' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: January 2010
Join Lorraine in Indianapolis! She will be opening the IAN conference on Friday morning. See details on sidebar.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mormons on Meeting your (Birth) Child

The comment from the Mormon birth/first mother to the last post has been on my mind because I am not too kind to mothers who stay in the closet from their children, and a good number of them turn out to be Mormons. She wrote:
"I wonder if many of these (possibly) Mormon mothers still feel alone, isolated, and wholly unworthy of speaking out or seeking contact. The social stigma of being an "unwed mother" still looms large in the LDS church, even if you were an "unwed mother" decades ago - it is a label that will never leave you in this culture.

Perhaps because I have an insider's understanding of psychological warfare used against relinquishing mothers throughout their entire lifetime in the Mormon culture, I am able to view some of these women's choices in a different light. I am not condoning or supporting their choice in any degree. My heart just aches for them that they feel like their own flesh and blood should have no contact with them."
Her post has been gnawing at me because I feel so strongly that mothers ought to at least meet their children ONCE face-to-face, and decide where to go after that; but I realize that a million different  cultural forces may be pushing up against them--just the way many of us felt when we relinquished in the Baby Scoop Era. And we want understanding and acceptance, don't we?

Additionally, I realize that my personal stance against established religions and their dogmatic views, despite having been raised Roman Catholic or perhaps because of having been, I am not as forgiving as I should be of those who are contentedly living within a religious culture that actively discourages contact. That would exclude most religions, including my own Catholicism, because they do not discourage meeting the child one gave up to adoption. From what I know, Mormonism does. Certainly the National Council for Adoption [NCFA] does, and the Church of the Latter Day Saints is a major component, though their adoption agencies, of that nefarious pro-adoption organization. NCFA is unquestionably one of the biggest stumbling blocks to allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificates. The only kind of adoptee-reunion legislation NCFA supports is a passive registry, with as many disqualifying caveats as they can unreasonably get legislators to agree to. So if anyone reading this is considering placing a child for adoption, stay as far away from any NCFA members as you can when choosing an agency. You can find a list of their members at their website.

As for first/birth/biological/original mothers who will not meet their children whom they relinquished for adoption, I know they exist. One has even gone so far as to sue the state of New Jersey for having released her identity to her daughter; another has a fervid website opposed to open records. While I truly deeply believe all mothers who have relinquished a child to adoption have an unwavering, unyielding, absolute obligation to meet their children at least once and open to door to those children to have a a relationship with their siblings if there are any, I try to find some compassion for those women, and birth father men, who struggle with this.

Where does this leave us? I do not have the answers. All I know is that giving up a child to the unknown, or even to known parents in an open adoption, is the most gut-wrenching, difficult, terrible, awful thing that a mother can do, and everyone suffers, mother and child. Birth mother and adoptee.

And the pain inflicted never ends. Adoption is the sorrow that goes on grieving.
Incidentally, the woman who posted the above comment has a blog of her own: Letters to Mrs. Feverfew. And longtime readers know that in the past we have written extensively about the Mormon church and adoption. See Mormon Opposition to Open Records,
and Rachel's Origins Don't Include Me
and  An Inconvenient Appendage. For starters.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Birth Parents Granted Access to Information about their Sons and Daughters

More than 3,000 adopted people living in Queensland, Australia, will have access to their birth records on Monday, February 1, 2010--and what's more, their birth mothers and birth fathers will also be able to find out what happened to their children, no matter where the adoption took place. Yes, the law still has a stinkin' provision--the abhorrent contact veto. If the birth mother or birth father has signed a statement attesting to their desire not to be contacted, the adopted person is supposed stay away. But still, the adopted are entitled to receive a copy of their original birth certificates, which in most cases will contain the names of their birth parents.

A hell of a lot better than what we have here in most of the U.S. of A., land of the free. Where only six states (Alaska, Alabama, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Tennessee) have open records...and the rest with a crazy quilt of provisions blocking total and complete access. For how crazy a quilt, check the White Oak Foundation page. It's very colorful. In Delaware, the law states that birth parents have to renew their desire to stay anonymous from their own children every three years, and the other states have a mishmash of laws granting various amounts of access and hoops for adoptees to leap through before getting their records, if ever.

Gosh, adoption is supposed to be such a great thing, to judge by the rush to adopt from all corners (see the last post here) but then, being an adopted adult makes you less than a citizen granted the same rights as the rest of the population. Who dreamt up those laws? Oh, yeah, adoptive parents...in the legislatures of this country. Adoptive parents gets very upset when I say such things, and to them I say, Do your homework.

How many birth people (that does have a ring to it, doesn't it?, kinda like Village People) have actually signed such a veto in faraway Queensland is a factoid I haven't been able to track down (anyone know? leave a comment, please) but given our experience here in the United States, in Oregon specifically, their number is likely to be extremely small. Teeny, even. Since Oregon gave adult adoptees access to their birth records in November, 1998, only 85 birth parents have requested no contact while more than 9,800  have received their original birth certificates. People, that's fewer than one percent--slightly more than .8 of one percent we are talking about here.

Seventy-nine of those people--okay, most or all of them women--signed the no-contact forms before the records were opened (and I'm just guessing here, but I'm guessing with a certain amount of insider info, most or all of them were of the Mormon persuasion) and to them I have no kind words. Rot in your closets, ladies, in this life or the other is my thought this afternoon where the wind blows fierce and the sun shines today here on the eastern end of Long Island. Why are you so afraid of you own children? Can't you give them the time of day? 

Back to Queensland: "More than 3,000 Queenslanders affected by an adoption that occurred before 1991 are prevented from obtaining identifying information about their birth parents or son or daughter who was adopted," stated Acting Child-Safety Minister Karen Struthers. "The new Act will give these people the right to access information about their own identity or that of a son or daughter for the first time." But that contact veto? Ay, there's the rub, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:
Adoption campaigner Mick Gray says while being able to access information such as medical records will be beneficial the laws "still have a long way to go". Mr Gray, 35, who is an adoptee himself, says the Act will still prevent him from locating his sister because his mother signed a veto to contact.
"To see the documents you've basically got to sign a waiver," he said. "They are still treating us like second-class citizens. It's a natural birthright to know who we are. It makes the adoptee feel shameful."
We get it. We hate contact vetoes because they are unfair, unjust, inane and unnatural.  The right to know one's heritage, to connect with people who are your people by blood by history by culture should be above legislation of any sort.

As I watched President Obama's speech the other night, I applauded when he said that finally he is going to do away with the inane "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays in the military, and let gay men and women serve their countries proudly.

Great, I thought. When is it our turn? When can we tear down that wall that keeps adoptees in the dark, birth/first mothers crying to sleep at night because they don't know what happened to their kids, if they are alive or dead, in Iraq or in college?

Justice delayed is indeed justice denied.--lorraine

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Adoptee's Daughter Opposes Searching for Grandmother, and other comments from pop culture

Sometimes I feel like a childless mother...to turn a phrase on its side. And as if everything we say is swallowed by the wind, so strong are the forces that push back up against us, so hungry is society for more children to adopt! The other night on The Bachelor--yes, I admit, I am addicted, even after a day when tears come way too easy I find that when I am watching I have a big smile on my face and how can that be bad?--anyway, Monday night the bachelor, Jake Pavelka, is all cuddly with "swimsuit model, Gia" and he asks if she wants to have children, and she says, Yes, two. And then I'd like to adopt one from China.

Run that by me again, Gia? 

Obviously nothing about the coercion and monetary rewards for "facilitators" who make babies available, nothing we and others in more prominent outlets have written about the corruption in international adoption has reached Middle America. Okay, I know the young women on the show are not MENSA material, but still--Gia's comment make me realize that we can not stop talking about this because the rest of the culture has not gotten the message. Instead, the prevailing belief is that adoption, and adoption, period, adoption without question, is this great wonderful good thing related to domestic bliss--like apple pie--that every good citizen ought to do.

