Three Identical Strangers – An Experienced Adoptee’s Review – Questions and Insights that Others Have Missed
Spoiler Alert: This Review contains some details of the documentary and the lives of Robert Shafran, Edward Galland, and David Kellman, so if you don’t want to know details before you see the movie, please avoid reading this now.
The three identical triplets – Robert Shafran, Edward Galland, and David Kellman – were intentionally separated at birth in 1961 and raised by three different adoptive families. Louise Wise Adoption Agency not only arranged adoptions for children “in need” and people looking to adopt, the agency went a step further to team up with a psychologist for a study on identical twins who were purposefully separated at birth to determine whether nature or nurture shapes personality. The adoptive parents were not told that the baby they received had an identical sibling, or, in this case, had two other identical brothers. Additionally, the separated twins and triplets were never told the truth. Furthermore, the natural parents who relinquished their twins and triplets at birth were not told that their infants would be split up by adoption (more on this later). When the truth comes out, the devastating effects of this manipulation becomes clear.
Triggering For Adopted People and Mothers of Adoption Loss
For adopted people, and mothers of adoption loss, this documentary is more than a shock that reveals the truth. It is downright triggering, reminding us of the trauma we survived.
I remember when this story broke in 1980. I had been reunited with my natural family for six years at the time and attended my very first adoption conference that same year. I devoured anything and everything on adoption, so, yes, when these triplets were in the beginning stages of their reunion, and made a splash on TV, I cheered them on. Like most of the country, I saw their successes as a positive in the bleak world of adoption.
Watching this documentary today, some of that joy came back. As the truth unfolds on screen, however, I became uneasy, twitching in my seat, turning away from the screen and curling my legs in a fetal position in the reclining theater seat. As an adoptee, I knew how it feels to be given up, to be raised adopted, to wonder, to reunite, and to face the joys of finding the similarities in my own siblings and our father. I also knew how it feels to be the target of watching eyes.
I was not part of a psychological study, but I was definitely the adopted one who was secretly watched by two families as I grew up. When the secret was revealed, I was devastated to be the unsuspecting target of spies. I had no privacy. Photos and stories of my childhood were passed back and forth between my adoptive family – aunts and uncles and cousins – who socialized with my natural mother’s siblings and their children (my mother died when I was an infant) – my flesh and blood aunts, uncles and cousins, and my own siblings. I was intentionally kept apart from my own blood kin, my own full blood siblings, my own cousins and aunts and uncles related to my deceased natural mother – all because I was adopted. When I found out the truth at age 18, that my siblings and our father and my extended family lived less than 6 miles from where I was raised, I was devastated.
Being adopted in the 1950s and 1960s means that you are never supposed to know the truth, you are never supposed to ask questions, you are there for the sheer entertainment of those who deem themselves more important to study your every move, your every mistake, and your every success. Being adopted means everyone else can scrutinize you, compare how you walk with this relative or that one, compare your physical features with this separated sibling or that one, and then analyze your emotions, your psychology in their own layman’s terms. That means – without the benefit of a real education into psychology.
Controlled By the Adoption Agency and Psychologist
As viewers will see in “Three Identical Strangers,” even real psychology can turn its ugly head upon unsuspecting adoptees, and in this case, even using adoptive parents. Each couple had been carefully chosen by the agency who had previously arranged adoptions of girls who were the same age, and each was then chosen by the agency to receive one of the three identical triplet boys. The agency then came by year after year, studying the boys as they grew to determine what shaped their personalities, their genes, or their environment. However, no one told the adoptive parents, or the boys, that there were two other identical brothers involved in the secret study. The adoption agency and the psychologist controlled the lives of children and their adoptive parents.
Experiments by a Jewish Adoption Agency Raises Questions
As the ugly truth unfolded on the screen, I cringed as I realized something else. This experiment was conducted upon Jewish triplets, their Jewish mothers and fathers, and their Jewish adopters, by a Jewish adoption agency (Louise Wise Services) twenty years after the holocaust. What? Jews experimenting upon Jews? Hadn’t we all learned from the horrors of medical and psychological experiments during World War II? Jews were the victims then, so how could they turn around to victimize their own people in the name of a cruel psychological study in adoption?
