Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The AAC Part II: Rekindling Long Standing Issues...Whose Rights?

The AAC for me, brought me from my safer place in Origins-USA, into a larger arena I had protected myself from, and rekindled much reflection.

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.
It is sad for me to live through times of discord within, though I am aware it is part and parcel of a grass roots movements growth process -- the splintering of groups and the formation of what appear at first to be extremist factions. If we step back and look at history we see that the radical leftwing of each movement actually help greatly to make the moderate position far more acceptable. The Black Panthers during the civil rights era are a perfect example. I know this intellectually, but it is still painful to be in the midst of emotionally painful struggles of ideologies....specially when for the first many decades of my involvement in adoption issues, there seemed to be more cohesiveness and mutual focus.

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.


Lorraine Dusky said...

Yo Mirah, right on. That's the unPC argument about us but...it's the right one. We lost the right to the OBC's before the relinquishment--now why is that? It was a paper we should have been given...And because we signed the relinquishment, no matter under what duress, we are considered the underclass in this fight for open records.

Lorraine from firstmotherforum.com

suz said...

I hadnt even gotten to that point in your post when I thought "wait, I lost my identity to. I lost my child. Maybe its not the same but I did lose my identity. I lost right to the mother I was supposed to be, I lost her name, her OBC, etc."...and then I see you made that point in your own words.

Excellent points/post Mirah.

maryanne said...

I have been involved in adoption reform as long as Mirah, and still see it from a different point of view. I did not agree with Carole Anderson and still do not agree that the issues of adoptee access to the original or amended birth certificate and birthmother access to either are identical or a matter of equal rights. "Equal rights" in this context is about what we non-adopted people already have; access to OUR OWN original birth certificates. That is where adoptees and ourselves are not equal. Other considerations may valid, but are not about equal rights to the same thing.

Carole Anderson was arguing for birthmother access to the amended certificate, so that they could search. That is a search issue and has nothing to do with identity, a whole other ballgame.

I don't think that is what Mirah is asking for, but am not sure. I think that birthmothers should be able to get the original birth certificate, but would not tie this to adoptee access,as it is not the same thing.

Mothers whose kids are in foster care before being surrendered can get the OBC. Mine was sent to me without even requesting it. But it never meant much to me since I did not have my child. When my son's adoptive mother years later said he would like it, I sent it, did not even make a copy. To me it is just a piece of paper, not my identity and not my son, plus it belongs to him, not me.

I am completely comfortable supporting legislation that only gives OBC access to the adoptee. Always was, always will be. I do not see not making access go both ways as a deciding factor in why this legislation has been so hard to get passed. Yes, birthmother support helps, and saying we were never promised anonymity or anything else. I am always happy to testify to that fact. But I would not make access for birthmothers to any document a condition of support for adoptee rights.

Adoptees ARE the only ones who have lost their original identity. The things that we mothers have lost cannot be restored by a piece of paper, and since we were all adults or at least at the age of reason at the time and adoptees were not, our situations and needs are much more complicated and harder to address than simple OBC access.

I continue to believe that adding access for birthmothers to adoptee rights legislation muddies the waters rather than making things equal. I have no problem with referring to "adoption separated people" or with letting birthmothers get the original birth certificate any time they request it, but do not see those two separate issues as the same thing to be treated in the same legislation.

I still feel this is an honorable point of view; not motivated by guilt but by looking at all the issues involved.

Amyadoptee said...

Yes I do believe that moms deserve access to the OBC and their relinquishment forms. I have been arguing with others on this issue, but the legislators can not even believe that the mothers want access to that stuff.

Lorraine Dusky said...

On some level I agree with Maryanne, that adoptee access to original birth certificates is the crucial but it bothers me that even the very idea of birth mothers' rights are completely ignored. Yet we are asked unending support and work (as the leaders of reform in various states are so often birth mothers) to adoptee access to original birth certificates. Even a nod to the concept of reciprocity would be appreciated.

The Carter-era reforms in the 1980s (that were quashed) contained a provision that gave birth mothers the information about who adopted our children were astounding, and so where did that idea of openness go?

Gone, gone, gone....

AdoptAuthor said...

sorry i was not clear enough. I am speaking of the OBC - not the so-called "amended" - falsified - BC. We have no legal "right" to that. But as a mother, I am denied the same right to my first daughter's OBC that i have to the OBCs of the other children I birthed.

We are, of course, also seeking an end to falsified BCs going forward. it is the only way to have complete openness, honesty, transparency in adoption.

I did specifically say that Origins-USA has no intention of opposing legislation that does not include us.

I never implied, nor would I ever, that a copy of our child's OBC would rectify our "situation" in any way. I am merely stating the fact that we are denied access to something mothers in non-adoption situations are not denied. There is no reason to deny us the OBC as it does NOT in any way identify anything to do with the adoption or violate the "sanctity" of the newly formed family. Same for all our agency records and relinquishment papers etc - all of what is prior to the adoption should be ours.

