The State of Maine is an Example on Birth Certificate Equality Access for all Maine Born Citizens

The Great State of Maine, one of six free states, is an example for the rest of our Nation. Here is a link to their Birth Records Law for Adoptees: no impact on taxpayers, equality for all Maine Born Citizens.



New York Times Obit for Betty Jean Lifton

 Rest in Peace, BJ. You were one of the first adoptees in the adoption reform movement to write and tell the adoptee’s truth. Thank you for that, and thank you for your friendship. – Joan Wheeler

New York Times Obit for Betty Jean Lifton

Betty Jean Lifton Dies at 84; Urged Open Adoptions


Published: November 26, 2010

Betty Jean Lifton, a writer, adoptee and adoption-reform advocate whose books — searing condemnations of the secrecy that traditionally shrouded adoption — became touchstones for adoptees throughout the world, died on Nov. 19 in Boston. She was 84 and lived in Cambridge, Mass.

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

Betty Jean Lifton in 1985. She lectured widely about potential psychological effects.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, her husband, the psychiatrist and author Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, said.

Ms. Lifton, who lectured widely about the potential psychological effects of adoption, was best known for a nonfiction trilogy: “Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter” (McGraw Hill, 1975), in which she recounts her adulthood search for her birth mother; “Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience” (Dial, 1979); and “Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness” (Basic Books, 1994).

An outspoken proponent of open adoption, Ms. Lifton was often interviewed on the issue in the news media. (Nine states now allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.)

She was a past board member of the American Adoption Congress; in recent years she also worked as a psychological counselor, with a practice centered on adoptees and their families.

When “Twice Born” was first published, there were few books about the adoptee experience. Adoption in general was a veiled topic, and adoptees — assuming they were told anything — rarely knew their given names, their birth parents’ identities or the precise circumstances of their adoptions.

As a result, generations of adoptees grew up with a void where their personal histories should be and, Ms. Lifton argued, with deep feelings of confusion, grief and loss.

“When I was born, society prophesied that I would bring disgrace to my mother, kill her reputation, destroy her chances for a good bourgeois life,” she wrote in “Twice Born.”

She added: “I say that society, by sealing birth records, by cutting adoptees off from their biological past, by keeping secrets from them, has made them into a separate breed, unreal even to themselves.”

The book’s publication, which gave momentum to the emerging adoption-reform movement, prompted an outpouring of mail from people with similar stories. These letters, and subsequent interviews with adoptees, informed the next installments in Ms. Lifton’s trilogy, in which she examined the psychological toll that closed adoption can take, and the psychological affinities many adoptees appear to share.

While some critics seemed discomforted by Ms. Lifton’s use of mythic metaphor (“I write of perilous journeys of the spirit, of labyrinths, of ghosts, of strangers with mysterious origins, of princesses and princes asleep under spells,” she said in “Twice Born”), others praised her willingness to speak frankly about a taboo subject.

Her other books include “The King of Children” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988), a biography of the Polish Jewish doctor, writer and children’s advocate Janusz Korczak, who was killed in Treblinka. She also wrote for children, including books about adoption and many titles inspired by Japanese folk tales.

Blanche Rosenblatt, as she later learned she was originally named, was born in Staten Island on June 11, 1926. Her mother, Rae Rosenblatt, who was 17 when Blanche was born, and her father, a bootlegger and bon vivant, were unmarried, a scandalous condition then. (In the first edition of “Twice Born,” Ms. Lifton gives her birth mother the pseudonym Bea Silverstein.)

Ms. Rosenblatt eventually gave up Blanche to a foster home. At 2 ½, she was adopted by a Cincinnati couple, Oscar and Hilda Kirschner, who renamed her Betty Jean.

When Betty Jean was 7, Hilda Kirschner informed her that she was adopted, adding that her birth parents were dead. Such falsehoods, Ms. Lifton later wrote, were par for the course at the time.

Betty Jean Kirschner earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Barnard College in 1948; in the 1990s, she earned a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the Union Institute.

In 1952 she married Dr. Lifton, a psychiatrist who went on to write many influential books, including psychological studies of war and the Holocaust. The couple lived for several years in Hong Kong and Japan.

