Ireland Gives Access

A story in The Guardian caught my attention, so I share.

Ireland will allow adopted people automatic access to their birth records for the first time under new laws the government hopes will end a “historic wrong”, including for thousands sent for adoption in secret by Catholic institutions. The minister for children says the proposed law would allow for the release of information – regardless of the parents’ wishes – the law would provide for the full and unredacted release of birth, early life and medical information to anyone over the age of 16.

International laws say all children should be able to establish their identity but tens of thousands of adopted people in Ireland have no automatic right to their birth records or access to tracing services. It remains much the same in half of these United States.

The legislation was published a year to the day since an inquiry found that thousands of infants died in Irish homes for unmarried mothers and their offspring mostly run by the Catholic church from the 1920s to the 1990s. Many infants were taken from mothers and sent overseas to be adopted.

Ireland is seeking to end Ireland’s “outlier status” for adoptees. A historic wrong has been done to adopted people and with this bill, the government is restoring the information that so many of people simply take for granted as part of their personal story.

Successive governments had argued that a 1998 supreme court ruling prevented them from opening adoption files because it emphasized the mother’s right to privacy. A 2019 bill to improve access to records was scrapped after opposition in parliament and from advocacy groups.

Adopted people will still be required to hold an “information session” with officials by phone if a birth parent expressed a no-contact preference. It’s not perfect but it is an improvement.

The Silencing of the Moms

St Patrick’s is often a joyous celebration with parades and lots of beer, the wearing of the green and Irish blessings. Today’s blog is not about that side of being Irish. Caelainn Hogan explored the history and legacy of the mother and baby homes in her book, “Republic of Shame“. Today’s blog shares heavily from a review of her book.

Folktales are powerful because of their purpose: they teach moral through warning. This is what could befall you, they say, this is what happens to badly behaved girls. The S Thompson Motif-Index of Folk Literature itemizes the following categories: Girl carefully guarded from suitors; Girl carefully guarded by mother; Girl carefully guarded by father; Girl carefully guarded from suitors by hag. All four motifs are attributed to several mythologies including those that are Irish. But the last one, “Girl carefully guarded from suitors by hag” is specifically Irish.

The mother and baby homes of Ireland were run by nuns associated with the Catholic Church. These were the depositories for women pregnant out of wedlock. Some of the homes were laundries, some were repurposed workhouses from the famine, and a surprising number actually survived into the early 1990s.  This sad history has enough gravesites, unnamed dead and persecuted women to honestly qualify as a most horrifying folktale.

Even in this modern time, women who gave birth in these homes continue trying to locate the children taken from them and some adults who survived the horrors are still searching for their birth mothers. And as recently as December 2020, the Irish government voted to keep the archives of the mother and baby homes locked for another 30 years, leaving hundreds of people without answers, which in some cases means never having a true answer to their identity.

Hogan wrote her book as a personal quest to investigate the homes and make an issue of two of the system’s most disturbing motifs: silence and female virtue. The author says – “My generation’s perspective is that the mother and baby homes are a thing of the past, but it has an ongoing impact. I was born in 1988, a year after illegitimacy was abolished in Ireland. I spoke to a friend’s mother who was sent to a mother and baby home, also in 1988. That alternative, that could have been my mother’s life. That had quite a deep impact on me.” I understand. In learning about my own family’s origins, I realized what was a miracle to me – that my unwed mother was not sent away to have and give me up for adoption.

The author says, “I wanted to show my experience of coming to terms with this alarmingly recent past and understanding how it continues to impact lives, to admit to my own ignorance even when it affected people I knew, to realize there were institutions around the corner from the house where I grew up that I never knew about, a system built on secrecy but all around us still.”

