Betty Jean Lifton

Born 1926 – Died 2010 at age 84

I didn’t know of her until today. One of the many defining things that BJ was – she was adopted. And those of us who are adopted ones know that the world infantilizes us and constantly refers to us as ‘adopted children’ even when we are 30, 40, 50, 70 and so on.

BJ was “an adopted child” and it is fitting that she be referred to that way, because she kept a clear and present focus on children, on children’s issues, and on children’s literature. Though I have personally pretty much maxed out on my own adoption related reading, if you have not, she is a good author to look up and read.

BJ is described as being swan-like, quiet but magnetic, slowly turning her head left and right in regal greeting whenever she made her way to a podium at a speaking engagement related to adoption. There was an old-Hollywood glamour to this Staten Island-born, Cincinnati-bred, first-wave adoptee. Her birth name was Blanche. That somehow fit her with her clipped consonants and languid vowels, dramatic mien and throaty chuckle. She easily managed to come across as both mysterious (what did that smirk of hers signify ?) and searingly direct, when discussing the issue closest to her heart: openness meaning open records, openness about origins, open acknowledgement of the adoption experience’s impact on all members of the triad.

She had been adopted through Louise Wise Services. At the time, the only option for Jewish birth mothers and adoptive parents in New York City. She seven years old when she learned about her adoption. She was told her adoption was “a secret.” She described herself as a “good adoptee” — unrebellious, eager to please and to belong. She had an idea of “shadow selves.” Meaning the child the birth parents lost, the child the adoptive parents couldn’t have, and the person the adoptee might have been if raised elsewhere. I get this concept related to my adoptee parents.

Her adoption related books include – Journey of the Adopted Self and Lost and Found, as well as her 1975 memoir, Twice Born. BJ is described as a wise woman and an amazing and magical writer. She has been referred to as the Gloria Steinem of adoption. She saw things through a prism that included more than what most people saw, or wanted to see in the world of adoption. She was a pioneer.

BJ told many tales – like this one about the ‘possible self. To illustrate that, she would give an adoptee two dolls: one was who the adoptee would have been, if she had stayed on the course that she came into the world as – her birth self – and the other was who she actually became in real life. I think my own adoptee mother would have related well to that tale. BJ stated that ‘our possible selves’, as adopted ones, had a huge influence on our current selves and only by bringing them together would we be whole. As the child of two adoptees who now has two kinds of families – the ones my parents were born into and the ones that adoption gave us, I also understand and though it IS complicated, I have that sense of wholeness that I didn’t ever fully know I lacked before I found out during my roots journey.

BJ was a storyteller. Like the one called The Deep Sleep. In adoption circles, the fog may be a similar concept. This is that state that people go into when their original lives are taken from them and are made a secret. She also told stories of brave people who saved children and the brave children who asked questions and found the truth that saved the grownups.

BJ made an amazing difference in the lives of adopted people, birthparents, and adoptive parents as well as professionals in the field. She never wavered in her beliefs, and in her stand for human rights in adoption. She helped the individuals that she spoke with, testified with, did therapy with, worked with and played with. She helped the adoption reform movement and left her indelible mark is on everything that has evolved in adoption reform. She bequeathed us with a passion for the truth.

I credit a lot of my content today to two essays about Betty Jean Lifton – [1] “Goodbye, Betty Jean” by Sarah Saffian at the LINK> Adoptive Families website and [2] to an essay simply titled, LINK> Betty Jean Lifton, by Joyce Maguire Pavao at the Jewish Women’s Archive website.

Ro Razavi

My favorite thing to do while driving to my weekly grocery shopping each week is to listen to the Classic Rock Cafe on 93.1 out of Perryville MO hosted by Zav. At the end of his shift, he went on a proud parent rant about his son, Ro Razavi.

I am always surprised at how many people have adoption somewhere in their families. Zav adopted Ro Razavi from Vietnam when he was 6 years old. His adoptive father’s pride on how this young man has shined so brightly as a golfer was obvious. He is a junior in an O’Fallon Missouri high school, maintaining a 3.38 GPA.

The reason for Zav’s happy rant was that his son has just signed a 4 year golfing scholarship at Chaminade University in Honolulu Hawaii.

Ro has competed on the Varsity golf team at Liberty High School since his freshman year and will be the top player on the squad this upcoming year. Ro also plays a steady schedule of Gateway PGA Jr tour events and has accumulated 27 junior tour wins and was awarded the 2018 Gateway Jr Tour Player of the Year honors.

Ro is an extremely hard worker and is constantly striving to improve both his golf game and in the classroom working diligently on his academics. He also has great leadership skills and is a great listener. While playing golf at the collegiate, he intends to pursue a degree in Business and Marketing.

Since 1999, Americans have adopted a total of 5,578 Vietnamese children, making Vietnam the third most popular East Asian adoption destination after South Korea (19,370) and China (71,632), Department of State figures show. But for decades, the overseas adoption process in Vietnam has been colored by stories of fraud, deception and human trafficking.

Vietnamese adoptions plummeted to zero by 2011, according to the US Department of State. This was the result of a US ban on Vietnamese adoptions in 2008, stemming from concerns that documents were being altered, mothers coerced into giving up their children, and children being put up for adoption without their parents’ knowledge. This young man would have been adopted in approx 2005 or 2006, so before the ban.

On September 16 2014, the US and Vietnam lifted the ban, allowing adoptions of children with special needs, those who are five and older and those who are part of a sibling group, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

3,300 Vietnamese children who were part of 1975’s Operation Babylift, which sent orphans from war-torn Vietnam to western families in Europe, Australia and the United States. While touted as a humanitarian campaign, the operation had its critics, who alleged that the US-led effort was a public relations stunt designed to re-brand America’s sullied image after a protracted war. Questions emerged about whether many of the orphans were really orphans at all, or children unwillingly plucked from the homes of Vietnamese families, who felt forced to relinquish them.

There have been camps for Vietnamese adoptees at Estes Park CO (sponsored by Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families) that had been held each summer before the pandemic to allow these children to have contact with others like them. It appears that in person camps will be returning for the summer of 2022.

Heritage Camps have a focus of supporting transcultural/transracial adoptive families. We connect adoptive families with authentic cultural experiences, providing positive representations that affirm the inherent worth of a child’s birth culture through fun, age-appropriate, interactive activities, and cultural/racial “mirrors” — camp counselors and presenters from adoptees’ birth cultures.

Please Be Mindful

Please be mindful of what you say about an adoptee’s birth parents and extended birth family – regardless the circumstances or how you personally feel. Remember that this person shares genes and inheritable aspects with that family of origin.

From an adoptee – As a child I internalized the messages about how I was so much better off adopted, that I was convinced my mother must have been a very evil person. I thought perhaps a witch or a prostitute and would tell everyone this. I was secretly petrified I would be just like her. (Note: she’s not, she was a vulnerable woman who was not supported to keep me.)

Of course, it is known that children have no filters or sense of decorum and will often repeat the perspectives of adults around them – thus comes this sad recollection. One of my earliest memories is from when I was 5 years old and a classmate told me I was adopted because my biological mom didn’t love me. It was so hurtful and it took me a long time to get past it.

The same advice applies to one parent or family bashing the other parent or family. Regardless of whether these are biological, foster families, adoptive family. All of these are part of a child’s history and life experience and when you do this, you are saying in effect that a part of the child is equally bad.