As often is stated – that was then, this is now. The dark days of the 50s and 60s, and earlier, paved the way for understanding today.
Mild Interest in Finding Their Mother
The triplets said that they had a mild interest in finding their mother, and for them, searching for her was simple. Because they were born in New York City, birth books were available at that time. They found a reference for their births and paid their mother a visit. They “weren’t particularly impressed,” so she was a one-time visit.
Yet, their mother had been following their story in newspapers, magazines, and TV.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, in general, males who were adopted typically were not interested in finding their natural parents. Today, though, both men and women who were adopted as children have a healthy interest in where they came from and who their parents are, as well as the hope of finding siblings.
Natural Mother and Father
Getting back to the natural mother who relinquished her newborn identical sons to adoption in 1961, I’d like to know how she feels now after seeing this documentary. Did she give her permission to use her high school photo for this production? The father was mentioned as “a prom date knock-up.” Does he know the truth? Showing that high school year book photo could spark gossip and talk between the former students who could recognize the mother from that photo and deduce who the father is. What about the extended families of the two natural parents? Are the triplet brothers interested in knowing any other siblings they may have?
Their mother felt she couldn’t keep them. Why? The mother’s full story needs to be told. And the father’s story need to be told as well. Did the triplet’s grandparents had a hand in their relinquishment?
Since it has been adoption policy to tell young and naïve single mothers that adoption would provide “a better life” for their children than they can provide, if this mother had known that her identical sons would be separated at birth for the purpose of a psychological study on the development of personality, would she have consented to sign surrender papers? If the other mothers and fathers of the twins that were also separated at birth to be subjects in this study were told what would happen to their twins, would they have consented to sign surrender papers?
Issues Not Covered in This Documentary
Robert Shafran, Edward Galland, and David Kellman have wives and children of their own. There are generational effects of the trauma of separation and adoption.
What about the stress levels of the mother during pregnancy and birth? We know now that stress epigenetically affects unborn babies. Stress impacts gene expression in the developing fetus during pregnancy. The mother’s hormones, emotional state, nutrition, and drug or alcohol use all affect an unborn baby for life and even effect future generations. We now know that nutrition and stress levels in the father also affects sperm quality.
The bond these unborn babies had with their mother is vital to their survival and development. We know now that unborn babies also feel the mother’s emotions. When infants are removed from their mothers immediately after birth, the mother-infant bond is broken. The triplets, too, bonded with each other in utero. No doubt that these triplets suffered profound separation anxiety when they lost their mother, and each other, due to the forces of society that told this mother she could not parent her sons, and the controlling manipulations of the adoption agency as well as the psychiatrist who invented the secret study of identical twins/triplets separated at birth.
We now know that all adoptees suffer from pre-verbal trauma at the separation of our mothers. Even in the face of evidence, adoptees and our mothers are shot down by pro-adoptionists.
Another factor not covered in this documentary is that reunions between adoptees and their blood kin are increasing with the use of DNA testing in Ancestry dot com, 23 and Me, and other websites. The triplets say they have no interest, but their parents may want to connect now. They may have other siblings. Like everyone else, extended family is out there. None of us exists in a vacuum; we are connected to thousands of people through our DNA.
I understand the limitations of time constraints on making a documentary. In keeping with the premise that nothing else matters but their upbringing, and the separate, staged, environments they were deliberately placed into, I can see the necessity of narrowing the focus.
Still, the more I think about this, the more there is to discuss – and to question.
What about the triplet’s microbiomes? Where did they get their microbiomes from? Their mother, of course, as they passed through the birth cannel. Were these triplets born naturally, or by cesarean section? A sterile birth does not provide the infant to pass through the birth canal and therefor, the infant does not pick up the mother’s microbiome. Then where did these triplets receive their microbiome? They picked up microorganisms from the people who handled them – from nurses and doctors to the adoption agency workers and then, finally, each of their adoptive parents and adopted siblings. This created a vastly different microbiome in each of the separated identical brothers.
