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Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Gift of My Mom's Voice, and the Gift of Yours

Another guest post by Jenn, Susan's daughter (watch the video at the end of this post to hear my mother's voice, and laugh, in Spain this summer. It was our second day in the country and everyone was jet-lagged, but my mom was keeping us laughing with her Spanish. In this clip, she had just called our waiter (mesero) a fireman (bombero) by mistake. We were reliving the moment).

"I love you", "Just sit here and hold my hand", "I've always been so proud of you", "I am so lucky to have this family" -- though my mom's words have always lifted me, and my sister, and our children, they have been especially dear to me during these last few weeks. Still, it was not until a friend of mine called a few days ago that I thought clearly about what a gift my mom's voice is. The words are wonderful, yes, but the sound, too, the one that I have known since the womb, is a gift.

My friend Gina, who lost her own mom to cancer, wanted to send storybooks for my mom to record herself reading, books for the grandchildren so that they could treasure her voice and feel her presence for years to come. Gina, knowing all too well how it goes with cancer, wanted to make sure it wasn't too late for this. 
My mom and Joseph, my youngest, at Barcelona's Camp Nou this past summer

When I talked to my sister about this, we couldn't quite hold back the tears, thinking of those future birthdays and holidays to be celebrated without our mom, even though we have thought of them before, and often, during these past seven months. It's amazing how many times the heart can break.

My mom's voice: a gift. Adopted when she was three months old, my mom's first words were heard by the parents who loved her as their own, her adoptive parents, my Nana and Gran. "Mama" and "Dada" and "Happy," the name of her first dog, she said, her foray into that world of language, that bridge between inner thoughts and outer needs. A rickety bridge, that is at times. But a strong bridge, too, at others.

My mom's voice, as a teenager, telling her mother that she did feel curious about her original mother, was one of trepidation but necessity. It was some truth that she couldn't yet fully articulate surfacing in shy words. Later that day, though, her father came into her bedroom. "Your mother was really hurt by you asking that earlier," he said. And thus my mom did not speak again about her need to know her beginnings for more than thirty years. She didn't want to hurt anyone, let alone those she loved most.
My mom at the beach house with my girls. She has been an integral part of almost every important moment in their lives.

My mom's voice, as an adult, asking the agency that placed her for adoption about her original mother, was still one of trepidation but necessity. It was medical necessity this time -- a Stage II melanoma diagnosis and endless questions about her family history -- that compelled her to voice this need. My grandmother, now much older, encouraged her to search. It was a matter of life and death, after all. "Why do you want to know?" the agency asked accusingly, as though my mom were a suspected felon and not simply an adoptee searching for her past. They took her money -- $600 when all was said and done -- and returned to her with the answer: "No." She was given a nearly useless piece of paper with non-identifying information about her original mother. THIS is how the intermediary system really works. Those who oppose laws allowing adoptees to see their original birth certificates and glorify it as the ideal compromise have obviously never had to navigate such a system themselves.

My mom's voice, as an activist, asking the New Jersey Senate, the New Jersey Assembly, and yes, the Governor, to change outdated laws, was also one of necessity. Honestly, she would rather have  spent time with her family, or her many friends, than have to listen to the uninformed opposition state that allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificates "would not protect all parties in an adoption and would harm the institution of adoption," though many of those brave adoptees, original parents, and adoptive parents who testified alongside her during those years also became her friends (friends, I would like to point out, that DO represent all the parties in adoption).

My mom's voice, as a daughter, one who found her original mother on her own, with no help from the State or the adoption agency that had pledged to look out for her interests, the adopted child, above all others, was one of kindness. She simply wanted to let her mother know how her life had turned out (it had turned out well; she was happy) and learn a few things about her past. Her mother responded to that letter with a letter of her own, though she did state at the bottom that she did not desire a relationship, citing her age, her heart condition, and her lifetime's secret: no one knew my mom existed. A few weeks later, though, my mom's mother had a slight change of heart, for she called my mom. Though she still wanted to keep my mom a secret  from others in her life (including her own children), she did want to talk to her. "I've always loved you in my heart," she told her. My mom respected her wishes and accepted this as enough, never bothering her again  (though now that my mom has reunited with her sisters, we all wish that their mother had been able to overcome this desire for secrecy so that they, the siblings, could have had more time together). 

