' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Further thoughts on Ellen Ullman's life in the dark

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Further thoughts on Ellen Ullman's life in the dark

What's I'd like to know, and what I wonder about an acquaintance who is 68 and stopped a search midway through...is what Ellen Ullman would do if her records were suddenly available? (Ms.Ullman wrote the piece, My Secret Life in the New York Times on Jan. 2, o8, professing her desire not to find out what her heritage is, to live a mysterious, romantic life in the dark.) Would she say, I don't care, I don't want to know? Or would she say, Hmmm, that's interesting, let's see who I was at birth? Whose DNA I carry? What is my story, my unique heritage?

If the world at large was not so interested in roots, Salem, Massachusetts, as a historic cottage industry would not be booming. If the world at large were not fascinated by origins, the US government would not have posted on line the manifestos of ships who carried our ancestors across from Europe, and find traffic on the site booming. If the world were not interested, people would not bother with family trees, the Mormons would not keep such meticulous records, we would not have had shows such as The Locator and the single-episode of the cheesy Who's My Daddy?

The point is, the world is interested. But people like Ellen Ullman who profess to be just fine and dandy with a halfhistory, with NO medical history, with zero knowledge of their forebears make it difficult for us to push for open records and say the instinct to know is basic, is universal. Ms. Ullman at this point in her life is a person who chooses to live an unexamined life. She is like a slave who is comfortable with her chains. Her fear of the unknown prevents her from living a full life, with complete knowledge of who she is. It is a life yes, but one lived with blinkers, one lived with the past shrouded.

Those who make this decision must do so because a) the way is closed and b) they are encumbered with an overwhelming feeling of guilt that to search is to be disloyal to their other parents. Or they are just afraid of going there.

Florence Fisher called me the morning the piece ran--upset and of course angry with adoptees who celebrate their desire not to know as Ms. Ullmann. What she said was: It's because of adoptees like her that we will never get the records open. They are so damn grateful for being adopted they can't see past that.

The reminds me of my daughter's older brother, also adopted. He professed to be not interested in his roots. However after he married and planned to have children, he initiated a search. As far as I know, he did not succeed.

So I wonder, will Ms. Ullman change her mind one day? And come smack-dab up against sealed records?

Our job--both as mothers and adopted people--is to make the world understand that whether or not this group of blinkered people exist, and they do--is to make clear that they still should and must have the right to the information, should they chose to want it. Everyone has the right to know the truth of her origins, and birth mothers have an equal right to find out what happened to the child they gave up.

To agree to anything less is to choose to remain enslaved to an unjust system.



  1. There does not have to be a "basic instinct to know" for adopted adults to have their civil rights to their own original birth certificate restored. I seriously doubt that there is such an "instinct";certainly not one that is universal. That is shaky ground on which to base the cause of adoptee civil rights.

    That some adoptees do not wish to search in no way weakens the cause of adoptee rights. It is irrelevant.The important thing is that adopted people have the choice whether to ask for their original birth certificate and get it, just like the rest of us.

    What they do with the information they get is personal and up to them. Even if no adoptees wanted to search, they still should have equal rights around their OBC.

    Rights include the right to be disinterested, to NOT search, to not care. Not everybody is interested in genealogy, although many people are.

    Ellen Ullman is one person expressing a personal choice that in no way contracdicts adoptee rights.

  2. "It's because of adoptees like her that we will never get the records open. They are so damn grateful for being adopted they can't see past that."

    I agree with this sentiment. The vocal non-searching adoptees are always depicted as ever-so-grateful and happy with their REAL parents (the APs, of course). This has evolved into the standard mantra - "I know x number of adoptees, and they are happy with their REAL parents, searching or access to the OBC is irrelevant." The constant media replay of this message gets internalized and makes people think knowing one's origins is unnecessary (only for adoptees, of course).

    To adoptees: if you don't want your OBC, don't ask for it. But that doesn't give you the right to refuse access to others.

  3. ". . . professing her desire not to find out what her heritage is". Well, to be fair, Ellen Ullman didn't actually profess an active desire to remain in ignorance of her origins. It was more ambiguous than that. I think she is tantalizing herself.

