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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Please Do What's Right: PA HB 162

Another post from Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away on April 7th, 2014.

The vote is Tuesday. Two days from now, Pennsylvania's Senate Committee on Aging and Youth will consider PA HB 162, which would allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. I think my mom's voice, below, eloquently states the case for why this is a loving and just bill. If they vote no, it might be another 10 years before similar legislation even has a chance. Please, please consider calling the members of the Senate Committee tomorrow, especially if you live in Pennsylvania and are an adoptee, adoptive parent, or birth/original mother. I have spoken with SO many of you from this triad who understand the urgency of this bill, but I am not sure that yours are the voices the legislators are hearing. They are hearing from lobbyists for the adoption industry and those with a political agenda. For me, it comes down to this:

1) Adoptees are fully human and therefore deserving of all the rights ever other human being enjoys in this country.

2) Knowing who you are, and having access to your original birth certificate, is a right. Most people don't ever have to think about this.

3) No other group of people is denied its rights with the justification, "Just feel lucky you are alive" (i.e. that you were not an abortion). We are all lucky to be alive. And study after study after study has shown that open access laws either DO NOT impact abortion rates or LOWER them. And I find the PA ACLU's argument that denying adoptees access to their original birth certificates is part of "a woman's reproductive freedom" ridiculous, and I hope any thinking adult would as well (as much as I respect the ACLU on other issues). Once again, adoptees are REAL people, and should have the same rights as everyone else under the law.

4) This is thus a civil rights issue -- an issue of giving everyone equal treatment under the law. To repeat myself, it is loving, and it is just. Please call! (phone numbers of Senate Committee Members after my mom's post)

Facing a Life-Threatening Illness and Thinking About Adoption (originally posted by my mom in July, 2013, one week after her Stage IV melanoma diagnosis)

This past week has been the most difficult one I have ever endured.  I  had just returned from Spain, where I felt great and walked at least five miles every day.  I noticed a little bump on my thigh and had my friend, a surgeon, take a look at it.  He thought it was vascular, but scheduled an ultrasound just to be sure.  The results were concerning, so the next day I went in for a PET scan.  That day I got the devastating news that the melanoma that I had 16 years ago has returned and metastasized.

It is surreal to go from feeling just fine one day to being told that you have stage 4 melanoma the next.  I vacillate from feeling as if I am an actor in a play to feeling sick at my stomach as I contemplate what I am facing.  On the bright side, I have the best husband, daughters and extended family in the world, and I have been surrounded by caring and love every minute of every day.  My best friend can keep me laughing no matter what the circumstance.

Part of my beautiful support team -- granddaughter Grace and daughter Jenn in Spain

My physician daughter was able to schedule an appointment for me with one of the best melanoma doctors in the world within the week.  There is hope, and I am going to try to hold onto it with all my might.  As she explained to me, we don't talk of curing melanoma at this stage, but in ongoing clinical trials at Penn, they are seeing partial and complete remissions in a number of patients through a combination of standard and immunology therapy.  I qualify for the trial, and after several more procedures this week and next, will be getting started.

I welcome prayers from those who pray, positive energy from those who meditate, and good wishes from one and all.  I am working hard on mindfulness exercises, as I can see already that a major challenge in all of this will be letting go, living in the moment, and controlling the racing of my mind.

As my thoughts and emotions have careened all over the place this past week, I have been thinking about why I have been so dedicated to adoption reform and adoptee rights over these past 16 years.  I was blessed with loving adoptive parents, and I found myself feeling so very close to them this past week, as I sat on a bench looking out over a beautiful cove where I had grown up sailing and water-skiing with my parents and brother.

But like many adopted people, I feel connections to other people as well.  Neither I, nor any adoptee, should ever be forced into an either-or kind of thinking, in which one set of parents is recognized and validated, and one set is not.  Having experienced the paradoxes and willful mistruths of the adoption system, I myself have no tolerance for half truths and the masking of deep truths.

Throughout my life, I have learned that the road to peace is never through falsehood, and I think that is the reason I have always felt so devoted to truth, fairness and social justice.

It is truly misguided and so very wrong for the state to attempt to block two grown adults from knowing the truth about each other's identity -- especially when those adults share such a deep, primal connection.  We cannot and should not ever block a human being's path to truth, peace, forgiveness and love.

I was told through the agency that placed me that my original mother did not want any contact with me.    With help from several enlightened souls, I found her on my own and sent her a sensitive and compassionate certified letter, asking her also for medical history.  As a human being facing a medical crisis 16 years ago, I felt that I was worthy enough to at least ask for information.  I received it, and eventually my original mother told me over the telephone that she had always loved me "in her heart."  Not every adopted person will seek out her original parents or get even that far in the journey.  Some will get further.

