' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Adoption Nation is No Country for Birth Mothers

Monday, November 14, 2011

Adoption Nation is No Country for Birth Mothers

Adam Pertman’s Adoption Nation: (second edition) is a grateful adoptive parent’s accolade to adoption disguised as a treatise. Pertman is the often quoted Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute,
but he doesn’t get it when it comes to birth mothers. As in the first edition, Pertman gives lip service to first/birth mothers’ pain but quickly diverts the readers’ attention to the stories of a handful of women who become “true believers in adoption” with “no regrets.” As a first mother reading this book, I could not forget that Pertman is an adoptive father of two.

Pertman minimizes the pressures and in some cases the outright corruption which cause mothers in the United States and abroad to lose their children. In his zest for all things adoption, he ignores the opinion of recognized child welfare experts--including that of his employer, the Donaldson Institute, that “”Every society, including our own, accepts that it is generally in the best interests of children to be raised by their biological parents unless they cannot or do not wish to.“*

Most Americans don’t get when it comes to adoption either, but it’s more serious with Pertman because he is fast becoming the guru to whom the media turns on adoption issues. Taking cues from Pertman, the media will continue to minimize the importance of children staying with their mothers and publish the kind of pap which appeared in the “Dear Prudence” column (Slate 10/20/11). Prudence (Emily Yoffe) tells a woman hoping to discourage her sister from giving up her baby: “Your sister is making one of the most difficult, and generous, (emphasis added) decisions a young woman can make. …She realized that being a single college student meant she could not provide the life she would want for her child. So she decided that out of her pain would come something good, and a grateful couple will get to be parents.”

Adoption Nation begins with Sheila, a birth mother from the Baby Scoop Era (1945 to 1973). Like many mothers, she was forced to hide behind shuttered doors and coerced into giving her son up. “Based on what she had endured” Pertman writes, “I expected she would feel only contempt for adoption, but she is wiser than that … she thinks everyone can ultimately benefit if it’s done right.”

Pertman contrasts wise Sheila to “a small minority of birth parents, mainly women, [who believe that] those of us who pay large sums of money to adopt babies are the driving forces of a system that brutally severs primal bonds. The only acceptable adoptions in these critics’ eyes are those of children in foster care…. Most … are older women [that would be fellow blogger Lorraine and me] …. Cynicism about adoption was soldered onto their souls.”

Pertman tells us that the practices of the Baby Scoop Era have all but disappeared except by “some fundamentalist Christian sects” which manipulate women into believing “they are sinners, or are too young or too incapable to be good parents” and that “mainstream adoption authorities decry this kind of behavior.”

Actually, we’ve not seen the sin ploy in a long time. Christian websites look a lot like mainstream  websites. Both manipulate women through promising open adoptions and presenting adoption as a loving (and generous, see above) decision which will give them and their child a better life, and help a couple (or a single person) "complete" their family. Both Christian and secular agencies fail to tell mothers of the importance of keeping mother and child together and fail to provide information on resources which would enable mothers to raise their babies. Both minimize the grief mother and child will suffer. Interestingly enough, Pertman does not discuss the grief children suffer from being separated from their natural mothers although he is clearly aware of it. Speaking at the Coordinators2 Symposium in September, Pertman had tears in his eyes as he told about asking his adopted son, Zack, how often he thought of his natural mother. “All the time” Zack answered.

Pertman assures readers that most adoptions are done right. His proof: women who seek to overturn adoptions “have always been the exception and remain so today.” He quotes a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys that “we’re always on the lookout for red flags that they might want to change their minds and always err of the side of advocating that they keep their children.”

In fact adoption laws in most states** are so slanted against birth parents that it is extremely difficult for them to contest adoptions. A number of states allow women to sign irrevocable consents before delivery or immediately after delivery. Even if they revoke consent within the time provided by law, courts may refuse to overturn adoptions if they deem it is “in the best interests of the child.” Many mothers lack funds to hire an attorney and legal aid offices won’t take their cases. Attorneys are reluctant to take cases challenging the industry that supplies their bread and butter. The E. B. Donaldson report on birth parents lays out the many way state adoption laws fail to protect mothers.

Pertman is a strong supporter of international adoption but he cautions would-be adopters about unscrupulous foreign officials who demand large sums, promising a healthy child but passing off a defective child (which, in his anecdotes, the adopters come to love.) Regardless of the corruption, he insists that “with few exceptions, the ones who are adopted will live better lives than they could have had, institutionalized in their homelands.” He criticizes countries which have restricted or curtailed adoptions because of corruption or the abuse of children after they are adopted. In fact, the overwhelming majority of children adopted from abroad are infants, not institutionalized older or disabled children. Many are kidnapped from their mothers.

Pertman complains that the cost of adopting infants has become so high that it is driving middle class would be adopters out of the market, leaving children in foster care as their only option. He notes correctly that tax credits don’t help lower income people to adopt because they don’t have the funds to adopt in the first place. Pertman urges employers to subsidize adoption costs for their employees. Of course this would simply result in more people entering the market causing the adoption industry to increase solicitions for babies causing prices to rise. To paraphrase another Adam, (Smith), this is the iron law of adoption.

