Monday, October 23, 2017

Mothers Drugged to Obtain Relinquishments


Twenty years ago, before Facebook and other social media, the Internet was a-buzz with email groups of common interest; naturally, adoption-related groups flourished. On one of those groups, I learned of the horrendous practice of drugging mothers to obtain the relinquishment of their babies for adoption. I was mortified. The account of one of the mothers rattled me beyond words. Nancy Safsten and I began corresponding privately, and as her story unfolded, I learned that the individuals, the adoption agency, and the hospital involved all had come away virtually unscathed. Even in light of an obvious conspiracy. Even after a lawsuit that exposed their nasty deeds.

I put out a call on my email group for accounts by any other mothers who had been incapacitated by drugs at the time they signed relinquishment papers. Here is one response:
"Your request for information from birthmothers who were drugged has been forwarded to me. I recently received my medical records and discovered that from the time my son was born until I signed papers, I was given Ritalin, used as an anti-depressant in the 60's. Before I signed the papers, still in the hospital, I was given codeine. Although not as dramatic as the drugs you mentioned, my mental state was clearly being manipulated without my knowledge. This was an agency adoption. The doctor did not work for the agency, but was an adoptive father with strong ties to the agency. This was never disclosed to me, I came about this knowledge by accident."
Linda (last name withheld)

I asked Linda two follow-up questions, which she answered:

>1. What was the name and location of the agency? (It may not even be one that I'm targeting for my purposes, but in case it is.....) 
The Cradle Society in Evanston, Illinois. Not a large agency so I doubt that they are who you are looking for.
>2. What were the exact amounts and frequency of administration of each drug used, according to your records? 
According to my medical records I was being administered 10 mg. of Ritalin twice a day (10:00 am and 4:00 pm) from the morning of April 29th (my son was born just before midnight on April 28th) to the morning of May 4 (the day I signed papers..around noon?...and was released from the hospital.) At 9:40 am on May 4 I was also administered codeine.
So the timeline:
April 28th, just before midnight - Linda's baby is born
April 29th, 30th, May 1st, 2nd, 3rd - 10 mg. of Ritalin at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
May 4th - 9:40 a.m. - codeine (dosage not known)
            10:00 a.m. - Ritalin
            Approximately noon - Linda is given relinquishment document to sign
            Released from the hospital.

Another Response to my Query - This One From the Lion's Den

I've concealed the name of this respondent, but as you'll see from a separate email, she gave me permission to publish her account. (Copied and pasted from original.)

Here's the follow-up - Screen capture of original email:


  1. If an agency has to drug a mother to obtain her signature on a Termination of Parental Rights (TPR), it is not a 'volunteer surrender.'
  2. A mother who discovers, after the fact, that her TPR was signed while she was under the influence of mind-altering drugs apparently has no recourse. Her child is still missing from her life and in most cases the statute of limitations has run out on any possible legal action.
  3. As far as I can tell, states that allow TPRs to be signed while the mother is still in the hospital is under no obligation, by law, to withhold possibly mind-altering meds from her for at least 12 hours prior to the signing. 
So the Door is Still Open to Fraud

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Mothers Diagnosed Psychotic Until TPR Signed

Nurse Recalls Court and Physician Collaboration


On Sunday, October 5, 1997, in an online forum called Adoptlist, the following posting was submitted by Elizabeth O. (surname withheld), a member with experience in the treatment of "unwed mothers" in the 1960s. 

Trained to be Indifferent

"I thought it might help those who weren't teenagers or adults in the 60's to know a little of what unwed motherhood meant in those days. We all owe it to ourselves to know the past so we don't make the same mistakes in the present. I always like to say, we can't know where we are going if we don't know where we've been.

"My nursing school dorms were near Ingleside Maternity Home in Buffalo, NY. In the 60's a pregnant, unwed middle class woman did not live at home. What would the neighbors say? The unwed mothers from Ingleside went to the same little shops we did. They'd be there with their fake wedding bands and swollen bellies, and we'd talk about them behind their backs. We never wanted anyone to think we were from Ingleside. We'd walk to the other side of the street if we had to just so no one would mistaken us for being one of them. We were damn right smug little, better than thou college students. Never mind that a few in our class had already relinquished (not known til years later), never mind that over the next few years a few others would have their turns at being pregnant and unwed. The code was in place, silence was the way it was. If you'd been in a home you never said a word. If you had a child out there somewhere only you knew, not your classmates. Secrecy reigned supreme. 