With what we are now learning, our guts hold microorganisms that influence our physical and mental health. The bio genomes of the gut bacteria growing in the mouths and intestines and bowels of these triplets as little boys, and as adults, play a big role in the physical and mental health of each one of these triplets. Isn’t it interesting that physical environments play a part in biology?
Life itself is a complex mix of biology and environment. Through the psychology of adoption and different parenting styles, and the individual’s inherited predisposition to personality types, it becomes clear that no one can say with certainty which is more important, nature or nurture.
In the end, though, what is medical history? Is medical history our environment or is medical history our biology? Did your parents die of heart disease or cancer? What you eat and drink influences your body. That’s biochemistry. Where does mental illness come from? Environment or heredity? Or both?
We know now that depression, anxiety, panic, and PTSD are due to stresses in home life, abuse, and socio-economic struggles. We also know that certain types of mental illness are inborn, genetically based. Personal choices can influence our mental and physical health; drugs, alcohol, diet, exercise, and clean living.
As I previously stated, for the purposes of time constraints, I see why the important factors in this documentary are the adopters who were deceived, and these triplets – and other identical twins – who were subjects of an unethical psychological study. This psycho-social experiment was cruel and inhumane.
The lesson learned here is one I hope psychologists and social workers will never repeat. Deceiving people is unethical. Separating identical siblings for the purpose of an unethical study is cruel. This should never happen again. Taking this further, separating a sibling group is unethical – something that is not routinely done in adoption today. Why, then, do we still consider separating newborns from their mothers at birth so the infants can have a “better life” in adoption?
Childhood trauma (Adverse Childhood Experiences – ACE) is now known to be the cause of varying degrees of emotional trauma responses in adoptees – and in our mothers and fathers. Separation from mother at birth is the single most detrimental aspect of relinquishment and adoption. Babies need their mothers – their real mothers. Nothing was said about the trauma these triplets suffered due to separation from their mother at birth.
Something else was not discussed. Their birth certificates. This point can never be brought up too much. In fact, it must be brought up in every single discussion of adoption. Why? Because it is part of the entire scope of lies, manipulations, and intentional deceit that continues in every single adoption – then and now.
New York State revoked and sealed and replaced Robert Shafran’s, Edward Galland’s, and David Kellman’s accurate birth certificates – the ones that were signed by the attending physician who verified their births.
On their accurate birth certificate (Original Birth Certificate) is a line with the question, “Is this birth a single birth, a twin, or a triplet?” and a check box “Single,” “Twin,” or “Triplet.” On each triplet’s birth certificate, is the question, “If Twin or Triplet, is this child born, “1st, 2nd or 3rd”? A check is placed for the corresponding answer.
This is a detail close up of my accurate birth certificate (Original Birth Certificate):
There is also a line with the question, “Children previously born to this mother – How many OTHER children are now living?”
This is a detail close up of my accurate birth certificate (Original Birth Certificate):
On my amended birth certificate, it is easy to answer simply, “This is a single birth” (Ignoring that fact that I was not born in my adoptive name to my adoptive parents. It is all a lie. All except my birth date, time, and place.)
This is a detail close up of my falsified birth certificate (Amended Birth Certificate):
Did the New York State Department of Health’s Vital Statistics Bureau in Albany intentionally check the “Single Birth” box for each of these triplets on their new, amended birth certificates created after they were adopted?
I can guess that the State did not want to indicate their true birth order, so the adoption agency lied and so did New York State by stating that each birth was a single birth. I’m speculating, of course, but remember, amended birth certificates issued after an adoption contain false-facts, so information is made up to suit the facts of the adoption, with the toss-in of the date and place of birth. Yes, for some, even the birth date and place are falsified. Add all of this up and the end result is a sea of disaster.