I am not now and never have been involved in writing legislation, nor do I intend to. I know of no attempting to introduce legislation that ties mothers' rights into adoptee rights. We are more focused on family preservation.

Actually, my entire post was more about how we speak to one another - either with respect and an understanding that we have all lost and suffer - or not.

I feel I have personally grown (evolved?) and experienced great empowerment in this area. I no longer see myself as not deserving of my rights, and like to have my loss recognized and not totally ignored - especially by those I am helping obtain their rights and who need my help. It would just be NICE...and in their own self-interest not to alienate us. IMHO

Of course, I've been called a "pinko" before...and an idealist, among many worse things. :-)

AdoptAuthor said...

PS I am sure you are aware, MaryAnne, that whatever you chose to do or not do with the OBC you had in your possession was a *CHOICE* and has nothing to do with legal access to documents.

Lorraine gets it. I am tired of being put-down while being asked to support "their" legislation.

When writing to support legislation I will let lawmakers know that we are in the same boat in some ways - that we are both denied access. It would help, IMO, if more of us approached this from that standpoint so we do not appear to be kicking one another a lifeboat to "protect" ourselves from one another.

Madeline Freundlich in the Winter 1997/Spring 1998 Decree said:

"The concept of 'competing intersts' has been central to much of the legal analysis of adult adoptees' rights to access..."

She goes on to observe the assumption "that adoptees, birthparents and adoptive parents hold important but conflicting rights..."

***Recognizing that we were screwed too in regard to access of records ends that NCFA view!***

Freundlich says: "Research has shown repeatedly that members of the adoption triad have mutual, not antagonistic, interests related to adult adoptee access to identifying information."

Let's act like it!

Karen Lynn said...

Hi Mirah,

The AAC conference would have been lonely without you - there are so few people in the US who understand this POV - that mothers who have lost a child to adoption through no fault of their own, when society provided no more than a tragic choice, had no alternative.

As I said in a mothers' support group at the conference, it is a reproductive right to keep your children (outside of abuse). We may have been blind-sided by the feminist struggle in the 70s-80s for "choice" to bear a child or not. Now, if we lack rights to bear and raise our own children, we are similar to Chinese women under the one-child policy.

If that makes me a radical, so be it. But I don't think so. It certainly doesn't make me a Communist!

Characterizing our drive to equality as Communist as Judy Foster did, is absurd, and to put it far too politely, thoughtless rhetoric.

I suggest that we do not want equality with adoptees, we want equality with all other mothers who did not lose their children to adoption. I fear that making it seem that we want equality with adoptees pits us against adoptees and therefore our own children.

BTW, on June 1 2009, when Ontario's records are opened, more than half of all Canadian mothers whose children were adopted will have the right to a copy of their adult adopted children's OBC and ABC. It started in BC in 1995, then Newfoundland, Alberta and Ontario. The country did not go Communist as a result. Yes, we have the nasty DV that will be unethically applied toabout 2% of all who request their information. We will work hard to get rid of it, and it can be done. In 2003 Western Australia dropped their DV.

Thank you for your wisdom and passion Mirah.


AdoptAuthor said...

Yes, Karen. We want equal to mothers who did not experience adoption loss, just as adoptees seek equality with non-adoptees. In that sense we both want the same thing.

Adoption separated people should not be discriminated against and treated less equal to non-adoption separated people in regards to access to our own records.

Both of us wanting the same thing is a good thing - EQUALITY - IMO. It puts on a level plane - and removes the false notion of us being in opposition to one another.

AdoptAuthor said...

Correction: Madelyn Freundlich

Anonymous said...

"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."

The response to this crap should be that it is only the mother who lost her child! This loss should also be recognized and respected. The adoptee did not lose a child.

I am all for equality: Natural mother and adoptee both having access to OBC *and* ABC. I am glad I live in an enlightened province and had the legal right to apply for my son's ABC as soon as he turned 19.

Evelyn Robinson said...

In 1988 in South Australia the Adoption Act was passed which means that when the adopted child becomes an adult (18) they have the right to their original birth certificate and any documents pertaining to the adoption, which gives them the name of their original mother and usually other information which they can use to try to trace her. At the same time, mothers whose children were adopted, when their child turns 18 have access to the amended birth certificate which gives them the new name that the child was given after adoption and other information which helps them to trace their child, Yes, we too have vetoes on early adoptions but not recent ones. I can't understand why this can't be the case everywhere. It works here and has been working now for 21 years!!

AdoptAuthor said...

Thanks,Evelyn. Always great to have your input.

