' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: American Baby: A Riveting indictment of closed adoption in the Baby Scoop Era--Mothers manipulated, infants 'tested,' agencies lie

Thursday, February 4, 2021

American Baby: A Riveting indictment of closed adoption in the Baby Scoop Era--Mothers manipulated, infants 'tested,' agencies lie

 Women who relinquished children for adoption in the Baby Scoop era that began after World War II through more modern times don't often talk about the experience except to each other because it roils up the bad feelings that lurk within. It's hard for us to talk about the personal horror we lived through, and if we do tell those outside of our sisters, we wonder if they really believe us, and if they do, it's likely...that they think we had a particularly bad experience and it couldn't have been like that for everyone...right? 

I wrote a thousand-word piece about why adoption was not the answer to abortion for a prestigious liberal magazine. It was accepted. It was handed off to an editor. She peppered me with questions about how birth mothers really fared in the long run, from whence my data came, could it really be true? Hadn't open adoption changed the landscape and wouldn't that make it all right? Or at least a lot better? 

She turned the rewrite, now longer, over to a college-age (I assumed) male researcher (he left in September) who had never heard such things

about adoption! This just couldn't be true! was the attitude I felt from him when we spoke. I got a piece back that was rewritten in sections, a piece that I would not put my name to, and spent hours either rewriting, adding research studies, on the phone with the editor, who actually--believe it or not--wanted to get this piece published. 

But any research that came from Concerned United Birthparents, she said, would be biased because groups like that would of course attract people unhappy with the system in the first place! So I couldn't use that. Ditto for studies provided by the Donaldson Institute. I pointed out that studies coming from, say, the NAACP, would certainly show that there was bias against black people, and that did not mean the data did not stand up, but that fell on deaf ears. I then turned to John Triseliotis's long-term study, published in England as The Adoption Triangle Revisited, A study of adoption, search, and reunion experiences. That would be research not collected by people who might have a built-in bias. That research was acceptable.

The editor asked me for quotes from other women like myself who had endured closed adoption in the infamous Baby Scoop Era, women who agreed to be named or at least, to let the fact checker speak to them. Fantastic, I thought, that strengthens the point! I found them quickly via Facebook, all except one agreed to  use their real names. The quotes were great. I scanned the relevant pages from the Triseliotis book, and faxed them to the editor, to be poured over by her and the scrupulous fact-checker. 

The editor kept asking questions; I found more data to answer her queries. Her points were always good ones, and I kept thinking: this piece is going to be bullet proof! This went on over a year, since the piece was not officially scheduled, the editor would drop it when more pressing pieces filled up her inbox, and then come back to it. I never doubted that she wanted to get it published. I wasn't sure what payment would be, since I didn't have a contract, but I kept at it because in a prestigious publication like this one, the piece would get attention and make a difference. From a thousand words, it had grown to 3,800 as we went back and forth seven times, for that is how many versions of the piece I have downloaded on my computer. 

Finally, the piece was to be published, on line, that coming Friday. I was elated. I felt it would make a difference to the argument of why adoption is not the answer to abortion. 

It never happened. And the editor never emailed and told me why. Perhaps the next person up the edit ladder--and my editor is pretty high up herself--at the publication read the piece and had a conniption. Maybe he is an adoptive father; maybe it was an adoptive mother who objected; maybe he is a birth father--someone had to father all those babies. Maybe he has friends who have adopted children and everything is honky-dory. All I know is that the piece was killed, and I was never told why, nor offered an explanation, let alone what's known in the business as a "kill fee," usually a pittance, but at least something that acknowledges your time and work.   

 You're getting this whole long story of a dreadful publishing experience of trying to tell the truth about what it is like to be a woman who relinquishes a child, a first/ birth/mother/biological/natural mother during the Baby Scoop Era by someone who lived it herself. We are believed only by our friends and partners and sometimes, family. The rest of the world pays little attention. They finally did in Australia, where in 2013 the prime minister, Julia Gillard, made a full-throated apology to the women "who were betrayed by a system that gave you no choice and subjected you to manipulation, mistreatment and malpractice." 

