' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: September 2009
Join Lorraine in Indianapolis! She will be opening the IAN conference on Friday morning. See details on sidebar.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

National Institutes of Health Supports Open Records for Adoptees

National Institutes of Health Supports Open Records for Adoptees!  
Well, not exactly. According to Dr. Francis Collins, the NIH Director and former Director of the Human Genome Project, by obtaining complete family medical history, physicians can determine risks for various cancers including breast, ovarian, and colon cancer and order tests and procedures accordingly. This is more effective than a "one size fits all" approach to disease prevention. - "Dramatic Breakthroughs in Cancer Treatment" (Parade 9-20-09)

(A woman has a higher risk of getting breast and ovarian cancers if she has two or more close family members who have had breast or ovarian cancer or breast cancer has been found in family members before the age of 50.)

Dr. Collins advises that "we all should be aware of our family medical histories. A medical history is essentially a genetic test. It won't cost you any money to collect the information and ... it could save your life.”

Well, that's fine and dandy, but what about those adopted people who can't get their medical histories because the government is hell-bent on preserving the privacy of women who most likely do not want "privacy" from their children? Those women hold the keys to the real medical histories of children they lost to adoption because they are the REAL mothers of the children. Obviously, a medical history of one's adopted family does not help one whit, and if the adopted person were to use it, the doctor would just be befuddled and make incorrect medical decisions. And then there are the offspring of anonymous sperm and egg "donations" (really sales). These folks have even less ability to obtain their genetic history. As Lorraine said, anonymous donations ought to be illegal.

There’s something like six million adopted people out there without their real medical histories. You’d think anything that saves lives and money would be a no-brainer for even the densest politician. Still, we deal with legislators who don't get the message, or, like Danny O'Donnell (NY Legislator and brother to Mama Rosie), just don't give a damn.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Creating children without a full identity is a crime against humanity

So how rare are these screwups at fertility clinics, as Jane wrote about in her last post? Apparently not so rare as we have been led to believe. The Toledo (OH) Blade reports.

While doctors and fertility experts insist that the lab mix-up that impregnated a Sylvania Township (Ohio) woman with a Michigan couple's embryos was a rare occurrence in reproductive medicine, an attorney who has represented several women in similar circumstances believes otherwise. Nancy Hersh of San Francisco said she has or continues to be involved in four cases in three states against fertility clinics that botched or were allegedly negligent with in vitro fertilization procedures. From The Blade:
I think it's a pretty common occurrence and that it's covered up a lot," said Nancy Hersh, a San Francisco personal injury attorney who specializes in women's health issues.  
Ms. Hersh said she has or continues to be involved in four cases in three states against fertility clinics that botched or were allegedly negligent with in vitro fertilization procedures.

One California case resulted in a $1 million settlement from the fertility doctor in 2004, and later, the shared custody of the child between two sets of parents who have never met.
How did the case of the mistaken embryo occur? Human error. It's always something, isn't it? Both families used the same (and so far, unnamed) fertility clinic, probably located in the Detroit metropolitan area.

The Ohio woman (Carolyn Savage) was implanted with the fertilized embryo of a woman (Shannon Morrell) whose maiden name is Savage also. Carolyn Savage gave birth to a healthy boy last Thursday, September 24, 2009, and presumably has already turned over the boy to the Morrells, his genetic/biological parents. The Savages did consult an attorney who told them that in court DNA usually rules, and they graciously and simply went along with that, saying that they put themselves in the shoes of the other couple. Kudos to them for doing the right thing. Presumably there was or will be a healthy financial settlement from the fertility clinic for Mrs. Morrell's and her husband's pain and suffering.

In another botched fertility case that attorney Hersh was involved in, a 48-year-old woman was wrongfully implanted with a donor egg and the sperm of a married man who happened to be at the clinic with his wife at the same time as the woman seeking a fertilized embryo. The doctor--the evil doctor--who did the procedure knew about the mistake within minutes but did not tell the woman who had the child until ten months after the child was born. The man whose sperm was used later sued for joint custody and won. So now the father has a relationship with a child whose genetic mother is presumably unknown. However, there is some blessing for the child involved, for he at least has one link to his true past and heritage--he knows his father.

Given the way such sperm is typically anonymous today, the child planned by his "mother" would not know the identity of either set of his true parents. Sick, sick, sick. Who are these people who think it is permissible to create a child who has no knowledge of his or her biological heritage, medical history, cultural background? Or only half of it? They make me crazy.

“Anonymous sperm donation should be illegal,” said Kathleen LaBounty, 27, last year in Parade magazine. Ms. LaBounty has been searching for her donor dad for 10 years. “Couples choose sperm donation because they want a genetic link between mother and child, but children care about genetics too. They want information about their biological fathers.”

We need laws in this country as in England where anonymous sperm-for-hire (I refuse to call that a "donation") is no longer available. Without anonymous sperm sellers, England is experiencing a sperm-for-hire drought.

Yes, this is not about adoption per se, but related nonetheless because we are living in a brave new world that approves and encourages creating children whose real parentage will be unknown. You can call one's real, biological mother and real father "reproductive agents," as I, a reunited first/birth mother has been called to my face, but that does not help the individual who would has a need to know his or her real, biological, cultural origins. I am not against single mothers by choice or lesbian mothers, but I am adamantly opposed to willfully creating children who can never have full and complete knowledge of both of their actual, real, whatever-you-want-to-call-them parents. Anyone considering it who stumbles upon this blog ought to read the story that appeared last year in The Washington Post by a daughter who found her biological father: My father was an anonymous sperm donor.

Children of sperm donors have reunited through a website , www.donorsiblingregistry.com, which has more than 25,000 people registered--donors (biological parents), children, and their other parents. According to Wendy, who left a comment, more than 7,000 people have been connected. (See comment below.)

