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

Monday, May 31, 2010

What's wrong with creating children with Sperm from Column A and Egg from Column B? Just about everything.

Today just a link to a New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, about the perils of creating children-for-hire. It's a good read: The Birds and the Bees (via the Fertility Clinic) and do leave a comment.

And if you have been away from the blog over the weekend (and why not?) yesterday's post is about the end of a friendship with a friend whose opinion is that birth/first mothers who search are wrong, wrong, wrong. I think she would like to stone us because we are "disturbing" the  happy, non-troubled adoption that she is sure is in place.

This morning with family my husband and I went downtown for the annual Memorial Day parade in Sag Harbor and ran into one of Yvonne's friends, with whom we are also friendly. My husband (when I was not around) told her that Yvonne and I had a huge falling out and it was not going to be breached. I'm no longer even sad that the friendship ended; I am disturbed that so many people feel that it is all right to trample the feelings and sensibilities of birth/first mothers because after all, we did it! We got pregnant! We surrendered a child! We signed a paper that insisted on anonymity because we had no choice! Therefore, we ought to go quietly to our emotional graves.

Screw 'em.--lorraine

That's my niece (by marriage) and her two kids, Charlie with the flag and Anna peering from behind it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Neighbor Condemns Searching for our Children Lost to Adoption, a friendship ends

How do you educate a neighbor whose own mother more or less abandoned her to the realities of adoption today? In my case, you try, but you end up...where you started.

Some background here: A neighbor I'll call Yvonne is older than I (she is 80) and over the years we have become quite close. We've done countless favors for each other and she has called me her "youngest sister." But there was always this big black cloud in the room on a subject that, hmm, dare not speak its name: adoption. I've written before about what occurred between us, but I'll summarize here.

Although I knew adoption was a subject that I knew one had to tread lightly--Yvonne never met an adoptee who wasn't totally happy to be adopted, completely integrated into the family, etc.--I still did not know that we were a gazillion miles apart on the issue. When the hated movie Juno came out, I gave her a copy of my memoir, Birthmark, to read, hoping that she would understand the point of view of a first/birth mother more than she had seemed willing to in the past.

My POV: That I, a woman who surrendered her daughter to adoption, felt it necessary for my mental health to find that daughter. That I, as her biological/birth/first mother, did not want to interrupt her life with her other, adoptive, family. That I wanted her to be a part of my life too, in some fashion, but that did not mean she would turn away from her adoptive family. That in doing this, everyone recognized that Jane, my/our daughter was an integrated human being with a past that began before adoption.

Jane had been to our house many times for extended stays of several months, but Yvonne and I were not more than nodding acquaintances then, and she had not met Jane until a couple years before she committed suicide; Yvonne knew one of Jane's daughters (one relinquished for adoption, one not) because she had spent several weeks here each summer when she was a child. So, Yvonne had some inkling of how our situation had worked out. She was kind to Jane's daughter.

Anyway, Yvonne said she could not stop reading Birthmark until she finished, wanted to get copies for her children, all now grown, and all of whom I know and like. Incidentally, none of them live nearby--the closest is about a three-to-four-hour drive away, the others several states away or across the country. When Yvonne became ill in the last couple of years, it was my husband and I who were the helpers on the spot, the visitors in the hospital, before anyone else got here. But understand our friendship was a two-way street; she has done many favors for us also. I took care of her cats when Yvonne went away; when we had a dog, she took care of him. We gave her books to read; she's wealthy; she's been generous to us. Her children seemed somewhat relieved that she had a good friend and neighbor a few doors away. It was a reciprocal relationship.  

Yet, adoption lay between us like a roaring brook we all agreed to step around without comment.

But there were times when that became impossible. Yvonne's very good friend from boarding school (who coincidentally lives a few blocks away) became an adoptive grandmother, twice over. Her husband once told me--after I told him I was a birth mother whose daughter had lived her for some summers, worked downtown at the ice cream parlor--that I was "their greatest nightmare." I said nothing.

One day, Yvonne, in a pique generated I think by a small amount of wine in her 110-pound frame, called me..."no more than a reproductive agent." I can only think she heard that phrase from the people who think I am "their greatest nightmare." (Read more here.)

Trouble ensued. Eventually we talked and I brought up how she might feel about her own mother who left Yvonne and her two sisters in the care of their American father in the states while she, the mother, went back to France and continued to be the aristocratic courtesan of the literati and social set there. (Her mother is actually quite well known in France, even today, as much for her sexual exploits and conquests as her writing.) For several years Yvonne did not even see her mother, and when she finally did, after boarding school days were over, I came to understand it was not a warm and loving relationship. Yvonne felt that it would have been different had the three sisters been boys. Though she won't really talk about those feelings, it's clear that her mother did more or less physically abandon the girls; Yvonne's older sister did not even see her mother for 17 years.

Anyway, a whole year passed in which we somehow avoided adoption. Until a few days before Mother's Day when she expressed the hope (by crossing her fingers and widening her eyes) that the couple who live between us, who must be in their late thirties to mid forties, are able to adopt, as she heard they hope to. Maybe it was the timing, maybe I have been quietly seething for the whole last year since her "reproductive agent" eruption (which she denies she ever said such words! The very idea!), maybe it was at last a recognition that we could not really be friends, but I said a few angry semi-incoherent words about how she did not understand anything about me, how international adoption was a hotbed of corruption and child-stealing, and I stormed out. I wouldn't say I had sleepless nights, but more than once when I woke up at three or four, I could not get back to sleep replaying over in my mind what I'd like to say to her. My husband, Tony, had the same reaction.

She called a few days later, as if nothing had happened. One time--on Mother's Day, no less--I was actually talking to adoption-reform pioneer Florence Fisher and took the call before I saw on Caller ID that it was Yvonne. Basically she had a message for Tony which I passed on. He did not call her back. The next time she called did not take the call,--she left a message as if nothing had happened.
One has choices, one usually has choices. This time I decided to try to say in a single-spaced two-page letter what I could never get out if we actually spoke. I also thought it would make more of an impression, she would be able to read and reread what I had to say. A few days later, she wrote back, seemingly not quite accepting what I said. I wrote back again, explaining further. Asked her to watch a few videos that I sent to her email address.

In short, while she agrees there may be the very rare (one) corrupt adoption agency, she can not believe that corruption is rampant. But then she wrote what it at the heart of today's birth-mother dilemma: that while she believes that "if and when a child is old enough it wishes to know its heritage her or she should have easy access to that information," she does not believe "that the birth parent should have the right to disturb and upset my family in search of their child or have a say in the way I bring up MY [her emphasis] child. In my opinion it is a one way street."

She goes on to say that this is the last time we should discuss this adding: "You have a right to your opinion, which by the way I understand, but I also have a right to mine." She ends by adding that one of her daughters and husband is coming for the weekend, and she knows they would love to see us. While I was writing this, she called and I did not answer; her message was: Could we come over for a drink at six?

I give up. Though she knows--and I have reminded her in this last go-round--that I found Jane and was reunited with her when she was fifteen with her adoptive parent's blessing--an action Yvonne condemns, she seems to think we can go on as before. We can not. I feel like while, say, someone freely admits she is say, a racist, she wants to invite me (not of her race) to dine at her table because I am somehow "not like the rest of them."

