' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Gov. Cuomo signs bill giving adopted people in NY their original birth certificates

Friday, November 15, 2019

Gov. Cuomo signs bill giving adopted people in NY their original birth certificates

My daughter (center) with her daughter, my mother
and me. My family. 
As on January 2020 individuals born and adopted in New York will be able to have a copy of their original birth certificates with the names of their biological parents, if so listed.

What a simple statement of fact.

How long it has taken to write those words. For me, nearly a half century.

Many of you already know this because it's been all over Facebook and Twitter and even the eleven o'clock news last night. Yesterday evening when I got the news from my husband--Florence called  and she told him--when I was out having tea with a friend not related to this issue. At first, sitting on the couch in our living room, I hardly reacted to his words. I had been assured the signature was coming even though the wait was driving us all nuts, and so now, I thought, Oh, thank god, Cuomo's finally signed the bill.


A few minutes later, in the kitchen, putting a meatloaf in the oven, I was overcome and the tears flew out of me as I sobbed. Tears of relief. Tears for all the tension that I had been holding back over this issue since I first signed the papers that terminated my legal responsibilities to my daughter in 1966. It was all awful, but the worst part was knowing that she was NEVER supposed to find her way back to me, or me to her. It was the law, said my social worker, Helen Mura, whom I called Mrs. Mura. I believe that she would have fully supported me walking in and saying Patrick had finally told her wife about us, and that he was getting a divorce, and we would keep our baby. That did not happen, as readers of this blog and my other writings know full well. I signed. I remember it was a sunny day, so at odds with the horrific thing I was doing.

Fast Forward to 1972. July 25, 1972. My first husband and I had called it quits only a few days before. I was sitting in the living room in our rather spacious New York City apartment at 75th and Amsterdam Avenue and I read in the New York Times a piece that changed my life. "Adopted Children Who Wonder: What was Mother Like?"

I read with joy and incredulity to learn that adopted children wanted to know who their natural parents--their mothers, more specifically--were, and I was one of those women and....and...and maybe my daughter would be one of those curious adoptees. Curious hardly covers the bone-deep need and longing to know the truth of one's origins. Curious is much too weak a word, but English doesn't have a better one.

Within weeks--since I was writing for national magazines--I had an assignment from Cosmopolitan to write a first-person story about a woman, someone in the Cosmo demographic, who wondered, searched and found. I called Florence Fisher, the adopted woman in the story who had started an organization called the Adoptee Liberty Movement Association or ALMA. I was all business, asking if she could direct me to someone who had a good story and was willing to talk. I suggested Florence and I meet, and a short time after that I was sitting her in turquoise-walled (or maybe it was aqua) apartment sipping iced tea on a blistering hot day. Before I left, I told her who I was beyond a writer. She said, she thought something was going on. My family didn't even know yet, and now Florence did.

Thus began a lifelong, from-that-moment-on friendship. I went to ALMA meetings, once a month on Saturday mornings. I was on the board of ALMA when it went to be a non-profit. We met that night at Betty Jean Lifton's apartment. I spoke at meetings. I wrote more, wrote pieces about unsealing records for Parent's magazine, the New York Times Op-Ed Page, Town & Country, New Woman, Newsday, other newspapers around the country, anywhere I could get something in print on the issue that would consume the rest of my life. .

Florence and I went to Albany to testify in 1976, when first mother, blogger and NY adoptee-rights activist Claudia Corrigan d'Arcy was in the second grade. At that hearing, one of our staunch opponents was the attorney for Louise Wyse who used language such as "disaster," "pathology," and "havoc." His name was Shad Polier, he was married to Louise Wyse's daughter who was now running the agency, and what they were terrified about was that their terrible experiment of separating identical twins and triplets would come to light, as it did in time, and shown so demonstrably in the film, Three Identical Strangers. Betty Jean was there too, along with a nun from Catholic Charities who said they were doing searches on their own, and had contacted about a hundred natural mothers to find out if they were interested in meeting the children they have given up for adoption. None had said no.

No matter. 