The lawyer who commented above, Hersh, goes on to say in The Blade that sometimes the stories don't make news because the financial settlements from the clinics preclude the parties involved from talking about the paternity/maternity issue publicly...but hey! What about the person cooked up in a Petri dish? Is this not akin to the laws that deny an individual the truth of his origins because someone else agreed to that dubious contract? In the kinds of cases involving--"wrongful births"--the person would presumably be told the truth of his or her origins by his parents, but I can't see how the individual so born could be coerced from suing the clinic--if it is still in business, sixteen or eighteen years later. He or she did not agree not to sue.

This kind of settlement contract (and the loophole that I hope someone someday walks through) shows how completely out of kilter, how unjust, how utterly inhumane are any contracts that seal an individual's birth record against his or her will. Forever and all time. Because someone might be embarrassed. Because someone has not told their husband. Because some social worker told a woman her motherhood would be a state secret permanently. But that individual who was born was not part of that diabolical agreement.

Sealed adoption records, as well as creating babies who can not have full and complete knowledge of their true identities, are crimes against humanity.Someday, even we in America, will come to realize the truth of this.--lorraine

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Botched embryo implants garner sympathy -- Birthmothers? Fugheddaboudit

An Ohio couple, Shawn and Carolyn Savage, is struggling with giving up the child Carolyn will carry for nine months. After giving birth by Caesarian section, Carolyn will hand the baby over to another woman. “We want a moment to say “hello and goodbye” she said sadly. “This will be exceptionally difficult,” added Steven in interviews broadcast on MSNBC. This is no adoption story; Carolyn was erroneously implanted with an embryo created by another couple.

Their trauma, however, does not translate into empathy. Although the Savages already have three children, they want their unimplanted embryos to have a chance at life. Because doctors have advised against another pregnancy, they are planning to use a surrogate to carry them to fruition. The Savages also intend to sue the fertility clinic.

Shirel and Steven Crawford of California want to find the children created from their sperm and egg but implanted into the wrong woman or women. An adoptive mother, Shirel was unable to have her own children according to the Orange County Register. "If they're in need, there's nothing we can do but pray for them," she said. "We just hope that somehow, if there's a way they can find us, for medical reasons, and we'd like to make sure that they're fine. They're at that age where they want to know about themselves" said Shirel Crawford.

Julie Kirk would also like to know who bore her children. She donated eggs, hoping to give an infertile friend a chance at motherhood. However, enterprising doctors created more embryos from her eggs and implanted them in other women without her consent. "I was under the impression that they were going to one person, they weren't just being farmed out like I'm someone's broodmare" Said Kirk.

Kirk and the Crawfords sued the University of California at Irvine whose doctors were responsible for the mess. UCI has settled their and another 155 cases for a total of $27.7 million. According to a report by the LA Times-Washington Post news service, the doctors skipped the country to avoid criminal prosecution.

These stories are news worthy because (we hope) they are rare. What’s not rare are the stories of the 15,000 to 20,000 American women and an equal number of foreign women who lose their newborn infants to adoption each year to meet the demand of Americans who cannot or choose not have children naturally.

Meredith Vieira is not interviewing these women. Nor are they receiving thousands of dollars to ease their pain. If anything, they are expected to be better off, relieved that they will not be burdened with a demanding infant. It is a sad truth that a woman who loses a child to whom she is not biologically related, and women who lost children they did not bear, command more sympathy than those of us who lost genetic children we carried for nine months. We are supposed to go away, not think about those children, or god forbid – look for them – so that the “perfectly happy” adoptive family can pretend we do not exist, or died in some accident shortly after the child’s birth.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Last Sibling in the Family Found

Yesterday three siblings were looking for a fourth sibling, via the Today show, as we noted in yesterday's post. As fortune would have it, the fourth was watching in Sarasota and knew immediately they were searching for her. The two sisters went to the same high school in Maine, both were adopted, and one of them knew she was the sister but she had been told not to tell. 

They are full brothers and sisters, and were removed from their home because of abuse. It seems the first mother is deceased, or at least I do not know where she is.
The morning, all four siblings were reunited on the set of the Today show. Watch the video here and try not to weep, if you can. I couldn't.--lorraine
Jane had a post up for a few minutes and this broke, but her post will be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two Brothers--and now a sister--searching for another sister

This story about the two brothers, Randy Joubert and Gary Nesbit, adopted into separate families, working at the same furniture store in Maine has been all over the media, but here is this morning's video from the Today show.

As one says: I had a great childhood but when you are adopted you always hunger for that person you might look like, you want to look like someone, I thought that was just gone....If he had been perfectly happy he would never had found his brother. They all showed up for the Today show dressed in black, none of them checking with the other about what they should wear.

The story about the brothers led to a sister finding them after her fiance read about them in a local Maine newspaper..."We all cried and hugged....I drove over there crying and speeding and sobbing so bad, I hoped a cop would stop me and escort me over there...."

One of the brothers at the end gets in a short pitch for open records in the other 42 states. They are now searching for another sister, named Claire Marie by their mother, who would be 39 or 40. Watch the eight-minute video and weep:

 What is it going to take to open the records? I just don't know anymore. I just do not know.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The "perfectly happy" adoptee and his perfectly content birth/first mother

Ever get tired of reading newspaper accounts or hearing on the tube that someone who was adopted was "perfectly happy" with her adoptive relationship, but gee, she was curious? Well, we are. It happened the other day through the Adoption News Service and all three of us found ourselves automatically irritated.

