' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Hoping for tough questions

Friday, July 17, 2015

Hoping for tough questions

Daughter Jane and Lorraine in the 90s
Okay, I am focusing 24/7 on Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption and so the poor ole' blog is taking a back seat. I'm being interviewed on Monday, July 20, on Bonnie in the Morning, on Long Island's NPR station, WPPB, 88.3 FM sometime after 9:30 a.m.  Hoping that I get the tough questions that make for an interesting interview that leads to more, etc., I wrote up a few questions and answers for Bonnie Grice, who is a great interviewer and host. I'm sharing them here;

We think of the Sixties as a wild and crazy time, when sex came out of the closet and birth control was readily available.
That is the late Sixties, and the Seventies. I
relinquished my daughter in 1966. Not until1965 did the U.S. Supreme Court rule in Griswold v. Connecticut that it was unconstitutional for the government to prohibit married couples from using birth control. Activist Bill Baird was arrested in 1967 for distributing contraceptive foam and a condom to a student during a lecture at Boston University. Baird's arrest led to the U.S. Supreme Court case, Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), which finally made it legal to allow unmarried couples to have access to birth control. How different it was back then is hard to convey today. So while the Pill was around since 1960, it was not universally available to unmarried woman until 1972.

While you had a need to find your daughter, what about other women who relinquished  children?
Of course there are women who have sadly never revealed their secret child to even their husbands or the children that came later, and we don’t  really have a good idea of how many there are. However, we do have numbers of women in those states with unsealed birth certificates who ask for “no contact” from their children when they request their original birth certificates. Few women choose this option. According to statistics compiled by the American Adoption Congress, fewer than 600 women have requested no contact in the six states that have opened their records since 2000, out of nearly 800,000 sealed birth certificates there. That is .0007, or seven-one-hundredths of one percent. That means that only 1 of out of every1,429 mothers who relinquished children have requested their children stay away. In those six states approximately 30,000 people to date have asked for their original birth certificates, and that number continues to grow, while the other generally stays pretty static after the new law goes into effect. How many adoptees received a no-contact request is unknown because that data is not collected.

You in essence broke the law when you found your daughter in 1981 because you had agreed to a closed adoption when you surrendered her.
Agreed is a quite a misnomer. I had no choice. If my daughter was going to be adopted through the only way I could see possible, it meant that her birth certificate would be amended and my identity forever erased from her consciousness. I argued with my social worker to no avail, I didn’t feel I had any choices, and I had to agree to a state-imposed anonymity for the two of us—from each other—in perpetuity. I had to agree to something I didn’t want, and she was supposed to live with the state taking away her right to know her true identity. There are bad laws. This is one of them.

What are the laws today? There is so much on television and in the media about people reconnected, it gives the impression that anyone at say, 18, can find out who their parents were.
Not true. The laws are being changed, but it seems to be coming as fast as say, the impact of dripping water on a rock. While Kansas has never sealed its records—without any impact on abortion or adoption rates—today there are only seven states* in which anyone can get their original birth certificates without some kind of restriction. It’s crazy. When do adoptees get to grow up and make their own decisions about something like this?

What’s the situation in NEW YORK?
Adoptee birth records—over the strong objections of the nun who ran the New York Foundling Home, were sealed in the mid-Thirties, under Gov. Herbert Lehman, an adoptive father. It was largely done to insure that mothers wouldn’t come around and to protect the sanctity of the adoptive family. Those same laws are in place today, but now the opposition is using them to “protect” mothers from their children, as if their children were going to harm them. I’ve been involved in trying to change the law in New York since the mid-Seventies. Year after year, we barely get out of the starting gate—even though we have the votes in the legislature to pass good legislation.

Why is that?
Powerful people in the state legislature block was I call “clean” bills. Bills that give adoptees the unfettered right to learn who they are. It is a crime that this is possible in this day and age. However, let me add that Suffolk County’s legislators—Assemblyman Fred Thiele in particular, as well as Sen. Ken LaValle—have co-sponsored legislation that does gives adoptees the right to know who they are when they reach adulthood.  

Well, what about those women in the closet? 
Several states have inserted provisions that allow a natural mother to veto the release of her name. While very few use those vetoes, they give the mother—who presumably was not adopted and has always known who she is—undue preference and rights in this situation.  The vetoes allow one person the right to deprive another knowledge about one’s being that the rest of us enjoy without asking and have always taken for granted. For those of us who know who we are—who have known since the age of reason—the enormity of this blank wall in the mental makeup of another individual is impossible to fully grasp. You were raised Jewish but maybe you were supposed to be Episcopalian. You were raised in a hot-blooded Italian family but you’re cool and less excitable. You are something else. Your mother is in politics but all you care about is poetry.  Et cetera.