Her attitude is pervasive in society and more so, here in America, I believe, than elsewhere because we are a culture are tied into the myth that the past is of little consequence, that we can make and remake ourselves into whatever and whomever we want. It's why I feel so hopeless in combating attitudes like hers and that of another "friend" who attacked me over a year ago for searching for Jane. Attitudes about openness have changed on one level, but in many quarters, and by many adoptive parents, not towards us birth/first mothers. We gave the children up; it does not matter that the anonymity was coerced (which I painstakingly explained to Yvonne); we signed the fucking papers and so there it lies. We can live lives of misery and yearning, that's too effing bad--as Yvonne put it, it is a one-way street.

I do know I do not want to be around her anymore. I do not want to be the pariah among her thoughts. Our friendship is over and out. Eventually, I'll stop being upset.

The evening calls. I have a cous-cous salad (healthy and delicious!) to make to take to an afternoon croquet game and barbecue with friends; my husband's nephew by marriage, a tree guy, is coming tonight with his wife and two toddlers to take down a dead tree in the back yard tomorrow, and I'll make them a splendid lunch, with shrimp and clams. Life continues. And the next blog will be about good news from my other granddaughter, Lisa. There is a silver lining.--lorraine

Monday, May 24, 2010

Egg Donor or Egg Seller? Fulfilling Another Woman's Dreams or Filling Your Pockets

Trouble, trouble in baby-making land reported The New York Times on May 10, “Payment Offers to Egg Donors Prompt Scrutiny”. Apparently them gals who went up north for some educatin’ graduated with something more than a diploma written in Latin. Seems a few took a class or two in economics and put it to good use: charging up to $50,000 for their ivy-coated eggs, a price women with old rotten eggs are more than willing to pay. Men are also willing to part with big bucks to become daddies, hiring surrogates to tote upscale eggs blessed with their sperm.

Well, knock me over with a feather. I thought that women risked their health, their own fertility, even their lives, taking a lot of hormones to stimulate their bodies to pop out eggs for perfect strangers out of some sort of "love" for mankind. That these women do it for money (enough to pay for about half a year at Harvard) puts them right up there on the scoundrel list along with Wall Street barons fleecing low income would-be home buyers.

The egg business may soon surpass the adoption business. About 10,000 families each year acquire a baby through donated eggs, almost as many as acquire babies through adoption, 14,000. According to the Times,
“Dr. Aaron Levine, an assistant professor of public policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology examined more than 100 egg donation ads from 63 college newspapers. He found that a quarter of them offered compensation exceeding the $10,000 maximum cited in voluntary guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a professional association.

"In addition to limiting compensation, the society’s guidelines forbid paying additional fees to egg donors for specific traits. But the study found that every 100-point difference in a university’s average SAT scores was correlated with an increase of more than $2,000 in the fees advertised for potential egg donors in the campus newspaper.

"The guidelines state that payments of $5,000 or more above and beyond medical and related expenses ‘require justification’ and that payments above $10,000 ‘are not appropriate.’ Ads in newspapers at Harvard, Princeton and Yale promised $35,000 for donors, Dr. Levine found, while an ad placed on behalf of an anonymous couple in The Brown Daily Herald offered $50,000 for ‘an extraordinary egg donor.’"
The article doesn’t say what a Columbia grad could garner, hopefully not enough to entice my youngest daughter, a lioness diplomate, from selling her eggs. On the other hand as the contributor to half her DNA, maybe I could get a cut, sort of like a royalty. I can see the ads: Fund your retirement from your daughter’s eggs.” That ought to give SAT prep classes a boost.
"'The concern is that some young women may choose to donate against their own best interests,’ Dr. Levine said. ‘They’ll look at the money on offer and will overlook some of the risks.’" [It seems to me and Lorraine that donating eggs is always against a woman’s best interests.]
The American Society for Reproduction Medicine’s reason for limiting compensation to donors may not be based entirely on concern for these bright, attractive young women whose eggs command high prices. Back to Econ 101, more money to donors means less money to doctors, egg merchants, and the rest of the industry promising parenthood to those who cannot or do not choose to have children naturally.

Who’s Buying?
With many women today putting making money ahead of making babies, there’s no end to Hollywood stars, political wives, and others seeking motherhood in their late 40’s, 50’s, and even 60’s. Recently we learned that John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston, still grieving over the loss of their son Jett, are expecting a baby. It’s safe to assume that 47 year old Preston didn’t get pregnant au naturel. She may have had her eggs frozen when they were still viable (but that’s unlikely) or she may have purchased some eggs (more likely), perhaps requiring that the seller have some Grease in her DNA or at least be a Scientologist.

If Travolta and Preston are having a “replacement” baby, they won’t be the first. After the death of their son Wade, former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth decided more children would bring joy back into their family. Emma Claire was born in 1998 when Elizabeth was 48, and Jack was born in 2000 when she was 50. (Subsequently John added to his lineage through a more loving way, albeit unwillingly, when 43 year old Rielle Hunter gave birth to his [initially unacknowledged] daughter, Quinn.) 

Real Risks
On the serious side, whether for love or money, egg donation presents substantial risks. Besides the physical risks (gory details below), there is the likelihood of psychological distress when the donor fully realizes that there is somebody “out there” carrying her genes. Like women who surrendered babies in closed adoptions, donors may find themselves scanning faces in shopping malls looking for people who resemble them. Unless donor and child know each other, there is a risk that the donor’s children and the children created from her eggs may meet and marry since donors may contribute multiple eggs. [For a thorough investigation of the psychological effects of donor insemination, read Annette Baran and Rueben Pannor's excellent study, Lethal Secrets.]

Unlike birthmothers in open adoptions, egg donors know nothing of the parent who raises her offspring. The recipient of the egg may be an abusive parent. I remember reading a news article years ago about a man who beat to death his infant son, created with a surrogate mother. The recipient of the egg may die before the child grows up, leaving the child to be raised by relatives, more interested in spending the child’s inheritance than nurturing this technological wonder.

According to Stanford University’s “Egg Donor Information Project”, donors commonly experience pain, abdominal swelling, tension and pressure in the ovarian area, mood swings, and bruising at injection sites. A less frequently occurring condition is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a serious complication marked by chest and abdominal fluid buildup and cystic enlargement of the ovaries that can cause permanent injury and even death. Severe OHSS affects between one and 10 percent of donors.

Less frequently, drugs cause adnexal torsion, a condition that results when a stimulated ovary twists on itself and cuts off blood supply. Surgery is required to untwist and in some cases remove the ovary. Additionally, some studies suggest that one of the drugs may increase a woman’s chance of developing ovarian cancer. Doctors have reported a few cases where a drug aggravated existing tumors of the pituitary gland and caused strokes.

Eggs are retrieved through transvaginal ultrasound aspiration, a surgical procedure performed under conscious sedation. Major injury to the bladder, bowel, uterus, blood vessels or other pelvic structures occurs in approximately 1 in 500 to 1000 surgeries. Other surgical risks include acute ovarian trauma, infection, infertility, vaginal bleeding, and lacerations. Additionally, anesthetic complications may occur.

These are the known dangers. As Times readers, Diane Beeson and Tina Stevens, pointed out in a letter to the editor, much is unknown:
“Without long-term follow up, it is simply not possible to offer potential egg donors a truly informed consent about the long-term risks of taking the powerful synthetic hormones associated with the egg retrieval process. Yet, there is no effort now under way to establish a registry to find out what the long-term risks are. Why is that?

