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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Justice for My Mom and All Adoptees

Another post by Susan’s daughter, Jenn. Susan passed away on April 7th, 2014, after an 8-month battle with melanoma. She was an ardent supporter of S873/A1259, aka the Adoptees Birthright Bill, now awaiting Governor Christie’s signature in New Jersey.
My family in San Francisco in 2001, visiting Kate, who was in her last year of medical school at UCSF at the time. As a doctor, my sister has always advocated for my mom having full access to her medical records. In 1997, because my mom didn't, she was blocked from a clinical trial after being diagnosed with Stage II melanoma. Intermediaries (proposed as a "compromise" by those who oppose the Adoptees Birthright Bill) do not work, and are insulting to adoptees. 

Earlier this week during a morning class, one of my students, Saaya, proclaimed suddenly, “It’s snowing!” We all looked to the windows. Indeed, gentle white flakes fell softly just outside. Snowing in Philadelphia in April? With surprise, I went to the window and looked up, then down. It took a moment – after all, it had been a very snowy winter -- but my mind finally saw what was really happening: white and light pink flowers, from the trees around the corner, were blowing in the wind. We had all been so sure, even in our surprise, that it was snow. But it was not. 

The image stuck with me. Sometimes in life we need to look closely, and not accept our first impressions, in order to see the truth. 

I wish mightily that the opponents of the Adoptees Birthright Bill in New Jersey would look closely at their own arguments and realize that they are gravely mistaken, to the peril of their own causes, and certainly to the great peril of those in the adoption triad. In New Jersey, a coalition of adoptees, original (biological) parents, and adoptive parents have fought for years for the end of sealed records, an archaic practice that does great damage to thousands of people in New Jersey, and millions of people throughout the United States. Governor Chris Christie has the chance to ameliorate this injustice by signing the Adoptees Birthright Bill now on his desk.  He and those who oppose this bill can best serve those who live adoption by recognizing what the Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized today saying: “The measure strikes the right balance: It enables adoptees to explore their pasts but preserves birth parents’ right to privacy despite evidence that most won’t insist on remaining anonymous.”
My mom and dad after their wedding in 1971. I look so much like my mom in this picture that when my daughter saw it she said, "Who's that man with you, mom?" When my mom reunited with her sisters this September, they came to her house with boxes of pictures, and we marveled at the resemblances.
The opponents are the NJ ACLU, the New Jersey Bar Association, New Jersey Right to Life, the National Council for Adoption, and the NJ Catholic Conference. Are you affiliated with any of these organizations? If so, please, please keep reading. And please work to help the leaders in those organizations to see the truth. Right now, they are seeing snow  -- and, in fact, spreading alarm about a giant, crippling “snowstorm” -- for flowers. 

One night in early March, when I had just returned home after spending the evening lying next to my mom in her bed, my heart heavy with the impending loss, and with how my mom was suffering, I decided to search for information on Marie Tasy, the director of NJ Right to Life, who had testified against this bill. Somehow I thought that if I wrote her a letter explaining what blocking the Adoptees Birthright Bill was truly doing to adoptees, and trying, once again, to get her to see that blocking this law did NOTHING, nothing at all, to convince women in crisis pregnancies to carry their pregnancies to term, as she erroneously believed, then maybe she would change her mind. As I said in the letter, I was praying for a miracle, and I continue to pray for that miracle. Of course, I also prayed for a miracle for my mom, and I know sometimes we must live with cancer that cannot be cured, or people who will not reconsider their deeply held (yet false) beliefs. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to cure cancer (or pray for a miracle), or try to help those who are wrong see the errors in their thinking. Right now, each time they show up at a hearing or post something online about opposing this bill, each time they refuse to listen to the compassionate reasoning of those who live adoption, it feels akin to each devastating CT Scan we got back over the last 8 months, showing us that my mom’s cancer was not responding to treatment.   

