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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Adopted People Are Not Allowed Ancestry Because It Might Upset Somebody

There's always a wealth of adoption-related vibrations in the air (Find My Family is on tonight, Ethiopian adoption, in an email) but today I can't stop thinking about a story that was in The Stamford (CT) Advocate the other day written by an adopted woman who just received non-identifying information about her birth family, just the kind of information that we now know is fabricated by some agencies.

The writer, Terri S. Vanech, was informed that she is the daughter of a blond, blue-eyed teenager who was considered "pretty," that she, Terri, is German and English, that her father left school to become a machinist apprentice and that her mother was planning to go to college to "work in the data processing field," and that her (birth) mother had "an upturned nose and an engaging smile."

I guess it's that last bit that would kill me if I were on the adopted side of this painful process called adoption. Upturned nose? Pretty? Engaging smile? I think I would start looking at every face in the supermarket all over again, trying to figure out if upturned noses fall with age (they do) and wonder how "pretty" looks at say, sixty, seventy, or so, to judge from the career choice of her first mother--data processing, the precursor to computers.

It would drive me nuts. Just the way I would look longingly--looking for clues--at every girl in the damn room everywhere I went before I found my daughter. Or rather, paid The Searcher $1,200 in 1981 to give me the name and address he already had on file after he used the clues in Birthmark to locate my daughter. But that's another story. Though adoptee Vanech doesn't talk about how unsatisfying and tantalizing it is to have half a glass full of information, she does add that with the "blessings of my parents and her husband" she is beginning the next leg of this journey of self-discovery. I assume that means she will commence a search for her (birth) mother.

Oh, give this woman her records, would someone please? Slip them to her on a piece of paper, call her up, send her an email, whatever, but what is the damn point of this anonymity, of non-identifying information which her mother most likely does not want, as we have learned from study after study?

But there is something else that bugged me about Vanech's rather touching essay. The overwhelming sense that she must tread lightly in order not to offend her adoptive parents. I know that everyone who has had what he or she considers a "good" adoption is deeply imbued with this sensibility, and I know it's not possible to understand what it means to be adopted, but sometime I would like a simple acknowledgment that adopted people who stripped of their rights have an undisputed right to simply find out who they are, why they were born...without the overblown sense that they can only do this with their parents' permission. Are the adoptive parents just as grateful to you for being a good son or daughter? Don't they owe you some gratitude? For being the person they "chose"?

Maybe this set me off because the other day we got an email from the wife of someone adopted who was searching--"with the permission of his parents" for her husband's first mother and father; the permission was mentioned more than once and that is what got on my nerves. I am afraid that I was a bit harsh in my response because the woman who wrote to us--who was not adopted, she was searching for her husband's (first/birth/you-name-it) mother--was so full of supplication and consideration for the adoptive parents that it seemed that the man in question had never been allowed to get past the "adopted child" syndrome. Had he asked his parents permission to take a toke, have sex, get married, have children, vote, go to war? Was there any other issue, I asked, in which he felt it necessary to ask for their "permission"?

I have an old bumper sticker that says: Adopted People Are Not Allowed Ancestry Because It Might Upset Somebody. I've had it for years, it has an "Orphan Voyage" copyright on it, and I don't remember when or how I acquired it. I used to think that the words referred to (birth) mothers in hiding; but today I read it a different way: those who might be upset if adoptees search are adoptive parents. If you look at the history of sealed records in, say, New York State, you find that adoptive parents were the ones behind the 1935 legislation that sealed the records: Governor Herbert H. Lehman,* adoptive father of two, was the motivating force behind the legislation that slammed shut the records in New York State; the late adoptive father John Tower in the Senate made sure that the open-records provision of changes to the adoption laws was summarily dropped in the early Eighties; and former majority leader of the New York Senate, adoptive father Joe Bruno, now on trial in federal court for corruption of the most flagrant sort. He never met with us, never signaled that he was in the least interested in the Adoptee Bill of Rights.
 Joseph L. Bruno

What do I remember about going to Albany to lobby the last time? One image that ranks high in the memory bank is three or four of us patiently sitting and earnestly lobbying for three-quarters of an hour with two of Bruno's staff people who took copious notes. Bruno probably never looked at those notes, or their report, because he was too busy introducing possible clients in the state to his business partners who were filling his pockets with dollars because of his vaulted position in the Senate. Off with his head!  Err--just find him guilty and send him to jail.**

I know it's a tall order, but maybe with enough education, maybe without adoptive parents who freak out when they hear "real" parent not referring to them, maybe with enough encouragement, we can change the world. Maybe some of this new attitude will even reach the despicable Drexler, she of Cornell and the Huffington Post. But I doubt it.

I am reminded once again of a note posted anonymously on a wall in New York City: I'm sad I'm adopted but I'm also grateful.

It seems to be those words sum up everything about being adopted. Sad and grateful.
*Until my computer coughed, I had a link to the typed version of the 1935 legislation, as well as a letter from the nun who was the head of Catholic Charities opposing the legislation--it's on line somewhere. If anyone can find it again, I would sorely appreciate it.

** To all the adoptive parents reading this who are in favor of open records, to all the adoptive parents who are not like the above--I know it's not all of you. But adoptive parents and agencies, who support agencies such as Gladney, a prime mover in the National Council for Adoption, have been our biggest stumbling blocks towards open records, and so allow me my righteous anger today.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Worst Adoption Agency in the World: Gladney

Troy Dunn, of The Locator, commented yesterday to the post about the antediluvian rantings of an adoptive mother over at Huf Po, when I mentioned that rumor had it that he did not take Gladney  (Center for Adoption) cases. Troy's--can I call you Troy? I'm beginning to feel like I know you-- comments are so revealing I wanted to make sure none of you missed them and so I am making them a post today: 

Hey ya'll,
Got a note from someone saying you had mentioned me and Gladney in the same post, so thought I would swing by and leave a quick comment on the topic.
We will on occasion work on Edna Gladney cases, but they have to have some data beyond that which is provided by Gladney files or non-ID.
The reason for our hesitancy is simple- the majority of the cases we have reviewed/researched/solved from Edna Gladney were stuffed full of pages and pages of falsified documents. While it is quite normal (sadly) for adoption agencies to falsify a few things in an adoption record, the Gladney files we have studied had been tremendously falsified, often times simply duplicated. I have seen several people all get the same photo-copied "non-ID" from Gladney staffers. I have located alleged birth mothers connected to Gladney cases only to discover she was simply a woman who's identity was used over and over, and has been located by multiple adoptees in search of answers, only to find intentinal dead ends built by Gladney staffers so many years ago. Makes me sad and angry all at the same time. Let me say for the record, I have no idea what Gladney's processes and procedures are today. The tradition of falsifying entire adoption files may be a thing of the past. Perhaps it wasn't even a "tradition". Maybe I'm wrong. ;-) All I can say is that in 20 years of working thousands of cases, I have NEVER seen as much falsification in any other agency in the U.S. as I have seen with Edna Gladney cases. Tragically, many of the adoptees who have come thru that agency have unsolvable cases since names, cities, hospitals and DOB's were faked in many cases. Perhaps they felt at the time they were right, but I stand here today to state- they were WRONG. And anybody who thinks lying to adoptees is "whats best for them" is misguided.
Have a beautiful Thanksgiving to you all. I do hope each of you are blessed to find that which you seek.
In your corner,
"The Locator"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dark Ages Adoption Spewing over at Huffington Post

While the adoptasphere is abuzz with reaction to ABC's Find My Family--some of this is bound to reach the ears of legislators, so right on, I say!--over at The Huffington Post, nasty business is afoot in the form on a noxious column by an assistant professor of psychology, no less at Cornell Medical School. It's yet another frothing at the mouth of an adoptive parent, one Ms. Peggy Drexler.

Ms. Drexler sounds like a clone of that other professor of adoption fairy tales, Elizabeth Bartholet of Harvard. (And people wonder why adoption reform, or birth mothers, does not get more support from the feminist community, or which I am most certainly a member. Ah, my dear, this is why. Feminists form a large group of adopters. But I digress.

"Adopting a New Attitude" could have been written in the darkest Dark Ages of adoption, anytime from the Forties onward. What was wrong with the piece? Let me count the ways:

1) To show that adoption is not, "second best," Ms. Drexler quotes another adoptive mother: a quick witted, vivacious forty-seven year old, "totally present," blond, fair-skinned, green-eyed woman who looks like she was a high school cheerleader. She is now an adoptive single mother by choice to three beautiful brown skinned boys she adopted from Guatemala ages four, four and a half, and seven.
Hmm. I guess both Drexler and the extremely cool blond, fair-skinned, green-eyed (so far, she is describing me) could have been a cheerleader (I didn't make the team) woman has three children from Guatemala. I guess Drexler has not read the stories about mothers who were killed in order to take their children to be sold to unscrupulous adoption brokers in Guatemala, or otherwise she might have chosen another blond, fair-skinned, green-eyed adopter. Or not come upon the story about the prospective adoptive mother who noticed that something was amiss with the papers the adoption lawyer in Guatemala presented her and called off the adoption. Now, that's a woman after my own heart. But I digress.

