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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Good News from PA: Unrestricted OBC Bill in Legislature

Nota Bene: We are on vacation until Monday, April 5, anniversary of my daughter's birthday. However, I will be checking in often and posting comments.

This just in from the American Adoption Congress and Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights (PAR):
Kim and Lorraine 
HB 1978 pending in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is an unrestricted bill that would allow adopted adults born in Pennsylvania to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate. If you have an adoption connection to Pennsylvania or are a resident of Pennsylvania – and you support this legislation – please send your name, address and email to choard@comcast.net so that you can be added to our database.  As the bill progresses, we [the AAC]  will keep you updated.

For more information about this exciting development, see the Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights website: http://adopteerightspa.org/legislation.html The bill does not release any adoption records. From PAR's website:

What You Can Do:
Please consider joining us to advocate for this issue.  Go to the PA General Assembly Website and enter in your ZIP code to find out how to locate your Representative and contact them.  View our House Of Representatives Spread Sheet for Legislator contact and general information. Need help writing a letter to a legislator or want more resources to help you do so? You can also Join PAR (Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights) Google group.

As we learn more about the bill, we will keep you informed. Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of adopted people in their country. Now is the time to get involved, whether you are adopted, relinquished a child, have adopted a child, or are simply a citizen with a good heart who lives in Pennsylvania and believes in justice. Without hearing from citizens, this bill will likely languish. Strength lies in numbers. Let it be your letter that tips the balance in favor of justice.

Meanwhile, over in neighboring Illinois an adoption bill so stinky that it reeks all across the country is being pushed by, of all things: adoptee Rep. Sara Feigenholtz. (Use link to let her know what you think.) Not only does it have a contact veto (but that must be applied for in a matter of months), it contains the noxious proposal to fine any triad member (that would be adoptees, and first mothers/first fathers and adoptive parents and all assorted relatives) who circumvent sealed records and locate adoptees' true blood relatives. The fine: as much as $10,000. If this had been in place in Wisconsin or New York, I would have been fined twice so far, perhaps sent to the pokey for flouting the laws--for finding a) my daughter, and b) one of her daughters. (The one pictured above I knew from birth.)

Read more at Why Adoption Reform Illinois opposes HB5428 and 73adoptee - adoption search, reunion and reform as well as The Daily Bastardette.--lorraine

And if you haven't been here for a day, you might want to read the previous post at FirstMotherForum, A Sweet Decision May Foretell the Ending of Patents on our DNA
posted only last night.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Sweet Decision May Foretell the Ending of Patents on our DNA

A federal judge in Manhattan on Monday (3/29/10) struck own patents on two human genes related to breast and ovarian cancer, saying that the patents--though granted for decades--were "improperly granted" because they violated a "law of nature." Hallelujah. A law violating a "law of nature"? Hmm, maybe I can think of another law that violates a "law of nature." Let us think.

In a 152-page decision, Judge Robert W. Sweet of the U.S. District Court said pointed out that the whole concept of patenting a gene was no more than a "lawyer's trick," designed to circumvent the prohibition of the direct patenting of our DNA. As a result of Sweet's (we do love this guy's name) decision, seven patents were declared invalid--patents on the genes BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, whose mutations have been linked to breast and ovarian cancer, making this decision of particular interest to women.

The whole idea of patenting genes is nuts. Genes come out of nature, they were not developed in a laboratory by a modern day Dr. Frakenstein. With the patents, Myriad Genetics (and the University of Utah Research Foundation), had developed the only test to determine if individuals were carrying mutations of the genes linked to a high incidence of breast and ovarian cancers. We previously wrote about the impact of these patents on adopted people in February, noting that adoptees with no access to their family medical history were at a particular disadvantage in deciding whether or not such an expensive procedure (approximately $3,400) might be necessary.

A group of women, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, brought the lawsuit, claiming that the patents stifled research, kept prices high and prevented women from getting a second opinion. (We do wish adopted individuals had been part of the lawsuit, because the decision might have been a wedge for the courts to consider the unjust impact of sealed original birth certificates and adoption files.) Myriad Genetics offered the only test, and no other could be developed as the company held the sole right to work with the genes in question. According to The New York Times, many in the patent industry believed the judge would uphold the patents. Quelle surprise!

Every now and then a judge come along who comes out with a decision that smacks of so much common sense backed by a simple "law of nature" that it takes your breath away, considering all the inane and unjust laws on the books.

Decades ago, in the late Seventies, adoption reformer Florence Fisher thought we could dispatch closed adoption and birth records in every state of the union with a single Supreme Court decision. It would, we hoped, wipe all the crazy-quilt identity secrecy laws off the books and return honor and identity to all adoptees. Florence's organization, the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association (familiarly known as ALMA) brought a class-action lawsuit against New York's sealed adoption records laws. The lawsuit claimed that the law violated rights found in the First, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments: the right to knowledge of their natural parents, a right the Supreme Court had long recognized as within the protection of the First Amendment; the right not to be confined or controlled not only by slavery, but by "badges or incidents of slavery", contained in the Thirteenth Amendment;" and the right to privacy--which included the right to knowledge of one's origins--in the Fourteenth Amendment. (For a fuller explanation of the lawsuit, see E. Wayne Carp's Family Matters.)

Florence found a Constitutional lawyer, Cyril Means, to draft the lawsuit, funded the court case, and forward we marched, thinking we really thought we had a shot at getting the identity-stripping laws off the books and into the dark history of adoption. Certainly the court could not fail to see the merits of our argument. No such luck. The idea that adoption trumped all the rights of the individual held sway in court then, holds sway in most state legislatures today. ALMA's case was dismissed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; and dismissed on appeal by one Judge James L. Oakes. I remember talked to Florence that night, both of us low and full of despair.

Oakes was wrong; his dismissal an abomination, as surely as the Dred Scott and Plessy V. Ferguson decisions. I pray that the time comes in my lifetime that someone will file another such court case, and that the winds of change have blown enough so that some judge, perhaps one as sensible and ethical and far-seeing as Judge Sweet can see that the time for true justice has come. Then we need not be squabbling about tenets in proposed legislation that we find reprehensible, then we need not be fighting amongst ourselves at all. Then we shall all be free.--lorraine

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What is in those agency files on birth/first mothers? Are they going to hang us?

So what does a birth/first mother's file that is released to her relinquished-and-adopted child read like? Over the weekend I heard from a close friend who is both a searcher for private clients, and also a confidential intermediary in a Midwestern state. She has successfully completed hundreds of searches, and is very involved in the legislative fight to open the sealed records in her state. With her permission, I am sharing her thoughts and a couple of examples of what most agency reports look like once released, with the names and addresses omitted:
"I read the blog and all the comments. I see both sides, I truly do, but it's been a 30-year fight [in New Jersey], and thousands upon thousands of people have already died without answers and without peace. That is what is truly unconscionable. I also checked out Mirah's latest blog [Family Preservation Advocacy]. I'm not sure if she is aware of what a paltry amount of information is actually contained in the social "histories" of adoption files! Newer files might have more medical info, and perhaps more (or at least more invasive) personal info, but the files from the Closed Era in my state have astonishingly little information. Even if the caseworker asked a lot of questions during an intake or exit interview, not all of the information ever made it into the file. Obviously, caseworkers being human, not all casefiles were created equal; some workers were more thorough than others, and some workers had obvious prejudices, but I have never seen what I would consider a complete, or even a comprehensive history.