But how dare the state block the possibility for that love to be expressed?  How dare they?  Let people -- adults with minds and souls of their own -- find their own way.  Facing a critical illness at the moment, I can tell you with certainty that there is nothing that is more important than love.  Nothing.  Please, let's let the light, the truth and the love overcome the misguided fears and the ideology.

There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer,
no disease that enough love will not heal;
no door that enough love will not open;
no gulf that enough love will not bridge;
no wall that enough love will not throw down;
no sin that enough love will not redeem ....
It makes no difference how deeply seated
may be the trouble; how hopeless the outlook;
how muddled the tangle; how great the mistake.
A sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all.
If only you could love enough you would be the happiest
and most powerful being in the world.

Emmet Fox

(Please, if you can, call them and urge them to vote yes on HB 162, which would allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Calls are probably more effective at this point. If you prefer to email, the email addresses are in the previous blog post)

Senator Randy Vulakovich
Senate Box 203040
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3040
(717) 787-6538
FAX: (717) 787-8625
1407 Mt. Royal Blvd.
Glenshaw, PA 15116
(412) 487-6600
FAX: (412) 487-6607
Senator Scott Wagner
Senate Box 203028
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3028
Room: Room 460 Main Capitol
(717) 787-3817
FAX: (717) 783-1900
218 North George Street
York, PA 17401
(717) 846-2828
FAX: (717) 852-8478
Senator Sean Wiley
Senate Box 203049
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3049
(717) 787-8927
FAX: (717) 772-1588
1314 Griswold Plaza, S. 100
Erie, PA 16501
(814) 453-2515
FAX: (814) 871-4640

Senator Joseph Scarnati III   (Ex-Officio)
Senate Box 203025
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3025
(717) 787-7084
FAX: (717) 772-2755
410 Main Street
Brockway, PA 15824
(814) 265-2030
FAX: (814) 265-2040
Senator David Argall
Senate Box 203029
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3029
(717) 787-2637
FAX: (717) 783-8657
One West Centre Street
P.O. Box 150
Mahanoy City, PA 17948
(570) 773-0891
FAX: (570) 773-1675
Senator Lisa Baker
Senate Box 203020
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3020
(717) 787-7428
FAX: (717) 787-9242
2512 Route 6
Hawley, PA 18428
(570) 226-5960
FAX: (570) 226-5964
Senator Bob Mensch
Senate Box 203024
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3024
(717) 787-3110
FAX: (717) 787-8004

Senator Bob Mensch
404 Main Street, Suite A
Pennsburg, PA 18073
(215) 541-2388
FAX: (215) 541-2387
Senator Elder Vogel Jr.
Senate Box 203047
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3047
(717) 787-3076
FAX: (717) 772-2756
488 Adams Street
Rochester, PA 15074
(724) 774-0444
FAX: (724) 773-7384
Senator Judith Schwank
Senate Box 203011
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3011
(717) 787-8925
FAX: (717) 772-0578
210 George Street, S. 201
Reading, PA 19605
(610) 929-2151
FAX: (610) 929-2576
Senator Michael Stack
Senate Box 203005
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3005
(717) 787-9608
FAX: (717) 772-2162
12361 Academy Road
Philadelphia, PA 19154-1927
(215) 281-2539
FAX: (215) 281-2798

Senator John Yudichak
Senate Box 203014
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3014
(717) 787-7105
FAX: (717) 783-4141
1701 Wyoming Ave.
Exeter, PA 18643
(570) 883-4690
FAX: (570) 883-4694

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Adoptees' Voices: PA HB162

This is another post by Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away on April 7th, 2014 after an 8-month battle with melanoma.

"I was fifteen years old when I understood how it is that things break down: people can't imagine someone else's point of view." - Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her autobiography My Beloved World

When Pennsylvania's Senate Committee on Aging and Youth reconvenes this month, they will consider HB162, a law that would allow adult adoptees access to their birth certificates. The measure passed the Assembly unanimously in the spring, but it is unknown whether or not it will have the votes to make it out of this 11-member committee. If it doesn't, more adoptees like my mom will have no access to information about their heritage, including crucial medical information that may save their lives. This, as well as the fact that the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference continues to lobby hard against it, is heartbreaking to me. I cannot fathom how they (leaders of the Catholic Conference, senators considering a "no" vote) don't yet "get it" and can perpetuate such an injustice. I am writing tonight as one more voice pleading for them to "imagine someone else's point of view," that all important bedrock of justice in our country. And, to be fair, I must let them, and all of you, know that I, for years "didn't get it" in the way that I should have. My mom, an adoptee herself, didn't get it until she was 50 years old and had to sit across the desk from someone, an employee of the agency that facilitated her adoption, and hear that she could not be handed the file of her most personal information, a file only mere feet away, because in the one, impersonal phone call the agency made to the birth mother, that mother had been scared and said no.

