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

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Telling a Stranger What It's Like to be a Birth Mother

Education, education, education is the motto today. Do I talk to strangers about adoption reform? We were visited overnight by one of my husband's college roommates and his wife, who is originally from Long Island, where we live. My husband and his friend had not seen each other for decades. We had no idea what to expect--liberals like us? Do we have anything in common? Are they adoptive grandparents? Trust me, I do not bring up adoption with unknowns like this. After lunch my husband took the initiative when I was asked "What are you working on?" He quickly answered: Lorraine is working on something she is not talking about. I turned to him and mouthed, thank you. Okay, it's a conversation killer, and now they are really curious.

But we have avoided, temporarily, the long discussion about adoption. I personally can not think of another topic that would invariably lead to what is so likely a personal and possibly passionate discussion, except maybe if I were having a sex change operation and writing about that. After nearly 30 years of marriage. To a man.

By dinnertime, when it was clear all was copacetic, and they had talked about their own children and their own ups and downs (no grandchildren, they would like some, neither of their grown children is complying), I took the initiative and fessed up. What became clear over the next twelve hours is how the woman saw me as possibly--maybe probably--unusual in how I had so negatively reacted to having relinquished a child. She did know of a sister of a college friend who "got in trouble" back in the Sixties, but that was the closest connection she had to a birth mother. This is an intelligent women with a PhD whose husband is a retired professor, who have lots of friends in various parts of the country. This is a woman I would be friends with if she did not live a thousand miles away. This is someone I will be glad to see again.

But because she had never met a birth mother who talked freely about what it was like to relinquish a child, she asked, in different ways and a couple of times: 
  • Was I the only woman who gave up a child and "felt like this?" 
  • If my daughter's relationship with her parents had been better--ie, if she had been totally accepted and happy in her family, better adjusted--would it have been easier on me?
  • Might then I have accepted what happened and not been so...hmmm, what to say here..."upset" about having relinquished her? 
  • How did I think the depression after adoption compared with what I might have felt after an abortion? 
  • How had relinquishing my daughter affected my life?
  • But I saw this couple once and they were going to adopt and they were so happy....
  • And there are other women who feel the same way? You're not...unusual? 
Understand, she was not being negative or condemning, she was simply curious, and she did not confront or deny my feelings. She was obviously somewhat surprised, because I was refuting commonly held beliefs about women who give up their children for adoption, ie, that while they are probably sorrowful for a while, they go on and "make new lives" for themselves, the child put away like a vintage hat at the top of the closet of their memory.

I said in no uncertain terms, my life had been irreparably damaged ("fucked up" is what I actually said) after I gave up my child; that some people have compared what happens to us to post-traumatic stress disorder (and let's not go into that discussion all over again, please), that my life was never the same, that buckets of tears over the years followed this decision, that I never forgot and that giving up a child is a continuing source of sorrow, it is not like burying a child (which as some of you know, I have also done), and I explained why. The sorrow is great, but there is an ending to it; adoption grief continues like a song fragment in your mind that plays over and over again.

I explained about sealed records--how they are sealed not upon relinquishment but upon adoption, so there is no pretense of doing this for the "protection and anonymity" of the first/birth mother; about how getting this message across to legislators is like climbing Mount Everest without a sherpa or extra oxygen; about how adoption today has become a cold business and no, it is not the Catholic Church or the abortion foes who are the greatest enemy of ending adoption, but the adoption industry itself; about how the pressure for "product" (that is, infants) for the agencies has produced all kinds of corruption, kidnapping and murder in counties such as India and Guatemala; that despite how happy adoption makes childless couples adoption is not made to make childless people happy, but to give homes to children who need them. If I'd had the UN quote at my lips I would have added that:  

“Regrettably, in many cases, the emphasis has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home, to that of providing a needy parent with a child. As a result, a whole industry has grown, generating millions of dollars of revenues each year . . .” United Nations, Commission on Human Rights, 2003.

When they were leaving in the morning, she talked about getting together her outfit for her high school reunion that night, and showed me one of the choices; I told her about the nightmare of finding something to wear as the "birth mother" to my daughter's wedding. It was a nice moment.

And I couldn't help think, after they left, how much educating we mothers must do. I was reminded of Jane's blog recently about trying to convince a relative to not encourage her daughter to give up a child, and how the woman Jane spoke to seemed convinced that Jane was unusual and the only one who felt that way. I don't know how simply talking to my new acquaintance over part of the evening and again at breakfast will change the course of adoption reform in this country. Or how much the demonstration in Louisville on Sunday at the summit meeting of state legislators accomplished. Or if the the many many blogs about the pain of adoption from the viewpoints of the adopted themselves, and their birth/first mothers reach the right eyes.

But they are something, and they do add up. We are no longer silent. Every single person you educate about adoption today is one more than yesterday. Call it climbing a mountain. You do it one step at a time. So the next time the opportunity comes up, don't let it pass by unacknowledged, don't let the person walk away uninformed. --lorraine
"Mother & Child" has finally come to eastern Long Island, and I'm planning to see it soon, if not tonight. (The link will take you to Jane's review.) I did catch "The Kids Are All Right," (about kids contacting their sperm-donor dad) and will write about that in a day or two. And by the way, Birth Mother/First Mother Forum is now available on Kindle. How about that?

