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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Living History Day

Last week, two of my granddaughters, ages 7 and 6, participated in Living History Day at their elementary school.  They enjoyed dressing up as immigrants and talking about how America has come to be the heterogeneous country it is.  Later that evening, they asked my daughter, their mother, "Where do our people come from, Mom?"

"Well, your dad's mom immigrated here from Lithuania," she replied.  "What about Nana (that's me)?" they asked.  At first she explained that my father's parents came from Scotland.  And then she thought to herself -- "Wait, that's not quite true."  The truth is my father's parents did indeed immigrate from Scotland, but I am adopted, not related to my father by birth.  Who knows from where my biological parents might have come?  And some might add, "Who cares?"

And here I will answer emphatically, "I do!"  Why in the world should I be denied access to my own personal history just because I happen to be adopted?  The traditional answer from some in the adoption industry is, "The parents who raised you are your real parents."  The assumption is that in pursuing my own history, I am somehow expressing disloyalty to my adoptive family.  And indeed, because I am an older adoptee, in my sixties, I was socialized that way.

My mother and father loved me completely and provided me with many educational and cultural opportunities.  My mother's motto was, "Look forward, not backwards," and she preferred not to dwell too deeply on issues that were complicated or unpleasant.  She wanted to think of herself as my only mother, and I don't blame her, although I did suffer from having to keep my private thoughts to myself.  I was adopted in 1950, when the feeling was the adoptee comes to her family as a blank slate;  what came before the adoption is not relevant.

Now, from countless research studies and testimonials, we know better, although some adoptive parents still become defensive about adoptees wanting access to their own roots.  "It just doesn't matter," they insist.  And the industry, through State Bar Associations and the National Council for Adoption, continues to fight ferociously against adoption reform bills that would give adoptees as adults the right to receive their original birth certificates.  An amended birth certificate, a legal document rooted in a lie, they say, should be sufficient.

We know for a fact that more openness in adoption actually leads to fewer abortions.  We know for a fact that biological mothers were never guaranteed legal anonymity from their own offspring, and we know for a fact that the vast majority of biological mothers are open to inquiries from their adult sons or daughters.  So why the continuing resistance?

The facts are the facts.  The truth is the truth.  I have adoptive parents, whom I loved dearly, and I have biological parents, whom I wish I had been permitted to know.  When I had my own two daughters, I wanted to know my original mother acutely.  But I didn't look for her until I was in my fifties, after I had experienced a serious medical problem and was unable to retrieve any meaningful information from the agency that had arranged my adoption.

My original mother was that woman the opposition says it so wishes to protect.  She had never told anyone about me except for her own mother.  She did not wish to have continuing contact, which is her absolute right.  She did, however,  answer my questions and provide me with the truth, a gift that has provided me with peace and emotional closure.

To those who continue to oppose reform,  I say I and other adult adoptees can be entrusted with the truth.  We are part of our original mothers' private histories, not entities who exist outside of that reality.  And today, through my own efforts, I can answer my granddaughters' questions honestly and without hesitation.  I grew up right here in South Jersey, but my roots are in Denmark, where one of my original parents was born and educated.  Such is my living history, and it belongs to me.

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