The Legacy of Georgia Tann

Stolen Babies Movie Poster

I was reminded today of Georgia Tann’s belief that taking babies from poor families and placing them in wealthier circumstances improved their outcome. Totally not a provable theory but never the less. An adoptee was asking about the effects of changes in socio-economic mobility in subsequent generations for the children and grandchildren of adoptees. I watched the Mary Tyler Moore movie about Georgia Tann on YouTube one night during my roots discovery journey in 2017.

I responded from my own circumstances as the child of adoptee parents (both) – My mom was a Georgia Tann adoptee and would have grown up in poverty had she remained with her original mother’s family. That is what I have been informed by genetic family I’m in reunion with. Her adoptive parents were a banker and his socialite wife. My dad’s socio-economic situation was relatively the same as it would have been if he remained with his natural mother (he was adopted out of The Salvation Army). His adoptive parents had a home based entrepreneurial business and never had any wealth but managed to buy a house. We witnessed two very different socio-economic worlds growing up. My dad was union at a refinery. My mom went to work while we were yet young. We didn’t have a lot growing up but enough. Both of my parents got “some” inheritance when their adoptive parents died. Some is locked up in a trust to be divided by 5 grandchildren when my mom’s adoptive brother dies (generation skipping). I think our perspective was broadly balanced. But whatever residual economic improvement was slight, if any.

Today, I found an interesting LINK> blog – Until We Learn from the Legacy of Georgia Tann, We’re Doomed to Repeat It by (I believe) Rebecca Vahle who is the admin for the “Family to Family Support Network. She describes her own self this way – an adoptive parent since 1998, the founder of a hospital-based adoption support program since 2004, a radio host hearing 5 years of stories of people impacted since the era of Georgia Tann. In addition, I have trained thousands of nurses in adoption-sensitive care in Women’s Centers around the country. I have heard stories coast-to-coast from mothers, fathers, adoptees, birth mothers, birth fathers and adoptive families, and I have seen first-hand the invasion of technology in this process. Yes, it has been an invasion. The Internet has poured gasoline on the embers of Georgia Tann’s legacy and until we address what it happening, I worry her legacy of corruption will continue.

She refers to the books by Lisa Wingate – the fictional but accurate Before We Were Yours I have read (and it was riveting for me). She then offers perspectives on “Why & How Georgia Tann’s Legacy Continues.” You can read through them at the link. Her bottom line was this – “When couples don’t know what they don’t know and, like myself, find out too late that their adoption placement was saturated with unethical tactics and financial profits for the agency.” She adds – We cannot look away, justify behaviors, ignore the impact of the Internet and discount the shadow of Georgia Tann that continues to fall across portions of the infant adoption industry. 

Understandably, she is promoting her own efforts of providing a hospital-based standardized program of training for healthcare professionals. This blog is not a recommendation – just bringing awareness only.

The Problem With Surrogacy

The question was posed – I have a friend who cannot carry a baby to term. She produces eggs just fine, and a friend of ours who is like a sister to her offered to be a surrogate for free for her. There is no power dynamic at play and they’ve been non biological “sisters” their entire lives. Is this still problematic and should I try to talk them both out of it?

The answer is simple. Ever since I came to understand about in-utero bonding and mother child separation trauma, I have been against surrogacy. I know that there are many couples who chose this. In fact, among my in-laws, this was chosen for similar reasons.

A few more thoughts – from a mother – I grew my children in my body. I didn’t grow them to give them to someone else. Yes, I work, but at the end of the day, they know who mom is. Not some confusing arrangement of mom and “not really mom but kind of mom.” My children did not suffer separation trauma at birth. THAT is the difference.

Follow-up question – I know a lot of working mothers who aren’t constantly around their children, may I ask how is this different? Answer – Take some time to research the primal wound (there is a good book on this by Nancy Newton Verrier). It is not about being around a child constantly. It is that in those moments where we, as a species, reach out to our mother for comfort and nurture, we know on a primal level who that is, and it is the person who carried us and birthed us. That’s why separation after birth trauma exists for adoptees, children who were put into the system at birth and orphans. They may have a mother figure, but it is not who birthed them.

Read up on why surrogacy contracts exist and the numbers of people whose relationships break apart because of surrogacy and jealousy. Even sisters. Then what? The baby is away from who the baby thinks is mother.

The best we can do is chose not to incubate babies for other people as this will traumatize them. A fact proven by MRI is that babies separated from their mothers due to the need for them to be placed in the NICU, as well as in adoption and in surrogacy, will suffer brain changes. The difference with the NICU example, is that the parents aren’t deliberately causing that brain change. It is due to a medical necessity.