Pertman chides mothers for selecting adoptive parents based on their financial resources. “One of the most disquieting, rarely discussed truths of the new world of American adoption is that pregnant women who consider placing their babies are systematically widening the economic gap between themselves, as a group, and the people who adopt their children and are contributing significantly to the creation of a privileged class of well-to-do adoptive families. They’re doing that, quite simply, by choosing what they perceive as the best possible homes for their children.”

Elsewhere in the book however, Pertman approves of adoption in cases where mothers lack “financial … resources to raise a child.” He lauds a woman named Charlene for giving up her son to a couple who “could give him the moon and the stars, which is what I wanted him to have but what I knew I couldn’t give him at this stage of my life.”

Inconsistency between generalized principles and opinions on actual situations appears again in the discussion of birth fathers. Pertman presents the story of Baby Richard, a Chicago baby who was returned to his father after a long court fight, as an adoption horror story. Later, he criticizes putative father registries, established in response to the Baby Richard and other cases, noting correctly that they create a trap causing unwary fathers to lose their right to contest the adoption of their children.

Pertman praises the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (1997) which increased adoptions from foster care, favoring what Pertman says is the “best interests of the child” over “family preservation.” In fact, according to the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR), “family preservation [programs] can speed the process of terminating parental rights when necessary,” making children available for adoption sooner. Through extensive research, the NCCPR documents the sorry truth about The Adoption and Safe Families Act. It is a huge step backward for vulnerable children and their families. Through reducing efforts to keep families together and accelerating terminations (making children legal orphans), the Act has increased the number of children in foster care because adoptions cannot keep pace with terminations and a large number of foster care adoptions fail.  Because the Act provides large bounties to states for each adoption they achieve, states are likely to target the children most in demand by prospective adoptive parents for termination: healthy infants from poor families. "Agencies will rationalize that the parents really are "unfit" as they continue to turn their child-welfare systems into the ultimate middle-class entitlement: Step right up and take a poor person’s child for your very own.”

Pertman offers openness as the cure for the many problems adoption. "Adoption provides most of the people it touches with a beacon of hope, a second chance, or a family. Or all of the above. It still casts too many shadows on adoptees and birth parents, but fewer with every day it spends in the light." Pertman is also a strong proponent of allowing adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates to the point that it gets tiresome; he presents the case for unsealing records in each of the nine chapters, repeating the claim that birth mothers were never promised confidentiality ad infinitum.

We at FMF are huge fans of openness. But openness will not prevent the exploitation of vulnerable women Necessary legislative changes which are laid out in the E. B Donaldson birth parent study need to be enacted: competent counseling, adequate time to decide, enforceable open adoption agreements, and protection of fathers’ rights.

In  sum, Adoption National is a superficial attempt to explain adoption to a public largely ignorant of adoption realities through glorifying it while glossing over the hard truths: That the U.S. has by far the highest rate of infant adoptions of any western nation. That mothers and children are separated needlessly to meet the demands of those who want children, but are unable or choose not to have them naturally. That openness, or "normalizing" adoption, may make the pain of separation more bearable but it does not end it. That the goal of those who care for children should be to help children to stay within their own families. That ”it is generally in the best interests of children to be raised by their biological parents unless they cannot or do not wish to."* The words, as noted above, are in the birth parent report of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, the very employer of Pertman. To read this book, one would be right in assuming he does not believe them.
Samuels, "Time to Decide? The Laws Governing Mothers' Consents to the Adoption of Their Newborn Infants," 72 Tennessee Law Review 509 (2005)


  1. I read this book, and I couldn't believe what I was reading. Do adoptees ever write these kinds of books? How can sane, rational people believe that separating a newborn baby from it's entire family can be good? This is what I can never understand about adoption. Most people know in their hearts that it's a terrible thing, yet it continues to be done. How on earth can human beings justify such a cruel and heartless act?

  2. All I can say is YIKES!

    As a first mother in a good relationship with my adult child I can attest to the trauma we have both needlessly suffered.

    Glossing over the realities of adoption to seek justification and endorsement of your role as an adoptive parent is about as low as you can go in adopto-land IMO.

  3. Mr Pertman,

    Retired from Boston Globe and then reinvented himself as a knowledgeable adoption "expert" after he adopted.
    He has built quite a career in adoption being a spokesperson, author, head of powerful adoption pro adoption Donaldson Institute he even speaks for mothers!
    Personally, he knows nothing of pain or loss as his was all on the win win side of adoption.
    Pertman doesn't speak for me or thousands of others. He does speak to the public who is not informed enough to know what goes on in adoption. The public is skewed into thinking adoption is wonderful, it saves a lot of tax payer money in truth it wastes a lot that money by tax subsides for international and domestic adoptions.

    Propaganda with all it's hidden agendas especially with this talking head.

  4. There was a guest on one of the morning talk shows discussing the negative impact of privileged groups speaking on behalf of an oppressed group. In this case he was discussing how black/African-American history had been erased because the privileged class (whites) had taken over the narrative. I think this is incredibly relevant to first mothers and adoptees. Our history has been fundamentally erased then reconstructed to suit the needs of the privileged class (adopters). Pertman's book is just another attempt to take control of the narrative in support of his privileged role in adoption.

    The gentlemen who was discussing black history said something to the effect that no other group in America has experienced this obliteration and re-shaping of history to suit others. At which point I wished I could call him and tell him to try his luck at being a "birth" parent or adoptee. We have the same problem!

