' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Thank you, Betty Jean Lifton!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thank you, Betty Jean Lifton!

Betty Jean Lifton
Like other members of the adoption community, I was saddened to learn that Betty Jean Lifton passed away November 19. I never met her although I heard her speak at American Adoption Congress conferences. She did, however, have a profound affect on my life.

Thirteen years ago, my surrendered daughter Rebecca and I connected. I exploded with emotions, curiosity, dread, joy; more emotions than I have words for. 

I had discussed my loss with no one in the 31 years since I signed the papers and walked out of the social worker’s office into the rain on a December day in San Francisco. I knew little about adoption except that it was my own private hell. Living in Salem, Oregon I was largely unaware of the adoptee rights movement.

Lost and Found: The Adoption ExperienceShortly after our first conversation, Rebecca emailed me the name of a birthmother in Vermont she had met on the Internet, Judy Sullivan. Judy sent me a list of books recommended by the American Adoption Congress, an organization I had never heard of.

Among the books on the list were those by B. J. Lifton. 

Journey Of The Adopted Self: A Quest For WholenessTwice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted DaughterI was drawn to Twice Born, Lifton's book about search and reunion, because I hoped it would help me understand why Rebecca searched for me. It did that and much more. When I finished it, I immediately read Lifton's other adoption books, Lost & Found and Journey of the Adopted Self. I knew these books were true. They validated feelings which I had never dared talk about; more, they served as a beacon leading me through the adoption labyrinth.

I sent copies to Rebecca. “You must read these!” I wrote. She did.

I have re-read Lifton’s books many times. I recommend them to all triad members and I have given away many copies, replenishing my supply from Powell’s bookstore and Amazon.

Thank you Betty Jean!



  1. BJ was the best, in every way a very classy lady. I was shocked and saddened to hear that she had died. She was truly devoted to helping adoptees and birthparents, and was always gracious and had the time to listen and sympathize. She was a good and loyal friend, a woman of courage, and real animal lover:-)We shared many stories about our pets.

    Her writings and her spirit lives on, but I wish I had one more chance to gossip and laugh with her at a conference. She will be greatly missed by us who knew her personally, and by those who only knew her through her books.

    Condolences to Bob, her children and grandchildren and beloved kitty Maui and dog Jingly.I know they must be looking for her.

  2. Thank you. A lot of times people talk about the books to read, and not the authors. I hope, one day, more mothers, adoptees and extended family learn to speak up, accept and speak out about the issues within the adoption forum.

  3. Betty's books spoke to me and to many on a deep level, and we knew what she wrote put our feelings into words. I never met her, but we had many email and phone conversations and she was a truly warm person who has done much for the community.

    In her memory, I'm donating my copies of her books to my local library in the hope that some newcomer to the adoption community will discover them as I did, and be encouraged to follow the path to their whole identity.

  4. I also am saddened to hear of the death of BJ Lifton. She is one of the "greats" in the world of adoption. A few years ago I talked with her at the AAC & told her I was depressed, due to Lupus. We talked several times after that by phone. I had contacted her just a few months ago, as she was on my heart for some reason. I emailed and asked if I could call. Of course the answer was yes. I never got around to it...what a lesson to me to listen to my heart. God bless you BJ and the family you leave behind, including all of us in the world of adoption.

  5. I am shocked to learn of BJ's death. We'd been out of touch for years, but she'd occasionally e-mail me a question or comment. She was one of the fixtures of the adoption-reform landscape, and somehow that world of mine feels, at least for the moment, a shudder.

  6. We lost an irreplaceable treasure in Betty Jean. Her legacy lives on in her work that she continued right to her last dying breath ...

    I have wonderful fond memories of her to cherish...

    May she rest in peace with Annette Baran and Jean Paton and other great heroic warriors for human rights. May she know that she is still loved by the multitude of lives she touched...

  7. Janet, a first motherNovember 22, 2010 at 5:31 PM

    Nice words about BJ, but as a birth mother, I always thought she was quite irrational about her own mother.

    BJ cut her off for a decade because she did not like the "commercial" card she sent? She finds her mother and then rejects her because she is the vibrant, strong woman she expected. [Twice Born] Her mother, at that point, did not have the courage to tell either her husband, or her son, BJ's sibling. BJ cuts her off almost immediately.

    Sounds like a lot of the stories I've heard from other birth mothers, about always feeling they are going to do something wrong--anything--because then the son or daughter will shut them out. And does, for infractions they don't even know they did. Been there, experienced that.

    Interestingly enough, BJ writes: "imagine seeing on the rack in the drugstore, tucked in among Get Well, Valentine, Birthday and Anniversary greetings, a section entitled: To the Child I gave Away to To the Mother I Never Knew.

