Those who have followed my blogging are aware that often repeated themes I have written about are:
- - building bridges of understanding within the adoption reform/reconstruction movement
- - overlooking the places we disagree and focus with teamwork on the areas of agreement
- - overcoming divisiveness and in-fighting that stagnates us and saps our energy from being focused where it needs to be - on our real enemies.
When I began my journey, we were "radical" in simply speaking out publicly in the 1970s and 80's as mothers who lost children to adoption. Our main focus was search and reunion - finding our kids and making sure they were safe. As relatively young mothers of young children, that made search a controversial issue. Many within the movement feared we were hurting the entire movement by assisting minor search.
That side, "birthmothers" came into the movement - POLITICALLY - as the women's auxiliary. We supported "open records" because that is what our collective "kids" wanted and we, being loving, caring mothers - not to mention mothers filled with GUILT - were there to help in any way we could to support their efforts to assuage that guilt. After all, we had signed on the dotted line and cast them into the abyss.
Only Carole Anderson, past president of CUB dared to suggest that we seek bilateral "open records." So ahead of her time, she got little support and the idea died with her. I am not sure now exactly what Carole had envisioned. It seemed she was seeking total openness for all parties - that they would know their original identity and we would likewise know their current identity. But perhaps I and others misunderstood and she she meant that we all had a right to the oBC - after all, Carole was a mother who lost a child to adoption, a social worker, and an attorney and so would be very cognizant of the legal issues.
I retreated back to the safety of being a cheerleader for adoptees, believing that to oppose a bill that did not include us bilaterally, as Carole wanted us to do, would harm adoptees' chances of ever getting what they sought.
But has it? In preparing my presentation on Equal Access for the AAC two things were clarified for me:
1. I had been preaching the use of the terms "Equal Access" since 1989 when I first presented it at an AAC and made the bright pink buttons I still have on my website
2. Despite mothers politely not seeking parity in regards to the OBC that under non-adoption conditions would be accessible by us as the mother of a child we bore...despite that, how success has the adoptees' quest for their rights been?
FOUR states have achieved total equality in 56 years of seeking openness and equality. Four others have partial access with caveats, conditions, restrictions and compromises.
If it aint equal, it aint equal. You cannot compromise equality! Ask the Gay Rights Movement. They know this and they are very successful - they have just gotten the third state to give full equality since just 2003.
They understand that Civil union is not marriage. Domestic partnership is not marriage. These compromises deny same sex couples benefits such as marriage tax credit
Equal is equal. It cannot be compromised. Separate but equal is not equal. Brown vs Bd of Ed proved that.
Now...back to the AAC. Here am I an equal rights warrior since at the very least 1989, listening to the former Senator of Maine, Paula Benoit, a forthright and very eloquent equal rights activist who has formed the Council for Adoption Reform Education (CARE). In both her plenary session as well as the follow-up workshop, Paula was eager to share with us methods of getting our points across to legislators: use quick bullet points and keep it all FACT focused. Separate STORIES from fact!
Yet, despite this plea to keep equality focused on fact and leave out the "story" aspect, access to medical records gets muddled in with long lists of genetic ailments. Alex Haley is quoted about our "deep hunger to know our heritage." Moving, but isn't that "story" rather than fact?
Do ya hear the gay rights movement talking about how natural homosexuality is? That it has been around since the beginning of recored time? No way!
Paula illustrated her point by reminding us how our Moms got us to eat our green peas when we were little tykes. Her point was totally lost on me as she explained that our mothers did NOT rely on the fact of how healthy the peas were; how nutritious and vital for our health. Instead, they played on our emotions by telling us about kids dying of starvation. Perhaps I missed her saying that this worked on our very young minds but it doesn't work on intelligent adults? Or perhaps her point was that our opposition plays on emotions such as fear?
We need not fight back dirty as the NCFA does because we have FACT on our side and we have morality, equality, transparency, truth, honesty, justice, human rights on our side!
When Paula concluded and opened the mikes for Q & A, I (impromptu, and in hindsight, not in the best prepared statement I've ever made) attempted to point out that true equality meant access for all persons separated by adoption, not just adoptees, as we are denied access to OBC's that under any other non-adoption circumstances would belong to us as the mother of a child we bore.
Having spoken rather spontaneously, I realize in hindsight it may have sounded as if I were suggesting that *Origins-USA - which I mentioned being VP of communications of, and which of course still carries a past reputation of being extremist - would oppose legislation that did not include our right to access, which is NOT the case. And so I opened a big can of of whoop-ass.
Judy Foster followed me to the mike and spoke of COMMUNIST efforts to make everything all equal for everyone. Judy is with NJ-CARE. New Jersey is my home state and NY is where I relinquished. I have written legislators in both states ad nauseam and testified at hearings.
Judy's comment was loudly applauded, echoed by Fred Greeman, and Paula replied with a soliloquy of why it was the adoptee and only the adoptee who lost their identity. After all, we all knew who we were, and only they do not. Shades of past history for me - for that argument is exactly what Carole Anderson faced and why we retreated.
I am older, wiser, stronger and see things a bit differently from a position of 30 years of hindsight working in adoption reform. The communist comment bit; it stung and it hurt. More importantly, neither that comment, nor the emphasis of adoptees identity - which BTW is S-T-O-R-Y - are conducive to mutuality of support.
Looking at it very pragmatically, adoptees need mothers who lost our children to adoption - POLITICALLY. We are pitted against one another by the opposition.
We need to all be on the same team. We need - not when seeking legislation but between ourselves - recognition that we have all suffered incomprehensible losses...
Mothers who lost the only the child they ever had, lost a major part of their female identity. Are they a mother? How do they answer when asked the very common question - do you have nay children? No matter what they answer there is a knot in their stomach.
We have all lost. Some of us have lost and gotten some "replacement" - another child, other parents. And some of us have just lost.
But we cannot compare and get into who suffers more or totally disregard that we too have suffered a loss - not JUST the adoptee. Because to do so is divisive and shoots the goal in the foot. We need to be all on the same team and help one another - with RESPECT.
Adoptees need us and our support for equal access because we are pitted against them. It is strategically, politically important to work to diminish as much alienation and marginalization of us as possible in order to get and maintain our support.
FACTUALLY - we lost access to the OBC. We will not oppose legislation that does not recognize that, but we will seek recognition of it in all we do to see EQUALITY and restoration of rights abrogated ADOPTION SEPARATED PEOPLE.
Among the arguments I have heard against the principle of equal rights for ALL - is that after all, we signed - no matter how under duress that may have been - adoptees didn't. That kept me filled with guilt enough to step back for many, many years.
But here's the bottom line FACT, folks:
The birth of our children took place - by law - PRIOR To our relinquishment of our rights. Therefore, a right to the OBC was not signed away and should not be denied us.
You need us. Include us. Divided we fall right into the hands of our opposition.
In heartfelt solidarity... and in search of one common goal: Equality for all!
* NOTE: Origins-USA will be issuing a formal position statement on equal access shortly.