My mom and her sisters with my girls this October. We all wish we had more time.

My mom's voice, quite simply, is and always has been a gift. I am hoping that because of it more and more people will educate themselves about adoption (the American Adoption Congress,,, and the blogs recommended by my mom, are a good place to start). I am hoping that because of it more and more people will use their own voices to advocate for legislation granting adoptees the same legal rights that all other citizens enjoy, legislation that does ensure that all parties in adoption are treated fairly. 

Your voice is a gift, and it matters. Please let Governor Christie know that you would like him to sign the Adoptees’ Birthright Bill in honor of my mom and all those who have fought so long for this right and just bill to be passed. If you are Catholic, please tell him so, as he cited Catholic opposition as one of the reasons he conditionally vetoed the bill last time. If you are a lawyer with ties to the ACLU or the NJ Bar Association, please let him know as well, as your organizations are fighting against this bill for reasons I truly do no understand. Governor Christie has until April 11th (one day after my birthday, the day my mom brought me into this world) to sign it. If you are willing to make your voice heard, I am most grateful. You have a few options:

CALL the Governor's office and voice your support for this bill: 609-292-6000.

COPY and PASTE the letter below to a WORD Document, adding anything if you would like:
Your Name
Your Address
Your City, State, Zip
Governor Chris Christie
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 001
The State House
Trenton, NJ 08625
 Re: Adoptees’ Birthright Bill (S873/A1259)
Dear Governor Christie,
I’m writing to you to ask you to sign the Adoptees’ Birthright Bill (S873/A1259). Adoptees in the state have been fighting for over 30 years, to have their civil right restored. All citizens in our country deserve to know their names and their heritages, and all citizens deserve to have a complete medical history. The intermediary system that the opposition to this bill cites as a fair "compromise" simply does not work for adoptees, as numerous case studies have shown.
The bill is fair to both adoptees and birth parents. The bill protects birth parents’ privacy, since it gives birth parents the option to put a note in their child’s file, saying that they don’t want to be contacted.
I hope that you will do the right thing and sign the Adoptees’ Birthright Bill without delay.
Your Name and address 
If you would prefer to send your letter via Email, here is the Contact Information:
Select the Topic: “Children and Families” and click CONTINUE.
Select Sub-Topic: “Adoption and Foster Care”

Thank you on behalf of my mom for making your voices heard. Below you'll find the clip of my mom and her voice, so precious to me, from just 8 months ago in Spain. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

A New Alert Has Been Issued: Catholics, Ask Governor Christie to SIGN S873/A1259

Another guest post from Jenn, Susan's daughter.

I became a Catholic the year after I graduated from college, while I was serving for a year with the Franciscans in Wilmington, Delaware. Moved by my experience working with the poor, the disenfranchised, the migrant, I saw only the beauty of the church during that year. Several years later, when by chance I met and sat with Maria Esperanza, a woman whose sainthood cause was opened at the St. Francis Cathedral in Metuchen, New Jersey in 2010, and who has been described by the Catholic Review of Baltimore as "a Venezuelan woman believed to have seen 31 apparitions of Mary who spread worldwide a message of family reconciliation and fraternal unity that she said Mary relayed to her," I deepened a faith that I've continued to practice these past 15 years.