Clueless response – Every one gets separated from the body in which they grew, so I’m not understanding. Answer – Technically yes, when you are born, you are no longer physically connected to the body of person who carried while you grew. But then that person doesn’t generally go away – except in cases like adoption, surrogacy, etc.

Argument continues because the two women in question are “like sisters.” Response – They are “like sisters”, not actual family. You can be like whatever. Doesn’t change blood. That said, the child deserves their mother – ACTUAL mother. Who would be on the birth certificate? The egg donor or the birth parent? A child deserves to know their biology and this is just messy.

Another thing to consider is that their “inseparable” relationship may change drastically after the baby is born. It’s pretty common for infertile APs (or infertile people who use surrogates) to develop an awful case of fragility once they have that baby in their arms. It’s in fact the main reason that the vast majority of “open adoptions” close within the first 5 years.

One last point because this has a lot of comments but I think this is worth sharing – How would your friend feel is this pregnancy killed her “sister”? Or if her “sister” had to terminate to keep herself alive? What if her “sister” carries to term, but has lifelong affects on her health that diminish her quality of life? No one should be using another person’s body like this. Pregnancy is not some magical, easy thing. It can be incredibly hard on a person’s body. It can kill people or leave them disabled for life.

Finally, just some background on why the question was asked – The “sister” is insisting. She says her experience being pregnant was “magical” and that she would be pregnant all the time if she could (but she’s also done growing her family, as she doesn’t want to raise any more of her own kids). She said it would “be an honor” to be able to be the person to help her sister grow her family, too. They’re both in their early 30s. I know they’ve spoke about her health being #1 priority during pregnancy and they’re both pro-choice.

We hang out as a group often and I am simply an observer in their conversations about it, as I do not want to speak on things of which I’m ill informed. I asked this question because I want to have some valuable knowledge about the subject the next time we get together, instead of just sitting there listening to something go down that could possible end up being catastrophic. So far, they’re completely on the same page. We all love each other very much and wouldn’t want anything negative to happen to the others. If that means an abortion needs to happen, then she is okay with that.

One last thought – You cannot make life long promises that the “sister” will remain in this child’s life. I had a family member who did this with her best friend. After a lifetime of friendship, they have not spoken since the baby was born. And if their friendship ends, the child will always wonder why they were handed off, like it was nothing. I suggest that you not support your “friends” baby swap. Traumatizing an infant should outweigh any of their selfish wants. Advise to your friend who can’t carry to term to get therapy and deal with it.

>Link< worth reading – “I was an altruistic surrogate and am now against ALL surrogacy.”

Shonda Rhimes – Adoptive Mother

Shonda Rhimes and daughter, Harper

I read that Shonda Rhimes said to Time magazine, “I don’t think anybody has has kids is fully present at work.” She goes on to say “The idea of pretending that we have no other life is some sort of fantasy out of the 1950s, where the little lady stayed at home.” How could someone who’s responsible for at least one small, vulnerable human – responsible in a real way, not in a ’50s-dad way – ever be fully present when that child is out of earshot ? My kind of woman, I wanted to know more, especially when I learned that she adopted her daughters.

We don’t watch commercial TV networks or streaming content and so, I really don’t know anything about Shonda Rhimes work in film (we are stuck in dvd land for the time being). That she is famous or inspiring in general – and she is both – there is still the sticky issue that troubles me the most – separating any baby from the mother who’s womb that baby grew in but it is going to happen and I don’t see adoption ending as a practice any time soon.

Shonda says it was 9/11 that convinced her that she was lacking the experience of motherhood. She says that “Nine months and two days after 9/11, my daughter was born. I named her after Harper Lee. Now I can’t remember what I did with my time before she got here.” Shonda is now mom to three daughters – Harper in 2002, she adopted daughter Emerson in 2012, and welcomed daughter Beckett in 2013 via surrogate. (None of which changes the nature of my own concerns). 

She admits that, “There is no such thing as balance. That I will say right away,” as she told Business Insider in 2017. “If you are a working mother you are often not there as much as you’d like to be. I said this once somewhere, that if I’m standing on set watching some amazing thing being shot, then I am missing my daughter’s science fair. Or if I’m at my daughter’s dance recital, then I miss Sandra Oh’s very last day, and very last scene being shot on Grey’s Anatomy… Those are the trade-offs.”

Hard Times Don’t Come Around No More

Both of my parents were Great Depression babies – born 1935 and 1937. For that fact alone, it isn’t a wonder they both ended up adopted, though the reasons are much more complicated than that. But certainly, financial hardship in the lives of my two original grandmothers is the key factor.

