Sunday, February 21, 2021

'Adoptees' Best Interests' ignored by agency

I recently published a photo of this story on Facebook, and many stated they could not read it. It dates from Feb. 6, 1982. I found my daughter in November, 1981, and we had reunited with her parents' blessing at the Madison, Wisconsin airport within days, and I spent the weekend at their home. Here is the column as it appeared in the New York Times op-ed page the following February. 
Lorraine and Jane the weekend
we met in Wisconsin, 1981.

You couldn't pick them out of a crowd, but adopted people are different. Two traits set them apart: a vague sense of disconnection or dislocation, and difficulty forming a strong sense of self. The lack of a specific heritage, which tells them how and where they fit into the cycle of life, is thought to be the root of the problem. To be missing a past might not sound like much, but that's because the rest of us have always known where we came from. ''My Mom has really gotten interested in genealogy in the last few years,'' one 16-year-old adoptee wrote me, ''and it's fine for her, but it doesn't do anything for me.''

Adoptees also lack family medical records at a time when doctors place increasing emphasis on them. At least, I told myself, that was something I could give my daughter when I gave her up for adoption.

My social worker insisted that I fill out detailed medical histories on myself and her father, and I eagerly complied. Through the years, I volunteered to pass on additional information; responses to my letters always indicated that the agency's social workers had no further contact with the family after the adoption was made final. The letters said her family was delighted with her at the time of the adoption. The tone of the letters was friendly, conciliatory; I accepted their content on faith.

When I first became aware that the birth control pills I took during my first trimester of pregnancy might have harmed my daughter, placing her in a category of children similar to those whose mothers took the drug DES during pregnancy, I wrote again. The American Cancer Society and experts at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center with whom I spoke agreed that she should be examined regularly for gynecological abnormalities. I begged the adoption agency to pass this information on to her parents.

I wrote three letters in as many months before I received a reply. After seven more months, the director wrote and said that my daughter's doctor reported that she did not have the symptoms that I was concerned about. I was assured that her medical needs were being met. Yet when her parents and I met for the first time not long ago, we wondered on what grounds the director had made that statement, since Jane - that's my daughter's name -had never had a gynecological examination. They also wondered why their doctor's letter to the agency - written when Jane had her first outbreak of epilepsy at age 5 - never was answered. They were asking for the information I was volunteering to give.

As for the medical histories I filled out, who knows? Jane's parents were not given a shred of medical information; the only thing they knew was my nationality. Nor was the adoptive mother, who has Irish ancestors, told that Jane's real father also had Irish ancestors. I t may not seem like much to know that you are part Irish, but it is at least a tangible piece of information for a teenager grappling with questions of identity.

They did receive a letter about the birth control pills, but it was worded so casually that it was treated with no seriousness. Perhaps the director of the agency assumed that I was lying when I reported what the doctors had told me. We know that the letter from Jane's doctor was received because that's how the agency traced her family to its current address, a feat that took from August 1978 to March 1979. Is it possible that the agency's filing system is so disorganized? Hardly. It is likely that the social workers were following the letter of New York State law, which says that the original mother and adoptee should not have access to each other's name except for ''good cause.'' Although with medication my daughter has not had a seizure for the past two years, for many years they were frequent and furious. What are the criteria for ''good cause''? Whose needs are being served?

Jane's adoptive mother thinks she knows. ''The agencies forget who the primary client is - the adopted person. We pay the bills and so they do what they assume we want, even at the expense of the child.'' Her adoptive father regrets that he was not more aggressive in seeking information, had not written more letters. Our daughter said nothing, and I couldn't think of anything to add.

This case could be dismissed if it were rare, but it happens time and time again, judging by the stories we hear after reunions occur outside agency channels. Medical records are valuable data for anyone. For adoptees, they have become a rallying point because no one denies their importance. But they are only a piece of the whole.

It is in the nature of man to find people one is connected to by birth. The Italians have a saying: blood seeks blood. At last, my search is over. The injustice of sealed records can do no further damage to me or my daughter. But there are the others. They number in the millions. --Lorraine Dusky, author of Birthmark, is active in the adoptees' rights movement. 

Of course, since then, I have written hole in my heart, a memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption--second edition coming soon. Now on the last lap. Or penultimate lap. 


  1. As an adoptee of closed adoption, I would just like to share my recent experience of having found my birth mother after 37 years of searching..i experienced all the jealously & lockout and lies from my mother's 2nd husband and half-siblings they were vile, to put it mildly. Yes I wanted medical info yes I wanted a history but more than anything I wanted her love and to love her. Yes we hard a difficult relationship for the all to brief 18 months that we reconnected.

    I took it all just to be with my mother...when she suddenly fell ill with cancer and taken into hospital on my birthday, they again tried to lock me out of seeing her in the hospital after they had all said their goodbyes I asked the doctor if I could visit she hung on for 3 days and each day I went.

    I felt honored to be able to talk hold her hand stroke her hair and just generally be around her, it was just me and my mother yes under terrible circumstances. she died just after I left 27 of Jan she was the first face I saw and I was the last face she saw I will always love her it is not just information we need it is a primal love and bond
    that most do not understand I would do anything to have her back xxx I would like to thank you all for all the advice and help you have given on the blog I would not have managed without it

  2. I used my adoption agency for my mothers name and details at that time, they were against me finding her as with most people I know they told me that all the information I needed was in my records medical stuff and such, I went away and did my own search. A file is a file and nothing more.. a person is real, a kiss and a touch is real... a voice and a face means everything

  3. So many people from outside the inner world of adoption simply do not "get it." If they would try, they might understand and be able to be compassionate. I am so sorry you found a family that does not understand. You did not deserve that. At least you have memories of having found your mother before she died.

  4. Thank you Lorraine so fed up of explaining to people seems best not to talk about it. Adoptees and birth parents really shouldn't have to justify why we want to contact and know each other

  5. There so many people in this world who do not understand the feeling of being an adopted child and simply do no not get it. If they read this kind of story, they might understand and be able to be compassionate. Thank you for sharing. Love this one!

  6. We were all part of a social experiment that ignored or just refused to see females as human beings with feelings and connection to the human beings we give birth to. This view has accelerated with commercial surrogacy etc We are just bodies to be used and made money off of- when young through sex or babies- when old through nursing homes and hospitals.Baby-there's no price upon your head-not quite. So I still live in the county where my child's adoption took place and as far as the covid vaccines go- I am more afraid of the system than I am of dying Everytime I hear the phrase "We have to get vaccines into arms" I cringe and feel like a dagger is going into my heart -and I remember the baby the system took out of my arms.

  7. Much obliged to you Lorraine so exhausted of disclosing to individuals appears to be best not to discuss it. Adoptees and birth guardians truly shouldn't need to legitimize why we need to contact and know one another | tile contractors milwaukee



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