"For instance, here is the sum total of "social history" from two of my recent CI cases, as contained in the court file (I have redacted the actual names and DOBs, although they are present in the copy I received from the court). I consider these to be fairly typical "social histories" from court files, based on the several hundred I have seen over the last ten years. In my state, all legal adoptions have a court file, but not all have an agency file. Private adoptions tend to have only a court file. Of those with agency involvement, it runs the gamut from a one paragraph history to one containing a few pages, but I rarely see what I would consider to be non-relevant or egregiously prejudicial data. More typically what is found is brief, observational, factual data, i.e. info on the parents and siblings, such as their ages, height, weight, hair color and eye color, along with generic educational and occupational information. I haven't yet seen a file that contained a detailed sexual history of a birth mother, let alone a sexual medical history. Even relative to the birth of the child being adopted, most files simply state whether the relationship between the birth parents was brief or extended. As for the reasons for relinquishment, most files contain the same boilerplate language (i.e. "X feels that an adoption plan is in the best interest of the child"), used over and over again in a variety of casefiles.

"This first one is from 1967:

    (Names, background, identifying data regarding parents if obtainable, reason for placement away from parents and their attitude toward adoption.)

[Mother's First Name and Mother's Last Name], [DOB] born in [City], State X.

This was a 9 month pregnancy, uncomplicated. 8 hour labor with a normal breech delivery.

The mother had a high school education

Father -- name not given, age 24, and is a high school graduate, college sophomore and in good health.   

    (Suitability of adoption considering racial, religious and cultural background, etc.)

"This is a non-family adoption, the adopting parents not being related to the child involved. Both child and adopting parents are of the white race and Protestant Faith. It is felt that this child is a suitable match from the standpoint of physical coloring and possible mental potentialities. Your investigator recommends that the court issue an order terminating the rights of the parents, and placing the child for adoption on a year's probationary basis with periodical visits to be made in the home to further determine suitability of this adoption.   

"There you go! There's a complete social and medical history for you! Note, that no middle name or middle initial was provided for the mother, and there is no birth index in my state to gain additional information, such as the names of the maternal grandparents. No mention of aunts or uncles or occupations or interests, let alone any private, intimate details about the mother's life!

"And how about this one from 1956:
    (Names, background, identifying data regarding parents if obtainable, reason for placement away from parents and their attitude toward adoption.)

[Full Birth Name of Adoptee]'s mother is [Mother's Full Name -- except that I later found that the first name was spelled wrong], age 24, single and of the Catholic Faith. Miss [Mother's Surname] stated she did not consider marriage to the putative father and that it is necessary for her to work to earn her own livelihood and that she believes for the best interest and welfare for all concerned that adoption is advisable.

    (Suitability of adoption considering racial, religious and cultural background, etc.)

This could well be considered an independent adoption placement, as tentative arrangements were made by the attending physician and the petitioners, but both the child and the adopting parents are of the white race, of the Catholic Group. It is felt that this child is a suitable match from the standpoint of physical coloring and possible mental potentialities. Your investigator recommends that the Court issue the order terminating the rights of the parent and placing the child for adoption on a years probationary basis, with periodical visits to be made in the home to further determine suitability of this adoption.  
"Note that with this one I didn't even get a date of birth for the mother, let alone detailed information about her or her family. And, of course, not a damn thing on the father. The above information was so useless that I had to request (and pay for, and sign away my life for) the information from the agency file. The first name was misspelled in the agency file as well, but at least there was a date of birth. However there were no names of any other family members. The vast majority of information was about the mother's physical appearance, education and employment, with some details regarding her musical interests. The maternal grandfather was deceased, and his cause of death was included, but there was no other "health history" unless you count this: "Her teeth are o.k. and they were even and white and very attractive. She has brown eyes which are o.k. except that she wears glasses for reading." In terms of psychological assessments, there was simply this one line: "She said she considered herself as having a good even disposition and she likes people and got along well with them."

"So there are some examples of "identifying information," "social/cultural histories" and "health histories" for you. I would say, "What a joke!" except that there isn't a damn thing funny about any of it. It's an atrocity is what it is."
Many people have different opinions about the proposed reform legislation in New Jersey and elsewhere. Yes, we all would like clean bills, with no disclosure vetoes, no holding back of the original birth certificate that in good conscience should be the sole and unrestricted property of the adopted individual. It was issued at his/her birth; by all rights it belongs to that individual. But if what is proposed is what we can get, it is better than doing nothing. And we--all three of us--support it. --lorraine
Since we have discussed this bill ad infinitum in earlier posts, we are no longer posting comments that simply say: this is bad bill. This is not a poll,and I have no way of knowing if anyone who comments as "anonymous" is posting repeatedly. If you have something different and illuminating to add, we will post those.

Friday, March 26, 2010

More on New Jersey Adoption Reform bill

Our previous post, We support NJ bill giving adoptees original birth certificates, is drawing heated controversy, as the comments indicate. Some birth/first mothers object to the release of any information the social worker collected at the time of relinquishment of their babies, feeling that this is an infringement of their privacy, and may reflect half-truths or even complete falsifications put down by the social worker. Some we know were sympathetic; others were judgmental and harsh, only interested in getting the baby for her clients, the waiting prospective adoptive parents. 

It is important to note that New Jersey's non-disclosure veto is far less restrictive than in some other states (such as Delaware) where non-disclosure equals no original birth certificate (OBC). Instead, the adopted person whose birth mother uses the one-year window to file a disclosure veto will still be given his original birth certificate--with his or her name, time and place of birth. Only the birth mother's and/or father's (if so listed) names will be blanked out. So, no matter what, the adoptee gets his first name! His first last name! The whole name he was given at birth! As for the issue of disclosure of agency data about the birth/first mother, Pam Hasegawa, one of the bill's framers and an adoptee, notes:
"The OBC will state whether the mother has given birth to other children prior to this birth; hopefully, agency non-IDing info will provide the same facts. From one perspective, that's the first mother's private information (how many other children she had when this one was born). From another perspective (mine), if I have half-siblings, we're related to each other and they're part of my family and I'm a part of theirs. If any one disagreeing with this example would like to exclude that particular fact from non-IDing info to be provided, please consider the implications of any sons or daughters committing incest with a half-sibling.

"While the non-IDing info varies according to the social worker compiling and sharing it with requesting adoptees (as it has been since 1977), there's not going to be wholesale (or ANY) sharing of the records themselves. No birth family members' medical records will be released, although I do hope adoptees will be able to get their OWN hospital records as neonates as other Americans covered by the Freedom Of Information Act are able to. Understand, there is a major difference between medical records and "family-medical history." Maybe changing the word "medical" to "health" would be the more correct term. 

If release of medical records is verboten because of HIPPA privacy laws, then what else is there to draw from than information shared by the birth parent with the social worker before the child's birth and/or adoption? It certainly is better for an individual as well as the prospective adoptive parents to know if the child may carry a genetic predisposition for a disease that doesn't usually show up until adolescence or later, such as schizophrenia or breast cancer. If a first parent has either physical or mental illness in her or his family health history, that information should be shared with prospective adoptive parents, as well as the adopted individual."
While the adoptee (whose mother does not file a veto) may also receive the non-identifying files that are the cause of the commotion about this bill from some first mother's perspectives, he also has the name of the birth mother which he may use to find her, if he so chooses. Information in that file may help him find his mother, as if it says that she had brothers, whose last names presumably have not been changed. 