"Consider what happened to magazine editor Liz Tilberis, comedian-actor Gilda Radner, playwright Wendy Wasserstein and many other women who underwent hyperstimulation and died of cancer in the prime of their lives. Shouldn’t we first attempt to provide a full informed consent before financially encouraging women to take powerful hormones?”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Adoptees to Get their Original Birth Certificates in IL; Yes, the veto passed too

While we were debating the pros and cons of a birth-parent disclosure veto--in nearly all cases, this means the mother--in bills to allow adoptees access to their original birth certificate (OBC), Illinois passed such a bill last week and on Friday, May 21, 2010 Governor Pat Quinn today signed the bill into law. No longer will court orders be necessary for most adult adoptees to get their OBCs. According to the governor's website:
"...the new law will also help adopted adults learn more about their birth families, including medical histories.

Archived Audio of the Press Conference

"Birth parents who don't want to be found will have a year-and-a-half years to get their names blacked out on their children's birth certificates. But backers expect four out of five birth parents will opt to let their children find them."
We expect that number of birth mothers filing vetoes to be much much smaller, more in line with the contract preference numbers found in Oregon.

The stats from Oregon:
May 31, 2009 - Nine Year Anniversary Report

Records ordered: 10,189
Records issued: 9,772
Contact Preference forms submitted by Parents: 613
Number asking for contact with adoptee: 494
Number asking for contact through an intermediary: 34
Number asking for no contact: 85

According to the Sun Times:
"The law builds on the state's 1999 birth registry, which facilitates adopted children finding birth parents who don't mind being found. But the new law takes it a step further.
"Today is no doubt the most meaningful day of my life," said state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), who had already tracked down her birth mother.

"Feigenholtz [the bill's sponsor and impetus to get it passed] cried as she said, "I will be able to walk into the state's Office of Vital Records, plunk down my $15, and get a copy of my original birth certificate. On it will be the name of the woman who gave birth to me 53 years ago. To some, it may not sound like a big deal, but it is."

Feigenholtz and other adoptive children and parents at the signing talked about living life with big question marks, searching faces every time they went into a mall, wondering if they could be walking past their lost child or parent."
The story also quote fellow blogger and commenter here, Triona Guidry, who was not in support of this bill:
"It does not actually open adoption records," said Triona Guidry, whose birth mother will not let Guidry get a copy of her birth certificate. Even under the new law, the best Guidry will get is a birth certificate with her mother's name redacted. "Equal rights apply to everyone. Everyone should have the right to go into that courthouse, pay their $15 and get their birth certificate."
A few key provisions of the law:

• Effective immediately, children and parents involved in adoptions that took place before 1946 can get birth certificates. [Of course, here the birth mothers will be dead; possible siblings might be found.]
• For later cases, Feigenholtz and other state officials will spend the next year-and-a-half notifying birth parents and adoptive children that they need to contact the state and declare whether or not they wish to be found. Notices will go out on Illinois' residents' vehicle renewal stickers and other state documents. After Nov. 15, 2011, people involved in adoption can request birth certificates, and if the other parties involved have filed no objections, the birth certificates will be turned over.
• If a birth parent says no, an adoptive child can ask again in five years and the state will check to see whether the parent has changed her or his mind.

The link below is to a related story from the Sun Times about Feigenholtz:

Torment drove Feigenholtz to find birth mom  

 State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz gets emotional as Governor Pat Quinn signs a new bill allowing adopted adults greater access to their original birth certificates. Feigenholtz is adopted and sponsored the bill in the House. (John H. White/Sun-Times)

State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz was just a girl snooping through the pajama drawer in her mother's dresser when she saw a document with the name of her birth mother.
Years later, as a staffer for Sen. John Cullerton, she remembered that name when Cullerton worked on an adoption bill.

"There was this thing inside of me: It was like a little monster, and sometimes it sleeps, and sometimes it's so loud you can't hear anything else. It's tormenting. It really is tormenting," Feigenholtz said.

Ah yes, the little monster. We birth/first/natural mothers know about the monster too. You can denounce Feigenholtz or thank her, you can hate this bill or applaud it, but it does mean that a great many people will be able to get their birth certificates. Am I torn about this? Yes. But it is what it is. As for birth/first mothers...well, we get nuttin in this country; we signed the papers, remember?  

Just like a coerced confession, we signed away our rights. But every person of any sense will understand that those papers were a gross violation of the natural right for all persons to have life, liberty and the pursuit of justice. We were robbed and the adoptive parents in the professional and middle class, yes, the educated liberals, by and large support this violation of human rights. Because it suits them. Because by and large, they are the adopters. --lorraine

Adolescents and teenagers tell their stories about...How It Feels to Be Adopted in Jill Krementz's book of essays and photographs. Young people especially will enjoy this book. My daughter Jane and I are included and were interviewed during my daughter's first trip East to meet me on my home ground and meet my husband. She had already met my family in Dearborn, Michigan. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's better: A contact veto or no reform at all?

I admit I am torn about some bills that would give more than 99 percent of the adoptees the right to have their original birth certificates, when that seems the only thing that will pass in my lifetime. I'm talking about bills that include a birth-parent veto, which would deny adoptees of mothers (and fathers, I presume) who file such a veto the right to know who they are. Cruel and unusual punishment for being adopted, it seems to me.

I've been involved in this fight for nearly four decades now, and time is slipping away. More people will die without the right to their original identities. Might it not be better to accept a compromise and let most adoptees have their original birth certificates, with the names of the parents who conceived and bore them?

The Search for Anna FisherWhen I was involved with adoptee-rights pioneer and flame-thrower Florence Fisher in trying tochange legislation in New York in the Seventies, Richard Gottfried, now chair of the Assembly Committee on Health, and others suggested that we could have a bill that would open adoption agency and court records only to adopted persons who turned eighteen after the passage of the law. In other words, a bill passed in 1976, when this was proposed by a commission on child welfare, would affect only those adoptees born that year and after; meaning: they would get their records on demand in 1994, or eighteen years after the bill passed. For the rest, a system of confidential intermediaries was proposed.

Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of AdoptionFlorence, as founder and the life behind the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association (ALMA), turned down that flat. It was all or nothing; she did not want to leave a whole group adoptees out of the loop. The following year ALMA filed a class-action federal lawsuit against New York's sealed adoption and birth records. That did not go so well, and here we are today, with the nearly the same archaic sealed-records stupidity that New York has held adoptees in thrall since 1935. A passive registry, underfunded and not publicized, connects only a tiny percentage (something less than four percent) of the people who apply. One can read about the legal case in detail in E. Wayne Carp's excellent book of the history of the adoption reform movement, Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption.

Yet Florence and I today talk about how if that bill had passed, at least people born back then would have the right to their records today, period. It is a bothersome thought.

I personally know many adoptees whose decades-long searches have led no where. So does Florence. In my files I have letters from people in their Seventies who are likely to die without ever having the answer to the question that has haunted them most of their lives. Many searchers do not take cases where the information is so scant that the search is likely to lead to a dead end. New York, unless you were born in one of the five boroughs of New York City, is a particularly hard nut to crack. A woman I wrote about earlier here has tried to search--by herself, with a searcher I put her in touch with--but to no avail. It's clear she needs either her original birth certificate or her agency file.

BirthmarkI found my daughter Jane in the early 80s, when the still-anonymous Searcher located her; in fact, as I've said here before, he had her name and family and address before from the clues I put in my 1979 memoir, Birthmark.