Writers outside of the adoption world always feel that they have to assure the world that the adoption was picture "perfect, " the adoptive parents in line for sainthood, everything was honkey-dorey before they continue with the story of a reunion, just to make everyone know that this was no ungrateful little bastard looking for her/his roots. Or they say that the birth/first mother was perfectly content with not knowing and Whoops! along comes the child "she never forgot."

Well, dammit, most of us, if not all of us, are not perfectly happy with our decision to lose a child through adoption (except some who are typing madly away at some adoption.com sites from which we have been banned) and most adoptees are also not perfectly content with having been given away, because you cannot be available for adoption unless someone leaves you on the proverbial doorstep somewhere. Being adopted from a foreign country today also raises the possibility that you were stolen or kidnapped or bought and sold. But "perfectly happy"?

How can anyone adopted be "perfectly happy" with having been adopted in the first place, and particularly if one is unable to trace one's original roots? How can anyone truly be "perfectly happy" with the idea of having been born to a mother who could not keep you? One can come to acceptance, one can grow up in a family where love and understanding abound, one can love their adoptive parents and family, but being adopted means that someone had to give you up first. Being adopted in most places in the United States also means that the individual was stripped of the right to know his or her true identity in the mistaken belief that "identity" was not an important part of anyone's makeup and--identity.

And whether the adoption was good or bad, sweet or evil, longing to know the truth of one's identity is simply a matter of intelligent curiosity--a fact that most legislators and journalists and a fair number of adoptive parents have trouble comprehending. Yet only in adoption is curiosity considered pathological; in every other area, curiosity is seen as a sign of intelligence.

For mothers who relinquished their children--unless they can compartmentalize their emotions into a box and lock them up tight--we are never perfectly happy. We deal with the pain and sorrow of loss all our lives. We marry men we should not, we marry men simply because we know they will never leave us, we marry the next man who walks into the room. We have a life, yes, but we are always looking backwards, looking for the child we did not keep.

So please, dear newspaper and television reporters, stop telling the world how "perfectly happy" everybody was until they found their true parents and identities.

Adoption is always painful. Or here's a shorter version: Adoption sucks.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

When the Reunited Child Pulls Back

Photo by Ken Robbins

What happens in reunion that causes the adopted person to pull back? For some the reunion goes well, the catching up between adopted person and you, birth/first mother, clicks along lickety split, you have the sense that this is the continuation of a great relationship--for you did have one with your child in utero--but then, Wham! just when you lease expect it, your child--your adult child--pulls back and away.

Weeks go by without a word. Weeks turn into months. Months turn into years. And nothing. You wait, you wonder, you go over every word you said because surely--it was something you said, something you did. It is all over again: your fault.

At the Heart to Heart retreat last weekend in Boston, "pull back" were words that I heard with greater frequency than any of us first mothers/birth mothers would like, but "pull back" is so often a fact of reunion. Pull back. I found my daughter when she was fifteen and was reunited with her face to face a thousand miles and a few days later, and for many years we had what seemed to be a good relationship. Her adoptive family was also a part of the picture. I was never a secret.

But then, out of seemingly nowhere, she would be gone. Not return my phone calls. One time, when I went to Wisconsin and she still basically ignored me, saying only the minimum number of words to not seem more rude than she actually was. The first time we saw each other that weekend was in church at Sunday Mass. She of course knew I was in town. I was at the end of the pew. She came in and said hello to every possible person she could find to say hello to, though she knew I was there, waiting. When she slid in next to me, she looked away to say hello to one more casual acquaintance. I wanted to be swallowed up by the floor, for everyone who knew her in the small town, in the parish, knew exactly who I was, and her casual rejection of me hurt like hell. I waited. Finally she turned to look at me and say, nod Hello, Oh, it's you. You count less than all these other people and I've done my best to show you and everyone how little you matter. Oh, it's you.

Another mother whose seventeen-year-old daughter was living with her and the mother's other younger son, got up one day and simply walked out. Went to a girlfriend's before she went back to Georgia. Letters were ignored for years. Finally, one day a decade later, the mother heard from her daughter asking for health information and letting her know that she was now a grandmother. My friend went out and bought baby clothes and sent them along with all the medical history. Again, nothing. Again, years passed. And then one day she called, saying she and her husband and child would be in the vicinity, did they want to meet? Yes, of course. The visit went well, and then again...nothing.

Linda has written about attending her daughter's wedding, only to have her pull back afterward and maintain a relationship with Linda's Judas of a sister. Fellow blogger Jane's relinquished daughter is in pull-back mode. Some of the birth mothers who write here frequently talk about their fractured relationships, or no relationship at all following reunion.

It hurts. When you want to have a relationship with your child, and they do not, it hurts.

What can we do? Often times, nothing. The reasons for the pull back probably have nothing to do with anything you said or did, but happen simply because the adopted person wants to have control over the relationship--a control that was denied them when they were placed for adoption in this most crucial fact of their existence. Or the adoptee may feel guilty for having a relationship with the birth mother because it feels as if it diminishes the one with their adoptive parents, and they are extremely protective of them.

Over the course of my decades-long relationship with my daughter Jane, until she died in 2007, I often prized and held close the honesty I felt she brought to the table on occasion about our relationship because I felt she was telling me things that she would never share with her adoptive parents. But that also meant that I was privy to her assumption that always the adoptive family's feelings were tantamount, that it was okay to ignore my feelings in some ways because, well, because I would understand the need not to offend their feelings. In a way, it put me in the power position, the way the person who lets the other person out of an elevator first is in charge of the situation. But still. I never pointed out this disparity to Jane. I simply understood. She knew this dynamic was at work; I knew it was my job to be understanding.

