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.
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.