Furthermore, if the birth mother does not file for non-disclosure during the one-year window she has to do so, we assume that many of these adoptees will, in fact, search for their first mothers and fathers in hope of a reunion. So while they may be given files collected by a judgmental social worker, they should be able to learn first hand from their mothers whether the information is correct or misleading or just plain inaccurate. Those whose first mothers did request non-disclosure would not have that option.

While intellectually we can understand the hesitation and objection about releasing this possibly misleading or mischaracterization of the birth mother, on reflection both Jane and I came to the conclusion that if the bill can only be passed if it contains some sort of "veto" power granted to the birth mother, and releases this agency information, we will go along with it, as it will give the vast majority of adoptees in New Jersey who seek their birth records their unredacted, long-form birth certificates. And that is worth celebrating.

Additionally, the non-identifying information from the agency, along with the original name of the adopted person that is on the birth certificate, will possibly allow those individuals who are good at sleuthing more clues to locate their original parents, if they so choose. Please note also that this information has been given out in New Jersey since 1977. We have been and are adamantly opposed to the state offering and continuing birth mother anonymity from their own children. It invests in the her a right we believe is cruel, unjust, and violates all laws of human nature and decency. It strips the person to be adopted much of their dignity, and the right to be equal and free with the rest of humankind.

In conclusion, Pam asks for input in making the bill the best it can be: "All of us who care about the NJ bill being as good as it can be need to work together as the bill moves forward closer to June," she says. "There is a strong committed core group of people in New Jersey who have been working on the legislation since 1980. If you have a good idea, or your state has a model template for non-identifying information, please send it to NJCare.staff@gmail.com by April 15. 

To which we add: Amen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

We support NJ bill giving adoptees original birth certificates

The New Jersey Senate Monday (3/22/10) passed the adoptees' "open-records” bill, S799, which would allow most adopted individuals their original birth certificates (OBC), as well as access to their mother’s medical, cultural, and social information. The vote was 27 for to 10 opposed; it now goes to the Assembly. Our previous post outlining our qualms about this part of the bill sparked a great deal of commentary from both birth/first mothers and adoptees. We want to clarify our thoughts, and explain why we now support this legislation. 

We fully understand that the fight in New Jersey to pass any legislation giving adoptees what they were stripped of at the time of adoption has indeed been long and harrowing. More than three decades have gone by since this struggle began. Yes, S799 does grant most adoptees the right to know their true identities, a right that is unalienable and absolute, with the release of their original birth certificates. Birth mothers have a year to object, and the unfortunate offspring of those mothers will be denied their unaltered OBCs. After a year, birth mothers will not be able to prevent the release of the OBC to their children. We understand this will deny some adopted individuals their original birth certificates; however, past experience in other states has taught us that few birth mothers will use this veto. While we are not wild about any legislation that does not give all adoptees full access to their original birth certificates—should not that document belong to the owner on demand?—this veto is far less venomous than ones in those states (Delaware, Tennessee) where there is no time limit on a birth mother's veto.

The proposed legislation in New Jersey does allow disclosure of personal information about the mother-to-be, or birth mother, collected at a time of crisis through the lens of the social worker. Our solution for adoptees wishing to know their history was simple--ask your mother, just as the non-adopted do. But our friend Pam Hasegawa, with whom we have been in the trenches of adoption reform since the Seventies, has pointed out that some adoptees may never find their original families, and having the medical, cultural and social history from an agency file is a great deal better than nothing. In fact, this information has been provided to adoptees in New Jersey since 1977.  Ironically, this came about as the result of a court decision in a 1976 trial during which Lorraine Dusky (yes, your blogger here) testified:
"I desperately want those records open so when my child is 18 she can find me."  
The non-identifying file of the birth mother may in fact allow intrepid adoptees to complete a search, or at least provide heritage and the reason for relinquishment. Always confident of our own cultural heritages, we are not sure how much this limited data satisfies people who were callously stripped of their heritage when they were adopted in infancy. As adoptee/poet Penelope Partridge of Pennsylvania, who has also long been active in adoption reform, stated at the same Vineland, NJ trial: 
“We want to be like everyone else. We did not come out of an agency. We came out of a human being. It would mean a lot to me just to have a name.”
Lorraine here: While cognizant of some first mothers' objections, I now totally and fully support this legislation, New Jersey S799/S1399. It is not the best of all possible bills--neither was the health care bill Congress just passed--but it reflects the art of the possible. Adoptees were stripped of their right to their true identity with their adoption, and for the great many, this legislation will correct that with the release of their original birth certificates. The time limit on filing a veto will affect a small number of people, and makes this legislation flawed; but if that is what turns a no vote on this legislation to a yes, I will go along. As for the release of non-identifying information compiled by a social workers, whether released as a summary, compilation, or entire file, on reflection I can not in good conscience raise an objection, as this possibly will lead to solace to those adoptees who can not get their one, true, and original birth record, and so I support S799. 

Jane here: The new law goes farther, allowing an adopted person, the direct descendants of a deceased adopted person, or the adoptive parents of a minor to obtain identifying information unless the birth parents object within a year. I have problems with providing identifying information.

Besides invading the birth mother's privacy, her candid statements at a time of great stress, recorded by a social worker and summarized years later by someone unfamiliar with the facts, can create a false picture leading to suspicion and distrust.

In our first conversation, my surrendered daughter, Megan, asked me about an uncle who had "mental health problems." It took me a minute before I realized she was talking about my brother, who in 1966 was a high school drop out, pot-smoking, Viet Nam war-protester. The social worker had asked me about my siblings and I told her about my brother whose lifestyle caused my mother great stress and was regarded by many at the time as anti-social, if not dangerous. Megan received this information in 1986, 11 years before our first conversation. For 11 years she believed there was mental illness in her birth family.

I relate this anecdote, which is amusing today--no one except far righters believe that opposing war and smoking pot is a sign of mental illness--to show the harm that can be done if adoption agencies reveal too much. I should add that this information came in my "non-identifying" file. Although I don't know that my brother's story--once corrected--caused harm, I do believe that having other detailed information adversely affected our relationship.

Adoptees in support groups often say they were distrustful of their birth mothers--perhaps with good reason. How can you trust someone who abandoned you to strangers? If an adoptee has a file chock full of data covering the mother's medical, cultural, and social history (essentially everything) there are bound to be discrepancies between what the mother tells the adoptee and what's in the file. These discrepancies can create seeds of doubt and tarnish the relationship.

Often adoptees also say they want to know why their mother gave them up, whether she had a good reason. Adoption agency files may contain notes such as "mother wants to give up baby so she can finish college." In actuality, it may be that the young woman was told by her parents she would be in the street if she came home with baby, and if she gives up the child, she will be able to stay in college. So while the "college" fact may be accurate, it is far from the whole truth. I have heard many instances of the social worker parsing the facts to make it seem as if the woman was "comfortable" with her "adoption plan."

While I have problems with this legislation, if I had to vote, I would vote "aye" for the simple reason that it appears to be the only way that some adoptees will ever have to learn that which everyone is entitled to know. I have become less concerned about the bill upon learning that what is released will be subject to regulations which proponents of the bill agree will limit the report to only a summary of relevant facts.

Let's move beyond this particular legislation and eliminate all the roadblocks to reunions the industry has created to convince the public that mothers and children need to be protected from each, that reunions are unnatural and unwanted. Let's help mothers and their adult children find each other without resorting to social-worker files, possibly replete with half-truths, confidential intermediaries, and the whole panoply of adoption-industry tactics created to deny the truth, that the bond between mother and child remains.