Her relationship with her adoptive parents was in some ways more fragile than hers with mine. The Chinese have a belief that a thin red line connects people who are meant to be together, and though miles and circumstance may separate them, they will find each other again because they are connected by this thin red line. I'm not saying that I was a bastion of tranquility when Jane was gone, for months, for more than a year one time, not at all, but I believed that she was not gone forever. And then, out of the blue, she would call and begin the conversation as if nothing unusual had occurred, as if we had just spoken a week ago. The last time this happened was in the last year before she died. She ignored my emails, and even had her phone changed to an unlisted number. A letter was returned with the word: REFUSED stamped in red on it.

I could not help being reminded by that months earlier she had called sobbing and when I picked up the phone, she simply said: Tell me that you love me. I did. Repeatedly. Apparently her adoptive mother in the heat of an argument had told her that she did not love her.

But within days, her other mother apologized and they were back on track. That was the clearest example of how vastly different my relationship with Jane was. Jane could walk away from me at any moment, for any reason. And I'd better watch it because it could happen again. Her other mother could be forgiven; I might not be. Jane's reasoning must have gone like this: Lorraine walked away from me, she gave me up. I'll show her I can do the same.

So months again, with no contact. And then one day she called mid-morning, I answered, and we both said in tandem: How are you? And we picked up where we had been months before. I knew better than to berate her, or even ask her why. This time we seemed closer than ever, and all I said, after several normal, every-day kinds of conversations, that if she wanted me to be close and trust her, she should not ever simply walk away from me again. Right, she said, right.

So, what did I learn? That pull backs happen when you least expect it. They might even be considered the norm in a post-reunion between adoptee and first mother. That a birth/first mother's relationship with her reunited child is not ever going to be the same as the one with children who have not been relinquished. That no matter how much some of their actions hurt us, we have to be the adult, the mother, and realize that the adopted person is going through as much emotional turmoil and pain as we are, only that it is different from ours.

Some have posited that the adoptee's pain is always greater than the first mother's. I don't buy that. Because in thinking through one's relationship with one's parents, the child always has the upper hand emotionally. As much as I loved my mother, I was the one who moved away--far away--and didn't really miss not living closer. As much as I loved my mother, and we had a powerful and strong bond, I was the one who could hurt her more than she could ever have hurt me. As a male friend once said to me after he had a son: Your kids have you by the balls. Graphic, but he made the point.

From what I could discern during the Heart to Heart weekend, birth mothers who have ongoing relationships with other children were less bothered by the pullback of their only child, the relinquished child. Linda and I are in that group,and fellow blogger Jane has other daughters, and now grandchildren who live nearby and take up her time and energy. That the women who have other children are less stricken by an adoptee's rejection after reunion is simply an observation, not claiming to be scientific, but it makes sense to me.

We first mothers are called upon to be patient, and loving and understanding of the adoptee's need to control the relationship, to keep us secret and separate perhaps even from the adoptive parents' awareness. Though we have heard from many adoptees who have been rejected by the first mother, or who are too critical (see comments), I hope adoptees can find it in their hearts to understand how much power they have to hurt those of us who so desperately want a relationship when they reject us.--lorraine

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Harvesting Children from Ethiopia for Families in America

Harvesting children for profit goes on in poor countries all over the world. Ethiopia is one of the newest to cash in on this crop for export, a business spurred by Angelina Jolie's adoption of a daughter Zahara in 2005. According to a new report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, approximately 30 children a week leave the country to adopted in wealthier nations, adding $100 million a year to the cash-strapped economy. Consequently, the government has little to zero interest in stopping this flow of cash and so turn a blind eye to harvesting of their children.

And one of the most successful human trafficking scams is run by no other than the Christian World Adoption, included in yesterday's post decrying the closing of adoption from Guatemala. Yes, there true orphans in Ethiopia--up to five million--but the disgusting tactics of Christian World Adoptions encourages families and women to give up their children simply because they are poor. It's the crassest of proselytizing to raise new Christians; left behind with their tears and memories are the mothers, these women who are our sisters in sorrow and grief. Yet here is how the adoptions are sold at the Christian World Adoptions website:
Ethiopia Adoption
Ethiopia Adoption Program
Christian World is very pleased to be among the first U.S. agencies authorized and accredited to have an Ethiopia adoption program. The Ethiopia adoption program is our largest program, and each year we place over 200 children from Ethiopia with loving, forever families.
A recent documentary called Fly Away Children by journalist Andrew Geoghegan for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation shows the tactics used to convince women to give up their children. The women are promised updates and information every three months, only to hear nothing. The families who come to take their children are advised to come in and out of the country quickly so as not to be aware of what is really going on, or they send someone to pick up the child so as to not touch down in the country at all. Often children are advertised as healthy--videos you can watch on your computer are available--only to have multiple life-threatening problems.

As Geoghegan reports in Fly Away Children:
Across the city, hotel foyers have become clearing houses, departure lounges for many families and their adopted children. This is the scene in just one hotel in Addis Ababa. And the website You Tube is plastered with new parents’ home movies.

The crude reality is that children have become a big Ethiopian export....
Ethiopia is not a signatory to the Hague Convention which requires international adoption be used only as a last resort. So as a result, a completely unregulated industry has grown up. More than 70 agencies operate here, almost half are unregistered. Corruption, fraud and deception are rife.

The movie takes just under a half hour to watch but is worth your time--especially if you are thinking of adopting from a foreign country. Included is a family from Palm Beach, Florida who went to Ethiopia to take three children from their mother, a pastor and his wife, who were facing the empty-nest syndrome because their three sons were grown and gone. Why did it not occur to them simply to find a woman who needed help and support her so she could raise her own children? In most African countries, $25 to $50 a month will provide a family with a good living.These people live in Palm Beach, one of the wealthiest communities in the country, and it was obvious they could support several families if their goal was to actually help others. No, their goal was to fill their house with children. And certainly they are being congratulated and praised for taking all three siblings. But instead of helping, they put additional pressure on the suppliers to come up with more children to harvest for the American market. Do they piss me off? Oh yeah. Because it's all done under the rubric of "doing good" but they are Doing Bad by taking children who have a mother--but who is simply too poor to raise them. Christian? Hardly.