Me, with son Joseph Rocco, after his baptism three years ago

So it is especially upsetting to me to see an "ALERT" issued on the webpage of the New Jersey Catholic Conference stating "Ask Governor Christie to Veto S799/A1406," which, though incorrectly referred to here (the bill currently pending is S873/A1259), is the Adoptees' Birthright Bill, just passed in the NJ Assembly and Senate, and waiting for Governor Christie's signature. I read through the Statement by Patrick Brannigan in Opposition to S799 from March 3, 2010, posted underneath the ALERT, because I am a person who likes to consider others' views and make sure that my own are rooted in the truth. There are so many things in that statement that I would like to address that I will have to do it over several posts, but here is what I need to address first (all quotes are from this Statement, which pulls heavily from Mills, in which, apparently, "the court reviewed at length the interests that are involved in placing adoption records under seal"):

"The child is the most important party to the adoption"   - Yes! I agree. Nothing should come above protecting the rights of the child.

"The State has the obligation to protect the interests of this voiceless party" - Yes! I agree again. The child placed for adoption has no voice. Thank goodness so many adult adoptees have bravely spoken up in past years to let us know what the interests of the adopted child are. For who else, other than someone who has lived adoption, can speak to these interests? Adult adoptees have told us that adoptees don't necessarily need reunions (though I have learned from my mother's experience that reunions can be sweet, and healing, and beautiful) but rather the right to their own birth certificate, and the right to navigate those deeply personal relationships without State interference. That is what the law currently awaiting Governor Christie's signature provides. It is just and certainly protects "this voiceless party," the child adoptee who will some day grow up, with rights long denied. If the adoptee chooses never to search that, of course, is fine. This is a rights bill, not a reunions bill.
My mom as a child, the "voiceless party" in adoption.
Now an adult, she doesn't need, or want, the State's "protection." 

"[Sealed records] protect the child from any possible stigma of illegitimacy which, though fading, may still exist ... "   - Wait! What? This is the only argument being used to say that sealed records are in the best interest of the adopted child? Is anyone truly still thinking of adopted children as "illegitimate"? Adoptees have spoken out strongly in favor of NOT sealing records. Though some adults may choose not to search, they certainly don't feel that they need the State's protection from any "stigma." There must be some other argument showing how sealed records benefit adoptees. Apparently, though, there is not. All other arguments cited in this Statement are for the benefit of some other member in the triad of adoption -- and I don't find them any more credible then those purporting to look out for the adopted child. But more on that tomorrow.

As a Catholic, I would like the New Jersey Catholic Conference, New Jersey Right to Life, and Governor Christie (who is Catholic, and who cited the position of New Jersey Catholics when he last conditionally vetoed this bill in 2011) to know I do believe that the most important party in an adoption is the child, and that the State does have an obligation to protect this voiceless party. The way to do that is by encouraging Governor Christie to sign S873/A1259, the Adoptees Birthright Bill. Or, if you are Governor Christie, by simply signing the bill yourself.

**Similar bills (for adoptees' rights to their original birth certificates) have been supported by the Catholic Conference in other states.

a Venezuelan woman believed to have seen 31 apparitions of Mary who spread worldwide a message of family reconciliation and fraternal unity that she said Mary relayed to her. - See more at:
Maria Esperanza Medrano de Bianchini, a Venezuelan woman believed to have seen 31 apparitions of Mary who spread worldwide a message of family reconciliation and fraternal unity that she said Mary relayed to her. - See more at:
Maria Esperanza Medrano de Bianchini, a Venezuelan woman believed to have seen 31 apparitions of Mary who spread worldwide a message of family reconciliation and fraternal unity that she said Mary relayed to her. - See more at:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Grace is Born, and My Mom is There

(a guest post by Jenn, Susan's daughter)

As my mom's health has become more grave these past two weeks, she has received many letters from friends and family letting her know how much she means to them. What most people say they admire most about my mom is her joy for life, exemplified by her laugh. Her laugh, like her life, is authentic, spirited, and one of a kind. Indeed, just a few weeks ago my mom said to me, "Though I would never have wished this upon myself in a million years, we have had so many laughs." For me, those laughs started on a Saturday in Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Island, three days after her diagnosis this past July. We were lying together on the hammock on the lower deck, tears on both our cheeks as we listened to the sound of the waves and swayed in the gentle breeze. My dad, who is a doer (a wonderful trait that has helped him accomplish many things in his life), was dealing with his grief by extreme activity. He had just bid us goodbye a few moments before with, "I think I'm going to go wash some dishes," and that's where we assumed he was as we rocked gently side by side. Suddenly, we were interrupted by the roar of a jet engine.  Only it wasn't a jet engine. We both lifted our heads at the same time, turned to one another, and said, slowly, "Is that ... ?" Yes, it was my dad, power-washing the side of the house. Washing dishes just wasn't enough. We burst out laughing.

