The Baby Thief

I first read the book by Barbara Bisantz Raymond just after my dad died in 2016 but before I had my mom’s adoption file from the state of Tennessee.  Yes, my mom was adopted from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society at Memphis in 1937.  I only really noticed the horror stories which left me grateful about who adopted my mom and uncle.

I got that file in October 2017 and I am now thoroughly familiar with what is there.  I thought, I really ought to read this book again and that is what I am currently doing.  Having educated myself about adoption issues and mother/child separations now, the content is getting more attention from me at a deeper level.

My mom tried to get her file from Tennessee in the early 1990s – before the state passed legislation that would have allowed her to have it in the late 1990s.  Sadly, she never knew that it became available for her but it is my gift that it has come to me.  She claimed in her effort that she had been inappropriately adopted.  Though her made up explanation of how she got from Virginia, where she was born, into the hands of Georgia Tann has proven to have not been the case (she wasn’t exactly “stolen”), it now appears the “inappropriately” was accurate.

It appears that my mom’s adoption violated Tennessee law at the time it occurred.  In 1937, Tennessee adoption law did not allow out of state adoptions and even after it was changed, it would have been necessary to finalize such adoptions in Tennessee.  My mom’s adoption was finalized in Arizona.

At the time her surrenders were signed (under threat by Georgia Tann of court action), they were supposed to be verified by a judge (though of course, since the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley was in cahoots with Tann it probably wouldn’t have changed anything).  The law wasn’t changed until 1941 to simply allow notarized surrenders (which is all my mom’s parents’ surrenders had and those were notarized by – you guessed it – Georgia Tann).

And Fanny Elrod who my adoptive grandmother seems to have had the most correspondence with, allowed herself to be bullied by Georgia Tann and they were both there when my mom was placed in my adoptive grandmother’s arms.

Finally, back to 1917, child placing agencies were supposed to be licensed by the state but the Tennessee Children’s Home Society never applied for a license until after the scandal broke in 1950 and Georgia Tann was dead and the Memphis branch permanently closed.

So, my mom was right – her adoption was actually ILLEGAL for several reasons as described above.


Whose Perspective ?

She wonders – “Who explained adoption to my peers ?”

Her adoptive parents always told her she was chosen and special.

Yet her peers thought of her as something that someone bad had discarded.

What had their parents taught them about adoption ?

It could have been not their parents but messages about adoption
and pregnancy in the world surrounding them all.

Really great adoptive parents are NOT all an adoptee needs.

A great deal of the grief an adoptee experiences is the result of
the societal shame associated with being adopted.

It is painful to be seen as unwanted, almost aborted, and needing
to be grateful just because one has been adopted.

~ from The Declassified Adoptee

I know my mom’s adoptive parents felt likewise.  They were over the moon happy with their two children – thought them brilliant and attractive.  They were selected by gender and “supposed” traits (though Georgia Tann played them on that one).

Later in life, my mom had a tense relationship with her mother.  She never felt as though she lived up to her mother’s expectations regarding her life and it was probably actually true.  My mom got pregnant out of wedlock, therefore, she was never the debutante my grandmother probably hoped for.

Societies perspectives on women and chastity and who’s responsible (hint, it’s never the men who impregnate them) all add up to an adoptee’s whose origin story is founded in rape or incest being automatically impure.  What did that baby ever do to deserve such a judgement ?


I recently read an essay about “blame” in adoption.  Many adoptees struggle with the realities of their childhood.  It is not only the adoptee or their original parents who suffer but the people who adopt these children sometimes suffer as well.

Adoptive parents may feel they should be able to take the grief of adoption away for their adopted child or may even wrongly believe they could have somehow prevented it in the first place.

When I met my nephew’s adoptive mother (who is a loving, caring and supportive person in his life), she expressed that she had had such feelings as well.  Learning about my youngest sister’s reality, helped lessen her feelings of guilt.

I am able to see how in the case of all of the adoptions in my own family, thankfully, the outcomes have been good.  We’ve been extraordinarily lucky that all of the people involved have been good people.

Goodness does not alleviate the suffering.  It does not worsen the suffering and that is a kind of blessing under the various circumstances.

Taking Care Of Women and Children

The same people who want to dictate medical decisions involving women don’t want to provide a good quality of life for them.

The American Social Safety Net Does Not Exist

After welfare reform, poor people were supposed to be able to find work. Not all of them could—and then the jobs disappeared. And according to Andrew Yang, a 2020 Presidential contender, the problem is only going to get worse.

In 1996, Aid to Families With Dependent Children—that is, welfare as we knew it—ended. The Republican Party, which had dominated the federal government since the Reagan Revolution, had had welfare in its sights ever since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society expanded antipoverty programs. Liberals and progressives labeled welfare reform one of the worst things President Bill Clinton did, and rightly blamed it for the increase in child poverty that followed.

