When I'd spoken a few minutes before this old guy who used the language above, had made audible, disgusted noises that were heard throughout the chamber. Who was this rude asshole? Now that he was speaking, I learned he was the attorney, Shad Polier, representing the Louise Wise Agency in New York. And yes, one of the adoption agencies who were fighting unsealing records with an iron fist.
Today I know that the words he was using refered not only to his image of the "disaster" in the lives of the poor-young-girls-now-women who had--he was sure--put the memory of their lost child behind them, he was desperately trying to save the the agency now run by his wife, Justine, daughter of Louise Wise herself, from the disaster of numerous lawsuits. His testimony, along with his nasal negativity, was a cover-your-ass attempt to hide the Nazi-like twin and triplets experiment the agency was participating in: without informing the natural birth mother, or the adoptive parents, without getting any sort of permission, without considering the lifelong effect of their actions, the premier Jewish agency in New York and thus the country purposefully was separating identical siblings (and in at least one case, triplets) and sending them to different homes to see what happened.
All this came to mind last week when I was watching the film Three Identical Strangers, about identical triplets, born in 1961, and adopted through the Louise Wise Agency. That's what Polier was protecting! This hideous study! Separated at six months and adopted into homes of different social status (blue-collar, middle class, upper middle class), the triplets were part of an experiment to see how each fared in a different social class. Would nature out? Or would nurture change them?
The separating of the identical twins/triplets was a macabre psychological study that sprang from the mind of a prominent psychologist, Dr. Peter Neubauer--not so ironically, an Austrian Jew himself--to definitively answer the nature/nurture question. It was a time when psychological testing was messing with minds: the unsettling Milgrim experiments on human obedience and the Stanford prison experiments, and now, the Nuebauer identical siblings experiment. Children and families were tested, filmed and interviewed, but the families were told this was a routine followup to see how the children were faring; none of the subjects were ever told they had identical siblings.
Through coincidence and circumstance in their late teens, to their utter amazement, they found one another in 1980, and this appalling study came to light.
|Daughter Jane and Lorraine, a year after reunion|
Three Identical Twins goes backwards in time, starting with the happy reunion of Bobby Shafran and Eddy Galland; when their story makes the New York Post, a third, David Kellman, sees a doppelganger of himself and calls them. As young men, the teens quickly gravitated to the most outgoing and warm parent, the most like them, the blue-collar father of David, who becomes a kind of surrogate father to them all.
Lively, exuberant teenagers, they move in together, enjoy the celebrity, make the rounds of numerous talk shows, they dress, walk and talk alike, finishing each other's sentences. They all smoke Marlboros, exude bonhomie, and share a taste for the same kind of women. They open a restaurant, the Triplets Roumanian Steak House in Manhattan, and it's a huge success. Life is great.
But in fact, all three had behavioral problems and as infants banged their heads against the crib. By the time they were teenagers, two of them--Eddy and David-- had been in and out of psychiatric institutions, and the third, Bobby (raised with the most wealth) was on probation for being part of a a robbery connected to a murder.
|The story of reunited female twins who|
were also part of the same study. They
also found other twins who were.
Now the film turns dark, focusing on the men's existential anguish and the pervading sense of loss over being unknowingly separated and kept from each other's company and comfort for so many years. British Director Tim Wardle turns the camera on them and lets the men talk about their rage. In a poignant moment, Bobby, now an attorney living in Brooklyn, expresses his anger over being their treated like lab rats. While Neubauer died a decade ago, Wardle found two people who were connected to the study, and their recollections are the most chilling. One who was there for the interviews and filming recognizes, now as an old man, that what they did was wrong. Another, a woman, less connected to the study, simply finds the work interesting, and regrets the conclusions were never published. It's as if she left her humanity on a shelf somewhere.