Yep, that's my memoir there. If you are going to order it, please do so through FirstMotherForum. I am trying to find a way to run ads other than those from amazon.com here, but every time I try, ads for adoption agencies appear along with the search firms. I can handle the search firms, but NOT ADS soliciting product for their businesses.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Beyond Reunions: The Symbolic Nature of the Original Birth Certificate

I loved looking at the photo static copy of my Illinois birth certificate my mother gave me as a teenager so that I could apply for a drivers’ license. I used it to get my social security card and my first passport. When it fell apart, I ordered a new one. My birth certificate – my only birth certificate since I’m not adopted -- represents me as no other document can. It makes me special in the same way that hearing what happened on the day I was born does.

The original birth certificate has even greater significance for adopted persons. Like many adoptees, my surrendered daughter Megan sought her original birth certificate after our reunion. She wrote a letter to the Chicago Tribune, supporting open records:
“Before I found my birth parents, I spent a lot of time scrutinizing my birth certificate, trying to make sense of it, trying to find my birth parents names listed somewhere between the lines. The certificate contained other facts about my birth, yet it left off the most important fact. I could not make sense of it. I want my original birth certificate because I want the complete truth, in writing, of who I am. I will still use the amended one for legal purposes, but getting the original one would give me great satisfaction.”
The National Council for Adoption (NCFA) and others opposing legislation allowing adoptees access to their OBCs understand the symbolic nature of the original birth certificate. (NCFA is an industry group whose members include LDS Family Services, Edna Gladney agencies, some Catholic Charities agencies, Bethany Christian Services, and others.) NCFA pronouncements about birthmother privacy, reductions in adoption, and increases in abortions obscure the real reason it opposes adoptee access. In actuality, the OBC has little to do with reunions. By the time an adoptee is old enough to obtain his OBC, his mother likely has married and changed her name; the address on the certificate may well be a shuttered maternity home, far from where his mother’s actual home was. With the internet, private investigators, and search groups, mothers and children have been reuniting since the 1980’s like nobody’s business (which it is). In fact, NCFA does not oppose mutually-agreed upon reunions or open adoptions.

The truth is that the NCFA fears the OBC itself. The OBC is irrefutable proof that the adoptive parents are not THE ONLY PARENTS and that by seeking his OBC, an adoptee knows it. Here’s what William Pierce, then NCFA President wrote in his 1999 affidavit urging the Oregon courts to overturn Ballot Measure 58, which allowed adult adoptees unrestricted access to their OBCs:
“One of the policy reasons for the decision to amend birth certificates and seal adoption records is to send a clear message to all concerned that the child now belongs in the adoptive family for all intents and purposes. All public records, therefore, link the adopted child with the adoptive family. Opening adoption records on demand or allowing access to original birth certificates creates the perception that the relationship between the biological family and the adopted person is still intact.”
But all that we know about surrender and adoption informs us that the link is never really broken, no matter how the state tries to paper over that reality.

A recently released update of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute’s 2007 report on adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates, For the Records II, sets forth how OBCs came to be sealed, countering the bogus claims for keeping them sealed and presenting well-researched and convincing arguments for unsealing them. The report recommends:

• Every state restore unrestricted access to original birth certificates for all adult adoptees, retroactively and prospectively.
• State laws that provide access to original birth certificates to a limited number of adult adoptees should be amended to enable them all to obtain these documents and thereby be treated equally.
• No agency, attorney, social worker or other adoption professional should promise birthparents that their identities will remain concealed from their children.
• A national adoption registry should be implemented to enable all adopted persons and their birthparents, no matter where they reside, to participate.
• Confidential intermediary services should be available throughout the states, even after original birth certificates access is restored.

We at FMF applaud the first three recommendations but disagree with the last two. A national adoption registry already exists, the non-profit International Soundex Reunion Registry.

As the report itself notes, CI’s are ineffective because they “are not well-publicized, dependent on the program’s resources, and make only one attempt at contact.” We would add that CI’s may actually obstruct reunions because they can frighten the other party, resulting in a “no contact” response. CI’s are also expensive, costing several hundred dollars to the adoptee. The report suggests public funding -- unlikely -- or making them available at a very reasonable cost -- also unlikely. The best way is for the adoptee to screw up his courage and make contact himself.

We at FMF are encouraged by the media attention that For the Record II has generated and by the Adoptee Rights Demonstration in Louisville, Kentucky this past Sunday. While progress is slow, states are beginning to crack open their records. The process is not pretty but ultimately, adoptee access may be the norm.

Meanwhile, technology is creating another group of people who are denied their right to know their genetic origins. The original and only birth certificate for children born via purchased eggs, artificial insemination, and surrogacy is in actuality a certificate of title, containing the names of the child’s legal parents rather than their real (biological, natural, whatever you want) parents. The truth about these children’s origins is locked in a fertility lab somewhere and prying it out may be more difficult than restoring adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates.