Let’s work together to allow adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates and allow mothers to obtain their children’s amended birth certificates. And while we’re at it, let’s work to end false birth certificates, such as are written now when a child is adopted. Let’s promote reunions through the International Soundex Reunion Registry, shows such as Find My Family (which has not returned to the airwaves) and The Locator, support groups, whatever works.

And let’s stop pretending that we only want information, or that we just want to know our child is well.-- lorraine and Jane

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Life Unexpected Is All Too Real

CW's Life Unexpected hit it out of the ballpark with reality last night. First, there was an emotional scene in which the always-abandoned-but-never-adopted Lux angrily tells her mother, Cate, that she is hurt and angry because she, Cate, never checked up on her when she was two and three, and in the hospital without anyone to visit her...."You gave me up like I didn't even matter to you because I didn't," she angrily yells at Cate.

Right! I was thinking, no matter the story told to adoptees, somewhere is this huge mountain of rejection and abandonment they have to get over, if they can. I mostly doubt it is possible.

"I thought I was doing what was right for you..."Cate responds, adding that at the time she was
sixteen herself, with a mother who was drinking herself into her next divorce and a father whose whereabouts she did not know, and had no one to turn to herself at the time--including Lux's father, Baze, who did not even know he was a father. I do wish that Cate had said that once you sign those surrender papers, the state sees you as gone for good. For god-knows-what-reasons, the state--or any agency I have ever heard of--does not follow up and tell you that your child needs help, or was never adopted, all of which so many of us so fervently wish had happened. We have heard many stories of trouble that came later and first/birth mothers who should have been contacted, but the state never does that. Instead, children are shuttled from one foster home to another--or shipped off to boarding school if the adoptive family can afford that--and no one ever thinks, Gee, maybe the mother is in a different place and can step up now and offer this child what he needs.

In my own case, even when my daughter's doctor was writing to the agency for medical information, and I was writing to the agency offering it (about the birth control pills I took during the first trimester), the agency sat on the letters. I got one telling me she was happy with her new family, and I should get on with my life; her doctor's letter went unanswered, though we know the agency received it.

Back to the story: Things continue to go badly between the angry Lux and Cate, daughter and mother. Lux will not forgive her for not taking in one of her foster-care friends; but in the end, the three (Cate, Baze and Lux) decide that they do not wish to jeopardize the arrangement that they have now: that Cate and Baze share joint custody as foster parents. They try to present a united happy front to the social worker, who can have Lux removed and sent to another foster home, but the social worker sees through the facade.

That's when the script got awfully real and the line above is said in hurt and anger. However, the social worker says, Aha! reality here, not maybe you can work this out as a family. As the story progresses, Lux does want to come back to live with Cate (she had been temporarily living with Baze, above the bar he owns, and staying with her boyfriend, who is not exactly college material, or even high school, for that matter). And back at Cate's house, here's where Lux says:
"I can't promise that this is going to work out. Or that I won't get upset and I'll want to take it out on you. I know I seem like I'm okay but I'm more messed up inside than you realize. The truth is, I don't forgive you. I don't know if I'm ever going to forgive you."
Wow, I was thinking. That was my daughter speaking to me, no matter how many years went by. She never really forgave me.
Cate responds:
"Lux, you don't have to. You don't ever have to forgive me. I'm never going to be able to forgive me. I just want a chance with you. What do I have to do to make it right?"
Lux: "Let me come home."
Pass the hanky, I'm tearing up writing this.

What was I reminded of? The day my sixteen-year-old daughter--the daughter I gave up for adoption shortly after birth--and I decided to play act how she felt about...being adopted. She was guiding the action and we two characters ended up in a cemetery looking at some ancestor's grave, which is where my daughter moved the plot line. Ancestor's grave. Her ancestor, and mine--just like in Who Do You Think You Are? And my daughter turns to me and says: Why did you give me up? And a minute later, she's got her hands around my neck shaking me, saying: Why did you give me up?

Does anyone ever truly forgive her birth/first mother for being given up? I don't know. I have heard so few stories about reunions that do not go south that I sometimes wonder if real forgiveness, in your ordinary, run-of-the-mill surrender and reunion, is ever possible.--lorraine
You can watch whole episodes at the website of Life Unexpected. I love this show and hope it plays for several seasons. It is the baby of Liz Tigelaar, who was adopted herself. We previously wrote about Life Unexpected here and here. Personally, it's one of the best things I've ever seen about the issues adoptees face on television. Even though the main character, Lux, was never officially adopted. Well, now she just might be....

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ancestry Shows Beg the Question: Don't Adoptees have the same curiosity?

Is anybody watching NBC's Who Do You Think You Are?

Is anybody who was adopted watching through the lens of "Why doesn't the rest of the world understand we want to know where we came from? Why are we denied the right to have a background that is meaningful to us? That means something to me?" I watched and thought: surely those legislators, those adoptive parents, those adoption attorneys, anybody who works for the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), any agency associated with NCFA, anyone who opposes less that giving adoptees their original birth certificates can see that ancestry is important. And if that's the case, why are we still so far behind in opening closed records? Why are adoptees still denied the right to know who they are, where they came from, whence they came?

It makes me nuts.

Last night I watched Lisa Kudrow trace down her family's history that led her to a memorial for those Jews hunted, killed and burned in a small village called Ilya where many were slaughtered in the 1940s. A weeks ago I watched Sarah Jessica Parker learn that one of her direct ancestors was accused of being a witch in Salem, but escaped trial and punishment because the religious court that tried the Salem "witches" was disbanded before she was brought to trial. On their faces, in the emotions they display, you can see how meaningful it is to have a connection to someone whose DNA they share. It's palpable, it's real, it's haunting. Next week, somebody else, some other family ancestral history, more tears and deep feelings stirred by the truth of someone's family history.

The show originated in Britain, where ancestors are more important socially and politically than they are in the New World; but we are all one under the skin. And we are all a part of who came before us, and in some profound way that knowledge is meaningful to our sense of our place in the world. Yet by and large the world denies adoptees this piece of their own humanity. Every legislator who votes against giving adoptees their original birth certificates steals a valuable part of that person and says: You don't need your ancestral knowledge: I'm keeping it under lock and key.

Why? Because I have to protect the sanctity of your adoptive family, your new parents who went to a lot of trouble--and paid a lot of money, in many cases--to get you, and you should be grateful they did! Or they imply, with a straight face, having convinced themselves that this is the right thing to do: I have to protect your mother. Your birth mother. She has made a new life about her and maybe her family, her husband and other kids, don't even know about you! Can't have you upsetting that apple cart, you ungrateful wretch.

It makes me mad. Eons ago, shortly after I published Birthmark, and was fair game for every jerk who was shocked! shocked! that I had the temerity and gall to write such an expose, I was at a dinner party at the home of a well-known restaurant critic. (We had chili and corn bread, since you ask.) Alden Whitman, who then wrote those long essay obits of the celebrated for the New York Times, sat next to me. As the evening wore on and wine loosened his tongue, he went at me mercilessly about having come out of the closet as one-of-those-women-who-gave-away-baby. I doubt he actually read Birthmark, but he was plenty pissed at me, and made no bones about it: What right do you have to write that book! What--well, there was no other complaint, it was simply: You ought to stay in the closet: forever. What gave you the right!@!

