' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: A reluctant poster mother for adoption reform

Monday, December 14, 2015

A reluctant poster mother for adoption reform

When my surrendered daughter contacted me 18 years ago, appearing in the Oregonian, Oregon's largest newspaper, was the farthest thing from my mind. I had kept my secret from all but a few people for 31 years and the thought of sharing it made me a nervous wreck.

Sunday my story was included in an article by Amy Wang about Oregon's 2014 law allowing adoptees and natural parents to access their court adoption files. These files allow mothers to learn the adoptive name of their child and the names of the adoptive parents.

Only 18 natural parents have taken advantage of this first in the nation law. This low number suggests that many who could benefit from the law are unaware of it. I agreed to appear in the Oregonian article because I want to spread the word about the law. I encourage our readers to do likewise. I'm happy to answer any questions about the law. Just email forumfirstmother@gmail.com.

This is not the first time I've been in the paper. I appeared in a full page ad* in the Oregonian in 1998 with four other natural mother supporting Oregon's Measure 58. This ballot measure which passed with 57 percent of the vote gave adult adoptees the right to have copies of their original birth certificates. Over 11,000 have done so since the law went into effect in 2000.

In truth I'm not comfortable coming out as a natural mother. I find even discussing my natural motherhood with those not connected to adoption stressful. I stayed home yesterday, watching football with my husband (Go Seahawks!). I just didn't want to risk a chance encounter with any neighbor in my condominium who may have seen the article. Tomorrow I'm scheduled to play bridge at a nearby duplicate club which has about 60 regular players. I owe it to my partner not to cancel. If anyone says "I saw you in the paper Sunday," I'll want to sink into the floor. Instead, I'll just smile and move away.

Part of the reason for my reluctance at revealing this sad part of my life is that I have no excuse for what happened. I was not a teenager, I knew enough to be careful, I knew Rebecca's father could not be counted on. My mother did not kick me out of the house (in fact she never knew about my first child). I had some job skills and likely could have gotten some help from family members. I did not explore keeping my daughter, mindlessly accepting the mores of the times.

The shame that accompanied these sad events in my life lingers on even though I've been fortunate to know my daughter and her fine children. I greatly admire women like Lorraine who not only told people about her daughter but wrote a book, Birthmark, about her pregnancy, appeared in television interviews, and became a crusader for opening records. I know, though, that if I and other mothers like Karen Gjerning, and Denise Guedon who also appeared in the Oregonian article, don't tell our stories, nothing will change. The lack of natural mother stories reinforces the widely held opinion that mothers fear disclosure. This allows segments of the adoption industry to oppose open records legislation under the pretense of protecting mothers from their shame.

Tomorrow, I'll just nod and smile when someone tells me they saw the story and just concentrate on playing a sharp game of bridge.--jane

*Measure 58 ad from November, 1998 Unfortunately I don't have a copy of the full ad which included my picture and that of four other first mothers.
New Oregon law makes adoption records easier to access than ever --online edition -- available to everyone
Adoption story-blanks are filled in  -- print edition available to Oregonian subscribers only

For more about the law see Oregon to allow first mothers easier access to child's adoption records

On a personal note, today is my sister Lucy's birthday. I spent about eight moths at her home in Orange County, California after Rebecca was born and surrendered in San Francisco. I am so thankful to Lucy and her late husband, Mike, that I had that opportunity to rest and sort things out. With their encouragement I went to law school, something few women at the time.

Lorraine here: Great, Jane@! Congratulations! Every story always leads to more action, more searching, more activists, more pressure on legislatures to change the damn law!  I believe my name is there somewhere among the 500. I remember being contacted to add my name. I love the ad.

Post script: It was great at bridge yesterday. I walked in the door and a woman ran over and told me what a wonderful article it was. Soon I was surrounded, treated as a celebrity. Some told me how brave I was; others that they were thrilled to know someone on the front page. One woman gave me a copy of the article she had clipped out, thinking I would like extra copies. All in all, a fine day although my bridge game was not great -- came in 13th out of 14.


