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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice

Estela de Carlotto, president of Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo
Today, March 24th, is Día Nacional de la Memoria por la Verdad y la Justica (Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice) in Argentina. On this day, Argentinians remember the 1976 coup d'etat that toppled President Isabel Perón's government and lead to the seven year repression known as the "Dirty War." During those seven years, some 30,000 people were disappeared, never to be seen again. One mother whose daughter was "disappeared" is Estela de Carlotto. Her daughter was pregnant at the time of her disappearance, and Ms. Carlotto searched for years to find out what happened to that baby. Other women like her also searched, and protested, and they came to be know as the Abuelas of the Plaza de Mayo, all of them searching for the babies that were taken from their children (who were presumably killed) and given in adoption to other families to be raised. It is estimated that 500 such "lost children" exist. 115 have been found and reunited with their families. In the spring of 2013, Ms. Carlotto personally delivered a request to Pope Francis that the Vatican open its records for the period between 1976 and 1983,  for they may contain information about the whereabouts of these children, and any information could help. After all, time is running out for the abuelas, many of whom are in their 80s. "You can count on me. You can count on us," the pope, who was a priest in Argentina during the Dirty War, reportedly told Ms. Carlotto.
Estela de Carlotto with Lionel Messi, who supports the Abuelas

I believe him. This pope, who will come to my home city of Philadelphia next September for the World Celebration of the Family, has been more willing, it seems, than any pope before him, to confront some of the egregious sins of the church. In the case of Argentina, that may include knowingly hiding the origins of babies given for adoption to "good" families. In the case of my country, the United States, that definitely includes convincing young women who were pregnant and unmarried that they were unfit to be mothers and had to give their babies away, and then convincing the public that these same mothers never wanted to be found and needed laws to protect them (and in some cases -- less than 2% -- causing so much shame in those mothers that they actually never did want to be found). I know this to be true because I have met such mothers. They break my heart. One mother I met, well into her 70s, eventually searched for the daughter she had given up for adoption because she couldn't go on living otherwise, but she still feels such shame that she introduces her daughter in public as her niece, and she still hasn't told the father -- a man she loved, and who she planned to marry -- that they have a child together (she went to a Catholic home for unwed mothers once she learned she was pregnant and simply disappeared from his life).

In Argentina, they have a saying for today: Nunca más. Never again. For those adoptees still fighting for laws that allow them the dignity of knowing the full truth of their identity, and for those biological mothers who were shamed and treated horribly, and continue to be used to justify laws that have no benefit for them whatsoever, I say it also. ¡Nunca más! 

Today in Argentina is about Memoria, Justicia, y Verdad: Memory, Truth, and Justice. We could use a bit of that here as well. So many are working for it.
Estela de Carlotto and her grandson

As my mom's story shows, sometimes, despite a lack of truth and justice in the system, people are lucky. She was. She met her sisters, my aunts, who are wonderful, and who brought her an understanding "deeper than I ever thought possible in this lifetime" before she died. Estela de Carlotto, the president of the Abuelas de Mayo who met with the pope two years ago, was also lucky. Often, those who were adopted as babies in Argentina and raised by other families don't want to know the truth. It is too difficult. They love the parents who raised them (and who oftentimes knew nothing about the origins of the baby they adopted). They will never search. But this summer, Estela de Carlotto's grandson - now a grown man - found her. Alegría tremenda, tremendous happiness, is what she felt. Not all those who search will be so lucky, but all should have the right to try. Don't you agree?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Adoption Lawyers Who Oppose Adoptee Rights

Another post by Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away on April 7th after an 8 month battle with Stage IV melanoma.

One afternoon this past August, while vacationing with Anthony and the kids at The Homestead in Virginia, I discovered The Private Adoption Handbook, by Stanley B. Michelman and Meg Schneider, on the bookshelf outside our room (a bookshelf populated with old hardcovers for purely decorative purposes). We had just gotten back from the pool and were waiting for Joseph, four years old, to open the door (which he insisted on doing), when the word "Adoption" on the book's spine caught my eye. I took the book down and began to read. The book, with chapters like "How to
The Homestead Resort, in Virginia.
Choose a Lawyer," "Placing the Ads [for a pregnant mother]," and "Choosing Your Baby," was the collaboration between a private adoption lawyer and an adoptive mother. I could not stop reading. For someone who ten years ago knew, like most of the American public, very little about how adoption really worked (despite having a mom who had been adopted), and who had recently been awakened to some of the incredible injustices tied in with adoption, the book was a window into a hidden world. Meg Schneider, the book's co-author, clearly wrote the book in order to help other couples who were dealing with infertility and seeking to adopt. It was a resource guide on how to do so. In the book, she is incredibly open about the pain she suffered because of her inability to have a biological child, and she also is open about the fierce love she feels for her adoptive children. At one point, she shares the story of how she and her husband finally adopted through the law firm of Stanley Michelman, the lawyer with whom she co-wrote the book:

"...I underwent the last surgical procedure. The news was bleak. It left us little hope of ever having our own biological child. I was surprised and horrified when the doctor told me the results of the exploratory surgery, as I had been led to believe, up until then, that I would probably be able to conceive and carry a baby to term. We were both very distressed, and I, in particular, felt miserably lost. Neal, however, who is always wonderful in a crisis and never one to let bad times do him in, called Stanley's office from a hospital phone booth before I even woke up from the anesthetic. 'I'm not going to wake Meg up with nothing but bad news,' he told an attorney working for Stanley. 'I want to tell her we're going to have a baby soon.' ... Stanley's assistant was comforting and positive. Basically she said, 'We'll help you out of this, and soon.' Three days after I got home from the hospital, I found out she was a lady of her word."