Images from Bastard Fest in Louisville

The pictures say all. From the adoptee rights demonstration yesterday in Louisville at the national conference of state legislatures, taken by Laura Barnes-Marsden. Approximately 70 people took part.
  Not-just-a-birth-mother Claudia above, who writes a great blog, Musings of the Lame, and organizer adoptee and activist Jeff Hancock below. Bravo!

Laura Barnes-Marsden, who took the photos (except the one of her, that was shot by Liz Watson Fort)...these are cribbed from her Facebook page and I hope she doesn't mind because I can't reach her as she is driving home today. If you missed yesterday's  post about the inevitable curiosity about one's true heritage, here's the link:

What's in a Name? A Great Deal to an Adoptee 


Sunday, July 25, 2010

What's in a Name? A Great Deal to an Adoptee

Today is the day of the demonstration for Adoptee Rights in Louisville, KY where the annual summit meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures is being held. When last checked, adoptee activist Jeff Hancock, the organizer of this year's event, had 791 signatures (including moi) to be linked as symbolic of those who are there in spirit. This was a Facebook gathering, but only 791? Where is the angry mob, demanding their rights? The ones who want their original, unamended, non fake birth certificates? Until they come out of the woodwork, efforts to repeal the archaic and unjust legislation that stripped them of their birth right upon adoption--their one true identity--will be stymied.

In that vein, I came across this passage this morning from Robert J. Lifton, author, psychiatrist, thinker, and husband of Betty Jean Lifton:
 "The origin of the secrecy is the specter of illegitimacy in the background. Instead of confronting these issues openly, there is the pretense that they don't exist and the whole subject becomes pervaded with guilt in a way that harms that relationship between the adopted child and his or her psychological parents. Every adopted person I have spoken to has confirmed that process....

"A name is an enormously important element of identity over the generations and over the course of one's individual life. Moreover, by learning the name, by learning about the person--one's mother and father--he or she becomes an actual vibrant human being rather than fragmented bits of information. Such bits and pieces, ethnic or social characteristics, medial background, only become further stimulants to curiosity.

"From my own experience with adopted people from from the literature, it apparently seems as though every single aodpted person has some significant curiosity about this. Some are blocked from further effort by that layer of guilt; others make no effort. But the desire to find out is probably universal."--from Birthmark.
Yes, it's my memoir, published in 1979. I was leafing through it this morning and came across Lifton's testimony included in a chapter about a 1974 trial in which both he and I testified in the Bronx. It was my first public admission of being a woman who had relinquished a child to be adopted. I don't recall that the term "birth mother" was in use yet. I do remember being a somewhat terrified and nervous (I'm about to admit in public I gave away my child!!!), but determined. The judge was kind. I found my voice.

It was the case of Ann Smith versus Spence-Chapin Adoption Services; she wanted to look at her case file. The judge denied her claim, but noted that anyway, that the file it did not contain the names of her natural parents. Unless Ann Smith was dropped off without any identifying information, her original birth certificate would have given her what she sought. I'm thinking about all this because Jane has a good post in the works about what the original birth certificate signifies, and why it's been so hard to unlock them from the damn vaults where they are hidden away from the eyes of the people to whom they rightfully belong.--lorraine
PS: If you are going to order any of the books advertised here, please order by linking through from the blog.

Friday, July 23, 2010

When Birthdays Are the Saddest Days of the Year....

Birthdays. God, they can sting. Not just because I'm not in my youth. My daughter, even though I found her when she was fifteen, maybe remembered two or three--or am I just imagining that because I want to, maybe she remembered none? because I can not point to a single birthday present or card that indicates she remembered in the 26 years we knew each other. And how do you tell a child, whom you relinquished to be adopted, that you wish she would remember your birthday? That's over-reaching, that's too much to ask for. You gave her up, remember? Be glad for small favors, I would tell myself. Be glad you know her.

But from the other side of the coin, I just read a sad post on a blog, Real Daughter, that made me real sad. Her first mother's birthday was last week, July 22, the same day, I noticed, as an old boyfriend, and Real Daughter is constrained from getting in touch. Claire/Linda wrote:
"Right now I'm just sad. I want to call her and tell her Happy Birthday, but I can't. I am, in a sense, damned if I do, and damned if I don't. If I do, it could be perceived as harassment. She told me she would never speak to me again if I told my siblings about me. If I don't, maybe she thinks I am a cold hearted bitch."
And when I wrote in an previous blog that something had led me to understand better mothers who are unable to tell their families about their (usually) first child, Mark asked me to write more. And yesterday a reporter asked me how I managed not to even tell my family when I was pregnant. (I lived in another state, I was 22, that's how.) But I tried to explain the deep and unabiding sense of shame that I felt over being pregnant back then when a "single mother" was not a phrase anyone said. People just raised their eyebrows and look askance.

When I was pregnant I thought about killing myself. I hoped I would miscarry. I jumped up and down in an effort to do so. I had tried to get an abortion. When my parents phoned, I pretended I was still at my job, rather than hiding out for months in my apartment, lest I run into the few people in Rochester I knew. I endured. She was born. I relinquished her. I surrendered my daughter to adoption. I gave her up, feeling as if I were in a drowning sea. A life shot through with the grief of a first mother began. But today I have two wonderful granddaughters, each special and different in their special and different ways.

