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Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Myth of "Two Sides" in the Adoption Issue ... and a Thank You


This post (again, from Jenn, Susan's daughter) is a thank-you letter to all those who have listened, or will listen, to those who have lived adoption. Those who do so with an open heart and mind are hard-pressed not to be moved, but at the same time I recognize how difficult it is to change one’s own beliefs, especially if those beliefs are deeply held and reinforced by cultural myths perpetuated in movies, TV shows, magazines … in short, almost everywhere.  I also recognize just how busy with their own important affairs people are, and how hard this issue can be to understand (at first). So thank you, those who have listened, or will listen. Please bring your questions, your doubts, your fears …   but also your open heart. Prepare for an awakening. I know that’s how it felt for me, as I spoke with my mom and thought deeply about adoption for the first time.  

This photo, of my mom and my son Joseph, is from February 6th, after my mom, dad, and I had just had a good laugh as I attempted to color and style her hair, and almost turned it red. Going to the salon was just not possible at this point. I know now that my mom asked me to do her hair to create a memory (she certainly didn't ask me for my skills). I love her, and thank her, for that.


I especially want to thank Senator Diane Allen, who has tirelessly championed the Adoptees Birthright Bill (S873/A1259) in New Jersey and carefully listened to hours of testimony from original (birth) parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents for over 10 years. I am hoping that in the next month I will be able to thank New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who despite previously opposing this bill and calling for intermediaries (they don’t work, and are insulting to adoptees), will listen to Senator Allen  and hear her compelling case for why this bill should be signed into law. Though many, many others have worked for years, even decades, for adult adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates, in my heart if this law passes in NJ I will consider it “Susan’s Law,” after my mom, who first got me to listen, and to reconsider my own views.

I also want to thank my dear brother-in-law, Harry. This past February I was at my nephew’s (his son’s) 12th birthday party, and as we served ourselves dinner from the dining room table buffet, he said, “That was an interesting article on your mom, Jenn.” He was referring to the front page February 23rd Philadelphia Inquirer article, Bills in Pa., N.J.. would open adoption records, which featured a picture of me, my mom, and my daughter Grace (http://articles.philly.com/2014-02-23/news/47607101_1_adoption-records-adoptees-original-birth-certificates ). The article covers all the reasons that advocates have been fighting for adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates, but it also includes a few quotes from those who oppose this access, namely Mary Tasy from NJ Right to Life and Patrick Brannigan from the NJ Catholic Conference. Though the article mentions that the NJ Bar Association and the NJ ACLU also oppose the law, nobody from these organizations spoke out. Harry, who I respect immensely and always love talking to, because he is thoughtful, well-read, educated, and open, went on, “I guess there are some really interesting points on both sides.”

At that point, I froze. My mom, who passed away April 7th, was at that time gravely ill, in part because of a lack of access to her full medical history, and the issue was just so personal. But I took a deep breath, explained the issue as calmly as I could, and Harry simply said, “Oh, that makes a lot of sense. I guess I just never thought about any of this before.” Most people who haven’t lived adoption are in the same boat. I am always glad when these people ask questions, or engage on the issue.


My sister Kate, my mom, and her sisters, Carol and Jo, having lunch at my parents' house in December. Those arguing for adoption reform: Adoptees, original families, and adoptive parents. They are the only "side" that should be considered.
Many times over the past two months I have come back to my brother-in-law’s comment, though, because if he (a well-educated, highly intelligent, deeply compassionate person, not to mention a psychologist with a PHD) could so easily be misinformed, how could others not be? “It seems like there are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue,” he said.

Yes, those who just read the press coverage of this and don’t deeply engage might be left with that impression but, let me state clearly, there are not two sides to this issue, any more than there were “two sides” to the issues of abolishing slavery, giving women the right to vote, or desegregating schools. A sampling of those who spoke out in favor of those injustices:   

Some defenders of slavery (and there were many) argued “that the institution was divine, and that it brought Christianity to the heathen from across the ocean, Slavery was, according to the argument, good for the enslaved” (www.ushistory.org).

Those who opposed giving women the right to vote were also, for years, given a voice in the debate (and they, of course, had the louder voice). “You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout!” read a pamphlet put out by the National Association Opposed to Women Suffrage in the 1910s, which also offered housecleaning tips.  Another reason given: “For it is unwise to risk the good that we have for the evil which might occur.”

Finally, those who fought against desegregation came up with all kinds of arguments to support their case. One of the most prominent lawyers to defend segregation, James Lindsay Almond Jr., the state attorney general of Virginia, claimed that segregation was just because “with the help and sympathy and the love and respect of the white people of the South, the colored man has risen...to a place of eminence and respect throughout the nation.” (www.si.edu.brown/history/5-decision/defenders )

In their day, all of these points were considered debate-worthy, and these issues were considered highly controversial, just as adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates is sometimes presented as a “controversial issue” in the press today. But it is not. The arguments of all those who oppose this law are just as myth-filled, fear-based, and flat out wrong as the arguments listed above.

