' [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

9 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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