My mom with my girls in Disney, 2010. 

A few weeks ago, my dad, my sister, my aunt Jo (my mom's sister, reunited with her last September, before my mom's death in April), and my Uncle Doug (my mom's brother, also adopted, raised with my mom) gathered at my dad's shore house in Long Beach Island. There, we read together letters that my mom had exchanged in 2003 with the agency that facilitated her adoption. We all shook our heads together when we read the agency's response to one of her first letters. The agency's letter began, "It is with great compassion that I write this letter,"  and ended "I hope you are able to understand our position." After that, we read my mom's response. Here it is:

In response to your recent letter, I would have to answer no, I do not understand your position in this contemporary age, especially in light of the fact that you still facilitate closed adoptions. From my perspective as a 52-year-old adoptee, closed adoptions make no sense, not in this age when genetic research is transforming medicine and the way we view behavior, practically by the day. 

Your voluntary search program was a good start, but it is not sufficient. In fact, the process makes me feel like a paralyzed infant, because once again, your agency holds all the power, and my interests have been sublimated to these secrecy pacts you have endorsed and apparently continue to endorse. There is no way that I can feel my birth mother was forthcoming with medical information, as your letter strongly suggests, when ______'s exact words to me were: "Even in that area, I felt like she was holding something back."

Why should I, as the adoptee, be asked to honor an agreement that was flawed and didn't consider my best interest in the first place? It is well and good to protect birth mothers from their friends and neighbors, but not from the human beings they bring into the world, and for life. Every person should have the opportunity to explore where he or she has come from. Babies are not commodities -- they grow into adolescents and adults, many who want to know the truth and are unwilling to accept the legal fiction this closed system has forced upon them. 

I would ask you once again to consider how little I am asking for. I never said I desired a reunion, although I wouldn't have turned one down. I want to deliver a letter to my birth mother in my own voice in the hope that it may touch her and allow her to provide a little information. I have promised not to approach her again, and I'm fully prepared to accept the fact that her need for denial is so strong that she may be unable to do this. But shouldn't I have the right to try? In not attempting to facilitate this healing, you have once again made the decision to completely ignore the adoptees' feelings. Can you even begin to imagine how this makes me feel? ...

And then, in her next letter (after she was told there would be no attempt to compromise):

Your unyielding position makes me feel totally violated as a thinking, feeling adult.... Why can't you take the mildest of risks and meet me somewhere in the middle on this issue? I remain totally disgusted by your self-serving, hypocritical stance. And while you may be able to block my ability to heal and thwart my search, fortunately for me, you cannot control my voice. At least that is one power I still possess -- the power of the pen.       Sincerely, Susan T. Perry

I beg of you, any of you who have made your way to this site today, but especially those who live in Pennsylvania, to use the power of your voice to speak up so that no one else has to go through what my mom did. If you have questions and still don't "get it," please ask! I am happy to answer your questions, and I won't yell at you. I will, however, tell you the truth. Once you do get it, write! Below is the contact information for all of the Senators on the Pennsylvania Committee on Aging and Youth. I think they especially need to hear from members of the adoption triad (adoptees, original parents, and adoptive parents). Please pass this on to anyone in Pennsylvania you know.

In addition, I would ask any Catholics to write to the Catholic Conference to let them know you oppose them lobbying against this bill. For me, this is personal. Catholics, if true to their faith, should be worried about protecting the powerless, and supporting this bill would at least allow the adult adoptee some semblance of power over his/her own life.

LINK TO SENATE AGING AND YOUTH COMMITTEE (click for full information on each Senator and snail-mail mailing addresses, if you are so motivated. Just click on the Senator's name on the list to the left -- options for Twitter and Facebook as well!):


Chair, Senator Randy Vulakovich (District 40): (must click on link above and e-mail via form)
Minority Chair, Senator Sean Wiley (District 49):
Vice Chair, Senator Scott Wagner (District 28):
Senator Joseph Scarnati III (District 25):
Senator David Argall (District 29):
Senator Lisa Baker (District 20):
Senator Bob Mensch (District 24): (must click on link above and e-mail via form)
Senator Elder Vogel Jr. (District 47): (must click on link above and e-mail via form)
Senator Judith Schwank (District 11):
Senator Michael J. Stack (District 5):
Senator John Yudichak (District 14):

Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (click on "Contact" - top right):
I especially ask all Catholics of good faith to contact them and ask them to stop opposing HB 162. In other states (Ohio specifically), Catholic leaders have REVERSED THEIR POSITION on this bill and supported it as "the right thing to do." Catholics in Pennsylvania could also do the right thing.

Thank you, everyone, for honoring my mom by using your own voice. Thank you for pleading for the rights of others simply because you care about doing what is right.
With a full and hopeful heart, Jenn