' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Broken Bonds: The undeniable connection between slavery and adoption

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Broken Bonds: The undeniable connection between slavery and adoption

Heather Andrea Williams
Though some find it jarring to see "slavery" and "adoption" in the same sentence, the indisputable connection is the contract at the heart of each institution. Both bind individuals to a lifelong covenant between other persons and the state, without ever giving the individual so bound a say in such a contact. Because slavery elicits so many awful images of cruelty and bondage, the connection is often inflammatory. Yet it remains.

A remarkable book, Help Me To Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery makes the similarities ever more clear. Author Heather Andrea Williams, a historian and associate professor at the University of North Carolina, has amassed a rich collection of newspaper advertisements, letters, diaries, and written narratives attesting to the worst legacy of slavery: the separation of families, and the lifelong search for reunion. "Babies were snatched from their mothers' breasts and sold to speculators. Children was separated from sisters and brothers
and never saw each other again. Course they cry; you think they not cry when they was sold like cattle? I could tell you about it all day, but even then you couldn't guess the awfulness of it."--Delia Garlic, a former slave.

Lorraine after reunion with her daughter
Since the historical records are patchy, the stories are vignettes, not full-blown novellas, but in Williams' in eloquent and fluid prose, they become a throbbing, heart-felt narrative that begins with the separation, continues to the freed slaves' attempts to reconnect, and ends with surprising stories of reunion. The result is a powerful document about the devastating impact of separating people who belong together. Writers in movies and novels have tended to focus on the physical brutality of slavery; Williams reminds us, with her impeccable research and mass of documents, that the psychological effect of separating of family members was at least as wretched, and more long lasting. Physical wounds heal. Psychological ones often fester.

Of course slavery is a different institution from adoption. We women, especially white women from the Forties through the early Seventies, were not beaten and sold; but the social pressures on us to relinquish our children were enormous and only withstood by the courageous few, who, with brave and understanding families,  managed to keep their babies. Some of us were told not to bring their "bastards" home; all of us felt the "choice" we faced was no choice at all. While a slave woman could rightfully know that she absolutely had no choice when her child was taken, many of us were left with the psychological burden of further guilt, feeling that somehow, maybe, we did have a choice, when we did not. And among her people, a slave woman could grieve; we were supposed to hold our sorrow and go on, acting as if that chapter of our lives had closed and would forever stay that way. The message we heard, from family and social workers and employers and friends was this: tell no one, and move along.

My book is full of paper stickers, directing to me to particularly poignant passages, but one stopped me cold, as it was about what psychologists call ambiguous loss, that is, not knowing what happened when loved ones disappear without the possibility of learning their whereabouts or status. Williams quotes family therapist Pauline Boss:
"'Of all the losses experienced in personal relationships, ambiguous loss is the most devastating because it remains unclear, indeterminate,' she says. 'One cannot tell for sure if the loved one dead or alive. Not only is there a lack of information regarding the person's whereabouts, there is no official or community verification that anything is lost--no death certificate, no wake or sitting shiva, no funeral, no body, nothing to bury.'"
Yes, this is how we mothers of loss to adoption experience closed adoption; this is how mothers who enter into "semi-open" adoptions that snap shut feel. Even worse might be the pain of mothers who lose their children and know they will end up half way around the world. There is no end to a first/birth mother's grief, no period to put on our loss, the questions remain to haunt us endlessly. There is no end until we can connect with reality in the faces of our lost children.

Numerous passages tell of the experience of the separation of family members, as most slave owners did not concern themselves with the impact of uprooting son from mother, mother from father, father from brother. Families were often torn apart upon the death of a slave owner, as the slaves--inheritable property--were divided up among the children. Former slave John Brown tells how, when he was eight, he and his mother were separated from the rest of their family after their owner's death, and were taken fifty miles from their Virginia home. At that time, fifty miles might as well be on the other side of the world. When he was ten, when there was a great demand for slaves in Georgia, John Brown was sold to a traveling speculator. "I looked round and saw my poor mother stretching out her hands after me,' Brown states. "She ran up, and overtook us, but Finney [the speculator] would not let her approach, though she begged and prayed to be allowed to kiss me for the last time, and bid me goodbye." John Brown had lost his last relative.