As for search and reunion, we still have a long way to go, even with people who are not adoptive parents, even with people who are directly connected to adoption as in their mothers...our friend Linda Bolton posted the "I'm Legit" video on Facebook and got this response from a "friend" she expected to be understanding. Sympathetic, even. First the video and thanks to everyone who sent us a link:

Linda, I think I understand your issue. But there are lots of birth mothers who cannot, for various reasons, have contact with their birth children. Some of the reasons are valid, and heartfelt. My mother was adopted, so I do understand the struggle, but truly, your identity is your own. It comes from your life and your own response to it. Your biology is just that - biology. It doesn't identify you - only identifies your genes. Is it worth potentially destroying someone's life and family, so that you can find your birth parent? I'm conflicted on the issue, but if it makes fewer women opt for adoption over abortion, I'm not sure I can support it. I'm not necessarily opposed to abortion...I just know there are so many parents who want to adopt children - it's a shame to disincentivize [her word] young women from going full term because they're afraid their decision will come back to haunt them later in life.

Anyway, just a different viewpoint....I welcome your thoughts...Peggy

Linda: So of course I tried to educate her...
Peggy, I didn't know your mother was an adoptee. Wow. I can say with absolute certainty, and the data to support my statement, that the percentage of women who do not wish to have contact with their adult children is about or less than 5%. Should those 5% prevent the 95% of women willing and eager to know their adult children? You know I've been in the adoption triad since relinquishing my daughter 33 years ago. In fact, today is the tenth anniversary of our reunion, which she has chosen not to acknowledge; I haven't seen or spoken to her in 4-1/2 years. I do not personally know any birthmother who doesn't/didn't look forward to reuniting with her child. Not one woman I know who lost a child to adoption never received the promise of confidentiality, nor did they want it...in my case, I left a trail of neon-colored breadcrumbs to make it easy for my daughter to contact me if she desired (I didn't seek her, I wanted search and reunion to be her choice, since she didn't have a say when I relinquished).

As for women choosing abortion over adoption if original birth records were accessible, just another myth. Studies have clearly shown that in the six states where open records are available, the abortion rate did not increase, it stayed relatively the same or even declined.

And thankfully social mores aren't as stringent as they were when your mother was born, or even when I relinquished in '76 (my friends, our former classmates, simply asked me "Why didn't you just get rid of it?" The shame and stigma attached to out-of-wedlock births is nonexistent, thanks in great part to celebrities.

It is commonly recognized today that in most cases it is in the best interest of a child is to be raised in his/her family of origin whenever possible. I know many adult adoptees, I'm talking about people in their 30s through 60s and sometimes older, who are beyond frustrated by the fact that they have no knowledge of their family medical history because of some archaic law "protecting their mother's privacy." The only people being protected by the continued secrecy are the adopted parents who might feel threatened that families of origin will meet their children and decide to "steal them back" or some absurd thought along that line.

As for the adoption industry in general, there's a huge need for reform. It's all about supply and demand...and with the relaxed social mores there simply aren't enough infants to meet the need for all those couples aching to create a "forever family," another term coined by the adoption industry that I loathe, it's offensive to their families of origin.

Follow this link to NJCare to find a wealth of info about the NJ Bill that's been stalled for the past three decades. [Ed: And this one at Unsealed Initiative to learn about New York's efforts to change the law. And the many other blogs from various states that work towards reform of today's archaic adoption laws that violate the natural rights of the adoptee as well as the birth parent.] 
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Peggy. I'm glad you did. :)
Never heard from her again.  A lot of my high school friends love Jesus, very conservative.  Mind you, on my profile I clearly state "bleeding heart liberal" for my political view....--Linda
Lorraine: Every now and then someone posts a very anti-abortion comment and tells us how generous we are for having given up our children. I assume they come from the same group-think as Peggy. Comments? We are open for discussion.

And if anyone can help me embed the I'm Legit video, please help! 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Putting the Brakes on Haitian Adoptions

Haitian adoptions continue to spill out into the news. On Saturday (1/23/10), 80 children left God's Children orphanage heading for their new American families, according to the Christian Science Monitor, "Haitian and American red tape suddenly cut." Exactly what we have been worried about, as per our previous post.

And our friend, Linda, reported in a comment to that blog that Frankie, the Haitian boy that Diane Sawyer met in Haiti, has come to the United States to live with David and Kim Rhodes, the American couple from Greenville, S.C., who for the last two years had been in the process of adopting him. (Watch the ABC follow up to the story here.) The report says that Frankie's mother left him a blanket and her perfume, and died a few days after childbirth.

Though we are extremely cautious on the subject of international adoption--given the corruption that accompanies it everywhere, as we have written before--the couple seem sincere in their desire to give a child in an orphanage a home. Kim Rhodes (I'm guess on the spelling here) first visited Haiti with a church group many years ago and was struck by the need, and so I am sympathetic to her impulse. The poverty I saw in Haiti when I was there as a journalist in the Seventies was staggering, while Baby Doc lived in the presidential palace (destroyed in the earthquake) and was busily looting the country, selling of logging rights that have today deforested much of the country. We look with a flinty eye on international adoption here at First Mother Forum, but we understand that an individual adoption may be a good ending to a bad beginning, and this adoption may be one of them. 

We are happy to report that more experts are cautioning that children not be lifted wholesale from the country so ravaged by a massive earthquake. As a commentator said yesterday on Good Morning America, there are reports of children disappearing from Haitian hospitals, and "child trafficking thrives in chaos." While the GMA cohost, Bill Weir, said that just about every woman he knows wants to adopt a child from Haiti (yes, he said that), Jane Aronson, the director of Worldwide Orphans Foundation, reacted with plenty of cautionary words yesterday. After giving the green light to those adoptions near finalization, she said that for the bulk of the children in Haiti, no matter how one responds to the pictures and reports of children walking the streets, the answer is "not adoption." My ears pricked up. She went on (and thanks to the DVR because I hit the record button at that moment I can give you her comments pretty much verbatim here). Aronson:

"There are wonderful solutions for children who have families--extended families, grandparents, aunts and uncles they have live with....Now people need to concentrate on helping keeping kids in their own country."

Weir then asked  how traumatic it was for a child to leave his or her native culture and come to America. Aronson:

"Kids are developmentally attached. Kids are--like your children, like my children--are connected to their families. That's developmentally appropriate. They are attached, their emotions, their psychology. They need to be with the people they care for and who care for them. To take them away from their families at this point is absolutely excruciatingly beyond words for me to even contemplate. (Italics ours.)

"What's important to remember is that children need to be with their families and communities at this time."

Where do we send the roses to Jane Aronson? 

Meanwhile, the European Union is not launching a plan to facilitate adoptions of child victims of the January 12 earthquake. According to a report from Deutsche-Presse Agentur, the idea was floated last week at an informal meeting in Spain, but the result was that the EU Commissioner for Justice, Jacques Barrot, announced that any such framework for adoptions at this time was premature. This followed a UN report that a "large number" of children may have been taken out of Haiti without following proper legal steps.

If you hit on link "international adoption" in the last line of the EU story reported above, you get an ad for an agency specializing in international adoptions, WACAP--the World Association for Children and Parents.