 Are you here to listen, to learn, to consider your own previously held beliefs? Then I welcome you, and I thank you. Do you not yet see how this is a clear-cut issue of social justice, one that does not have two sides? Then I ask for your comments, and your questions. I (or perhaps someone even better informed than I am from the adoption community) would love to address them. I consider it a way to honor my mom, Susan Perry, who didn’t get to live to see this change come, but who fought so hard to see that it did.







32 comments:

  1. Beautifully said. Thank you, and please accept my heartfelt condolences. You mom was an eloquent voice for adoptee rights and will be deeply missed.

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    1. Thank you Terri (and Julie, above!). My mom would be touched to know how far her voice had traveled.

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  2. First and foremost Jenn, I am so sorry for the loss of your precious mom. Her courage and advocacy will forever be part of her legacy.

    As an adoptee, I want to thank you for keeping your mom's words circulating and her passion alive. I actually feel her passion when I read your writing. I really do know you understand the issue in your very own heart. If only everyone would take the time and just THINK about the injustice of closed records....if only!

    Blessings on you and your family Jenn.

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    1. Thank you so much. As the daughter of an adoptee and a person with two very close friends who are adopted, I'm surprised (and a bit ashamed) how long it took me to "get" the issue. I didn't realize how strong the cultural myths were ... and how easily I had accepted them. When I was REALLY young I used to ask my mom all the time about being adopted. "Didn't she want to know?" I did this while wholeheartedly loving my grandparents AND knowing that my mom knowing her origins was no threat to anyone. I had a clean, unbiased, child's heart (I think I was 5), and I understood the issue clearly, I think. That went away as I got older, but I'm coming back to it ...

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  3. Thank you for perpetuating your mother's advocacy on this crucial issue. As an adoptive mom and an adoption coach, I know how important access to the truth is. It is indeed, a social justice issue, a mental health issue and we must continue to educate, lobby and raise the consciousness of the world.

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    1. Thank you so much, Gayle. I'm glad you're out there educating an lobbying for what is right!

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  4. Dear Jenn, thank you for continuing the fight for adoptee rights on behalf of your mom. Every time I read one of your posts, I feel her spirit still with us. You also bring another viewpoint to the conversation as a child of an adoptee that is so valuable in bridging the gap between those of us who have no choice but to live adoption and those who, as you've pointed out here, may have never thought about it before. Thank you! My deepest condolences to you and your family.

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    1. Thank you so much, Karen. I was just on "Lost Daughters" and "All I Want For Christmas is my OBC" gave me much to think about. Thank you for writing, for reading, and for your condolences.

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  5. Another eloquent and compelling post. Thank you, Jenn! Your mother's voice will never be silenced. She will be with us in spirit for all time. #HonorSusanPerry

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    1. Thank you, Priscilla. I am giving your name and website to a friend/adoptive parent who thinks her son may be interested in searching and wants to support him ... My mom always spoke so highly of you, and she would be so touched by your actions to honor her. Thank you. #HonorSusanPerry

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  6. My sympathies. Your mother is missed but her spirit lives on in you.

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    1. Thank you, Lorraine! I think my mom gave me this task so that I would have something to do as I work through just how much I miss her, and a community of people who cared for her and her work to connect with... Just one more thing she did for me ... Thank you again.

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  7. Thank you, Jenn, for expressing so clearly the reason your mom (and all of your family), and other advocates in NJ have kept the passionate quest for adoptee justice alive since 1980.

    It has been very hard to bite my tongue over the years when I’ve heard the “two sides to every argument” phrase, but I have learned to do so because of all those who mention that, many do so as a matter of course because citizens of a democracy are trained to look at both sides of issues before coming to a personal conclusion. And many people really are interested in our perspective when we are in circumstances that allow for a free flow of conversation.

    Similar thoughts have occurred to me when adopted persons are asked, “Why do you want to know who your original parents are?”

    My first thought when I hear that question is, “Would you ask someone considering adoption why they want a child?”

    That question seems far more personal than asking about a person’s salary, religious beliefs or political affiliation – subjects I learned at a young age were “off limits.” I’m not sure I would ever ask why someone wants to have a child because it is a question with the answer lying so deep in the heart that even asking it would feel to me like committing surgery. I can usually tell when someone really is open to hear my heart-longings for a place on the human continuum, and am glad to respond, but if I am questioned from a “Let me play the Devil’s advocate” stance, I can feel tension rise in me almost immediately.

    The Birthright Bill now on Governor Christie’s desk is as fair and thoughtful as access legislation can be: it restores an adopted person’s right to a document that is, by definition, theirs and it provides original parents named on the birth certificate the opportunity to choose their own intermediary, should they want one, rather than to be contacted by a person unknown to them. Parents may also indicate a preference for “direct contact” or “no contact,” with the option of changing their minds at any time and notifying the Registrar of Vital Statistics.

    The Birthright Bill respects parents’ and adopted individuals’ right to make their preferences known. Adopted adults may receive a copy of their actual/original birth certificates without notarized permission from their parent and parents may file their preference regardless of whether or not their son or daughter has requested the birth certificate.