Yet what is going on here is that Ms. Drexler is making a saint of a woman who very likely has stolen children as the focal point of her story about how adoption is not Second Choice, which is the title of a very good memoir by adoptee Robert Andersen, M.D., that comes with blurbs from no less than Betty Jean Lifton, Joyce Maquire Pavao, and Annette Baran, good folks all, two of them adopted themselves.

2) I could hardly contain myself when I saw the "expert" she brought in to give gravitas to her piece: Mike McMahon, the director of the Gladney Center for Adoption. That's right, Drexler attempts to prove her point about how great adoption is and how we should "adopt a new attitude" about it by the director of the agency that has been a main proponent of sealed records and only reluctantly, when its business was going south because they were not doing open adoptions, did the agency change its tune, and yes, today, young maidens, you can have a open adoption at this nefarious agency. This is like asking the head of Goldman Sachs what's good about giving millions of dollars in bonuses to top performers with the government's bailout money. Really, Arianna, where is your critical ability? Not evident here.
Let's not forget that Gladney of Fort Worth is one of the leading adoption agencies in the country! It's where rich folk and movie stars have gone to get their American babies for generations! (Though today, they have a lucrative international market. From their website: The Gladney Center for Adoption is one of the oldest [Ed: 120  years!] and largest maternity homes and adoption agencies in the United States, placing more than 28,000 children in permanent homes and assisting more than 37,000 birth mothers. In addition to placing children born in the United States, Gladney's intercountry program is committed to finding permanent homes for children in other countries. Adoption opportunities are available in several countries around the world including Eastern European, Asian, African and Latin American countries.
Our guy Mike was recently nominated for an Angels in Adoption by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, whose child a few years ago came from...you got it, Gladney. Even the name kinda creeps me out--Gladney, it sounds sinister, but maybe that's just me. Rumor has it that Troy Dunn of The Locator, who is kind of a Bat Man for birth mothers, will not take on searches emanting from Gladney adoptions because they are so hard, so closed are those records at this infamous adoption bazaar. So, Mike, whose livelihood depends on a thriving adoption market, is the "expert" Ms. Drexler uses to show that adoption is so peachy-keen: "To the people who persist in assuming that adopted kids are somehow flawed," she writes, continuing, "Sure, adopted kids are over-represented in counseling," [McMahon] tells me. "But they are also over-represented at the orthodontist, the dermatologist, all those things, because we [adoptive parents] want to give them everything we can."

So adopted people are not over-represented among the troubled in our population, though numerous studies show that to be the case, even more likely to think about suicide as adolescents--only because their parents are such good parents they pay more attention and get their kids more therapy? Wait one moment--even adoptive parents, those without blinkers on--have done some of these studies. Seems that Ms. Drexler is probably too busy being her daughter's "true mom," as she puts it, to bother with petty details like that. I'm not going to argue about her comment thus makes me an "untrue" mother, because that kind of niggling is what adoptive parents are always doing--nearly passing out, it seems, when they hear the word "real" in front of a reference to we who carried them and gave birth to our children.  (Understand, please, I am not saying that adopted people come into the world with problems, but that adoption itself is the problem that manifests can lead to feelings of rejection that may cause psychological problems. As one psychiatrist said in court one day when I was there to testify for opening someone's birth records--and he was an adoptive father himself: Adoption is always painful.)
3) Back to Drexler. Her column ends with the same old chestnut about how the writer is not threatened by her daughter's curiosity about "her adoption status," because she, Ms. Drexler, knows that to be a "bona fide mother" you have to be there for every 2 a.m. bad dream, go to the soiree at school and hear your child sing, and listen to their complaints about who was not nice to them. Though she doesn't come out and actually say it that we who gave birth were no more than birth canals [which is how I have seen us referred to at RainbowKids], that is what she is implying. As well as, by omission, ignoring the pervasive influence of DNA. Wait til her daughter is a teenager. I hope Drexler checks back in with us again.
4) The frosting on the cake? The biographical note states that Ms. Drexler collected her "data" and "patterns" for her book, Raising Boys Without MenHow Maverick Moms are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and a finalist for a "Better Life Award." (Feminism at work, again.) She is currently at work on a book about fathers and daughters. Sounds like it is permissible in her world to have a father if you are a girl, not so good if you are a boy--but then on this issue, I am so old school. Comments are still being posted over at the Huffington Post, so please add your two or four cents. (I am there, just incognito for a change.) Drexler and the her editor need to read them. This is one of my favorites: 
I worked with a professor at Stanford on a project with adoptive parents. We asked them to assign a reason for why the kid did well or failed a test. This is called attribution theory. Briefly, the results were: If they did well, it was because they, the adoptive parents, helped them study. If they did poorly it was because of genes! 
Now I seriously have to get ready for tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day. Prepare that pie crust and cool it over night in the fridge! [I do make good crust, substituting a half cup of regular flour with Wondra.Which does wonders for flakiness.] Make that cranberry-lime-orange chutney! Make the pumpkin praline and pecan pie in the morning! Whip that cream with bourbon!
Pumpkin Praline PieWe are dining with friends, and those are my assignments. Ah, really, sometimes I wish I had a food blog. Since it would be nice to have a couple of adoption-free days, things might be quiet at the blog for a few days. Have a good day, y'all, and to those who are dreading it, remember, it's only one day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

High Marks for Find My Family

Find My Family on ABC hit it out of the ball park last night with their half-hour reunion show. Yep, it milked the strong emotions that surround the reunion of first/original/birth/genetic/biological parents with their offspring. Yep, I got glassy eyed, and so did the co-host, Tim Green, who met with the birth parents, Sandy and Scott Steinpas, and told them their daughter had been found. "I've waited so long for this," says the mother, Sandy. "I was sure I would always look for my daughter." She was sixteen at the time she gave birth and relinquished; her boyfriend and the father, Scott, was sixteen also. The year was 1979. They married two years later and had two more daughters and a son. 

Sandy says she had been looking for her first child for nine years, only to hit a dead end. Yet our intrepid friend and search angel in Wisconsin, Mary Weilding,* found the daughter, Jenny Jones, now a 29-year-old single mother, living in the same town, Brookfield, Wisconsin, a mere eight miles away. Okay, I've seen a lot of reunion shows in my day, and the coming together, the feelings unleashed, never fail to raise a tear.

The reunion takes place--as it appears all will in Find My Family--under a huge tree on a hill. Symbolism, anyone? Family tree, roots, all that. As the parents walk towards their daughter, Tim Green, a reunited adoptee himself, says: "Every adopted person's dream is to be found."

And that's when I said: Hooray! Maybe this will be heard by legislators who are against giving adopted people their original birth records; maybe this will be heard by people who think it's wrong for a birth mother to find her child; maybe this will be heard by people who think it is unloyal somehow for a person to search out his or her roots, parents, family, when it is a most natural desire of consciousness.

Those who say they are not interested or do not wish to search for their biological parents, I think, are subverting their natural instincts, that is, to know who they are, who they were before they were adopted, who they were when they were born. And those adopted people who say, She gave me away, why should I be interested? They are only covering up a huge hurt in their heart they are afraid to acknowledge because to do so is too painful--and what if the birth mother (or father) indeed is not interested? Fear can keep you from finding the truth. I was afraid, oh so afraid, when I searched for my daughter. What if she did not want to meet me? Happily, she did and we had a relationship (that had its low points, to be sure) for more than a quarter of a century until she died in 2007.

The show continues with the entire family sitting under the tree as the first/birth/etc. parents read letters they have written to their daughter. More tears. Hugs. Later the two sets of parents--birth and adoptive--meet back in Wisconsin, and Sandy thanks the adoptive mother for taking such good care of their daughter. I know that some found this simple act irritating, but I did not. Birth mother Sandy thanks the adoptive introduced as "Mom"--from a position of strength: it is a vivid acknowledgment of all concerned that Sandy is the mother (no qualifier necessary) who gave birth to this person standing before them. And the gesture recognizes that the other mother is the Mom who raised her. When I "thanked" my daughter's adoptive parents, at least the mother brushed it aside and was visibly annoyed: What gave me the right to thank them? It was much too presumptive of me to "thank" them. Thanking them presumed that Jane was "my" daughter, that I had a "right" to thank them.

Although some people in adoption do not like these kinds of shows, I say, Bring 'em on! Every show about adoptee/birth mother/father reunions is worth doing because it illuminates the cruel and unusual punishment of adoption as practiced in most states of the union today--42 to be exact. Forty-two states still strip a person of his or her identity when he or she is adopted, and never give it back.

We at First Mother Forum rail against sealed records--for both the adopted person and the birth/first mother--but we know the general public most often thinks that the records have long been open. Every time I strike up a conversation with a stranger on a plane or train and tell them where I am going and what I am doing when it's adoption related, they are amazed that all adopted people can not get their original birth records merely for the asking. Yes, it is a miscarriage of justice at the deepest level, and the legislators who sit on their votes and do nothing are guilty of perpetuating this great and sorrowful injustice.

So I will be a huge fan of Find My Family when ABC gives it a regular time slot. Last night's program was a preview; there are five more shows ready to be aired. Yes, it appears to be a ripoff of The Locator on WEtv, but this will get a greater viewership and perhaps change more opinions about the need to reconnect with one's natural/birth parents. A quick look at the discussion boards on the ABC site shows that many people are posting about wanting to be found, as well as a lot of people kvetching mightily about the show--and the great damage it will do to adoption as we know it. In fact, Find My Family generated a lot of upset kvetching from adoptive parents over at Rainbow Kids blog, ** even before it ran, and you can be sure they will be asking ABC to not run the rest of the episodes.