Excuse me while a black cloud of smoke forms over my head. If this were a graphic novel that's what  you would see.
Another episode of Lux and Cate and Baze tonight on Life Unexpected. 9 p.m. Eastern and Central time on the CW. I'll be watching. Check for review tomorrow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Red Tape Holds Haitian Families Together

Adoption agencies, church leaders, and an assortment of do-gooders are decrying the “red tape” that prevents them from bringing Haitian orphans to the U.S. and other affluent countries. In response, Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced a “humanitarian parole” policy to expedite adoptions from Haiti. The first of 900 children “whom the Haitian government had already identified as orphans, and whom adoption agencies had matched with couples in the United States” arrived in the United States January 19, only a week after the devastating earthquake. These 53 children are being screened for medical conditions and will be placed in their adoptive homes.(NY Times 1/19/10)

The adoptee rights organization, Bastard Nation, meanwhile, has faxed a statement to the State Department calling for a halt in these evacuations until thorough investigations are conducted. We at FMF support BN’s effort and urge others to do so as well. Excerpts from the statement follow this post.

Prior to the January 12 earthquake, there were an estimated 380,000 orphans in Haiti living in about 200 legitimate orphanages and group homes, according to the U. N. Children’s Fund. The earthquake undoubtedly created many more orphans. Bringing orphaned children to the US is the “moral and human thing to do” asserted Mary Ross Agosta spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami which is urging the US Government to create a “Pierre Pan” program similar to the “Pedro Pan” program which brought over 14,000 Cuban children to the US between 1960 and 1962. A similar program, Operation Babylift airlifted over 3,300 children from South Vietnam as it fell to the North Vietnamese army in 1975.

But what’s red tape really? In it grandest form, it prevents despots from trampling on the rights of the less powerful. Red tape assures that those accused of crimes have a fair trial. If lawmakers hadn’t shredded red tape, banks would not have failed while their CEOs received multi-million dollar bonuses.

Red tape in the adoption business protects children and families. Susan Soon-Keum Cox, Vice-President of Holt International Children’s Services based in Eugene, Oregon, warns that “It’s incredibly important in times like this to take every precaution that an ethical, professional, compassionate process takes place. There may be children that appear to be orphans, but we need to make sure there are no other family members or neighbors willing and happy to take that child into their family. We can’t rush in and assume that they’d be better off somewhere else.” (Oregonian 1-20-10)

When bureaucrats cut red tape to enable zealots, the results are not pretty. According to E. Wayne Carp (Family Matters, 1998), in the mid-nineteen century, the founder of the Children’s Aid Society, Charles Loring Brace, moved hundreds of children from New York to rural areas where they were often forced to work as unpaid laborers in order to save the children from “neglectful or abusive or Catholic parents” (Italic ours). Georgia Tann spirited hundreds of children from poor families in the 1930s to the 1950s to meet the needs of wealthy would-be parents wrote Barbara Bisantz Raymond in The Baby Thief  (2007). Government officials allowed Brace and Tann to circumvent child protection laws and operate under a cloak of secrecy. Pedro Pan and Operation Babylift also separated children needlessly from their families, covering up illegal and unconscionable actions by destroying or falsifying records.

The fact that 380,000 children--out of a total Haitian population of ten million--were in orphanages is the result of misguided policies by organizations set up to help poor Haitian children. Establishing orphanages is relatively simple and provides immediate help to poor families struggling to feed their children. However, the orphanages soon become crowded as indigent people send their children to them. To alleviate the crowding, agencies then make the children available for adoption and they are sent off to other countries, as is almost certainly the case of two Haitian children we wrote about last week. Both had mothers in Haiti. A young girl adopted at age nine, was wondering if her mother had survived the earthquake; the boy adopted at age two, may not remember he had a mother before he came to this country. We ask: Why were these children adopted at all?

The people who adopt these children are, for the most part, kind and generous people who truly want to help a needy child. While adoption may help a particular child, it should never be seen as a solution for child poverty. Far better would be the establishment of schools and economic development programs to end poverty. We encourage our readers wishing to help Haitian children to donate to established relief agencies such as Portland-based Mercy Corps, Doctors Without Borders, or the Red Cross which will help children stay with their families in Haiti.

Excerpts From the Bastard Nation statement:
“We urge US State Department and other US authorities in Haiti to (1) remove private special interests and those with conflicts of interest, such as adoption agencies and ministries, from the child welfare decision-making process and (2) halt the evacuation of children and their placement for adoption in the US.

We also urge the State Department to suspend pending adoptions. Haitian paperwork is lost or destroyed. Rock Cadet, the judge most responsible and knowledgeable about pipeline cases, died in the quake. Though the US Embassy survived, US paperwork is probably unavailable for some time, if it still exists. Without proof of Haitian court or Embassy status, any adoption removal from the country, without thorough background investigation and due process, is illegal and not in the best interest of the child.

Needless to say, no new adoptions should be processed.

In the post-quake chaos, children need protection from predatory snatchers. Bastard Nation, therefore, supports the expedited removal of Haitian children, orphans or otherwise, to credible and documented parents or family members in the US for temporary or permanent placement depending on the circumstances. These children must not be assumed adoptable and scooped up for fast-track adoption. They should be a top priority. We urge the State Department or other government or credible private and disinterested agencies to assist Haitians in the US to locate child kin and bring them to the US.

We understand why people want to open their arms and hearts to the children of the Haitian earthquake, but adoption is not emergency or humanitarian aid or a solution to Haiti’s ongoing problems. The immediate rescue effort in Haiti should focus on emergency services, individual and family care and family reunification, not family, community, and cultural destruction and the strip-mining of children.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Life Unexpected an Unexpected Hit on the CW

(SEE CORRECTION BELOW. My horoscope warned me about making a mistake with something I wrote today: Try to be very aware of your actions at home and in the outside world today, and just remember to always think before you act. You may have a tendency to be somewhat careless and might end up overlooking a few things right now. ;)

By Lorraine Dusky

"Life Unexpected" was an unexpected hit for me last night on the CW. With all my internal fears and prejudices against first moms being shown as heartless harlots, I was ready to pounce and say Aha! there they go again when the show debuted last night. Instead, dear reader, I loved it.

A brief plot outline is called for here. A fifteen-going-on-sixteen girl, Lux (Britt Robertson), shows up looking for her parents--she was never adopted and has been rotated  through a number of unhappy and abusive foster homes throughout the years. Lux wants to be emancipated at sixteen so she can escape one last lousy foster care placement. To do that, she needs the signatures of her parents. Birth parents, first parents--her parents. (Because she was a white baby, we wondered how the writers would explain why she was never adopted, which is taken care of in a quick conversation with her mother, Cate [Shiri Appleby]: Lux needed several heart surgeries as an infant and was not a "healthy white baby" until she was three, and by then she had passed the "cute baby" stage and no one stepped up for her. Okay, plausible enough. All kinds of things happen in life. If in doubt, see a previous blog about my own strange occurrence of late.)

Lux tracks down her parents, Cate, a sassy radio talk-show host, and Baze (Kristoffer Polaha), a beer-loving bar owner who lives above his bar. Baze never even knew he and Cate had a child, as their romance seems to have been a one-night stand in the back of his parents' van after a dance. When both Baze and Cate show up in court for Lux's emancipation hearing, the judge denies Lux's request, makes them the responsible parents on the spot, but when their bickering outside the courtroom leads Lux to walk away. She goes back to her foster home...out of which she has been kicked.

Several scenes got to me: Baze and Lux watching the You Tube video of the lion raised by a couple but returned to the wild, and a year later, the lion recognized them. I had heard of this amazing tale but had not seen it until just this moment and well, you know I'm the teary type, particularly of late, and this had me enthralled after twenty seconds.

Other bits I appreciated: when Cate tells her boyfriend about her daughter; when there is dialogue about her not hoping for anything because she's afraid of being hurt, references to how Cate has been affected by surrendering her child, which made this light years away from Juno, the most hated film in memory, where one sobbing scene seems is meant to stand for all the pain of giving up a child entails. The pilot episode last night of Life Unexpected was both touching and amusing, the dialogue clever not cloying, and it had none of the smart-ass attitude of the first-mother-we-all-love-to-hate, Juno.

