believe she believes that she did not say that. She sat quietly and listened while I tried to educate her and open her mind somewhat. I may have succeeded. Or maybe not.

Yvonne is not/never was against adoptees searching, and thank god, her hairdresser (who eventually married the father) has had a successful reunion with the daughter the couple lost to adoption. Among the many things I said was that sometimes the adopted person is not able to do the search because the original birth certificate has been altered, or for other reasons. She was aware that in France the OBCs were never sealed. Can we be friends again? I hope so, in time. Right now I'm still internally reeling from her outburst.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Locator...is looking for you.

This just in from Women's Entertainment (WE), home of Bridezilla, Platinum Weddings, Extreme Plastic Surgery:

The Locator

Are you looking for someone important who you just can't find? Birth parent? Sibling? Lost Love?

Over the last two decades, The Locator, Troy Dunn, has found over 20,000 "unfind-able" men, women and children - be it an adoptee seeking their biological parents, someone looking for a lost sibling, or anyone with a heartfelt need to reunite for a personal and compelling reason.

Troy is currently looking for individuals who have a desire to be reunited to be featured in his new WE tv series, "The Locator". If you want to say: "I love you", "I'm sorry", or "Thank You" to someone you can't find, Troy might be able to help you do it.

Apply now on our website: TroyTheLocator.com

Well, it could be like Extreme Home Makeover,ABC's Sunday night hit. I wonder if the Locator would do it for first mothers/fathers? The show is advertising for people, as the copy above indicates from their website. I assume you have to be willing to knock on the door-- unannounced--of your birth parents and take what comes. While anything that gets across the innate unfairness of closed records (to both adopted people and birth parents) gets a star in my book--even that tacky short-lived but highly controversial "Who's My Daddy?"--this ought to also rate high in the ick factor of personal invasion.

We'll see, it would seem that the person found would also have to agree to his/her fifteen minutes of fame to be seen on camera. How do you folks feel about this? Anybody want to apply? Know someone who might? You never know...I believe the show is scheduled to start this fall. My husband said that he saw a promo for it that shows The Locator knocking on the door of a first/birth mother.