Why Do I, an Adoptee, Support Mothers of Adoption Loss?

You may be wondering why I, an adoptee who writes on adoptees’ rights, continues to support Mothers of Adoption Loss. The answer is simple. When I found myself thrown into the uncharted world of adoption way back in 1974 when I was 18 years old, there was very little out there for me to turn to for help. Florence Fisher‘s organization, Adoptees Liberty Movement Association – ALMA, was only a year old. I didn’t find out about ALMA until the early winter of 1975. I paid my dues and the newsletters came in once a month. I was a college Freshman, juggling course work with emotional overload from being thrust into a chaotic reunion with my natural blood family (they found me) while desperately trying to keep my relationship with my adoptive parents. ALMA’s newsletters were my only link at that time to any rational discussion of adoption.

I began to see that the experiences of other adoptees was so much different than my own. Most adoptees were born to mothers who were not married. My mother was married. She also died when I was three months old. Most adoptees were searching. I had been found. Most adoptees wanted to obtain their sealed birth certificate. Mine was given to me – rather, thrown at me in a fit of rage by my adoptive mother just days after the initial contact from my siblings.

In the face of the answers I was given by my two families, I also faced intense anger from both families because I would not stop talking about adoption. I was put down, mocked, yelled at, ridiculed, humiliated – because each person disagreed on how I handled being found and reunited with family I had never known existed. I was not allowed to grieve, to process the facts, the emotions, anything.

I felt alone. In those days, there was no internet. No Facebook. No instant connection with other adoptees, anywhere.

Gradually, books were published. Adoptee Florence Fisher‘s memoir, The Search for Anna Fisher, published in 1973, was the first adoptee memoir I read on loan in 1975. Florence signed a copy for me when we met in 1979.

Adoptee Betty Jean Lifton‘s memoir, Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter, also was published in 1975. But I don’t think I learned about the book until after her second book, Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience, was first published in 1979.

It wasn’t until 1980 that I attended my first adoption conference held for one day in Philadelphia that I met Mothers of Adoption Loss. I was shocked. I did not ever know what they had gone through, so this was an eye-opening experience. I met Sandy Musser and Mirah Riben and Mary Ann Cohen. These three women changed my life forever. From their words, and tears, and rage, I learned another side of adoption: what mothers endure when they relinquish their infant to adoption. It is not a choice. Society has left them no choice.

I bought Sandy Musser‘s book, I Would Have Searched Forever, published in 1979. Sandy’s second book, What Kind of Love is This? A Story of Adoption Reconciliation was first published in 1982 and reprinted in 2013. To Prison With Love was first published in 1994 and updated. My Last ‘Love’ Letter to President Obama was published in 2016.

Perhaps the most memorable moment, for me anyway, was the day Sandy Musser spoke at the podium in front of The Reflecting Pool in Washington DC for the March on Washington in 1989. I watched her she gave this speech: This Time Must Come!

Click on this link About Sandy – Author, Activist, Public Speaker since 1976 to read about Sandy’s remarkable accomplishments as a leader in adoption reform.

My first international adoption conference was held by The American Adoption Congress in Boston, 1987. If you have never attended one of these, I highly recommend that you do. It will change your life forever. It changed my life.

In 1989, I met Mirah Riben again and bought her book, Shedding Light On…The Dark Side of Adoption, published in 1988. Mirah published The Stork Market: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry in 2007. To buy an autographed book, and to read about Mirah’s many accomplishments, including her over 200 articles published in a  variety of publications, including 100 on Huffington Post, go to her website: Mirah Riben.

Somewhere along the line, I met Carol Schaefer. I bought her book, The Other Mother, at a conference in 1992.

I met other mothers as well.

Dr. Lee Campbell founded Concerned United Birthmothers in 1976. In 2014, she published Cast Off: They called us dangerous women. So, we organized and proved them right and Stow Away: They told me to forget. And I did. Now my memory has mutiny in mind. (Stow Away – Cast Off) (Volume I) Second Edition

Lee Campbell was also on TV:

First-time National Exposure for Mothers of Adoption Loss: CUB founder, Lee Campbell, Speaks Out – Phil Donahue Show, 1979.

“The Search for Missing Parents.” From the historical archives of Concerned United Birthparents. Phil Donahue Show, 1980.