A page later, she writes, "That night Neil and I talked about the situation. We really couldn't find anything we didn't like about it. The only problem was a superficial one: The baby would probably not look like us. The builds and colorings of both birth parents seemed to preclude that possibility. Then we reminded ourselves that though I'm a brunette, my mother is a blonde and my grandfather was a carrot top. If we had conceived a child, anything could have happened..."

As I said, I could not put the book down, so each night once the kids went to bed I stayed up late reading, by the light of my phone, story after heartbreaking story of couples who were devastated when they could not have children of their own, and whose dreams then came true because of the law office of Stanley Michelman.

But all I could think about were all those adopted children. Children, like my mom, who became adults and deserved the right to be able to search out their history. I was astonished throughout the book at the casual way in which this need was dismissed, not even discussed. Or, if it was discussed, it was done so with only the needs of the parents in mind: "I have a photograph of her [her son's birth mother], but I would have liked to be able to tell our son about her voice and her words as well. Everyone has a history, and I know that a part of who he is has been left behind with his birth mother. Speaking with her would have given me yet another sense of him and where he came from, even though I know it couldn't make me feel any closer to him."

Oh, Stanley and Meg, how could you not have written here, after this clearly caring mother's story, about how that little boy would grow up and very well might need to search out that "part of him that was left behind with his birth mother"? How could you not have discussed legislation allowing adult adoptees access to their birth records? And, Stanley Michelman, how could you, with all of your years of adoption experience, not have supported such legislation? How could any adoption lawyer not support such legislation, when it is SO CLEARLY the best thing for adoptees? The book was published in 1988, after all. The information was out there.

When I got home from vacation, the book finished, I looked up Stanley Michelman, the adoption lawyer. He passed away in 2009, and I found myself feeling so conflicted as I read his obituary, which described him as a loving father and grandfather who, after losing a grandson, had become incredibly active in supporting research on childhood genetic diseases (irony of adoptees being blocked from knowledge of own genetic histories not lost on me). It also stated that he had finalized more than 5,000 adoptions. Next, I found his name on many, many posts on Birth mothers were looking for their children they had given up, and adoptees were looking for their original parents. Some were looking for siblings.

New York State, where Mr. Michelman practiced for years, could perhaps be the next state to allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. The law pending, which has 90 sponsors out of 150 members in the NY State Assembly, would finally give adoptees, whose rights have been denied for so long, the right to search out that history, that "part ... left behind." So who's fighting against it? One group, and a powerful one, consists of lawyers just like Mr. Michelman. And people who have not taken the time to listen to adult adoptees' stories, stories every bit as important as those of adoptive parents, and those of birth mothers (and, dare I say, maybe, maybe, even just a little more important, if adoption exists, as everyone claims, truly for the benefit of the child, of the adoptee), are easily swayed.

May we only be swayed by the truth. May adoptive parents and adoption lawyers who do not yet realize the importance of this law open their eyes, and find their voice, and speak up for the adopted children they raised, or placed, who have now grown up and need this right. May people finally, finally listen to adoptees and hear what it was like to be adopted, and try to understand. May that understanding lead to action. That is my wish, and I know it was the wish of my mom. Truth and love. There is nothing greater, or more important.

One more thing:

Just tonight I came across an article online, "Birth mother privacy a concern as adoption bill moves forward" (, an article about Indiana's pending legislation. The "expert" on adoption quoted in the article (and opposing adoptees' access to their original birth certificate) is another adoption lawyer whose wesbite,, reminds me eerily of Stanley Michelman's book. I do not know why I continue to be astonished, but I am. How could this lawyer possibly believe that sealing records is best practice? How could he? Below is the comment I left:

My mom, an adoptee, had to use an "intermediary" like Mr. Kirsh mentions in order to attempt to find her birth mother 15 years ago. I hope Mr. Kirsh and his colleagues at Kirsh and Kirsh realize how insulting and demeaning it it for a grown woman to have to PAY and essentially beg another person, a stranger, for personal information. This should never be the case (and I have to imagine that Mr. Kirsh's opposition to laws allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificates --something that the American Academy of Pediatrics endorses -- has a lot to do with his profits from adoption and very little to do with his true concern for birth mothers, whether he realizes it or not). My mom's birth mother, when contacted by the intermediary, was one of those few who said she did not want contact. "She seemed like she was holding something back," the intermediary told my mom. Then she told her the case was closed and she could/would do nothing else. One phone call from a stranger and it was over. That is how these intermediaries (paid for their services) work. My mom, facing health issues at the time and also realizing, for the first time in her life, that it was her RIGHT to find her birth mother, and for the two of them to decide like the grown adults that they were whether or not they would have a relationship, found her mother on her own (and at great expense). She wrote her a letter in her OWN voice and sent it via certified mail. Though she and her birth mother did not go on to have a relationship, the interaction they had because of that letter was incredibly helpful to my mom, both medically and personally. It also helped her realize how ridiculous our current adoption laws are (that do not allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates). She became an advocate for adoptee rights and began to REALLY learn about the reasons the system is the way it is (lawyers who profit big time being one of them). Late in 2013, my mom was (somewhat miraculously) reunited with her two birth sisters (who happened to be desperately searching for her). What she learned revealed a mother who was both scared and scarred by the secrets she carried. "They kept it secret. That's how they came to peace with their decision," says Mr. Kirsh. He could not be farther from the truth, and if he truly cared about birth mothers, or adoptees, he would have to acknowledge that. Secrets will never lead to true peace. Only truth can do that. My mom wrote about this on her blog in July of 2013, right after she was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma and right before she was reunited with her sisters:
After an 8 month battle with melanoma, my mom died last April, right before NJ's law allowing adult adoptees access to their birth certificates (beginning in 2017) was signed. I wish she could have seen it, but she did always say that "Change will come. I don't know if it will be in my lifetime, but change will come."
To the author of this article, I thank you for covering adoption and hope that you continue to do so. I feel strongly that, had you known, as a responsible journalist you should have revealed Mr. Kirsh's financial interest in promoting the status quo of closed adoption records when quoting him in this article. A brief visit to his firm's website confirmed that for me. The birth mother that his firm found for you was most likely "scared and scarred" like my mom's birth mother had been. Under Indiana's proposed law allowing adult adoptees access to their birth certificates, she would still have her privacy (the birth certificates do not become public record, after all). Someone with her best interests in mind would explain that to her (and, perhaps, gently encourage her to begin working towards true peace in her life, through the truth).

Friday, November 28, 2014

#FlipTheScript (My Mom's Voice, An Adoptee's Voice)

Another post by Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away on April 7th, 2014 eight months after being diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma and seven months after being reunited with her biological sisters.

I have been wanting to write something during November for National Adoption Month, and tonight, with two days left in November, I came across Angela Tucker's wonderful article, The Missing Voice in the Adoption Conversation, in Christianity Today magazine. Angela, an adoptee, talks about her ambivalent feelings about National Adoption Month given the complexities of adoption. I read the article at my dad's house, where my sister and I (and our kids) were having dinner and helping to decorate the Christmas tree. Angela talked about the need for adoptees' voices to be heard during National Adoption Month. I agree. I am not my mom, but I will do my best to speak for her, and tell her story.

My mom and my daughter Grace. Love and miss you, mom. 
My mom, who was born on July 9th, 1950, was adopted by my grandparents and brought to Haddonfield, New Jersey, on October 9th, 1950. She never found out where she was for those first three months, but she did always know she was adopted. In Haddonfield, she joined her older brother, Doug (also adopted, at the age of 11 months) and her dog, Happy. Her parents were loving and wonderful, and her life was a good one. She married my dad, who had lived down the street from her, when she was twenty-one. My sister was born when she was twenty-four. I came along three years later. When we were younger, I remember asking my mom if she was ever curious about her original mother. I think this was soon after my parents had my sister and me watch The Miracle of Life on PBS. Now that I knew where babies came from, I found myself very curious as to where she had been before she arrived at my grandparents' house. "No, not really," she replied casually, but then added, "I guess I did think about it a lot after both you and Kate were born ... " We didn't talk about it after that. Sometimes, when asked to fill out a family tree or explain my ethnicity for a school project, I remember feeling confused. "My grandfather's family is from Scotland," I would say, thinking about the stories I had heard of my mother's dad making bootleg liquor in the back of his dad's car (he was a bit wild, though a lot of fun). I loved these stories, as I loved the stories about my grandmother's family, and I felt connected to them as part of my family narrative (I still do), but I also felt connected to something else, something I couldn't quite name.

When my mom was 47, she was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. I will always remember the year and her age, because it was the year that I studied abroad in Spain. That spring (1997), my parents and sister came to visit me for a week in Granada. My mom was fine, though I do remember that she suddenly found it impossible to ride in elevators. "I feel like the walls are closing in on me in there," she explained, "I just can't." In Marbella, we stayed in a hotel room eight flights up and she took the stairs. A month later, I was done my studies and visiting my dad's cousin in Milan, Italy, when my dad called and told me my mom had been diagnosed, that she was having surgery, and that I should come home right away. I did. It was in those months after the surgery, as my parents researched treatment options and my mom was asked again and again for her medical background and couldn't give it, that my mom decided to search for her birth parents. My sister, a doctor, practically insisted on it.

My grandmother gave my mom the information she had, and my mother contacted the adoption agency. "Why do you want to know?" she was asked. She had the medical reason to give, which I'm sure she did, and that was good, because her natural desire to know, and her recognition of this desire, was deeply buried beneath years of denial out of a fear of hurting her adoptive parents, whom she loved, and a desire to please society, which seemed to want her, and all adoptees, to reaffirm its belief that adoption was a "win-win" situation. I do not know how aware of her own feelings my mom was at this point, but she was never one to hide anything from us, and even after she called the agency she spoke of her search casually, as though it wasn't of any great importance to her. But I know from what happened afterwards that it was--even when she didn't know it, or couldn't express it.