For the right, though, shrinking welfare was part of a larger effort to decrease the size of government and appeal to working-class whites who had come to believe—erroneously—that AFDC largely benefited urban black recipients who didn’t want to work. Antipoverty advocates on the right argued that work was a better way out of poverty, and in the booming 1990s, this was partly true.

~ The Nation, published October 3 2016

My husband has heard local people directly express the belief that their tax dollars are providing welfare to black people in St Louis and they do not like that. It is sad. Our county is one of the poorest in Missouri and their tax dollars are just as likely supporting a neighbor.

The problem with the Pro-Life movement is that it doesn’t provide for the children it wants to see born. It doesn’t provide a quality life for those children. It may even be that due to a diminishing stock of babies available for adoption (due to access to contraception and changing morals in our young people) there are not enough children to provide new converts to the cause ? Am I cynical about the reasons they seek to overturn Roe ? Yes, I am. Actions speak louder than words.

My sister was forced to give up her daughter to adoption because she was turned down for public assistance when in financial desperation she moved back in with our parents. She was a waitress her whole life, retiring from Denny’s, where the pay was so low that without tips it would have been exploitation. Come to think of it – it was exploitation.

Transparency And Truth

Transparency and truth in adoption is the best way to ensure
honest and ethical practices and uphold the civil, human and
children’s rights for all involved.

It isn’t about giving people information they do not want to know,
it is about empowering them to make the choice
to receive the information if they feel it is important to them.

~ The Declassified Adoptee

I was raised with the saying “Honesty is the best policy”.  I can’t say that we didn’t know the “truth” that both of our parents were adopted.  I can say that important information was denied us in order to protect the adoptive parents from obsessed and grieving original parents seeking to reunite with their children.

I can say that my mom’s original mother would have welcomed her back with open arms.  I believe my dad’s original mother would have felt likewise.

It is true that perspectives are changing.  Both my niece and my nephew were given up for adoption and yet both have been able to at least reunite with their original genetic families in order to learn and understand whatever they needed to know.

Older adoptions are still closed to even the descendants of deceased adoptees, deceased original parents and deceased adoptive parents.  I know because I have repeatedly bumped up against an absolute “no” when trying to access records.  I believe only bureaucratic laziness continues to obstruct us.

Crucial – An Accurate Medical History

Like many adoptees who search for their origins, my mom told me that she needed to know her medical history in order for a mysterious condition to be diagnosed.  She was rejected by the state of Tennessee when she tried but learned her mother was dead – which devastated her.  This spoke to me that there was more to her yearning than knowing what this condition was.  In fact, at some point, she said to me “As a mother, I would want to know what became of my child.”  The state could not determine if her father was alive or not and that was their excuse for denying her.  He was 20 years older than my grandmother, so my mom was pretty certain that he was also dead.  It turns out, she was correct, he had been dead for 30 years at the time of her inquiry.

She was eventually diagnosed as having Vestibular Migraines.  She said it was possible that it could be genetic.  She described it as a feeling that if you were leaning against a wall somehow the wall support is not there. Like whatever holds you upright disappears and that it is a balance problem that causes dizziness.  Fortunately, I do not seem to have inherited it though I occasionally experience what my Ophthalmologist has said are Ocular Migraines.

One problem adoptees face, if not even told they were adopted, is medical history information that isn’t actually theirs. We knew both of my parents were adopted but I only knew THEIR medical history, which was at least “something” but nothing about their parents, because they died knowing next of nothing about their own original parents.

Once I learned who all 4 of my original grandparents were and something about their causes of death (for most of them, at least) or related health issues (my paternal grandmother had some breast cancer removed but died of a heart failure), the importance of caring for my heart is clear (my mom died of a massive heart attack in her Jacuzzi tub – my dad’s heart appears to have simply stopped and he stopped breathing, no one knows which came first) .

My paternal grandmother’s breast cancer might be related to the smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew my DNA revealed and the mammogram technician told me it matters, even though small, and to keep getting scans.

It isn’t right for adoptees to have to make crucial decisions for themselves affected by a lack of factual information.

Torn Apart

I was really out of it when my daughter was born. Thankfully, though I had a c-section with each of my sons, I was at least awake from the very first moments they drew a breath.

The feeling of becoming a mother was amazing. I’m certain it was the same for both of my original grandmothers who had months with each of my parents before their first born child was taken from them. I’m certain my own mother experienced the same amazing effect – a kind of euphoria that comes with giving birth to a new human being.

Everything changes for a woman when she becomes a mother. Everything is taken away when she loses her child. I struggled for years to come to terms with not raising my daughter. I don’t know if I have fully overcome the feeling of not being there for her as she was growing up. For years, I could not find a commercial birthday card that could express what our actual relationship was like.

I continue to progress in tiny steps but I don’t think I will ever forgive myself, even if I know all the reasons why. So, I can only imagine the pain my grandmothers felt or my sister feels. It is like not feeling worthy of having one’s own child. It is horrible.