Kate Drumgoold, who was born around the time of the Civil War, lost her mother when she was suddenly sold to pay for a substitute to serve for their owner in the Confederate Army. The family lived in Virginia, her mother was also sold to a man from Georgia; she did not even know her mother was sold until she was gone. Drumgoold relates:
"...the saddest thought to me was to know which way she had gone, and I used to go outside and look up to see if there was anything that would direct me, and I saw a clear place in the sky, and it seemed to me the way she had gone, and I watched it three and a half years, not knowing what that meant, and it were the whole time that mother was gone."
Freed blacks occasionally succeeded in purchasing their relatives, even though this might infuriate the white owners as being too uppity, and they would prevent it. One Robert Glenn in North Carolina, whose father's unsuccessful attempt to buy him failed, turned to two white women for help, asking when he might see his father again. "I don't know child," one woman replied, "go and sit down." As I write, fellow blogger Jane and I are in touch with the friend of a woman who signed termination papers as she wept in the hospital two days after her baby was born. Her grandmother looked on but did not stop her from signing. The social worker, anxious to get the papers signed, ignored the warning sign of her tears, and told her crying wasn't going to get the papers signed. The very next day the woman called the Bethany agency in central Florida and said she wanted her baby back, she had made a mistake; the social worker told her she could contest in court, to get a lawyer, and hung up.

White slave owners and writers of the era, including Thomas Jefferson, apparently found comfort with the fiction that the blacks did not have the depth of feeling that white folks did. Williams reminds us that Jefferson, in Notes on the State of Virginia, wrote of blacks: "Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether Heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In generally, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection." Others writers said the same: blacks feel less, they get over their sorrow quickly.

Susan Hamilton's assessment of those times would have surprised them. She was "particularly bitter" in her condemnation of salve owners when she was interviewed at 101 years of age. "People was always dying from a broken heart," she said.

Yet many slaves felt they had to hold in their grief, especially when husbands and wives were separated. Children too, learned to hold in their feelings. John Brown said that he was so "stupefied by grief and fright" at the time he was sold away from his mother that he could not shed a tear though his heart was bursting. While there are many accounts of mothers weeping and holding onto their children until forcibly separated, and sometimes beaten, the theme of children having to hold in their grief is repeated several times. Louis Hughes, sold from his mother at age eleven, says: "I thought of my mother often, but I was gradually growing to the idea that it was  useless to cry, and I tried hard to overcome my feelings."

Williams interprets the stunned, stoicism of many because they knew their demonstrations of grief would bring no relief, or sympathy. She writes:
"The reality is that many people expressed their sorrow and their anger and resentment in many different ways, and public expression, whether by a mother or a wife or a husband, was often constrained by the limits of what owners and other whites would tolerate. Even the mothers of infants were sometimes punished for grieving too long and too openly. According to Kenneth J. Doka, who studies death, dying, and grief, 'There are circumstances in which a person experiences a sense of loss but does not have a socially recognized right, role, or capacity to grieve. In these cases, the grief is disenfranchised. The person suffers a loss but has little opportunity to mourn publicly.' Societies, Doka contends, construct norms, or grieving roles that specify who may grieve, for whom they may grieve, and for how long. Some grief is acknowledged, but other grief is not recognized.'"
After the slaves were freed, a huge hue and cry was heard as separated family members urgently searched for one another. A Freedman's Bureau, established by the federal government, and the Freedmans Association for the Restoration of Lost Friends, founded by a "group of white men" in Washington made efforts to help them. More interesting were the numerous advertisements that the freed slaves placed themselves in black newspapers that began publication after the Civil War. These advertisements were a starting point for Williams when she was doing other research. What began as a casual observation became an obsession for her, and she ultimately found some 1,200 "Information Wanted" or "Lost Friends" advertisements, like this one in the Colored Tennessean placed by Thornton Copeland. twenty-one years after he was sold away from his mother:
"INFORMATION is wanted of my mother, whom I left in Fauquier county, Va., in 1844, and I was sold in Richmond, Va., to Saml. Copeland. I formerly belonged to Robert Rogers. I am very anxious to hear from my mother, and any information in relation to her whereabouts will be very thankfully received. My mother's name was Betty, and was sold by Col. Briggs to James French.--Any information by letter, addressed to the Colored Tennessean, Box 1150, will be thankfully received."
Or this one, dated a week later, Oct. 14, 1865, six months after the Civil War ended:  
"INFORMATION is wanted of my two boys, James and Horace, one of whom was sold in Nashville and the other was sold in Rutherford County. I, myself, was sold in Nashville and sent to Alabama, by Wm. Boyd. I and my children belonged to David Moss, who was connected with the Penitentiary in some capacity. CHARITY MOSS."
Well before slavery ended, people tried to stay in touch with family members by writing to their former owners. After obsequiously asking about the welfare of their former masters, they would get to real reason for the letter: to find out how their loved ones were, to ask them to tell them where they were.
 ..."I  have though[t] that I wanted to see mother but never befour did I [k]no[w] what it was to want to see a parent and could not....I wish to [k]now what has Ever become of my Presus little girl. I left in Goldsborough with Mr. Walker and I have not heard from her Since...." 
Some wrote to their former owners hoping to find out what happened that way. One Letter to the Editor in Oberlin, Ohio, before the Civil War, began: "Nature prompts me to action...." from the son of a man who escaped slavery in Nashville. He assumed that his need to find his father was only natural and would be generally understood. Many of the notices were placed by men looking for their wives and children. One brother was looking for a brother he had been separated from thirty-five years earlier, when his brother was five. Williams writes that beyond the sadness of loss, something else was at work in the desire to find lost family. "Perhaps beyond the sadness or grief there was something else, some sense that families belonged together--a sense that if you had a brother out there in the world, you ought to know where he was." 