We know that in the glow of reunion all is swell, and that anger, hurt and outright rejection can emerge in the aftermath. It's happened so many times it certainly is a statistical probability; but still, the questions have been answered, the gnawing doubts put to rest. Even when my daughter took a time-out and decided not to speak to me for months at a time, I was still better knowing what had happened, who she was, where she was. And then she would call and we would pick up like we had never been estranged.

Let's hope that Find My Family builds a big audience and furthers the fight to make adopted people full and complete citizens with rights just like the rest of us. If adoptive parents really cared for the well-being of their children, they would be with us, fighting for open records. Alas, their numbers are few.

If you missed last night's episode of Find My Family, here is a link to the whole episode.
 * Contact Mary at isearch@jvlnet.com
** For more on the RainbowKids and fear of Find My Family, see Osolomama.

It's a different story over at The Huffington Post,  Read Peggy Drexler's rahrah adoption column and gag. An adoption agency worker is hardly the person to quote on the health and well-being of adopted people, but that's who Drexler, an assistant professor of psychology at Cornell Medical School quotes. She ought to know better, Cornell no less. But that's a topic for tomorrow.

Have a good night y'all. Turkey day two days away. I'll be baking pies, with crust from scratch.--lorraine

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gift of Adoption. Really?

Just as I completed my post about the positive response from Oregon attorneys, Speaking Out Makes A Difference to our post Are Law Titled to Adoptive Parents? Well yes, even in Oregon, I was taken aback by a post on the Oregon Women Lawyers (OWLS) list urging OWLS members to attend a fund-raiser for the local branch of Gift of Adoption.

Gift of Adoption (GOA) sounded like an oxymoron. GOA’s slick website, filled with pictures of adorable toddlers, gave me the harsh facts:
"Sadly, 140 million children in this world are orphaned – living without parents in overburdened orphanages or worse on the streets. Even for those you might count as lucky enough to be in some type of foster care, this is usually just temporary.

"500,000 children in the U.S. foster care system have no permanent family to call their own.

Adoption is The Solution

"Research shows – moving a child from an orphanage or foster care into a loving home permanently improves the child’s prospects for the future. Adopted children are more likely to pursue an education and go on to live productive, successful lives."
GOA, however, does not use the money it raises to move children from foster care.
"Nearly half of the grants awarded by Gift of Adoption support domestic adoptions – with priority given to uniting or preserving biological siblings and preventing a child from entering the foster care system.”
This didn’t make sense to me. State Child Welfare agencies pay people to adopt these kids as well as providing monthly stipends, training, and medical care. Kids languish in foster care because they are not available for adoption or because no one wants them.

GOA tells us that more than half the money it raises goes to helping people adopt kids out of foreign orphanages. GOA “grants range from $1,000 to $7,500 while the average grant award is $3,500.” GOA doesn’t say who gets the money but it’s a fair bet that it goes into the coffers of adoption agencies, not that $3,500 would come close to paying agency fees.(Adoptive parents also get an $12,150 federal income tax credit allowing agency to increase their fees by that amount.)

I couldn’t keep still and responded to OWLS pointing out that pain comes with losing a child lost to adoption and recommending the public option:
"A wiser use of OWLS members' money would be to help low income women nurture their own babies. If OWLS members wish to form a family through adoption, they can contact DHS [Department of Human Services] about adopting a child who needs a family.”
Other than an attorney who noted that she had adopted two wonderful children from DHS in a wonderful open adoption, OWLS who responded reflected common misconceptions about birthmothers, that they choose adoption out of love for their children and spend the rest of their lives fearful their child will contact them.
"…[I]in some situations, adoption placement is the best thing that could happen for the mother AND child. Not every mother has any interest in “finding” their long lost child (and efforts to make contact years later could have a detrimental affect [sic] on the mother and her other children/spouses, etc).
"Not every adopted child feels a need to find their biological parents. My older sister was adopted [at] birth. She is now a 43-year-old mother of four children and has zero interest in locating her biological family, even though the current law would allow her to do so.

"A message that discourages adoption or infers that it is not a great option for many families is a dangerous message.” (emphasis added)
Another OWL:
"I want to give you a short response, on behalf of my husband, who may have a longer. My husband was adopted in-country, as an infant. He has recently located his birth family, and is in the process of getting to meet them. … He is happy for the reunion, but/and grateful for the loving start he got in his adoptive family, and is also grateful that his birth mother made such a difficult choice for his benefit.”
Several writers pointed out that there are millions of infants and children in orphanages around the world who deserve a better life. True enough. In fact, the problem is direr. According to UNICEF’s November, 2009 report on the 20th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, The State of the World's Children “one billion children are deprived of one of more services essential to survival and development.” The U.S., by the way, is only one of two countries which have not ratified the Convention; the other is Somalia.

Donating to GOA may help a particular child but does nothing for the other 999,999,999 children or their mothers. Americans wishing to help needy children abroad should support organizations which help poor women improve their economic condition. Women for Women International, Lorraine’s favorite, featured in Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, gives women in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Sudan tools to become entrepreneurs.

Other organizations deserving support include BeadforLife, a nonprofit that sells beaded jewelry made by impoverished women in Uganda and Mercy Corps which educates young women to help them out of poverty and keep them from being trafficked into prostitution.

Dear Abby comes up with the right answer

 Just a shortie, here, as Jane will be posting later today, but as I was trolling the stories at the bottom of the blog today, I came upon this in the Dear Abby column, and it's so right on target with what we were discussing in the last post I am sharing it here:

When I was in high school nine years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby whom I placed in an open adoption with a great family. I am now in my 20s.
I find that if I mention the adoption, the conversation sometimes becomes awkward. I don't like to mention it with acquaintances because it's something very personal and I am somewhat sensitive about it.
When people ask me if I have children, what would be the appropriate response? -- BIRTH MOTHER IN MINNESOTA
DEAR BIRTH MOTHER: You are under no obligation to give chapter and verse about your personal history to anyone who is only an acquaintance. If you are asked if you have children, just say no because you are not raising any.

 Well, that's certainly was what I did until I published my memoir, Birthmark, in the late Seventies, and then even after if I knew the person did not know who I was in that connection. And then once I found her, I often simply said, Yes,  I have a daughter. It got easier as she got older because I found her when she was a teenager, and then people wondered why she was not living with me and my husband. Once she was older it was perfectly normal that she lived elsewhere, as in another state.

One last thing about people knowing. Years ago, before I found my daughter, I had a roommate in Manhattan who was dating a rather prominent child psychologist and author. I do not remember what led to this comment but he once said to her: You don't want to end up like Lorraine. 

Whoa! was my reaction when I heard that, and yes indeed, that was pity. No one wants to be a pathetic creature that others pity. So my advice is like Dear Abby's: sometimes choose your answer to give you the least grief.

But let me immediately add, sometimes we all need to speak up, and take the slings and arrows of poor fortune because unless we do, the laws are not going to change and adopted people are not going to be given their birth records in every state of the union. Speak up when you think speaking up just might do some good. Say: I gave my daughter up for adoption and I would like--fervently hope-- to meet her one day.

Or, I surrendered my daughter, or son,  when she was an infant and we have been reunited. And I'm in favor of open records for all adoptees, and yes, if you want to know, for birth mothers too. I was not given a choice when I relinquished.

Or: I relinquished my son when he was an infant but he found me last year and it was the most rewarding day of my life, want to see his picture?

The ups and downs of the post reunion? Ah, that is another question indeed. --lorraine

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Talking out about adoption is not always easy. In fact, almost never.

Talking freely about about our children lost to adoption is something that does not come easy, no matter how open one is about it. Reading Stone Diaries recently, I came across a passage where the protagonist, Daisy, is glad to escape from her home town because everybody there knows her marriage of two weeks was not consummated. Her upper-class husband was a secret drunk who fell out of a third-story window on their honeymoon in France. Once back home, Daisy's doctor discovers that she is still a virgin, and tells no one but his wife, who tells no one but her best friend who tells no one but...and eventually this startling news reaches her ex-mother-in-law. Who blames the lack of marital consummation on Daisy, who must be "frigid." Daisy  then became a woman whose story enveloped her around like a coat she cannot throw off.

The shock of recognition hit me hard when I read that passage because that is how I often feel about my status as a birth/first mother. That I am a woman with a story. That precedes me into any situation. Sometimes I merely want to be a woman without such an interesting story.

So I often keep my mouth shut. Do I announce to casual strangers, like someone I might meet at work (if I worked out of the home) that I am a first/birth mother, walking freely among the non-birth mothers of the world? No. Do I tell a dinner partner whom I have never met before that I had a child who I gave up for adoption, and that I searched and found her, and now she is dead, when asked if I have children? Do I sometimes just say no? Depends. (Actually, it's easier now that my daughter is dead, because saying that my daughter died usually kills further questioning and only elicits sympathy.) Do I join a new group of people and introduce myself, if asked, Do you have children? as a woman who gave up a child for adoption, or a birth/first mother? No. That's a question I have dreaded ever since 1966, the year my daughter was born and I surrendered her.