In short: the adoption agency told my mother her original mother had wanted no contact, and so all my mom had a right to see were some papers with "non-identifying" information (information that had been filled out nearly 50 years before). My mom still did not have the medical information she needed, and I think she was also awakening to the fact that this search was important to her for more than just medical reasons. She did, eventually, find her mother through some enlightened individuals, and she was able to send her a certified letter in which she spoke of who she was, the life she had lived, and the current crisis she was in that required her to know more about her medical history. Her mother sent back a more complete medical history and then, miraculously, she called. "I have always loved you in my heart," she told my mother.

Also, perhaps miraculously, my mom got better. The melanoma had been under the nail of her big toe, and the surgeons removed that toe completely. "I would much rather be alive with no big toe than not be alive at all," she would say. The scans every three months, and then every six, and then just every year, were always anxiety-producing, but eventually the worry lessoned, and my mom was able to just live her life. My sister and I each got married, and then grandkids came along. My mom was busy, and happy.

At the same time, her experience with the adoption agency when searching for her original mother had awakened her to the injustices that all adoptees face. She joined NJCare and began working for adult adoptees to have access to their original birth certificates. She began this blog. She told her story. Telling her story was important.

In the comments section after Angela Tucker's article in Christianity Today, an article that is really only saying that adoptees need to have a voice in the discussion, one adoptive father speaks of adult adoptees as "pushing this #FlipTheScript stuff" and ends by asking that adult adoptees "get some perspective." It is a comment that saddens me terribly. I know it would have saddened my mom. I wish she were here to write about it herself. But she is not.

My mom had 16 wonderful years of life after her original melanoma diagnosis. She did not have a relationship with her original mother during this time, but that was ok. Adult adoptees having access to their original birth certificates is not about them having a relationship, necessarily, with their birth parents. It is about finally, finally giving them an ounce of power in searching out their own identities. What they decide to do with that power is up to them.

A few years after my mom's original diagnosis, her own (a)mother, my Nana, died. My mom and her were always completely devoted to each other. That devotion was clear tonight as I looked through boxes of my mom's keepsakes. There were all the things of my mom's that Nana had kept. There was the scribble on a scrap of paper ("Susan drew this, 4 years old"), the holiday cards, the careful notes about birthday parties at the beach, the pictures, even a letter to the editor my mom had written to the editor of the local paper in her twenties, Dog was not a stray. There was the long letter of thanks my mom had written her mother for Christmas as a grown adult, and a copy of the letter my mom had written to the hospital after her father had died. He had gone in for what was supposed to be routine surgery, and something had gone terribly wrong. My mom had been greatly angered by the callous way in which the doctor treated her and her mother afterwards, and she let him know. There was also, of course, the program from my grandmother's funeral, and all the cards people had sent my mom. "Nobody loves you like your mother," my mom told me after Nana died, "It's just this irreplaceable loss."

So my mother's making her voice heard was never about criticizing her (a)parents. She knew how lucky she was to have them, and they knew how lucky they were to have her. My mother shared her voice because she had just what the adoptive father commenting on Angela Tucker's article asked her (and all adoptees) to have: perspective.

Thank you to all the brave adoptees who continue to speak about their experiences so that others can understand. Thank you, Angela Tucker. And thank you, thank you, those who listen. Sometimes that can be hard to do, but it is the right thing to do, and it is worth it. #FlipTheScript

Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Souls Day and My Mom

Another post by Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away in April of 2014 eight months after being diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma and seven months after reuniting with her biological sisters.

This morning, on All Souls Day, a day the Catholic Church has traditionally recognized as one to remember and pray for our loved ones who have died, I cleaned out my dresser and put it out on the curb. Our house was burglarized two weeks ago (You can read about it HERE), and the robbers, in their rush to pull out all the drawers and look for treasures, actually broke them (the dresser was an inexpensive Ikea piece that I bought 12 years ago, when I first got married, so no surprise there, just some annoyance). Among my clothes I found some folded pieces of paper, and I discovered, when I opened them, that they were journal entries from last fall, scribbled just after my mom's diagnosis. I wish I could have kept a journal of every day, of everything that happened and everything that we said to each other from her diagnosis in late July to her death in early April, but even now I know that it was impossible. These scraps of paper are all that I could do. Finding them today, it was enough. Here is the first one, from September 4th, two days before I sent a letter to Carol, her biological sister, and five days before she, Carol, and Joanne, her two sisters, were reunited:
I know I wrote "too" wrong in "Because I asked her to(o)!" That is just a reminder of how crazy last year was, trying to be there for my mom, my own children, and my students. "The whole thing cut me to the core." Yes, it did. 
When my mom's diagnosis was still new, I felt like I couldn't breathe. Sometimes at night I would have to get out of bed and go sit on the front porch to stare at the stars and wonder how we could get out of this. Please, please, please, I would pray. Not my mom. It was during this time that I asked my mom's blessing to write her sister, who didn't know about her (or so we thought). My mom had known about this sister for a few years but hadn't written for many reasons. Her original mother, when my mom had finally found her years before, had told my mom that she was a secret from everyone, even her own daughter, and asked her not to make trouble. My mom was not a trouble maker. Neither was I, really, but the only answer I could discern from all my fervent praying for my mom was Send the letter. It didn't make sense, really, when there were so many other things to be worrying about, but that inner voice, Send the letter, just wouldn't go away. So I sat down late one Thursday night and wrote a letter to my mom's older sister. I tucked in two pictures, one of each of my daughters, to help soften what I imagined would be quite a shock, and included a letter my mom had written herself, several years before, but never sent. I mailed it the next day.
It is strange for me to read "half sister" here, since my mom's older sister, once reunited with her, became a "full sister" in every way, as did her younger sister. 
That weekend, my mom got really sick. My dad called me when I was on the way home from my sister's and asked if I would come over. I did. My mom and I lay in her bed together, the full weight of what she was facing upon us both. We cried a bit, and we laughed, too. Please, please, please, I prayed, Not my mom. I wasn't thinking at all about the letter I had written to her sister. I was thinking about her, and how I wasn't really sure if I could live without her.
This was written two days before talking with my mom's older sister for the first time. "We've been desperately searching for her," my mom's sister told me, when we did talk, explaining that they had found a birth record two weeks before.