I can not forget the shame of the time when my daughter was born in 1966. Only my desire to take an active part in reform propelled me to claim my place as a birth/first mother, and thus, my family had to be told. I was scared. I was embarrassed. It was hard. But I moved forward. I am not saying this as a matter of pride, but just as fact. I took my mother to lunch, she ordered a gin and tonic, I ordered my tonic with vodka. Before the first course arrived, I said: I have something important to tell you...and I kept on going. She was great; her greatest sorrow was that I was not able to tell her out of shame at the time, that I had been alone. I can still see her face today as I sit here, tears freely slowing down my cheeks now, for she has been dead for a decade. Over that weekend, I had to repeat this scenario twice more, telling each of my brothers, who I did not see at the same time. It was hard every time, but less hard once I got it out the first time and told my mother. My father was deceased by then; he never knew my daughter had been born. 

Our sister-in-arms here, Jane had to tell her grown daughters, which she has written about before. It's never easy to be open about surrendering a child.

To all the first/birth/natural mothers who come upon this post and have not told their larger families, their other children, about their siblings who have been adopted by others, let me help you find the way. Your husband and children most likely love you, and once they get over the shock of hearing about this secret, they will still love you and accept you. They might be hurt that you felt you had to keep this secret, but most have the capacity to understand how and why you had to. Most people will offer sympathy and love and hugs. (Bring out the hankies!) And you will give your adopted son or daughter the greatest gift, the gift of acceptance, the gift of not having to be a secret anymore. Some of the saddest comments and posts I read here are from adoptees whose first/birth mothers will not meet them (see above), or meet them, but only in secret.

You could not keep your child when they were born. You can never make up for that. But you can bring them fully into the sunshine of your life today. You can give them that one gift. It's a start.--lorraine

Monday, July 19, 2010

Are Open Adoptions a Boon for Birth Mothers or a Scam?

Open adoption. The panacea that women who relinquish their children today can look forward to. And most private adoptions are open, I heard on NPR some time ago. So that sounds good right? I advocated for birth mothers knowing the prospective adopting family in Birthmark way back in 1979, when open adoptions were unheard of. Could not understand then why women who felt they have to give up their children could not pick and choose among prospective parents.

Well, today you can choose everywhere. Go to just about any adoption site and you find pictures of happy couples who hike and ski and are just the "perfect" parents for your child. You are young and vulnerable, without resources, can not possibly provide what a child needs; prospective adoptive parents are in their thirties and forties and fifties and are financially stable and possibly well off. They will give your child the horseback riding lessons you can only dream out.

 See...I want to Know how My Child is Doing...sent to me by Vanessa.

Those prospective adopters (calm down everyone, I'm just using this here and do not many any disrespect, no one is an adoptive parent yet, when the mother is choosing) can learn how to be appealing to women considering relinquishing through coaching by their adoption counselor at the agency, as well as through books on how to adopt. One such noxious book is Fast Track Adoption, which is basically a guide about how to game the system to get a kid from her mother. It has been reported that after this book came out and the birth mother of the author's child realized she had been swindled, she committed suicide.

But do open adoptions work?  A few Sundays ago, the Modern Love section of the New York Times--wait it was of course on Mother's Day!--ran a piece by Amy Seek called Open Adoption: Not So Simple Math that detailed the difficulties and pain involved in an open adoption. But what we hear less about in the media are the open adoptions that get slammed shut and the mothers simply ignored. On Facebook the other day someone wrote that 80 percent of "open" adoptions are eventually closed. We know that adoption statistics are incredibly hard to come by. We had several posts in April, 2010 about how adoptive parents did not want to or would not answer the question if their children were biological or adopted on the last Census form. So I wondered where did that figure come from? The woman responded that a friend, a birth/first mother, phoned Bethany Christian Services to find out why her open adoption had become "closed." The woman on the phone inadvertently said that 80 percent of all open adoptions they handle ended up closed. Eighty percent. The woman followed it up by saying that the agency had no idea why adoptive parents do this... Incidentally, Bethany bills itself as the largest adoption agency in the world, and they are "Christian" from the get go, and so supposedly the adoptive parents they have are honest, good people who will honor their promises...yeah, right. 

I personally know no adoptive parents in a supposedly open adoption. My acquaintances adopted overseas (China, 3; Guatemala, 2; and now, Nepal, 1, and one domestic, have no idea what that arrangement was) because it was easier, or because they wanted no connection with the birth mother. One of my friends, an editor at a major consumer magazine, said that another editor, a man, refuses to do any television spots for the magazine because, she told me, he said that he is an adoptive parent "and the birth mother might recognize me and then know how to find us." So much for that open adoption. Had to be an open adoption because...otherwise the birth mother would not have ever met him or seen his picture?

How else to shut "open" adoptions? In order to make it difficult for birth mothers to visit, adopters often choose mothers who are from some distance. If you live on one coast, the advice is, choose a mother and her baby from another coast, and since she's the one who's going to be paying for the visit...it just makes sense that a long distance and an expensive ticket is going to reduce the opportunity for visits with your/her child. 