I have to have some privacy about this. I have to not let my adoption sadness and grief and activism take over every aspect of my life. I can not handle being on a soap box every moment. Thank god for good friends, because with them, adoption is only a part of who I am.

If you are a woman with a story such as this, first and foremost most people go, Ohh that's too bad, and Ahh, how are you today? Where's your daughter, how did her parents handle this, did you regret giving her up, why did you do it, who is the father, why didn't you get married?  That takes up the rest of the lunch/hour/group session/afternoon. I do not want to be a woman "with a story," a story that precedes me everywhere, obliterates all other information about me. It's what Jane talked about in her last post.

Sometimes I just want to be a woman joining a reading club, a writer and magazine editor, someone with Francophile tendencies, someone who finds amazing stuff at the local thrift shops, a fan of Elizabeth George mysteries and Preston Sturgis movies, a lover of triple-creme cheese, Indian food, horseback riding, dogs and ballet. It is exhausting to be first and foremost an activist birth mother.

Some may think that because I wrote Birthmark way back in the dark ages of the open-records movement--and been interviewed about adoption reform literally fifty or sixty times in the media--it is a piece of cake to speak out all the time about adoption issues. Wrong. If I have to debate a gang of angry adoptive parents (who usually turn out also to be lawyers with their tongues sharpened), it's emotionally draining and exhausting. If people wonder why I sometimes are not overly sympathetic to adoptive parents without knowing more about them, it's because so many have been gunning for me over the years. One guy I knew slightly told me at a party that he knew people "who wanted to kill me." They lived in his building, he said, they were friends, and yep, they were adoptive parents.

On the day in 1993 that Baby Jessica/real name: Anna Schmidt was returned to her natural parents, Dan Schmidt and Cara Clausen, from the the DeBoers, the couple who fought in the courts for two-and-a-half years, I was the only one speaking up for the Schmidts on the then MacNeal-Lehrer Report on PBS against a group of about six people, including adoptive mother and Harvard professor, Elizabeth Bartholet. You bet that was exhausting. Similar hostile interviews were common after Birthmark came out in 1979.

On the other hand, having people know who I am (reunited birth mother, adoption-reform activist, writer) does make some encounters easier, since I do not have to explain this part of my life. People who might say nasty things about birth mothers are likely to hold their tongue if I'm within earshot. Prospective adoptive parents do not invite me to Gladney fund raisers. Yes, the agency urges prospective adopters to have them, and adopting parents I know held a cocktail party for that purpose. I was not on the guest list. They got a boy soon after.

However, if someone has never talked to a first mother before (that she is aware of), and the situation allows, she is typically riveted in exploring every possible aspect of the story. She has a million questions, and so it goes for the next hour. I remember spending most of an afternoon at a friend's house one summer day and her sister-in-law was full of such questions as we paddled about in a pool. There was nothing to do but answer her questions; to do anything else would have been rude.

But if I can do so, and say, I'm at a social event and someone wants to launch into a discussion of the pros and cons of open records, adoption, my searching, whatever...I do what adoption-reform pioneer Florence Fisher taught me: She says, I am at a social event, I want to have a good time, this is such an emotional issue, I just can't talk about it now, OK? Smile broadly, hope for understanding. If that doesn't work, I add, You know, giving up my daughter was the worst thing that ever happened to me, and revisiting it now is like talking about the time I was raped. (I was.)

I put Florence's advice once to good use on a couple of occasions. Once I "helped" a friend's college-age daughter who was to argue that "adoption records ought to remain sealed" in a debating class (true story). At her father's request I sent her a packet of material (though what I sent argued for the opposite of what she was looking for) about sealed records. I don't know what her father was thinking, as he had already met my daughter, and knew that I searched for her. I did not hear from the young woman, or learn what happened in debating class. Several months later, however, here she was at a Christmas party. She introduced herself and a half hour later called me over and introduced me to another woman as, "This is Lorraine who wrote a book about adoption."

Gulp. Who is this woman? I'm thinking, Somebody about to adopt? Err..."This is a woman who wrote a book about adoption, too," the young woman making this awkward introduction said. "Bye." And then our go-between was gone.

Is this woman my enemy, I'm wondering now. Is she an adoptive mother against open records? About to adopt? What? It turned out that she had been a social worker (not an adoptive mother) who indeed had written a book about adopting for adoptive parents. We stared at each other uncomfortably. After hearing about her book, I said my piece about not talking about this at a party. We parted and have been cool to one another on the infrequent occasions our paths cross. We smile, nod, and turn away.

Being public about your status as a birth mother and lobbying for open records in Albany or Trenton or Boston or Philadelphia or Austin is a whole different ball game. You are with people of like mind, you meet legislators and their aides and tell your story succinctly and hope to open minds and hearts, and it is exhilarating, a great good feeling that gives back more than you give--even when you encounter the folks who will never vote for open records for adoptees and most certainly, not for first/birth mothers.

But sometimes someone I've just met strikes me the right way, and I end up revealing my story. I've told strangers in airports who turn out to be understanding and sympathetic adoptive mothers; I told someone sitting next to me at a dinner party and it turned out that she too, had given up a child many years before, and we spent the next hour talking barely above a whisper; I once told a man I met on a vacation half-way around the world and it turned out he was a birth father and now, with plenty of money, wished he could find a way to help his child, if he needed it. I could send him to college, he said. Just before Birthmark was available, I told a stranger in a bar in Sag Harbor, and he turned out to be adopted, and was excited with the idea of what I was doing. I never met him again. However, a few weeks later he sent a dozen red roses to me on the set of the first media appearance I did for the book. I never knew how he even knew where I would be--the interview was in Detroit, where I grew up, it was not a national talk show.

I think about him now and then. I hoped he found whom he was really looking for, and she was gladdened in her heart. We birth/first mothers have to make the call every day: whether to tell or not. Speaking out and speaking up is what we need to do, but sometimes a woman gets weary and needs a little room.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Speaking Out Makes A Difference!!!

When I considered writing an article rebutting the adoption-promo piece in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin (“Family Man,” June 2009), I was nervous. Unlike Lorraine, who told her story to the whole world in 1979 in Birthmark, I was deep into the closet until my daughter Rebecca found me in 1997. I did appear in a 1998 ad for Ballot Measure 58 (giving adoptees the right to obtain their original birth certificates) but I quickly changed the subject if anyone mentioned it.

Frankly I did not want my colleagues to know that I had had sex with the wrong man at the wrong time and didn’t have the good sense to use birth control or have an abortion. I had never even been able to explain to myself why I, a middle class woman with a college degree, had become pregnant at 23. Being pregnant “out of wedlock” was for naive 16 year olds who hadn’t been taught the facts of life.

I thought of my “unwed motherhood” as a personal failing, not because I believed sex outside of marriage was wrong (I didn’t) but because it did not fit with my preferred view of myself. I had spent years trying to understand why this had happened. If I could not reconcile my actions with the Jane I worked hard to present, I could not expect others to do so. Even after my reunion with Megan, I continued a dual existence: a professional woman, a wife, and a mother who most certainly would not have borne an illegitimate child who kept her mouth shut when acquaintances spoke positively of adoption; and a birth mother easily sharing her experience when in adoption circles.

Another concern was that both my husband and one of my daughters were members of the Bar and surely it would be embarrassing for them.

On the other hand, if we are going to do something about the injustices perpetrated on young mothers every day, we need to reach out to people who don’t know about us. At my age, it was now or never. So with some anxiety, I asked Lorraine to help me write an article to counter the rosy picture of adoption the Bulletin presented to Oregon attorneys.

After the Bulletin editor refused to print our article, we posted it here. I emailed the Oregon Family Lawyers’ and the Oregon Women Lawyers’ lists alerting them to the post. When the first responses came to my inbox, I just peeked at them, fearful of what they would say. After all, attorneys, particularly women attorneys, are in the “adopting class,” not the "surrendering class," people with means who pursue careers until it’s too late or single sex couples.

Much to my joy, I found only positive responses in my inbox. And, most exciting, an attorney who wanted to join me in reforming the Oregon consent law. He had represented a birth mother who attempted unsuccessfully to rescind her consent for the adoption of her son, signed within two days of giving birth while still in the hospital. Oregon has one of the worst laws in the country with no waiting period before which a mother may sign an irrevocable surrender. I’m meeting with the attorney and others soon to develop a bill and strategy.

Here are excerpts from the responses:

A legal aid lawyer:

"Right on. It would be great to get Willamette Week [a weekly tabloid with a long record of exposing the peccadilloes of powerful Oregonians] to do a story on adoptions from the birth mother and birth father point of view.”

An attorney whose wife is a birth mother:

“Keep up the fight for birth mothers; they have little or no voice and too few advocates.”

A Family Law attorney:

"Thanks for this article which focuses attention on the impact of the happy story of adoption (for the adoptive parents) on the mothers involved. I’m embarrassed to say that I never thought about this much before, but I will from now on.”

An adoptee:

“I liked the article – it must have been very hard to write. …Just wanted to tell you that I do know from talking to my own birth mother, how hard it was for her. … She says that me coming to look for her ‘made a bad thing come untrue.’ I feel so lucky that I get to know her, that everyone, me, my family, her other children, all have the chance to know each other. The attorney who brokered the deal actually gets the most demerits.… [My birthmother and I] discovered that he told a few lies to make the thing happen. Nothing that had a material impact on the overall situation in the end, but despicable nonetheless. I won’t say who it was as he still practices....