Now, this was a guy who had quite a reputation for hitting on the young women at the Times. We'd even had lunch once years earlier before I realized what he was up to. I'm sitting there that night thinking: so...You have a kid somewhere...? And now you are afraid of his coming back? I'm not going to say anything, but trust me, I'd like to, you prick, and would--if your wife were not sitting here also and we now have the whole table of ten mesmerized.

It was his wife who came to my defense. Alden, she said heatedly after listening to his angry barrage, What were we doing in Wales a couple of weeks ago? Mucking around old cemeteries looking for the graves of your ancestors? What are you not understanding? What are you not getting?

No answer. 

Finally the host cleared his throat and put on some music, and people danced. We never spoke about this again. He's dead, the fight goes on, someday we will succeed.

But not before many who search for their roots will die without answers.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Adoptees Who Say They Only Want Information Hurt Everyone

First Mother is feeling rather feisty this morning thinking about how many times she has heard adoptees say: I only want the information. I have a right to that, but, no, I don't intend to search for my birth mother. 

And First Mother got to thinking, then of course if a legislator hears that...he can say, with a clean conscience, so, We'll give them "the information, the updated medical information, the cultural, social and medical history and since they say, they don't need more than that, why do they need the name?  We have to protect all those birth mothers in the closet who have not talked about the child they gave up for years...and certainly don't want to be reminded...because they have never talked about it. So let's go with the "information."

Closed adoptions are built on such fictions of identity that the web they weave afterward is a skein of lies: adoptive parents having trouble with the truth of the child's adoption; adoptees growing up and saying--out of hurt, out of anger, out of a primal wound they can't even reach verbally, out of fear of causing discomfort for their adoptive parents--I only want the information. What does "only the information" do to birth mothers? It reduces them to mere "reproductive agents," as an acquaintance of mine once called me. (See link for an engaging story about what some think of birth mothers.) I am a whole lot more than "information," but to be able to have my daughter be adopted legally in New York State, I was forced to go along with a closed-adoption law so heinous, so unjust in its intent that it violates all tenets of human decency.

First Mother has some sympathy for adoptees who say they only want information; she believes it is said defensively, in order to stem any possible rejection from one's birth mother, or to please their adoptive parents who fear any contact with the woman who shares their adult child's DNA, or to take some control over a life-changing situation over which they had no control. But this attitude is what has confused legislators. Especially those legislators, we believe, who have some connection to birth mothers in hiding, or adoptive parents who feel any intrusion by the pesky woman who merely gave birth to the child they have taken to the dentist, stayed up all night with, had emergency room runs at 3 a.m., talked to teachers about his boisterous behavior that they do not understand.

First Mother believes that all adopted people unequivocally should have their original/real/non faked birth certificates. And adoptees should stop asking merely for "information," and go to the heart of the matter: the birth certificate, with the real name, the real date, real time and place of birth. And take it from there. Search/find/reunite and try to be kind and forgiving. Not everyone will be happy with what they find, but at least they will have the truth. You can't have peace until you have all the pieces.

Here at home, First Mother is updating her kitchen, replacing 60-year-old dark brown, wood-grained Formica and a counter that is disintegrating, so she is busy collecting information about green countertops made from recycled glass, as well as Corian, granite, quartz, with the clear plan that she is going to do something with that information. First Mother is not simply going to file the information she is collecting. It will be put to use. First Mother will eventually have a new counter top.

First Mother also woke up with the thought this morning that birth mothers should also get the information: the last known whereabouts and name of the children they gave up under arcane, cruel and unusual laws we had no choice over. We could say we only want the "information."

But who would believe us?--lorraine

From Author and Adoptee B. J.Lifton via FaceBook:
Lorraine, remember that adoptees are in process. They don't really know what they want at first, and gradually as they move on in the search, they realize they want more than they thought they did. Eventually, they want the whole enchilada -- which means of course, meeting the mother and having a relationship with her.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Man Offers $1K for information leading to his family

You are almost sixty years old, your mother is going into a nursing home, and in cleaning out her home your 26-year-old daughter finds papers that show your name was changed when you were an infant.

You are adopted. You were not "Larry Dell" when you were born.

This after four decades of adoption reform, adoption in the news, adopted people searching? And your "mother" never told you the truth of your origins? To continue the fiction that she told herself, she lived the lie and kept you in the dark. What do you do now?

If you are Larry Dell of Brooklyn you advertise wherever you can and offer $1,000 to anyone who can give you information leading to can help him locate a blood relative.

Dell was born Louis Roth on Aug. 18, 1948, at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, according to the New York State Department of Health Adoption Information Registry. (Not sure how he got that information, but good for him.) He was his family's fifth child, and both of his birth parents--a truck driver and a homemaker--were 39 at the time he was born. His adoptive aunt believes his birth family lived in Bushwick or East New York, but she's not sure, said Dell, who can be contacted at larrydell@daddyoutpost.com. (Let him know where you heard about this if you contact him, please.)

This story, Adopted Brooklyn man offers $1K for help finding his family, in the New York Daily News today (3/14/10), really pisses me off. Pisses me off that this kind of hoodwinking still goes on. That people hide the truth from the person it matters the most to. That this is even possible today.

Once, when I was writing my memoir Birthmark, I was having lunch with a business contact and somehow we got around to adoption. He was an adoptive father and I poured out my story to him for reasons unknown. He said nothing, but later, as we were saying goodbye outside the restaurant, he turned to me and told me that a few years earlier, the mother of his (now adult) daughter had contacted them and had hoped to meet the girl. Did they tell her? No, he said, they did not tell her because although she knew she was adopted, she never talked about it. Or mentioned wanting to know her mother.

I wanted to punch the bastard. 

If you are adopted and are reading this and you have never talked to your adoptive parents about your feelings about adoption and knowing the truth of your origins, do so today. If you are a first/birth mother and have buried your sorrow and never talked to your father, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts about wanting to know what happened because that part of your life is never talked about, do so today. When a searcher calls and gets your brother/sister/uncle, he is going to say: She doesn't want to know. She's never talked about it.

And the reunion you secretly long for may die right there. I hear from searchers that it's most often the males in a family who turn down an active search, and they may hold the only key to a birth/first mother's whereabouts. If not today--when? --lorraine

Friday, March 12, 2010

More Stench Coming from Ethiopian Adoptions through Christian World Adoptions

New evidence that the unethical harvesting of children in Ethiopia by American adoption agencies continues comes from the public broadcasting system of Australia, ABC. The Joint Council of International Children's Services (JCICS), the agency designed to oversee the activities of American adoption agencies, is comprised of--guess what? adoption agencies themselves, and so while the JCICS has supposedly completed in inquiry into the Ethiopian adoption practices, they are refusing to release the results.

Last year, we learned about a dysfunctional, largely unregulated adoption industry operating in Ethiopia, where children were being harvested from families, some of them middle class. The families and the children were told they were going to America on a study trip and would be able to return home, but in fact, they can not return until they are eighteen, and then they must find the means to do so on their own, often after living with families here who adopt them. ABC's program, Foreign Correspondent, found that Ethiopian mothers were being tricked into surrendering their children, and that children were being pitched to adoptive families as being as young as seven--when, in fact, they were teenagers.

children arrived in the United States believing they were only 
Some children arrived in the United States believing they were only visiting.