Life Unexpected did not sugar coat the answer when Lux asks Cate if she even thought of keeping her. After a pregnant pause, Cate says, No. She was fifteen at the time, the same age Lux is now. Cate and Baze end up in bed together after Lux disappears, and don't hate me, that too wrung true to me. Over the years, both adoption reformer Florence Fisher and I talked about how many women we both knew who had sex with the father of their child after they met through being reunited by the child that was given up for adoption. I don't know if the lost child created a special bond or if it was just the old love and attraction that is still there. And I'll admit, I continued a relationship with my daughter's father after I relinquished, but it was dead and over when we were reunited when she was--fifteen. But everybody's different, every story has its own nuance, its own ending.

Lux is sleeping on the sidewalk when Cate emerges from the bar in last night's dress around six a.m. "Don't you ever learn?" is Lux's reaction. Elsewhere we learn that Cate doesn't trust people because she doesn't want to get hurt, that she is tired of pushing people away. When her fiance makes a smart remark about her being "one of those girls who got knocked up on prom night," her face crumbles. What's a little hard to explain is how Cate's fiancee is not troubled by the fact that she and Baze obviously had a night together...but hey, I said, he's obviously going to be a part of the show, the cool understanding step-dad. Or not. I'll wait and see.

The show so far has won critical kudos, and last night scored the largest audience for CW on a Monday night in a year. I've already go my DVR set to record automatically, and I hope the show, the creation of Liz Tigelaar, is a huge hit. I was not surprised to read that Ms. Tigelaar is adopted. I'll be looking for more news about her. If you happen to read this Liz, please leave us a message as to how we can be in touch.
To watch a four minute clip:

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Grief of Giving Up a Child to a 'Better Life'

Eventually we will turn away from Haitian adoptions, but below is the kind of story that bugs us, and it is representative of so many international adoptions: that there is a mother, a family, back home somewhere waiting. One can not solve all of the problems of the world, but one should make an effort to do what one can. And this to me, just adds to the misery of being poor and without resources. This story comes from WMUR News in New Hampshire.

A girl named Grace, adopted from Haiti when she was nine, is waiting to hear if her mother, Mimose Lubin, is alive, as she lived in Delmas, one of the hardest hit areas. In a one-story apartment. Grace now lives with the Winslow family of Center Barnstead, New Hampshire, who adopted her along with her brother, Jon, when he was two. His family lives in an area that is far away from the quake zone, and they are probably unharmed.

I am so torn when I read these stories: would the girl be better off with her mother? How did her mother feel about handing her over? How did relinquishing her daughter impact her life? But if she had not been sent to live in American, she might be maimed or dead. And the same is true of the boy, Jon.

Were the mothers crazy, or sick, were there no relatives who could care for Grace or Jon? I want to know. I imagine what these mothers were told--that their children would be better off, have a good middle class life in the land of milk and honey and unlimited opportunity, have a future not dreamed of if they stayed in Haiti. Yes, I am sure they were told that, and the mothers gave up their children for the promise of that better life. And soon--months, a year--there is no going back for any of them, mother or child.

I gave my daughter up, as did our readers, my friends, because we felt we were without resources. Yes, I gave up, we all gave up. We could not cope with a baby. We had no funds. Society told us we must do the right thing. My daughter was relinquished in a time when all cultural forces inveighed on me, telling me that a two-parent family, a middle class man and wife of "professionals" were the better parents. I'm not angry with my social worker, Helen Mura, because she did not lie, she did not sit there and tell me that I would be better off without the child, she merely listened and kept her box of tissues filled; I came to her with plans intact, the father a married man who did not want to keep the child--and oh how I think of Rielle Hunter and John Edwards and their "love child" when I read their story in the supermarket line. I came to Mrs. Mura at Northaven Terrace in Rochester, New York in my fifth month defeated by the winds of circumstance and society, and I did not put up a better fight.

In the end, my lover, my daughter's father, did not leave his wife in time to let me keep our daughter. When he did, two years later, it was too late, our daughter was gone. Did my daughter have the better parents, the better life? Certainly they had resources I did not have, but in the end, I don't think so. She was a textbook case of all the psychological problems that beset some adoptees, and she had the double-whammy of also being epileptic. And, oh yes, of being sexually abused by a grandmother's live-in companion. Triple whammy.

Because I have been focused on my career, now and then someone has said in the past, Oh, you did the right thing, you would not have been a good mother, you wanted a career too much.

I used to accept that, maybe it was part of the punishment, maybe it was part of their rationalization in a feeble attempt to make me feel better, maybe they just had to say it, but one day, my husband,  my dear husband who has always understood--we are going on 29 years this year--said, How do they know that? They don't know what kind of mother you would have been. You would have been a good mother.

That made me reconsider myself; it was a piece of putting back an ego that had been smashed. Sometimes, I'm sure I would have been irritated with a baby's demands, her epilepsy would have been a burden for us both, but you know, I know I would have been a good mother to a daughter I came to know and understand.

We were much alike, my daughter and me. I would be a different person than the career woman I became, that's all. Yes, I always wanted a career, I won't argue that point, but I did not know how much maternal instinct would roil up in me once I knew I was having a baby. I did not know how much I would want to keep her. I did not know how giving her up for a better life would ruin mine.

And so, when thinking about the situaiton in Haiti my head hurts and my heart aches. I want mothers to keep their babies, rich and poor mothers to keep their babies. I want the world to see that simply removing children from their families and sending them off to foreign lands and genetic strangers is not always the answer. I want the world to know that such relief is also the beginning of grief. --lorraine

It's Unexpected, show about girl not adopted who tracks down her parents, starts tonight. 9 p.m., Eastern and Central time.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What of the Children in Haitian Orphanges?

More news since last night's post on Haitian adoptions. What will happen to the children that were in the process of being adopted? An estimated 50,000 children who were living in Haitian orphanages when Tuesday's earthquake hit, and between 800 and 900 of the children were in the process of being adopted by families in the United States. An additional 1,500 had been matched with European families, mostly in France and the Netherlands.

According to the Washington Post, the remaining children include many who might not technically be orphans but whose families could not afford to care for them, said Tom DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children's Services, a Washington-based child welfare organization that has taken the lead on negotiating their status with U.S. authorities.

So far there are no reports of deaths at the orphanages--more than 350 of them are in the country--but that is probably because everything in Haiti is chaotic as the country reels from a earthquake of a 7.5 magnitude. Water and food is scarce for everyone, and the children are in the precarious position of not having neighbors or nearby family members to look out for them. Most agencies have only a few workers taking care of many children.

To coordinate relief efforts, the Joint Council on International Children's Services has started a database of orphanages and known orphans on its Web site, http://www.jcics.org. The group hopes the list will eventually help it expedite moving the orphans from Haiti to the United States and Europe.

This is where it gets tricky: will there be a push for the wide-scale diaspora of the children? Obviously, yes. We understand the plight, but removing them from their homeland, from their extended families, from all that is familiar is not the simple matter that it at first appears to be. Experience has taught us that the wide-scale diaspora of children from their own culture is a much more complicated issue than the families who would adopt them, the social workers who facilitate the adoptions and the agencies who profit from them realize. There are plenty of reasons for tears here. It's almost certain that some children who have families in Haiti, and do not wish their children to be adopted, will be uprooted and transplanted in new families. The Post story continues:

In an e-mail Friday, Matthew Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said, "We understand the deep concern these prospective adoptive parents feel about the welfare of these children, and we are actively working to identify available options in light of the recent tragedy."
 We are giving what we can to Doctors Without Borders. 

And for more on the story, see The Daily Bastardette.

Friday, January 15, 2010

When Disaster Strikes, Adoption Is Sure to Follow

The pictures coming from Haiti are devastating, and you know there will be children in need of homes, and before you know it adoption agencies and relief organizations will be setting up conduits to spirit children to the United States. Already Catholic Charities is in the act, according to the Miami Herald:
In a move mirroring Operation Pedro Pan in the 1960s, Catholic Charities and other South Florida immigrant rights organizations are planning an ambitious effort to airlift possibly thousands of Haitian children left orphaned in the aftermath of Tuesday's horrific earthquake.