…. I want to tell you that, at least in my lexicon, the term “birth mother” confers not shame or denigration, but honor and sacrifice. The more I learn about how some babies ‘become available’ for adoption, the more saddened I am, for our society still needs for children to be adopted, it’s just getting shady and losing dignity. ….

Who at the bar should hear from people like me, objecting to the lack of balance?”

A litigator:

"I and my firm represented a birth mother who, after giving birth prematurely, changed her mind the minute her child was swept from her arms by the eager adopting parents, less than 24 hours after the birth.

We went to the court of appeals, making many of the arguments in this article, about Oregon laws allowing 3 days to rescind a consumer sales contract, but no time period for a birth mother to change her mind. Physical relinquishment finalizes the adoption. Period. …

Having been told by our court of appeals that it was for the legislature not the courts to decide whether Oregon's adoption laws deny birth mothers their rights(!), I could only tell our client that when her baby grows up and they find one another again, that she will be able to tell her she did everything possible to try and keep her.

This sad case still haunts me. I am so glad there is at least a forum on this issue…. Thank you for speaking to this issue of gross injustice."

Faith Ireland, a retired Washington Supreme Court Justice and birth mother whom we quoted in the blog:

"Thanks for the update. I continue to speak, where possible, about my experience as a birthmother and work to overcome the archaic and counterproductive shame which surrounds adoption. The point you make about poverty replacing shame as the primary reason for adoption is an important and often overlooked one.

A note from the Ethica rep in Oregon, Ansley Bernatz:

“This is an excellent article. What is happening here in Oregon is very similar to what is happening to women in Korea, so I understand your point all too well. It really is a human/women's rights issue rather than an adoption issue.”

Finally, I received requests from a couple of law professors asking for copies with the footnotes and references.

As for my husband and daughter, no problem.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trafficking reports raise heart-wrenching questions for adoptive parents

An adoptive mother who found First Mother Forum offensive posted some inflammatory comments to the previous post about the Women In Hiding website we wrote about the other day. She, as have others before her, said that we were a bunch of angry women with issues and that we could not call ourselves "mothers," because, well, because we were not. She also wrote:
There are such hateful references on this blog, accusing adoptive parents of stealing and buying babies. It's disgusting that a woman who regrets her decision not to parent then attacks the very people who gave the child a loving home and 24/7 care.
Her accusations have been gnawing at me since, and then came a news story (11/09/09) from the Los Angeles Times about people, including, Mark Brown and his wife, Nicki Genovese, who are plagued with the thought that their daughter from China might have been kidnapped:
They had just returned to Los Angeles in 2005 after adopting a Chinese foundling in south-central Hunan province when they read the news reports about trafficking. Police had arrested 27 members of a ring that since 2002 had abducted or bought as many as 1,000 children in Guangdong province and sold them to orphanages in Hunan.

The story makes clear what we have been trying, in our small way at First Mother Forum, to get out to the world, that child trafficking does exist, and it exists not only for sexual exploitation, but also simply to provide willing Westerners who want children to "complete their families," a phrase that always makes me sick in the knees because it almost always refers to adopting. The Times story notes that A U.S. congressional commission that monitors human rights in China said in a 2005 report that "trafficking of women and children in China remains pervasive," with many infants and young children abducted for adoption and household services. According to an estimate cited in the report, 250,000 women and children were sold in China during 2003. (Not all go to Westerners who get them "laundered" through seemingly legitimate agencies: some are sold for child labor, others to wealthy Chinese families who want a boy, or, in some cases, a girl to marry their son, because the Chinese one-child-per-family law and the adoption situation not surprisingly has led already to a shortage of marriageable young women. The message here? Mess with Mother Nature and you get a stiff kick in the behind.)

China has cracked down on many family-planning officials and orphanage workers found guilty of trafficking, with some violators sentenced to death or long prison terms, according to Chinese news agencies. But according to Jane Liedtke, founder of Our Chinese Daughters Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers programs and tours for families with children from China, the United States has treated China differently from other countries. U.S. families, for instance, are not allowed to adopt from Cambodia, Vietnam and Guatemala because of evidence of trafficking or other corruption.

"As a country, we should come out and say the Chinese government has to demonstrate what it's doing to prevent" trafficking, she said. But she added that it would be tragic to close off adoptions from China because "there are still way too many children who need help."

The Canadian government opened an investigation in October after The Times documented numerous cases in which Chinese babies were confiscated from their parents by local government officials and sold for foreign adoption.

Some adoptive parents "looked the other way" when they heard reports about child trafficking in Hunan province years ago, said Liedtke. Now that trafficking cases have been documented not just in Hunan but also in Guizhou, Guangxi and other provinces, "people say, 'Oh, I didn't know. My agency didn't tell me. If I'd known, I wouldn't have adopted.' "

To that, Liedtke responds: "Oh, yes, you would have. You wanted a child." 

Do I wonder if any of the children whose parents I know who adopted from foreign countries (two from  Guatemala, three from China, one talking about adopting from Ethiopia) have children who were stolen? You bet I do. I think about it all the time when I see the kids, some of whom I've bought presents for.

What do I say to people who think we are accusing them of "stealing" children?  I'm repeating here what I wrote at the blog because we are First Mother Forum  need to make clear where we stand on issues (as so many accuse of what we are not):

Dear Anon:

While you may feel that we accuse adopting people of "stealing" or "buying" their children, we are not doing that directly because they are not telling someone to go out and, say, kidnap a young child for a fee. However, this does happen--and happen often--in poorer countries such as Vietnam (where women were told they could not leave the hospital with their babies unless they came up with an exorbitant amount of money) and Nepal and India, where cases of outright kidnapping have been proven, and in China, where government officials are now on trial for extorting children from their parents.

When the Guatemalan government investigated adoptions from a certain period of time in the Nineties, they discovered that over half of the more than 600 adoptions they looked occurred because the mother was killed for the purpose of taking the baby, or was kidnapped, to be sold to unscrupulous baby brokers who appear, to willing and anxious adoptive parents, as ethical adoption lawyers. Adoptive parents who willingly adopt from overseas without looking into why a country has so many children available then become part of the corrupt system, just as, say, people who collect stolen art without investigating its provenance.

Does that make the adopters liable? Yes. Yes. Yes. If you doubt this, simply do a search at firstmotherforum.com [it's it in upper right corner or the bottom of the blog] for "corruption in international adoption" or any of the countries mentioned, and you will be directed to the original source of these statements. You will find that you will end up reading publications such as Foreign Policy or Mother Jones, or directed to CNN and NPR. The stories do not get a lot of play in this country because the public does not want to know.

We have several adoptive mothers who regularly read this blog (see their posts above) and they know that we are not making this up, or accusing anyone directly of ordering someone to steal a child. But it happens. Adoption, particularly overseas adoption, is rife with corruption because there is a buck to be made by supplying the world with freshly-minted healthy babies.

As for adoptions in this country, religious organizations such as the Mormons and agencies with a strong Christian connection (such as Bethany) encourage women to give up their babies in large part simply to grease the wheels and keep the business of adoption going. You can even find websites that list adoption "situations" and show a price tag--white infants go for much more than African-American or mixed race babies.* Without "product," agencies would lose business and in fact, go out of business. And while you personally may be honoring your child's heritage and first/birth mother, many many adopting parents do not. In open adoption cases, they promise one thing and do another, and that is what happened to at least one of the people who has posted here. We do not hate those who adopt. We hate the system that takes babies from mothers and does not offer them the help they would need to keep and raise the child.

One last thought: you refer to the decision to relinquish a child as excruciating and selfless. Excruciating, right. Not selfless. And not "loving," as many adoptive parents like to say, and believe. If the most loving thing a mother could do was to give a child up for a better life, many, many poor mothers would be offering their babies freely. Giving up a child is totally an act of desperation, and surrender to what seems the obvious: that the mother does not have the money or the support system to raise that child. But she remains his or her mother for all her life. While you have been disturbed by much of what you read here, I hope this at least has made you rethink some of your assumptions. And if your son finds himself calling the other woman "mother," please accept that this does not diminish your role as "mom" and "mother" in his life. He knows he has two mothers, and I sincerely hope you can come to accept this with peace and equanimity.

peace to you--lorraine
*With thanks to Osolomama for alerting us to this website. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Korean Adoptees Fighting to Reform Adoption Laws in their Homeland

An amazing story out of South Korea the other day: Six Korean adoptees--adopted in other countries--filed an appeal with the Anti-corruption and Civil Rights Commission in South Korea last year to request a probe into irregularities in their adoption documents and possible illegal procedures at local adoption agencies, according to the JoongAngDaily in South Korea.  

These adult adoptees have returned to their homeland searching for their roots and in the process discovered that the agencies lied to their parents--birth and adoptive--about their adoptions, how they ended up at an agency and why, and what records are available. They are involved in a full-fledged battle to reform adoption laws and procedures, and amazingly enough, they’re getting help from some government heavyweights. If they succeed this would be the first case in the world we know of where adoptees returned to their original country and changed adoption practices through legislation.

