There is a need to retell some adoption reform history that was lost because it was re-Internet...and because I have been asked: "What were 'you people' doing for 30 years? Why are things still so bad or worse?"
As many now know...CUB formed in 1976 by Lee Campbell. This history is available at: The Adoption History Project and is worthwhile recommended reading.
In 1980I was one of five co-founders of the NJ based group Origins: An organization for mothers who had lost children to adoption. Though we were all memebrs and supporters of CUB, we saw adoption as a woman's issue. We were baby-boomers who had lost our children during in the prior decade — the 60's when we were teens and young adults. Our children were now barley teens themselves, some still in grade school and we were filled with overwhelming pain to know there well-being.
Adoptees were searching, but many of us could not wait until our children found us...hearing of the pain not knowing during early adolescence had caused them. Some of us had medical information we wanted very much to give to share. In addition, we heard too often of children who remained in foster care, lived in one parent homes as a result of divorce or death of one of their adoptive parents... were abused or died in infancy. We could not just sit around and wait to be found, and then have them ask: "Why didn't you ever try to find me?"
And so began what came to be known as "minor search." It was very controversial even within the search and support movement. And the concerns were well-funded: it brought heat on all underground search operations. In 1981 Lucy Pare, one of the founders of Origins-NJ was set up by adoptive parents pretending to be birth parents.
This led to a Grand Jury investigation into illegal search and major TV news coverage, including an investigative series on NBC "Whose Child is It?" with promos of children on swings being stalked, by those ready to snatch them away...and repeated images of Lucy receiving money in a school yard like a drug dealer.
Rather than take it lying down and defensively, Origins-NJ called our own press conference and went on the offense telling our — hitherto unknown — side of the story. Joining us at our press conference was attorney Harold Cassidy who had led the battle for Mary Beth Whiteheads and outlawed paid surrogacy in New Jersey.
Just as we seek to have our children the "times" in which we relinquished, we need to all be compassionate of those of us who dared to speak out not long after those same times that deemed us powerless and vulnerable to being pressure to relinquish...no matter what we called ourselves!
We called ourselves birthmothers with "in-your-face" stand-up- and-be-counted pride, just as some adoptees call themselves bastards! It was better than what we had been called - or being ignored and kept totally invisible as had been the case prior. We went public in all our local newspapers for all our neighbors to see because we felt it was importna tto show the world the face of a birthmother...that we were no longer frightened teenagers or crack whores!
The following is the statement I read at the press conference held by Origins, NJ 1981, quoted on NBC and PBS news:
We have chosen to be here in Princeton on this day and at this time because we believe a Grand Jury investigation is about to commence here in the Criminal Justice building as a result of an investigation by the Attorney General's office. ORIGINS believes this investigation to be ill conceived and ill advised. We believe that the Attorney General's Office might make better use of their resources to investigate the inequities of the adoption system and to question whether the system really serves to solve any problems or simply creates new ones. The Attorney General's Office seems only to care that a law MAY have been broken, not about WHY it may have been broken. We hope to explain why at this press conference.
Adoption was originally created to find families for homeless orphans. It has changed over the years to meet the demands of childless married couples who can afford to pay thousands of dollars for healthy infants. ORIGINS believes that both private and public funds that are currently being spent to separate mothers and children sbould be spent instead in trying to find ways to protect and preserve this most precious unit: a mother and her child.
ORIGINS is a nationwide organization for women who have lost children to adoption. We were founded in order to recognize the unique emotional needs of birthmothers and to help them deal with their continuing guilt, anguish and concern for their lost children.
We surrendered our children not because they were unwanted or unloved, but because adoption was presented to us as the ONLY "loving I mature" option a single mother could take. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of birthmothers are neither "bag ladies or princesses" as many adoptees fantasize and the media would oft times have you believe. Rather, we are real, live human beings. We are the lady next door with all the kids, the executive, or your child's first grade school teacher. We did not abuse or abandon our children. We gave up our children as an act of love, believing that we could not provide an adequate home for them at that time and because we were pressured by family, social workers I clergy and society's mores.
Those of us who have continued to love and have concern for our lost children are tired of being presented as women living in shadows who desire protection and anonymity. We are all here today to show the world that we care more about the welfare of our children than our own protection and personal. safety. Those of us who care, likewise resent being presented as selfish threats to our children and their families if we wish to seek them.
While contact by the birthmother can be upsetting to adoptive parents, if such contacts are both made and received in a spirit of forgiveness, love and sensitivity they can present an opportunity for growth for all parties involved. Adoptive parents who are willing to communicate with birthmothers can further cement the loving connections they have established with their children by presenting them with the knowledge of their heritage. Nothing destroy a family built of trust, honesty and love. Birthparents recognize the adoptive parents as the "real" parents in every sense of the word. We are not seeking to regain custody of our children. To our knowledge, there has never been a reported case of a missing child in which a birthparent was even suspected, as has been suggested by notorious media reports such as the recent NBC news coverage of this case.
Birthparents who institute the search process are not intruding into the lives of their children and their families for selfish needs, but rather are making themselves available to alleviate the adoptees' inevitable fear of rejection. We do not regard our children as "property" to be stolen, fought over or owned. Nothing would be more tragic than birthmothers and adoptive parents to be at war with one another, when in fact we share the most precious bond—love and concern for the same child.
There are bad laws and good laws. In a free society, laws are what the people make them. ORIGINS believes that the laws surrounding adoption and sealed records are based on fear and ignorance. It is important to understand WHY people might choose to break bad laws in order to decide how and why the laws should be changed. As long as there are sealed records, adoptees and birthparents will use alternative methods to search for one another.
We believe it is UNCONSCIONABLE to deny ANY child access to his origins, and to ANY mother the right to confirm the well being of her surrendered child.
We admire and support courageous people like Lucy Pare for acting out of moral conviction. For us to face the injustices of adoption takes courage and causes pain to ourselves, but it is the only way to heal the wounds adoption has caused.
The following is the statement read by Harold Cassidy, attorney for Origins-NJ:
There is a need for US in society to learn to know the women who have come to call themselves "birthparents." They are women who know that a child is a part of his mother forever. They are women who know that separation can never sever the bond between them. They know what it means to love a child and to place the child's welfare above all else in life. They know the pain of wanting what is best for the child they love while society tells them that what is best is that they never see that child again. They know the ultimate act of love. They know the ultimate sacrifice. They know the neverending grief of being continually denied what every portion of their souls demands: the knowledge that their children are well.
We. as a society have perpetrated the cruelest deception. What we have believed to be altruistic has been, in reality, destructive. We have sought to create without any understanding of hew much we destroy in the process.
Birthparents now know that separating a mother and her child is not in the best interests of either of them. Their enormous sacrifice was based on society 's misconceptions. The adoptees' sense of rejection is the most painful irony of all: what was done out of love is mistaken for a lack of it.
For us to truly learn what a birthparent is, is to learn that we as a society are hypocritical. We urge surrender, then later rebuke it. We make laws that we purport to be for the welfare of our children, then ignore or suppress their pleas to satisfy the most fundamental and compelling need they have: to know their mothers.
What we must understand is that we have held imprisoned an important part of these women. They must be made whole again. This task will not be difficult when we understand who they are.
They are our mothers.
They are our sisters.
They are our daughters.
We have made them a sacrificed minority. We must have the courage to learn to know them and the pain that has been inflicted upon them. When we achieve this, we shall know that they act out of love, and we needn't fear them.
Tomorrow - History Lesson Part II: 1987 and the NYC candlelight vigil for Little Lisa.