  1. We now had a hot discussion on the confidentiality of adoption topic in our office. Some of us agree on that the biological parents should be aware of the law and benefit from it in order to reistablish the link they'd broken by themselves. But the cases are different! Some of the parents literarly throw their children away and the others are taking responsabilities to take care http://motherhow.com/child-adoption-conscious-option-of-parenting/. Fancy that - a woman, who has left her child in a trash bin to die would some day decide to establish the link and benefit from it - the baby has to take care of the mother in need. Well, I don't know... One may change the mind, when somebody took care of the child for 18 years! The other thing is letting the children finding their biological parents. Because children never decided to leave their parents and have the right to know. So I'd keep it only one direction - children searching for parents

    1. Unknown, many adoptees wish to be found no matter the circumstances their mother and father faced. Many seek reunion and/or many wish to know that their parents have thought of them past that moment when they were surrendered. many wish to know other family members, and to know that other family members want to know them. I'm not sure of what all an adoption record contains, but I think the law of the land should afford anyone who wants to find a biological relative the ability to do so - not blocking the necessary records either way. I don't see why it can't be a matter of public record, open even to the adoptive parents, certainly once the adoptee has become an adult.

      The link in your text seems to advocate trying to adopt because it is the right thing, and to try to learn to love a needy child, and it also advocates for a righteous feeling of superiority for being able to pull this off when a biological parent didn't seem to think they could. No adoptee wants to hear that their adoptive parents entered parenthood with these goals in mind, and nobody likes being raised as a charity case.

    2. Unknown, if a mother left her child in a trash bin, the child would be made a ward of the state and placed for adoption by the child welfare agency. Under this law mothers whose children were taken by the state can get the court record only IF they show good cause and the identifying information will be REDACTED. In other words, these mothers get nothing that would help them find their child.

    3. Unknown, are you Masha Karakule? In that case, you have to consider that most people here are from the USA, where adoption became in some ways something more like modern slave trade than like marriage, while I am from a country where the introduction of adoption can be blamed on Hitler's genocide, from Belarus one's point of view will be wildly different, of course, but consider that this Oregonian law merely allows a child abandoner to take the difficult search for her from the shoulders of her child and victim, how much more, would this be allowed to her if her child is abducted rather than abandoned, as is often the xase from a moral, if not legal point of view?

    4. Unknown: What is offensive about your comment is that it ignores the concept that no matter what the reality is, a child may want to know what his or her genetic, biological parentage is. Your comment is only concerned about the adoptive parents who might be worried that there is a connection between genetic parent and child. You need to rethink how you think about adoption and what you pass onto any children you might adopt.

    5. From that blog cited: "You cannot be the son of your father, if you have never seen him in your life."

      There are things called genes. And not the "bad-blood" type reading as suggested in the blog post you linked, but as in real maps of who we are. We are not only nature, and we are not only nurture. We are not blank slates: that is for certain. I cannot tell you how much of my father I am, and I never met him. I look like him; we share many of the same interests; we have the same temperament and personality traits. I also share talents of my grandmother and great-grandparents. Please, Unknown. Come on. Adoptees are not aliens to be inscribed at will.

      Our parents are not irresponsible people. Society has a script to make the exchange of infants palatable; first parents=bad, babies=blank slates, prospective adoptive parents/adoptive parents=saviors. This is rude, ridiculous simplistic, and WRONG. No one here buys it. Use critical thinking skills and think about your own family and how insulting it would be to say these things about any of your relatives. Please apply the same courtesy to us.

    6. I read the blog linked, and wow, there are some very offensive and ignorant statements there! Yikes.

      All children deserve a loving home, and I absolutely feel heartbroken that orphanages exist. However, I also realize it is an incredibly complex issue, and it's just not as simple as telling everyone to go an adopt a child. Many orphanages house children who are not true orphans; their parents are unable or unwilling, often because of social issues, to take care of them. I wish we would focus on fixing the root issues at the same time as improving the quality of care for orphans, helping families stay intact, and enacting in-country quality foster care and guardianship when intact families are not possible. The "white savior" complex is a real thing that we need to be acutely aware of and be sure we are not causing more harm in the attempt to do good.

      As for the offensive parts... my daughter is adopted, and she is absolutely her (natural) mom and dad's daughter. Their similarities are many. Appearance, personality, voice, talents. My daughter is a beautiful mix of her natural family and all that they gave her creates in her this absolute uniqueness. I value and appreciate where she came from while acknowledging and appreciating our influence and impact on her growth. Nature and nuture work together, and that's simply scientific fact. Why on earth would I deny who my daughter is if I do indeed love her?