I've also heard that some adoptive parents say that they would welcome a greater involvement of the birth mother in their child's life, but the birth mother does not follow through. I understand how frustrating that must be to those who do welcome the birth mother. But I'm thinking how hard it must be, as a birth mother myself, to visit your son or daughter and know that that's all there is. To know that at the end of the day, you are going to walk away and leave your child with the people he calls Mommy and Daddy. I can see that it would be heartbreaking. Damn, I felt let down and very blue when my natural granddaughter, who was adopted, had to leave after a successful week of getting to know her. I know what it was like after my daughter left after living with us for whole summers when she was in her teens. And that would be very different from seeing a toddler or young child; it has to be both better (because you know where the child is) and harder (because that's all there is).

The other thing I've heard about open adoptions is this: That the contract spells out, say three visits a year, with photos in between, or something like that, and includes the promise of more contact if the two parties agree. Well, the adopters are so interested in you and your child that of course you are getting along like a house afire, you see how happy you are making them with the promise of your child, you imagine the felicity will continue after you've given them your baby, but then, surprise! They do not want to be your new best friend; they see your mandated visits as intrusions and have no intention of fostering a deeper more frequent connection...so one day three or four years down the road your head is not in a fog anymore and you end up feeling duped into having given your child away. Because you've been had. More visits? Who are you kidding?

We posted a blog before by a birth mother who had this experience, and for anyone reading this who is considering an open adoption, please read: An Un-Open Adoption: Adoptive Parents Lie and Break a Mother's Heart. 

Since I started posting this blog today, I found a Legal Services site called Just.Answer and for $15 it said I could have an attorney research my question about open adoption. Are open adoption contracts enforceable?  I asked. The answer:
"A so called "ongoing contact agreement" is not really enforceable in any State in the U.S. Once your parental rights are terminated, the adoptive parents can decide who the child is allowed to have contact with. This means they can just ignore the contract.

"The bottom line is that it is not legally binding. It is an agreement between the parties, but it does not carry the weight of law."
The Adoption TriangleSo there you have it. Open adoptions are to a large degree a scam. The publicity they receive as being the answer to today's young birth mothers is largely just that, publicity. Relinquishing your child is a lifelong source of sorrow, no matter how it might seem to be the answer for the moment. I am not saying that in some cases adoption, or a permanent guardianship, such as the late Annette Baran proposed, is not the answer. In some cases it is the only answer. I'm just saying that birth mothers never get over it--even the ones who deny meeting their grown children who come searching later on. Annette was one of the co-authors of The Adoption Triangle, a ground-breaking work, one of the very earliest to open up the secrecy of early adoptions. The subtitle is: Sealed or Opened Records: How they affect adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents.

If are are a woman considering adoption, a good source to read is from the CUB website  "What you should know if you're considering adoption for your baby by Heather Lowe, a birth mother who surrendered around 2000.  http://www.cubirthparents.org

Added on Tuesday, July 20: Jane posted the following as a comment but it is too important to leave there and so is being included in the main post:
Blogger Jane Edwards said...
A few states, including my home state of Oregon, do allow open adoption, or as they are called "continuing contact," agreements to be enforced.

However, failure to comply with the agreement does not nullify the adoption. And there are many traps along the way.

The mother may be told by the agency that the agreement contains provisions (visits until the child is 18, for example) where the agreement says otherwise. The mother doesn't or can't read the agreement carefully. (Think used car warranty.)

The agreement may require that all contacts -- to set up visits, to exchange pictures and gifts, and so on go through the agency, turning the mother into a supplicant.

If the adoptive parents refuse contact, the mother must go to mediation before going to court. The adoption agency likely does the mediation and may sway the sessions towards the adoptive parents, trying to convince the mother to back off.

If the adoptive parents refuse mediation or refuse to allow contact after mediation, the mother has to hire an attorney to to petition a judge to enforce the agreement. She likely cannot afford an attorney. She is also faced with the reality that the adoptive parents may try to smear her in court. This of course will be harmful to the child.

The adoptive parents may move away and leave no forwarding address. Even if the mother knows where they are, she may not have the funds to travel across country. She may send gifts and cards but the adoptive parents may not give them to the child.

The adoptive parents may say negative things about his mother causing the child to reject her. (Think parents in a messy divorce.) The adoptive parents use the child's reluctance to see his mother an an excuse to cut her off.

Alternatively, the child may yearn for his mother so much that he is angry when she leaves and throws temper tantrums. This also gives the adoptive parents an excuse to cut her off.

I urge those working to reform adoption laws to go beyond the question of enforceability. To say simply "the problem with open adoption is that it is not enforceable" allows the listener to assume that if open adoption agreements are enforceable, the problems inherent in adoption would be solved.

It reminds me of the argument against capital punishment --
that an innocent person might get executed. States respond by adding procedural safeguards rather than abolishing capital punishment.

In other words, using a procedural argument leads to a procedural answer and avoids the essential question -- is this the right solution in the first place? I urge those in adoption reform to focus on eliminating unnecessary adoptions through assuring mothers have adequate information and sufficient time to decide.