Gabrielle Glaser 
All this is why Gabrielle Glaser's new book on the "shadow history of adoption," American Baby, is such an important addition to the literature of closed adoption. Using a dreadful story of a relinquishment as the plot line throughout the book, Glaser's detailed, methodical attack on closed adoption, the societal mores of the era, "maternity homes," cruel testing of infants--call it torture--before they were adopted, and the Louise Wise Services adoption agency in New York City in particular, spares no one. With measured but deadly precision she unveils the truth, the awful, horrible reality of giving up a child, and demonstrates page after page why closed adoption is social engineering at its absolute worst. 

The story she tells of Margaret Erle is one that never should have happened: Margaret did everything humanly possible for a teenage girl to keep her baby against the objections of both sets of grandparents. Underage at the time of the birth in 1961, she and her boyfriend, George Katz, married secretly as soon as they could, all in hopes of getting their son back. Margaret and George were lied to, manipulated, and Margaret was finally threatened with being sent to "juvenile detention," a real threat in the early Sixties when the birth takes place, before she signs the termination papers. Gabrielle tells not only their story, and the story of the adopted son, David Rosenberg, but uses it as a backdrop to write the history of how cultural norms unleashed a system that preyed on young women and their children, both offered up on the sacrificial altar of adoption. 

One hopes that this cold and devastating assault on closed adoption will not only pave the way to more openness in all adoption, but also be a beacon for the remaining 40 states that still do not allow adopted people the free and full right to their original birth certificates. I personally go further than that, for it is my sincerest hope that both adoptees and birth parents someday gain access to not only birth certificates, but also all court and agency or attorney papers that dealt with the adoption. Just as medical records are the property of the individual, so should the adoption papers belong to us. 

Gabrielle interviewed both Jane and myself for the book, and you will find us quoted there. She tells our story, as well as that of the adopted, with empathy and understanding. Like Rickie Solinger's book, Wake Up Little Susie, Gabrielle Glaser's book, American Baby: A mother, A Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption, is not only a singular addition to the literature of adoption, but will be quoted and referenced far into the future.--lorraine

  PS: Link to order from the sidebar. 


  1. Thank you for this, Lorraine. I'm horrified by your publishing nightmare. The whole adoption issue is one that most people wish would just go away, if they're aware of it at all. In an era of identity politics, Me Too, and humanrights, it seems cruel to single out adoptees and their original mothers for shunning.

  2. The pursuit of truth is a sacred endeavor. So much is now understood about the grievous losses that result from adoption. It is time for The Fairytale to be revised and the realities exposed. Our culture prefers the fantasy of Win/Win/Win which pretends that all parties to an adoption move forward after the adoption into the land of Happily-ever-after. The truth is far more raw and nuanced. As an adoptive parent, I love my children enough to want the unvarnished truth, Their Truth...

    1. Thank you for commenting. The malarkey about "your mother loved you so much so gave you to us" is absurd on its face and confuses many a child. As you say, the truth is raw.

  3. I hope you send a copy of GG's book to the editor that had planned to do the article.

    1. It has occurred to me. I just wish I was told what happened. As I said, while the process was difficult, I could see that she was making the piece stronger every time--the message was not being muted, but strengthened--and she expected it to cause quite a commotion. Well, obviously it did. She might have gotten into some muddle herself, so while I wish she would write me and tell me, I…harbor no ill feelings toward her. As I said, she was making my argument bulletproof!

  4. After interviewing members of our birthparent support group, a feminist columnist wrote about the experience of mothers of loss to adoption for the major Syracuse newspaper. Although an editor approved it and allowed it to have a huge layout with photos, the columnist was fired in response to feedback from the community.

    1. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
      Or, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
      Un=-effing believable.

  5. Unbelievable (yet I believe you!) what you went through with that publication. If I were in a position to, I'd drop a link to this post to the editors you worked with. They missed the ball on this one, as evidenced by the huge interest in Gabrielle Glaser's new book. And obviously, you had painstakingly authenticated what needed to be authenticated. Oh the barriers they put up to not hear the truth from women of the BSE!