The National Assembly in South Korea is taking up the issue, and the sense is that the country is embarrassed by the huge number of children that left the country during the great Korean baby scoop era: According to the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, 161,588 Korean children were sent overseas for adoption from 1958 through 2008. Korea is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of children behind China, Guatemala, Russia and Ethiopia as of 2007, according to World Partners Adoption Inc.

Again, if successful, the group of six will drastically change the landscape of domestic and international adoption in Korea. A lawmaker added that Korea “still has a stigma attached to it as one of the major exporters of children.”

There's more to the story, at the Korean newspaper website, and as a follow up to our report the other day about Korean adoption, we thought you might be interested. Hell, we thought this was amazingly interesting to anyone with any sort of adoption connection.

Can China be next? But we already know that six government officials are on trial there for offering for adoption to wealthy Westerners healthy girl children who should not have been available at all, who had parents who wanted to keep them. And then there is adoption corruption in Nepal, and Guatemala and India...where money is involved, child trafficking exists. And then there is the rush to have your children raised by "Christians" in Ethopia....does this give me a headache? Yes. Does this make me angry? Yes. Can this be stopped? Not so sure. Money talks. Money always talks. --lorraine

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Wacky Website of a Woman in Hiding (from her daughter)

As this post is getting a lot of traffic right now because Kathleen Hoy Foley is publicizing her book and book in progress, I am amending this post (3/13/12) to add certain salient facts up front:

1. Kathleen Hoy Foley had a 1-1/2 year dating relationship with her boyfriend, Penn's father. He thought they were getting married and was stunned when Foley's mother slammed the door in his face.
2. The father's family tried to stop the adoption and wanted to take the baby (Elaine Penn) home with them. They were thwarted in their efforts by Catholic Social Services (CSS) and Foley's family who insisted the baby be adopted. Because they were not married, the father had no legal rights.
3. Penn's "non-identifying information report" from CSS contains nothing about any "rape" allegation and, in fact, is replete with touching details of how mother wanted to keep her baby and hesitated for several months signing the relinquishment papers. Thus, she had no warning or reason to think her mother would not want to be contacted.
4. Penn contacted Foley ONCE 15 years ago through the family attorney and NEVER again. She has kept Foley's privacy and silently endured Foley's abusive attacks ever since.
5. Penn has relationships with both members of Foley's and her birth father's family. He deceased before she found his family.
6. Foley is an "adoptee" only in the sense that while her natural mother raised her, her step-father legally adopted her for parental rights. That is hardly what the world knows today as an "adoptee."

 Now, the previous blog:

O What a tangled web we weave...Remember Kathleen Hoy Foley, the birth mother terrible--oh excuse me, she wants to be called "biological source" or even better, "biological cunt"--who is loudly and publicly opposing open records in New Jersey after being "FOUND" BUT NEVER CONTACTED by her daughter?

Apparently it is not enough to be quietly located by your own flesh-and-blood, through a son-in-law--it is important to go public and be in the papers, as the above link shows. Well, there's more--Ms. Foley has her own delectable website, Woman In Hiding, where she posts all sorts of venomous verbiage against adoptee rights, to wit:
Today these women [that would be us], many of them elderly [well, I am a grandmother of a teenager], face threats of being hunted down and found by stranger-adoptees [au contraire, I actually found my daughter] and the dread of their secret pasts being exposed to friends and family [I welcomed that], including their children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren [well, I hope my other granddaughter--the one my daughter surrendered to adoption in Wisconsin contacts me].  I was subjected to that naked exposure and it is an anguish unimaginable, practically unexplainable to those who have not suffered such inexcusable public humiliation.[Uh, really? You poor thing.]
Foley rants on in pages called "Mean and Nasty;" "Speaking the Ugly," and pathetically, under "Strategies," how to deal with the unwanted "stranger-adoptee" who might come knocking at your door after you hang up on them. As for what she wants to be called?
Birth mother—a slur that branded me a slut; a whore.  The label that blamed me for getting pregnant from rape.  The label that ignored the rapes; turned my torment into a hot and heavy teenage romance with me unable to keep my legs closed....Biological Source is a description I can force-feed myself, grudgingly accept.  It is, after all, the truth and nothing gets to change that.  However, I prefer Biological Cunt.  Biological Cunt speaks my personal truth.  It does not fake a smile and make nice.
She talks about her husband, Phil, who tirelessly campaigns against giving adopted people their birth right, as in, a name, and an original identity. It's all so sick sick sick but then, I guess we have to expect that people like Foley would pop up here and there. She could belong to the club of women seeking the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, with thanks to Pope for that great line. But most of them are institutionalized. I could go on but Osolomama, an adoptive mother extraordinaire and one of our regular readers, also wrote about Foley's folly at her blog and you can take it from there.

Well, amazingly enough, her daughter, Elaine Penn, rather than be abashed by her biological mother's scorn and outright rejection, is a staunch supporter of the legislation that would open records for almost all adoptees in New Jersey. After the Catholic Charities conception confusion of Phil Bloete, who thought he was reunited with his birth father, only to find out through a DNA test that they were not a match, Penn wrote this letter to Francis Dolan, head of NJ Catholic Charities, as he ponders whether or not his organization can support open records, as does, say, the archdiocese of Albany in New York.
I am a Catholic Charities Adoptee through  Trenton. Please help us convince Assemblyman Roberts to bring A752 to the Assembly Floor for a vote before 2009 is over.

It seems considering the recent news, it would be beneficial for Catholic Charities to help get this law passed. That way, your organization could focus on the positive contributions it can make to society, instead of draining your resources fighting old, worn battles. Bill A752 would give birth mothers a year to be able to black out their name, along with leaving medical history. It's a good compromise -- and this is the time for compromise.

I know something about your old fights because Kathleen Hoy Foley is my birth mother. She's been blasting away at me, my deceased birth father and Catholic Charities for quite awhile now. (I'm sure you've seen her in the Philadelphia newspapers and on CBS-NY news.) The sooner that this law gets passed, the quicker her soapbox gets taken away. These fights will no longer have anything to do with Catholic Charities.

Please consider helping us pass this Bill and finally having it behind all of us.
As a post script to this story, Penn was recently featured in a front page story in The [NJ] Star-Ledger:
Elaine Penn, a 45-year-old adoptee from the Trenton-based Catholic Charities, can’t get a passport with her current adoption certificate. Finalized in March 1966, well after her birth in Sept. 1964, it came later than the one-year gap the federal government allows in order to use adoption certificates as a form of identification.

And when she found a lump near her armpit after a mammogram several years ago, she wasn’t immediately able to provide her doctors with an accurate medical history. 

“I asked if it would help if the doctor knew my family medical history and she said ‘Absolutely,’” Penn said. “The insurance companies, they’re not going to pay for extra tests and treatments without a history.”

Unfortunately, attempts to contact Penn’s biological mother, Kathleen Foley, in 1998 were rebuffed, although Foley’s lawyer did provide Penn, who now lives in Howell, with a medical history. 
As regular readers know, I have little sympathy for those closeted birth/first/real mothers who will not acknowledge and meet the children they surrendered to adoption. If any of them are reading this, please consider what your rejection does to your child, who has already grown up with the sense of rejection that adoption can not help but infer, no matter how great one's adoptive parents are. I was struck by this once again in reading through a reunion story this morning, when a thrilled and relieved reunited adoptee Raymond Deschesne, of Boulder city, Colorado, says he blurted this out during his first phone call to his mother, Kathie Walker: he asked her what he had done wrong, why she let him be adopted. 
He added, I don't know why I said that, I was two or three months old when I was adopted. 

But there is hurt that comes before language, and that is the hurt that can not be erased. It can be accepted, but not erased.

My daughter, Jane

Oh, my baby, my daughter, you did nothing wrong. Nothing at all. I am so very sorry that you were adopted. Like I told your daughter, my granddaughter, I made a mistake.--lorraine


To stay in the closet, don't publicize being a 'maternal source'

A bill in New Jersey that would give adopted individuals the right to their own birth certificates passed the Senate with an overwhelming majority (31-7) but is stalled in the Human Services Committee of the Assembly. Speaker of the Assembly is Joseph J. Roberts, Democrat of Camden, who so far has refused to bring the bill up for a floor vote. (Live in his district? We need you to call him--now: 586-384-5862. Outgoing governor John Corzine has stated his support of the bill and will sign it if we can get it passed! The bill does have an out for people like Ms. Foley, as birth parents have a year in which to object, and their names will not be released, though updated medical information is asked for. The New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education is holding a press conference at the capitol in Trenton on Monday, November 23rd. If you can attend, or otherwise lend your support, please contact birth mother Judy Foster (jfoster@optonline.net) or adoptee Pam Hasegawa (pamhasagawa@gmail.com). Anyone with a New Jersey adoption connection of any sort should raise your voice and act up now. This won't happen unless legislators hear from you. And you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Korean Adoptee Meets Birth/First Family in Seoul

An addendum to yesterday's post about Koreans reuniting with their birth parents back in South Korea: The Harrison (Arkansas) Daily Times has a long story about the reunion of Willie Whitescarver, or Jo Kyung Nam, with his natural family, including his birth/first mother, Choi Chun-Hak of Seoul, in October. Willie, a 54-year-old building contractor in Harrison, took his wife, their three children and spouses with them to meet her family.
From the Daily Times: Now, at her home near Seoul, [Whitescaver's] 81-year-old mother is wearing a necklace her American son gave her, with half of a metal coin dangling from a chain, and back here in Arkansas, Willie is wearing a necklace with the other half of the coin. On the coins, the Mizpah blessing from Genesis is inscribed: “May the Lord watch between me and thee while apart from one another.” Willie gave the necklace to his mother as a gift during their visit.
 Whitescaver said he hopes to go back to Seoul to help the Holt International Adoption Agency and orphanage, which facilitated his adoption, to repair and rebuild its building, and after that, bring his mother to Arkansas for a visit. Meeting his birth mother was “the experience of a lifetime,” Whitescarver said.

