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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Radical Listening and Adoption

Another post by Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away in April of 2014, eight months after being reunited with her biological sisters. 

Mom and Joseph. The picture in his room for him to remember her by.
In October, adoption blogger (and adoptee) Amanda Transue-Woolston wrote a moving post called "Re-framing Searching as Radical Empathy" (Click here to read) about what it felt like, as an adoptee, to become a mother for the first time. My mom, too, wrote about how when my older sister was born she (my mom) stayed up that first night holding her and wondering about the woman to whom she was so closely tied, but knew nothing about.

I've been thinking about "radical empathy" and that October post lately as I ponder what I can possibly say about the Pennsylvania ACLU's opposition to HB162, a bill that would allow adult adoptees in Pennsylvania access to their original birth certificates. The bill passed the House in December 187-7 (though with a clause included about an adoptee having to have a high school diploma or GED in order to access her birth certificate. What?!) and now goes to the Senate, where it faces intense opposition by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania ACLU. A friend forwarded me the letter that was sent to all members of the House of Representatives by ACLU Legislative Director Andy Hoover back in December, and I have been pondering ever since what I could possibly say in response. What can I say about a letter that ignores the personal stories of so many birth parents and adoptees, including my mom, and then insults them by arguing that "The fairest process in adoption is one that respects the wishes of all parties. Current law accomplishes that"? (My mom is dead, and only by a miracle do I now know and have as part of my life her extended family, so no, no, no, current law does not accomplish that). What to say to an organization that apparently thinks it completely fine that my mom had no rights when it came to knowing her true identity? That would ignore the testimony of thousands upon thousands around the country (and world) to the contrary? After more than a month of reflection, I think the answer, really, is nothing.  If nothing that has been said thus far has moved them, then I do not think that they are really listening.  And what is needed now is radical listening.

We all know what it feels like when someone really listens to us. And we all know what it feels like when someone doesn't. I've had both experiences when telling my mom's story. Once, a new neighbor, now a good friend, came by my house and noticed a picture on the bulletin board of my mom and her two sisters. She asked about it. I told her a little (there were other people over, and I tend not to go into the whole, complicated story in social situations), but I added, "It's an interesting story. I'll have to tell you some time." The next week, as we sat on the front porch while our kids played on the lawn, she asked for the story, and I told her. I did not get into the politics. I just told her about my mom, and how she had to sit across the desk from some twenty-something social worker who had access to the truth of  my mom's life right there, in the filing cabinet at her side, but she couldn't share that truth with my mom, because one phone call, one scared no from her biological mother, meant that she couldn't. My mom had no rights to contact her mother herself. She had no rights to know her family, including her sisters , who wanted to know her.

"I can't imagine how that must have felt," my friend said. I was so grateful to her for listening, for really listening, and hearing the truth of my mom's experience, that I could have cried. When the ACLU is ready (will they ever be ready?) I will be grateful to them too. By listening, they would know that their stance is wrong, and harmful. By listening, they could understand. And by understanding, they could do what is right. For the sake of thousands of adoptees and biological parents in Pennsylvania, I hope that they do, and soon.
My mom and kids, July 2013. When her rights were violated as an adoptee, their rights to know their extended family, and their heritage, were violated as well. More than anything, though, we just wish she were still here with us. I am baffled by the position of the ACLU that "current law" (law that did not allow my mom access to her family, which gave her access to her full medical history) "protects the rights of all involved." It does not. 

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for your support, Jenn. I'm glad that the ACLU in my home state of Florida does support adoptees' access to their Original Birth Certificate.

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Robin. Yes, I know, I just learned about their stance and it was so refreshing to read. A friend sent me their policy statement, which I post below for those who were not aware (i.e. ACLU Pennsylvania!):

    The Rights of Adult Adopted Persons
    Policy Statement

    Adopted April 21, 1987
    SW Florida Chapter of the ACLU

    This chapter agrees with the policy statement accepted by the Oakland County Chapter (Michigan Affiliate) and hereby accepts their policy which has been adapted to conform to Florida.

    In recent years, the issue of adoption has increased in complexity and has involved the interest and efforts of the courts, social agencies, and media. A person adopted in infancy, unfortunately continues to be referred to as an “adopted child” even after reaching adulthood. If this person chooses (or in some cases needs) to discover his or her birthparents or birth records, they find such records are sealed by the courts and are inaccessible.

    Historically this was considered to be for the protection of privacy, and maintenance of secrecy was ostensibly for the good of all involved. However, careful scrutiny of adoption statutes and practices has indicated that legal changes are necessary, and that civil liberties of adopted adults are being violated in the absence of any state or national policy on this matter, and with the belief that adopted persons should be treated no differently than other citizens, the Southwest Florida Chapter Board has
    voted to endorse the following policy:

    “Numerous states have laws or procedures which impede the ability of adopted adults, their birthparents and other relatives to ascertain each others’ identities. The ACLU believes that so long as state and/or local governments choose to maintain birth records, such records must be maintained and accessible without discrimination by virtue of adopted or non-adopted status.

    Toward this end, the ACLU believes that laws suppressing information about adoptees and/or their birthparents, and laws allowing access to such information only upon consent or registration, or laws allowing access to such information only upon court order, deny adopted persons, their birthparents, and their relatives equal protection of the laws and constitutes unwarranted interference by the government with the right of people to choose whether to associate.”

    The political debate on the adoption issue has tended to be framed in terms of psychological issues; emotional issues; medical issues and sociological issues. The above policy confines itself to a civil liberties analysis.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Nancy Stone Farley
    Chapter Chair SW Florida, ACLU

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  3. Yes, the Florida stance is refreshing. Too bad it is not the ACLU position across the country. It should be, as it is the correct position for them to take as Ms. Stone Farley so clearly elucidates.

    Btw, I don't see a contact link on the blog. Is there a way I can ask you a question directly? Or you could contact me at Robin@allinthefamilyadoption. Thanks.

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