My cynical answer to why it is so hard here is out-of-control capitalism and ethnocentricity in this country. Entrepenaurship witout regulation and a strong belief that if one can afford "it" they deserve t have "it" - even if that "it" is another human being. When you start out with that attitude, it is very difficult to accept that human being you bought and own as a separate human being with rights of their own.

Those who profit from child redistribution do so better under the cloak of secrecy and our gvt protects them and their "right" to make $$ at others' expense, loss and pain!!

Clearly, if adoption truly served the best interest of those adopted it would be a last resort and truly open and transparent. But there is no profit in family preservation.

Karen Lynn said...

Evelyn & Mirah,

IMO, the state and capitalists cling to secrecy because it is the opposite of transparency. Secrecy enables secret transactions in adoption, it keeps the public in confusion/mythology about the real nature and consequences of adoption.

Imagine adoption with complete transparency, even beyond openness (open adoption, open records). I would be almost completely impossible.

But I wonder if all of these conversations are moot in the face of the galloping pace of Assisted Reproductive Technologes. Here, in Canada, we have a new law (2004) restricting ARTs, but the legislators said it was based on "adoption law". Yes, when I asked WHICH adoption law? and offered some suggestions based on my considerable experience in adoption, they didn't reply.
They don't want to know.

maryanne said...

Just to clarify, I think surrendering mothers should be able to request and get the OBC at any time. But to me that is a separate and not equal issue from adoptee access to their own OBC.

I lost my son, a loss which cannot be calculated or restored. But I did not lose my identity or heritage as adoptees do under sealed records.

I know others feel differently, but I never felt I lost my identity as a mother, nor that my motherhood could be restored by a piece of paper. I know every bit of information on the OBC, there is nothing about me I could learn from it.

I gave up legal rights,but not the unbreakable genetic connection that makes him my child, whether he or the state admits that or not. I gave up parental rights but not my motherhood in my heart, and in his genes.

Not wanting to fight with my friends here, but some of us do see this issue differently without being sell-outs or in denial or some other way of being less than committed to honesty and reform.

AdoptAuthor said...

Yes we see things differently. I myself see things differently from how I saw them 20-30 years ago. I bought into the self-deprecating, blaming idea that "we signed the papers; they didn't" and that the issue was all about them and their loss. I felt guilty and the blame felt deserved. No more.

I now look it at it from a very different vantage point: one of equal rights and equal access.

I refuse to play the nit-picking game of whether it is worse to lose a child or to lose a parent; or worse to suffer a tragedy as an infant or as a young adult. We were all screwed! We all lost by being separated from one another.

Many adoptees could care less about reunion. They know that they cannot restore what was lost to them anymore than we can. It's not about that. It's about the PRINCIPLE of equal access to papers that should not have been taken from us.

The OBC is theirs and it is ours because it is about OUR giving birth and is prior to any relinquishment or adoption.

I fully believe that by speaking our against the discrimination that has occurred to ALL adoption separated people broadens our cause and is thus preferable to keeping them separate issues. It does not detract from adoptees but makes it a broader issue that effects a greater number of people and that is good. It takes the wind out of the ails of the opposition's putting us against one another - which is their way of dividing us to conquer us.

We can either buy into that or not.

Presenting a united front makes us stronger and our cause a bigger one, IMO.

Just my opinion, but what do I know? I was only suggesting that we stop using the phrase "open records" and call it equal access since 1989 and now finally it is catching on! It's worked in Canada and elsewhere...but, what do I know?

Joan M Wheeler, born as, Doris M Sippel said...

Hi Mirah,

Great post. I agree wholeheartedly with you. Always have. When we met in Philly in 1980, I was struck by something you did at lunch. You were talking to others, not me, I was on the sidelines. You swept your hand across the table and said something like, "I gave birth, but I don't even have a birth certificate to prove that I gave birth!" Actually, you were crying.

That was the first time it hit me. I am a woman, just like you. I was not a mother yet, but I knew I would be someday. I was an adoptee in a reunion for 6 years at that point. I had my original birth certificate because my relinquishing father gave it to my adoptive parents who gave it to me when I was found. But I had not thought about the loss from the first parents' point of view up until that moment.

Yes, mothers of adoption loss should have their rights to their lost child's birth certificate. You gave birth. You should have that birth certificate because you created that child and gave birth.

Perhaps that's why I still have my children's birth certificates, and they are 25 and 22! Oh, they could LOOK at the documents anytime while growing up, and could use them to get their driver's license, but I insisted that should they want their own copies, I'd go with them to apply for both the short form and long form.
Stubborn, and my daughter didn't like it!

We need to support each other. Mothers (and in my case, my father) lost both their child and the birth certificate. That's a real loss. Adoptees lost their families and their identities.

Bernadette Wright said...

Mirah, thank you for so eloquently expressing the importance of mothers' rights. I also enjoyed seeing all the supportive comments!


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