The story at the Daily Times page has photographs, including a shot of how the story ran in a Korean newspaper. In light of our discussion yesterday about educating adoptive parents to not feel rejected if their children seek out their natural parents (see Osolomama's comment) , we wish we had a comment from the adoptive mother, who lives near Whitescarver in Arkansas. The comments at the end of the newspaper story are all positive--you might want to add your own. --lorraine

Monday, November 9, 2009

Adopted from Korea and in Search of Identity

The hunt for the natural parents of Korean adoptees made news today with the release of a new report from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. And there are a lot of people who fall into this category: From 1953 to 2007, an estimated 160,000 South Korean children were adopted by people from other countries, most of them in the United States, and they make up the largest group of transracial adoptees in the United States, according to BEYOND CULTURE CAMP: PROMOTING HEALTHY IDENTITY FORMATION IN ADOPTION.

Many of the 179 Korean adoptees with two Caucasian parents who took part in the survey said they began to think of themselves more as Korean when they attended college or moved to ethnically diverse neighborhoods as adults. And this surprising finding caught my eye:
An unexpected finding was that a high percentage (49%) of the Korean adoptees had searched as well and 30 percent had experienced contact with birth relatives, despite the common assumption that those adopted from Korea have little access to information about their families of origin.
Also from the report:
While most Korean adopted respondents reported achieving some level of comfort with their race/ethnicity as adults, a significant minority (34%) remained uncomfortable or only somewhat comfortable. Two factors were significant predictors of their comfort with racial/ethnic identity: self-esteem (those having higher self-esteem felt more comfortable with their race) and their scores on the MEIM (stronger ethnic identification predicted greater comfort with their race/ethnicity). Also, experiencing less racial discrimination and having higher life satisfaction were associated with greater comfort with their racial/ethnic identity. For Koreans, experiences of racial teasing - which were prevalent - also were associated with lower life satisfaction and lower self-esteem.
While the report goes on to recommend that adopting parents become better prepared to deal with cross-cultural issues, and we heartily agree with that, we also think that that is like making sure that the ambulance is at the bottom of the cliff. Instead of telling adopting parents how to deal with their children, we believe in helping women in poor countries keep their children, so that they do not have to deal with the grief and sorrow that invariably follows giving up a child, even if it seems as if it is to give that individual a better life. In a previous post, we talked about efforts being made to give support to single women in South Korea who keep their children, but it is not an easy road.

In reading the New York Times account of the report today (11/09/09)  I was struck by the common refrain of fear of hurting the adoptive parents. From Joel Ballentyne, a Korean adoptee and teacher in Fort Lauderdale:
“This offers proof that we’re not crazy or just being ungrateful to our adoptive parents when we talk about our experiences,” said Mr. Ballantyne, 35, who was adopted at age 3 and who grew up in Alabama, Texas and, finally, California.

Jennifer Town, 33, agreed.
“A lot of adoptees have problems talking about these issues with their adoptive families,” she said. “They take it as some kind of rejection of them when we’re just trying to figure out who we are.” Ms. Towns, who was adopted in 1979 and raised in a small town in Minnesota, recalled that during college, when she announced that she was going to Korea to find out more about her past, her parents “freaked out.”
“They saw it as a rejection,” she said. “My adoptive mother is really into genealogy, tracing her family to Sweden, and she was upset with me because I wanted to find out who I was.”
Quite frankly, this gives us a headache. We also recall that about a year ago we posted the story of a woman searching in South Korea, and posted the photograph and referred to the story in the Korean newspaper. The adoptee saw our post and freaked out because she was afraid that her adoptive mother would see the story. How can adoptees get across to their adoptive parents that searching for their identities before they were adopted is, quite often, totally separate from their feelings--good or bad--towards their adoptive parents?

After all the years we have been involved in adoption reform, after all the television shows and interviews in the media about search and reunion, after the movies and television dramas showcasing reunion, why must adoptive parents still look upon this search for roots as a rejection? That is where the education needs to be: adoptive parents need to understand that in adopting a child they are not taking in a blank slate, a tabua rasa--an erased mind--but a fully formed individual with a mother and a father who bore them, no matter how, and whose DNA they carry, no matter what; dozens, hundreds, nay, thousands of relatives and ancestors, and a rich history that goes back through the ages. We must make adopting parents understand that the need to feel connected to that identity and culture is normal and natural. To not be interested in one's own roots is the unnatural, is the killing of curiosity--always seen as a sign of intelligence in any other realm--and signifies a cutting off of oneself from the tree of life in the most basic way.

Given that the comments we see all the time that amount to--I'm afraid to let my adoptive parents know I'm searching--we have our work cut out for us.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Are Laws Tilted Towards Adopting Parents? Well, yes, even in Oregon

Are laws pertaining to surrender titled towards the person surrendering a child or to the receiver of the child? Even in an open-records state such as Oregon?

You guess.

An interview with an adoption attorney, Scott Adams, in the June 2009 Oregon State Bar Bulletin, got blogger Jane wondering about just that question. The piece was written by another attorney and adoptive parent and focused on the joy and happiness generated by adoptions in general, adoption attorney Adams in particular. Jane's ire was up. Noteworthy was that Adams represented the natural mother of the author’s adopted son (throat cleared here) and delivered the baby to the author the day after he was born (eyebrows raised now). Adams, by the way, boasted in the piece that he takes only cases that “help build families” apparently ignoring the destruction of his client’s family. You got it, we were pissed. We say anything about the rights of natural mothers, and we are generally dismissed because we have, you know, a vested, personal--possibly even emotional and irrational--interest in the fate and well-being of birth mothers.

Though the article made a passing reference to the first/birth mother although not a recognition of her grief --“for every adoptive parent who gains a child there is a birth parent who places one”--the remainder of the story was about: happiness. Jane, our blogger who lives in Portland, Oregon, and is an attorney, asked Lorraine, the author of Still Unequal: The Shameful Truth about Women and Justice in America as well as Birthmark, the first memoir to tell a birthmother's story, to collaborate on a response.  Jane researched Oregon law, Lorraine added her two cents, and together we responded to the Bar Bulletin with an analysis of Oregon law regarding adoption.

What did we find? That Oregon law quite conspicuously favors the interests of the adopting parties over those of the individual relinquishing a child. 

The editor of the Bulletin did not accept our piece even though it was "interesting and compellingly written" but "too far afield of the Bulletin's mission and scope." The gist of the rejection was that we needed a wider audience. Well, our piece was about Oregon law, and the Bulletin goes to over 12,000 attorneys in that state--all the members of the Oregon bar. If anyone has a suggestion, please let us know. We then submitted a short letter to the Bulletin to respond to the offensive tone of the pro-adoption interview with Adams, and make a few points regarding the biased laws of Oregon.

As the laws that Jane uncovered are such a good example of how laws can be tilted towards one party to the detriment of the other, we are publishing it here, and will be submitting it to another appropriate place. Stay tuned.

Here is the longer article we wrote:

By Jane Edwards and Lorraine Dusky
Copyright (c) 2009

Birth mothers deserve more attention than the passing reference Melody Finnemore gives to them in her article about adoption attorney Scott Adams (“Family Man,” June 2009): “for every adoptive parent who gains a child there is a birth parent who places one.” This is far too dismissive a reference to the women who actually bear the children.

As mothers who surrendered daughters to adoption, we—one an Oregon State Bar member, the other an award-winning writer--have been active in adoption reform for decades, and as such we are all too aware of widespread insensitivity to the birth mother’s situation. She is often portrayed as a pitiable young woman and called a “birth mother” even before she gives birth, a reference that immediately diminishes her.

While adoption is widely accepted in society today, the unfortunate corollary is that adoption as an institution has morphed from a way to care for children whose families cannot to a business model that provides children to those who cannot, or do not choose to, have a child naturally. The United States has the highest rate of domestic adoption of any western country. Infant adoption is a multi-billion dollar business that is entirely dependent on the vulnerability of pregnant women.

Between World War II and Roe v. Wade in 1973, women who surrendered their children were primarily white and middle class, responding to pressure from well-meaning family members and clergy to hide their shame. The pre-Roe period, sometimes called the Baby Scoop Era, includes retired Washington Supreme Court Justice Faith Ireland, author Paula Fox, singer Joni Mitchell, and actresses Kate Mulgrew, Roseanne Barr, and more recently, Mercedes Ruehl.