    Thank goodness for the web and you pioneering ladies who are writing books and taking back the narrative. It is met with great resistance, but at some point "resistance is futile."

  5. maybe:

    you have no idea how grateful I am for that comment today for our message is still met with great resistance.

    I tried awfully hard to get the Didion review and analysis have a wider audience but was shot down--including by a site that then simply ran a positive review oblivious to the adoption angle. I could not get a single site interested in the analysis of Blue Nights, even though I felt it would be controversial and get a lot of traffic. This is how true adoption stories are marginalized, and kept out of the media. We need criticial mass.

  6. Off topic but adoption is everywhere.

    People magazine is reporting that actress Connie Britton has just adopted a 9 month old boy from Ethiopa and someone actually wrote this as a comment to the article;

    "Lovely thought, but are Black babies becoming the new Hollywood "Birkin Bag"?"

  7. we have a list of charities at work that we can support with payroll deductions. There were several adoption groups, but not one for family preservation or adoptee rights. How can we get the word out, when no one wants to hear it?

  8. We need to start an organization...
    but it is so going against the grain.

  9. We can only make changes with numbers. I encourage readers to join Origins which is the only activist birth mother organization. Origins is a non-profit. Michele, you might ask the folks where you work to add Origins to its list of payroll deductions.

    Once Origins gets a large group of interested birth parents, they and others interested in reforming adoption should start a political action organization which would lobby and contribute to political campaigns as well as getting the facts out to the media.

  10. Jane, let's do more on Origins but for now, the address or website>?

  11. I should have included the Origins website in my comment. Here's the link. http://origins-usa.org/

  12. Great post, Jane! Going to tweet it and like it.

  13. The Donaldson has become NuNCFA. Three is little difference between the two organizations except that NCFA has raised its standards and mellowed appreciably. The Donaldson, last I heard, even supports a national registry.

    The Donaldson, under Pertman waffles, saying one thing and doing another. It never rejects a deform bill as long as somebody gets something. Oh, and we hae to be polite. It has sold out adoptees and stabbed them in the back.

    I know of only one "reform" organization and it's affiliates that pays the Donaldson and Pertman any heed or respect--but it's just like them and him.

    The Donaldson could do so good, if it would actually stand for something and hold its ground, but it won't. Anyone serious about changing the system needs to avoid it's liberal snare. They need to get out of the way.

    Thank you Jane. There's a reason Adam Pertman was nominated for a Demon in Adoption award.

  14. This post is so triggering. It scares me. Adoption is in the best interest of the child so it's really a good thing. Yes, there were problems in the past because adoption was closed. Now with open adoption all that has been fixed. Sure many first mothers may have some pain for a short while, that's to be expected. But she will be happy with her decision because she knows she did what was best for her child.

    Is there any mention of how the child feels about being adopted? Are our adult adoptee voices getting through at all? It doesn't appear so from this article. And this really is the mainstream view of adoption in American society. I find it hard to have my adoptee pain ignored and eliminated once again by another so called "expert".

    It doesn't surprise me that Adam Pertman's son thinks about his first mother all the time. It wouldn't surprise me if he actually wanted to be raised by her.

    Funny how even with all the kudos to adoption, I have never met any person who grew up in their biological family say they wish they were adopted.

    Btw, can adopted people be part of Origins or only first parents?

  15. Robin said:"I have never met any person who grew up in their biological family say they wish they were adopted."

    I have, quite a few, sometimes in the context of telling them my experience; "oh I wish I had been adopted, my parents were awful." Perhaps misunderstanding what it is really like to be adopted, and somewhat rude, but they did express that wish.

    Others in the context of being raised by bio mother and meeting the one who was adopted out, in families where there was a lot of abuse, neglect and chaos. I have heard some "kept" kids from that sort of family say they wish they had been the one adopted by others.

    Many young children raised in their natural family have a fantasy or wish that they were adopted, even in good families. " My real mom is a princess" is not just something adoptees think, with the difference of course that not knowing is real for adoptees. But many non-adopted children wish they were adopted by "perfect" parents when they are mad at mom and dad. Again, they are not thinking deeply and have no idea what being adopted is really like, the pain and loss, but it is a common fantasy.

    I am surprised you have never heard this before.

  16. Kids raised in natural families do fantasize about being adopted, particularly since all they ever hear is that adoptive parents are rich, beautiful, kind, and give their kids everything they want.

    Kids grow out of it, however. I've never heard of a support group for kids raised in their natural families or, for that matter, for mothers who kept their children. I know of no blogs by kept kids or mothers who raised their own children discussing their lifelong pain from not being adopted or not giving up their kids.

  17. Regarding Adam Pertman's similarity to Bill Pierce and the NCFA: When I wrote a review of the first edition of Pertman's book in 2000, I noted that his goal and Pierce's goal were identical: to make more children available for those who wanted to adopt. Pierce would do this through secrecy and trying to make the adoptive family replicate a natural one through matching.

    Pertman would do this through openness and "normalizing" adoption. When he read my review Pertman wrote an angry letter to the CUB president.

  18. Maryanne wrote:"I am surprised you have never heard this before."

    No, I never have. The response I have always gotten is that people are grateful that they know who their "real" parents are and are glad to have not been given away. They seem to intuitively/instinctively sense that it would be difficult to grow up in a non-blood related family and that having been "rejected" by one's own parents would be very painful.