``We will use the model we used 40 years ago with Pedro Pan to bring these orphans to the United States to give them a lifeline, a bright and hopeful future,'' Catholic Charities Legal Services executive director Randolph McGrorty said at a news conference in the offices of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

``Given the enormity of what happened in Haiti, a priority is to bring these orphaned children to the United States,'' he said.

Archdiocese of Miami officials and other local organizations have already identified a temporary shelter in Broward County to house the children, McGrorty said.
And the comments left at the Herald say the same thing: adopt, adopt, adopt--how can I/we get a child. I do not mean to disparage many who are commenting there because truly they want to open their hearts and homes to children in need. Haiti is an incredibly beautiful country, verdant and vibrant; but poor, incredibly poor. I spent a week there in the mid Seventies and was struck by the friendliness of the Haitians, their colorful art, side by side with tin shacks, rundown bicycles, the lack of a country-wide sewer system.

We understand that for some children there will be no alternative but to find them homes in other countries, and the adoption diaspora will continue, but with a difference. Pedro Pan was clearly motivated by the Catholic Church to get the children out of the clutches of the anti-religion Communism of Castro's Cuba. Haitians are Christians--Catholics in fact, with a smattering, or more than a smattering of native voo-doo thrown  in; a large percentage are now evangelical Christians. But most of the children brought to this country will have families there, huge extended families that could care for them and let them grow up as they were born--if only there were aid enough. But here is how the story will end:
By the time it ended 22 months later, the unique exodus of children -- ages 5 to 17 -- had brought 14,048 unaccompanied Cuban minors to America, with the secret help of the U.S. government, which funded the effort and supplied the visa waivers, and the Catholic church, which promised to care for the children.The late Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, a Miami priest, was considered the father of the [Pan Pedro] effort. As the children filtered into Miami and their numbers swelled, many went to live with relatives and family friends, but others were sent to Miami-Dade group homes and camps called Florida City, Kendall and Matecumbe. They were then relocated across the country to archdioceses in places like Nebraska, Washington and Indiana.
There, they went to live in orphanages, foster homes and schools until their parents could find a way out of Cuba. Sometimes the separation was brief; sometimes it lasted years.
And we know because of all that has happened before, the separations that for many the separations that lasted for years became a lifetime. I do not have an answer, I do not have close ties with anyone in government who I might talk to and suggest that wholesale adoptions should not be considered first, but last.

Yet I am sad. Why is the whole sale adoption of children, the reassigning of cultures, the first reaction? Why not a concerted effort to keep the children with their extended families?
In the meantime, nut job TV evangelist Pat Robertson is blaming the earthquake and resultant disaster on the Haitians "pact with the devil." Truly the man is evil himself.  For more on the situation in Haiti, see Daily Bastardette's excellent blog on the matter.

Jane here: In a few months, Vietnam Babylift will celebrate the 35th anniversary of Operation Babylift where over 3,500 infants and children were taken from orphanages and their families to the US during the panic created when South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese. President Ford counted this as one of his proudest achievements. Others are critical, noting that many of the children were not were orphans. Sadly too, one of the planes crashed, killing over 100 children. The poignant PBS documentary Daughter From Danang chronicles one woman's journey back to her family in Vietnam. According to her mother, women were frightened by the Holt International Adoption Agency to give up their children. They were told the Americans would return with their children.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Letters Lead to an Alternative Universe Daughter

By Lorraine Dusky
Coyright (c) 2009

Life has been good, fulfilling beyond any reason I could have imagined, dots connected that I did not know were still on the page, waiting for the right moment to be aligned. A few weeks before Christmas I got a call from a woman, Jennifer, who started out by telling me her name, but the second she got to her maiden name, my heart went KABOOM, I had a small panic attack, I'm flushed and pink--because her name was that of my first love, the one I did not marry, the one who if I had my life would have been--well, I would not be writing a blog called Birth Mother, First Mother Forum.

I would be an ordinary married lady, I presume, with a child who had not been given up for adoption. I might live in Michigan or Chicago or California. On one level, we were destined to be the kind of marriage that families might have arranged: both solidly middle class Polish Catholics. (To my mother's dismay, I did not even date another Polish Catholic in my entire life.) But there Tom was, and Tom was smart, attentive, charming, funny, loving--okay, he was also handsome, tall, slim. I was a journalism major; he, English. We were gears meant to mesh. In my mind, George Clooney would play him in the movie.

But so much intervened, including his mother. Lillian, his mother, was worried, I suspect, that since we were young--both of us college freshmen--and in love, I would get pregnant, her son would have to drop out of school, his life would be ruined. Wouldn't she have been surprised to know that we never went all the way? I think so. Tom indeed proposed marriage four or five dates after we met at my cousin's wedding on Thanksgiving Day, 1960. I said, Yes! Gladly, warmly, wholeheartedly. We were very sub rosa about the plans, knowing both our parents would have exploded.

My first love as I remember him. 
This and that and his mother and distance kept us apart--we went to school in different cities (Detroit and Cleveland) and lived in different cities (Dearborn, Michigan and Jackson, seventy miles away), and so getting together was always difficult, fraught, all too infrequent. Long distance phone calls were expensive; one had to rely on letters; he did not write often enough and his mother was always putting up speed bumps, making it impossible for us to see each other. I wanted more letters, more constancy, even though when we were together it was a glass all full. But still, back in Dearborn I had begun seeing someone else, and by the spring of our sophomore year, I broke up with Tom.

Bad idea. Really bad idea.

I let myself confuse constancy with the depth of my passion, soon realized I cared for him and him alone, but it seemed too late, our separation a done deal. Living far apart as we did, we did not run into one another, we had no mutual friends. More than a year passed; I'm now getting ready to graduate from college; Tom, not quite. My mother would tell me about hangups on some Saturday nights or Sunday afternoons--I think it's Tom, her eyes told me, as I was wondering the same. But who knew? No caller ID then. No email, no texting, no free calls on nights and weekends. Why wouldn't he leave his name if indeed the caller were him? I could not call him.

Then fate stepped in. My aunt, at whose daughter's wedding I had met Tom, was in the ladies room at another wedding in Jackson nearly two years later at the same moment that Lillian was there. "I shouldn't have broken up Tom and Lorraine," Lillian says to my aunt. Eventually, my aunt tells my mother, who relates the message to me, and when I think he will be home from school--Thanksgiving weekend--I send him a funny "thinking-about-you" card to be there when he arrives. He phoned as soon as he got it.

It was he who called, yes, he said, I used to drive to Dearborn on a whim, but you were never home, or you never answered the phone. I didn't have the nerve to leave my name, I was too embarrassed, you had to pick up, he said. We were back together immediately, almost as if we had not been apart, all passion intact. Now we even talked about what kind of furniture we would have when we married, what kind of car, how I would keep my name. We debated where we might live--not Dearborn, not Jackson, but--well, it's hard to know who was the main cause of our not marrying, in looking back we both were the reason, but marry we did not. Less than a year after graduation I left Michigan for a better job on a bigger newspaper out East, Rochester, New York. There I fell in love with my daughter's father, a married man; Tom married someone else back in Michigan. Five months before my daughter was born in 1966, Tom and his wife had a daughter. My daughter was relinquished; my life was inexorably altered. Here I am today.

But I did not forget. Who ever forgets one's first fierce love, when hormones run high and the wind blows strong and happiness seems to be yours for the taking?