However, he did not give them to me until I paid $1,200. So it goes. I was glad to get the information, relieved to find my daughter. I think he must have worked for the government himself--perhaps he or she was a judge, or social worker, or adoption-agency director who could simply call up Albany and all the other vital-records departments in the country and ask for the information, and it was given. We birth mothers who used his services eagerly paid the fee and subsidized his vacation home in the Adirondacks.

But those days are over. While the Internet has made searching more available to many, thousands more still will not find out who they are without getting their hands on their original birth certificates before they were amended and the names of one's original parents locked away. I'm not going to dismiss them because others--even a great many--will be able to search anyway with the clues they have, even without their original birth certificates. While the pure issue of an adopted person's civil right cries out for justice for all--no birth mother vetoes!--I am left with the haunting sense that this leads to hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of adopted people whose quest for their original identity will have no end, whose lives will have no answers.

So while I totally understand how incredibly annoying and wrong these bills are, for they let a very very small group of birth mother deniers strip the rights of another group of people whose rights should be paramount, I have my qualms about what to do. Somewhat reluctantly, Jane and I have supported such a bill in New Jersey, which has a limited (one year) window in which birth/first mothers might file such a cruel veto, to deny their own children the right to know who they are--but yet it bothers us. At bottom such bills, as the one in Rhode Island, and the one is Illinois, are wrong headed. The states that pass them (Delaware,Tennessee) do not go back and "fix" them. The states that have a "contact preference" instead of a veto (Oregon, Maine, New Hampshire, Alabama) report no problems with the law as is. A contact-preference is just that: mothers and fathers can state they do not wish to be contacted, but the adoptees still gets their original birth certificate. (Alaska and Kansas also give adoptees their records for the asking.)

Yet we get bills that contain these noxious poison pills in the form of a contact VETOES. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union, on a state-by-state basis, is generally against giving adoptees the right to their original birth certificates without this "secrecy protection" for birth mothers, seemingly and wrongly assuming that most of us want to languish in birth-mother-protection programs, living anonymously among the rest of the non-birth parent population. It totally baffles me how they can ignore the rights of the adopted to have the same rights as the rest of us. All I can think is that like NOW in Michigan (which was against a bill which was pretty bad to begin with), the people who run ACLU are under the influence of adoptive parents who hide their fear in the skirts of birth/first mothers, whom they imagine do not want to be found, revealed, whatever.

One can understand the opposition of the Catholic Church because not only have they listened to the tearful confessions of women years ago who had children conceived outside of marriage (though not mine, even after 12 years of Catholic schools), the Church is also protecting scores of priests who fathered children. From all accounts, there are many such children. However, a few dioceses do individually support legislation to give adoptees their rights, such as that of Albany. Lobby organizations such as the National Council for Adoption (FOR Adoption says it all) do not even like these bills with contact vetoes; they only want passive registries. They want to keep business as usual--and it is a big money-making business--going strong.

So once again, as more than thirty years ago, in 1976 when I testified in Albany to unseal the birth records, I'm left with a quandary--do we accept a mediocre bill because it is all we can get? Since it will help so many adoptees get their original birth records on demand, is it worth accepting the poison pill of a birth-parent veto? The American Adoption Congress backs the Rhode Island bill. A group in New Jersey has been working hard for a bill with a limited-time birth-parent veto. Bastard Nation is adamantly opposed to all such bills. Posting this rumination will cause many to denounce me as a sell-out.

In one sense, this is not my fight--except that I have chosen to fight for adoptee rights--but it is not for me to oppose these bills that will affect so many. I am not adopted. I have always had my birth records, and except for a fleeting moment or two when I was five, I always knew whose daughter I was, where I came from, who my grandparents were. I've always been securely grounded in my self-awareness. But hell, I support giving not only all adoptees their original birth records and agency files, but giving birth parents the names of the people who adopted their children. Adoption as it has been practiced is a heinous crime against nature and common sense.

Yet back in 1976, if we had accepted the compromise bill offered, all people born and adopted in New York State since then...would have the unassailable right to their original birth records. What about all those people born and adopted in New York since who have been denied their records because we thought we could get more, way back in 1976? What about them? What about the people who will not get their original birth records if Rhode Island and Illinois pass no bill at all?

Today, I don't have an answer for them.--lorraine 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Knowing the Truth of One's Origins When the Truth is Not Pretty

Trying to avoid adoption these days? Best to keep the TV off. The adoption story of the evening on Friday came on ABC's 20/20. It was an hour-long interview with the (birth) daughter of a woman who tried to kill her three other children by shooting them, succeeding with one, in order to be more acceptable to her married lover who did not want children. While out on bail awaiting trial, she became pregnant by another man to appear to be a woman who loved children when she was on trial. She was very visibly pregnant during her 1985 trial. Talk about a screwed up situation, and a perversely crazy mother, leading to a birth, this is it.

After one of the surviving children testified in court that her mother, Diane Downs, shot her and her two siblings on a dark road in the spring of 1983, Diane Downs was found guilty and given a life sentence plus 50 years. (Small Sacrifices, by former cop and true crime writer Ann Rule, tells the story of the murder and trial--and more--in detail.) Ten days before sentencing in 1985, labor was induced and the child was taken from Downs almost immediately and adopted by a couple twenty-five miles away, Jackie and Chris Babock, who already had one adopted daughter.

When Rebecca was three, Downs escaped from prison, and the Babcocks were advised to tell her baby-sitter and nursery school teacher to be vigilant, in case Downs showed up and tried to take her. That did not happen--Downs was found ten days later--but the story was out there now, and could not be put back in the bottle. When she was an adolescent, Becky, as she is called, tricked her baby-sitter into telling her more details about her mother by pretending she already knew them.

In her teens, Becky got into hard drugs and hard partying. Her older sister, Jennie, had already gone that route, and Becky took to following Jennie to parties, where she began experimenting with pot and meth and dating older men. When she was 16, she saw the movie--Small Sacrifices with Farah Fawcett at her best--about the spectacular case--and that led to more years of the same. As the story unfolds in the current issue of Glamour magazine:
She lurched from boyfriend to boyfriend, hoping one could prove to her that she was lovable. “In some ways my genetics are what I feel kept me from really caring about right from wrong,” says Becky. “I had plenty of ‘normal’ friends who did normal things. I chose to be destructive. Deep inside me was the blood of Diane. My addictions mimicked Diane’s in the way of men—like Diane, I lived for the attention.”
When she was seventeen, she got pregnant; she had broken up with the father by the time her son was born on 2002. Three more years of partying, men and job changes followed. From Glamour again:
“A part of me wishes I had never known [that Diane is my mother],” says Becky. “But the other part of me knows that if I never knew, I would not understand why I did the things I did.” She took some comfort in the idea that she could never be capable of Diane’s violence: “She committed the ultimate crime—she killed her child,” says Becky. “I tried to understand one day how she could have done that; it made me physically sick.”
                                                                                  from Glamour
Rebecca BabcockWhen Christian was three, Becky got pregnant again. Laid off from her job and struggling to support herself and her son, she decided to put the new baby up for adoption. “I remember holding him in my arms seconds after he was born and realizing I had to hand him to a family I had only met twice,” says Becky. “I thought that since I was adopted it wouldn’t be so hard for me to put my son up for adoption, but afterward I was completely lost. It made me think about Diane. I knew the hurt I felt, and I wondered if she felt it too.” Years earlier one of Becky’s boyfriends, bizarrely fixated on the case, had gotten Diane’s prison address. Becky had refused to contact Diane then, but now found the address and wrote to her birth mother.
As might be expected, that "reunion," which never took place face to face, did not turn out so well, as Downs is a delusional sociopath. Long, rambling letters ensued until Becky cut them off. More partying. She continued to have a series of dead-end jobs until the night after she and co-workers had gone out drinking after work and one of her bosses at an auto dealership lot forced her to have sex with him in the parking lot in order to keep her job. That was her low point of her life, she says, but it was also when Becky turned her life around. She filed a sexual  harassment suit and with the money from that used it to pay off her debts--and went back to school:
The first semester was awkward and scary, but when I didn’t want to go to school one day, I remembered how I felt when I handed my baby to strangers, and I remembered the life I had lived and how I would be devastated if my son followed in my footsteps. And I’ve kept going.”
Now she has dreams of being a doctor. At the time the story was published, she had reached out to her two half-siblings, but had not met them yet. She may never know who her biological father is--20/20 has her mother, Downs, who was a postal worker, showing up at the house of a man she knew would be alone with whiskey and a willing body, but so far no one has come forward.