    As for Jane's comments that adoptive parents provide so much more materially, maybe it is because I grew up in a middle to upper middle class neighborhood and no one was really lacking anything anyway.

    Most people I know think that being adopted would pretty much suck and are glad it didn't happen to them.

  19. I even know people who are ardently pro-life and think that adoption is the best answer to an unplanned pregnancy. And then turn around and say they would hate to be adopted themselves.

  20. Maybe - great points!

    I've also wondered about the prevalence of men controlling the birth/first mother narrative.

    Pertman is one. Before him, in the open adoption arena, were Jim Gritter and Bill Betzen (the latter two, social workers -- don't recall if they are also adoptive parents).

    Gritter wrote a book called "Framing the Birthmother Experience." I tend to give the benefit of doubt in that I suspect he meant well, meant to educate people about a then-totally-invisible group.

    Still ... where are the mothers' voices on NPR and at the forefront of institutes?

    Are we allowing the privileged to frame our collective and individual experiences, men to frame our experiences?

    Or is it simply that we still repeatedly get shut down? Dubbed militant or embittered if we speak of ethical concerns, etc.? (And,so dubbed, rendered less-than credible).

    I suspect some who have been at this longer than me could speak to my questions -- with a more comprehensive historical background.

  21. Hi All,
    I agree with whoever said that this is very triggering for her. Absolutely! I had a lengthy discussion with one of my best friends just the other day on this very subject and even though I think she was trying, I didn't really feel like she "got" it. The adoption myth industry is working overtime, in my opinion as a first mother, to continue to glorify adoptive parents. Biologists get it, I'm sure. Humans, and most other higher animal species, simply wouldn't exist if we weren't hardwired to bond with our children, i.e. the ones we gave birth to. I can imagine some exceptions where adoption could be an option. However, I totally agree with everyone who says we need to support families to keep their children. I'm a UNICEF global parent because their mission is to keep children with their families, but, I know, this isn't enough. I have theories about why it is still an uphill battle to get people to listen to the truth about adoption. More on this later.

    For those interested you can read part of my adoption experience at

  22. Carol Shaefer has reissued her birthmother memoir "The Other Mother" as an ebook. It was also a made for TV movie that still gets some play. Here is a message from Carol, feel free to forward:

    Hello All!

    Since THE OTHER MOTHER has been out of print for several years and there aren't many used copies available,
    I have made an ebook version, which can be found through this link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/Boo66B2B2Y2Y
    The link provides a description and reviews. I so hope THE OTHER MOTHER will continue to help the triad and educate
    the public, especially those we are trying to persuade to open records, who feel it so necessary to "protect" birth mothers.

    I have also created a Facebook page called The Other Mother. I would love for this to be a page where everyone who wants
    to can share their own stories. Since publication of THE OTHER MOTHER in 1991 and after the movie aired, I have heard
    countless stories of love and courage, despite the emotional, psychological and spiritual traumas endured. All have touched
    me deeply. Sharing our stories is healing and knowing others' stories helps us to understand and honor our own.

    I would so appreciate your posting this to your lists.

    Thank you all for your incredible support over the years.

    Carol Schaefer

  23. Adoption Isn't WonderfulNovember 17, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    Any person that says they wish they had been adopted
    doesn't have a clue what it's like to be adopted. Just reaffirms again how little public knows about true adoption. I don't care how bad one's parents are or were being adopted adds a whole other complexity. Just because one is adopted doesn't mean the family is great. Another public misconception.

  24. I have often wondered where the voices of fmoms are in the feminist movement (aside from Ann Fessler.) Are we represented in Ms. Magazine for example?

  25. On September 30th this year Ms. Magazine ranked Anne Fessler's "The Girls who Went Away" at number 65 of their top feminist non-fiction books of all time.


    Yay for that.

  26. Over the years Ms. magazine routinely ignored the issues of adoption reform, birth mother grief, the commerce of the adoption industry, the duping of women into giving up their babies. I actually thought they would be very recpetive to first mother issues. Ha! Was I wrong.

    When I was getting articles on the subject into mainstream magazines such as McCall's, Family Circle, Parents--even Town & Country!--Ms. was oblivious. If there were other writers trying to get pieces in on this subject, I do not know, but NOTHING EVER RAN. Evenually I wrote for Ms. on other issues but I gave up trying to do anything on adoption from our point of view.

    In general, Ms. editors have been and are today the feminist "adopting class" who set aside childbirth until they couldn't, and then look to adoption to solve their mothering needs. At least Betty Friedan (who was not involved directy with Ms.) had her children, and Gloria Steinem (who was) didn't adopt! We can be thankful for small favors.

    Their choosing The Girls Who Went Away may reflect an better-late-than-never acknowledgement of our grief, but I for one can not get too excited about it. The potential to do so much good 20, 30 year ago was squandered.

  27. "Any person that says they wish they had been adopted
    doesn't have a clue what it's like to be adopted. "

    Of course they do not have a clue! And those who wish they had been adopted because they were abused by bio relatives could just as easily have ended up in an abusive adoptive home. There are no guarantees, either way. Neither really knows what it is like for the other, and there is a tendency to romanticize what you imagine but have not lived.

    It is futile to wish you were adopted when you were not, just as it is futile to wish you were not adopted when you were. Saying it again, but all of us have to deal with the life we have actually lived and move on from thoughts of what might have been or "should" have been.