So this is on my mind this morning after watching Angela’s Ashes on dvd last night and being reminded of the song – Hard Times Don’t Come Around No More written by Stephen Foster and published in 1854. Some of the lyrics – While we all sup sorrow with the poor, Many a days you have lingered around my cabin door, There are frail forms fainting at the door, Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say, There’s a pale weeping maiden who toils her life away, With a worn heart whose better days are o’er: Though her voice would be merry, ’tis sighing all the day, Oh! Hard times come again no more.

So what was it like in the 1930s ?, was a question on my mind this morning. The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in modern history at the time it occurred. It profoundly affected the daily life of American families in ways large and small. The bleakest point was about 1933 or 34.

The life of a child in the 1930s was very different than a child’s life today. With the Great Depression, children and their families were greatly impacted—millions lived in poverty and had very little to eat, let alone money to spare for entertainment. Times were tough everywhere, and an additional mouth to feed was a burden. Certainly, I believe that both of my grandmothers encountered this mind set when they were seeking aid with their newborn babies.

Food was scarce for a lot of families and many children suffered from malnutrition. As we were watching children die in Angela’s Ashes my husband said, it is the lack of nutrition that makes it impossible for them to fight off diseases.

My maternal grandmother’s childhood family did live on a farm that was not ravaged by the Dust Bowl being west of Memphis in the rural countryside. They probably did grow a variety of crops and raised small amounts of livestock to survive. During the Depression, casseroles and meals like creamed chipped beef on toast, chili, macaroni and cheese, and creamed chicken on biscuits were popular. Jello was actually considered a cheap protein source (had to believe it would be viewed as that – one serving only has 1.6 grams of protein and the equivalent of 4-1/2 tsp of sugar !!) But Jello still found its way into many cookbooks during the Depression. Potlucks were often organized by churches to share food and provide a cheap form of social entertainment. The board games Scrabble and Monopoly were introduced during the 1930s. Both of which my own family has played recently.

Economic struggle caused mothers to leave the home for work and children to leave school for work as a breakdown in child labor law enforcement occurred. My paternal grandmother was put to work in the Rayon mills in Asheville NC to help support her family. A quarter of the US workforce was unemployed. Those that were lucky enough to have steady employment often saw their wages cut or their hours reduced to part-time. With record unemployment, children competed for jobs with their elders to help contribute to their family’s income, often forgoing further schooling. Many children were technically self-employed, collecting junk to sell or doing odd jobs for neighbors.

The stress of financial strain took a psychological toll—especially on men who were suddenly unable to provide for their families. The national suicide rate rose to an all-time high in 1933. Marriages became strained, though many couples could not afford to separate. Some men deserted their families out of embarrassment or frustration: This was sometimes called a “poor man’s divorce.” So, was this what my paternal grandfather chose when faced with yet another child on the way ? Is this why he failed to show up for my grandmother and mom when they returned to Memphis after her birth in Virginia (where she was sent away to avoid embarrassment for her father, even though she really was a married woman).

Disadvantaged families couldn’t afford much for their children, so most of their clothes were cast offs and children often went barefoot. Most middle-income boys wore t-shirts with overalls and girls wore blouses and plain dresses. Both would have one pair of shoes and an outfit for special occasions. The Depression-era motto was: “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.” I definitely saw these effects in the lives of my in-laws (both born in 1921) and on my dad’s adoptive parents.

Supporting Mothers and Children

It is not surprising that more women are delaying motherhood in our current time.  It can be difficult to find the kind of support that gives a woman confidence in becoming a mom.  In my mom’s group, we also have women who chose to have children without a spouse, having given up on finding the quality of person they felt would be a supportive parent.

After I met my husband, I told my doctor that he was the kind of person I would be willing to become a mother again with and after ten years of marriage, we made the decision to add parenthood to our life as a couple.  Previously, I had a child who I still adore and found there was no support for myself as a single mother after I felt compelled to divorce her father.  So, I was understandably reluctant to go into motherhood again but this time it worked out.  There are always bumps along the way in any relationship but we have made it through them so far and our two sons are almost grown.

70% of all moms are working mothers.  25% are the primary breadwinner in their family.  Almost half of all two parent families find both parents employed outside the home.  The realities of modern life are – it is difficult to support any family on one employment option.  And our society only cares about the unborn and not children once they are born when a woman has to support her family without any financial assistance from a partner.  That I think is a real tragedy.

In a Pew Research Center analysis – there were 9 million mothers living with a child younger than 18 without a spouse or partner. Solo motherhood is particularly common among black mothers (56% are in this category). By comparison, 26% of Hispanic moms, 17% of white moms and 9% of Asian moms are solo parents. (Solo parenthood is far less common among fathers: 7% of dads are raising a child without a spouse or partner in the home.)

For my own self, Pro-Life would be full support for parents raising children if the available resources fall below what is adequate to provide the basic necessities.  Until then, I believe we fail the morality test as a society.