Adoption law in Ireland still protects the anonymity of the mother—which means many people don’t have access to their birth information – purely because they were born out of wedlock.  Adoption rights are an equality issue. There is still a culture of silence around adoption in Ireland, especially when it comes to adoptees accessing their own information. Ireland’s adoption laws were always intended to keep adoption details as secret as possible. It’s hypocrisy that these laws are represented as protecting the privacy rights of the mothers. The author found that almost every woman she spoke to, who had her child taken from her for adoption, who was sent to these institutions, they have only ever wanted information and answers. These are women who have spent years searching for their children. 

There is much more at the link to the review/interview, if you want to continue reading about this issue as your method of acknowledging all things Irish today.

The Tangled Red Thread

Born into the social experiment of closed adoption in the early 1960s, Noelle was taken home directly from the hospital at the age of three days. Her early life in rural Washington state seemed idyllic. With loving parents, two brothers, and her beloved pets, she had a childhood to be envied. But all that was ripped away, first by the violent loss of her innocence, followed by the slow death of her mother.

Essentially left to raise herself, she embarks on a lifelong journey of self-discovery, guided at unexpected times by “the voice” only she can hear. Even the most mundane choices, such as where to go to college, seem to be divinely directed.

Haunted by recurring loss, Noelle is determined to find her birth mother, to uncover the secrets of the feelings and visions she cannot contain or control. In surviving the breakdown of her husband and marriage, she realizes she has a psychic connection with the family she never knew, and in a series of incredible events reunites not only with them, but also eventually with her soulmate.

A true account of one woman’s life, existing as not one, but two people: one born and one adopted, and enduring the reality of not completely belonging in either world.

Elle Cuardaigh asks these questions, “If adoption is beautiful…

Why do people lie about it?

Why isn’t it the first choice for couples who want children?

Why has it been this way for less than one hundred years?

Why doesn’t everyone give up a baby to someone who can’t have one?

Why does rehoming not only happen but is completely legal?

Why does Biblical scripture have to be twisted in order to justify it?

Why does the Quran condemn it?

Why isn’t it done this way all over the world?

Why are people in other countries horrified when they learn what adoption means here?

Why have several “sending” countries banned international adoption?

Why are adoption agencies being sued or forcibly shut down?

Why do adoptees turn to DNA testing to avoid dating a sibling?

Why is family medical history still the first question asked at doctor appointments?

Why are records kept from the very people they pertain to?

Why is a court order needed to see the records?

Why are adoptees terrified to ask their adopted parents questions about it?

Why do adopted parents swear their families to secrecy?

Why did the Catholic church get rich off its corruption?

Why is coercion routinely employed to get “birth mothers” to relinquish?

Why are there consistently over 100,000 eligible children waiting years for “their forever families”?

Why do white children cost more than black children?

Why is it okay to think of children as commodities as in the above question?

Why do the American Adoption Congress, Adoptee’s Liberty Movement Association, Bastard Nation, Concerned United Birthparents, and numerous other organizations like them exist?

Why do so many adoptees search?

Why did the Australian government officially apologize for its role in it?

Why are adoptees who are murdered by their adopted parents still considered “lucky”?

Why were adoptees used for medical and psychological experiments?

Why are adoptees the punchline of jokes?

Why is it recognized as a childhood trauma?

Why are adoptees considered “as if born to” their adoptive family, yet are subject to conditional terms for incest?

Why in cases where the baby goes back to the natural mother is it called “failure”?

Why are teen adoptees overrepresented in mental health services?

Why do so many rely on it as an industry for their paycheck?

Why is it patterned after the system Georgia Tann – a known kidnapper, trafficker, child killer, and pedophile – developed?

Why is it used as a tool of war and cultural genocide?

Why can’t all adoptees get a passport?

Why are others deported?

Why are adoptees four times more likely than the non-adopted to attempt suicide?

Why can’t we have this conversation?”

The Influence Of Money

I am enough of a realist to know that the influence of money is not going away anytime soon.  Even so, in adoption, I believe it can be a corrupting factor.

Had it not been for cooking the books and overcharging the prospective adoptive parents, Georgia Tann’s crimes may never have been discovered.  When someone is making a lot of money off of an altruistic effort, it attracts attention.  It also buys protection as in the case of Tann and the Boss Crump political machinery in Memphis Tennessee.