  28. I had some fleeting thoughts when I was five or six that I must be adopted--actually I thought my father was my father but questioned if my mother was someone else. Someone more exotic, etc. In the long haul of life, my mother was the iron will behind me getting to college, which gave me my life today. Despite that, I pushed her away when I was growing up--I did not want to be a homemaker--but found from my thirties on, that she was my bedrock, the person I could always count on, and I began to recognize how in so many ways I was like her. She died at 86 in 1999. Of course I miss her. I always will.

  29. Maryanne 12:26pm,

    You have made that point on several occasions and it is starting to sound like scolding. We are all adults here and are well aware that we cannot go back and change the past. We can, however, search for commonalities and help one another to process and heal our grief. I,for one, totally agree with what Adoption isn't Wonderful said (10:39 am).

  30. Good points t. We've let men and the adoptive industry "frame the birth mother experience." And when we say things they don't like, we're called bitter old women or as Pertman says "cynicism about adoption has been soldered on our souls." The one credible report about birth parents is the E. B. Donaldson report, written by -- you guesses it, a birth mother Susan Smith. It's a pity Pertman didn't refer to it in the new edition of his book.

  31. "We can be thankful for small favors. "
    I totally agree, Lorraine - such as Anne Fessler's book being included on that list at all. I think it is useful to capitalize on this particular "small favor" by putting it out there, which is why the comment.

    After I finished my copy of "The Girls Who Went Away" I gave it to my local library, and one of the librarians recently told me it continues to a popular choice. I also recommend it to people I know.

    I think one of the reasons that Fessler's book has had such an impact is because the personal accounts it contains are placed within a sociological and historical context, rather than one that revolves almost solely around the experience of the author. I believe that makes it easier for the uninitiated to have a better understanding of the experience of mothers who have surrendered.

    Incidentally, the "yay" was for Anne Fessler, not for Ms. Magazine.

  32. For you adoptees who are critical of adoption, here's what Pertman has to say about you: "The common denominator among people who hold this view [that the only acceptable adoptions are those of children in foster care] appear to be profound pain and resentment about their own experiences with adoption. Some are teens and adults whose adoptive parents treated them so badly that they rightly wish someone else had raised them."

  33. Regarding MS, it ran a pro-adoption article in the mid-70's "Adoption Runs in My Family" by an adoptee who adopted a child. I wrote a letter to the editor about how I was misled by the popular culture into giving up my child and about the continuing pain from losing her. MS did not publish my letter but sent me a patronizing note about how I was right to think of my child and not myself, the same sort of pap promoted by Ann Landers and women's magazines at the time.

    I'm glad to see MS recognizing "The Girls Who Went Away." It's too bad we don't see similar recognition for the excellent books written by birth mothers, like Loraine's book, "Bookmark." Decision-makers seem to distrust books by birth mothers, treating them as though the experiences are unique and unusual.

    It's important that we tell our stories. You can do this by posting your story on the Origins website, http://origins-usa.org/.

  34. Hi again,
    Bravo Lorraine. I've often thought about MS and why they didn't publish anything on adoption and came to the same conclusion you do. Ironically, I was a very early subscriber, not long after relinquishing my daughter, and didn't see the disconnect between what feminism was and how first mothers were essentially invisible in the feminist world, even while abortion was huge. Yes, many editors, women in the publishing industry, are certainly prime users of the adoption system. All we can do is keep speaking and we know that someone will listen.

    By the way, it is very healing for all of us to hear each other. I have tried to find a support group here in Vancouver. I belong to Origins and they list a support group for Vancouver but my emails to the supposed contact have never received an answer.

  35. "Some are teens and adults whose adoptive parents treated them so badly that they rightly wish someone else had raised them."

    So I see that Mr. Pertman has the adoptee narrative down pat despite the fact that he is not adopted. And I doubt that he is reading between his own lines. The above comment certainly validates that not all adoptive parents are saints who float on wings. What!? Isn't this the reason the child is given up for adoption in the first place? So s/he can have a better life? Hmmmm

  36. Ah hah! Distrustful of narratives by birth mothers about the experience--That is so true--like am I going to go around an interview people who say "reunion" is a bad thing or that "it's too late for the first family," ala Didion? No, I am not.

    So for me it was easier to come right out and say: this is who I am, this was my experience. And back then, in the 70s, it was shocking. But then, considering all the first mothers still closeted, it still is!

  37. Robin,

    Thank you for posting your support. I do agree that Maryanne seems like she scolding when she responds.
    I have had that response from her more often than I like.

    Maryanne, I am not going to try and justify something I wrote here to you. You contradict so many other moms here. You might be perfectly happy and accepting of your son's adoption. I am not and come here because I am not.
    I will never get over loss ever. I am in a long term reunion with my son. We are happy and love each other dearly. The trauma doesn't go away even in a successful reunion.

  38. Anon 4:52

    Sorry you do not like my comments. We all have opinions, but you have some misconceptions about me. Disagreeing is not "scolding". I agree with some here, disagree with others. You can't please everybody.

