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Friday, February 13, 2015

Adoption Lawyers Who Oppose Adoptee Rights

Another post by Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away on April 7th after an 8 month battle with Stage IV melanoma.

One afternoon this past August, while vacationing with Anthony and the kids at The Homestead in Virginia, I discovered The Private Adoption Handbook, by Stanley B. Michelman and Meg Schneider, on the bookshelf outside our room (a bookshelf populated with old hardcovers for purely decorative purposes). We had just gotten back from the pool and were waiting for Joseph, four years old, to open the door (which he insisted on doing), when the word "Adoption" on the book's spine caught my eye. I took the book down and began to read. The book, with chapters like "How to
The Homestead Resort, in Virginia.
Choose a Lawyer," "Placing the Ads [for a pregnant mother]," and "Choosing Your Baby," was the collaboration between a private adoption lawyer and an adoptive mother. I could not stop reading. For someone who ten years ago knew, like most of the American public, very little about how adoption really worked (despite having a mom who had been adopted), and who had recently been awakened to some of the incredible injustices tied in with adoption, the book was a window into a hidden world. Meg Schneider, the book's co-author, clearly wrote the book in order to help other couples who were dealing with infertility and seeking to adopt. It was a resource guide on how to do so. In the book, she is incredibly open about the pain she suffered because of her inability to have a biological child, and she also is open about the fierce love she feels for her adoptive children. At one point, she shares the story of how she and her husband finally adopted through the law firm of Stanley Michelman, the lawyer with whom she co-wrote the book:

"...I underwent the last surgical procedure. The news was bleak. It left us little hope of ever having our own biological child. I was surprised and horrified when the doctor told me the results of the exploratory surgery, as I had been led to believe, up until then, that I would probably be able to conceive and carry a baby to term. We were both very distressed, and I, in particular, felt miserably lost. Neal, however, who is always wonderful in a crisis and never one to let bad times do him in, called Stanley's office from a hospital phone booth before I even woke up from the anesthetic. 'I'm not going to wake Meg up with nothing but bad news,' he told an attorney working for Stanley. 'I want to tell her we're going to have a baby soon.' ... Stanley's assistant was comforting and positive. Basically she said, 'We'll help you out of this, and soon.' Three days after I got home from the hospital, I found out she was a lady of her word."

A page later, she writes, "That night Neil and I talked about the situation. We really couldn't find anything we didn't like about it. The only problem was a superficial one: The baby would probably not look like us. The builds and colorings of both birth parents seemed to preclude that possibility. Then we reminded ourselves that though I'm a brunette, my mother is a blonde and my grandfather was a carrot top. If we had conceived a child, anything could have happened..."

As I said, I could not put the book down, so each night once the kids went to bed I stayed up late reading, by the light of my phone, story after heartbreaking story of couples who were devastated when they could not have children of their own, and whose dreams then came true because of the law office of Stanley Michelman.

But all I could think about were all those adopted children. Children, like my mom, who became adults and deserved the right to be able to search out their history. I was astonished throughout the book at the casual way in which this need was dismissed, not even discussed. Or, if it was discussed, it was done so with only the needs of the parents in mind: "I have a photograph of her [her son's birth mother], but I would have liked to be able to tell our son about her voice and her words as well. Everyone has a history, and I know that a part of who he is has been left behind with his birth mother. Speaking with her would have given me yet another sense of him and where he came from, even though I know it couldn't make me feel any closer to him."

Oh, Stanley and Meg, how could you not have written here, after this clearly caring mother's story, about how that little boy would grow up and very well might need to search out that "part of him that was left behind with his birth mother"? How could you not have discussed legislation allowing adult adoptees access to their birth records? And, Stanley Michelman, how could you, with all of your years of adoption experience, not have supported such legislation? How could any adoption lawyer not support such legislation, when it is SO CLEARLY the best thing for adoptees? The book was published in 1988, after all. The information was out there.

When I got home from vacation, the book finished, I looked up Stanley Michelman, the adoption lawyer. He passed away in 2009, and I found myself feeling so conflicted as I read his obituary, which described him as a loving father and grandfather who, after losing a grandson, had become incredibly active in supporting research on childhood genetic diseases (irony of adoptees being blocked from knowledge of own genetic histories not lost on me). It also stated that he had finalized more than 5,000 adoptions. Next, I found his name on many, many posts on Birth mothers were looking for their children they had given up, and adoptees were looking for their original parents. Some were looking for siblings.