    Well, it happened, we know, as there are (gag@!) "Birth Mother" cards for Mother's Day. I would rather have had a phone call from my daughter that day than that stupid awful card. I read it and immediately LOST it.

  8. Janet, a first motherNovember 22, 2010 at 5:34 PM

    PS: (Sorry) But I did not cut my daughter out of my life (after I got that "commercial" birth mother card. That would have been too cruel.

  9. BJ did not "cut her mother off", and many years later she finally did meet her brother. She waited because it was what her mother wanted.

    Her problems with her mother were not soley a reaction to a Hallmark Card. Yes, her mother was a initially a disappointment, but she did not hate her nor treat her cruelly. She felt sorry for her, because she was a pitiful person. If that was due to the surrender, it was not BJ's fault.

    I saw a picture of BJ's mother this year. She was young, at a nightclub with a famous person. She looked very much like BJ and BJ was proud of her. You did not know BJ as a person. You do not know the whole story. It shows a great lack of tact and feeling to speak ill of the recently deceased to her friends.

  10. Betty Jean,

    Put all the information in her book Twice
    Born. She admitted cutting her mom off
    And told why she did. So you don't have to
    know her to know the truth. I am sure she
    didn't discuss her life with those she came
    across in the adoption realm. I felt she was
    Very hard on mom and not her dad. Her
    Mother was young and father an OLDER
    Married man. Mothers never get a break!

  11. Janet, a first motherNovember 22, 2010 at 9:43 PM

    I am only reacting to the book BJ LIfton wrote about how she found and reacted to her mother. Page 151: She talks about the "commercial" card with a certain barely controlled rage. She goes to Japan, she has a son, she consults various therapists and Japanese friends, they move back to the States, they have a daughter...and then..." Ten years passed." Her mother did not initiate "ten years passed."

    BJ Lifton's books may mean a lot to adoptees, and for that she will be remembered, but as a mother who prayed to be reunited, as a mother whose daughter walked away for reasons unknown, I winced when I read ...Ten years passed. Page 173, Twice Born.

    How does simply saying what what BJ Lifton wrote about her own life in her own book show a lack of tact? BJ also had trouble telling her own children about her birth mother, and did she ever tell her adoptive mother? Admire the woman, and all that she has done, but can we please be honest about her own life, and what she wrote?

  12. Twice Born was written in the early 70s. There was no adoption reform movement yet, no counseling, BJ was on her own doing something that was practically unheard of then, contacting her birthmother. She did the best she could with what she had in her own situation at the time. Many years have passed since, and BJ had some regrets as most of us do in later years. You read her books, but did not know her as a person. I did. I must defend her memory. No, she was not perfect, who is?

    How BJ dealt with her own mother has nothing to do with "all mothers" or your child, Janet or anon. She did not hold herself up as a model of how to handle reunion, just told her imperfect human story and related her own feelings. It has nothing to do with you, or with how my child dealt with me, initially rejecting for many years.

    But during those years, BJ was a source of kindness, support and hope to me personally and to other birthmothers like Lee Campbell who founded CUB. She was there for us, sympathetic and a good friend. She encouraged our efforts to form a birthmothers group, and she encouraged us not to give up on reunion.

    Anyone can read her books and draw whatever conclusions they wish. You have done so and expressed your opinions.

    I hope you stay away from wakes and funerals with the kind of sentiments you have expressed here.

  13. So much for honesty.

    Incidentally, I did know BJ.

  14. Omg! Are you some of you people reading what you have written? A woman has died! And all you can do is look at it through your broken perspective of hostility and selfishness.
    B.J. owed you nothing. But she was an early voice for so many who were not given one from the start.
    Show some respect and graciousness and stop trying to make the death of a great woman and pioneer into another showing of your own selfish needs.
    You should be ashamed of yourselves Janet and anons.
    Your comments are just tacky.

  15. Being separated from one's natural mother/child is so unnatural and bizarre that it is a wonder any of us make it through reunion at all. Most of us probably have things we wish we could redo/undo in our own reunions. Betty Jean was human (i.e.imperfect) after all and was probably doing the best she could at the time. As we all do. It is cruel to speak ill of someone who has so recently passed. Especially of a woman who did an enormous amount for adoption reform and who should be remembered and commended for that.

  16. Yes, Lifton did a great deal for the movement, but she was also human. I am coming late to this blog but I do not understand why is the cruel and disrespectful to discuss how she treated her own birth mother. It doesn't take anything away from the good she did for adoptees and adoption reform. It makes her human.

  17. NY Times article on BJ. Not in the obits section, but a lovely piece.




COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.