I am very sad to hear about Eddy Galland’s suicide in June of 1995. He’s another adoptee statistic.
In this article, Eddy’s “wife says that he was never able to get over the separation and the loss. … Nineteen years that he didn’t have with his brothers.”
As an adoptee who was separated from my four older siblings (not identical) for eighteen years, I can attest to the pain of that loss.
This article states that sometime in 1995, Texas Pulitzer-prize winning writer Lawrence Wright began writing an article on twins when he came upon an article on twins separated at birth. He eventually found that Doctor Peter Neubauer, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at New York University, started this study. An assistant, not the doctor himself, told Wright of the “size and complexity [of the study], and told him there was a set of triplets, which lead him to Kellman, Shafran and Galland.”
Another article (which I cannot find now – I know, a big mistake to lose information on source material) stated “At the time of his death, Eddy Galland was not aware that the three brothers were intentionally separated as part of a psychological study to determine how personalities are formed.”
Just when this story can’t get any worse, it gets worse. In this snippet from Edward “Eddy” Galland’s obituary published online at Find a Grave, a 1980 New York Times article revealed that the “Louise Wise Adoption Services reportedly confirmed that David Kellman, adopted by another family, is 3d sibling, 4th identical boy reportedly died at birth. (S) S 23, III.10:1.”
The documentary Three Identical Strangers did not mention this sad fact. They were four identical brothers – quadruplets – a natural miracle of conception in which one egg splits into four separate embryos. This unique wonder of nature would have been celebrated had these identical quadruplets been born to married parents. Tragically, they were born to a high school girl who was under society’s pressure to relinquish them to a closed and secret adoption. Her grief must have been overwhelming, particularly since one of them died at birth.
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
One more not-so-tiny detail that certainly stuck out was Billy Joel’s 1977 song, “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” that highlighted a fictitious story about “Brenda and Eddy.” The documentary suggests that Billy Joel wrote that song about the real Brenda and Eddy, but the names, in fact, were coincidental. A quick check on the Internet proves that the song was released in 1977. The identical brothers did not meet until 1980.
No One Should Be Faced With Integrating Nature vs. Nurture
Non-adopted people can walk away from this documentary; they’ll recover in a few hours. But it didn’t happen to them. This particular situation didn’t happen to me, either, but adoption did. The effects of adoption on adoptees is life-long. No one should be faced with the daunting task of integrating two identities – the one of nature and the one of nurture. The one in which you have a name and one set of parents and could have been raised with your siblings – and the other in which you have a new name and a new set of parents who were hand-picked by agency workers according to their wishes and the luck of the draw.
None of this is a feel good story.
Will society ever learn not to let this happen again?
Nope. Not a chance.
The same thing will happen again, and again, and again.
The Dionne Quintuplets – five identical girls – were born to married parents on May 28, 1934 in a small village in Ontario, Canada. The Canadian government took the five girls away from their parents and made a spectacle of them for show and tell, speculative and comparative analysis of their appearance and personalities, and circus-side-show gawking profit. What happened to them should never have happened. The parents and siblings left behind suffered. The quintuplets suffered; all for greed, profit, and curiosity of what these five identical girls would grow up to be. Yes, the world watched, like in the movie “The Truman Show.”
It happened to Robert Shafran, Edward Galland, and David Kellman, their parents, and their adoptive parents.
It happened to the sets of identical twins who were also subjects of this study.
We now have children being ripped away from their parents at our USA/Mexican border as punishment for their parents entering our country illegally.
But what of their humanity?
Every day, infants are stolen at birth from their mothers because of coercive tactics used by adoption agencies and adoptive parent wanna-bees who gloat as they wear T-shirts proclaiming “I’m paper pregnant” or “My son is in Nepal” (a slogan for gays who buy the rent-a-womb services of poor women in Nepal as surrogate mothers to bear their children).
Stupid people will come along again, and again, and decide what is best for parents and their children who are seen as lesser-than. It happened before, and it will happen again.