We testified in court for adoptees seeking their original birth certificates. Florence and I went to Washington, DC and testified in Senate subcommitee, just like the one on television today regarding corruption via Trump. Birthmark came out in 1979; I did a piece for Newsweek. I got plenty of verbal anger and garbage thrown at me. A number of television shows wouldn't touch the subject, but some did. Eventually, with shock TV, the subject was aired, and Florence did a number of shows that always led to an outpouring of letters from adoptees and natural mothers, just as anything I wrote did.

Florence and I were harangued, criticized, argued with. I know I was called a slut behind my back. Lawsuits in New York went nowhere, no matter how well argued. Out of nowhere, men would violently verbally attack me at dinner parties--or talk about me at dinners I did not attend. (Later I would assume that they had secret children, or thought they might, their wives and other children did not know about. I can't fathom why else they would have been so angry. Women would pass me unsigned notes at cocktail parties in the Hamptons with that poem about "I carried you in my heart if not my body." It's better than that--it rhymes--but I'm not taking the time to look it up.

Life went on. Oregon opened its records. Other states began seeing the light, but not New York. Joyce Bahr found Unsealed Initiative and I remember her calling me--I remember where I sat in my kitchen--when she began her work. She lead yearly pilgrimages of adoptees and birth mothers to lobby legislators in Albany. I wrote what I could, but New York proved intractable. Joyce did not give up. People got angry with one another in the movement, but still it went on. We were unstoppable. I'm missing a lot here--Lee Campbell formed CUB, Carol Schaefer wrote The Other Mother. Bastard Nation starting raising hell. More and more women who relinquished children came out of the woodwork, so did thousands and thousands of adoptees, all wanting to know: Who am I, who was I when I was born? Why didn't my natural mother raise me? Is anything wrong with me?

And now, many thousands of the adopted will be able to get their birth certificates by simply asking for them. I cried a couple of times last night. My eyes burned the way they do after an emotional cry.

I'll write more in a day or two--I've got a packed schedule this weekend which includes overnight guests, a friend's 75th birthday party for which I baked the cake, and a review of a local production of Raisin in the Sun to write. I can feel the tiredness in my bones as the tension in me, collected over the 47 years I've been carrying this cross around, works its way out. God knows, I need a nap.--lorraine 
______________________
Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption

"In this brilliantly crafted and compelling memoir, Dusky covers all perspectives: her own grief and pain as a first mother, her daughter's anger and longing, and the adoptive parents' fears...I was equally astounded by her ability to flawlessly weave in facts about adoption practices over the years, the impact of adoption on both adoptees and birth mothers, and the lack of progress to unseal records."
--Denise Roessle, author of Second-Chance Mother, Adoption Today Magazine

13 comments :

  1. Thanks for sharing some of your history in working with Florence Fisher to achieve New York's opening of OBC's at last. I'm glad you had such a nice social worker, Mrs. Mura. Mine at the Edna Gladney Home for Unwed Mothers were nice, too, but how they could have imagined that separating me from my son forever was a good thing, I'll never understand. Many wore wedding rings and had pictures of their children on their desks; yet they advised us to give away our babies and refused to tell me where or with whom I'd ever find mine. Too many social workers have played God, and at least in New York now, their secrets are blown. May the same happen in Texas.

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  2. You've brought tears to my eyes Lorraine reading your story. I can feel the years of struggle and your forthright venture into the abyss. What an unbelievably strong woman you are - and smart! I've feared disclosing because of what you had to go through with the insults and attacks. But perhaps it's time to gain courage and be more visible. Thanks for all you do and have done <3.

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  4. "bone-deep need" so so true i`d like to add soul deep and beyond need

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  5. Thank you for your tireless work to get OBC's opened in NY. I hope this will set a legal precedent and many states including Florida where I live will follow suit. Adoptees shouldn't have to go to the expense of DNA testing which doesn't always work if no one in the family of origin has tested. I am very happy for NY adoptees.

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    1. Hey Susan. OBC are not always accurate. Mine was a bald face lie. DNA testing is still needed even if a woman thinks you are the child she gave up.

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  6. Lorraine, thank you for never giving up. Here in Washington state we have been cheering on our cribmates and allies in New York. You are an inspiration.