    You wrote:"You might be perfectly happy and accepting of your son's adoption. "

    That is just not true. I hate that I surrendered my son, and it caused great pain to both of us. He was not placed in a good home, as I learned years later. I searched for him when he was a child, when most of the readers here were still in the closet. If you read some of my early writings, pre-internet, you would know how utterly depressed and miserable I was for many years. What I "accept" is that I cannot change what I did, what others did, or what either of us suffered. I am not the least bit "happy" with it.

    It has helped me greatly to finally have a relationship with my son after many years of silence. When I write about how I feel it has nothing to do with how you or anyone else feels and not meant as criticism but perhaps as warning not to get stuck in the black hole I was in for so long. For me it was not a good place to be. You have every right to disagree and feel differently, but not to make wrong assumptions about me or my reunion.

    I have been active in adoption reform as long as Lorraine, although we have taken different paths, and while you may not agree, I have every right to comment here. So do you. But we do not all have to agree.

  39. I feel sorry for Mr. Pertman's adopted kids. It's bad enough to have a Mr. Know-it-All about adoption for a father but to also have him be a recognized authority in the field. Aargh!

    His boys will probably never be allowed to express how they really feel and what they really think about adoption without being told they are wrong.

    When I see how selective the media is about how adoption is portrayed publicly, it makes me wonder what other issues are being hidden and grossly distorted that I don't even realize.

  40. @anon: I, too, am a first mom who often reads at the fmf and obviously I feel differently than you. I particularly look forward to Maryanne’s comments as I find them comforting and reassuring that my own beliefs are authentic and valid. She’s extremely knowledgeable and has an enormous amount of background experience and I deeply value her opinion. If you don’t , then I suggest that as you read you just skip over her comments as well as any others you may not like. That’s what I do and it prevents me from getting annoyed or tempted to make disparaging and/or hurtful remarks about another commentator.

  41. "The common denominator among people who hold this view [that the only acceptable adoptions are those of children in foster care] appear to be [in] profound pain and resentment about their own experiences with adoption ..."

    In the book, does Pertman share or reference hard data to back this up?

    If so, from where does the data originate?

  42. p.s.

    Maryanne, I'm blogging anonymously for a month, but we exchanged emails some years ago. I believe, at that time, I mentioned how much your piece "The Words We Use" resonated with me. (I linked to it in my post yesterday.)

    I found it particularly helpful at my lowest time in all of this. (If you remember the discussion, please retain my anonymity.) It was long ago, so maybe you don't.

    At that time, I think we talked about the idea of "muscular" acceptance as opposed to the brand of acceptance that seems to imply passivity.

    Anyway, since you were here, I figured I'd mention having linked to your piece.

  43. Ditto what Maryanne and Gail said.

  44. Thanks for the kind words:-) It does make a difference, even I have feelings. And thanks for those who have offered constructive criticism of my ideas, not of my person. I know I tend to go off on things sometimes. Like my son, who said he tends to be "overly verbose". Our subject matter is miles apart, but our writing styles are very similar.

    As to Pertman, he is all about self-promotion and attempting to be all things to all people, and mostly failing. His "new" book is just a very slight retread of his old one. It is not the worst thing ever written, he has some points, but it is not going to set the world of adoption on fire either.
    As an adoptive father, he can be expected to be pro-adoption. No surprise there. He is not Bill Pierce or NCFA, but he is someone who will go anywhere and do anything for publicity.

    One of the most tasteless things he did was to try and connect a memorial service for BJ Lifton, to the then-current publicity about Oprah's sister. The service was attended by friends from various parts of BJ's life including adoption as well as her loving family. It was all about honoring the life of BJ Lifton, a great woman. It was a beautiful and intimate service. Many of us spoke, including her heart-broken husband Bob and children and grandchildren. It was in no way about Oprah or that media circus. Pertman took a very cheap and disrespectful shot in trying to connect the two. I wrote very angry email to Pertman after reading this:


  45. Two comments:

    "Pertman contrasts wise Sheila to “a small minority of birth parents, mainly women, [who believe that] those of us who pay large sums of money to adopt babies are the driving forces of a system that brutally severs primal bonds. The only acceptable adoptions in these critics’ eyes are those of children in foster care…. Most … are older women [that would be fellow blogger Lorraine and me] …. Cynicism about adoption was soldered onto their souls.”

    When they try to diminish the impact of your voices, frankly, I think we are getting through and are perceived as a threat to the status quo.


    "Pertman tells us that the practices of the Baby Scoop Era have all but disappeared except by “some fundamentalist Christian sects” which manipulate women into believing “they are sinners, or are too young or too incapable to be good parents” and that “mainstream adoption authorities decry this kind of behavior.”

    If I thought this was true and that all was fixed I wouldn't spend three seconds of my time blogging about all this. But we all know this is not true. Things aren't fixed. Like all forms of discrimination they have just become more subtle.

  46. t, in answer to your question, Pertman cites zilch to back up his claim that it's only adoptees raised in abusive homes or older birth mothers who lost their children through deception and disrespect who believe that adoption should be reserved for children in foster care or whose parents or extended families cannot otherwise care for them.

    In fact child welfare experts including the E. D. Donaldson Institute, social worker and adoptive mother L. Anne Babb, and The Child Welfare League of American are also of the opinion that adoption should be reserved for children who need families.

  47. maryanne,

    I knew Pertman was a shameless self-promoter but the post you linked to is over the top. Using BJ Lifton's death and Oprah's personal experience in connecting with her sister and learning her mother's long-held secret to promote himself and his book is so awful I can't even think of words to describe it. Abominable, the ultimate sleaze, readers please help.