Her decision to tell her story publicly, Becky says in Glamour, has to do with helping other individuals dealing with  realities of birth that are not particularly comforting or pleasant:
“Until I saw my adopted birth certificate last year, there was still a tiny bit of hope that I was wrong and she wasn’t my birth mother,” says Becky. “But I’m confident that nurture has overcome nature, and even though her blood is in my veins, I am not capable of doing such evil things. I hope this story will help people who have the same stigma. Whether they came from a monster or were even raised by a monster—a murderer, molester, someone who beat them, a thief—that does not define who they are as an individual. Their parent’s mistake does not have to become their story. Each person holds her own pen and paper and can write her own story. People should never let anyone tell them different.” 
I'm writing about this story here because it does present one of those cases of: Do you really want to know? The truth? It could be awful. Because in this case, it is quite terrible. But knowing it gives something for Becky to deal with realistically, with open eyes. On 20/20, she is forthright and articulate, a young mother and a dean's list student, a long way from a slatternly lifestyle.

However, none of the stories reveal how her older sister, Jennie, turned out. Did she ever stop her hard-partying life and straighten out? I wanted to know. Remember, she was also adopted. And as this story unfolds in Oregon, so she also would have the right to her unamended, original birth certificate, which would contain the real names of her actual, biological parents. (Sometimes writing this blog I feel as if we have to get twisted into pedagogical pretzels to not offend anyone--and still use words that people--birth parent, birth daughter, natural parents, etc.--searching for us on the web allow them to find us. Please bear with us.)

Several other points caught my attention. One, Becky also gave up a child for adoption, repeating the adoption cycle in what seems to me an endless chain of stories of adoptions that follow being adopted. Does that child need to know whence he came? Do his parents? That is left unanswered. And how many adoptees repeat the cycle of adoption? Practically nothing makes me crazier than worrying about this: separation and pain passed on through generations.

When I testified in a court case once for a group of adoptees in New Jersey seeking their original birth certificates, I came across one of the adoptees in the ladies room bawling her eyes out. It's what you said, she said about always wanting to know what happened to your child...I'm adopted and I gave up a child for adoption too.... I was stunned--how much pain could one person handle?--but I have come to know this is all too common. Though this issue has been discussed in books about adoptees, one longs for some hard numbers, but there is no one collecting them; and we have seen how loaded it is to even ask parents on the census form if their children are adopted or biologically related to them.

Of course, asking adoptees about this would be different; if they could be surveyed in any scientific manner. Jean Strauss, author of Birthright and Beneath a Tall Tree, discovered that she was a third-generation adoptee. My daughter also gave up a daughter for adoption, and despite my urging, would not agree seek out an open adoption. Her adoptive parents who were plenty involved in this birth were not interested in guiding our daughter that way. They have no interest in the "granddaughter" who is not related to them. I did and do, and we have reunited, and I look forward to meeting her this summer. 

Another point I want to make is that this is a case where surely the daughter, Becky, needed to be adopted. All the accounts indicate her parents are good people who raised a daughter that ultimately was able to get her life on track. We are often accused of being anti-adoption; we are anti-adoption only as it is practiced in most parts of the country--where the original birth records are sealed and love is supposed to make up for everything that is missing, such as an identity that preceded being adopted. We are not against parents giving loving  homes to children; we are against, however, creating children merely to fill a void in someone's life. Children should not be commodities that can be ordered up because someone has enough money to do to.

In some ways, both Becky and her sister, as well as the other siblings, who were also adopted are fortunate, in one way, as they were adopted in Oregon, where this all transpired, because there anyone over the age of eighteen is able to get a copy of their original birth certificate. Oregon is one of the six states where it is possible to get one's original birth certificate without caveats of any sort.

I do not speak from the place of someone who was adopted; I know the fear of being rejected--as a relinquishing birth mother, I was afraid when I reached out to my daughter--but I can not know the feelings of someone who has, deep within them, a sense of abandonment that comes from being given up, by someone, at some place, for some reason. I can not know the fear of searching that sense of being abandoned, acknowledged or not, must give rise to. But no matter what one finds, or who, the urge to know the truth of one's origins--no matter what they are--comes from an innate longing to know, fully and completely, who one was at birth. On the side of the blog is a comment from the Find My Family website, no gone but I've kept it there because it is poignant, so true: Everybody wants to know where they come from, even if it doesn't turn out like you wanted it.

It is my conviction that those who do not search have their natural inclination to know the truth of their origins subverted by societal pressure to be a "good" adoptee who is not curious. This lack of curiosity about one's roots then sends a potent message that a stable, good family is plenty enough, that one's actual, biological, first, real parents matter little, that one's true heritage is not important.

At the same time, society everywhere sends the message the quite the opposite is true. Genology sites and TV shows refuting that notion proliferate. Yet just as we birth mothers were brain-washed into believing our child's only good future lie in giving them up, so too have many adoptees been lured into believing that wanting to know the truth of their origins diminishes the proof of their love for their adoptive parents. Hence, many adopted people do not begin to search until their adoptive parents are dead; by then, however, it may be too late to find their birth parents.

Yet only when enough adoptees--by the hundreds of thousands storming state legislatures--turn this falsehood of disinterest in one's roots on its head and demand to know the answer to the question the rest of us have never had to wrestle with will we have true reform. Adoption agencies and lobby groups such as the National Council for Adoption actively resist these reforms that would benefit adult adoptees. But NCFA and its band of mischief-making adoption agencies will lose in the end because they are wrong. They will lose because right will eventually succeed. Reform is decades overdue. It can not come soon enough. --lorraine
Jane here: A couple of other twists to the Diane Downs story. Another young woman carries Diane's DNA although she may not realize it. According to Ann Rule's book, Small Sacrifices: A True Story of Passion and Murder (Signet),Diane was a surrogate mother for an infertile woman, artificially inseminated with the husband's sperm. Diane and the couple were strangers, connecting through a fertility lawyer. Diane passed a psyche exam.

Diane's two children who survived the shooting were seriously disabled and adopted by the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Why didn't we resist the social pressures?