Does that sound like the plaint of a first mother--if you had a child out there  in the world, you ought to know where he was? That nature might prompt you to action?

"But most people never found their relatives," relates Williams. "Too many miles and too many years lay between them." Stories of reunification are rare, but it did happen. People had to relearn who their mother was. "She came out of the house to get us and at first I was scared of her cause I didn't know who she was. But she put me up in her lap and loved me and I know then I love her too."--Anna Barker, whose mother demanded custody of her children from their former owner following the war.

Some of the stores of reunion hinge on remarkable coincidence and one, upon a striking physical resemblance. Two brothers who were separated as children found each other, decades later, because a man who worked on a boat that traveled between Wisconsin and Michigan thought he saw a man in Cleveland who resembled one of his co-workers. A second man also asked one of the brothers, Louis Hughes, if he had a brother, for he knew another man who looked amazingly like him. Louis asked if his look-alike was missing a finger tip, because he had accidentally cut off part of his brother's forefinger when they were children. Anxiously waiting for the news of the man's hand, Louis says that he could scarcely work. When he got the news that the other man was missing a finger tip, he wrote: "Words failed me to express my feelings at this news....The prospect of seeing my brother, lost so many years before, made me almost wild with joy. Louis took leave from his job and traveled to meet his brother.
"When we met neither of us spoke for some moments--speech is not for such occasions, but silence rather, and the rush of thoughts. When the first flash of feeling had passed i spoke calling him by name, and he addressed me as brother. There seemed to be no doubt on either side as to or true relationship, though the fathers of each had long since faded forever from the memory of the other."
The two men, Louis and his found brother, Billy, told each other their stories since they had parted. Billy had gone back to the plantation in search of his family, but found no trace of them. Louis's narration continues:
"It seemed, and indeed was, wonderful that we should have met again after so long a separation. When I came to saying good-by to him, so close did I feel to him, the tie between us seemed never to have been broken. That week, so full of new experiences and emotions can never be erased from my memory....As I looked into the face of his [Billy's] wife and children, I seemed to have entered a new and broader life, and one in which the joys of social intercourse had marvelously expended."
If stories of reunion are rare, Williams found even fewer about what happened after the initial reunion. A young man named Mingo White, for instance, who had been cared for by another woman after he was separated from his mother, "would have had to adjust to his mother's personality and would have noticed that she did some things differently and perhaps had rules for behavior that were different from those of his surrogate mother, Selina White." Amen to that. Mark Twain and Charles Chesnutt wrote fictional accounts, though Twain said his story was based on a true event. In his account, a mother is looking for an eight-year-old son and finds instead a soldier in the Union Army. Chesnutt's story is about a couple reunited, only the man has become educated and risen to a position of authority, while the wife has remained uneducated. Fictional or true, both of these are circumstances we can relate to.

The connection to other historical movements that separate families became obvious to Williams in the course of her research, and she herself makes the comparison in the book: the orphan trains that took children from New York to western states in the early twentieth century; the aboriginal children who were separated from their families in Australia to be raised "white;" the Holocaust; the Native American children in the United States sent to schools in the East. I thought of the several thousand children from England sent well into the sixties to Australia, many of whom have tried to trace their mothers back in England, and was the subject of a recent movie, Oranges and Sunshine, which the children were promised in the new land. It didn't quite work out so happily. 