“When a Birthmother Revokes Her Consent to Adoption.” From the Historical Archives of CUB, Phl Donahue Show, 1984.

In 2010, Mary Ann Cohen, who was one of three mothers I met in 1980 at my first adoption conference, wrote this paper, A Personal History of Birthmother Activism.

Over the years, I attended adoption conferences held by activists as often as I could. There were many years that I couldn’t because of poverty.

And I continued to meet remarkable mothers of adoption loss. Jo Anne Swanson has been known as “The Button Lady” who produced adoption- activism themed buttons and sold them at conferences. She also made bumper stickers and self-published pamphlets and papers on adoption from the point of view of mothers. Like the others named here, and so many others, Jo Anne continues to be active in adoption reform. Her talent for producing graphic art (known as memes) is one of the great sources of brief reference materials for adoption reform that are passed around online. She posts them on her Facebook Page – Adoptee Civil Rights Resource Center.

Jo Anne Swanson is the manager of several websites on adoption reform:

Adoption Secrecy: The Month the Gloves Came Off. What You Need to Know About National Council For Adoption.

40 Years of Adoption Reform Memories

Maternal Banishment – Devious Collaboration – Infanticide! Starvation, Neglect, and Horrendous Acts of Outright Murder

I met Lorraine Dusky in more recent years, probably in 2005 when we lobbied in Albany for adoptees’ access to sealed birth certificates. Lorraine wrote Birthmark in 1979, and Hole in My Heart in 2015. Lorraine also co-writes a website with another mother of adoption loss, Jane Edwards: [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum

Though I haven’t met her, Lori Carengelo continues to be a very influential mother in my life. She is the author of several books and her website is a mega-gold mine for information: https://www.loricarangelo.com/Search.html

These mothers all had one thing in common. They are all mothers who experienced pregnancy and giving birth as single mothers at the time in history we now call The Baby Scoop Era. A mother of adoption loss whom I never yet, Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh, writes about this on her website: The Baby Scoop Era Research Initiative – Research and Inquiry  Into Adoption Practice, 1945 – 1972

I felt such compassion for these mothers, and for all mothers who were coerced into, or forced into, giving up their babies at birth.

This was not what happened to my mother. My father gave me up after her death. These mothers were the closest I would come to having any connection to my own mother, and having any understanding about what my father went through. That’s odd, I know, considering these mothers’ experiences were different. Still, I clung to their words. I talked with my father about his feelings of giving me up. His experience as a married father of five children and as the grieving husband of a wife who had died of cancer, could not ever be the same as what these mothers had gone through. I have yet to meet another father, or mother, who gave away his or her newborn after the death of a spouse.

Conversely, in all these years of being in reunion, of being in the adoption reform movement, I have never met another orphan was given away due to a parent’s death.

In all of these 44 years as an awakened adoptee, I have realized the importance of embracing the huge losses that all of us have survived: adoptees and our parent of adoption loss.

I honor and embrace all mothers of loss in adoption. I feel it is what adoptees ought to do. We owe to each other the respect to understand how we each came to be enlightened in this horrific unnatural separation we call adoption.

And this brings me to one last message. There is an undercurrent today of resentful adoptees who don’t want to read books written by other adoptees or by mothers of adoption loss. I don’t understand this. In fact, it hurts me when I read on Facebook threads that people don’t appreciate the time and effort and personal integrity of someone who writes a memoir or an expose on adoption. There can never be enough books out there. It takes deep thought to accomplish the painstaking commitment of writing a book. It’s not about making money. It’s about the message. Readers read an author’s words hopefully to learn, to reflect, to delve deep into one’s own self to understanding.

And that is lacking in today’s younger adoptees  and younger mothers of adoption loss. My god, if it weren’t for the pioneers of the Movement, where would you all be?

I did not write about all of the pioneers, only some of them. And a few are already deceased.

I am internally grateful for each and every one of the Mothers, and Adoptees, who have gone before me.

I would lay down my life for these women.



7 thoughts on “Why Do I, an Adoptee, Support Mothers of Adoption Loss?

  1. One of many reasons the LGBT community has seen so much success in a relatively short time period is because they don’t argue among themselves over which of them is more persecuted.

