A Reunion That Came Almost Too Late

David Rosenberg and Margaret Katz

50 years after the unwed teenage mother gave birth in a maternity home and lost her son to adoption through the Louise Wise agency, mother and son finally were reunited not long before David died of thyroid cancer. She was a victim of the baby scoop era. Their story really isn’t all that remarkable to anyone who has been deeply researching all things adoption for any length of time.

However, thanks to a new book – American Baby: A Mother, A Child, And The Shadow History Of Adoption by journalist Gabrielle Glaser recently published, their story joins legions of others who have endured similar trajectories. And like many others, the revelations they were hoping for came by way of inexpensive, publicly available DNA testing. In this case, 23 and Me.

The journalist was working on an article about kidney transplants in 2007 when she met David Rosenberg. He admitted to her that that one reason he’d agreed to media coverage was his dream that “somewhere on the vast internet,” a young Jewish woman who’d given up a baby for adoption in 1961 would see his picture, “his black eyes, his thick, strong hands, cleft chin, and broad smile” — and recognize her son. Even so, it would be another 7 years before his dream came true.

There was a woman, Margaret Katz, who had a matching dream of finding the son she lost in 1961, when she was a 16 year old and rather than let her marry her high school sweetheart, her parents sent her away to a maternity home on Staten Island. These stories hit “close” to home for me personally. My mom was that 16 year old unwed mother. Her high school sweetheart was my dad. They have both passed away. I sincerely believe that if my dad’s humble adoptive parents had not intervened to encourage him to forgo his dreams of a college diploma (which he had only just embarked upon) and marry her, I would have been adopted similarly. In learning about the stories of both of my parents, both of whom were adopted, the surprising realization for me has been the miracle I was not given up, that my mom wasn’t sent away by her banker dad and socialite mother to have and give me up.

Many people have heard about the Georgia Tann scandal involving the Tennessee Children’s Home in Memphis Tennessee. She was involved in my mom’s adoption. Some people may have been aware that The Salvation Army was known for its own homes for unwed mothers. My dad was born at their Door of Hope in Ocean Beach, a suburb of San Diego, California. Some people are aware of the role that Catholic Charities has played in the adoption – for profit – industry. Some may have watched the old movie, Blossoms in the Dust, about Edna Gladney who also became renown for facilitating adoptions.

In the case of David and Margaret and the new book, it is the Louise Wise agency – which I have had less awareness of except – oh yes, there were the relatively recent revelations known as “Three Identical Strangers,” about triplets separated at birth as part of a nature vs nurture study. Louise Wise is notorious for the medical and psychological analyses, hare-brained experiments on newborns, that she is pilloried for today. In the meantime, having separated the baby from the mother (who wasn’t even allowed to hold him after his birth), these infants were kept in foster care for months, while the agency extracted money from hopeful adoptive parents, who had to pay to remain on waiting lists. 

Many adoption agencies lied, as I now know Georgia Tann did in the case of my mother. They would often obscure the race of a baby. (Since most white couples wanted white babies, biracial children often languished in foster care till adulthood.) They lied about how they came by a baby (if they had snatched the baby from a Native American reservation, for instance). They also embellished the biographies of the baby’s birth parents. And this is what happened in my own mother’s case – where her poverty stricken parents were presented as unfortunate college students who got caught by pregnancy for having sex before marriage (all of that untrue and they were married but separated).

In the case of this new book’s story, Louise Wise wrote that Margaret was a gifted scholar who wanted to continue her studies at a prestigious science school (untrue), and that George was a fair-skinned, freckled college student (he was swarthy and still in high school). Couples who couldn’t conceive were so desperate for a child that they didn’t ask questions.  Also true of my own mother’s financially comfortable parents when they adopted her, only to later discover what they were told and some of the information in the surrender papers was contradictory. By then she had been in their home for a couple of years and they were not going to give her up, though they lacked complete peace of mind about her pre-adoption circumstances.

I don’t know if I will actually read this new book. I’m certain it is a good one and it is easy to find rather detailed reviews simply by doing a Google search. I’ve just read so many and I have more or less moved on from that intensive research period I went through myself, as I learned my own parents pre-adoption stories.

Folkeregister

I’ve been reading a book titled Healing the Split – Integrating Spirit Into Our Understanding of the Mentally Ill by John E Nelson MD. My youngest sister is affected by a chronic and profound mental illness, likely paranoid schizophrenia based upon her expression of this challenging condition. Therefore, I want to understand this as much as possible.

So imagine my surprise at encountering the portion I will share with you in today’s blog. When I learned the identity of my dad’s father, I discovered he was a Danish immigrant, not yet a citizen though he would become one in the 1940s and he was married (not to my dad’s mother). With that discovery, I remain forever interested in anything to do with Denmark. I am fortunate as well to now have a direct link to a cousin in this family who lives in Denmark.