    I fail to see how the adoptee who hasn't committed to the fight for open records, but who doesn't actively oppose it either (and of these, there seem to be more than a few who really do. Witness the recent fiasco in Ontario) is going to be a major impediment to getting records open.
    That's the sort of attitude smacks of the adversarial "with-us-or-against-us" model, which as a general rule only serves to polarize situations rather than unite people in common cause.

    I agree that, believing as we do, we have a duty to try to persuade through reasoned argument that all people have the right to of access to their origins, whether they choose take advantage of that right or not.
    And that women who, for whatever reason, have relinquished (children to closed adoptions in the past deserve to be able to discover their adult children's circumstances.

    But people are hardly likely to be persuaded, if, at the outset of a discussion, they are already dismissed as being the enemy.

  4. I don't think anyone is looking as Ullman as an enemy. She is through her piece, in whatever paper, trying to show that she doesn't care to know and it isn't any big deal to her and why is it a big deal to others.

    I do believe that those who don't want to search should just keep it to themselves. Why is it they get the media attention, I know, because it was our happy adoption friendly society wants to hear. Its what those who adopt want to hear.Keeps them happy and the adoptee proclaiming how grateful and happy they are is just that their business.

    I really don't care. What I do care about is because one person professes her needs and desires are more important than others rights should be being abused.

    Those who want to have to come right out and ask, and lobby, and go before congress.

    But look who gets in the paper, or gets the attention the one mother or the one adoptee who doesn't want to know.

  5. Nowhere has Ellen Ullman said that she doesn't want to know.
    She *has* made enquiries and discovered that her records are unavailable to her.
    Under those circumstances she says she wants "to give not-knowing its due." I don't think that's the same as celebrating not knowing. It's hardly rah-rah-rah. Indeed, one could almost say it's one person's way of making the best of a bad job.

    Nor has she come out and said other people should be denied their records. Indeed, she has clearly stated that she's not against the trend towards openness.

    IMO Lorriane asks the right question when she muses, "What would Ellen Ullman do if her records were suddenly available?". I'm curious too. Personally, I think she'd want to know. After all, she has already tried.

    And yes, I do think that that putting the blame for closed records on people like her is branding them as the enemy. Or the opposition, or whatever you care to call it.

    "But look who gets in the paper, or gets the attention the one mother or the one adoptee who doesn't want to know."
    This is one article among many, and it is NOT in support of keeping records closed.

  6. It is not a matter of what one chooses to know; it s a matter of reality. The REAL TRUTH of who one is

    The biology is an important factor for that knowledge. To deny this is life in pure fantasy which buys into what APs would like the adoptees to believe.

    How many young women actually give up their babies willingly and without some sort of coercion, subtle or overt? They are stolen children and they are forced to live in the fantasy with a false sense of reality.

    In most cases adoption is a social experiment gone wrong on so many levels.

  7. Giving 'not-knowing' ( in her case the inability to find out) its due is not the same thing as 'choosing not to know'.
    She actually *chose* to investigate. This is what she's left with. She can't access the REAL TRUTH about her origins even though she has tried to.
    How she deals with that isn't anyone's affair but her own.

    Besides, she is quite clear about calling fantasies fantasies. Which would hardly be the case if her sense of reality was seriously distorted.

    Just making a case for someone who I feel is being unjustly pilloried, ya know.

  8. Adoptees and fantasy...hmmmmmm:-)I urge everyone to read BJ Lifton's books; she has a lot to say on that topic.

    My son who was a non-searching, not interested adoptee loves fantasy; sci-fi and fantasy are his favorites to read. But he is very clear on the difference between fantasy and reality, and is generally skeptical in real life, pretty much like me:-)

    I love fantasy too, also read a lot of it for fun. Neither me nor my oldest son are too big on reading non-fiction. I think it is hard for people who only read non-fiction and are very practical in all ways to understand that someone can love fantasy and not confuse it with reality, or believe it literally true, or that something has to be literally true to have value.

    I think Ms Ullman might just go for the chance to search if her records were open and handed to her, as Lorraine suggested. She does seem curious but also scared, a pretty average adoptee feeling.



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