What about open adoption? Hasn’t that changed everything today?
NO. From the scant information that we can interpret, about 80 percent of adoptions that started out as open or semi-closed—they are called semi-open by agencies—end up closed. That’s because the agency often play middleman and all correspondence goes it, and it continues only as long as the both parties agree to continue it. Adoptive parents usually have the right to opt-out at any time. Often the natural mother doesn’t really know who the adoptive parents are—even if she may have picked them from their picture. The situation is changing, however, but a lot of people would rather go overseas to adopt in order to never have to worry about the natural mother. Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration what the child might prefer, and ignores the cultural dislocation of the children. Open adoption brings with it a new set of problems. So does international adoption.

Are you against all adoption?
NO.  There will always be a need for some adoptions, but for the health and well-being of two of the individuals involved—natural mothers and their children—the adoption system needs to be massively overhauled. Whenever possible—and we should be working to this ideal—children should be kept with their mothers, or at least, raised in the framework of the larger biological family. No one should have to grow up not knowing anyone who looks and acts like them. The rest of us forget how important this is to an individual’s sense of inclusiveness in the larger family of life.--lorraine

*Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island. Other states allow most adoptees access to their original birth certificates, but still have legal provisions permitting natural mothers to remain unknown. Fathers are by law usually not named if the mother was not married at the time of the birth. 


  1. Questions to further the discussion of supposedly 'protecting mothers from their children'....
    Are the children out to intend harm to their mothers?
    Are they that angry? WHY are they that angry? What is it about adoption / being adopted that ---isn't---- "in the best interest of the child? Does being adopted fill an adoptee with harmful or murderous intent and rage? Is adoption TRULY in the 'best interest of the child'?
    If those that make the laws want to *run* with this bogus notion of protecting mothers, they need to come out and say precisely what they are protecting mothers from!
    Then maybe they can get to the truth of the matter. Like 'we are actually trying to protect the promises we made to adoptive parents'.

    1. Interestingly, an adoptee said to me the other day that she had an aggravating physical issue, age related--not serious but as she said, "probably genetic." Then she added--"See there is a reason not to search. Now I don't know who to hate."

      "Hate" is not a very friendly word.

    2. Not friendly, but borne out of frustration and hurt. If the system did not deprive people of the right to know about their birth parents - a birthright above all birthrights - it would not have to a term described as hate. Having been placed for adoption is a primal wound, and withholding a birth certificate is rubbing salt in the wound, continually. It is also denying a civil right, as others have pointed out.

      Having said that, I am a birthmother who was contacted by my son after 35 years. I was very scared, and I might have been one of those mothers, who, if given the chance, would have opted for no contact. I'm not 100% comfortable, and sometimes still go back and forth - after more than 8 months - about whether I am happy about it or not. But after contact, I asked for some time to think it over. I ultimately decided, of all the people to be afraid of in life, I shouldn't be afraid of my own children! At some point, you have to let common sense play its part, and follow your conscience.

      My own family behaved like cowards toward me, and I was a skeleton in their closet. I know well the feeling of hating a parent. But luckily for me, my parents and siblings were excellent role models in how NOT to treat a family member. So I decided to welcome reunion with my son into my life, and maybe there is something I can do to add to his life. We had a phone call at Christmas, and he said that he had been trying for years to find me, without success. It made me very sad, to think that he was so sad about it for so long. I just assumed that there was no interest, since I didn't hear anything all these years.

      Fear can paralyze a first mother, and most of the fears are unwarranted, as it turns out. Adoptees have their own young lives, and I think they mostly want affirmation.

      So no, adoptees don't want to harm their mothers. Their main interests are did you love them? Can you say anything about how they were as a baby?

      My other son wants nothing to do with me, and I am not allowed to have his contact information. I did write a letter to him, which was mailed by my other son to him. I invited him to express any feelings he may have, even if hey are not good, it is important. (He didn't answer, and may never answer.) Will just have to wait and see.

      So first mothers, i would say don't let the word "hate" alarm you and don't take it personally. The anger and hurt is justifiable, and will take time. But when I read on this blog the posts of people who are almost 60 years old and they still are not granted access by law to their birth certificates, That makes me very angry. It seem so wrong!

      Before reading this forum, I just assumed that the laws were designed that when an adoptee turns 21 or maybe 25, the birth certificate would be open.

      Good luck with the interview, I hope to hear about how it goes.

    3. Oh, I certainly didn't take it personally. My husband is the one who read her feelings about being adopted into that casual statement. There's more but I don't feel comfortable talking about it here.

      So glad you came to your "senses" and decided to move forward with your son. It's always the feeling that something is going to change that scares us all.
      Good luck to you and thanks so much for writing your story here. We need to hear from more women like you.

  2. In case you need an example how bad the press is reporting on adoption, especially in the headlines:
    "Same-sex Huntsville couple becomes first to adopt in North Alabama"
    "Alabama courts end legal limbo, begin approving same-sex couple adoptions"

    What really happens is that the spouse of the mother, who should thus by law be the father of the child, is finally allowed to upgrade her status to legal parent, which she was denied because of sexual discrimination! That said, this sorts of situation does provide a sort of a potential problem if sex/gender is kicked out of the law: Two single pregnant persons fall in love and get married, before they give birth, that would make them the father of eachother's baby: Should the children be considered as siblings for things like incestuous marriage prohibition and the like? So we get to the point why one child should not have more than two legal parents. That just as an OT comment, but really step-parent adoptions and adoptions by couples are really different kinds of adoption.