I do believe that my dad’s parents probably paid less for him at The Salvation Army than my mom’s parents paid for her through Georgia Tann.  The Tennessee Children’s Home Society was careful not to document the money that was changing hands or was at least doing so in a very hidden way.  There is no doubt in my mind their eagerness to go looking for yet another baby after my grandparents had already adopted two must be an indication of a monetary motive.

In a novel I finished reading yesterday, there grew an awareness that the Catholic Church was making money selling babies.  I’ve no doubt that it is likely the truth.  Adoption is a kind of human trafficking that has the approval of society in general.  Who can object to people wanting to give unfortunate children a good home ?

But society has no interest to providing enough support for mothers to keep and raise their babies.  Something is terribly rotten in such a system of priorities.  The reason adoption records have remained sealed in most states in the US for so long is for the protection of the people who have the money – the adoptive parents.  Agencies, lawyers and social workers as well as the courts are all making money by taking the product of unfortunate young women and delivering babies to those who can afford to pay.

It was not lost on me in the recent NY Times article that the two men in a stable marriage who adopted out of Foster Care not only had no out of pocket expenses directly related to that but received subsidies for doing so.  This is where money actually helped the situation.

 

A Good Faith Desire

This time a mother is making a lot of noise.  Sadly, it really isn’t a rare situation.

In the Washington Post today is the story of Kathleen Chafin.  As a young woman attending St Louis University she conceived a son out of wedlock.  It does not appear there was ever any informed consent but rather she was told what would happen, she never agreed to it.

Her parents and the local priest conspired to force her child away from her.  She was isolated away with another Catholic family until she went into labor.  She was drugged during her delivery, so she has no memory of giving birth.  That happened to me too in 1973, when I gave birth to my daughter, but what happened to Kathleen didn’t happen to me because I was married.

She wasn’t even allowed to see her son.  The priest took him away and placed him in an adoptive family.  He seems to have fared well.  But Kathleen did not.  Many women were chastised and shunned for having children out of wedlock. Experts estimate that more than 1.5 million unmarried women in the United States were forced to give up their babies for adoption during that period from the end of WWII until Roe v Wade.

It has been estimated that 95 percent of women in Canada who gave birth at maternity homes in the postwar period gave their children up for adoption.  And similarly, many women in England and Australia, oh all over the European population it seems.

What makes Kathleen different is – she is making a loud noise.  After years of depression and considerable effort to locate her son, they did have a reunion and remain close, visiting one another at least once a year.

Kathleen pushed the Catholic Church to investigate but not content with their findings that the priest acted from a good faith desire to alleviate that pressure (from her parents) by helping her find a good home for her baby, she is suing the church.  So far, her case has been dismissed at the County District Court and State Appeals Court level.  Not content to be brushed aside, she has taken her case to Federal Court in hopes of advocating for other women who were pressured into giving up their children.

The Sad Story of Irish Unwed Mothers

Their children were often called the “devil’s spawn.” The Mother and Baby Homes were set up by the government and run by Catholic religious orders.  They were part of a system to deal with the perceived shame of “illegitimate” children and the women who bore them.

The luckiest children managed to live through the neglect and abuse.  There is widespread suspicion that the children were drugged to keep them docile and many believe that is the reason for the non-existent or at last non-conscious memories of their time in the home.  Perhaps that is a blessing, as wrong as it may be ethically.

A mass grave of nearly 800 children tipped the scales from denial to investigation.  The Irish government was forced to confirm that “significant remains” ranging in age from 35 fetal weeks to two to three years old, and dating back to the time the home was in operation, had been found in Tuam during a preliminary excavation. The horrendous truth was that it was not just an unmarked grave, the remains were found in an old underground waste-treatment system.

Tuam dates back to the Bronze Age, its name is derived from the Latin term tumulus, meaning burial ground.  Chilling.