In a happier moment together the boys delve into the birth records at the New York Public library and match the number of their amended birth certificates with the originals that used to be on file there, and find the name of their mother. They met her in a pub in Manhattan, learned they were the product of prom night, note that she kept up with them when they drank, but little else is revealed. The birth father is never mentioned.
|Lawrence Wright's eye-opening|
treatise on the genetic code that
In 1995 journalist Lawrence Wright (interviewed in the film) published a report in the New Yorker about the troubling psychological study of Neubauer. The data was never conclusive and remains unpublished, However, the triplets were able to access some 10,000 heavily-redacted pages of the survey, as have other identicals who have found they were also part of this wretched experiment. But the data to the rest of us is locked up at Yale University until 2065 when everyone involved is almost certain to be dead. Wright ends a chapter with these words that we found so true: "Twins have been used to prove a point, and the point is that we don't become. We are."
That same year of the New Yorker piece, 1995, the seemingly most outgoing to the trio--Eddy--commits suicide. He was raised with the most authoritarian father--he's interviewed for the film--and one immediately senses how life would have been difficult for a child so stylistically unlike the cold, strict father figure we see, so different from effusive, friendly Eddy. We don't hear more about adoptee suicide, which I was hoping for, as it would have made an shocking revelation to most who see the movie. To those reading here who do not know, my daughter committed suicide in 2007, more than a quarter of a century years after I found her and we were reunited.
A few days after I saw the movie, Bobby and David were interviewed on Megan Kelly Today, and she easily referred to their birth mother as an "alcoholic." Right, I thought, you would do that, make the leap from having a few drinks to "alcoholic," I thought, but hey! we are the slutty birth mothers, right? But the men quickly shot that down, and said that she maintains relationships with them and their children.
The film is an excellent collaboration of interviews, archival footage, photographs, and recreations, but they are not icky. Particularly compelling is the revelation after the parents together visit the people who run Louise Wise is that they are discovered opening a bottle of champagne after, toasting their suceess at seemingly having dodged a lawsuit.
The Identical Strangers has been playing now for three weeks at my nearby theater in East Hampton, New York, and across the country in a limited release. The reviews have been hugely positive. All that is good. Knowing what I know about the dark side of adoption, knowing what I know about the horrible Louise Wise Agency--which went out of business in 2010 after a couple of highly publicized lawsuits--the film did not shock me. And though I'm a famous crier, I only got damp eyes once or twice. Others in the audience were having more of a reaction than I was. Having felt like a lab rat myself when I met sociologist/academic Ricki Solinger, who has written authoritatively about the Baby Scoop Era--I mostly felt the revulsion toward to monsters who perpetuated this horror. You can't make this stuff up. No one would believe you.
Shad Polier died a few months after the hearing in Albany; when I read his obituary, riding in a New York City bus, I wanted to shout with joy: the old order was dying, surely we would win soon, surely the sealed records would be open in a couple of years! I wrote about the hearing and Polier at greater length in hole in my heart. Peter Neubauer died in 2008; no mention of the identical siblings study is included in his obituary. Pity.
See the movie and encourage your friends and family to see it also. I'm rooting for it to win the Oscar for Best Documentary. Getting our story into the media, from Long Lost Family to the story line on This Is Us, movies like Philomena and Three Identical Strangers, memoirs from adoptees and birth natural mothers are all a part of shaping the narrative.--lorraine
I'm posting no photo to the triplets because when I tried the blog got screwed up and took two days to come to its senses. You can find their photos elsewhere.
TO WATCH AT HOME
by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein
Just fascinating for anyone with the thinnest interest in the nature/nurture issue.
A fascinating chapter from Lawrence Wright's book, and the book:
"This is a book about far more than twins: it is about what twins can tell us about ourselves."--The New York Times
Another absorbing film about identity; this one about two boys--one Palestinian, one Jewish--switched in the hospital where they were born, and what plays out after they and their families learn the truth. It's not only about their identities, but also the continuing Palestine/Israel conflict.
My husband, Anthony Brandt, writing about his family, blood relatives, and our stories.