New York State, where Mr. Michelman practiced for years, could perhaps be the next state to allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. The law pending, which has 90 sponsors out of 150 members in the NY State Assembly, would finally give adoptees, whose rights have been denied for so long, the right to search out that history, that "part ... left behind." So who's fighting against it? One group, and a powerful one, consists of lawyers just like Mr. Michelman. And people who have not taken the time to listen to adult adoptees' stories, stories every bit as important as those of adoptive parents, and those of birth mothers (and, dare I say, maybe, maybe, even just a little more important, if adoption exists, as everyone claims, truly for the benefit of the child, of the adoptee), are easily swayed.

May we only be swayed by the truth. May adoptive parents and adoption lawyers who do not yet realize the importance of this law open their eyes, and find their voice, and speak up for the adopted children they raised, or placed, who have now grown up and need this right. May people finally, finally listen to adoptees and hear what it was like to be adopted, and try to understand. May that understanding lead to action. That is my wish, and I know it was the wish of my mom. Truth and love. There is nothing greater, or more important.

One more thing:

Just tonight I came across an article online, "Birth mother privacy a concern as adoption bill moves forward" (, an article about Indiana's pending legislation. The "expert" on adoption quoted in the article (and opposing adoptees' access to their original birth certificate) is another adoption lawyer whose wesbite,, reminds me eerily of Stanley Michelman's book. I do not know why I continue to be astonished, but I am. How could this lawyer possibly believe that sealing records is best practice? How could he? Below is the comment I left:

My mom, an adoptee, had to use an "intermediary" like Mr. Kirsh mentions in order to attempt to find her birth mother 15 years ago. I hope Mr. Kirsh and his colleagues at Kirsh and Kirsh realize how insulting and demeaning it it for a grown woman to have to PAY and essentially beg another person, a stranger, for personal information. This should never be the case (and I have to imagine that Mr. Kirsh's opposition to laws allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificates --something that the American Academy of Pediatrics endorses -- has a lot to do with his profits from adoption and very little to do with his true concern for birth mothers, whether he realizes it or not). My mom's birth mother, when contacted by the intermediary, was one of those few who said she did not want contact. "She seemed like she was holding something back," the intermediary told my mom. Then she told her the case was closed and she could/would do nothing else. One phone call from a stranger and it was over. That is how these intermediaries (paid for their services) work. My mom, facing health issues at the time and also realizing, for the first time in her life, that it was her RIGHT to find her birth mother, and for the two of them to decide like the grown adults that they were whether or not they would have a relationship, found her mother on her own (and at great expense). She wrote her a letter in her OWN voice and sent it via certified mail. Though she and her birth mother did not go on to have a relationship, the interaction they had because of that letter was incredibly helpful to my mom, both medically and personally. It also helped her realize how ridiculous our current adoption laws are (that do not allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates). She became an advocate for adoptee rights and began to REALLY learn about the reasons the system is the way it is (lawyers who profit big time being one of them). Late in 2013, my mom was (somewhat miraculously) reunited with her two birth sisters (who happened to be desperately searching for her). What she learned revealed a mother who was both scared and scarred by the secrets she carried. "They kept it secret. That's how they came to peace with their decision," says Mr. Kirsh. He could not be farther from the truth, and if he truly cared about birth mothers, or adoptees, he would have to acknowledge that. Secrets will never lead to true peace. Only truth can do that. My mom wrote about this on her blog in July of 2013, right after she was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma and right before she was reunited with her sisters:
After an 8 month battle with melanoma, my mom died last April, right before NJ's law allowing adult adoptees access to their birth certificates (beginning in 2017) was signed. I wish she could have seen it, but she did always say that "Change will come. I don't know if it will be in my lifetime, but change will come."
To the author of this article, I thank you for covering adoption and hope that you continue to do so. I feel strongly that, had you known, as a responsible journalist you should have revealed Mr. Kirsh's financial interest in promoting the status quo of closed adoption records when quoting him in this article. A brief visit to his firm's website confirmed that for me. The birth mother that his firm found for you was most likely "scared and scarred" like my mom's birth mother had been. Under Indiana's proposed law allowing adult adoptees access to their birth certificates, she would still have her privacy (the birth certificates do not become public record, after all). Someone with her best interests in mind would explain that to her (and, perhaps, gently encourage her to begin working towards true peace in her life, through the truth).