Never True

Social workers believed that to save children they had to deny them information about their past. To help them, they unintentionally hurt them.

Some social workers believed that keeping adoptees’ identities secret allowed the adoptee to make a clean break with their past.  Secrecy protected adoptive parents from intrusion by birth relatives.  It protected the privacy of single mothers.

In the early 1950s, social workers believed that closed adoption worked. A social worker’s effectiveness was measured by how many unmarried mothers she could persuade to surrender their children – with a goal to persuade all of them.

Social workers believed that after surrender, the mother would simply go on with her childless life as though nothing had happened.

It was believed that “normal, healthy” adoptees would have NO curiosity about their roots.

All these things that social workers once believed turned out to be not true.

It’s Not Easy Being Adopted

“It’s not as easy as everyone thinks, growing up and never knowing the truth about yourself.” And it isn’t easy for the child of two adoptees because the feeling is the same – there is an emptiness, a void, a gap in the family history story and it hurts somehow in some deep place that is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t felt this.

Once the adoptee had her mother’s name, finding her turned out to be remarkably easy. Her mother’s first words to her daughter were: “I always thought you’d find me.” I believe this is what my maternal grandmother thought. However, for my mom and her mother, it never came to pass.

Some adoptive mothers will feel threatened by the relationship an adoptee begins to develop with their natural mother. The best outcome is for the child to be able to have a relationship with both mothers. Knowledge means no longer being troubled by unanswered questions. Feeling whole, having a past, a new peaceful tranquility with who one is.

Generally speaking, adoptees and birth mothers both have to suppress, in polite society, the feelings that are ripping them up inside. A natural mother who has relinquished her child is supposed to hide her grief and act like nothing is wrong – and especially TELL NO ONE.

The secrecy is suffocating. It is time for that to end.

They Would Have Said Yes

When my mom sought her original parents in the early 1990s, Tennessee had not yet opened their adoption files for the victims of Georgia Tann’s exploitation.  They would have to get her original parents consent.  They had both died, so no consent was possible but they still refused to give her the file.  It is a definite sadness that no one told her when less than a decade later, she could have obtained her file.

Instead, I received it in 2017.  My mom’s parents were married.  The reasons why they separated will forever be a question I can’t get answered.  I have some theories based on the facts that may not be far from the truth.

It is not surprising that, in forcefully taking children from their parents, Georgia Tann would be gravely concerned that the original family might seek to find the child lost to them.  That would have disrupted the well established adoptive relationship.

The rationale at the time was what anonymity was essential to maintain the viability of placing children for adoption.

“We never tell the natural mother or reveal to others where the child is and where it is being placed for adoption,” Georgia Tann told a reporter for the Memphis based newspaper the Commercial Appeal in 1948.

Miss Tann’s letter to my original maternal grandmother, which I received a photocopy of, certainly revealed nothing about my mom being taken to Arizona.  My original grandparents were never given the names of the people who took my mom to raise her.

From what I know of the circumstances, both my grandmother and my grandfather would have been happy to meet my mom in adulthood and learn from her what her life away from them had been like.

Sadly, it didn’t happen.  Happily for my own self, I am now in contact with many of my original descendant relatives, cousins and even an aunt who is still living.

Adoption – Open or Closed – What’s Best ?

Today, in modern adoption, there are more open adoptions than there were in the past.

In an open adoption, a young adoptee may grow up alongside the parents who conceived them and gave birth, though these parents are not part of the family household the adoptee grows up within. Even so, there is sharing time together, visiting and writing to one another.  In an open adoption, you see and get to know your original parents but you don’t have them as your parents.

Up until recently, most adoptions were closed and so, in order to know the people an adoptee was born to, they had to seek a reunion after they became an adult; or at the least, a much older child, as in a teenager.

If it were actually possible for any adoptee to  compare the outcomes they would have experienced with each method, what would they choose in full awareness ?  Would they want to know their original parents throughout their whole lives ?  Do they think that knowing them would make their lives better or worse ?

Of course, there is no such choice for adoptees.  Open adoption seeks to make the adoption experience better by taking away the secrecy and shame.

