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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. 


  1. Thanks to those who commented on this post. I accidentally erased the comments when I tried to fix the post so that the line of nonsensical text that appears across the picture of my mom and her sisters would go away (no luck with that--even when I erased the entire post and redid it). So, sorry about the erased comments, and sorry about that line of nonsensical text! Thank you for reading, and for your thoughts and prayers. Please feel free to repost the comments.

    1. I'm happy to write again that I am thinking about your mother and your family, from the other side of the ocean. Take care.

  2. susan, came over to visit ty and you today , wanted to say enjoyed all the blogs and to let you know i will send a letter to Gov Christie. I totally support your cause.

    1. Thanks so very much Mike. I will share your note with Susan as soon as she awakes. You are a good friend.


  3. Thank you for your testimony. You are a brave woman

    María José

  4. Love and peace and my respect to Susan and your family. Thank you for sharing that fun video clip.

    Godspeed, Susan. I will miss your voice, as will so many others.

  5. Oh my dear friend. I'm so sorry to hear of this tremendous loss! She was such a wonderful activist and is going to be missed. But she has now joined all those angel activists up above who are encouraging the rest of us to keep up the good fight as they work to change hearts and set all adoptees free! Thinking of you and your family at this difficult time.

  6. Thank u for being the voice for your mother, and all of us, now that hers is gone. Thank u, even in your grief, for sharing this.


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