But of course the predicament of adoption, and my own deep understanding of the searing emotions she wrote about were there with me page after page. Ambiguous grief? Closed adoption. Yes, as someone who both gave up a child, and then buried her forty-one years later, the giving up of my baby to an unknown future to unknown people was worse, a million times worse than accepting her death. In those years between surrendering her to adoption and finding her--fifteen years later--a part of me was an open wound with no way of healing. Time passed, but I did not heal. Dry tears only replaced wet ones.

No avenue for public grieving? My daughter's father, who picked me up at the hospital as we left our baby there, asked me not to cry as we left. I'm fighting tears, and he says, "Don't." He didn't want a scene,  and I did what he asked. Within days, I was looking for a job, because I had to. I did have one girlfriend to talk to, as well as Patrick, but he did not deal well with messy emotional issues, and neither did she. Alone with no way to grieve? Yes, that is the adoption we remember from the so-called swinging sixties. I was hanging by a thread, ready to snap. I remember one woman writing here about her grief after surrender, and her father telling her to "put on her big girl panties," and stop her belly-aching. Having to hold it all in I am sure aged us all, pushed the grief down where it could not scream, though that is what we felt. Dry-eyed I applied for a job in Toronto and made up some stupid story about why there had been a six month break in my employment. I was not believed, and I did not get the job. I felt like a fugitive, a criminal with the rap sheet of a slut. It was not because I had had sex; it was because I had lost my baby to the way things were.

The word bitter? It's a word often used against us. Birth mothers who don't sit down and shut up, who speak up and criticize adoption, who know the system is nasty and biased against first mothers, are called bitter. It happened just last week.

The advertisements for the lost family members? They reminded me of every registry in the country, especially the ISRR registry on the Internet where first/birth parents and adopted individuals post whatever information they have; the data posted on Facebook pages, including one that I shared on my page just last week of a photograph of a woman holding up a poster with her birth information. It went viral on Facebook and yielded up her mother.

The words of longing when people were separated, the joy at reunion? I hear and read those words in memoirs and at other blogs, and in our own writing here, and in comments both birth mothers and adoptees have left. Williams' book is not about our predicament, per se, but it is about the feelings we know all too well. That passage about the girl looking up in the sky for a direction as to how to find her mother? After my daughter and I reunited, she said that before I found her, on clear nights in the winter, with snow on the ground and a full moon overhead, when "everything looked navy blue," she would look at the moon, and imagine that somewhere, I too was looking up at the same old moon.

If people knew what adoption was like, for the mother, for the adopted, if people could see and feel the utter agony of giving up a child, the grief it causes the individual given up, would it end? Slavery in America did, but unnecessary adoption, based generally on class and money, in America proceeds apace.--lorraine
Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery (John Hope Franklin Series in African American History & Culture)

"Williams explores the heartbreaking stories of separation and the long, usually unsuccessful journeys toward reunification. Examining the interior lives of the enslaved and freedpeople as they tried to come to terms with great loss, Williams grounds their grief, fear, anger, longing, frustration, and hope in the history of American slavery and the domestic slave trade. "--Amazon

 "Williams examines the historical fact of family separation and renders its emotional truth. She is the rare scholar who writes history with such tenderness that her words can bring a reader to tears. . . . [The book] has a propulsive narrative flow, and with each successive chapter the suppleness of Williams's prose grows."--New York Times Book Review

ISRR - International Soundex Reunion Registry

From FMF
Why Is Adoption Like Slavery?
The Adoption Contract vis a vis Slavery, Continued
Dear President Obama: Please Consider the rights of the adopted

Oranges & Sunshine
In 1986 Margaret Humphreys, a British social worker, investigated a woman's claim that at the age of four she had been put on a boat to Australia by the British government. At first thinking it incredulous, Margaret discovered that this was just the tip of an enormous iceberg. Up to 150,000 children, some as young as three years old, had been deported from children's homes in Britain and shipped off to a "new life" in distant parts of the British empire, right up until 1970. Many were told that their parents were dead, and parents often believed that their children had been adopted in Britain. In fact, for many children it was to be a life of horrendous physical and sexual abuse far away from everything they knew. Here, Margaret reveals how she unraveled this shocking secret and how it became her mission to reunite these innocent and unwilling exiles with their families in Britain. Originally published as Empty Cradles--Amazon   (There is also a movie that came out last year. Excellent for our people!)