      I do not struggle with infertility, and adopting our daughter was never a second choice for us. But I do not align with the "pat myself on the back" tone of the first paragraph of the article. That alone really put me off. It reeked of the "how awesome am I for adopting" kind of crap that society pushes.

  2. Jane, I give you a huge amount of credit for your honesty and courage in what you have written here and for appearing in the local paper. I know how much harder this is for someone like you who was in the closet for a long time, and who has reputation to uphold. It was easy for me to be out from the time I surrendered because I literally had nothing to lose, being more or less on the outside of polite society at the time. Also, we are all different emotionally and each deal with trauma in our own ways. It is neither better nor worse to come out early or late, what matters is eventually being at peace with our own lives and choices and challenges and with our own reunions. You have no more cause for shame than any other mother, complex forces within and without were at work on all of us when we surrendered.

    You might find that your neighbors and bridge club are much kinder and more supportive than you expect about your appearance in the paper. Don't walk away if they mention it, but stress how great it is to know your daughter and grandchildren now, even though you suffered years of loss, and generally people will be happy for you, not judgmental. You may even hear that some of these upstanding community members are also birthmothers or adoptees and can use your help.

    That has been my experience in recent years, no matter who I tell my story. People reacting negatively were few, and way in the past when adoptee reunions were still controversial as they no longer are for most people. Your witness that a successful career woman, wife and mother can also be a mother who surrendered a child is so valuable in helping normalize what has been the experience of women from every walk of life over the past century. Thank you.

    As to the legislation enabling mothers to get all their records, as a mother who already reunited I have no interest in my agency or other records and would not want to see them as it would be too upsetting. Mothers who do not need these records as an aid to search may not need them, so are not coming out in great numbers. In any event, it is a good law that should exist everywhere along with adoptee access, and publicizing it is the right thing to do.

    1. Something that I have found in my 35 years of being out (out of 50) is that I have found first mothers among my friends and co-workers. They take me aside after an interview or article and tell me their story, some for the first time telling anyone. And they've gtown.

      I have found few negative responses, and usually talking to them about the lack of choices and society's mores at the time changes their mind to maybe not be positive, but accepting.

      I wish I lived in OR because I'd love to see what the files say about me, and about my daughters aparents.

    2. Same here. I am always finding people--men and women--who want to spill the beans to me and tell me they are either natural mothers or fathers with children who were adopted. It's is no longer even surprising when I hear someone tell me....

  3. You are brave! Thank you for doing the article.

  4. Jane, good job. For what my opinion is worth, I think you are too hard on yourself when you say that you 'mindlessly accepted the mores of the times.' I won't belabor the point with my ill-worded reasons. I appreciate your bravery and coming out in order to further adoption reform. That takes a certain bravery I don't have. Good luck tomorrow and always.

  5. Thank you for letting yourself be seen. It is a courageous act (even if it doesn't feel like it). And I am embarrassed to say that I did not know about the law allowing natural mothers access their son's/daughter's name until I read this. I say this as someone who worked hard down here in southern Oregon on Measure 58 back in 1998. Now I can spread the word.
    Patricia Florin

  6. Great article!! People outside of being a 'natural mother' don't realize the courage it takes to come out and talk about the experience. Our society has done a great job of keeping women quiet about what adoption is really about. Hopefully this article will encourage other mothers to come out and talk about their stories.

  7. Jane, thank you so much for sharing your story. Sending some thoughts of strength for you tomorrow.

  8. Great new law! So proud of Oregon, all the work we did to bring an end to secrecy and shame. It takes courage to expose yourself, I remember how raw and vulnerable I felt, but it has succeeded in opening up the dark days of secret adoption. Helen Hill, Chief petitioner for M58

  9. Jane I think you are being to hard on yourself too. Back in the day if "boyfriend" wouldn't marry you adoption is what happened. I look back and can't believe the way I crumbed and let my mother call the shots. I was always strong willed with a mind of my own, but I did exactly what she wanted.
    Your tireless work to open records in Oregon has been amazing AND it has all paid off.
    Do a happy dance at bridge tomorrow or maybe a victory lap around the room!

  10. @Theodore, how the hell can you blame sealed adoption records on Hitler? He never had anything to do with slavery and if anyone should be accused of that it would be those two scuzbag marxists Vldamir Lenin and Statlin who murdered over 22 million Christians by starving them to death keeping them prisoners in their home with no access to food, about ten years before the holocaust. What those monsters did resembles more the corrupt American government forcing natives to remain on ghetto like reservations, impoverished and hungry. It was our nasty government that first sold natives and blacks and then due to discrimination towards single mothers and their babies mirrored that insidious act by making even more money off of another group of people. Hitler never made a dime off of the concentration camps so to compare slavery to Hilter is ridiculous.