My parents with Grace this past August in LBI, right after the diagnosis
A few days ago, lying in her bed together, my mom and I were laughing once again as we remembered the day nearly ten years ago that Grace, my oldest daughter and her first grandchild, was born. I had never planned for my mom to be with me when she was born, but she was. I didn't think I would need her, but after a few hours of labor and some particularly painful contractions, I cried to my husband, almost on instinct, "I want my mom." To his credit, he called her immediately.  "I'll never forget his voice that day," my mom shared, "I think Jenn would like your company, he said, and I was out that door so fast and driving like a madwoman ..." It did seem like she was there only a moment after my request, and oh, how comforting it was to see her, to have her hold my hand.

Grace wasn't a straightforward pregnancy, and in fact at one point (very early) during the first trimester I had to go to the emergency room with complications. They took me to a small dark room for the ultrasound, and what I remember is that it was the same room that I had sat in with my grandmother (my mother's adoptive mother) only months before, after she had suffered a stroke. As I lay in that room that October day I remembered holding my grandmother's hand the April before and listening to the whoosh whoosh whoosh of blood passing through her veins, the sound of her life surrounding us in that tiny room. Though she had passed away soon after, the room made me think of holding my grandmother's hand, and it gave me comfort. Everything would be ok, I thought. The moment felt prescient.

Only when the doctor met me back in the examination room, she told me I had had a miscarriage. "It's very common," she said, explaining what I should expect, answering our questions, and sending us on our way. Strangely, though, she was wrong. It was in the midst of this worry, though, as I was contemplating becoming a mother for the first time, but not sure if that was really going to happen, that my mom called me one afternoon with huge news: she had just spoken with her original mother. My mom's original mother is the woman that the "opposition" to adoptee rights always holds up as an example. She had kept my mom a secret from everyone in her life, including her daughters, and because of this she had not wanted contact. But when my mom was able to find her address on her own and send her a letter, explaining who she was and how her life had turned out, she was not harmed at all, and indeed she did call my mom. "She told me she had always loved me in her heart," my mom told me, "But that she couldn't handle a relationship." My mom respected that wish and never contacted her again.

But that doesn't mean she forgot, or that this very important first chapter of her life--the woman who carried her for nine months and brought her into this world-- can somehow be ignored. And it does NOT mean that those adoption agencies and lawyers who apparently counsel women that they will be able to bring a child into this world and forget all about him or her are not acting on faulty, dangerous psychology based on denial of nature itself.  Those opposing adoptee rights bills saying they are concerned about the rights of the birth mother are at best lying to themselves and at worst lying to others when deep down they do know the truth.

No, the first chapter of one's life, the one shared between original mother and child, is an important one and it belongs to that mother and that child, not the government. Indeed, for me, my first experience of carrying a child, of hearing those first heartbeats, of feeling those first kicks, slight at first and then stronger, and stronger, is forever connected, because of the timing of it all, to my mom's experience as an adopted child.

Grace Elizabeth, named for my grandmother, came into this world with my mom at my side. My mom saw her even before I did. "Oh, she's beautiful Jenn," she told me, "Just beautiful."

The woman who brings you to this world, the eyes that see you first, the pain, the joy, the heartbreak, the story -- it matters, it's a part of you, and it's certainly no one's right to try to block you from that. So while others may write about how they cherish my mom's joy, and her laugh, and while I may cherish those things too (and oh, I do, I cherish them), what I also really, truly love about my mom is that she has fought all her life for the truth. And that, like Grace, is just beautiful.