  1. Lorraine,
    Reading the story of the two brothers being reunited brought the tears flowing. I could feel the feelings they experienced in reunion.
    Remembering the evening my son came to see me for the first time in our lives. I was nit allowed to see him.
    Just looking at his face was the most beautiful thing. I went around for days saying I felt like I was in heaven.
    That night my son then nearing 26 appeared at my door as I opened the door I did not sneak avpeak through the glass enclosure. I wanted to see his precious face without anything separating us. We grabbed each other.
    My sweet son was celebrating his bday even though it was a little early a coincidence that I called him on that day I don't think so although hearing his voice was really interesting I tried to put voice and his emotions together. He kept saying telling me things as we talked and I just kept focusing on the information but also how he sounded who he sounded like it wasn't me nor his papa.

    Sitting here with dried and wet tears streaking my face.

  2. I wrote about ambiguous loss and natural mothers last March: http://letterstomsfeverfew.wordpress.com/?s=ambiguous+loss&submit=Search . Boss's model is so appropriate for our type of loss, isn't it Lorraine? I am ordering the book as soon as I post this comment - thank you for the insightful connections.


  3. But slavery implies the idea of torture and/or neglect/starvation.

    Adoption doesn't really have a common parallel with any of that -- or at the very least, is not intended to.

  4. Anonymouse:
    Weirdly enough, I was contacted by an African-American who wanted to quote from my previous post about the connection, as he found it quite compelling.

  5. Thanks for sharing that book, it does look remarkable, and I will definitely be reading it. About the comparison of adoption to slavery...as an adoptive Mom, I feel like maybe I should be all upset or offended by this. I'm really not, though. I can see some your points, actually. I still don't think it's really an apt analogy, but definitely food for thought, especially because my daughter, who I adopted from the foster care system is African-American, and I'm Caucasian.

  6. Sorry but still it is not the same, in some cases. In slavery the entire black community knew that what the white man was doing was wrong. This knowledge helps. In adoption, the woman is supposed to be ashamed of becoming pregnant, and later ashamed of surrender. The entire group doesn't want to hear of this trauma or even tell her this grief that is unbearable is a good thing. Adopted children are supposed to be thankful they were taken, even if it is by people that do not share any of their genetic preferences. I even met other natural moms that feel because they preach this heart break to others they have redeemed themselves of the sub-human role single mother hood put them in. When you read some of the stories of reunion seeped in distaint for the original family you will see the amount of brokeness in adoption. This subversive act of forcing people to act as though what is real is no such thing is far more damaging than salavery where the community always knew it was wrong (spellings corrected)

  7. Why did your lady friend sign the termination papers then? If she was crying she knew she wanted to keep her baby. I don't understand why she didn't just get firm and say that to her grandmother and the social worker, ring for a nurse and have them both thrown out of her room. That is not the best example to use for this post because the African American slaves did not hand their children to scuzzy white people to be bought, and therefore be away from them.

  8. From what we understand from the numerous emails we receive, and other stories of agency activity once you enter the portal of an agency, social workers exert a great deal of pressure for you to relinquish. Their jobs depend on getting "product" to deliver to their customers, and so they want the baby.

    The question here, Dear Anonymous, is since she called the agency the very next day, why isn't her baby being returned? Who would keep a child that her mother wants back? Why isn't the social worker helping her out, rather than simply telling her to get a lawyer. She is being told "Go and sit down."

    We have written several posts about women who feel pressured to give up their babies, most recently, How birth mothers are intimidated by unscrupulous adoption agencies

    Your lack of understanding about the situation amazes me.

    See also:
    How a birth mother's No to adoption turned into a Yes

  9. As a black woman I take offense at this post, for many reasons.

    My family was kidnapped from Africa and brought to America by force. Many of my people died on the journey. Where are the millions of deaths from adoption? Where are the beatings? The forced labor? The horrible conditions? I was raised in the Black South. My great great-grandfather and mother were slaves. He worked 18 hour days and lived in a mud house. She worked as a nanny. All but two of their eleven children died because of the conditions. No one in adoption is being made to work and die like that.

    "First" mothers can choose where their child goes and demand some sort of contact if they want. Slaves didn't have that option. If you can't see that, I question your sanity.

    Perhaps if "first" moms are gullible enough to be "coerced", then maybe they don't have what it takes to be a parent. Who doesn't do their research these days? Who allows themselves to be played by the agency? Who doesn't just say "no"? States have rules about relinquishment and termination for a reason. What woman doesn't look this stuff up? When I was pregnant, I saw slick ads for new cars, homes, jewelry, or furniture all the time, doesn't mean I went out and bought it. Pregnancy hormones aren't some magic drug that turns women stupid, and suggesting that they do is just offensive to women. In today's society what woman who has an ounce of self-knowledge doesn't go into this with eyes open?

