' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Adoption in America is everywhere

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Adoption in America is everywhere

O'Hare in Chicago
How truly adoption has permeated society since I became involved--in 1966 when I relinquished my daughter--came home to me during my trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to visit my granddaughter, known to readers as Britt. Getting there involved going from New York City through Chicago, a five-hour plus wait for an evening plane to Marquette, which is situated on Lake Superior.

I sat next to an elderly gentleman--older than me!--and as we got to talking I asked him why he was going to Marquette. I had simply said I was going to meet my granddaughter. Well, he said, I've got a story to tell, I'm adopted.

Okay, I smiled and nodded. Turns out he was going to family reunions of both relatives--natural and adopted, as well as some buddies from high school. He'd had a happy enough growing up, had learned he was adopted from a cousin when he was eight, and when he asked his adoptive mother what that meant, she said, That means we got you from the hospital. He said that at eight, the answer sufficed, and he went about having a normal growing up and his parents were great. He had a younger brother, who was his parents' natural child, but that didn't seem to cause any problems for him.

The top of my birth certificate
Because he was born in 1931--original birth certificates were sealed in Michigan in 1945--he always had his mother's name, but didn't do anything about it. He said he thought she had probably gone on to have a good life without him, and he wouldn't have wanted to interfere. I started to protest, but he wasn't done with his story yet.

The story I told him. 
Even though he didn't search, apparently everybody in his family knew the name of his other mother, and since he was adopted in the same small town in the UP where he was born, it was likely the woman was from there. Some years ago, his sister-in-law realized that she regularly played cards with a woman with the same last name. Because she didn't know her well enough to ask her outright if she had a sister named "Alma," which would lead to: Yes, why do you ask? she asked a mutual acquaintance. Sure enough, my new friend's sister-in-law was playing cards with his aunt.

Sadly, by then Alma, who never had any other children, was dead. But of course there were cousins galore and they immediately accepted him as this kin. As soon as they heard the story, they all got together and he met them all. He asked about his mother, and was told that after he was born she always seemed sad, a piece of information that I know meant something to him the way he told it. He said on this trip he would be meeting with both his brother and his family from his adoptive family, as well as a big reunion with all his natural relatives. In the morning, however, he and his high school buddies were meeting at a coffee shop. He was looking forward to all of it.

So...I said, Well, I've got a story to tell. When we got to Marquette, Britt was waiting, and he came over to meet her while we waited for our luggage.

The visit was just superb. One of my nieces was camping in the area and she and her boyfriend met Britt and me for lunch. I met Britt's friends and the teacher she will be working with as a student teacher this fall. Britt and I went on a two-mile hike in a beautiful area, the longest I've walked since my ankle replacement. We dipped out feet in Lake Superior, went shopping for art school-teacher clothes, bought shoes at an amazing sale, saw the sun go down as we drove into Houghton, ran into one of her professors who told me she was a great student, and yes, talked about stuff. It was all good.
Driving into Houghton, Michigan

Three days later I rode from Marquette to Detroit with my alternate universe daughter and her husband. They were there dropping off their son at college, the same one Britt will be graduating from in December. In Detroit, I connected with family members and a friend from high school. On the flight from Detroit to New York City three days after that, I sat next to a fine-looking young man on his way to a wedding at West Point with his parents across the aisle, and we also got to chatting. Eventually--once it came out I was a writer--I told him about Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption, and he said, That's interesting, I have an adopted sister.

She was adopted three months after he was born, which I found unusual, thinking they might have had the adoption in the works before his mother became pregnant, but it turned out that the girl was adopted at eight from Russia. I asked: How is she doing? and he immediately grimaced. Not so well, he said. She has fetal alcohol syndrome, though it is mild, and simply has a lot of problems, drugs, instability, attachment difficulties, and is in and out of his family's life, et cetera. 

Back home, talking to my niece, she said, that one of her roommates at college had been adopted from South Korea, and he noticed my name when I left a comment on one of her Facebook postings--asking why was I leaving a comment there, did she know me? Though we have the same uncommon last name, he was surprised.

Welcome to adoption, 2015. How different it is when I surrendered my daughter. It is easy for me to talk about my connection, relinquishment, reunion with strangers now. I could never have imagined that this would one day be possible. It's good that I can talk about it, and educate people who think they have never met a birth/natural mother. But it's not good that adoption has become so commonplace. No matter how it's sliced, too many children are not growing up with their original mothers and families. And that's not good. I'm not making a judgment about the Russian adoptee--that whole situation is a sad mess, and it's still sad for everybody concerned.--lorraine


A natural (birth) mother's secret--time to let go


Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
"I felt close to Lorraine as I read her both eloquent and emotionally raw and honest memoir of her experience of traumatizing relinquishment of her infant daughter, enduring grief and loss through the years as she found Jane, built relationship (including with Jane's adoptive family) through much thick and thin including medical and emotional upheaval, only to lose her again to suicide. While not a “comfortable” read, Hole in the Heart is compelling and vital to the last page. 