  6. Gabrielle Glasser and I connected when she worked for the Portland Oregonian some years ago because she wrote about adoption. She arranged to meet me to talk about the First Mother's experience and CUB. About an hour before she was to come, she cancelled telling me her editor had given her a rush assigned. Years later I met her and she told me that actually the editor didn't want her writing about first mothers. I told her I assumed that was the case.

  7. And the same they will stay...until truth becomes more important than egos.

  8. I have a different point of view. This is the THIRD book written about this exceptional time in American history. It was during the Baby Boom era when more babies were born than in any other time in American history and that in part led to more babies being adopted. Lack of access to pregnancy termination (except for the wealthy) and lack of access to birth control for unmarried woman, plus stigma on single motherhood all combined to increase the rate of adoptions......

    HOWEVER, this is the THIRD book about it! Enough already. What does it add that the other two have not already said?

    More importantly, does constant, continued focus of the "BSE" not conveniently allow the public to believe that that was then and things like that don't happen now? Women are no longer pressured by social mores, not locked in closets and hidden away, shuffled off to homes for "unwed" mothers. Told to lie and forget it ever happened.

    We – the public - are left thinking tsk, tsk, what a shame that happened to those when “then” and thank goodness it no longer is like now. The image is that today women freeing and willingly “choose” adoption and have power and control because they get to “choose” the parents of their new baby. Ask Kimberly Rossler how that worked for her. Ask any of the multitude mothers who comprise Facebook Support Groups having been duped by so-called “open adoption” which is unenforceable and which leaves mothers betrayed.

    It’s like thinking “colored” water fountains and lynchings are a thing of the past so why do we need BLM campaigns?

    Adoption today uncontrolled is a mega-billion-dollar demand-driven industrial complex that involves a great deal of pressure exploitation and coercion and I fear that focusing on the past detracts attention from the need to change the present corrupt trafficking in children for adoption.

    The past is done. We can bemoan it but we cannot change it. The here and now needs our attention and needs us fighting to change it.

    For more see: “American Baby” Adoption Then and Now: Better or Worse? https://mirahmirah.medium.com/domestic-american-baby-adoption-then-and-now-better-or-worse-e19c8c2454de

    1. I see you point, Mirah, but the more that is written about the history the better and deeper is the awareness of the past. History is always mulled over by many, and each writer has their own facet of the story to tell. Multiple books give varied points of view and understanding. Glaser's book, and my own, I hope, helps adoptees today better understand the past and how women like us were treated. And as my blog post above indicates, we are still not far from that in some corners of today's "progressive" world.

      At the same time, we need to continue to write about how women today are still pushed toward adoption, when it should be unnecessary, and how open adoption is sometimes an empty promise with devastating consequences. Both stories can exist on parallel tracks. Thanks for the reminder about the injustices in adoption that continue today.


    2. https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2021/02/dutch-halt-adoptions-from-abroad-after-highly-critical-report/


      Additional circumstances: it is currently really (relatively speaking)very cold in the Netherlands (first snowstorm in 11 years) so the Nethelands Freezes is news too, it's election time and the current Dutch government is a caretaker one, which cannot come with a new policy. Nevertheless the government has claimed that it won't be using the "it's too long ago" defense against adopted claimants. This may seem foreign news, but as the Netherlands has been the #1 importer of US born adoptees and the US #2 exporter of adoptees to the Netherlands after China, it is not entirely unrelated.

      Three books won't be enough, probably, but a non-ending stream of books, news from other countries like this, domestic scandals and so on, might do the trick.

  9. Thank you, Lorraine, and Jane, for your unwavering dedication to truth.

    1. Thank you...even writing this piece has made me upset all over again. I am proceeding on the 2nd edition of hole in my heart--which is why it is currently only available from resellers--and hope to have it out in March. It's taking me longer than I ever imagined it would.

    2. I'm sorry for the pain this dredges up for you, but grateful you're willing to work through it; your work helps so many people. I am finishing final revisions on a memoir about losing my son, twice, first through adoption and then his death shortly after reunion. As I see the 'end' of the project approaching, I feel as though I'm losing him yet again.



COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.