If you haven't looked at the comments at the previous blog, you may want to go back and read Mary Anne Cohen's poem about adoption pioneer, Annette Baran. She is one of the coauthors of that breakthrough work, The Adoption Triangle.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Meeting my "Adopted" granddaughter

The week visit with my "other" granddaughter, the one who was adopted, was loaded in so many ways--emotional, wonderful and difficult. I'm somewhat stunned inside trying to figure out what to say here because just as she is processing all this "new" family connection, I am processing how she reacted to me. And Tony. No, mostly to me. He's safe, he's not related to her biologically. He's an understanding old soul, he is. (He is sometimes maddening, also, but that comes with being married nearly 30 years, and that's another story.)

Meeting Lisa at the airport on Saturday night was not the same as meeting the daughter I had in 1966 and gave up for adoption, but it was a jolt nonetheless. Now I'm meeting the daughter my daughter gave up for adoption. I hate explaining that over and over again, even to good friends, because it makes me feel like such a failure. A double failure. Not only did I give up a daughter, my finding her could not prevent the same thing happening into the next generation. When Lisa said at some point that she is unlikely to have children, I added, Just don't adopt. She said, Yeah, I think it's time to end that in this family. Or maybe she didn't use that word, but we understood what she meant. Great, I said, relief washing into me. It won't be three generations of birth mothers, only two.

The week reminded me how truly much I hate all things adoption. Oh, wait, it has its good part, some children truly do need families. And it turned out Lisa was one of them. She was not handed over to a childless couple who greedily wanted a baby, anyone's baby. They had two daughters, and took in a toddler who needed a home:

Where did you grow up, asked Roger, a friend of ours on Sunday.

From a year-and-a-half to eighteen, a small town near Madison, Wisconsin, she responded evenly, behind her stylish shades.

A year-and-a-half? I asked, thinking: What's this a year-and-a-half business? Where were you before that? I ask, in front of everyone.

I was raised by some nuns until then, she responded.

We are on a nice sunny deck overlooking a pond, with good friends, and I learn, behind sunglasses now hiding the extra juice in my eyes, that for a year-and-a-half Lisa was in some sort of home, that she was not adopted, as Jane, her (birth/first) mother, led me to believe. I'd learned months ago that she was not adopted by the African American doctor/father, and the white lawyer/mother (too good to be true, I thought, but I had no recourse to learn otherwise) as Jane had told me--shook their hands, she insisted, when I pressed for details.

So was this a clear cut case of someone who needed to be adopted? Might she have grown up in a home unless her family decided to adopt, after taking in several foster children? Yes and yes.

Throughout the week, I kept going back to it. We are all products of what happened to us, and this is definitely something that happened to me--this awful revelation. I have always tried to be understanding and aware that not every adoption is a bad thing. Well, closed adoptions are, and hers was. But my daughter, I hate to say, wanted it that way. She wanted a closed adoption. She did not want the responsibility of an open adoption. So on a sunny Sunday morning, I learn my granddaughter was in some sort of "home"--to call it an orphanage doesn't seem right, I don't think there were any or a lot of other children there--until she was adopted. At a year and a half. My god, a year and a half. How could that have been good? It could not have. This knowledge will definitely change--if only a little, but a change is there--in my attitude towards adoption, and adoptive parents. I know enough not to call Lisa "lucky."

All seemed to be going well the first couple of days, but truth is, I did not know what to ask, though I wanted to know more about her life. I did not know what she wanted to share, I did not want to pry like the journalist I am--now I was simply a grandmother, but I do write, and I write about all this--I simply wanted to be here for her. So we talked about her current life. Her gigs with a jazz quartet (Lulu's Playground) in Minneapolis, where she does spoken word as part of the set. Her unsettled love life. She is, after all, 24, strong and beautiful, of mixed race, all of which complicates one's love life, particularly in the quite white Midwest.

She is close to her (adoptive) family, her family, her mom and dad are being totally understanding and accepting about her curiosity about this part of her life. Of which they knew nothing. They did not know about the epilepsy, which is not inherited.

We kept busy, my friends were too curious, perhaps, perhaps I should have kept them away more, but the issue was that some of them are doing the very things that Lisa is interested in: writing. Writing and publishing poetry. Living the artist's life, the one she is choosing. Does she meet them, does she not? It seemed that it would be good if she did. Yet, I was aware that it was a lot, a lot of new people, whether or not they were in the world she is entering. I wanted her to know my life, our life, I wanted her to feel welcome in it, particularly since it coincided with her aims and aspirations. I wanted her to know who she came from, genetically and culturally. That involved my friends. My family is back in Michigan so she did not meet my brothers and their kids.

By midweek her walls went up. She closed down all the while saying "I'm good." We kept busy, I tried to find things to do here that I thought she would like, she was gracious, she was lovely and accommodating, but the walls were there at least for now, yet I don't mean to overstate, or imply anything other than to state the facts. She was kind, not mean; she needed space, but I could not help be the one she was moving away from, because I was that person. The week was long. Perhaps we did not have enough time in Manhattan, going to this and that, the Met and a Broadway play, the Village Vanguard and Soho, but the walls would have gone up anyway. We could not just ignore one another, this is a small house, time had to be filled. We found ways to separate for a few hours during the days, but still, the week was long. She's written it was like a perpetual first date, and I suppose it was, more for her than me, because I was in the comfort zone of my own home, in my own town, surrounded by my husband and friends.