Some may ask why we did not resist the social pressure to give up our children, particularly since Lorraine and I were college graduates in our 20's at the time of surrender.

In addition to fearing the stigma which we knew would attach to us and our families as unwed mothers, many in my generation of birthmothers believed that keeping our child would be harmful to the child. Folklore passed to us through parents, clergymen, teen magazines, soap operas, and Ann Landers told us that children of unmarried mothers were always better off adopted by a married couple who had so much love (as well as material goodies) to give.

(The Mormon Church teaches this today. It saddens me that my surrendered daughter, Megan, a worthy church member, believes it.)

The social worker mantra "A child needs a mother (pause) and a father" rang in my ears. The only way Megan could gain a father was to lose me, a woman of no consequence.

I knew the pain of being fatherless. My parents had divorced when I was 15. My father, who died when I was 20, had not been involved in my life in a meaningful way since I was a small child. I envied girls whose fathers came straight home from work and presided at the dinner table, inquiring about their day at school. These fathers took their families on vacations every summer, taught their daughters to drive, and attended father/daughter events at church and school.

If a social worker had said to me: "Jane, being adopted in a closed adoption causes children problems. Your daughter may develop trust issues, she may feel abandoned, she may suffer from being raised by people who don't look or act like her, she is more likely to have behavioral problems and so on,” I would have kept her, no question about it. If the social worker had leveled with me about adoptive parents, that they, like other parents, might divorce, lose their jobs, suffer from alcoholism, or abuse their children, I would have walked out of the hospital with my daughter.

By 1966 when I gave up Megan, substantial research (as well as common sense) documented the many problems adoptees and adoptive families face. Social workers knew about them but didn’t tell us. I can only guess why.

And so, with no information to the contrary, I took as an article of faith that no matter how hard I struggled to raise my daughter, she would be better off, moving seamlessly into the mythical family, superior in every way not only to me but to my entire family. I envisioned her as a teenager screaming at me: "why did you keep me? I could have gone to a fine family and had a better life. You were a mean, selfish woman and I hate you!”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I was not 'forced' to surrender my child but...

And of course, if a mother willingly surrendered her child -- if indeed the child was unwanted and she did not want to keep it -- she is not going to experience PTSD as it was not done against her will. It would not be a traumatic event for her. 
Whoa, Cedar, beg to differ! I love your blog (Adoption Critique) and usually agree with you, but the comment above, posted as a comment to the previous post here (Does surrender (for the birth/first mother) and adoption (for the child) lead to PTSD?) sure got my notice.

I was not forced by anyone, save circumstance, society, the prevailing culture, to surrender my baby. I think I can say without being contradicted, the same is true for Jane and Linda. My parents did not make me sign the papers. My parents in another state did not even know I was pregnant because at over four months pregnant, I had been able to go home for Christmas and disguise the fact that I was with child! For a number of reasons--such as the father was a married man, he did not get a divorce in time to save our baby--I did not feel that I could keep my child. I live with the fact that I was not strong enough to change the course of my life on the spot and keep my baby. Do I have regrets that I was not stronger? Did I know what a lifelong impact this would have on my life?

Yes, and no.

Did giving up my daughter fuck me up? Oh yeah, big time. After she was born I was so hysterical that I was held down by two nurses and tranquilized--now she was gone, and gone she would be. Yet two or three weeks later, when it continued to be clear that Patrick, my daughter's father, was not going to leave his wife--not that it ever seemed like he would in time--I signed the surrender papers. It was 1966, and the world was a very different place. Women today still give up their babies without guns to their heads, and we read about their sorrow in places like The New York Times, as we did on Sunday, in their special Mother's Day tribute in the Modern Love column. We read it in a zillion other blogs, in memoirs, and now, even see it making its way in the movies.

Was it traumatic that I relinquished my daughter, even though no one had a hatchet over my head? Or for the writer of the column about open adoption, Amy Seek? Absolutely. I could not know how my dramatically relinquishment would affect me, how within six years the scales would fall from my eyes when I read about Florence Fisher and the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association in The New York Times, and set my life on a course to change adoption as it is practiced today.

Do I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? PTSD is not like cancer, a disease with damaged cells you can look at through a microscope. PTSD is more like PMS...something on a continuum, and somewhere you reach a point where the lingering effects of the event are so overwhelming you end up with a classification of PTSD. I wouldn't call my current state one of PTSD, in the true medical sense where I need drugs, or alcohol or to be locked up in loony bin, but my surrender of my daughter sure as hell bothers me. A whole lot.

Consider this: If I--and a whole lot of other other women who relinquished their children in all sorts of circumstances for all sorts of reasons--were so damn okay, the week leading up to Mother's Day would not have been such a bitch for so many of us.

Firestorms erupted on other blogs. I walked out on a neighbor when she--knowing I relinquished a child, even having met that child--indicated she hoped the thirty-fortysomething couple who live between us "adopt" because the nice young man of that couple finally found a woman and she's moved in, but it's probably too late for them to have children. And they have told someone adoption is on their minds. I'm thinking, Damn, I'll never be able to walk past that house again without thinking about "adoption," and I've already got that at the other end of the block. I'm thinking: every time I see that kid he or she will remind me that somewhere else, there was a catastrophe in someone's life and that's why the real mother doesn't have her baby.

If my surrender was not traumatic I would not be so upset--racing heart, elevated blood pressure, automatic sweat release--when I listen to people talk about adoption casually.

I would not say, Damn, can't I avoid this? nearly everytime I turn the TV on and there's some new story with an adoption twist. Last week it was Law & Order, the week before it was Law & Order, SVU.

I wouldn't think about a friend's daughter from Guatemala, Hmm, probably one of those stolen kids.

I would not even be pissed off that an adoptive grandfather, told me to my face "you are our worst nightmare" when he learned that my daughter actually lived her with us for lengthy stretches at a time when she was in her teens and after. I would not record programs such as Who Do You Think You Are? and The Locator and keep Kleenex nearby because, of course, I know I am going to weep.

My own PMS serious enough that a doctor eventually classified it as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD. But do I have PTSD forty-four years after my daughter was born, and relinquished to an unknown world?

Maybe not in the clinical sense. But a variation thereof. If I didn't I would not be writing FirstMotherForum. I'd simply be smelling the roses.--lorraine 
PS: If you are interested in commenting here about how you do not have a lifelong trauma relating to adoption and we who do are the unusual, please go to a blog that is devoted to the great happiness that is adoption for other people. There are several. This is not one. Yes, some of the arguing that goes on in the comments here is best done elsewhere, and what was underway in the last blog made me rethink what we post. I'm laying that out now because I am tired of the bickering that goes on, the accusations that follow--even in snarky comments at other blogs about how I am despicable--when we do not post some comments. It's tiring. I'm done with it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Does surrender (for the birth/first mother) and adoption (for the child) lead to PTSD?

One adoptee Facebook friend, Robert Wilson Harrington McCullough, wrote a note a couple of weeks ago that I want to share with readers all--natural moms, nurturing moms (to use his phraseology), and adoptees because he discusses the brain wiring that makes some of us so sensitive to all matters adoption.