Monday was my first day back at school with students, and my first day ever taking Joseph, my then two-year-old, to day care. I had no idea how I was going to get through the day, let alone the week, or the year. And it was at the end of that day, right after I picked up Joseph, that I received the phone call from my mom's older sister (I've written about this day in a previous post -- Click HERE to read). I might as well have had an actual angel come sit down beside me in the car, I felt so comforted. I knew that this was a miracle, and I think that my mom and her sisters did too. They had found each other, despite everything. They had found each other.
The miracle of my mom's reunion with her sisters helped lift my heart, and my mom's heart, at a time when it was needed most. To this day, it helps me keep my faith in a God who is loving and merciful, one who held my mom (and her siblings) in the palm of His hand, and holds her (and them) still. 
My mom was soon speaking with her sisters herself, and they were making the drive down to see her as often as possible. They e-mailed her, too, every single day, with little funny stories, words of encouragement, and words of love. They were my mom's angels. They were mine, too. And I need to hold on to this goodness, this reminder, when I am made crazy by everything else.

Today, on All Souls Day, I did not go to church. I simply couldn't. The Catholic Church has been so adamant in its opposition to allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificates, and so disingenuous in its arguing, that I find it currently impossible to attend, despite the goodness of so many I know who do attend (and usually know nothing about this scandal). Instead, my husband and I ourselves read the story of Mary and Martha mourning the death of their brother Lazarus to our children, and we prayed for the souls of those we have loved. I do not know what we'll do going forward. I can only follow my heart, and my earnest prayers, and do what I believe to be right.

After all of the press about my mom and adoption last year, I have been approached by so many in the adoption triad who have shared their stories with me. I listen very, very carefully. And what I have learned is that most of us would not even survive what birth (original) mothers were made to go through. The very Catholic church that is now using birth mothers as an argument for not allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificates is the one that shamed them (birth mothers) into giving up their children, telling them to "forget about them," in the first place. Women had to pay room and board, and often work, in exchange for their medical care, and then their babies were given away (at a high price) before they ever had a chance to hold them. I cannot begin to imagine the grief.

There is great grief, too, for adoptees, blocked forever from knowing who this mother was. I saw this clearly enough with my own mom, even as she loved and cherished her own adoptive parents. And I know that there is often grief for adoptive parents, before the adoption, as they deal with the excruciating pain of miscarriages and infertility. Please, please, please, we have all prayed at one time, our hearts filled with grief. Sometimes, it feels as if there is no answer. Sometimes, we wonder where God could be. I do too. But I have had it confirmed in my heart, in the deepest seat of my soul, that a God of mercy, and tenderness, and love, and TRUTH, does exist beneath the madness, of which I can still make no sense. In the face of great grief, love and truth are the only answer. Secrecy, shame, and fear are not. Don't you agree, dear Catholic Church? For you are worth so much more to me than an Ikea bedroom dresser, and I would rather not take you to the curb. But if I must choose between Love and Truth and you, I will choose Love and Truth, for that, of course, is God.

My Ikea dresser on the curb

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Good Guys and Bad Guys in Adoption

Joseph: "Am I a good guy or a bad guy?"
Another post by Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away in April, 2014, 8 months after being diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma and 7 months after meeting her biological sisters for the first time.  

My three year old son, Joseph, gave me a kiss the other morning and said, "I'm not a bad guy, right, Mommy?" His question surprised me. "Of course you're not," I told him, "You're a good guy." Joseph, who loves superheroes so much that he owns both a Spiderman and a Superman costume, takes these matters seriously. In the car a bit later, I realized where his question had come from, though. The night before, this "good guy" had gotten angry (maybe rightfully so) at his sister and bitten her (not rightfully so). In her anger, she yelled, "No! You're bad!"

We had a little talk with Joseph's sister that night about the difference between doing something bad and being bad, and the need to differentiate between the two when talking to her three-year-old brother, but the incident, along with Joseph's question the next morning, got me thinking again about the recently released film The Box Trolls, which I saw with the girls last weekend, and which plays with this question as well."Who am I?" Eggs, the main character, an orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors, asks at one point. The one true bad guy in the movie, Archibald Snatcher, never asks himself this question, of course, but he does take great pains to disguise himself so that others don't know who he is. What was most interesting to me, though, and most similar to Joseph's incident with his sister, was that the men who helped Archibald Snatcher in the movie did so because they thought they were doing, and being, good. "We are the good guys, right?" they ask at one point.