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  7. Lorraine, it's surreal to read this history, to have a glimpse at your personal struggle, and your place in history. Thank you for all of your hard work, and all that you've endured. As you know, I , too, have been a victim of harassment from my own blood family and adoptive family as well. That alone destroys a person from the inside. I haven't cried yet, nor have I felt a sense of relief. I feel numb. For me, it's not over. Adopted people will never be fully equal to non-adopted people until we succeed in the further goal of one, and only one, birth certificate for every person born. And an adoption certificate issued to record the legal transaction of adoption. We also need to make sure that no adoptive parent has the legal right to change the first, middle, or last name of a child they adopt. Adoption should not be about identity theft, or ownership of someone else's child. This is my final goal. Meanwhile, congratulations on your hard work that contributed on New York State's adoptee rights victory!

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  8. OBC are a nice thing to have, but until women have to prove their identity and have to swear oaths before they bail on their children, there is nothing to make the OBC anything but a work of fiction. Even today, women fill out the BC with erroneous information of their kept child's father. It is a nice gesture towards the adopted person in helping them feel somewhat equal.

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  9. PART 1:
    I am told that in CA, adoptees must wait until their 99th year of birth before they can access their OBC. Ludicrous. I am a birth mom whose birth son used DNA to locate me. I was victimized and force fed lies by the well funded adoption industry in 1983. I was led to believe my son would be better off. As a 15 year old child myself, I had been used, manipulated and taken advantage of by a boy 4 years older than me. We were NOT a "couple", I hid my pregnancy from everyone, until it became quite obvious that I was. I was sent to a "maternity home for unwed mothers", St. Anne's in Los Angeles, CA. Did I mention I was 15? I was assigned a social worker from Holy Family Services. Vulnerable and impressionable I hung on every lie they fed me. "It would be better this way", "you child deserves a life you are not able to provide". I was 15, with barely 2 years of high school under my belt; I had no financial resources, no emotional support; my mother had been told the same lies; she truly believed that this was the best thing. The father of my child was no where to be found. I was never given the option of participating in the selection of the "new" parents, so meeting prospective adoptive parents or even knowing anything about them was completely out of the question. I was too scared and naive to realize I actually had a voice AND a choice. The birth was traumatic. My son was whisked away as soon as he left my body. Thank God I had the sense the following morning after his birth to realize I was STILL the mother of this child and requested to see him. I was able to spend the day bonding with my son. Later that evening, the HFS social worker brought all the paperwork to me and watched as I effectively signed away my parental rights. By that time I'd had a birthday, so I was just barely 16 at that point. The next morning I called for my baby, only to be told he was gone. He'd been discharged. No one bothered to tell me. I spent years - YEARS - trying to make sense of the brokenness that I felt. I was told to "go on with my life, and if anyone ever asked..you tell them that baby died." I was told to keep all this a secret, never tell a soul. I was told it was better to keep it a secret, never tell a soul. I got married at age 20; had two daughters (one in '88, one in '90) but at age 24 the crushing weight of my "secrets" caused a severe mental breakdown. The truth came out and my marriage disintegrated. I started searching for my son secretly around 1993, a good 10 years after I had given birth. I quickly learned, parents who relinquish parental rights really truly have no rights. I could only hope and pray that my son truly did have a better life. In the meantime, I remarried, had a son in 2000, and continued to search. I scoured adoption regustry/forums, leaving my information just in case. One of the first things I did when I met my 2nd husband was to tell him the truth. All of it, the good, the bad, the ugly. When my kept children were old enough to understand, we told them they had a brother who had been adopted. Every year on my son's birthday, September 25th, I celebrated in silence, reliving that day from the memories I had. I had accepted the fact that I may never reunite with him. However, 4 months ago, I received a message on Facebook from a man looking for his birth mother. He had found me! Unfortunately, my son had an agenda.

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  10. PART2:
    I started searching for my son secretly around 1993, a good 10 years after I had given birth. I quickly learned, parents who relinquish parental rights really truly have no rights. I could only hope and pray that my son truly did have a better life. In the meantime, I remarried, had a son in 2000, and continued to search. I scoured adoption regustry/forums, leaving my information just in case. One of the first things I did when I met my 2nd husband was to tell him the truth. All of it, the good, the bad, the ugly. When my kept children were old enough to understand, we told them they had a brother who had been adopted. Every year on my son's birthday, September 25th, I celebrated in silence, reliving that day from the memories I had. I had accepted the fact that I may never reunite with him. However, 4 months ago, I received a message on Facebook from a man looking for his birth mother. He had found me! Unfortunately, my son had an agenda.