Ethiopia has not signed the Hague Convention on inter-country adoptions, but many American adoption agencies, including the infamous Christian World Adoptions (CWA) are allowed to continue doing business with corrupt officials in that country, and claim they have no blood on their hands. When one adoptive mother, Lisa Boe, spoke out about the long list of serious, life-threatening problems of the child she adopted--whom she was told was healthy--CWA sued her. This was after she lost a first child to SIDS, and is devastated that the child she is raising might not live long. 

Another family who adopted three sisters encountered huge emotional problems with the oldest--the girl was thirteen, not nine, as the mother, Kate Bradshaw, was told. When she and her husband, Calvin, complained to a consumer watchdog, CWA's response was to claim the Bradshaws were unfit parents and tried to have both their adoptive and biological children taken away from them permanently. Kate Bradshaw said the problem was ultimately cleared up, and they did not lose their children. The oldest daughter, Journee, ultimately went to live with Kate's mother in Iowa Falls, and attends high school. Here is what Journee Bradshaw told ABC:
"I’m trying to make other people’s lives better, because mine was horrible. I don’t want anybody to go through the things I did. What happened just happened, you know? You can’t really change the past but you can change the future for yourself and others – that’s what counts."
American adoption-reform advocate Maureen Flately claims that JCICS is stacked with adoption agency figures and does a terrible job of regulating itself: "We've really let the fox guard the henhouse,"she said. Quoting from the ABC story:
"They are the 'big tobacco' of adoption. They are a trade association that nominally espouses the highest standards but which is harboring the very people who have been involved in some of the biggest abuses in adoption - and they haven't laid a hand on them. The JCICS has one goal and one goal only, and that is to avoid federal regulation of adoption.

"Here is one of the biggest pieces of hypocrisy in adoption. If they're Hague-accredited, why are they doing business with a country that isn't a Hague signer? The answer is that they know they have much more freedom to do whatever they want to do and to bully people in countries that aren't Hague signatories."
ABC has a 27-minute video on the child trafficking accounts from Ethiopia with interviews with three American families that have spoken out against the agency that arranged their adoptions, Christian World Adoptions, and anyone interested in international adoption--from any country but especially Ethiopia--should watch. It is an eye-opening, chilling look at what can only be called child harvesting that is being touted as saving the children from starvation and prostitution.

The slick, double-talking "christian" attorney for CWA, Curtis Bostic, will make you ill. And it's all being done in the name of Christianity. Please take the time to see the video, at this link: Fly Away Home. And another shorter, but incisive, report comes from a CBS affiliate in Richmond, CNET-TV:

Watch so that the next time you hear that someone is thinking of adopting from Africa, you will be informed. Maybe you can save one mother from losing her child, and save one child from being harvested for families here who pay big money to fill their homes. I may be particularly sensitive to this issue because I live in a world where that nice young cousin of someone I know tells me at dinner that she is thinking of adopting: from Africa. What does CWA say about adoption from Ethiopia at their website? 
Our Ethiopia adoption program is one of CWA’s largest and most affordable adoption programs.
The cost, according to the CBS report is about $15,000. Harvesting children is good for business. --lorraine
This link will take you to CWA's response to ABC where they basically deny, deny; and ABC's response. where they reaffirm their reporting. Telling is that the head of CWA, Tommy-Lee Harding.  has repeatedly refused efforts to be interviewed. CWA is based in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Should adoptees get a first mother's medical, cultural and social history?

Should adoptees, or their descendants, or the adoptive parents of a minor, be given "any family history" of the birth parents that is contained in that person's adoption file, unless the natural parents specifically ask that it not be released?

We think not. We are not talking about the original birth certificate with the names of the original biological parents--which ought to be given to all adopted people, no questions asked--we are talking about ancillary information collected by the social worker at the time. We are talking about the files of the birth mothers, with data and information and commentary collected by social workers around the time of relinquishment.

Last week the New Jersey Senate voted out of the  Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee a bill (S799/S1399) that would give adopted people and certain others access to the adoptees original birth certificate and "other related information." The vote was eight for; one against, and one did not vote. The bill overall is designed to give adopted people their original birth certificates' birth/first mothers have a year in which to file a veto.

I heard much of the testimony on line and it was riveting. The husband of one woman who is very angry she was contacted by her daughter made rambling plea for the records to remain sealed, railed against the state for releasing the name, as did the attorney for another birth mother, this one anonymous. We are always going to run into women I call the "crazies" in the birth mother community, women who refuse to acknowledge their children, and for them I am sorry for and at the same time angry with them. Your flesh-and-blood deserve to know who they are! And at the very least one face to face meeting!

Our longtime sisters in reform, including Judy Foster and Pam Hasagawa made statements, but it was Adam Pertman, adoptive father and head of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, who was especially eloquent. Adam made an impassioned plea noting that it was time to see beyond simply thinking adopted people only want or need their medical histories, adding that having their original birth certificate and the names of their biological parents represented a much deeper need and should be their right, not only for their psychological health and sense of well-being, but also making them equal to the rest of us who always had this information. Because he is an adoptive dad, his words have a great impact.

While we are hugely in favor of the bill, S799, there is one troubling section that is bothersome, and that is this:
(New section) a. An adopted person 18 years of age or older, a direct descendant 18 years of age or older of the adopted person if the adopted person is deceased, or the adoptive parent or guardian of a minor adopted person may obtain from an approved agency or the attorney who facilitated the adoption any family history information concerning the adopted person that is contained in that person's adoption file, upon submission of a written, notarized request to the agency or attorney.

...."family history information" includes medical, cultural and social history information provided by the adopted person's birth parent and maintained by an approved agency or attorney who facilitated an adoption.
The problem as we see it is that this gives someone else a file containing possibly all kinds of erroneous information about the biological parents. Say someone has an affair with a married man (who has three children) and falls in love with him and gets pregnant. And it being 1966, she does not get an abortion--she waits too long, she doesn't think she is pregnant--but surrenders the child. Well, give that information to a very religious family, and who is the birth mother? A slut. And that, my friends, is my own story, all explained in detail in my memoir, Birthmark. It is one thing for me to tell this to my daughter, as I did, but another for this information--just the facts, ma'am--to be passed across the desk by a social worker to say, my daughter's adoptive parents.

We also have heard of cases where the social workers misinterpreted the facts--someone's brother who smoked marijuana becomes someone with a mental problem; alcoholism in the family is disguised to make the child more attractive to the prospective adoptive family; a casual admission that one was in therapy could be seen as "serious psychological problems." And since the information is collected in a subjective manner by a social worker who has her own biases and predilections, anything said could be noted and written down through her filter. Mother did not cry a lot? She's cold and unfeeling. Mother cried too much? Psychological problems. Mother says she does not get along with her mother? Family history of disjunction. We have heard from some women who have seen their files; some are short and to the point; others are lengthy and full of material that sounds like gossip. You see the problem with releasing this information?

Jane, for instance, decided she would act as unemotional as possible because she did not want the social worker to think that she might search. She had it in her head that they would send her daughter far away if the social worker thought that. As for myself, I wept buckets and was surprised! Amazed! when I was informed that I could not get her information--her new name and whereabouts--myself when she was eighteen. Yeah, I was naive. Yeah, I thought the law had to be humane.

We do not want to put up a huge barrier to this bill, because it is so vitally important to open records, to give adopted people their original birth certificates, but we are not in favor of having our files, written by a social worker we may have hated, simply released to our children. And we can't look at those files to update them, or correct them, or remove extraneous and false information before they are given out. The files, remember, have information not only about first mothers, but also other family members, and whatever a birth mother may have told the social worker about the father.