    1. If you have time, check out the voices of gay couple adoptees pleading their plight before the supreme court in an effort to prevent the marriage equality law. Their frustration at having grown up with 2 moms or 2 dads is clearly evident.

    2. Maybe they did. So what? There are malcontents everywhere. How are they any different from the people who show up regularly to complain that unsealing records would eff up their lives? What is the purpose of your remark except to stir up bigotry?

      Have you read the Brodzinsky/Dobaldson Instuitute research on adoption by gay couples? Maybe you should.

    3. The only people that I'm aware of how who show up to complain about sealed records are judges and lawyers who think they are serving the public interest. The show up the say unsealing records will destroy the lives of those straw women out there,women in their imagination.

    4. Gail, do you have a link to the voices of the gay couple adoptees pleading their plight before the Supreme Court? They wouldn't have been allowed to argue before the Court unless they had filed a friend of the court (amicus curiae) brief. I haven't seen anything about adoptees of gay couples filing such a brief.

  3. Great interview and great responses.

    1. Thanks--but I just got an email from Bonnie Grice that she will go her own way. Like any good journalist--but I hope she will at least look at what I'm suggesting and we can talk about more than my personal saga.

  4. Here's hoping it's a meaningful interview. Can't wait to hear about it!

  5. Unfortunately there can be hate in adoption. I actually hate my parents. both of them, but my father more. I hate them for giving me away. That's probably why the reunion failed.

    It's not a pc thing to say, but it's the truth. Of course, I love them too, that's why their betrayal hurts so much. It's not a good thing to feel, and I'm not proud or happy about it at all.

  6. As for the suggested questions: Many publicists send out material like this about issue books, which Hole in my♥ certainly is. They pinpoint the issue and opinion the writer is making in the work. Those doing any stories or reviews are free of course to use them or not. Also, I wanted to clarify in my mind what absolute facts I wanted to have on hand if I am asked how many women feel like me about meeting the children they gave up for adoption and other things. In this case, to not do the questions would be losing the opportunity to put the issues before the interviewer in case she has not read the whole book or just wants to talk about my personal story, which is not the point.

  7. I hope you're not walking into a trap Be careful.

    1. There is no "trap" in any interview.
      I had some really difficult and angry interviews with Birthmark came out So it goes. Nothing could faze me now. But it won't be like that at all. And while I may get questions that cut to the bone, I am prepared by years of dealing with them.

  8. I hope that the interviewer realizes that some of us (perhaps even most) were caught in the adoption trap due to the lack of financial resources - my social security statement shows I earned $192.00 the year I became pregnant. I had no access to money as bank loans and credit cards were not available to me at the time. I applied for several minimum wage jobs and was not hired. I later found out that pregnant women were not welcome in the labor force in my area. My then boyfriend and now husband had to drop out of school and work two jobs to pay for medical expenses. We were not told about any other options like welfare or temporary foster care. We had zero help from family for different reasons and were completely on our own. So, the adoption forces won. If I had had enough money for food, clothes, and shelter, I certainly would never have surrendered. Perhaps this played some role in the fact that I felt driven to find my daughter and I did, just like Lorraine did in the state of NY!

    1. The interview went well. I may write about it tomorrow as a blog. I was emo all day.

  9. Hi Lorraine, it has been a long time since I've commented on your blog. I wanted to say thank you for writing such a powerful book. My mother Gail lent it to me per my request. Your book is refreshing when compared to the pro-adoption crap that floods the media and literary markets.

    I have to tell you that at times I had to stop reading because it is difficult to read when your eyes are burning with tears. When you wrote about your reunion I was catapulted back in time to 1985 when I met my real family. The emotions of that time make my hands tremble as I type this.

    I also want to thank you for fighting so hard and so long for open records. It is disgusting that this has been a losing battle since the 70's.

    (the name my mother gave me)

    1. Elizabeth, thank you so much for writing. It's a tough slog to publish yourself and do everything and hearing from you makes it seem ...like I did the right thing. I sometimes wrote I will admit through my tears and there are times when even now I can't read certain passages out loud without choking up.

      Comments like yours mean the world to me. I hope you and Gail can have a long and relatively untroubled life ahead of you. No one gets along with their mother all the time! Just don't slam the door so hard it can't be opened.


    2. Elizabeth wrote: "Your book is refreshing when compared to the pro-adoption crap that floods the media and literary markets."

      And it is a travesty that it is all the pro-adoption crap that finds a publisher, and yet when a respected and published author writes about the other side of adoption (aka the truth) she has to self-publish. It just shows how our culture is manipulating the general public in terms of what people get to hear and understand about adoption. Thank heavens for blogs like this one and for courageous writers like Lorraine.



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