Are the issues the same for an adoptee whether it was an open or closed adoption ?  Or does an open adoption simply create a whole new set of issues that didn’t exist within
the close adoption system ?

In a good reunion process, the adoptee is able to explain to the original parent(s) – their feelings of hurt, abandonment and/or anger – which were all caused by the decision of their original parents to surrender their child for adoption.

Can any child go through something as traumatic as being given up and still process it all at the same time – are they able to talk to the original parent about the feelings common among all adoptees at the same time as they are being experienced ?  This is not an answerable question as the two kinds of adoption experience do not allow such comparisons.

It can be quite painful for an adoptee to hear about a birth mother who is satisfied with having relinquished her child for adoption.  Yet, many such mothers were absolutely convinced at the time they made that choice that they were doing the best thing for their child.

Years later, many birth mothers wish they had kept their child, and that is why there are groups of adoptees actively working to encourage young unwed or troubled expectant mothers to make an effort to parent first before making a decision to relinquish their child to adoption.

The fact is – adoption exists – and it will likely always exist because there is a need and/or desire for that in some circumstances.  The hard truth is that not all parents to be actually want to devote themselves to raising a child.

In seeking to reform the practice of adoption, the more we are able to ask piercing questions, explore with those involved the reason for their decisions and just plain understand at a very deep level all aspects of the experience, the better we will be able to shape the future of adoption into better outcomes for all concerned.

Secrecy

Secrecy in adoption was always meant to protect the adoptive parents from the original parents after a child was taken in adoption.

These concepts were not true –

Actions once thought natural, such as attempts by adoptees to learn information about their birth families, came to be socially disfavored and considered abnormal.

They were the psychologically unhealthful product of unsuccessful adoptions that had failed to create perfect substitutes for natural families created by childbirth, and they indicated adoptees’ rejection of and ingratitude toward adoptive parents.

Secrecy was viewed as an essential feature of adoptions in which birth and adoptive parents did not know one another.

Here is how hiding an adoptee became the law of the land –

Edna Gladney who was an illegitimate child but later went into the adoption profession and Georgia Tann whose name became associated with a scandal of stealing and selling babies were the prime movers for concealing an adoptees identity by falsifying their birth certificates and allowing adoptive parents to change the name the child was born with.  Then, the original records were sealed.

In the 1990s, a renewed media attention on the Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal resulted in activists finally breaking open the secrecy contained in Tann’s adoption files for those persons affected (including descendants).

There are still many states who continue to maintain sealed records.  In my own efforts to discover who my own original grandparents were, I bumped up against the solid walls in Arizona, California and Virginia.

Then and Now

Back in the 1930s, when my parents were both adopted, they first spent as long as 6 months with their original mother.  As I have come to know more about the impacts of adoption on adoptees, I have learned about the pre-birth development and bonding that takes place in the womb but is not complete at the time a baby is born, but continues during the first year of a baby’s life.

Knowing my parents had these precious first months with their original mothers matters to me since I have learned about the importance of that to any child’s development.

By the time my sisters each gave up a baby to adoption, the adoptions occurred immediately after birth.  The adoptive mothers did not have the pre-birth preparation that my sisters had as the original mother.

However, each of these children have been supported in their need to know the families they were originally conceived within and I do think that is valuable because my parents died knowing next to nothing (perhaps some vague names and location details) about their own birth and adoption experiences.

The unmistakable fact was and is – unwed mothers need help.  My sisters needed help and my parents were not going to step in with a long-term commitment to use their financial resources supporting either of them and their children.

Many adoptive parents have been comforted by the secrecy of closed adoption and sealed birth records.  Many have felt threatened by their children’s reunion with their original parents

Social workers believed that to save children they had to deny them information about their past. To help them, they unintentionally hurt them.  Some social workers believed that keeping adoptees’ identities secret allowed the adoptee to make a clean break with their past.  Secrecy protected adoptive parents from intrusion by birth relatives.  It protected the privacy of single mothers.

Social workers believed that after surrender, the mother would simply go on with her childless life as though nothing had happened.  It was believed that “normal, healthy” adoptees would have NO curiosity about their roots.

Both of these were myths and never true.