The Box Trolls shows the importance of LISTENING to those children
who find the courage to tell their own stories. 
Oh how I wish those who aid in the work of opposing adoption reform would ask themselves the same question, and then reflect. And then change. In fact, I wish that all those who aid in the work of opposing adoption reform would go to see The Box Trolls. In the movie, the adoptee, Eggs, is completely ignored when he tries to tell the truth about what happened to him. Those who raised him, the Box Trolls, are also ignored (and nearly exterminated), and his biological/original father is forced out of the picture, too. At one point, the entire town, enamored with Archibald Snatcher, is willing to sacrifice Eggs to preserve its own erroneous thinking. They are not bad people, but they are most certainly doing something bad, and Eggs, the adoptee, is the victim (and might I point out that the adoptive parents and the original/biological parent(s) are the victims too).

"Who am I?" is a question we all need to ask ourselves, and adoptees know that the search for the answer to that question is bit more labyrinthian for them (because some of the most basic answers to that question are legally blocked by those claiming to be "good").  "Am I a good guy or a bad guy?" is another question. The answer can change, depending on what we do.

In the movie, when Eggs bravely announces the truth of his own experience to the entire town we, the viewers, know that this declaration should be revolutionary, that it should result in great, dramatic change, but the town doesn't listen at all. They don't do anything! Archibald Snatcher, of course, ramps up his actions to keep his dirty scheme going. He can't do it alone, however. He needs people to go along with him, to believe his lies. Will they? Will you? Adult adoptees have bravely spoken, and are speaking, about their lives. The results should be revolutionary. Whether or not they are depends a lot on whether or not we are good guys or bad. I think we can be good.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Please Do What's Right: PA HB 162

Another post from Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away on April 7th, 2014.

The vote is Tuesday. Two days from now, Pennsylvania's Senate Committee on Aging and Youth will consider PA HB 162, which would allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. I think my mom's voice, below, eloquently states the case for why this is a loving and just bill. If they vote no, it might be another 10 years before similar legislation even has a chance. Please, please consider calling the members of the Senate Committee tomorrow, especially if you live in Pennsylvania and are an adoptee, adoptive parent, or birth/original mother. I have spoken with SO many of you from this triad who understand the urgency of this bill, but I am not sure that yours are the voices the legislators are hearing. They are hearing from lobbyists for the adoption industry and those with a political agenda. For me, it comes down to this:

1) Adoptees are fully human and therefore deserving of all the rights ever other human being enjoys in this country.

2) Knowing who you are, and having access to your original birth certificate, is a right. Most people don't ever have to think about this.

3) No other group of people is denied its rights with the justification, "Just feel lucky you are alive" (i.e. that you were not an abortion). We are all lucky to be alive. And study after study after study has shown that open access laws either DO NOT impact abortion rates or LOWER them. And I find the PA ACLU's argument that denying adoptees access to their original birth certificates is part of "a woman's reproductive freedom" ridiculous, and I hope any thinking adult would as well (as much as I respect the ACLU on other issues). Once again, adoptees are REAL people, and should have the same rights as everyone else under the law.

4) This is thus a civil rights issue -- an issue of giving everyone equal treatment under the law. To repeat myself, it is loving, and it is just. Please call! (phone numbers of Senate Committee Members after my mom's post)

Facing a Life-Threatening Illness and Thinking About Adoption (originally posted by my mom in July, 2013, one week after her Stage IV melanoma diagnosis)

This past week has been the most difficult one I have ever endured.  I  had just returned from Spain, where I felt great and walked at least five miles every day.  I noticed a little bump on my thigh and had my friend, a surgeon, take a look at it.  He thought it was vascular, but scheduled an ultrasound just to be sure.  The results were concerning, so the next day I went in for a PET scan.  That day I got the devastating news that the melanoma that I had 16 years ago has returned and metastasized.

It is surreal to go from feeling just fine one day to being told that you have stage 4 melanoma the next.  I vacillate from feeling as if I am an actor in a play to feeling sick at my stomach as I contemplate what I am facing.  On the bright side, I have the best husband, daughters and extended family in the world, and I have been surrounded by caring and love every minute of every day.  My best friend can keep me laughing no matter what the circumstance.

Part of my beautiful support team -- granddaughter Grace and daughter Jenn in Spain

My physician daughter was able to schedule an appointment for me with one of the best melanoma doctors in the world within the week.  There is hope, and I am going to try to hold onto it with all my might.  As she explained to me, we don't talk of curing melanoma at this stage, but in ongoing clinical trials at Penn, they are seeing partial and complete remissions in a number of patients through a combination of standard and immunology therapy.  I qualify for the trial, and after several more procedures this week and next, will be getting started.

I welcome prayers from those who pray, positive energy from those who meditate, and good wishes from one and all.  I am working hard on mindfulness exercises, as I can see already that a major challenge in all of this will be letting go, living in the moment, and controlling the racing of my mind.

As my thoughts and emotions have careened all over the place this past week, I have been thinking about why I have been so dedicated to adoption reform and adoptee rights over these past 16 years.  I was blessed with loving adoptive parents, and I found myself feeling so very close to them this past week, as I sat on a bench looking out over a beautiful cove where I had grown up sailing and water-skiing with my parents and brother.