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’re talking about people here, and people who, if they listen, could respond. They could change.  And the time for change is now....not next year or beyond.   Justice delayed is justice denied.   
My mom and me skiing, early 1980s. Later, she would teach my girls to ski as well. She was an incredible mom, and an incredible person. She never should have had to go through what she did to find her original family. No adoptee should.

That night in March, as I searched for how to send Marie Tasy of NJ Right to Life a letter, I came across a blog post written by Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ (Blue Jersey: Strange Bedfellows (and Pillowtalk) in Trenton) where she described testifying alongside Tasy against the Adoptees Rights Bill that Governor Christie conditionally vetoed in 2011 (it was similar to the current bill). She described this bill as a “hot, messy sausage,” claiming that by allowing adult adoptees to receive their original birth certificates “the privacy rights of birth mothers who do not wish to have their names revealed [would be compromised].”  Of course this is also what NJ Right to Life argues. The letter they urge their followers to send Governor Christie reads, in part, “S873/A1259 does not contain adequate protections for birth parents who placed children for adoption in the past and want continued anonymity. It also takes away the option of anonymity in future adoptions for women in crisis pregnancies who may only consider adoption if they can be guaranteed confidentiality.”

Privacy, confidentiality … there is no one who understands the desire for this better than adoptees, who, if they care to know the most private and confidential aspect of their lives (their own births! their own family history!) are forced to appeal to a complete stranger (the adoption agency, the intermediary, the state) to gain access. Adoptees are no danger to the “confidentiality” of an original (birth) parent. As my mom often said, why is an “intermediary” contacting an original birth parent any less intrusive then an adult adoptee doing so? Adoptees aren’t looking to take out full-page newspaper ads announcing the identity of their original parents to the world. They simply want, and need, the truth for themselves. 

My mom sledding with Genevieve and Eddie several years ago. She loved having fun with them, and they adored her.

Aside from that, I am highly skeptical of any agency today that says it cares about a woman in a crisis pregnancy that simultaneously assures her that she could, or should, remain completely anonymous for life from the child she brings into this world (or that this would be good for her). In today’s day and age, especially, with social media, any lifetime guarantee of anonymity is simply not true. And any agency that tells a woman this is possible, or that tells her she can “have a baby and forget about it” is not presenting her with the full truth. Adoptees who want to know who their original parents are must jump through hoops and spend large amounts of money to do so, but they often find their parents. And they do so in ways (Facebook campaigns, for example) that are much less “private” and “confidential” than a simple, direct inquiry from the adoptee herself would be. 

My mom only told my sister and me the details about her conversation with her original mother during these last months of her life, and we are her daughters, who have always talked with her about everything.  That part of her life was so personal, so deeply embedded in her heart, that she was hesitant to share it with even those closest to her. Here is what we learned: she took the call in her bedroom, with the door locked, and her hands trembling, because she knew this was most likely the only time in her life she would ever get to talk with her. Though my mom’s mother was not capable of having a relationship with her (a great loss for her, for sure), she was not harmed in any way by this contact. And please remember that she (an original mother who does not want contact with the child she has given up) is in the minority (less than 1%). Great harm is being done to thousands of adoptees in New Jersey, and for what? To protect myths about adoption that simply don’t hold up upon closer inspection.

My mom’s battle with melanoma happened to coincide with one of the longest, coldest winters in recent memory, but she did live to see the first spring flowers emerge.  In this season of flowers, of renewal, let’s honor my mom, and all those who have brought us closer to the window to see the truth of adoption, by passing the Adoptees Birthright Bill in New Jersey. How about it, Governor Christie?


  1. Love you and am proud of you Jenn. Your "voice", though different from moms, is also powerful. Love, Kate

  2. You always write so eloquently - put adoptions privacy practices into such easy to understand language. Thank you for carrying on your Mom's fight for equal rights, thank you for continuing to try to get the naysayers to understand.


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