    1. Anon. I compared adoption in the USA with slavery in some aspects, I said that Hitler can be blamed quite easily for adoption in MY country, which is, like most countries, NOT the United States of America. If Hitler had not attacked my country and murdered our Jews, there would not have been many Jewish orphans, who were in part fostered by other people, and more or less demanded as man-power by the Zionists, who would not have been as powerful without the genocide, for export to Israel, and that battle for the Jewish orphan between Zionist and Christian Fundamentalist caused the introduction of the infernal concept of adoption without consent of the adoptee in our law, and that allowed our equivalent of the Baby Scoop Era. All that thanks to uncle Adolf, who actually made with his cronies quite some dimes of the workers in concentration camps,...

    2. Your facts are screwed up Theodore. Most orphaned Jewish children were sent to live with their own blood relatives in the USA and in Britain. I know this for a fact. You don't seem to remember that the entire closed adoption industry here started with the horrible orphan trains, the child abuser Georgia Tann and adoptive parents like Herbert Lehman who was Jewish as a matter of fact. (look it up). What is your country anyway? Germany? Poland?

    3. Please stay on topic, and learn to spell a name.

    4. Anon, you are free to disagree with those who post comments here--FMF is a place to share opinions--but your comments are offensive and inappropriate. We will not post any more of your remarks unless you are polite, to the point, and include sources for your "facts."

      Theodore is a long-time commenter here. He provides the valuable perspective of living in another country where every effort is made to keep children and mothers together and infant adoption is rare.

  11. Jane--and everyone: It all gets so much easier with time. When we come out of the closet it's always hard at the beginning and we all have or had something to lose: the untarnished public perception of ourselves. You and I both "hid" in that we had our children in secret, and so neighbors--even family, in my case--did not know. As many readers know, I had to show my father that it was not a mistake that I went to college (and did so over his initial objections) and so admitting that I had gotten pregnant was tantamount to saying I was a horrible failure at life and had screwed up my life. So I don't think it is unusual for you to be embarrassed initially here. But since this will make a certain commotion at the bridge club...I hope you were able to go with the flow. When Hole In My ♥ came out, and there was a big story in the local paper, the ladies at the post office--close to my age, slightly younger--told me they admired me. So you will get all kinds of reactions--and I'll talk to you later today.

  12. Unknown: I support the law in Oregon. And if there is anyone that shouldn't, it's probably me! I'm adopted. I had no interest in finding my bio mom. She found me, and pursued me against my expressed wishes leading to a painful tale that is brushing the definition of stalking. However, with all that said, there are plenty of adoptees and birth families that would love to find each other and are having a hard time doing so thanks to the convoluted laws in most places now. Just because I wish my bio mom had either never found me or obeyed the "leave me the hell alone" statement from me is no reason to block a law that would help so many other people. The baby in the trash scenario is a false analogy. In that case, there is very little paperwork to go on. Rarely is there a birth certificate to start with.

  13. Thanks to all of you for your kind and uplifting words.

    It was great at bridge yesterday. I walked in the door and a woman ran over and told me what a wonderful article it was. Soon I was surrounded, treated as a celebrity. Some told me how brave I was; others that they were thrilled to know someone on the front page. One woman gave me a copy of the article she had clipped out, thinking I would like extra copies. All in all, a fine day although my bridge game was not great -- came in 13th out of 14.

    1. Openness in adoption scores big while Edwards loses at Bridge. I can see the headline now...

    2. "Openness in adoption scores big while Edwards loses at Bridge. I can see the headline now..."

      lol. That made me laugh. Next thing you know she'll have to change her profile pic to wearing movie star sunglasses. :) Glad the day went so well, despite the bridge score.

  14. I told you so!:-) Seriously, Jane, the article is great and in general people are nice about something like that today. At least in some ways we are not in the 50s any more. Congratulations on a good day even though the bridge game was not so great.

    I must say a couple of the comments here citing Hitler, Stalin and other atrocities are way off track, upsetting, and stray far from the subject, but I am glad to see they did not derail the comments on your excellent post about your article and feelings about being public.



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