In 1975, at the time I was divorced from my first husband, I heard through the family-and-friends grapevine (including of course, my aunt, the hairdresser who heard all) that Tom's marriage was on the skids, divorce was probable. Her best friend was the mother of Tom's best friend, so she was a very good conduit. In fact, as soon as I heard he was actually divorced, I was planning to call him. However, a week before the divorce was final, Tom died unexpectedly of an aortic aneurysm. And now it's more than four decades later and his daughter is on the phone, calling from Michigan...and I'm flushed with excitement and remembering that a couple of weeks before she called I had a dream about Tom, and woke up surprised because I had not thought about him for years. Years.

It's about five-thirty on a Friday evening, I am actually making a very Polish dish--stuffed cabbage, or golumpki, to serve to very non-Polish dinner guests the following evening, great comfort food for winter nights, it's semi-dark in the living room where I take the call, the dim light is coming from the kitchen, and I am hearing a voice tell me that she found a stack of my love letters to him--about a three-inch stack of letters--along with cards and a few drawings--he saved them all, I'm thinking--and she had Googled me, and now was wondering/hoping if the daughter I had given up for adoption was her sister, she never had a sibling and she's somewhat distanced from her mother, they were alienated for an entire decade after she turned seventeen, she lets the sentence trail off.....

She did not know my daughter had died.

I tell her the news, that a) my daughter was not her sister, and that b) she is dead. But I want to talk to Jennifer more, I want to know about those letters, I want to tell her how much I did indeed love her father, what a fine smart sweet gentleman he was. I turn off the cabbage steaming on the stove and we talk. And talk until I must get off, my husband is standing there with a quizzical look on his face, Who can that be? it's time for dinner. Jennifer and I email. She sends the letters. The love letters she's read. The marriage plans. The secret names we had for one another. My father's heart attack, days before I was to go to Cleveland to a dance at John Carroll, where he was going to school. Why we can't get together one New Year's Eve, will I see you next time, next week, will my family go to Jackson for Easter? And if we do, will you be there? A photograph of me wearing seemingly nothing but a sweat shirt from John Carroll. A few drawings. Silly cards.

Jennifer and I talk some more, we email daily. I cry, and cry some more, for lost love, for my daughter who was surrendered to adoption, for my daughter who is no more, for what might have been, and somehow it's all good crying, a vein gushing feelings that needed to be released though I did not know it. This is all happening around the anniversary of my daughter's death, Christmas, the death of a neighbor I liked very much. Jennifer wants to hear about her father, she was eleven when he died and her mother does not have many good things to say about him, of course, the divorce, and I tell her that after we were both married he and I did see each other--not once, twice--but we were not free, we lived a thousand miles apart now, and that was that. As I write, I'm still crying a lot, because it feels like somehow, some way, she and I are connected, ever so connected, an alternative universe mother and daughter. Amazingly enough, my husband is understanding. Don't you know why you are crying? he says. I shake my head, No. She needs a mother, you need a daughter, and you can be whatever you will be, he says. He believes in synchronicity; so do I; this is way more than mere chance.

The coincidences in our lives pile up--Jennifer does adoption searches in Michigan, a career begun after one of her friends relinquished a child and later sought him; Jennifer is married to one of my adopted Facebook friends, can you believe, we had actually emailed each other when I noticed the Michigan connection; his law office is a half mile down Michigan Avenue from my high school in Dearborn, and for a while Jennifer lived in Dearborn and worked as a reporter on a newspaper and that is exactly what I did when I was in college, work on a newspaper in Dearborn. In fact, she lived a few blocks from where I grew up. Her mother's mother was adopted; her mother's father is from--Wisconsin, which is where my daughter, whom I gave up for adoption, grew up. My middle name, Blanche, was her other grandmother's name. I want to send Jennifer something for Christmas, but I am not sure what, yet I keep fingering a green enamel dragon pin, purchased a year ago from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, but wonder if she will think it odd if I send her a dragon brooch. What is the proper present for someone you feel unusually close to through a weird coincidence of time and heart? A few days later she emails me a photograph of her collection of--dragons. That's just a start.

She is hungry for good news of her father, I tell her everything I can, muse I admit about what-might-have-been, it can't be helped, thank god my husband is so understanding, because I am still weeping a lot. I tell her how much her father wanted a child, we agreed to have One, how much I am sure that he loved her very much. She tells me her father was the cuddly parent, the hugger, the one who got down on the floor with her and played, the one who drove her and her girlfriends around, the one who taught her how to play chess. I tell her that is the man I knew. Things with her mother are not good, and frequently disappointing, she says. I tell her about my daughter, her epilepsy, her torments,the ups and downs of our quarter-of-a-century relationship. Life is hard, but this is easy. Pure and simple, this feels good.

Jennifer had no knowledge of me until she came upon these letters, which she grabbed  from her grandparent's house before it was sold, and they went off to a nursing home. She's had the packet for two years, but did not really look at what she had until recently. My daughter, Jane, died two years ago; had Jennifer called sooner it would have been too soon. Most of the letters only have a return address, no last name; only two have a last name--if those envelopes had been missing she would never have found me.

She's not my daughter, I am not her mother, but there we are, two women connected nonetheless, and everything feels right, warm and comforting, a blanket of love floating down that lifts us both up, together, as if our DNA was meant to come together and rejoice. I tell her something my mother told me only years before she died, and kept back when Lillian seemed hell bent on ruining our love: that she, my mother, briefly dated Tom's father, Walter, when Lillian and Walter broke up for a while. Aha! I said, so that was at least a part of why she seemed to hate me so much without every having met me. No way was Lillian going to have my mother for as part of her extended family--no way!

I still find myself crying sometimes, but that is all right. Her son, who is twelve, looks so much like my first love I internally still gasp when I see his picture on Facebook. I'll get through this and out on the other side, and I can not wait to meet her the next time I go visit my family in Michigan. I have met a friend for life; we send each other love. Life is full and good.--lorraine

Monday, January 11, 2010

In adoption, money talks

The death of 30 year old Johnson & Johnson heir and adoptive parent of three year old Ava from Kazakhstan, Casey Johnson, brings to light once again the role money plays in adoption. The web magazine ParentDish asks:
"Just why was it so easy for such a troubled young woman to adopt a child? We've become so used to celebrities swooping into foreign countries and coming home with a brood of children, that we don't even blink when we read about another kid being added to the Jolie-Pitt clan.
"But Johnson's case is different: How is it possible that her wealth and family name outweighed the obvious facts of her life? Reports of her lifestyle offer ample evidence that she was a less-than-ideal adoptive parent. According to one particularly damning story in the New York Daily News, a family friend said Sale Johnson helped her daughter recover from a couple of diabetic comas; Johnson was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes as a child and according to a friend, her 'body couldn't metabolize the drugs and alcohol she was using.' The Daily News also reports that Johnson has been in and out of rehab for drug problems.

"A medical form required by the government of Kazakhstan, lists several diseases that prohibit prospective parents from adopting a child from the country, including alcoholism, drug addiction and toxicomania.

"These characteristics of Johnson's life would have presented significant road blocks for an ordinary single woman looking to adopt a child.

"And Johnson's problems went beyond her health: Although her troubles seem to have escalated since pairing up with Tila Tequila ( the Los Angeles Police Department has issued search warrants against both women on Dec. 11, in regard to Johnson's arrest for grand theft stemming from allegations that the heiress stole clothing and jewelry from her ex-girlfriend, model Jasmine Lennard, according to TMZ), the hard-partying heiress's antics had made her a fixture in NYC gossip columns for most of the last decade

"We aren't the only ones who question the wisdom of giving Johnson custody of a child. 'Casey was probably the last person who should have been taking care of a baby,' a family friend tells the News. And Eonline reports that Child Protective Services paid Johnson at least two visits."

(Judging by the many websites touting Kazakhstan adoptions, it has become a fertile source for Americans wishing to adopt. Kazakhstan, between Russia and China, offers both Caucasian and Asian children.)