They might also consider helping the family, also featured in the ABC report, that ended up caring for a seriously ill child whose drugs cost nearly $750 a month. They were told the child they picked out of the sales lineup of photos was healthy, but instead has multiple problems, and they, quite courageously, are making do.

Parents who adopt from other cultures need to be absolutely sure that they are not taking stolen children, that the children they adopt are true orphans. But in their desire to have a child, many simply look away, and say, Not my child. If you don't think it can happen to you, read this story about a child kidnapped in India and sold for just over $300. He is being raised in the Midwest. The other day at the beach I saw a woman with two little girls, one obviously her biological daughter,the other obviously Indian. Who are her real parents? I thought. Was this another kidnapped child whose family wonders what happened to their beautiful daughter? And she was beautiful. A prime candidate for kidnapping.

The whole business of harvesting children to feed the international market for babies reeks of corruption and deceit and fraud. Call it humanitarian, and you are deluding yourself. Harvesting children from other cultures and countries is the whole trafficking of children. I am reminded of The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's book about a class of women who are recruited to have children for others. Sadly, it has become a reality in our lifetime.--lorraine

Note: To make this even more sickening, when I edited this post as a reader suggested, I got an ad for Ethiopia Adoption...from an International Adoption site. As well as three other ads-just in case I had a baby to give up in an "open adoption."
I'm going to give Google a piece of my mind.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Guatemalan Army Stole Kids for Adoption

Over the weekend CNN reported "Guatemalan Army Stole Kids for Adoption," a story that cannot go unnoticed here at Birth Mother/First Mother Forum because apparently the corruption in Guatemalan adoption is much worse than reported earlier:
"The Guatemalan army stole at least 333 children and sold them for adoption in other countries during the Central American nation's 36-year civil war, a government report has concluded. Many of those children ended up in the United States, as well as Sweden, Italy and France, said the report's author and lead investigator.

"In some cases, the report stated, the parents were killed so the children could be taken and given to government-sponsored agencies to be adopted abroad. In other instances, the children were abducted without physical harm to the parents."
The number of corrupt adoptions--333--involving stolen children in the government report came from examining a mere 672 adoptions between between 1977-89, the time of peak adoptions from that country. Those numbers mean that roughly half of all adoptions examined during that period involved stolen children sold through state-run agencies. So the 333 number has got to be the mere tip of the iceberg. During the country's protracted civil war, about 45,000 people disappeared from 1960 to 1996, about 5,000 of which were children.

The story also noted that Guatemala has the world's highest per capita rate of adoption and was one of the leading providers of adoptive children for the United States: "Nearly one in 100 babies born in Guatemala end up with adoptive parents in the United States, according to the U.S. consulate in Guatemala. As we reported earlier on E. J. Graff's piece in Foreign Policy, many, if not nearly all, adoptions from poor nations are suspect.

Guatemalan adoptions can cost up to $30,000, providing a large financial incentive in a country where the World Bank says about 75 percent of the people live below the poverty level. The report concludes that the lawyers and notaries who were the middlemen for this human trafficking (yes, it is human trafficking) were the driving force for the babies stolen from their parents. Many induced the women to give up their babies, or simply paid soldiers for product, i.e., a baby--because they knew they had a place to market the kid.

While those who push international adoption decry when this kind of baby-selling is called trafficking--they want it only to refer to the sex market--they are kidding themselves. Taking children for filthy lucre is trafficking in human flesh, period. They just don't want to see themselves as baby sellers, promoters of baby selling, or human traffickers, but that is what they are.

Okay, we have known this has gone on for a long time. We've written about corruption in international adoption several times before, including here and here. But you know what is the most amazing thing about this sickening report?

How little attention it has gotten in the United States. Where most of those stolen babies have ended up.

My husband says it was on the AOL story board on Saturday, but only for a couple of hours. A Googgle search seems to indicate that the news reports on what should scare of bejeesus out of all adoptive parents who have children from abroad were scant. CNN, Reuters, UPI wrote brief stories, but the report has largely disappeared from the public consciousness here in America--everyone is more interested in what will happen to foul-mouthed Serena Williams after her bad behavior at the U.S. Open this weekend.

Why? Call me crazy, but it's because we here in the country where these kids are sold into DO NOT WANT TO HEAR THEY MAY HAVE A STOLEN CHILD. I guess I wouldn't either, but how long is the world going to be deaf to what is happening? I still know people who are looking into international adoption.

Are the folks at the Holt International Agency doing a review of the Guatemalan adoptions they processed? Is international adopter and promoter Elizabeth Bartholet rethinking her position that all international adoptions are good ones because children are not raised in poverty, but in countries where people are wealthy enough to buy somebody else's baby? Are there going to be more conferences promoting international adoption such as the one at New York University earlier this year?

Guatemala has suspended all adoptions, but here's what you get at the Christian World Adoption website:
Guatemala Adoption

CWA is hopeful and optimistic that one day the precious children of Guatemala will again have a chance to unite with a forever family through international adoption. Due to the continuing issues with Hague Treaty requirements, Guatemala adoption is not possible at this time, and there is no way to know when it might be possible. We continue to monitor the situation, and we continue to pray for the waiting children.