    Governor Christie’s desire for less government intrusion into the personal lives of its citizens will be honored when he signs the Birthright Bill, as will all those who inhabit the circle of adoption who may – or may not – wish to have knowledge of, or to reconnect with – birth relatives who have been separated since finalization of the adoption that legally amputated their relationship.

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    1. Well stated! Thank you so much for your comments.

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  8. Thank you Jenn for so eloquently continuing your mother's legacy.

    One of the most mind-boggling "two sides" themes is the one that pits adoptees against their families. The opposition always starts with "what birthparents want" as if all or most people who have lost children to adoption are opposed to access and live in fear of being contacted. Remind them that the VAST MAJORITY of parents welcome contact and they rise up to "protect" the few who don't - still keeping their adoptees vs. birthparents theme intact.

    Ask them why the law seals birth certificates in step parent adoptions and they have no answer, or they simply don't believe you. To them, the adoption universe is full of unwanted children (who never seem to grow up) and the parents who "gave them a better life" - either by placing them for adoption or by adopting them. The ones who placed children? Oh yes - they loved you soooo much, they gave you to strangers and never ever wanted to see you again.

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Gaye. Yes, it is amazing to me to see who testifies in SUPPORT of this legislation -- many, many original parents, adoptees, and adopted parents -- and how then people in the general population are still quick to accept the opposition's completely false depiction of this law somehow pitting adoptees against birth parents! (when adoptees and birth parents are there, testifying FOR the law together, and when all of the facts prove the opposition's claims to be completely false) As my mom always said, the people in this movement, fighting for adoptees rights, have such integrity, and though it may take some time, the law WILL eventually change ...

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  9. Thank you Susan. Please send this to the ACLU!

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    1. Sorry Jenn...I like Susan's Law. Thanks for carrying the torch, glad to be in the fight with you.

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    2. It's all good, Peter :). My mom always spoke so highly of you. Thanks for your comments. Yes, I am hoping the ACLU is reading! And NJ Right to Life. And the NJ Catholic Conference. And the Knights of Columbus who posted an "alert" to veto this bill with the headline, "Adoption, Not Abortion!" They are all giving their own causes a black eye by fighting against this legislation, and it saddens me. I wish someone from at least one of those organizations would post here, and then listen/truly consider all the facts they are presented with in response... but they haven't answered my personal letters, either ...

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  10. Thank you, Jenn. Beautifully expressed. And please accept my deepest sympathy in the losses of your precious mom. She was an inspiration to so many of us in the adoptee community.

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  11. So proud to call you my friend, Jenn :)

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    1. Proud to call you my friend as well, Jess! :)

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  12. Two sides to the issue? A triangle? The Adoption Circle? Definitely NOT two sides when 3 sets of people are involved ! Birthparents, Adoptive Parents and the Adoptee. Essentially the adoptee is a human being like everyone else but set apart because the origins of this person is culturally skewed to the protection of all others involved. Societal expectations back in the early years of adoption were based on secrecy. That isn't the case anymore today therefore old laws are antiquated and need revision.
    Jenn, so sorry for your loss. Mom's hold such important places in our hearts. Your mom was an excellent for all of us adoptees.

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    1. Yes! Well said. Thank you for your comments and for your condolences.

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  13. Jenn,

    I came here tonight just to read your Mom's words-to see her pictures and to have a much needed cry (all of which I just did). I, too, am hoping for a victory for "Susan's Law"...I love you and I love your Mom. April

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    1. Love you too April! I am so wrapped up in how much I miss my mom that I sometimes forget how much other people are grieving and missing her too. But it is a comfort to know how loved she was by so many, and how much she will be missed.

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  14. Jenn,
    I'm sorry to hear about you and your family's loss.
    Thank you for keeping her torch lit for all of us - some who never met her, but who were inspired and comforted by her kind words of grace, justice, morality, and social responsibility. I'm hoping for "Susan's Law" too.

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    1. Thank you, Kym. My mom would be so touched by how you described her writing.

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  15. Jenn, what you have accomplished is wonderful and overwhelming. In time the world will mature to the point where infant-stranger-adoption is illegal, and would occurr only if the infant is truely an orphan,which is rare. Still, federal law should be passed that the infant maintain its family name until it reaches an age to make its own decision. As for being born into poverty or to a women in crisis, hopefully our world will create social systems where original family preservation is the primary goal of every political decision. When adopted persons learn who they really are, the all over mental health of the US population and the world will be better. Now that health care counselors and law makers have vast amounts of research and supporting evidence that even under the best of circumstances of infant-stranger-adoption, the person never fully assimilates into the family. Hopefully soon, Susan's Law will start the free fall of all states opening their records. And hopefully towards the end of this century, politicians and mental health professionals will work side by side to preserve family's. Currently an infant has no legal rights, and can be manipulated by the legal system. This is slavery. THANK YOU for all your efforts, Ginny

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    1. Hi Ginny, and thanks for your comments. Just tonight as I was explaining something about the legislation in NJ to my husband, he said, "It's amazing there isn't a federal law for this," in essence, "It's amazing (in a terrible way) that this is allowed, and only decided on state-by-state." Like slavery, and all social justice issues, it will eventually change ... but when, I wonder?

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