In fellow blogger Jane's case, her file was redacted by a social worker 20 years later when it was given to her daughter. So it was not just what was taken down at the time, but what someone thought should be released many years later.

We have worked with Pam Hasagawa for decades, have written numerous letters in support to NJ legislators, but we hope that she and the others who have worked so hard to open records will take our concerns into consideration and consider changing the bill to unequivocally give adopted people their original birth certificates, just as non-adopted people can obtain, but to exclude giving out files--our files--with information about the birth/first/biological mothers without their consent and right of first approval.
 For a previous post that touches on these same issues, and the problems that releasing such information may cause, see Jane's blog: A Right To Human Identity Doesn't Go Far Enough. Our thanks to Mirah Riben for bringing this section of the bill to our attention.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Adopting from Foster Care: Helping Kids or Enabling Family Destruction?

We at FMF are quick to throw down the gauntlet to those seeking to adopt. “If you really want to help kids (rather than feed your own ego),” we say glibly, “you’d adopt a kid from foster care. It’s not only a humane thing to do, it’s free.”

One of our readers, Lori, took us on.
“Lorraine, WHOA there lady! I was a foster child and I can tell you that a lot of misinformation about the children in foster care is out there. It is worse than the misinformation about adoption. First, children can be placed in foster care for a multitude of reasons - poverty being the largest! Sound familiar? …

8 out of 10 families are completely destroyed and the children almost always languish in foster care because they are either too old or have mental health issues caused by the abrupt disruption of their lives.

I believe that some adoptions are good - but I also believe that we need to be realistic about all the children and parents we are talking about.”
There’s a lot of truth in what Lori writes. Adopting from foster care may simply allow over-zealous social workers to scarf up more kids. The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997 relaxed requirements that states make reasonable efforts to return children to their families and required states to put termination of parental rights (freeing children for adoption in social work parlance) on a fast track. The law also continued open-ended foster care payments to states while capping family preservation funds. The net effect: increases in adoption were more than offset by increases in the number of children in foster care according to the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a non-profit dedicated to making the child welfare system “better serve America’s most vulnerable children by trying to change policies concerning child abuse, foster care, and family preservation.”

Overuse of foster care is nothing new. In the early 1970’s, as a young attorney, I represented parents whose kids were placed in the custody of the state. I saw few cases involving physical abuse. I did see lots of specious claims of neglect. Dirty dishes in the sink, unmade beds, over-flowing cats’ pans, more beer than milk in the refrigerator, kids with fevers and runny noses, all recorded by child protection workers as evidence of neglect. One social worker curtailed visits between my client and her child because the child cried when her mother left, clear evidence that visits were harmful; another kept a child in a “treatment” facility largely because his mother sassed the social worker; a third refused to place a child with her grandmother because the child would spend time in day care while the grandmother worked.

In the 1990’s I worked for a State office managing federal anti-crime grants. In its application for funds, one regional narcotics team boasted that officers called in child protection workers when the police found marijuana in a home so that the children would be placed in foster care as an additional punishment on their parents.

My husband, Jay, is a criminal defense attorney. He is appointed to represent parents in dirty house cases about six times a year. The State charges parents with “criminal mistreatment I, a felony, for each child and places the children in foster care. Since the parents face a prison sentence if convicted, they typically plead guilty and receive probation. After they clean their house, the State returns the kids. These cases are really about conduct that offends middle-class sensibilities. It would be cheaper and less traumatic for kids if the State sent in a housekeeper or a home ec instructor.

I’ve read about children starved, beaten, sexually abused, and murdered in foster homes. I’ve seen documentaries about modern-day Georgia Tanns who falsified evidence to convince judges to terminate the rights of mothers. Georgia Tann, our readers may recall, was the mother of closed adoptions and the notorious Tennessee Baby Thief who worked with a corrupt judge, stealing children and placing them with the rich and famous including Hollywood stars Joan Crawford, Bob Hope, and June Allyson.

Who’s behind all this ripping kids from their homes, putting them into foster care, and fast tracking them into adoption? Well surprise, surprise, it’s those who are getting the bucks: Corporations with contracts to provide foster care, foster parents, and adoption agencies with contracts to place the children.

All this being said, some parents cannot care for their children because of death, mental illness, incarceration, drug addiction, or zero nurturing skills. Sadistic parents, step-parents, and partners of parents exist in every community. Long term foster care is no answer for these children. Every year thousands of children “age” out of foster care with no family and no resources. Prisons are filled with former foster children.

Adoption would benefit these children who have no family. Unfortunately these children are the least likely to be adopted.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What to Call a First/Birth Mother in an Open Adoption

What should a child in an open adoption call his natural/birth/first mother?

It's a question posed by a prospective adoptive mother, who is considering adopting the child of a friend, with the intention that the child will be raised with full and complete knowledge of his biological mother, who apparently will not be a stranger in this home. The mother, Hayley, hopes that the child can be raised with the love and support of both families. Amen to that. But what to call the two different mommies?

"Birthmother" and "Firstmom" are demeaning, and obviously not what a little kid is going to learn to call someone. Likewise "Aunt" is demeaning and wrong; "Godmother" suggests someone else, and besides, is little Johnny supposed to say, "Godmother, I'm hungry" or "Take me to the park, Godmom!" or "Don't like white milk, Birthmom, want chocolate!" when the birth biological natural mother is visiting?

The question is, can two women share the moniker "Mother," or "Mom?" At first, I thought, maybe not, but then I wondered what children of two gay parents teach their child to call them? Since the argument has been successfully made that at least on a birth certificate, a child can have two parents of the same sex, I would imagine that "Dad" in the home works for both of the male parents, and "Mom" works for two lesbian mothers. Maybe one is called Daddy Bob and the other Daddy Joe? And when one is gone for an extended period, maybe the "Bob" or "Joe" is dropped?

So, Hayley, if you do adopt and are the child's primary care-giver, you will undoubtedly be Mom and Mama and Mother; how about MammaJo (or whatever the natural mother's name is) for the other mother? I have known one of my grandchildren (daughter of my daughter whom I surrendered to adoption) since she was born, and while I was Grandma when she stayed with us for extended periods during the summer, once she hit puberty she changed over to what her mother, my daughter usually called me, Lorraine. I admit I was hurt at first, but decided to live with it, though I always signed my emails "Gramma Lo," which the teenager she is converted to "Glo." And I decided I liked that. Glo. My step-grandchildren, who have a lot of grandmothers as they are happy to tell everyone, call me Gramma Rain. Works for me too.

While Jane called me Lorraine and referred to me as such to her friends and family, she would sign her notes and cards, "Your daughter, Jane." And some cards were addressed to me as her "Mother." It's only a name, it's only a word, but yes, it does mean a lot. I can only imagine that being willing to share the title of Mom or Momma-- with the child's natural mother would be noticed--and appreciated--by the adopted person, especially she grows older. And then she can make a choice on her own.

What about you, dear reader? What do you think the child's mother, who will apparently be a part of his life after adoption, should be called? Please give us your thoughts.--lorraine, aka Glo. Also Gramma Rain.
(For more on questions posed by this thoughtful prospective adoptive mother, see: When Should You Tell a Child He's Adopted and We Want to Have a Family. Is Adoption Ever a Good Solution? )

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

When Should You Tell a Child He's Adopted?

