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.

 

 

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

By MARGALIT FOX

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.

Adoptee Psychology, Genetics, the Unnatural Act of Adopting and Questions for Adoptive Parents

Today’s post was inspired by a blog post I read this morning and by an occurrence at a dinner party. Since I’m not feeling particularly “put together” at the moment, this post may be choppy and disjointed.

I’d like to direct my readers to Rhode Island adoptee John Greene’s blog post titled “Adoption and The Adoptees Reality” in which he addresses some points of specific psychology of being adopted. The topic needs to be understood, not just by adoptees, but by adoptive and pre-adoptive parents, especially in the wake of NCFA’s recent call for money donations to “make adoption strong” to fight the anti-adoption community and NPR’s Scott Simon’s two NPR interviews on his recently published memoir on being the adoptive father of two girls from China here (224 comment to date) and here (34 comments to date).

John Greene notes the works of three American adoption researchers: Nancy Verrier (The Primal Wound), Betty Jean Lifton, PhD (Journey of the Adopted Self), and Dr. David Brodzinsky (The Lifelong Journey to Self). It is best to read their works for a more complete study.

John Greene asks the question:

“How does the adopted individual feel about being relinquished?”

I believe that the average pre-adoptive and adoptive parent does not delve into this question, for if they did, they might find the answers disturbing enough to think twice about adoption in a positive light. If adoptive and pre-adoptive parents take a hard look at the realities of adoption, they may not think adoption was such a great and wonderful “thing” they have done, or want to do.

I’ll make a side journey here to what happened at a dinner party I attended last week. A guest, whom I did not know, remarked that so-and-so was adopting another child — from the same birthmother. The assumption from the folks hearing such a comment was the (tired) refrain “how wonderful of you to adopt, again!” At which point I almost spewed the food I was chewing. No one else but my date and the hostess knew that I was adopted and reunited since 1974, but, despite this, the hostess continued blathering on praising adoption while my date and I were wide-eyed. I gulped my food down and stuffed down my feelings. I kept quiet, realizing that no amount of talking would help these clueless people know the true meaning of adoption to the children involved. If I had “opened my mouth” and spoke truthfully about adoption, my comments would have been seen as hostile and a verbal fight would have ensued. So, the only way for me to deal with yet another instance of praise for adoption while ignoring adoptee and natural parent pain was for me to ignore the immediacy of the moment and write about it here.

This is where I beg adoptive and pre-adoptive parents to listen and read what grown adoptees and adoption researchers are saying. Take a long look at the devastating effects of adoption and know what you are doing to your adoptee! You may not intentionally be causing your adoptee harm, but the very fact of being an adoptee sets a person up for emotional and physical trauma.

John Greene explains:

…Is it nature or nurture that composes him/her? Adoptees ponder relentlessly whether their true “self” derives from their nature, the traits and characteristics they are born with; or from nurture as a result of the adoptive environment they are enveloped within. Traditionally the concept of nature or nurture is viewed as if it’s one transitioning into the other, or if one has more influence than the other. I feel these perspectives are the wrong approach. I sense with the adoptee world it’s nature and nurture continually working symbiotically with one another.

…non-adoptees are able to see and learn their biological nature in action from their parents and other genetic family. While the non-adoptees are nurturing and developing/ thriving within their natural environment they are also learning and governed by the family’s biological nature. …this is the element of true balance of nature and nurture an adoptee is deprived of and most likely will never come to have the opportunity to appreciate. It is the adoptee’s elusive biological nature the adoptee subconsciously chases. It is the adoptee’s biological nurture that eludes the adoptee consciously.

Then Greene eloquently states what so many of us adoptees feel but may not be able to verbalize:

Adoption, although genuinely intended to provide a better life, or better nurturing environment, in its raw form, in the scheme of nature itself, is an unnatural act and from the unnatural act the adoptee is presumed to resiliently bounce back.

…the adoptee is resilient but this experience isn’t something they bounce back from, the separation is a “splitting” from their natural biological connection in which they grow away from, meaning they are not intended to return to grow and thrive from their point of origin. Again, the issue isn’t so much about the resiliency of adoptees bouncing back, but more so, that they are torn away from their natural connection in which they aren’t intended to return, leaving them with a mysterious unexplainable feeling of not feeling whole. More specifically, the unexplainable feeling of not feeling whole not only stays with the adoptee it is actually the desire to feel whole, or complete. (identity)

What Greene writes next is so very important:

Technically speaking, adoptees don’t bounce back they are forced to grow in a different direction without a biological connection, away from their true biological nature. Therefore it can be said that when they are separated their nature and nurture are divided as they are forced to enter to live in their new adoptive world now consisting of nurture and unnatural. Their new balance is no longer the black and white of yin and yang representing a true balance of nature and nurture but is now say a white and green yin & yang representing an off kilter version of what the natural self is intended to be as it’s being shaped by a biological force that is unnatural and foreign to the adopted child.

The adoptee struggles for the rest of her/his life to bring the forces of nurture and unnatural together:

…the adoptee spends the greatest and most influential part of their life living within the ‘nurture’ of learning another family’s nature never knowing their true ‘natural’ half of existence, and in most cases never even grazing it.

It is important to note that while the adopted child struggles with this, so does the adopted adult, in more ways than emotional and psychological: cellular changes:

…perhaps it isn’t exclusively the separation itself that results such a reverberating effect upon the adoptee’s life. Perhaps in addition to the adoptee’s bruised psyche it’s the genetic composition in their cells that slowly grows frustrated over time because they are prevented from behaving in the manner of what’s written in their genetic code as a result of following a different family’s unique nature.

I have my own developing thoughts on the cellular changes that take place within the adoptee and am working on that for another post.

For those who want to discredit adoptee pain by claiming their adoptee is as happy as a clam, John Greene also addresses the different levels of adoptee awareness:

…there are three basic classifications of adoptees: 1) Those who have recognized that adoption has impacted their life; 2) Those adoptees who have not recognized that adoption has impacted their life; 3) Adoptees who feel great inner calamity and turmoil but have no idea what these strong feelings are attributed to.

and

…how are adoptees supposed to know how it feels to be a non-adoptee and develop within the normal balance of nature and nurture with biological parents? This is why it can be said an adoptee will never be able to fathom how a non-adoptee feels and vice-versa.

Clearly, adoption predisposes the separated natural child/adopted adult to psychic pain. It is my opinion that adoption IS child/adult adoptee abuse. This is an awful way to cope with life. This is what adoption does to a person.

I consider the emotional, psychological and physical damage to be enough to dissuade anyone from adopting, but if it is concrete evidence you want, that can be found in the actual destruction of the adoptee’s family of origin, and destruction and falsification of the adoptee’s birth certificate. Those are civil rights issues apart from the psychological fallout of the act of adoption. But the proof of the birth certificate fiasco is sealed from most adoptees at the very will and intention of our adoptive parents and the National Council For Adoption.

No, I cannot find one single reason, not one single justification, for child abduction/adoption. Family Preservation, kinshp care must be alternatives to adoption, and Guardianship, yes, as that provides a loving home with the dignified respect due to a person’s birth family, name and sense of self. And don’t get me talking about the evils of Open Adoption.

Knowing just this much, without reading entire books on the subject, my questions to pre-adoptive and adoptive parents are this: why would you intentionally put a child/adult — the very adoptee you so lovingly take as your own — through such a lifelong ordeal?  Adding the complications of race and intercountry adoptions and separations, why would you adopt a child? How could you cause so much pain to another human being?