For instance, the other day, my neighbor and friend, Yvonne, whom I've written about before, and who has never heard of an adoption that wasn't peachy-keen and the adoptee just happy as a pig in a sty to be raised in a family not their own and original, told me that she heard that another neighbor, a young man whom we both like tremendously, and the girl friend who moved in with him a couple of months ago are now looking into adoption. I say young, because I'm in my sixties; he's probably either late thirties, most likely forties, and the age of his girl friend is probably the same. In other words, they are  like a lot of young people today...waiting and waiting and waiting to settle down with a partner until the time when conception comes easy is long over. I suppose we do have The Pill thank for this...the 50th anniversary of The Pill, incidently was...Mother's Day.* But I digress.

Their answer to the age old dilemma of fecundity decreasing with the onset of the forties and perhaps, peri-menopause? Adoption. If Sandra Bullock, Angelina, Madonna, Meg Ryan, Sharon Stone, Katherine Heigl, Michelle Pheiffer, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman, Senator (TX, R) Kay Bailey Hutchinson,** and the lady down the block all have adopted children, why can't we?

Yvonne then held up two fingers entwined, opened her eyes widely, and nodded her head in approval and hope. Not exactly the f!@#ing reaction I was having. I said a few things nearly incoherent words about stealing babies in China and India to feed the market here, that adoption screws up people way more than she's ever acknowledged, that why didn't they support the poor woman who couldn't keep her child, and that she had no idea what she was talking about before I left. Grrr...that was part of my buildup to Mother's Day.*

You wonder why this birth/first/natural mother went into a funk in the middle of the week? That did not help. I am not really sure what I am going to do about our "friendship." Our lives have been somewhat entwined for several years, and Yvonne is 80 and needs some assistance from a neighbor; there is much else about her that is worthy. She has called me "her youngest sister." It was only about a year ago I realized how truly far apart we are about the realities of adoption, and how much that would lead to such a split in our relationship. I asked her to read my memoir, Birthmark, and she did, Birthmarkand she was moved, she said...but that did not change her thinking. One of her oldest friends is an adoptive grandmother to a child or two from Siberia, and that woman's husband has called me: our greatest nightmare. Cool. They are my greatest nightmare.

Now I am not sure I even want to be around Yvonne. I spoke to my old-pal-in-arms Florence Fisher yesterday, and her advice is to simply stay away. I know that for the immediate future, I sure as hell need to do that. She may be one of those toxic people in my life that therapists talk about today.  But it's not going to be easy, she lives too close; we've been too close. She's like family, only she's not. Family.

But my reaction to Yvonne, while I do not think it was an over-reaction, led me back to the essay that Wilson Harrington McCullough wrote. We have written about the after effects of surrendering a child to adoption before: Does giving up a child for adoption make you sick? I maintain the effects of the trauma of relinquishing a child are real and lasting and can not help but be detrimental to one's health. A primal wound, in other words. And I doubt many women can somehow bury thoughts of the baby who is lost once they sign the surrender papers and move on without examining what has happened to them, and the child.There must be a group of them, and many of them are the women who reject a reunion with their surrendered "birth" children.

Anyway, all  of this is by way of a buildup to Robert Wilson Harrington McCullough's piece, which I found enlightening. Some of you on Facebook may have read it already, but I wanted to share it here:
An article in this month's Scientific American triggered some musings in my cabeza. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=faulty-circuits The premise is that neuroscience is now using imaging to map what actually occurs in the brain in realtime for patients suffering depression, OCD, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health disorders.

The human brain is a complex mechanism which is constantly evolving, building new pathways along prewired inherited structures. I was particularly interested in their findings on PTSD, because many of the effects common to adoptees are similar to PTSD.

The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted ChildI believe Nancy Verrier's assesment of the Primal Wound as a trauma is essentially correct. The separation of an infant from the only environment he has known since quickening in his mother's womb has deep emotional effects at the beginning of life. Surrender of a child is likewise a trauma; though relinquishment usually occurs at a later age than adoption, a huge loss like this is no less a severe interruption of a person's personality than "battle fatigue".

What the article pointed out was that the brain has normal processes (called extinction) to gradually diminish the effects of trauma which under normal circumstances make the memory recede in significance. In PTSD, however, the person becomes stuck in a loop which bypasses the parts of the brain which normally reduce the pain; in fact, the brain rewires itself to the point where slight triggers can cause anxiety and stress equal or even more crippling than the original trauma.

The implications are that there are ways to rewire the pathways and learned responses to overcome this, by therapy and targeted medications. I agree with this; the way to overcome irrational fear is to expose oneself to the causes of fear in a controlled, nonthreatening environment, and gradually reinforce new responses instead of falling back into the old pattern of trigger/response.

While I was pondering that, I heard a segment on NPR dealing with foster children who age out of the system at 18. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125729965

What struck me from this was the similarity to adoptee experiences; the feeling of not fitting in, of high rates of involvement with criminal justice system, of becoming single parents at an early age, and of abandonment issues. The defining factor between success and failure seemed to often depend upon the parenting they received; most of them say had it not been for a good home placement, they would have had real problems like many of their peers.

This led me to recall an Ira Glass segment on This American Life I heard several years ago: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/360/Switched-At-Birth

It is about two girls in Wisconsin who were accidentally switched at birth, and the struggles they had fitting into their families; it's hard to grow up the only extrovert in an introverted family, and vice versa! This story pointed out that it is not adoption per se which causes the feelings of incomplete identity, but the transferrence from one's genetic family to a nonrelated family.

Mulling over all these topics led to this thought; Normal personal and social development involves building the mental pathways, control mechanisms and coping strategies necessary to become a functional, happy member of society. This development, training and education normally begins within a family setting. Much of this occurs through observing and interacting with family members - People who are genetically similar! It is no secret that physical traits (hair color, stature, features) are shared in families; I can attest in my own biological children and family that intellectual and emotional traits also run in families.

My insight is this; most people develop coping mechanisms to compensate for neurologically based behaviors whether they be good or bad. They pass physical traits as well as behaviors along to their children, through both nature and nurture. For example, a biochemical tendency toward depression because of an imbalance in serotonin reuptake, or to ADHD because of similar imbalances, can be inherited - but successful strategies the parent learned to compensate can also be taught, and indeed are observed from infancy by the child. That is the normal course of human development over most of our history. However, it works best when parents and children share DNA. (Of course, unsuccessful behavior can also be taught - not every family is functional. Some families keep the "fun" in "dysfunctional" from generation to generation!)

When a child is transferred to a different biological family, the strategies may be inappropriate. Indeed, they may even aggravate the problem, by using the wrong methods, or disciplining incorrectly. For example, a non-musical family cannot understand why their non-biological child is always whistling or singing or beating time with their hands; not understanding it themselves, they decide the child is inattentive or preoccupied so they may even punish them for behavior which would be encouraged and developed in the correct biological family! It's like trying to read a Russian novel without a Russian/English dictionary. My point is that half the resources available to the biological child are missing in nongenetic families.

I believe this is at the heart of why so many adopted children, foster children and even children of divorce sometimes have social adjustment problems; they lack the appropriate compensating mechanisms which children raised in their biological families gain by proximity to those who share their emotional and intellectual hardwiring!
Certainly there were behaviors of my daughter that she was "corrected" for. In some ways she did fit into her new family of genetic strangers; in so many other ways, she did not, and the more I learned about them, the more difficult it became for me to accept what her being adopted meant to her sad life.
*For those who follow astrology even a bit, this year Mother's Day came during Mercury in retrograde when all kinds of communication and travel gets screwed up: Ergo the Greenland volcano erupting and disrupting traffic, the Times Square would-be bomber, the eruptions of anger that various comments have unleashed in the blogosphere, dishes sent from Michigan that were largely broken because the UPS guy did not mark them "Fragile"[a personal reference], flowers not delivered [ditto], flashes of anger when I spoke to my husband, and there's more. The good news is that Mercury goes out of retrograde on Tuesday (tomorrow), though it will take a while--a couple of weeks--for everything and everyone to calm down.