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  11. PART3:
    Just a few weeks after he found me, he was asking for money, favors, gifts. I decided to run a background check on him because so many things he had told me were turning out to not be true. He told me he was raised in a good home, by a good family. That he had gone to college and had a bachelor's degree. That was a lie. What I find was a man with an extensive criminal history - specifically domestic violence, drugs, theft. There was no college degree. The people who adopted him were older than my own parents; the adoptive father died when my son was 11. However prior to his death he was sexually molesting my son's adoptive sister. The adoptive mother was forced to supplement her income so she started to take in foster children for money. I am told she was mean, vindictive, cruel, abusive. Hearing these things made my heart hurt. Then to reunite with my son and finding out he was a con and fraud. He has 7 children from 4 different mothers; he has been primarily absent from the lives of the oldest five children, preferring to focus his love and attention on the two children he shares with his live in significant other. The reunion stalled when his SO accused me of playing "favorites" with my kept children and not paying enough attention to her and her children on Facebook. My son lives in CA, I live in KY (we are a military retired family), so arranging a reunion meeting was difficult because of logistics. However, we continued to move forward. But as time went on, I continued to receive hostile treatment and verbal abuse from his girlfriend (significant other). The reunion occured in CA on Nov. 16th 2019 at my parents home. It was anti-climatic at best. There was no warmth, no connection, no crying, unemotional. His girlfriend was standoffish, barely spoke to us. It was very uncomfortable. We left on good terms, but after we said our goodbyes I felt devastated, even more like a failure. And the guilt. The GUILT. The way he turned out. That's my fault! Several days ago, Dec 2nd I received a message on FB from his girlfriend. She wrote me a very colorful message, littered with every foul, curse word you can think of. And in her message - which was addressed to both my son and I - she called me a whore, slut, b!tch; I was a bad mother, I should have been more responsible, I was a racist, my family was racist. (I should mention, I am Hispanic, my son's father is black.) My reunion has been a devastating experience My son chimed in on this message and continued the barrage. It didn't matter that I was a child. It didn't matter that I had no place to go. It didn't matter that I had no job, no financial resources. None of that mattered. The messages went from hostile to outright threats against me and the rest of the family and I continued to receive messages for four hours!! Finally, we were forced to get the police involved. My husband's family is a law enforcement family (at the FBI & local levels). As I write this, there is a pending restraining order working its way through the court system. I am utterly devastated at the turn of events. I waited 36 years to find my son. I am learning that not all reunions turn out well.

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    1. MissT19~ I am sorry to hear this sad tale of events. Every adoption, every reunion is different. While some adoptive parents are good people, some are not. We have heard many stories of adoptions gone wrong, of adoptive parents so much older (as in your case), of the pain and continuing sorrow of relinquishment...and reunion. Adoption itself appears to have a devastating, negative effect on some.

      But we cannot let bad adoptions, or many sad, difficult stories, to prevent adoptees from gaining their original birth records. You were told never to tell anyone; I thank my lucky stars that I was not, and even if I had been, I don't think I could have contained the secret of my deepest sorrow from my first husband, as I told him when he asked me to marry him. We were actually driving to a restaurant outside of Albany when he asked me; I remember looking out the window (he was driving) and thinking: I have to tell him now, before I answer. But like your first marriage, neither did mine survive.

      Giving up a child may have been the only way we could see to move our lives forward--you were just a young teen--but we understand the depth of the damage done to our souls.

      You did not deserve the vituperative attack from your son's partner, nor his abuse. Despite the current uproar, I hope you are able to have a somewhat peaceful holiday with the people who love you.

      Yesterday was the anniversary of the day my daughter committed suicide. Suicide is not a statistical blip among adoptees. As one of my friends said several years ago and I never forgot how he, a computer and statistical whiz, said these words: So then...adoption and sealed records are bad social engineering.

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