But like many adopted people, I feel connections to other people as well.  Neither I, nor any adoptee, should ever be forced into an either-or kind of thinking, in which one set of parents is recognized and validated, and one set is not.  Having experienced the paradoxes and willful mistruths of the adoption system, I myself have no tolerance for half truths and the masking of deep truths.

Throughout my life, I have learned that the road to peace is never through falsehood, and I think that is the reason I have always felt so devoted to truth, fairness and social justice.

It is truly misguided and so very wrong for the state to attempt to block two grown adults from knowing the truth about each other's identity -- especially when those adults share such a deep, primal connection.  We cannot and should not ever block a human being's path to truth, peace, forgiveness and love.

I was told through the agency that placed me that my original mother did not want any contact with me.    With help from several enlightened souls, I found her on my own and sent her a sensitive and compassionate certified letter, asking her also for medical history.  As a human being facing a medical crisis 16 years ago, I felt that I was worthy enough to at least ask for information.  I received it, and eventually my original mother told me over the telephone that she had always loved me "in her heart."  Not every adopted person will seek out her original parents or get even that far in the journey.  Some will get further.

But how dare the state block the possibility for that love to be expressed?  How dare they?  Let people -- adults with minds and souls of their own -- find their own way.  Facing a critical illness at the moment, I can tell you with certainty that there is nothing that is more important than love.  Nothing.  Please, let's let the light, the truth and the love overcome the misguided fears and the ideology.

There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer,
no disease that enough love will not heal;
no door that enough love will not open;
no gulf that enough love will not bridge;
no wall that enough love will not throw down;
no sin that enough love will not redeem ....
It makes no difference how deeply seated
may be the trouble; how hopeless the outlook;
how muddled the tangle; how great the mistake.
A sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all.
If only you could love enough you would be the happiest
and most powerful being in the world.

Emmet Fox

(Please, if you can, call them and urge them to vote yes on HB 162, which would allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Calls are probably more effective at this point. If you prefer to email, the email addresses are in the previous blog post)

Senator Randy Vulakovich
Senate Box 203040
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3040
(717) 787-6538
FAX: (717) 787-8625
1407 Mt. Royal Blvd.
Glenshaw, PA 15116
(412) 487-6600
FAX: (412) 487-6607
Senator Scott Wagner
Senate Box 203028
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3028
Room: Room 460 Main Capitol
(717) 787-3817
FAX: (717) 783-1900
218 North George Street
York, PA 17401
(717) 846-2828
FAX: (717) 852-8478
Senator Sean Wiley
Senate Box 203049
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3049
(717) 787-8927
FAX: (717) 772-1588
1314 Griswold Plaza, S. 100
Erie, PA 16501
(814) 453-2515
FAX: (814) 871-4640

Senator Joseph Scarnati III   (Ex-Officio)
Senate Box 203025
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3025
(717) 787-7084
FAX: (717) 772-2755
410 Main Street
Brockway, PA 15824
(814) 265-2030
FAX: (814) 265-2040
Senator David Argall
Senate Box 203029
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3029
(717) 787-2637
FAX: (717) 783-8657
One West Centre Street
P.O. Box 150
Mahanoy City, PA 17948
(570) 773-0891
FAX: (570) 773-1675
Senator Lisa Baker
Senate Box 203020
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3020
(717) 787-7428
FAX: (717) 787-9242
2512 Route 6
Hawley, PA 18428
(570) 226-5960
FAX: (570) 226-5964
Senator Bob Mensch
Senate Box 203024
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3024
(717) 787-3110
FAX: (717) 787-8004

Senator Bob Mensch
404 Main Street, Suite A
Pennsburg, PA 18073
(215) 541-2388
FAX: (215) 541-2387
Senator Elder Vogel Jr.
Senate Box 203047
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3047
(717) 787-3076
FAX: (717) 772-2756
488 Adams Street
Rochester, PA 15074
(724) 774-0444
FAX: (724) 773-7384
Senator Judith Schwank
Senate Box 203011
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3011
(717) 787-8925
FAX: (717) 772-0578
210 George Street, S. 201
Reading, PA 19605
(610) 929-2151
FAX: (610) 929-2576
Senator Michael Stack
Senate Box 203005
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3005
(717) 787-9608
FAX: (717) 772-2162
12361 Academy Road
Philadelphia, PA 19154-1927
(215) 281-2539
FAX: (215) 281-2798

Senator John Yudichak
Senate Box 203014
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3014
(717) 787-7105
FAX: (717) 783-4141
1701 Wyoming Ave.
Exeter, PA 18643
(570) 883-4690
FAX: (570) 883-4694

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Adoptees' Voices: PA HB162

This is another post by Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away on April 7th, 2014 after an 8-month battle with melanoma.

"I was fifteen years old when I understood how it is that things break down: people can't imagine someone else's point of view." - Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her autobiography My Beloved World

When Pennsylvania's Senate Committee on Aging and Youth reconvenes this month, they will consider HB162, a law that would allow adult adoptees access to their birth certificates. The measure passed the Assembly unanimously in the spring, but it is unknown whether or not it will have the votes to make it out of this 11-member committee. If it doesn't, more adoptees like my mom will have no access to information about their heritage, including crucial medical information that may save their lives. This, as well as the fact that the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference continues to lobby hard against it, is heartbreaking to me. I cannot fathom how they (leaders of the Catholic Conference, senators considering a "no" vote) don't yet "get it" and can perpetuate such an injustice. I am writing tonight as one more voice pleading for them to "imagine someone else's point of view," that all important bedrock of justice in our country. And, to be fair, I must let them, and all of you, know that I, for years "didn't get it" in the way that I should have. My mom, an adoptee herself, didn't get it until she was 50 years old and had to sit across the desk from someone, an employee of the agency that facilitated her adoption, and hear that she could not be handed the file of her most personal information, a file only mere feet away, because in the one, impersonal phone call the agency made to the birth mother, that mother had been scared and said no.