While ParentDish does not answer its question directly, it seems obvious that Johnson was allowed to adopt because her ample resources caused officials to look the other way. Johnson is not the first unstable person allowed to adopt and surely won’t be the last. According to Pound Pup Legacy, reports of adopters abusing or even murdering their adopted children are commonplace. One of the most notorious cases of sexual abuse was in the news again this week. Masha Allen was adopted in 1998 at the age of five from Novoshakhtinsk, Rostov, Russia into the US by a single male pedophile, Matthew Mancuso. Masha was sexually abused for five years and also became the subject of child pornography. Masha’s adoption was arranged by Jeannene Smith of Families Through International Adoption, Inc. and Reaching Out Through International Adoption, later known as Child Promise. Masha was re-adopted by Faith Allen who, it turns out, was mentally ill. Allen terminated her parental rights, unadopting Masha December 30, 2009.

While states require prospective adoptive parents to have a “home study,” these studies may be (and usually are) conducted by the same agency which arranges the adoption. It does not stretch the imagination to believe that, with a fee from a wealthy potential adopter at stake, home study preparers may stretch the truth.

Speaking of money in adoption, Truly Blessed objected to my use of the word “purchase” in my comment on our post We Did It!

“Few, if any of us [adoptive parents], would walk up to someone and take their child away from them. And most of us would walk away from a child if we thought for one second we were "buying" (or is it "purchasing"?) a child.”

Now, it’s true that prospective adoptive parents don’t walk into an adoption agency asking “How much is that baby in the window, the one with the curly hair” but money and babies change hands, all be it through middlewomen.

Only a small portion of the $30,000 plus in fees paid to adoption agencies or facilitators goes to the producer of the goods, often for housing which also helps insure that the mother will not split or change her mind about surrendering. Much of the balance goes for staff salaries and the aggressive marketing necessary to convince vulnerable young woman to give their babies to strangers and convince anxious would-be parents that a strange baby will meet their needs.

(I should point out that only about a quarter of adoptions are the “purchase” kind. Another quarter are relative or step parent adoptions and about half of adopted children come from state child welfare agencies.) Obviously the people who pay the big bucks to adopt expect something better than they could get for free from state child welfare agencies. Many of the freebies, after all, are special needs kids or “dks’ – damaged kids, as adoptive father Dan Savage calls them in recounting the adoption of a healthy newborn with his partner in The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant (2000). ”

Look at the titles of books written about adoption and you see the language of commerce: Adopt the Baby You Want; Adopt a Baby in Less than 173 Days or Your money Back; Fast Track Adoption: The Faster, Safer Way to Privately Adopt a Baby; The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Adoption; Everything You Need to Know About Domestic and International Adoption; Adoption for Dummies. The message is clear: children are commodities available to anyone with enough money.

As to little Ava, according to ParentDish, “she is with her grandmother, Sale [Johnson’s mother], and Sale's husband, former NFL player and sports broadcaster Ahmad Rashad.” Although I’m sure it is unlikely, I hope that Ava can be returned to her original or extended family in Kazakhstan which, with help from the Johnson’s, would be able to nurture her.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

We Did It! What happens when women are over half of the workforce

“We Did It!” screams the headline on the cover of this week’s Economist showing the famous picture of the woman flexing her right arm muscles. This drawing was used extensively during World War II to encourage women to take jobs, freeing men to fight.

Women hold 49 percent of the jobs in America and earn almost 60 percent of university degrees. Their workforce percentages are increasing now that jobs require more brainpower and less muscle power. The benefits of these new opportunities, however, are not spread evenly among women.
"Childless women in corporate America earn almost as much as men. Mothers with partners earn less and single mothers much less. The cost of motherhood is particularly steep for fast-track women. …Professional-services firms have an up-or-out system which rewards the most dedicated with lucrative partnerships.… This Hobson’s choice is imposing a high cost on both individuals and society. Many professional women reject motherhood entirely…. Others delay child-bearing for so long they are forced into the arms of the booming fertility industry."
The United States, the world’s biggest economy, lags behind other developed nations in accommodating working mothers. It provides no statutory maternity leave and only 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The US spends only 1.2 percent of its GNP on family benefits compared to France’s 3.75 percent and Britain’s 3.5 percent.

With the fate of the Health Care bill still undecided, it doesn’t look like the situation will get better for working moms any time soon. Fearful of cries that they are leading America into the jaws of socialism, politicians are reluctant to increase subsidies for day care, family leave, and other benefits which make it easier for women to provide for their children. It’s ironic that the most outspoken critics of family benefits are those like Glenn Beck who also proclaim the sacredness of the family.

The implications for adoption are clear. When the fertility doctors run out of tricks, women start knocking on the doors of adoption agencies. While they once wanted their own child, now any healthy baby will do. Agencies, ever anxious to meet the demands of their affluent clients, pressure poor women to “think of their babies before themselves and do what’s right for their child.”

The rush to adopt has slowed in the past year, however, apparently because the poor economy has dampened enthusiasm for other people’s children and foreign countries have imposed tighter standards as stories of rampant corruption have come to light.

Some of us adoption critics have postulated that the world envisioned by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid's Tale (1985) where a class of women are chosen to procreate for the benefit of the majority of people who can no longer have children may come to pass. Certainly society’s casual acceptance of adoption as reflected in Juno and Then She Found Me and the highly publicized adoptions by Angelina Jolie and Madonna portend a culture where the re-distribution of infants from the poor to the rich is common place. (Lauryn Galindo who facilitated Angelina’s adoption of Maddox from Cambodia in 2002 was sent to prison for fraudulent adoption practices.)

Now I’m thinking that if adoption continues to lose its popularity and women continue to outpace men in the workforce, we may instead develop into a sort of bee society. Talented but sterile women will do most of the work. Less educated women will bear and raise children at the subsistence level. Men will do, well, what men like to do.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Life Unexpected Coming to your Homes Soon

News Flash: Here comes a new teenage drama about a daughter who comes back into the life of the teenage parents who gave her up for adoption: Life Unexpected. From the Website, where the "critics are calling completely charming--Juno meets the Gilmore Girls":
After spending her life bouncing from one foster family to another, 15-year-old Lux has decided to become an emancipated minor. Her journey through the legal maze leads Lux to her biological father, 30-something Nate "Baze" Bazile, who lives like an aging frat-boy and is astonished to learn he has a daughter. Lux is equally astonished to learn that her mother is Cate Cassidy, a star on local radio, along with her boyfriend, Ryan Thomas. When a judge grants temporary custody of Lux to Baze and Cate, they agree to make a belated attempt to give Lux the family she deserves.
Oh, we can't wait. The premier is January 18, 9 p.m., 8 p.m. for Central and Pacific time zones. Stay tuned for lively reviews. And check out a short snippet of the premier above--lorraine

Sunday, January 3, 2010

One Woman's Decision NOT to Adopt from Ethiopia

A while back we posted a blog from Charissa who was planning to adopt three children from Ethiopia, but instead of rushing ahead, she did some digging and discovered that the agency handling the adoption (Celebrate Children International in Oviedo, FL) was more interested in supplying children to families willing to pay their fees than making sure of ethical practices in international adoption. We have written about corruption in international adoption several times (those links go to two posts, more to be found if using one of the search functions on our blog), and will continue to do so.