The Pain Lingers On

Because women who lost children to adoption in an earlier time were shamed into silence, much of the public has accepted the idea that the experience was a positive solution for their untimely pregnancies. Yet for many, if not most, of these women, the truth is far different. Ann Fessler’s 2006 book, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade, gives an intimate and sadly accurate picture of how they fared. They did not go on and simply “make new lives” and forget their children. One of the mothers profiled, Jeanette Roberts, a nurse who lives in Lake Oswego, surrendered her son in 1952. She suppressed her grief for many years: “When I finally came to the place where I could not ignore my loss, I began to search for him. And although we have had a wonderful reunion, it is bittersweet. Nothing can replace the 43 years that I lost.”

One of us, Lorraine Dusky, described herself in her 1979 memoir, Birthmark, as “a mother without a child. I was a mother who searched for her daughter’s face in those of children at shopping malls, in Central Park, anywhere children her age might be” she wrote. ”This endless silence is the worst of all. Never knowing is the hardest part. You don’t forget, you just stop crying every day.”

Justice Ireland gave up her daughter in 1965 when she was a 22 year old college student. She told David Postman of the Seattle Times in 2000. “I think we made the right decision for the time, but there was always a pretty big hole there.” (“Justice Tells Personal Story” 9/8/00). Ireland calls relinquishing her daughter "one of the worst things that ever happened in my life."

Adoption loss ripples through entire families: parents who cannot forgive themselves for counseling their daughter to give away their grandchild, children who learn they have a half-sibling “out there,” husbands who finally understand why their wives tear up when they see a baby.

Poverty Replaces Shame As the Reason for Adoption

Today 40 percent of babies are born to single women and poverty has replaced shame as the primary reason for surrendering a child to adoption, according to Adam Pertman, author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming America (2000). Through aggressive advertising in the media, on the internet, on college campuses and anywhere young women are likely to be, the adoption industry recruits them to give up their babies. Physicians, clergy, even family planning clinics, promote adoption.

Bernadette Wright’s experience when she was 19 and pregnant in 1990 is typical: "I lacked money and family support and felt overwhelmed. I contacted an organization that advertised 'counseling' to help expectant mothers consider their options, but then they used pressure, misleading information, and false promises to convince me that I could never make it as a mother. I felt I had no way out but to surrender him to adoption." Afterward, Wright sought treatment for unresolved grief and post-traumatic stress disorder. Today Wright, who lives in suburban Washington, DC, holds a doctorate and works for a consulting firm. She is president of Origins-USA which advocates for the natural right of mothers to nurture their children and for keeping families together.

In theory and in law, Oregon recognizes the sorrow that loss of a child brings. ORS 109.346 requires adoptive parents to pay for three pre-adoption counseling sessions and three post-adoption counseling sessions with therapists “knowledgeable about birth parents, adoption and grief and loss issues.” But that counseling is often done through the agency handling the adoption. A counselor working for an adoption agency (which depends on fees from adoptive parents) cannot give totally unbiased counseling to a poor, often frightened young woman.

Oregon statutes do not require anyone to provide expectant mothers with information on how they might find ways to keep their baby, that is, the availability of Medicaid, welfare, WIC, food stamps and free or low cost baby supplies or how to ask relatives for help. Much like eager soldiers who cannot grasp the horrors of war, expectant mothers cannot grasp the loss they will experience if they surrender their baby. Instead, they are likely to meet new birthmothers at the agency, who are indoctrinated in the pro-adoption language of the agency, and tell them that the sorrow of surrender will be short-lived. Because they have only recently surrendered their own offspring, these young women do not know themselves yet the lasting effects of losing their children to adoption.

We sometimes hear from those in the adoption business that “mothers don’t want their children; they can’t get out of there fast enough.” What appears as uncaring is likely due to acceptance of the inevitable, and the need to grieve in private. Mothers sign surrender papers as stoically as General Robert E. Lee signed the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse even though every fiber in their bodies revolt against what is a violation of the natural order.

Open Adoptions are Hard to Enforce 

In the past 20 years, open adoptions have reduced the negative impact on birthmothers somewhat by allowing them to maintain contact with their children according to a 2006 report by Susan Smith of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, (Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of the Birthparents in the Adoption Process). Open adoptions also benefit children through allowing them to know their origins and the circumstances of their adoption. However, even in open adoptions, the ability of birth parents to maintain a relationship with their children may be illusionary. While ORS 109.305 provides for court enforceable “continuing contact” agreements, failure of adoptive parents to abide by the agreement does not nullify the adoption. If adoptive parents cut off contact and refuse to participate in mediation, or if mediation is unsuccessful, birth parents must initiate a court action to obtain relief, pitting them against adoptive parents who most likely have greater financial resources. And of course, adoptive parents wishing to close the adoption can simply disappear into another community, another state, another country.

Unfortunately openness in domestic adoptions has resulted in an increase in international adoptions. Often the reason to go overseas is not only the dearth of available babies at home, but to avoid any possible contact with the birthmother. Brooks Hansen speaks for many when he wrote in The Brotherhood of Joseph: “Just because we’d been through the IVF wars and lost, that didn’t mean that Elizabeth should always have to save an extra set at the dance recital.”

As recent reports have shown, many of these indigent mothers in the poorer nations of the world lose their child through fraud or corruption; many of the healthy infants available for adoption by wealthy people are outright kidnapped. Even in China, the supply of adoptable babies is far diminished; recently, an agency was found to have “confiscated” babies and sold them to foreign adoptive parents as orphans for $3,000 apiece. In short, the supply of adoptable babies rises to meet demand and disappears when Western cash is no longer available.

Informed Consent or Unwillingly Duped

The adoption industry describes surrendering a child as “deciding to make an adoption plan.” Although the right of parents to nurture their children is protected by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000), Oregon, like most states, does little to assure that mothers’ decisions to surrender are indeed informed.

Adoption agencies sequester expectant mothers in apartments (which can be modern versions of maternity homes). Women are brought from other states to Oregon where they lack family support and whose laws are more favorable to adoptive parents. Prospective adoptive parents often pay pre-birth expenses such as housing and medical care which may make mothers feel obligated. The women, often indigent, realize they may be asked to re-pay these expenses if they do not go through with the adoption.

Under Oregon law, a mother has less right to nullify an agreement to surrender her newborn child to strangers than consumers have to rescind ordinary business transactions. For example, ORS 83.720 gives a buyer in a home solicitation sale three days to rescind the contract; ORS 694.042 allows the purchaser of a hearing aid to thirty days to back out ; not so if you are a birth mother and feel you made a terrible mistake in the hospital by signing over your baby. Oregon adoption laws are designed for the protection of the adoptive parents, and not the mother.

For instance, Oregon does not require a waiting period before a mother may sign a consent. Prospective adoptive parents are often in the delivery room when the baby is born, even cutting the cord. Immediately after the mother leaves the delivery room, her attorney may ask her to sign the consent form as well as an agreement [ORS 418.270(4); 109.312(2)] giving up her right to rescind her consent within six months absent fraud or duress. Although her attorney or the adoption agency has in all likelihood explained the consent and agreement prior to the birth, no woman can appreciate her loss until she has given birth and has had time to internalize the consequences of surrendering her child. Yet she is presented with papers to sign giving away all her rights while she may be groggy or suffering from post-partum hormones. While Oregon agencies may not initiate adoption proceedings for six months, ORS 418.270(1), supposedly giving her time to reconsider her decision, this becomes a moot point if she has given up her right to do that. And under the current system, most apparently do just that. But how is signing the papers within hours of giving birth not under duress?

While Oregon courts prohibit attorneys from representing both prospective adoptive parents and natural parents how this works in reality is biased against the natural mother. The adoption agency, or the prospective adoptive parents’ attorney, often refers an attorney to the natural parents, and their bill is often paid by the prospective adoptive parents. The mother’s attorney becomes a facilitator to see that the adoption progresses as planned. Rule 5.4 of the Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct dictates that “a lawyer shall not permit a person who recommends, employs, or pays the lawyer to render legal services for another to direct or regulate the lawyer's professional judgment in rendering such legal services.” The words sound good, but the realities of the situation are likely to be quite different. Any such attorney who counseled against adoption, or gave the natural mother information which discouraged her from proceeding with a surrender, would almost certain lose future referrals.

An independent funding source such as a surcharge on adoption-petition filing fees would assure independence of counsel. These fees could pay Legal Services or similar organization to represent parents considering adoption. This would benefit adoptive parents as well since the better informed a woman is the less likely she is to have poor grief resolution and, most importantly to the adoptive parents and the legal community, to contest the adoption.

Blueprint for the Future

We want a world where all children are cherished. If families cannot with help care for their children, adoption is obviously the better alternative to growing up in an orphanage or in foster care. Adoptive parents we have known are loving people who are committed to the well-being of their children. However, the adoption industry today and the legal system surrounding it fails to protect vulnerable mothers and mothers-to-be, and thrusts too many children into the adoption mill when they need not be. Oregon laws need to be changed to assure unbiased counseling for women considering adoption, truly independent legal counsel, and ample time after birth--free from the influence of the prospective adoptive parents—to appreciate the significance of their decision. Those thinking of adopting should consider some of the many Oregon children languishing in foster care that need permanent families.

Excellent sources for attorneys interested in learning more about the adoption experience and reforming adoption practice are the following not-for-profit organizations: American Adoption Congress, Ethica, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, and Parents for Adoption Reform (PEAR).