I knew that she was processing everything and that it had to be hard, but no matter how I talked to myself, no matter how understanding Tony was, no matter how she had to pull back to protect herself, I could not help but take it personally, no matter that Tony and logic told me otherwise. Maybe she didn't like me. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe....On my bulletin board is a little slip of paper--it looks like it was cut out of Parade magazine a zillion years ago, it's aged and now tan in color, and has 15 or so holes in it from being taken down and put back up again with a push pin. It says:
"Women are repeatedly accused to taking things personally. I cannot see any other honest way of taking them."--Marya Mannes from A Woman's Notebook.
I ended up with fresh hate for what adoption does to everyone involved, save, adoptive parents such as hers because they seem to have done it all right. I hate everything about it from the perspective of someone who was a young woman in 1966 (that would be me) and felt she had no resources and gave up her daughter for adoption. So began a generational heritage of adoption that beget another adoption. How common is this? More, I suspect, than anyone dreams of in this world.

But she is in my life now, and I am in hers. This is our beginning, our bumpy, difficult, emotional beginning. Time to absorb it, let it wash into me. Time to go to the beach and have the little amount of rum in my tonic that my stomach allows these days, time to mix that with my tears.--lorraine

I have to finish the rewrite of my memoir, and I will be posting less. I plan to post once a week for a while, unless I absolutely positively find something I have to post. The sad news today is that adoption pioneer Annette Baran, social worker and co-author of The Adoption Triangle, died. She was a great lady and I am honored to have known her. The Adoption Triangle is, I believe, the first book from the perspective of social workers and a psychiatrist to advocate the end of closed adoptions and open records for all adoptees. If you haven't read it, now is the time. Annette will be truly missed.

For videos of Annette see: http://www.musingsofthelame.com/2010/07/truth-of-annette-baran.html

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wanted: Birthmothers to Say a Few Words

maryanne’s comment on our recent post O Lord how long must birth mothers be punished about the need to tell our stories through books and postings on Origins-USA reminded of an anecdote about Abraham Lincoln. When he met Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Lincoln said “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

It is axiomatic in the world of charitable fund raising – tell potential donors about a million children starving and their eyes glaze over. Show them a picture of one child with a distended stomach and they rush to open their wallets.

We need a picture of birthmothers that is so bold, so true, that it cannot be ignored. In addition to books and Origins posts, perhaps someone could create an internet Pain Poster where birthmothers can describe their experience in a few words. More about that later.


At our tri-annual Family Reunion in 2002, my niece Janice approached me. Her fifteen year old daughter Beth was pregnant. Would I tell Beth about the benefits of placing her child for adoption?

“No”, I said. “Adoption is pain, grief for both mother and child.” Taken aback, Janice countered “You’re the only person I’ve ever heard say that. I know several women who have given up a child. None of them ever said it was painful. You’ve done fine. You’re married, have other children, a good career. How can you say you’ve suffered?”

I talked with Beth the next day. She was troubled, confused. She wanted it all to go away but she did not want an abortion. She could not comprehend that giving up the baby “did not make it all go away.”

To my sorrow Megan, my surrendered daughter, joined the pro-adoption chorus, telling Janice and Beth that she was raised in the family in which she belonged. (This, I suspect, was her Mormon faith kicking in; Megan believed her adoption had been God’s plan.) I note the irony of Janice and Megan conspiring at a family reunion to exile the newest family member.

When I returned home, I sent Janice a VHS tape of the film made from Carol Schafer’s The Other Mother. Proof, I thought, that losing a child to adoption was painful.

The Other Mother : A True StoryJanice called me: “Okay so it’s not just you; there is one other birthmother who found giving up her child painful.

Janice and I talked back and forth over the next several months. (She would not allow me to contact Beth.) Janice repeated over and over, Beth doesn’t want to be a mother. If she keeps her baby, her life will be hard. If she gives up the baby, she will go on to great things.

I repeated over and over. “Beth will be a mother whether she keeps her baby or not. The sorrow of losing a baby to adoption lasts a lifetime. Many single mothers do fine. If I had kept Megan, my life would have been immeasurably better.

I need to point out that Janice had the resources to help Beth. Janice did not work outside the home. Her second husband, Beth’s step father, was a successful professional. He did not oppose Beth bringing the baby home. Other family members offered to help.

My arguments went nowhere so I changed course. “If Beth gives up her baby, make sure it’s an open adoption.”

“No way” responded Janice. “Beth needs a clean break. The adoption must be closed. Beth can start over as though it never happened.”

Beth gave up her son in January, 2003. She has not seen him.

I did not go to the 2005 Family Reunion because I was so angry with Janice.

Since I was responsible for putting on the 2008 reunion, I could not avoid attending. My anger had turned to disgust which made seeing Janice tolerable. I managed to spend a few minutes alone with Beth. She looked down, never making eye contact. I gave her my card and asked to call me when she got home. She has not done so.