** If you know any more celebrity adoptions, please add them in comments. Thanks.  

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why Don't We Have National Adoptive Mother's Day?

This is going to be the shortest post ever because I have just been on the phone with Jennifer, my alternate universe daughter, Evan, my step-son and his son, Dylan, and then I called adoption-reform pioneer and founder of ALMA, Florence Fisher to tell her about the wonderful email I got my granddaughter, Lisa...who was adopted (yes, if you are new to my life and the blog, that is the case, my daughter was one of the many adoptees who also relinquished a child for adoption and I could not stop it)  and whom I contacted shortly after New Year's.

Let me just say her email was wonderful, and thanks everyone--Jess and Alison and Celeste and others--for the cards and calls, and for everyone who left a comment. I was really down in the dumps earlier in the week--was it Mother's Day approaching? probably--but the day turned out fine. My husband and I went antiquing (he found a book of American maps he was searching, I found a fab rhinestone-and-enamel pin of two parrots from the Fifties) and had brunch in a noisy busy Mom-and-Pop kind of place. But the reason for the now post is not to talk about "my day," but to direct you to one you all have to read: Happy Birthmother Day or Happy Adopter Day.

Cassie, I wish I had written it...you hit the nail on the head with a twenty-pound hammer. Thank you for writing it.--lorraine

Saturday, May 8, 2010

How Birth Mothers Survive 'Mother's Day'

My Mother's Day advice...and for all of you reading First Mother Forum on Mother's Day....shut the computer down, do not read the newspaper, instead...call a friend, go outside and pull weeds from your garden, go shopping and buy yourself something nice (but don't blow the budget), go for a walk with a friend, lover, husband, dog, or by yourself...go to the movies (avoid Mother and Child today, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo might be a better choice)...take a drive, hop on a bike, go to the gym--doing something physical will make your feel better, both inside and out.

Why not read the newspaper? Too many Mother's Day stories abound, even Modern Love in the New York Times could not resist and hit us with a whammy--an open adoption story for Mother's Day: Open Adoption--Not so Simple Math, what a good idea, how timely! 

But remind yourself: Come Monday Mother's Day will be over for another year. It's only a day. It's only a day. Use that as your mantra.

Incidentally, my dear friend Jen, my almost daughter that I've written about before in Letters Lead to an Alternative Universe Daughter sent me the above illustration and it seemed perfect to share. Our story continues as we have met and are just as connected and close as our emails led us to believe we would be. Having her come into my life was truly a blessing, as was Tony's children and their families, as was my granddaughters--now two of them!--life goes on. I know that when I am blue, it will pass. Even when I was crying into my teacups the other day, I could tell myself: it will pass. That often gets me through the worst times.--lorraine                                                               

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Feelin' Blue about Mother's Day

Whoa! The other day I thought I was going to sail through this Mother's Day with nary a problem...my daughter took her life two years ago--I might as well put it out there rather than not, that's what happened--and my mother died eleven years ago on the first of May, and so, I stupidly, thought, well, Mother's Day and all it's friggen' reminders will just sail over me, just as Linda remarked about her own feelings in her comment to the last post, To Search or Not: That is the question for adoptees/birth mothers.

What's Mother's Day got to do with me this year?  I am neither the daughter of a living mother or the mother of a living daughter, though I have been both. I'm cool, right?

Fool that I am.

Yesterday afternoon I got stomped on somewhat by an angry adoptee over at Facebook for posting a comment on the site You Know You're Adopted When...and that led to a group of adoptees who have read the blog remarking on what they do not like about BirthMother, First Mother Forum....including the name, because if we are first mothers, what does that make their other mothers? And that depressed me because I'm thinking, damn, I picked the name because I thought it would be easy to remember, and because, well, I'm not crazy about the appellation "birth mother," whether one word or two, but I will live with it because it's become part of the nomenclature. Hell, all of us, first/birth/natural/and adoptive: we all prefer just plain old "mother," no qualifiers.

But they do have a right to say, stay away, as there is also a Facebook page started that is You Know You are a First Mother When....It was the accusatory tone of the discourse, except for one of our regular readers who was sweet in her responses and saved my spirits, somewhat. But the incident put a black cloud over my feelings about continuing FirstMotherForum at all, and though you think these things do not bother you, there they are, gnawing at you, and then the Mother's Day !@#$. Ads on television. Ads in the New York Times this morning. Ads on the car radio--Shop at this local pharmacy, and we have a complete line of bath and grooming products for MOTHER'S DAY! Brunch special for MOM this coming Sunday! Et cetera, et cetera et cetera, as Yul Brunner so famously said as the King of Siam. 

No matter who much I've tried to tune out the drumbeat for Mother's Day, apparently I'm not doing so well. This morning I snapped at the clerk at the cable outlet when I picked up a new cable box. I was nice to the technician who gave me a mammogram later that morning, but when she asked if anyone in my immediate family ever had breast cancer, I thought of all those adopted people who can't answer that question, and asked her how that goes. She said it was sad, that they had to be super vigilant about their health, and get a lot of checkups and tests. I told her that it was the legislators' fault that it was that way. Probably I should have added it was the fault of adoptive-parent legislators (at least in New York) such as convicted felon Joe Bruno, long-time open-records opponent Steve Saland, and always nasty adoptive uncle Danny O'Donnell, New York past and present legislators, but I didn't think of that fast enough. (To all adoptive parents reading this, don't go bananas here, I know many of you are for giving adoptees their original birth certificates, and if that's the case, will you please write your legislator in whatever state you are and let him know? Hell, you might as well write President Obama, while you're at it. You spent enough time and money getting your child, spend some time to give him or her the right to know their true and complete identities and be equal to the rest of us.)

And now...now I just am feeling the tears inside me bubbling up and over and out. In the past, since all restaurants are jammed with mothers and daughters and mothers and sons come Mother's Day, I have invited people over for brunch myself. I have one friend whose mother was truly wretched and abusive and is now in a funny farm, and she and her husband are childless, and having them over on Sunday has worked in the past, but I'm thinking I'm just not up to that today. Maybe I will be by tomorrow.

For now, this birth mother says "Mother's Day" feels like hell.--lorraine

PS: And then...the mail arrives and it's a card from my step-son., Evan...and I say to his Dad, the indubitable Tony, I hope it's funny. I slide it out of the envelope and I see a vase with pink hydrangea: not funny. Then I read the greeting: Myslac z mitoscia o Tobie...it's in Polish from my Scottish/English/Welsh American step-son. And neither he or I have any idea what it says....I laugh. The inside message: w Dniu Matki i zawsze. Pozostan w mojej pamiece, i bada szczexliwa przez caty rok. 

And hand written in is Drogi Babci 'Raine, which I know means, Dear Grandma Raine...and it's signed: Fortunny Dzien od matka! Kochajacy...which I will have to have translated, but I know the root koch is love. (I am not doing the Polish justice because some of the letters have extras marks.)

Translation anyone? Maryanne?

Good job, Evan and Karen and Dylan!   Birthmark