Can these people be stopped? Do they never learn? We are, quite simply, sick at heart. Real forever families are waiting all over the world to be reunited with their stolen children. We grieve for the mothers.--lorraine
The Heart to Heart retreat over the weekend in Boston was a wonderful, enriching experience. I want to thank everyone who was there for making it so. Report coming soon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When a Birth/First Mother Refuses Contact

What happens when adoptive parents find the child's first mother and the woman does not want contact?

We do know that some mothers refuse contact--how many is the conundrum of the times as these women who wish to remain anonymous are the ones that legislators hold over our heads.

But recently we were asked what should an adoptive parent do who has found a relatively young child's mother who refuses contact. Fellow blogger Jane wrote the information passed on may have been compromised or just plain wrong before it got to the woman, which is what sometimes happens in this country when intermediaries act as go-betweens between adopted person and the mother. My belief is that the wildly divergent numbers we have gathered of birth mothers who refuse contact is a direct result of how that first contact is made. Women may have buried all feelings about their first child, their surrendered child, and never told the people in their lives. To do so now is admitting to having kept a huge secret from one's family, and the same of that may be what keeps women from being more forthcoming. (We've written about this before and you can like to it here and here. )

We suggest that the child, if they are aware that a search was done, be told her first mother may have been found, and then ask the child to write her a letter, have it translated into that of the woman, and attach a photograph of the child. If there is no response in a reasonable time--say a couple of months for it may take time to reach her, the child could write again. I know you may think this is hard on the child for each letter will result in a sense of "maybe this one," but we cannot think of another way to reach the mother.

And if there is still no response, we suggest telling the child that the letter may not have reached her, which may be true, or that the mother may have huge problems in her life that prevent her from responding. Add that things may change--a "no" one day may turn into a "yes" later.

But we know mothers who bury the lost child so deeply that they have a difficult time finding her in their hearts, and the blogosphere is full of such stories. My own daughter had a child she relinquished for adoption, and it seemed as if she were not interested in finding her ever.

Here is a section of Hole in My Heart (copyright, 2009) that I wrote about my daughter Jane, and her reaction to her first born and surrendered daughter, Lisa:

Through the years, we rarely spoke of Lisa. One day, some years later, when we were in our bedroom, going through my closet to find clothes she could take, we were somehow speaking of Lisa, and she said offhandedly, I’m not going to do what you did. She turned to look at me, I met her eyes, but spoke no words.

Her comment sounded casual, but there was steel in her eyes. She waited for me to object. I did not. I was reluctant to ask her exactly what she meant. Not search? Okay. Not welcome her, if the girl searched? Not okay. Please don’t do that to her, I was thinking. Please. Please don't be like those birth mothers I have heard about. Please don't be like Brian, don't be like your father. She looked away, topic closed, Brian’s child, I told myself, she can’t deal with anything emotional. He never met Jane and now is she telling me that she won’t meet Lisa? Or—and this was a very real possibility—she simply wanted to hurt me. I wouldn’t care if the horse bit you. If Lisa comes back I won’t be like you.

Years would go by and I would not mention Lisa, but then, as Jane’s birthday was approaching, I could not help but think of her daughter, my granddaughter, born two—or was it three—days, before Jane’s birthday on the 5th. April 2nd or April 3rd, and imagine that she might have the same feelings as I had when her birthday rolled around each April when the forsythia was in bloom in Rochester. One time I called Jane on Lisa’s birthday, and got her answering machine. I said, simply enough, that I was thinking about her…and Lisa, and figured she felt blue. Jane did not call back that time, nor did she mention it when we spoke two days later. One time I elliptically mentioned Lisa during my call on her birthday, only to be met by silence that shouted, DO NOT BRING HER UP. If I persisted, I knew I would jeopardize our relationship, and I would not risk that.

After 9/11, the New York Times Magazine carried a piece called “Repress Yourself.” Its topic was that possibly talking about trauma after it occurs actually made the ordeal more imbedded in the mind, and thus, even more traumatic. The subject was the theory—not terribly popular in America—that people who repressed a bad experience, rather than illuminating it in therapy, might actually be healthier. “If you're stuck and scared, perhaps you should not remember but forget. Avoid. That's right. Tamp it down. Up you go….Is it possible that folks who employ these techniques cope better than the rest of us ramblers?”*

Maybe, in fact, Jane was doing what was best. Maybe she was better off than me who held onto the grief. Maybe she had it right. She’d had enough trauma and pain in her life that holding the grief of giving up her daughter was just one more sore she could not bear. Better to focus on life, rather than what could not be fixed.

A community psychologist and trauma researcher quoted in the story, Richard Gist, commented on what happens after a disaster involving many people: “Basically all these therapists run down to the scene, and there's a lot of grunting and groaning and encouraging people to review what they saw, and then the survivors get worse. I've been saying for years, ‘Is it any surprise that if you keep leading people to the edge of a cliff they eventually fall over?’”

After Jane died, I was in her office and pulled out the shelf in her old desk that was originally designed for a typewriter. Taped to it where two photographs of Lisa. I was not surprised. She may have repressed, but she had not forgotten her first born.

Nor do any of us.
PS: Off to Boston tomorrow (9/11/09) to the Heart to Heart retreat. I'm sure I'll come back with plenty of thoughtful ideas. That is a childhood photo of my daughter, Jane, taken at least a decade before I knew her.

*“Repress Yourself,” Lauren Slater, The New York Times Magazine, Feb. 23, 2003.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Returning a Child: It happens More than You Think

Anita Tedaldi planned to adopt for a long time, even before she met her husband or had five biological daughters. She wanted a big family like the one she grew up with in Italy, and, although she doesn’t say as much in her NY Times article “My Adopted Son,” after five daughters, she wanted a male child. She fulfilled her desire by taking in a year old boy from South America, “D.” As she drove to the Miami airport to pick him up, she could not contain her excitement. “After waiting many long months, I’d finally hold and kiss my son.”