  10. Great article. As you pointed out, there are meaningful differences between slavery and adoption, but at their heart the are both based on the belief that it's acceptable to buy, sell, or own another human being.

  11. Great post, Lorraine. It actually made me cry reading it. I have had a hard time articulating the strong connection I feel between adoption and slavery and you did a beautiful job.

    It wasn't until reunion that I realized the horror of
    A) What I had done and
    B) what had been done to me
    Up until that time I was a good soldier, putting one step in front of the other and believing my daughter had a Disney family which my family and the adoption agency promised. I never looked too close at WHY I wasn't good enough to raise her. I went with the party line that since I was young, poor (in college), and unmarried I must relinquish. I believed them when they told me that to raise her would be selfish. Besides, my parents told me I couldn't come home with “the baby”.
    And then reunion happened.
    All of the bull was exposed. I realized I was played like a bad hand of cards and my daughter and I were the collateral damage.
    I got angry.
    Really, really angry.
    And then I realized how close adoption and slavery are connected. The reason I lost my daughter was because I was poor and had no power. Same as the slaves. I don’t know, nor do I want to find out, how much the adoption of my daughter cost her parents. But every day I see web sites and articles listing “opportunities” with costs associated with the color of skin of the child. Blue eyed, white babies cost the most. Dark skinned children go for quite a discount. How can people not see the association between adoption and slavery?

  12. Thank youy Lorraine!!!

    Poignantly, eloquently, beautifully written and the conenctions and parellels you draw are all too real for those of us who have lived it. Those who think these insitutions are vastly different - Nades and Zandie, et al - need to read up on the Orphan Train which took NY city children on trains out West and held them up to be taken in for "adoption" or as indentured servants. THIS is the actual historical connection between the two prcatices.

    This post, however, focuses specifically on the emotional toll of family seperation. Comparisons always engender knee jerk reactions from those who beleive that comparing something horrific to something perhaps less violent detracts from the first. It does not. But some will always need to register the compliant that it does. They need their cause, their pain, to be incomparable. It is understandable. But our pain draws these connections and it cannot NOT.

    "'There are circumstances in which a person experiences a sense of loss but does not have a socially recognized right, role, or capacity to grieve. In these cases, the grief is disenfranchised. The person suffers a loss but has little opportunity to mourn publicly.' Societies, Doka contends, construct norms, or grieving roles that specify who may grieve, for whom they may grieve, and for how long. Some grief is acknowledged, but other grief is not recognized.'"

    The pain of leaving a hospital maternity ward empty handed is multiplied to exruiating when you are disallowed speaking of it. I remember watching my milk wet my blouse and having to cover it up in shame and silent sorrow...

    I know all too well the feeling of being told to wipe my tears and be strong... not being "allowed" to feel the way I felt...treated like outcast, even nonhuman, "other", because after all, we were told, any dog can give birth!

    I had to go to work after learning that my [adopted out]daughter had taken her own life. My shock and grief were overwheleming but I had to hide my tears as the daughter who died was never listed as a dependent of mine, not recognized as my child at all - so there was no bereavement leave.

    For me the analogies are all too real. I do not say that with any dosrepesct for slavery or the descendants of slaves (nor did Lorraine)...I say it with a true knowing and ability to commiserate this one aspect of their suffering: the separation of mothers and child and siblings and the lifelong intergenerational toll that takes on us and all of our extended family before and after us....

  13. Great post, but I found it hard to read about this part of our country's history While my direct ancestors didn't come to the US until the late 1800's,early 1900's and settled in Boston and NYC,so thankfully they didn't participate in slavery, as an American we all inherited the institutionalized prejudice of our system which is thankfully starting to finally dissolve although much work remains. What I'm trying to say is that reading this post made me feel guilty,both as a white person in this country and as a birthmother. Sometimes, I just have to deal with the difficult feelings and not push them aside, I guess.Also, I apologize if I am wrong, but some of these comments sound like they were written by adoptees trying to make us feel even more guilty.

  14. sorry Mirah but why do i need to read up on the orphan train? I was there! I did mean as i said 'in some cases'. I think this article is very well written and very accurately and vividly describes the pain and heartbreak. I read constantly of the christian homes and childrens homes that have tons of deaths and people don't think of how difficult it is to kill someone in the prime of their life? these young innocent souls were tortured to death. people shrug their shoulders and say i don't know what happened. (i am saying oh yes they do) and yes slavery was TERRIBLE and a normal person knows that. i rarely ever meet people that say adoption is. You still see posters telling people to adopt, public displays and reminders of our intense grief, there aren't too many slaves for sale posters.