    1. I know. They also have more money.

      Moms usually struggle financially and are disenfranchised for many years. many adoptees, too, struggle financially. Depression, anxiety and physical illness due to adoption’s stresses.

  2. Lorraine Dusky

    Thank you for writing this. I get so discouraged when natural /first/birth/other mothers are trashed by some feel we lighty discarded our children, when for the great majority of us, it was a searing loss. Yet I know, despite their telling us they do not need us to work for the release of their records, the movement to reform needs the voices of mothers. When you actually lobby that is what you hear: What about the mother. the woman in hiding?

    So thank you for reaffirming us, and our place in the movement.

    Today driving I heard a Beach Boys song from the year my daughter was born. And it reminded me of the beautiful time we had at a Beach Boys concert she pushed me to go to with her and her daughter. A wonderful memory.

    1. You are very welcome, Lorraine.

      The movement needs both mothers and adoptees. We must work together for the positive changes we seek to make, not only for us, but for future generations.

      That’s a blessing – to have those memories of your daughter and granddaughter. A sad blessing.

  3. Pingback: An Open-Adoption Adoptive Mother Tries to Explain the Anti-Adoption Movement – Here is What I Said to Her – FORBIDDEN FAMILY

  4. Thank you. It is indeed refreshing to read of respect for trail blazers.

    More and more, recently, I read writing of a of new bred of adoptees who are focused on their anger and wanting their anger to be heard way above the any other voices because they are the ones hurt the most by adoption. I understand and appreciate that, I really do. As such, I have worked to give adoptees their voices.

    What I do not understand is what is accomplished by focusing that anger onto mothers and fathers, many of whom fought tooth and nail to keep their babies; many of whom were too young to have any agency; many of whom were coerced or just victims of the era in which their pregnancy took place. Why victim blame?

    Additionally, over the decades mothers who lost children to adoption, like myself and others named herein, have been the staunchest supporters of adoptee rights with nothing to gain personally. Our voices are very much needed to continue to dispel the greatest farce ever perpetrated: that mothers want to keep the records sealed! When Right-to-Life and Catholic Charities drag out that old lie that records must remain sealed to “protect” mothers who live in fear of being exposed – it is ONLY mothers who can address that!

    Yet some adoptees are so angry they alienate their biggest supporters. In fact, at least one told me he doesn’t care at all about adoptee rights! He only cares about his anger and his anger directed at all mothers! Great! That’s his right. But where does it get him or any other adoptee?

    Is it not more functional and practical to work together toward the common goal of restoring adoptee rights?

    Divisiveness – nationally and within civil rights movements – serves only our oppressors!

    And I fear this will turn into more of the same.


    1. Mirah,

      I agree with you. I, too, have witnessed adoptees who focus their anger and rage onto mothers, adoptees, who would rather call their mothers names and hold onto a belied that it is all their mother’s fault for giving them away…

      Certainly there are dysfunctional people in reunions. There are mothers who reject their offspring and who come up with bizarre reasoning why they can’t meet or can’t be polite. Usually these situations can be worked out in time.

      It takes two to make it work. The adoptee must understand the circumstances that the mother and father were under. Conversely, the mother and father must understated where the adoptee is at in her or his life when contact is made, and throughout reunion. Relationships take work! And this is very difficult.

      As far as rights are concerned, I recall those heated discussions at conferences – who has the most pain. Well now. If we continue down this path, we won’t get very far in terms of making progress for the world’s mothers of adoption loss, and for adoptees. I support every effort put forth for the advancement for all the victims of adoption!

      There is also a movement within the adoptees’ rights movement in which adoptees argue with each other for the right to call their mothers whatever they want to: birthmother, first mother, bios, BM, egg donor, hey you, bitch, etc. One irate adoptee did not like it when I told her that the facts of life itself dictate who “that woman” is to you: she is your MOTHER. I am not talking about feelings of love and devotion to adoptive mothers, or feelings of betrayal and anger towards the birthmother, no. I am talking about the fact that every woman who gives birth is listed as MOTHER on the child’s medical record of live birth – the long form birth certificate. Many adoptees forget this and want to call her any name in the book but will refuse to say out-loud the reality. And along with reality comes respect.

      And we should all work together to make positive change!

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