Tedaldi prepared to bring D into her home and heart by researching attachment problems and other complications, speaking with her therapist, and consulting with social workers to determine if she and her family would be a good match. D, who had been left beside a road, had developmental delays, weak legs, a flat head from lying in a crib many hours a day, and ate his own feces. The real problems, however, were that after several months he didn’t attach to her, her husband (somewhat expected because he was deployed much of the time) or her daughters, and Tedaldi didn’t attach to him.

“I was attentive, and I provided D with a good home, but I wasn’t connecting with him on the visceral level I experienced with my biological daughters. And while it was easy, and reassuring, to talk to all these experts about D’s issues, it was terrifying to look at my own. I had never once considered the possibility that I’d view an adopted child differently than my biological children. The realization that I didn’t feel for D. the same way I felt for my own flesh and blood shook the foundations of who I thought I was.”

Tedaldi sought help and participated in attachment therapy but nothing worked. Fortunately she found a family (who fell in love with D after looking at his pictures) who wanted him. After 18 months she passed him on to the other family.

Termination (in legal terms “disruption” or “dissolution”) is a common but not publicized aspect of this redistribution of children called adoption. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway of the US Department of Health and Human Services, between 10 and 25 percent of adoption placements disrupt, that is, end before the adoption is finalized. Disruptions occur more frequently in the placements of older children. Dissolution, ending an adoption after it has been finalized, occurs in about three percent of adoptions. Again, it is more frequent with older children.

I have mixed feelings about Tedaldi’s actions. She was victimized by the adoption industry which capitalized on her desire to have a son much as the industry manipulates young pregnant women’s fear of motherhood to convince them to surrender their infants.

At the same time, I am disgusted by her narcissism. She brought D into her home to meet her needs, not his. She never tells us how her husband and her daughters felt about the adoption, apparently because it didn’t matter. She knew her husband would be away much of the time and he likely dismissed the adoption as her “thing.”

Tedaldi considered D her son before she met him, based on an assumption that children are fungible –taking a boy into her arms would make him her son, no matter that he had come thousands of miles and had a flat head. She expected to love him “like her own flesh and blood” even though she didn’t lay eyes on him until he was a year old.

When she brought him to meet the woman who would take him off her hands, she dressed D “in one of his cutest outfits, white polo shirt and blue khaki pants.” She wanted an adorable boy, not a kid who ate his own poop and refused to love her.

If Tedaldi had been motivated by a desire to help a needy child, she might have worked with authorities in his own country to find a family who, with some financial assistance, could have cared for him. If his needs had been paramount, she would have accepted her role as a tender caregiver, and not expected to connect with him on a visceral level.

The adoption industry markets adoption as a way to fulfill the desires of adults. With a disruption/dissolution rate of up to 25 percent, it appears the industry is misleading, if not defrauding, its customers.
For more on this particular case go to Chinaadoptiontalk. Malinda has a great post about this case.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Why the Jaycee Dugard Kidnapping Reminds Me of Adoption

Re Jaycee Dugard, the girl who was hostage for 18 years.

Over at Facebook, there has been a lively discussion going on regarding adoption terminations, and we will have a post about that later this week. In the meantime, I've been thinking about the Jaycee Dugard case and though it seems almost sacrilegious to bring this up....when I first heard the story I could not help but think how Jaycee's situation is not unrelated to adoption as it is practiced in the western world today.

Stop screaming and hear what I have to say: In a way those 18 years that Jaycee spent with her captor were not far from being adopted: The child who is to be adopted is unable to have a say-so in the process and the situation, just like Jaycee, who was abducted. Let's assume most babies, like Jaycee, don't think, Gee, I'd rather be given away for a perfect stranger to raise than stay here where the feeling smells right, where the heartbeat is the one I'm familiar with--HEY, what's going on? Why are you giving me away? You can't afford me? Isn't there someone who will help you? Write the president! Call the bank! Call someone! You say I'll get a college education if you give me away, and I won't otherwise? Are you sure of that? HEY! MOMMaaaaa....

And then what? Does adopted people ever get free will back? By the time they understand what has happened, it's too late and then they have to come to the understanding that their mothers agreed to this situation, which has got to be a lot for a kid of six or seven to swallow, and maybe, even worse, this was done without any way for them to find out who she is, and the rest, and furthermore the state sanctioned this irrational and unjust agreement without EVER ASKING ME! The big difference of course is that adoption is done with the biological parent's, or parents' agreement, but how is that different in the psyche of the adopted person? Like, worse? Of course, it's got to be psychologically worse. How do you remove the "my mother did not want me?" from the adopted child's (and I do mean youngster here) psyche?

It seems to me that adoption, particularly closed adoption, is not unlike...a state sanctioned--well, it's not kidnapping, but then what is it?

The Chinese and other Third World adoptions where the children really were abandoned are not the same here, and though the demand for babies has made international adoption a sick situation, there are/there were thousands of babies who were abandoned and no one would take them in their native country, and so this connection that my brain is making does not apply here.

But still. I am really interested in what you have to say about this.
Later: Over at Salon we are getting the usual pap baloney about the "loving" decision to give away a child..
."Adoption Diaries" is the sort of poignant fare that demonstrates what a generous and loving act adoption is, an incredible gift by the birth mother to hopeful parents longing for their own children."
Please do drop into Salon and leave a comment. We need to educate the public over and over and over again. You know, about the "loving decision" of an "adoption plan."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Loving an Adopted Child As Much as 'One of Your Own'

It must be hard to love an adopted child as much as one of your own
was the line that raised a lot of hackles in the movie Orphan. The adoptee from the USSR herself said the offending line herself, but a cursory glance at who was doing the most complaining and collecting signatures on a petition reveals it was mostly adoptive parents professing their unfettered love, insisting that there is no difference in their feelings between the adopted and the biological. That same concept--No difference, I loved you as if you were my own--was declared on the deathbed of the dying adoptive mother in Then She Found Me.