The Folkeregister, is a Danish registry containing detailed birth, family history, health records and circumstances of death for virtually every person in that country. Researchers used this resource in an attempt to separate the effects of genetic endowment from the tribulations of childhood.

Therefore, the researchers started their study looking at entire generations of people with mental problems, then cross-referenced their results with dozens of traits. To isolate inherited traits from environmentally induced ones, they focused on children adopted at birth and raised by families unrelated to the natural parents. They readily determined that children adopted from families of schizophrenic parents are more likely to become schizophrenic than children adopted from non-schizophrenic parents – no matter the circumstances of their upbringing.

But when researchers compared identical and fraternal twins who were separated at birth and raised in foster homes. they found the unexpected. The concordance for schizophrenia between identical twins is less than 50%. Identical twins have exactly the same genetic structure from conception. We would expect 100% concordance – if genes are the ONLY cause of schizophrenia. Clearly, genetic influence is powerful but other forces are involved. There are indications that ongoing genetic mutations create new genetic expressions of schizophrenia.

Not all psychotic ASCs (Altered States of Consciousness) reflect genetic abnormalities or primary brain disorders. What is inherited is a predisposition for idiosyncratic thinking and for developing psychotic ASCs when under stress. If genes do predispose some people to schizophrenia, what is the final trigger that pushes the person over that edge or boundary ? We know that family and social environments profoundly affect a growing brain, which changes throughout life. So the outcome of genetic predispositions to certain ASCs might be entirely different from family to family and culture to culture.

So both good news and cautionary expectations when one has this presented in their family line.

Foster Care Brothers

Bruce DeLude and Don Crawford

Born in Batavia, New York to the Delano family. Don and his older brother Bruce were placed in the foster care system and ended up in Rochester, New York.

Don said when the Crawford family looked to adopt both boys, an agency stepped in. “They said, ‘no family can handle these two together,'” Don remembered. “That is why I got adopted by one family. He got adopted by another. Him and I should’ve been adopted together. We really should’ve.”  Don was seven. His brother was eight-and-a-half.
Now living in Ashland City, Tennessee on the Cumberland River, 67 year old Don has spent decades trying to find Bruce. He’s tried contacting records departments, no idea what city or state where his brother could live. “I thought maybe he went to war and got killed, and I’d never find him again,” said Don.
Then, one day a call came in to Don, a woman’s voice on the other end.  “She said, ‘I think you’re my father’s brother,'” said Don. “I lost it. I broke down. I really did. I mean. 60 years. Come on.”  Don’s brother, now Bruce DeLude, was in Bliss, New York just East of Lake Erie. “Now, I’m gonna meet my real brother again, and that’s awesome.”

So Don drove to Bliss and surprised his brother. Their interaction was caught in a cell phone video.

“I’m looking for Bruce Delano,” said Don.
“Well, I’m Bruce,” Bruce replied walking toward him.
“I’m Don Delano.”
“Really?” Bruce asked.”
“How are ya, man? Good to see you.”
“I just stood there in shock,” said Bruce. “Is this real? Very emotional.”
It is a reunion that almost didn’t happen.

The Forgotten Children

One of the better known adoption failure stories is that of the Harts.  Since I grew up with the surname Hart, I suppose this really caught my attention.  One may remember that a same sex couple drove their SUV off a cliff with the children inside.

Less known is the sadly typical story of their older brother.  The biological older sibling spent eight years in the Texas foster care system.  He had acted out violently when the state removed him and his siblings from their home in 2005.  He became a victim of the foster care-to-prison pipeline: separated from his brothers and sister, heavily medicated, shuffled between foster homes and shelters, institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital and placed for years in a restrictive treatment center. By age 19, he was in a Texas prison serving three years for robbery.

Sadly, “Once they get diagnosed with something like this, it’ll stay on their record and show up on their permanency reports, and it’s assumed to be true.”

He never gave up on reuniting with his siblings.  He didn’t learn of his siblings deaths until he was released from prison in October 2018, more than six months after their fate had been widely reported in the news.

“That was the last little hope I had in my life, you know? I had that hope that I was gonna see my little brothers again; one day we gonna kick it,” he said. “I used to cry sometimes thinking what we could be doing, growing up.”

Days after he was separated from his siblings for the last time, the 10-year-old tried to commit suicide by strangling himself with a belt at a therapeutic foster home.

Siblings placed together have fewer “non-progress” placement disruptions for reasons such as incompatibility with the caregiver.  Research has linked changes in caregivers to child delinquency, even for children not in foster care.  Those who experience two or more changes in their primary caregiver before age 10 are significantly more likely to engage in serious violence during adolescence — including homicide, robbery and aggravated assault — than those who do not experience multiple caregiver changes.

There’s no real sustained public awareness about these child welfare systems — how broken they are, and what they do to kids.  Sharing this story is my attempt to raise awareness a little more.