After returning to the United States, Ms. Lifton, long haunted by her opaque past, contacted the agency that had handled her adoption. She learned that her parents were probably still alive and began scouring public records for traces of them. Bit by bit, the information she gleaned led her to her birth mother.

They met several times in the years that followed. Though their communication was often strained, for Ms. Lifton, as she made clear in her writing, it was absolutely necessary. She later searched for her birth father, only to learn he had died not long before.

Besides her husband, Ms. Lifton is survived by their two children, Kenneth and Natasha Lifton; four grandchildren; and a half-brother, Donald Billings.

She dedicated “Journey of the Adopted Self” to her two mothers, who, she wrote, “might have known and even liked each other in another life and another adoption system.”

A version of this article appeared in print on November 27, 2010, on page A17 of the New York edition.

Truth in Adoption: Taking the Mystery Out of My UnSealed Adoption Records

November 20th is National Adoption Day. To “celebrate”, I spent the day in mourning for the family from which I was taken. It is a fact of life that for every adoptive family to be happy, there is a family that had to be broken in order for the adoptive family to get their precious baby. I lost my entire family because of adoption. For this, I am not happy. I am not grateful. I am not glad that I was not aborted. I almost died at my premature birth; many day go by with my wishing I had died so that perhaps my mother could have lived. I never blamed my  father for my relinquishment for he was grief-stricken, faced with immediate decisions, and he made those decisions under duress. I was raised in a loving home as an only child, showered with love and affection. However, the lifetime of deceit, intentional lies and actual disdain and panic that I would one day meet the very siblings my adoptive parents fought to prohibit me from knowing — that is what is despicable about my adoption. That, and the fact that my name was changed, my identity was changed, for no good reason. A lifetime of pain and loss for me and my children.

Happy National Adoption Day. NOT.

These are the papers that I obtained from Surrogate’s Court, Erie County, New York:

On Oct 24, 1956, my natural father and pre-adoptive parents met in Surrogate’s Court. They signed a joint contract “Consent to Adopt and Agreement to Adopt”.

Notice that the paper states that my natural father “will not interfere with the rights, duties and privileges of said child when adopted. He was not, as opponents to open records claim, granted any special confidentiality by the consent to adoption papers that he signed when he relinquished his parental rights to be my legal father. My father told me, when we discussed this a few years later, that the judge told him to stay away from the newly formed adoptive family. There was no verbal or written promise of confidentiality granted to my natural father.

Here is the agreement signed by my natural father and my pre-adoptive parents:


Here are the other papers released to me by the Surrogate Court Judge.

As you read these papers, keep in mind that while my adoption was treated as a closed adoption, both sets of parents knew of each other before I was conceived. My adoptive parents (before they became my parents) and their extended families were present at the funeral of my natural mother to pay their respects at her passing. As you read these papers, keep in mind that the five children involved had no say in what the adults did to permanently separate them as a sibling group. With so much information exchanging hands, with so much at stake, this adoption should never have taken place.



My Final Order of Adoption:



~ ~ ~ Joan M Wheeler, BA, BSW, born Doris M Sippel, author of Forbidden Family: A Half Orphan’s Account of Her Adoption, Reunion and Social Activism, Trafford Publishing, Nov 2009.

Truth in Adoption: How I Petitioned for My Adoption Files

I was reunited with my natural family in 1974. By 1981, I had petitioned Surrogate’s Court for my Final Order of Adoption, even though I already had a copy (see yesterday’s post).

In 1985, I petitioned Surrogate’s Court of Erie County, New York for all of my sealed adoption files. I wanted every piece of paper they had on my adoption: the signed relinquishment papers, petition to adopt, and any other paperwork. I wanted permission to seek my birth certificate, too, but was told that petitioning for the birth record was a separate process.

Being politically correct for the time period, I used the terms “birthparents” and “birth mother” and “birth father”. Today, I would use the terms “natural parents” and “natural mother” and “natural father” because those words accurately describe the relationship. Also, these are legal terms used to designate between the natural parents, foster parents, and adoptive parents of an adoptee, although, as you will see tomorrow, the term used in legal documents to describe my natural father is “father”. That’s because he is my father and was my legal father until after he signed relinquishment papers.