  15. Excellent post Lorraine. It is unfortunate that most of society either is ignorant or just plain does not believe the trauma endured by most mothers who surrendered. It is also unfortunate that the deaths of the mothers or their surrendered child via adoption are not recorded as a statistic to show the true genocide which had and still does take place.

  16. @Zandie: "Who allows themselves to be played by the agency? Who doesn't just say "no?"

    This statement sounds much like a recent meme running on right-wing media outlets: "why didn't the slaves revolt, it was the folks in the north who had to free them, why didn't they just do it themselves?"

    The implication being that they just acquiesced because they weren't smart/strong/decent enough to free themselves. This same line of reasoning is used in all "blame the victim" scenarios: the raped woman didn't fight hard enough, the person mugged didn't dress down enough, the person scammed by a con artist didn't question enough, the wife who is abused didn't ask for help enough....

    These arguments are a way to simplify very complex and painful problems. If one can reduce the situation to "I wouldn't be in that situation becauce I'm too smart/strong/decent" then one can feel safe. But FEELING safe from exploitation doesn't make it reality.

    I don't think Lorraine is stating that adoption is the equivalent of the horrors of slavery. She is making a conneciton between what happened to family connections when people are separated and lost to each other for years on end. A lot of people in the adoption community refer to this as "collateral damage" - the damage that is done to the entire family constellation when a member is removed. This damage weaves its way around siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and going down through mulitple generations. That's what is relevant in comparing adoption and slavery.

  17. "Of course slavery is a different institution from adoption. We women, especially white women from the Forties through the early Seventies, were not beaten and sold...."

    from the post, as some readers seem to miss it.

    From what I read, even the author Williams compared the separation of families to the Orphan trains and separation of the aboriginal children from their families.

    1. I do have to say that the quoted text is not, imho, correct. Although many mothers were not beaten and sold, many were tied down, threatened, some were beaten during delivery and so on. In addition, it was our baby who was sold.
      I was held hostage at the hospital for four days for my baby, this was the end of 1988. I truly wish people would stop saying that these practices stopped in the 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's because they certainly did not and even today there are many instances, maybe not quite so obvious but just as damaging as agencies wage psychological warfare against mothers.
      Although, I know what you meant in what you wrote. It was pointing out what some people missed that was written which seemed to be inflammatory.

    2. Thank you for pointing out that the atrocities didn't stop in the 1970's.

  18. Nadese, My apologies.

    Zandie: "Who allows themselves to be played by the agency? Who doesn't just say "no?"

    Sounds similar to the the victim blaming we often hear in rape. People often say the same thing about both: "No one had a gun to your heard."

    True enough for mothers in the US and other industrialized countries. It took no weapons to get us to sign...what it took was playing on our love for children. Being told if you love your baby you'll let it go to have a "better" life; that keeping your hcild would be SELFISH and cruel because you had little to offer it.

    I urge you to read the Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler to gain some COMPASSION and a view of what social pressures were like in past decades.

    I just read on FB about a mother in 1946 being JAILED for unwed opregnancy!

  19. Canadian Mother, thank you for pointing out that atrocities did not end for everyone by the Seventies. Such stories are rare, I hope, but painful reminders of the sorry reality for some mothers.

  20. Oh absolutely it was still going on in the 80's. Not 24 hrs. after my daughter was born, the social worker swooped into my hospital room, and scooped up my sleeping baby. She even changed her diaper, without my permission! (found out later that's how social workers would verify whether a child was truly caucasian or not...they could tell by the coloring of the genitals...nice, right?) She even went and placed the order for hospital pictures! But I digress...lol. Talk about inspecting the merchandise...

    By the way, she was NOT invited!

  21. Anonymous said: "But slavery implies the idea of torture and/or neglect/starvation.Adoption doesn't really have a common parallel with any of that -- or at the very least, is not intended to." Adoption IS torture to those who have had their newborns taken from them and to those who have had their natural mother taken. Absolute torture and for a lifetime. No only that, you have your grandchildren taken, too, into infinity. It is neglect (abuse) of the mother and the child!! It is starvation of the soul and the spirit. It robs the mother and child of a natural and normal life. It tears apart families/tribes. I'm sorry.. I completely DISagree that it isn't any of those things because it absolutely IS. Karen WB... see babyscooper.acom

  22. Thought provoking article - I think the title "Broken Bonds" said it all.

  23. Anyone who questions whether agencies or social workers "do a number" on expectant mothers has not seen it first hand.