Continued from earlier post in answer to questions posed by a prospective adoptive parent: 
"Also, in your opinion what IS the most loving, sensitive way to distinguish to a child their parentage?  It would be my desire to ensures/he knows that s/he is loved by both the mother who allowed him/her to be adopted and the woman who is raising him/her with love. Of course, as the child/ren's adoptive parent, I would want for him/her to call me mom (or some derivation) and still treasure the mother that allowed me to share the joy of motherhood."
My first thought was: When the child asks about where he came from.

We understand your fears, and being prepared ahead of time is best for everyone, especially the child. He should be your main concern, not how you feel about answering this question. Our advice is to answer the questions honestly as they come up. Some experts suggest that in order to allay other fears you not explain more than the child can understand--or asks. If the child only asks if she grew in your tummy, you can honestly answer, No, without adding more information. But if--and when, there will be a when--he asks the next obvious question, Did I come from your belly? answer it truthfully. It is important to get the child thinking about the process as he grows up, not to be confronted with news that will be emotionally devastating if he discovers it much later on.

Some therapists suggest not using the word "adopted" or "adoption" when the child is very young because he will not grasp what it means. Others feel that since the word will be a part of his life experience and vocabulary, you might as well not run from it but introduce it early. The child will come to understand in time. My own daughter said that when she was told she was "adopted" she understood it as, "she was a doctor," and did not understand why her parents said that, since she knew she was not a doctor. Other adoptees tell of the same confusion. In time, of course, my daughter did understand, but never expressed any dismay over accepting the meaning of the word that way.

Being adopted is the single most crucial fact of your child's existence, and he will have to grapple with this primal issue. Nothing you, as an adoptive parent, or even his first/birth mother, can ever say will erase that one basic reality, and no matter how the information is couched, the news will be life-changing. And the issue that he will understand immediately is that being adopted means that he was available to be adopted, that is, that someone gave him up for whatever reason. On some level, he will probably feel he was abandoned by his real mother, and that is how he thinks: his mother, the one who gave him life. That is the primal reality of his life. That he is adopted. That he is related to someone else.

Not telling early on is a sin of omission
Children can absorb bad news, such as death or divorce, but deception will color not only your relationship with the child, but possibly lead him to feel that such lying is the norm. Hayley, we understand you are not suggesting that in the least, but since we are writing here not only to you but the wider world, we need to talk about this, as so many adoptive parents still struggle with relating this information, as your question indicates.

Certainly, the child should be aware of his parentage by or at the age of reason. Delaying beyond that will increase the anxiety for everyone. And the adopted individual will feel cheated, as if you had been lying to him, because, in fact, you have. You have committed a sin of omission by concealing the truth of his origins. The longer you wait to tell a child he is adopted, the more likely he is to learn this hard fact of his reality from someone else--a neighborhood child, someone at school, a cousin, a grandmother making an off-hand comment.

You, as the adoptive parent, must also confront the reality that you are not the child's biological parent. As satisfying a relationship as you have with your child, it is different from the one the child would have with his natural family, different from the one you would have with a child you bore. You also need to be honest about the reason for the adoption: that you were unable to conceive, that an earlier child died, how you went about getting a child. Don't go and and on about this, and put more baggage on hm, simply state the facts honestly and briefly. He doesn't need to know details of how many tries at IVF there was, how many miscarriages. And no more stories of how you went up and down a row of cribs looking for the perfect baby, and there he was! The Chosen Baby is a myth, and your child will appreciate the truth as he grows older.

How one relays the information that a child is adopted is crucial, and just as important as when. If you are apprehensive and show your discomfort, this will immediately convey that adoption is not something that can be talked about easily in your house. If you act secretive and tense, so will he be secretive when he thinks about it. If you are open and accepting, he will feel he can talk to you about his feelings, and he will be more comfortable with his life situation, in his home. Do not interpret his lack of talking about adoption as meaning that it does not existentially alter his view of himself; it only means he is going underground with it.

Less is less
The more you know about the real mother, the better you and your child will be. Even today, in closed adoptions of recent vintage, I hear adoptive parents who say the less they knew (about the birth/first/natural mother) the better, because they did not want to imagine who that other mother was; and when asked, they would be able to honestly say, I don't know. But what a terrible loss that is for the individual. What a terrible thing you have done to him by denying him information about himself.

You also need to convey, in the strongest terms possible, that he was given up because his mother could not find a way to keep him--possibly because she was very young, her own parents could or would not help, because she was impossibly poor, and so, faced with impossible odds, she consented to his adoption, unquestionably with much sorrow and many tears. He should know that she loved him desperately, but could not keep him and so surrendered to forces greater than her ability to mother. She did not give him up because she "loved him so much."

The lie of: She loved you so much...
Yet that is what we hear from the writings of many adoptive parents, and the noxious language the adoption industry has popularized today: Your (poor, unfortunate, young, pick one) mother loved you so much she gave you up. In reality, this makes no sense and your child will recognize this immediately--he thinks, If she loved me so much, why didn't she keep me? She must not have loved me at all. Writing this today I am reminded of the television ads for a credit-card caveats that try to pull the wool over a child's eye by saying one thing but meaning another--you can "ride" the bicycle only in this impossibly small area, so small you can't ride; one child is offered a plastic pony, the other gets a real pony, etc.

If "love" were the reason that mothers gave up their babies, the most "loved" babies would all be available for adoption. A child is given up, or surrendered, because his real mother can find no way to keep the child at the point in time. A child is not given up because he was loved so much his mother decided that someone else could be the better parent. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as drugs or life in prison, every mother knows she is the best mother for her own child. She will instinctively better understand that little person at her breast, that angst-ridden adolescent, that troublesome teenager than any genetic stranger ever can or will.

After I found my daughter, and she was visiting in my home and we would shop or have makeup put on at a department store for fun, or put makeup on at home, she kept repeating how this never occurred with her adoptive mother, that she never learned how to put makeup on from her mother, that her mother did not enjoy shopping, that she missed doing this with her other mother. At first, I did not think much of it, and even found ways to excuse the woman she called Mom--she was busy with the boys, she was working--but I came to realize that my daughter Jane was expressing her own personal sorrow at not growing up with a style she longed for, a way of doing something--shopping and putting makeup on--that just felt right. This was way more than not fitting into the schedule of a too busy mother. No matter what, I would have found time with shop with my daughter the way I had shopped with my mother. I remember the time I gave my daughter a bottle of my Max Factor makeup that for some reason I was not going to use. I said, Do you want this? I'll try it, she said. And then, what she could not get over was that it was my makeup and it was the right color for her own skin tone. So much was contained in that simple fact. The right skin tone. My skin tone. And hers too.

Shopping. Makeup. Seemingly superficial, but the stuff of a life. Connective tissue. Like the way we both sang off key and climbed steps with the footfall of an elephant. As an adoptive parent, you may find certain similarities with your child, and some things undoubtedly gel because of nurture, but you will have to deal with the differences; and understand that your child will always note them, even if you do not.

Always opt for an open adoption
As for whether an open adoption is better than a closed adoption? There is no contest. No matter the truth of one's origins, it is always better to know than to live a life full of wonder. Open adoptions are better for the natural mother, and better for the child. We understand that some adoptive parents become frustrated when the natural mother does not maintain closer contact or visit more often; people are different, life is complicated and these things happen; but no matter what, for the individual who is adopted, dealing with reality is always better than shadow boxing with fantasy.--lorraine