So, I began with the simple petition to the court:

With the help of a law student who gave me specific statements to use and a form to follow, I typed up the following (reproduced here minus specific identifiers and other information not releveant to the general public):








My request for sealed reports and documents from Vital Statistics Office, Catholic Charities of Buffalo, and Millard Fillmore Hospital were denied. With my natural father’s permission, I obtained my medical records and my mother’s medical records from her admittance to the hospital while pregnant with me until her death three months after my birth. Because the records that were released to me from Surrogate’s Court contained most of the information I sought, I did not pursue further petitioning to Catholic Charities. Dialogue between my natural father and I filled in the blanks of where I was from birth until placed in the custody of my pre-adoptive parents, a four month period not covered by documents held by Surrogate’s Court.

Tomorrow I will present the papers I received from Surrogate’s Court.

~ ~ ~ Joan M Wheeler, BA, BSW, born Doris M Sippel, author of Forbidden Family: A Half Orphan’s Account of Her Adoption, Reunion and Social Activism, Trafford Publishing, Nov 2009.

Truth in Adoption: I Was the Skeleton in the Closet

For the duration of my childhood, I was raised with the belief that my birth was “the skeleton in the closet” and that I was to never ask about it. I was simply told two different stories during my childhood. The stories were never discussed, just stated.

The first story was told to me when I was a child of about four or five years old. I remember it clearly. My mother came up to me, knelt down on the floor and said, “You are adopted. Your mother had too many children so she gave you to us”. Then, my mother kissed me, got up, and left the room. My little world was shattered. My mother wasn’t my mother. She just told me I had another mother. Even a five year old knows that mothers love their children, so why would my mother just give me away?

The second story, told to me by my adoptive mother when I was about ten years old, went something like this, “Your mother died of cancer just three months after giving birth to you. Your father thought it best that you live with us”.

What is a child supposed to do with that information? I felt a huge hole in my heart, but did not know it was grief. I stuffed my feelings down inside me, just as I stuffed inside the information stated to me when I was five. What does a child do with the statement “your mother had too many children so she gave you to us”? I was too numb to realize that “too many children” meant that I had sisters and brothers. I was raised an only child, so I longed for siblings to play with, but I dared not think about it too much for if I did, then  I might actually acknowledge that I had siblings out there somewhere.

Then there were parties for the children (adoptive cousins) who were my parents’ God Children. A fuss was made: a card, a cake, gifts for the God Children from my parents to the God Children. These children were my cousins, so it was just another party for kids. But when I asked who my God Parents were, my adoptive mother said, “We don’t know who they are.”


She knew, but she did not want to tell me.

I sat there at a party for my parents’ God Daughter and stared at my mother. It was clear I was to never talk about the subject again.

For those of you who think that this is the way it was done in the 1950s and 1960s, think again. To dismiss the importance of the cruelty done to me by washing it away with a blanket statement to excuse the problem because of the social time it happened is to tell me that the issues don’t need to be brought up now: “For God’s sake, it is over and done with.” “Don’t live in the past.” “Get over it.” “It’s the way it was done, so let it be.” “Things are different now.” Are they? Are adoptive parents more careful with their adoptees’ feelings and facts of life? I doubt it.

What was said to me as a child stayed with me, creating lasting impressions. These statements haunt me now in the form of traumatic flashbacks. These, and other comments and exchanges, created the PTSD that I must live with now.

Oh yes, here’s one other snappy comment made by my adoptive mother to me when I was a child. My mother was angry with me because a neighbor’s child, my playmate of about eight years old, told her mother that I said I was adopted. The mother then reported the news to my mother, who retaliated to me with fierce anger.

“Joanie,” she yelled, “Other people don’t need to know our skeletons in the closet!”

I was filled with shame for telling another child that I was adopted. I was ashamed of myself, but did not know why I deserved to feel this way.

So, today, as the pro-adoption crowd proudly goes on with their happy “National Adoption Awareness Month” of November, I would like to begin by warning adoptive parents everywhere not to make the same mistakes that my adoptive parents made.

There will be more mistakes discussed here in the days ahead.

~ ~ ~ Joan M Wheeler, BA, BSW, born Doris M Sippel, author of Forbidden Family: A Half Orphan’s Account of Her Adoption, Reunion and Social Activism, Trafford Publishing, Nov 2009.