"And on our OB rotation we went to the Salvation Army's maternity home in Buffalo. We were told, and we didn't question it, to not become friends with the women there. We could not even know their 1st names . Here they were girls just like us, we could have become friends but they needed to know they'd sinned and they'd have to pay the price. Of course there were others who'd also sinned, they just didn't get caught. So we performed our clinical duties and skills , leaving our humanity in limbo."

The Conspiracy and its Implementation

"An unwed mother who wouldn't sign relinquishment papers would be adjudicated psychotic by the court, being committed to a mental institution, and have her parental rights involuntarily terminated. I saw this happen on several occasions during my OB rotation. An unwed mother wouldn't sign, her OB doctor, a male 98% of the time, would call another OB doctor, also a male, and the 2nd OB would nod and say "yes, psychotic", then the psychiatrist would be called, he would confirm the OBs' assessment and the mother was removed from the OB ward and taken to the psy lock up unit. Usually after a short stay there relinquishment papers got signed. And then, voila, no more psychosis so the patient was discharged. 

"This is how it was. It was wrong to treat people the way unwed mothers were treated. It makes me sick and ashamed when I think of how I treated the unwed mothers I knew or had contact with. If you weren't a teen and young adult in the 50's and 60's then you simply *cannot* know what it was like. You cannot take the standards and experiences of the 90's and apply them to that time and place. It's grossly unfair to do so. Read "Wake Up Little Suzie" by Rickie Solinger."

Monday, March 13, 2017

Disenfranchised Moms – Three Brief Encounters

If This Isn't Child Abuse, What Is?

The account Pat* gave me of her imprisonment in her own home was like something out of a CPS complaint. But Pat believes that even an intervention by CPS wouldn't have prevented her from losing her baby.

Learning of Pat's pregnancy sent her parents into an angry frenzy. What could they do with her to conceal her/their shame? Where could they send her? Several possibilities were discussed, but the final decision was to hide her in their basement for the remaining duration of her pregnancy.

Basement clutter was cleared to make room for a few pieces of furniture – a crude bedroom. Her meals were brought to her, and a portable 'potty' was her toilet.

Pat was allowed out of the basement only after dark, when she couldn't be seen by anyone. She welcomed the fresh air and a bit of exercise each night. And she often thought of running away somewhere, but where? Her options looked as dismal as her daily life in the basement.

The most painful memory she related to me was that of being kept away from festivities at Christmas. Her parents had guests - possibly relatives - upstairs, and Pat could hear their laughter and muffled conversations. But of course she wasn't allowed upstairs.

When she went into labor, her parents took her to the hospital and the rest of her story is textbook. When I met her, she had no idea what had become of her child – or even whether it was a boy or a girl.

The Threat

Shirley* gave birth and surrendered her child in Galveston, Texas. An attorney handled the adoption, and to make sure she didn't try to find her son at some time in the future, he lied to her about the sure consequence.

"If you ever return to Galveston County, you'll be arrested," he told her.

With the help of Texas search volunteers, Shirley was able to locate her son when he turned nineteen. The last contact I had with her she was planning a trip to Texas - yes, Galveston - but wasn't totally convinced that law enforcement officials wouldn't be waiting for her at the county line.

When fear is instilled in an already traumatized person, it doesn't dissipate just because truth finally is revealed.

To Live or Not to Live

When Ardis* came to our support group meeting the first time, she had already met the adult daughter she had lost to adoption years before. They'd been brought together through an unusual turn of events made possible by the fact that she and her daughter's family lived in the same town.

What made Ardis' story unique was that being reunited with her daughter literally saved her life.

When a lump in Ardis' breast was found to be malignant, she was immediately informed of the treatment protocol that lay ahead. Although a part of her wanted to undergo the treatment that would increase her chances of survival, another part of her wanted not to survive.

Ardis, a Christian, believed in the promise of life hereafter. Through the years since losing her daughter she had comforted herself in the belief that they would be reunited one day in heaven. She just knew it was impossible to ever meet her while she was alive, so she reasoned she could expedite the meeting - at least on her part - by refusing treatment and waiting for her daughter on the other side.

When the miracle of miracles happened that brought Ardis and her daughter together, it was thankfully not too late to undergo the treatment. She survived – and thrived. And an added blessing came in the form of a warm, caring relationship with her daughter's adoptive mom.

As far as I know, Ardis is still 'on this side' of heaven.