  48. "Pertman contrasts wise Sheila to “a small minority of birth parents, mainly women, [who believe that] those of us who pay large sums of money to adopt babies are the driving forces of a system that brutally severs primal bonds..."

    UM, is this from the book?

    If so, again, this harkens back to Maybe's excellent comment about the "negative impact of privileged groups speaking on behalf of oppressed groups."

    Those of us who seek change hold a wide array of beliefs.

    I consider myself to be (to borrow a term from a good friend) "radically moderate." I tend to give people who speak to these issues the benefit of doubt/naivete... and see a lot of gray between the black and white.

    But this really urks me.

    Who on earth is he, a man whose only credential in all of this is being an adoptive father (who, compared to many in CUB, BN, etc. is relatively new to all of this)to speak for adoptees or birth/first moms?

    Skeptical optimist that I am, I believe time will prove him wrong on some of his claims.

  49. and, yes, Jane ... I doubted he'd cited hard data.

  50. For the Record:


    a person who was adopted in infancy.

  51. Yes, t, what I quoted is in the book, page 142.

  52. Hmmm. I didn't find Pertman's column about BJ, whom he called a "spectacular human being and cherished friend" and Oprah (since her personal connection to adoption) was revealed around the same time offensive.

    He was talking about increasing the public consciousness to adoption--and as he says "B.J.’s passion for greater openness, honesty and restoring the right of adoptees to access their original birth certificates."

    I have not read this new edition of Adoption Nation, but at least he is the voice of an adoptive parent urging openness. Smack me with wet noodles, and despite his short-comings (that incident with Faith Ireland is inexcusable) but I call him media-savvy. A birth mother friend calls him The Oracle because he is quoted so much, but when he is, he is for unsealing birth records. And so despite everything else, I see him as a force for the good of unsealing records.

  53. I've been out of the loop (intentionally) about much of this for awhile. Thus, I'm not sure about Pertman's position on making open adoption agreements (post-adoption contact agreements) legally enforceable.

    All I could find on the Donaldson Institute site was this:


    No hard data exists (that I'm aware of) on the number of open adoptions that wind up closed.

    80% is a number that has been often quoted -- but I believe this number is speculative, based on quotes by one or two large agencies.

    Even if only 50% close ... that's too many.

    I wonder if the mothers (i.e. "mainly women") who find themselves on the closed end of an open adoption are addressed by Pertman.

    It would seem, as head of an "institute," in the age of open adoption, this would be of paramount concern to him.

    (And by "enforceable," I mean beyond the legal language that has been inserted into some state's legislative codes -- which is, in itself, mostly impotent.)

    Seems that would be at the top of Donaldson's list if he's truly after ethical adoption practices.

    If I thought it would do a modicum of good, I'd write to him. Sent a letter to Betzen years ago and his response addressed almost solely the moments after entrustment services he'd witnessed. (Religious services held at a new mother's bedside, wherein vows are made prior to physical relinquishment.)

    Maybe his position has changed, but at the time, he simply didn't address my concerns about the years that followed.

    Either way, I'd love to see an actual birth/first mom get taken seriously when it comes to leading public discourse.

  54. Were first mothers told at the time of relinquishment that the OBC would be sealed and a new one issued with the adoptive parents' names listed as the mother and father?

  55. Robin, I wasn't. I had no idea, I did not know records were sealed from the adoptee. What was stressed was that I was giving up all rights to him. I wasn't thinking about the future, and was pretty shocked to find out a few years later that some adoptees wanted to search, and that the records were sealed from them. I always wanted to know what happened to my son, but it did not occur to me that adoptees would want to know their mothers because they were going to "perfect" families. I was not told I had and never wanted "confidentiality" from my son.

  56. Leaping off from this post, I made one about men framing the adoption/birthparent experience... over on my blog.

  57. t, in the birth mother study, the Donaldson Institute was critical of those who close open adoptions. Pertman is a fierce advocate of openness in all things adoption. However, he doesn't talk about the nitty gritty of enforcing open adoption agreements. I doubt that there is any data on how many open adoptions close. To my knowledge, neither Pertman nor EBD has come out with any kind of plan to get legislation passed making open adoption agreements enforceable.

  58. t, Please give us a cite to your blog.

  59. Maryanne, I felt the same way you did. Additionally, years later of course, I was equally shocked to find out that my child’s name had been changed. Naively, I thought that the name I had selected would be the name my child would have for life,and I took some comfort knowing that at least I had been able to provide my own child with a meaningful name.

  60. When I found out--before my daughter was born--that the records were going to be sealed FOREVER I had a hard time believing that was the case. I argued, I begged, I argued some more as I naively I tried to convince her to make may case different.

  61. My poor dear mother was actually sent my OBC by accident, and she was so afraid, she sent it back. She actually thought "they" were going to come to her home and take it back. That she would get in trouble. I was her second pregnancy, both with my father. Dear old dad had her have an illegal abortion when she was 16. He worked all summer to pay for it. At least I was allowed to live.

  62. is this a real book? seriously who buys this?

  63. Thanks for the info, Jane. You can get to my blog by clicking the blue "t" on my post. ("A Month of Awareness")

    Yes, it's the nitty gritty that counts, in the end.