My mom with my girls in Disney, 2010. 

A few weeks ago, my dad, my sister, my aunt Jo (my mom's sister, reunited with her last September, before my mom's death in April), and my Uncle Doug (my mom's brother, also adopted, raised with my mom) gathered at my dad's shore house in Long Beach Island. There, we read together letters that my mom had exchanged in 2003 with the agency that facilitated her adoption. We all shook our heads together when we read the agency's response to one of her first letters. The agency's letter began, "It is with great compassion that I write this letter,"  and ended "I hope you are able to understand our position." After that, we read my mom's response. Here it is:

In response to your recent letter, I would have to answer no, I do not understand your position in this contemporary age, especially in light of the fact that you still facilitate closed adoptions. From my perspective as a 52-year-old adoptee, closed adoptions make no sense, not in this age when genetic research is transforming medicine and the way we view behavior, practically by the day. 

Your voluntary search program was a good start, but it is not sufficient. In fact, the process makes me feel like a paralyzed infant, because once again, your agency holds all the power, and my interests have been sublimated to these secrecy pacts you have endorsed and apparently continue to endorse. There is no way that I can feel my birth mother was forthcoming with medical information, as your letter strongly suggests, when ______'s exact words to me were: "Even in that area, I felt like she was holding something back."

Why should I, as the adoptee, be asked to honor an agreement that was flawed and didn't consider my best interest in the first place? It is well and good to protect birth mothers from their friends and neighbors, but not from the human beings they bring into the world, and for life. Every person should have the opportunity to explore where he or she has come from. Babies are not commodities -- they grow into adolescents and adults, many who want to know the truth and are unwilling to accept the legal fiction this closed system has forced upon them. 

I would ask you once again to consider how little I am asking for. I never said I desired a reunion, although I wouldn't have turned one down. I want to deliver a letter to my birth mother in my own voice in the hope that it may touch her and allow her to provide a little information. I have promised not to approach her again, and I'm fully prepared to accept the fact that her need for denial is so strong that she may be unable to do this. But shouldn't I have the right to try? In not attempting to facilitate this healing, you have once again made the decision to completely ignore the adoptees' feelings. Can you even begin to imagine how this makes me feel? ...

And then, in her next letter (after she was told there would be no attempt to compromise):

Your unyielding position makes me feel totally violated as a thinking, feeling adult.... Why can't you take the mildest of risks and meet me somewhere in the middle on this issue? I remain totally disgusted by your self-serving, hypocritical stance. And while you may be able to block my ability to heal and thwart my search, fortunately for me, you cannot control my voice. At least that is one power I still possess -- the power of the pen.       Sincerely, Susan T. Perry

I beg of you, any of you who have made your way to this site today, but especially those who live in Pennsylvania, to use the power of your voice to speak up so that no one else has to go through what my mom did. If you have questions and still don't "get it," please ask! I am happy to answer your questions, and I won't yell at you. I will, however, tell you the truth. Once you do get it, write! Below is the contact information for all of the Senators on the Pennsylvania Committee on Aging and Youth. I think they especially need to hear from members of the adoption triad (adoptees, original parents, and adoptive parents). Please pass this on to anyone in Pennsylvania you know.

In addition, I would ask any Catholics to write to the Catholic Conference to let them know you oppose them lobbying against this bill. For me, this is personal. Catholics, if true to their faith, should be worried about protecting the powerless, and supporting this bill would at least allow the adult adoptee some semblance of power over his/her own life.

LINK TO SENATE AGING AND YOUTH COMMITTEE (click for full information on each Senator and snail-mail mailing addresses, if you are so motivated. Just click on the Senator's name on the list to the left -- options for Twitter and Facebook as well!):


Chair, Senator Randy Vulakovich (District 40): (must click on link above and e-mail via form)
Minority Chair, Senator Sean Wiley (District 49):
Vice Chair, Senator Scott Wagner (District 28):
Senator Joseph Scarnati III (District 25):
Senator David Argall (District 29):
Senator Lisa Baker (District 20):
Senator Bob Mensch (District 24): (must click on link above and e-mail via form)
Senator Elder Vogel Jr. (District 47): (must click on link above and e-mail via form)
Senator Judith Schwank (District 11):
Senator Michael J. Stack (District 5):
Senator John Yudichak (District 14):

Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (click on "Contact" - top right):
I especially ask all Catholics of good faith to contact them and ask them to stop opposing HB 162. In other states (Ohio specifically), Catholic leaders have REVERSED THEIR POSITION on this bill and supported it as "the right thing to do." Catholics in Pennsylvania could also do the right thing.

Thank you, everyone, for honoring my mom by using your own voice. Thank you for pleading for the rights of others simply because you care about doing what is right.
With a full and hopeful heart, Jenn