    I was at a birth where the mother was going to place her baby for adoption. (Even though I'd tried to talk her out of it...)

    At one point early on in labor, she was crying and saying that she "only had 48 hours" to be with her baby. I told her to take him home and then decide.

    You know what she asked me? "Is that legal??" I emphatically reminded her that until she signed those papers he was still her baby and she could walk right out the door with him!

    One can only assume what the agency must have implied to her, or just outright fabricated. I was so stunned by that question...

    The social worker "appeared" in the labor room later on. She hovered around the mother's bed acting solicitous and would then drift away to talk to the mother's boyfriend.

    The mother looked uncomfortable with all that, so when I had a chance to ask her quietly if she wanted the SW to leave, she said "Yes", but you could tell she was afraid to say so. I then had one of the nurses tell the woman to leave.

    Later in the evening I walked out for a drink or something with the mother's boyfriend. We were coming back down the hall when the SW caught up with us. She asked "How is she doing?" I replied: "She's very upset."

    I was in for my SECOND amazing question of the night when the clueless and idiotic SW asked me "Why is she upset?" I said "She's about to be separated from her baby!" She didn't reply and she didn't give me a particularly offensive look, she just looked...surprised.

    How can anyone do that sort of job and be surprised at all the emotions and grief?!?!

    I totally get your comparisons Lorraine and agree with them wholeheartedly. It defies imagination that these attitudes are still around in the 21st century.

    And for anyone who thinks that might story is an old one, this was in late 2007.

  24. I would say send this article to as many expectant mothers as possible. Because although everyone is saying they're saints NOW for choosing adoption, those nasty comments could be what people will be saying about them, 20 years from now. (Especially if their child becomes successful.)

  25. I wish it had been pointed out how much adoption is like slavery FOR adoptees. I remember watching old movies, where slaves were expected to care about what was going on in the slave owners life and their feelings and how much it disgusted me. Well adoptees are suppose to care about the poor adoptive mothers pain about not being able to have her own child while so many adoptive mothers don't care a hoot about how much growing up in a closed adoption has hurt them. Not being able to know their parents names, not being able to hear from their mother what happened, not getting details about their birth and being forced to live the lie that an infertile women gave birth to them, which makes most adoptees feel totally unvalidated. Adoption IS like slavery for both first mothers and adoptees in different ways and both are demeaning and insulting!.

  26. IT still goes on when agencies push expectant moms into the role of birthparent...

    it goes on today when an agency is answering the phone for a crisis pregnancy and they represent the adoptive parents.

    Take the money out of adoption- and these stories may become fewer and further between. Standardize adoption laws- at least a week after birth before a relinquishment form can be legally signed and a standard 30 days(at least) period of time to change one's mind...

    The story about the mom calling a central fl agency the day after signing breaks my heart- there is no period of time in which a birthmom can legally change her mind if the child is under 6 months of age...unless she can prove fraud.

  27. Anonymous, I think the large point of slavery--that it is a contract that the adopted person cannot control is the most basic of connections between adoption and slavery, and I have said so before to the ire of many. Adoptees have no say about the adoption, the fact of the sealed records, et cetera--all is unconscionable.

    That aspect of slavery/adoption is covered more thoroughly in my previous post about the connection, the link is at the bottom of the post.

    However, William's book--HELP ME TO FIND MY PEOPLE-Is about the separation aspect of slavery, and she does talk both about the distress of both parents and children when separated and later searching. Because I am not an adopted person, I refrained from making your very valid point, and I am glad you did. However, several of the stories I relate here quote the slaves who were searching for parents, and that directly relates to the adoption experience.

  28. Renee--Right. That is why I included the recent story out of Florida.

  29. Having found this blog after the whole SIF debacle (being neither infertile or knowing huge amounts of adoption in America as I'm Scottish) I didn't understand where First Mother's were coming from when they were linking adoption and slavery. Frankly, I was shocked by it as it seems such an extreme comparison on the surface. However,this extremely eloquent and sensitive post has made it abundantly clear.
    Such a heartfelt, thought provoking and well written piece that explains how First Mothers and adoptees feel to those of us who truly have no idea/experience of the matter. Well done Lorraine, the sensitivity and thought you have clearly put into this piece is to be applauded.

  30. Thank you, Anonymous! You made my night.



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