When last we heard from Chrarissa on December 1, 2009, and she was appalled upon learning that the children actually had mothers in Ethiopia. Charissa writes about deciding not to adopt the three children she and her husband were considering here, and tells the rest of the story in at Urbanfunnyfarm:
I wish I could have ended this story with "the children were returned to their families" but sadly that is not the case. We are absolutely heartbroken knowing these children are still orphans. We could have continued with the adoption, and I don't think we would have been wrong to do that. However, knowing what we knew, how could we look into their eyes years down the road and tell them the story of how they came to be in our family without feeling like we took part in their pain and rejection? The one thing that gives us peace and comfort in this is that the orphanage saw a problem too, and now the children are listed with a REPUTABLE agency who is carefully investigating each of the CCI cases.
She ends the post with some very good questions to ask fro all those considering international adoption.
Thank you Charissa, for your courage and doing the right thing. If we had a small part in helping you reach that decision we are gratified.--lorraine

Saturday, January 2, 2010

More on Baby M from a psychiatrist who defended her mother, MaryBeth Whitehead

In the previous post about surrogacy and a current case in New Jersey in which Angelia Robinson agreed to bear a child (and had twin girls) with a egg purchased from a seller* and Sean Hollingsworth's sperm, her gay brother's partner, the judge in the case referred to the notorious Baby M case of the late Eighties. In that case, one of the first surrogacy births by legal contract, MaryBeth Whitehead was impregnated with the sperm of William Stern and gave birth to a daughter. MaryBeth immediately bonded with the girl, breast fed her for 123 days before she was forcibly taken from Whithead's mother's home in Florida by the police. At the time, Whitehead herself was hospitalized with a severe infection.
From Phyllis Chesler's book, Sacred Bond:
"...while the Sterns waited at the police station, detectives armed with an order for Melissa [the name of daughter given her by the Sterns] entered Catherine Messer's [Whitehead's mother] home. They allegedly knocked the grandmother down, took Sara [Whitehead's name for the girl] from her crib, and pushed away her older sister, Tuesday, who was screaming and hitting an officer on the leg with a hairbrush."
That was at the end of July, 1986. Whitehead was not permitted to see her until mid-September, when she was allowed to see her twice a week, for an hour each time. Yesterday I mentioned that not only did our acquaintance, Ms. Chesler, write in defense of Whitehead, but to our surprise while surfing the web we found that another friend, Michelle Harrison, had also written about the case. Through FaceBook, Michelle, a psychiatrist, who now runs an orphanage for girls in Kolkata, India and has two daughters herself, and I reconnected some months ago, and she sent us the following about the Baby M case, and how she got involved: 
I had followed the case in the papers, vaguely concerned.  I'd asked some feminist friends who had met her and they were not at that time supportive of her -- a clash of personality, class, religion...  Then one day driving to work I heard that she had threatened to kill the baby.  I was actually relieved.  If she was crazy, I didn't have to worry about her losing the child.  When I got to work I read the NY Times transcript of the phone conversation when she made the threat.  I thought, OMG, she has been set up!  She kept saying desperately to Bill [the biological father], that the baby was hers and Bill's--OUR baby--and he kept baiting her saying MY baby.  He was taunting her, and knew of course that he was recording her.  She kept saying they could share raising the baby, that he was the father and she wouldn't keep the baby from him.  Again he would repeat that the baby was HIS.  And then finally she said something to the effect, ' I bought her into this world.  I can .....' (I honestly don't remember the exact words but the threat was clear and for this she was condemned.)   As a psychiatrist, dealing with families, I knew how one person can drive another to say things in desperation.  He just kept calmly kept saying the baby was his, and she desperately wanted him to say OURS.  That's when I started making phone calls to try and get something started on her behalf.

by M HARRISON - 1987 - Cited by 21 - Related articles

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I was able to obtain copies of all the "expert" reports, analyzed them, wrote the above paper.  There was nothing objective. She was called delusional for saying, 'My baby needs me and I need my baby.'  The reports were all the same as the experts had all examined the parties together.  A major criticism of MaryBeth was that she had kept the crib as this was a bad reminder for her other children and represented her not accepting the loss (all true but twisted in meaning).  My Cici [one of Michell's daughters] was only a couple of years older than Baby M, and we set up her old crib on the steps of the Hackensack Courthouse as part of our demonstration.

I wrote a chapter in a book about New Reproductive Technology in which I particularly praised MaryBeth's oldest child Tuesday.  When the detectives came to seize the baby, in Florida, she tried to fight them off with a hairbrush.  But the detectives raised the baby up towards the fan, and thus she and her grandmother let go -- to protect the baby, and the detectives took her away.  She was a nursing baby, literally torn from the arms of her family.  It was months before they were reunited, for short supervised visits.  But the baby, each time, would snuggle into her mother's arms and go to sleep. The baby had tried to nurse, but MaryBeth was forbidden to nurse her.

As I write this, more than twenty years later, sitting at my computer in an Indian orphanage, surrounded by children I love, I'm reminded of the opening line of the first medical paper published in the US about surrogate motherhood. Dr. Phillip Parker in New England Journal of Medicine wrote that there was a "shortage of white babie" and larger demand.  I can't find the paper online and my copies are in the US so I don't have the exact quote -- but this was the rationale for surrogate motherhood, and is an underlying rationale for much of the new reproductive technology. 

I once again thank Lorraine for keeping these memories alive for all of us -- giving meaning to the fights we have made, win or lose, but always there as foundations for tomorrow's work.
Dr. Michelle Harrison describes herself as a mother, writer, physician, psychiatrist, artist, currently living in an orphanage she established for 12 orphan girls in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. Her connection to Kolkata is through her younger daughter who was two months old when she adopted her from a Calcutta orphanage. Dr. Harrison also has a "stomach baby" (wonderful term, says Dr. Harrison, used in India) born in 1972.  In 2006 she established an NGO, Childlife Preserve: Shishur Sevay.  Four of the girls have severe disabilities. All the girls are being educated in a local government school as well as at Shishur Sevay, which is a non-institutional model for inclusive care of disabled and abled children living together. Shishur Sevay, says Dr. Harrison, is a place of joy. Michelle is "Mummy" to them all. This is a link to her blog:

Michelle's post reminds me once again how little respect birth/first mothers get, particularly from the adopting middle and upper classes. If they can denigrate us, demean us, it must make it easier for them to take our children, and think they are doing A Good Thing. Class distinction that they perceive, or that is real, is one reason the feminists by and large have never wholeheartedly embraced our cause--while they did of working class women in regards to wages and sexual harassment. They don't see the loss of our children through adoption as a feminist issue because too many of them want to adopt themselves--and they fall back on--Hey, You signed the surrender paper.

This class business is one of the many reasons that I urge first/birth mothers to come out of the closet. While we may have been down on our luck, or badgered and forced by our parents into submission when we relinquished our children, today many of us lead successful middle-class lives. And we need to tell the world that WE DID NOT FORGET. We think about the children we surrendered to adoption every day. Most of us hope to meet them one day, and hope they search for us.

I long for the day we find a first/birth mother in some state legislature and she fights for giving adopted people their original birth certificates--and birth mothers the right to find out their child's new name!
In one of those twists of fate that connect people, Michelle was a pioneer in identifying and treating severe premenstrual syndrome, which I have written about in connection with my daughter, as she killed herself when she was in the throes of the worst of it. I too had the same problem, but found amazing relief with large doses of the hormone progesterone, and wrote about it for several magazines twenty years ago, often quoting Dr. Harrison. Progesterone is inexpensive, it's not hard to compound synthetically from soy, but because Big Pharma can not patent it, the large-scale drug tests that would bring it to the medical community's attention will not be done. Yet it is not hard to obtain.

I can only say that progesterone helped my life, and my sanity, as it has the other women with the same problem I have recommended trying this to. Several several times I urged my daughter to try it--not just the creams that you can buy over the counter, but a larger dose, available by prescription, taken only when one is premenstrual--but she resisted, saying that she already took so many drugs, for her epilepsy, for her depression. I write about all this here again in case anyone reading has the same monthly problem in the hope of getting just one more woman relief. In my own case, progesterone saved not only my marriage, but quite possibly my life. --lorraine
*I refrain from using the word "donor" as the surrogacy purveyors do, as that implies a gift, but as far as we can tell, the egg was purchased from a businesswoman who sold her eggs.