    I was also shocked to discover, some time after the fact, that the OBC wasn't the only one. I'd also taken comfort in it.

    I thought it would simply be added to. Couldn't have imagined a new one would be so strangely constructed and the real one sealed ... it would have seemed dystopian to me.

  64. This is certainly interesting. It sounds like as a general rule, natural mothers were not told that the child's birth certificate would be sealed and another (with false information) would be issued. Then I have to say I totally agree it does not seem that n-mothers were promised anonymity from their relinquished child at all. Maybe in some cases it was implied but there certainly do not seem to be any documents from the adoption proceedings that spell this out or guarantee it. I thought that if mothers were routinely told that the OBC would be sealed and an amended one issued that there might be some argument that the mother assumed by sealing the OBC that her identity was protected. This doesn't seem to be the case so I don't think the promised anonymity argument has a leg to stand on.

  65. Robin,

    I can't speak for moms from the closed era. Those I have spoken with over the years were not told their children's BCs would be altered.

    But even in the "open" era, at least during the early portion (late 80s and 90s), I've not known a mother who knew her child's BC would be sealed and a new one fabricated.

    As for identity protection, everything in the hospital had my full name on it, which is what I'd have wanted. And when I filled out the BC paperwork, I was also comforted/proud to see my full name and the bio dad's first name on it.

    Conversely, even though it was to be an open adoption, I was not allowed (by my Bethany counselor) to know the last names of the adopting couple. I naively accepted that this was the way it worked. In the instances I'm aware of during that historical time frame,privacy was afforded to those who adopted rather than to the natural mom.

    What I suspect some are now told is that the BC will simply be "amended," upon which some assume "added to." I.e. that the adoptive parents names will be added after the first parent's names.

    Some moms may be completely informed. I think it depends now on who is doing the counseling/facilitating."

  66. p.s. (from the anon above)

    I was also comforted/proud to see the name I'd selected for my child on the BC.

  67. The anonymity issue was directed at the parents of the girl. The promise was the nice middle-class girl could have her baby in secret and then go on as if nothing had happened. The parent's respectability was in tact.

    It was always a crap shoot based on who had control of the mother/child medical records. Private adoptions were seldom really secret. Certain agencies also pretended their records burned (or they actually burned them when the homes closed).

  68. Robin et al - tried to post earlier but had technical difficulties. When I relinquished my daughter in 1976, I was advised that the original birth certificate would be sealed and her adoptive parents would be listed as her mother and father. I was never promised anonymity, nor did I request it. Now, the whole practice appalls me. It's a BIRTH certificate! The woman listed as her mother did not give birth to her, doesn't have the stretch marks to remind her that she once carried a child. Tis the holidays, excuse me for being a tad cranky.

  69. Robin, I too was never told that the OBC would be changed... I too named my daughter, thinking that will be her name forever!
    Has anyone here gone to Ancestry dot com, and put your names in the search, and have come up with the name that you put on the birth cert is related to you on the site? I was very surprised to find my daughter's name on there!!! What if I had wanted anonmity (sp?) - there it was in a public forum!!
    Ran out of books to read from the library last night, and decided to re-read (third time now! LOL!) The Girls That Went Away...

  70. Pertman's "Lessons in Adoption From Harvard, B.J. Lifton, and Oprah" is astounding in its crassness. I too found it offensive.

  71. Just pulled out my paper work. Nope, no guarantees of anonymity in there anywhere, either implied or explicitly stated. I was not told my daughter would be issued a new birth certificate nor that the adoption records would be sealed and this was in 1993.

  72. I sincerely wish I could remember all I was told. I do know that I named my daughter but it is not on her original birth certficate. I also named her father. I did think that the OBC would just be left alone. I can't recall ever being told it would be sealed and a totaly new one issued. I was not given any paperwork at all. I don't even remember were I signed the papers.

    I have a couple of calls into vital statistics about amending her original adding her given name. We'll see what the answer is.

  73. I was not given a copy of anything that I signed. I have the little ID bracelet they give you when you have a baby(with a piece cut out by one of the nurses(wonder why?), also the little bottle-top cover from the first bottle I fed him in the hospital, and also a little blue and white cloth to wipe his face after giving him a bottle, but can't find adoption papers anywhere! I like the title of this post This is certainly no country for birthmothers Before I searched for my son I got along with everyone at my job ,but when I started to search and talked about it at work, I didn't realize what I was bringing down on me I was so excited and happy to find my son and in that weird state of mind of a beginning reunion, I didn't realize that the room would turn to ice and people would shun me Well, they did-and I eventually had to quit-one of my bosses had an adopted child, there were a lot of single mothers,people with no children,etc and I guess different emotions depending on where one is .This was in the 21st century not 1960 and many people still considered me horrible,only today it's not because I had a baby when I wasn't married but because I didn't take care of him. I advise any mothers thinking about searching to go ahead and,by all means,find your child It's beyond words and definitely worth it For myself, it gave me peace of mind and although we are having problems now, it was great for 10 years.But don't talk about it at work if you need your job!

  74. Robin asked if first mothers were told that the OBC would be sealed and a new one issued with the ap's names as mother and father?

    Not me. However, I was told I was relinquishing my parental rights. Apart from that I wasn't told much of anything. Once I told my parents it was basically a fait accompli.



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