..."a must read for anyone in our adoption constellation, anyone connected in any way to people living with adoption, or anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the importance of identity in one’s life. In it, Lorraine manages to expertly weave up-to-date research and facts about the policies and practices of adoption that continue to call out for reform, including continuing coercion of women to give up their children and the ongoing state-by-state campaign to achieve adoptee access to original birth certificates. Lorraine has done a masterful job baring her soul and offering hard-won insight into the little known world of mothers and children separated by adoption."--Lynn Franklin at Amazon



  1. I know what you mean about finding it easy now to talk about our adoption experience. How ironic it all seems. I still cringe a bit when I tell people my story (or when my husband does; he loves to share it), but that's because I still feel guilty for not keeping my first son. Do you think the adoption narrative is beginning to change, or do unicorns and rainbows still reign?

  2. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to keep such big things secret -- on all sides. I'm glad some of the shame and secrecy is falling away.

    It's great that you had such a grand time with Britt and your alternate universe daughter. And that you connected with fellow travelers.

    1. Thanks--it was great. Tony and I will be going to Britt's graduation in December, something that I did not think would be possible.

  3. I am very glad the secrecy has fallen away too, and grateful that my daughter does not have to feel like she is an object of pity or curiosity because she is adopted. It's not something she chooses to talk about a great deal but that is her call. Still, I don't see the emergence of many different adoption narratives as a bad thing, especially if one considers that not all of them are going to be happy. Adoption is a fact of modern life that will never cede entirely even if the institution is cleaned up, so best to ensure that everyone connected to it can talk about it honestly and can be respected.

  4. I do not think adoption has become more commonplace, but that talking about it has, and that is a good thing. I'm not a numbers person, but it seems like there was a lot of adoption when many of us surrendered years ago, but it was a shameful and unmentionable thing, both from the perspective of the birth parents and the adoptive parents. How many adoptees of that era were not told they were adopted, or if they were told, warned not to tell anyone else and not to talk about it? How many mothers could tell strangers in an airport that they had given up a child for adoption, not as a horrid secret but as an aspect of their lives? Nobody I have told in recent years that I gave up a child and am reunited have reacted with shock or condemnation, and like Lorraine's experience, many had their own adoption story to tell me. I do not think that there is more adoption now, just that it is easier to be honest and talk about it from all sides. That has to make it easier for all of us, and enlighten those not connected to adoption about the varied experiences we have had with it.

  5. I don't believe there are more adoptions now than there were during the BSE. If anything, I think there are probably less. Women are not being shamed out of their own children and both society and individual families are much more accepting of children born out of wedlock than they were back in the day. I do agree with Lorraine, however, that "too many children are not growing up with their original mothers and families." For even though many adoptees say they are fine with being adopted, I still think adoption should always be a last resort and only for children who truly need homes outside of their blood families.

    1. There are less adoptions than during the so-called BSE. But there are more children in care.

    2. Yes, there are more children in care, but an entirely different population than the children who were adopted in the so-called BSE. When you look at all children, not just white ones, less adoption does not necessarily mean more children of all races in safe biological families or less children in state care. Being adopted is not the ultimate evil that can befall children who are already in dire circumstances due to poverty, racism, substance abuse and other systemic ills. Our country does an awful job of caring for children; the abuses in adoption are only a small part of that.

      I refer back to Rickie Solinger; most babies adopted in the 50s, 60s and 70s were the children of white middle-class mothers who were steered towards adoption, while mothers of color were steered towards welfare and raising their children. The major cause of adoptions then was shame on the part of the pregnant girl's family. There were two different tracks for unmarried mothers dependent mostly on race. It is very rare to meet an African American birthmother at gatherings of older mothers, and Latino mothers are also fairly rare. Nor did many of us white mothers come from dire poverty, but from working class, middle class, and even upper class homes.

      The primo product in adoption, the healthy white newborn, has stayed the same, but the supply has gone way down and the price goes up. Those babies no longer go into state or agency care as they used to. Minority children now in state care often come from families too crushed and shattered by many pressures to take care of them, and the state does a very poor job of providing for their care. Those children not being adopted, as most are not, is not really saving them from much.

    3. Anon,

      There's no correlation between the number of voluntary infant adoptions and the number of children in foster care. Because of the harsh provisions of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, of 1997, the number if children in foster care has increased, as have the number of children adopted from foster care. The reason foster care has increased is the lack of family preservation programs, not lack of adoptions. Check out the website of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform nccpr.org.

    4. I was moved by the Website of that organization, and their statistics. I believe that when possible children should be raised by the parents who gave birth to them. But there are times, including my personal situation with the child I am raising, when it is not. There is always an exception.

    5. Yes, sadly, there are some parents who cannot raise their child.

  6. One of the reasons we are able to talk more easily about adoption is precisely because it has become more commonplace. Like single motherhood and single parenting in general, adoption has ceased to be a taboo subject. Social familiarity is primarily responsible for changing public perceptions about a practice and what aspects of it, if any, are ethically acceptable.
    It enables discussions such as this one to take place.



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