On a happier note, another niece became pregnant a few years later. Recently separated from her husband and having little money, she considered adoption. Recalling my words over the years, she decided to keep her daughter and, of course, has never regretted it.

Those of us who have lived with adoption loss for many years may find it hard to believe that anyone would doubt that losing a baby was painful. Yet, I think Janice spoke truthfully when she said she had never heard that.

There are hundreds of thousands of birthmothers in the US. If just a fraction of these women, perhaps, 10,000, posted just a few words on a wall of remembrance website, Americans would learn the truth. More women would keep their babies. And perhaps, just perhaps, Linda’s sister Judasina, Lorraine’s neighbor Yvonne, and my niece Janice might finally get it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

O Lord, how long must birth mothers be punished?

"Unwed mothers should be punished and they should be punished by taking their children away." - Dr. Marion Hilliard of Women's College Hospital, Daily Telegraph, (Toronto, November 1956)
We have been getting some extraordinary comments from a Canadian who calls her self Cat, jammed packed information of late, including the quote above (see previous blogs). Apparently the history of the Women's College Hospital, according to Cat, is doing its best to wipe clean its slate from the dark ages of unwedness that most first/birth mothers found themselves during not only the conservative Fifties but also the supposedly Swinging Sixties. If there was a slight a shift in attitude ten years later, I sure as hell did not feel it when I got pregnant in 1965 in Rochester, New York. And neither did Jane, who was living in Alaska when she became pregnant. Jane fled Alaska and spent her "confinement" in San Francisco, a city where she knew no one. Both of our children were born in 1966, the year of the Fire Horse in Chinese astrology. Not a good thing, apparently. But that's another story.

While being a single mom today carries no shame--well, maybe in high school it still does, the pregnant girl is Glee is less than thrilled, is she not?--sometimes I wonder how it's possible to make our children understand what it was like back then, how we hid our pregnancies, how our parents totally freaked out--and some of them threw us out--how terrible a thing it was that we had sex and "got caught."  I remember lying to the doctor when I hoped to get a script for The Pill. I was 22, incredibly nervous in admitting that I was Having Sex Outside of Marriage. (HSOM!) Today, it's unusual for someone not to be having sex by the time they are 22.

I know that so many reunions flounder for lots of reasons, but it seems that at least some of them do so because our children can not really forgive their birth mothers--even though they may be unconscious of their deep-rooted feelings of abandonment, anger and animosity towards us. And they can not imagine the cultural attitudes back then that propelled us towards adoption as the solution for our "problem." That's why is it important to keep the records of the past.

While my own daughter, Jane, she said she understood why she was relinquished for adoption, that she accepted it was different back then, it did not prevent here for closing me out whenever she felt like it. We would have long periods of cheerful ease in our relationship, then suddenly, BAM! out of nowhere she would shut down and walk away--for months, for nearly a year. Yet her adoptive mother could say the ugliest things to her but Jane always went back for more, forgave her quickly. Yet with me, over a small irritation that I expressed--she changed her phone number, would not answer my emails. It's a story that I'm all too familiar with.

I am thinking of this a great deal right now because Linda, who has blogged here but not of late, will be attending a family wedding this weekend, and her surrendered daughter is likely to attend. But they are barely speaking to one another. Or not at all. Mind you, the daughter found Linda and all was well for a short time, but....

                                                                                                     photo by ken robbins

So Linda has been on my mind, even as I get ready to meet my "adopted" granddaughter, relinquished granddaughter, Lisa, tomorrow night, 10 p.m. at the Islip airport. I wish there were some way to fix things for Linda, that her daughter would be glad to see her and relate to her as a daughter and a friend, not someone to be ignored or barely acknowledged. I wish the rest of her family--especially her sister--could understand that this is not a mere simple issue that she can "get over," the way one gets over a love affair; I wish that sister could truly understand that the daughter's rejection of Linda--her birth mother, her mother, her real mother who will always be her real mother--cuts to her very core, and that nothing that has happened between them deserves this kind of rejection. I wish her family could grasp how cruel and unusual it is for them to carry on with Linda's daughter--display photographs of Linda's two grandchildren, visit her at her home, become "friends"--while Linda's daughter ostracizes her. But that sister doesn't get it.

We call her Judasina.

I can't fix this. I can't rewire the daughter's brain, or the wounds she carries because she was given up for adoption, just as I could not do anything to make my daughter come back to me until she was ready. She had to come back on her own schedule. What does this all mean? I don't know. I'm just rambling here today, worried about Linda at that wedding. Tomorrow will be another day; the pain will recede somewhat, but inside we carry it with us, hoping for a brighter tomorrow. Life is a river that keeps on flowing.--lorraine
The book above is a collection of essays by adoptees, birth mothers and adoptive mothers, including one of my essays. I see that you can buy a copy for basically the cost of shipping. If you are interested in any of the books shown here, please link on to it from this First Mother Forum, as that is how we are trying to keep the blog going. I've tried to take regular ads, but ads for adoption agencies pop up immediately. So the Amazon ads pay less but I can control the content. And some of the buys on the ad that changes are pretty good. Last time I checked, I was owed $1.61.