I don't buy it. Everything is all well and good when the adoptee is what Florence Fisher called "the good adoptee" who doesn't act up ever, and is the pride and joy of the parents; but it's a different story when the adoptee gets into trouble, is trouble, causes trouble. My daughter was one of those. Then it's--genes. Then it's--not quite the same. Then it's--well, he/she is adopted. Then it's--when the adoption is undone.

My daughter's family was comprised of siblings both adopted and biological sons, and I watched her struggle to be accepted unequivocally, as were the sons. She was not.

How true this was became clear to me when when one of her younger brothers, a natural son of her parents, died out West when he skied off a cliff. He was a genial guy, and a ski bum who worked at ski resorts. Her older brother, adopted, married and a solid citizen, lived nearby and there was no question that he would be at the memorial service. But who would come from the Midwest? Whose airline tickets would the parents buy?

For the natural son back in the Midwest, of course. For Jane, the adopted daughter? Well, maybe...not.

Was she upset? You bet. Did I hear about it? In full. Nothing I could say would make her feel better, and I certainly did not say, Well, you have me, and my family that is also your family, because at that moment, I was not what she needed. She needed to know that her adoptive parents loved her and considered her so much a part of their family that they unthinkingly included in family events. I did not say what I was thinking, what she had to be thinking too: that she was not blood, that she did not count in quite the same way as her brother, their natural son. (At times like this I want to write: real son.) Not until Jane raised a commotion about this unequal treatment did they relent and include her. I knew Jane was wounded, but she stuffed her pride and off she went.

What was said at the memorial service? He was my favorite.

This is difficult enough to deal with in a family all connected by genes, but a body blow to someone who is adopted. Jane came back, we talked about the service, how upset both she and her adopted brother were about this offhand comment. But within a matter of weeks, the easy/ breezy relationship we had just before her brother died evaporated. It was as if I no longer counted for anything, and this was the status quo for more than a year. It was her way of showing her other mother that she, Jane, could be a good daughter, capable of being loved as much as her own son. It did not work.

As regular readers know, Jane had a lot of physical and psychological problems, including serious epilepsy, and she was already exhibiting some of the social and emotional neuroses that often accompany someone who has seizures when I came on the scene when she was fifteen. To her parents' credit, they thought that knowing me--knowing that I was not someone who was institutionalized, which they suspected--might give Jane the ego boost she so sorely needed. Perhaps it did.

But as the years would play out, Jane's behavior made her certainly harder to be around; and as the years wore on, so did her other mother's attitude towards her daughter. A few years later, when Jane and I were back on track, I picked up the phone and heard her sobbing: Tell me that you love me, she demanded. No hello, no, this is Jane, just Tell me that you love me. Her other mother had just told her on the phone that she did not.

As for the other brother, the other real son? He's given his parents a fair share of grief too, which I won't go into here, but how they reacted to him was all very different from how they did to Jane. Jane was the adopted daughter who was harder to love than their own.

Hard truths about adoption are hard realities.

Added on Friday, Sept. 4:

Of course this is only one family situation, and I've known all-biological families in which a mother or a father clearly preferred one child over another, even though the parent loved them all. I think that often has to do with genes--as a certain child will resemble one parent, both physically and psychologically, more than another, and that parent will feel especially close to that person because he/she is most like him/her. Or a child may simply be born at a time when a person gives more to the child. We've often seen this among older fathers; now that they do not have to devote so much time to their careers, they give more to their families--and the new children.

But I have heard enough stories from adopted people (including Florence's own, which she wrote about in her book, The Search for Anna Fisher, about radically different treatment in families when it comes to, say, heirlooms and the like. One time when I was lobbying in Albany for open records, a legislator's assistant must not have grasped the intent of our visit, or who we were, because she launched into a story of how she and other biological kin tried to prevent an adopted daughter from inheriting a good-sized chunk of money from her parents. Of course that would be impossible, if the daughter had been legally adopted, and the family was not questioning this, but what we found amazing as well as repugnant was that she was telling this story as if it were the ordinary course of events and expected that we would not find this offensive. I could go on, but they do not add up to a statistical survey of adoptive families with both biological and adopted children.

So although it is impossible to nail this down with hard data, I am reporting on the sense of what I have heard over the years, and certainly saw in my daughter's family. And I write about it because it so directly impacted my relationship with her. I am sure that my involvement in Jane's life (though I was a thousand miles away physically) did affect her family back in the Midwest, but I can not speculate on what it meant to them. As a final note, I have no idea whether they would have been as welcoming to me if she had not had epilepsy, but she did and they were quickly open to me and Jane reconnecting.

I expect this post to cause a lot of reaction, but it came to mind because over at the New York Times a writer named Anita Tedaldi has posted a column about terminating an adoption because she simply could not handle the son. Blogger Third Mom has also posted about this, and both are recommended reading. On another day I'll have something to say about a mother's love for the child she bears. Love is the right word, but doesn't encompass the need we feel to reconnect (at least most of us) at some basic biological level to our offspring.

Have a good weekend, enjoy the last days of summer. Labor Day. Well, labor--that's another story, isnt' it?--lorraine

And on Saturday, September 5

Though this post does not address the question of "love," those commenting might find this post from 2008 interesting: The comparison of "virtual twins," individuals of the same age raised together but with different genes. This typically happens when a family waiting to adopt finds themselves pregnant with child, and goes ahead with the adoption.