*Pat, Shirley, and Ardis are all pseudonyms, as are all names in this series.

 Typical Ann Landers 'Advice'

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Drama I Can't Possibly Forget

The Canvas Bag

I had the perfect opportunity to peek inside the bag that afternoon in New York.

But I felt so honored that she entrusted it to me while she did the tourist bit out to the Statue of Liberty that I wouldn't have betrayed her trust for the world.

She was one of the many wonderful people who visited my table in the book room at the conference sponsored by Adoption Crossroads. Conference attendees included adult adoptees, first ('birth') parents, adoptive parents, social workers, various mental health professionals, and many others. They came from throughout the U.S. and elsewhere, every one with a story to share and many understanding and caring ears to hear.

I was known as The Button Lady, vendor of a large assortment of pin-back buttons with adoption reform mottos. The often-provocative mottos tended to generate lively discussions around my table.

I heard joyful reunion stories; sad rejection stories; reports of deception by agencies or individuals; laments of frustrated searchers; mothers' painful accounts of coercion or outright theft of their newborns; angry rants against discriminatory state adoption laws and more. Most stories, though poignant and profound, have drifted into a memory cloud with blurred details after all these years. A few, however, almost haunt me to this day.

Like the story of Rita* and her canvas bag.

Too Late – Just Barely

Rita's* story had the makings of a made-for-TV movie. 

Even today, I can close my eyes and imagine the many camera angles of Rita standing before her mother's opened casket. Together with her mother at last. Free to say to her all the things she'd waited a lifetime to say. Even if her mother was beyond hearing.

Rita's search for her mother had been long and arduous. It involved long-distance searching, difficult in the pre- and early-Internet days.

*New account of Rita's experience, condensed from support group newsletters:
After years of searching, Rita, a woman in her thirties, finally located the whereabouts of her birth mother––in Colorado––and tried to call her. After a couple of days of getting no answer, she called the woman's next door neighbor.
"Oh, my dear," the neighbor said. "I just came from her funeral." 
Within hours, Rita flew to Colorado, where she learned she was the only living relative her mother had. Rita quickly established her legal blood kin status and paid to have her mother's body disinterred. 
It had been only a day since burial, and Rita knew that if she didn't get to look on her mother's face then, the opportunity would be forever lost. 
Alone before the opened casket, she touched her mother's face and laid a single rose on her hands. It's hard to imagine pain more acute than realizing she missed, by merely a few days, the opportunity to touch her mother and give her flowers while she was alive.
Among her mother's personal possessions she found a letter, addressed to Rita, postmarked months before but returned by the Post Office for incorrect address. The letter was in response to Rita's earlier attempt at contact, sent indirectly through the Social Security's confidential forwarding service. 
Trembling, she opened the envelope. Rita read her mother's response to her query: Yes, she had the right person, and yes she would like very much to get to know her. 
Her mother had never married; never had other children. She'd lived alone with a houseful of cats. 
And she'd almost – almost – gotten to meet her only living relative: her daughter.

She Carried The Bag Everywhere 

I'm certain that the most precious item in Rita's bag was the letter, in her mother's own hand, reaching across the years and miles and inhumane adoption laws. Other items were mementos brought from her mother's home in Colorado, items of perhaps little monetary value but of great significance to both mother and daughter.

The bag had traveled with Rita to New York for the conference. And once there, it couldn't be left in her room, but had to be carried about with her everywhere. It was heavy; she often set it down beside her to give her shoulder a rest.

The trip out to the Statue of Liberty would have given her reason to leave the bag behind in her room. But she insisted on taking it with her. Until I offered to store it for her behind my table, where no one would disturb it, including me.

And she trusted me. After pondering for a minute or two, she carried the bag back behind my table where it was out of the way. She thanked me and departed, far less encumbered, on the special outing with the other conference attendees.

As I pondered the bag and its mysterious contents, I began to appreciate her almost infantile attachment to the items inside. They represented all that she had left of her mother. Precious items which, like a security blanket, gave her comfort as she made her way through her days, cheated out of meeting her mother but keeping a part of her close in a way that assured her they would never be separated again.

I can't begin to tell you how honored I still feel having been entrusted with her precious mementos.


Rita* is a pseudonym, as are all names in this series.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Memorial Service - Charles Part 3

The Anniversary

My last visit with Charles* at the jail was the day before he was scheduled to be released. He was relieved to be going home, but also seemed troubled and listless.

The date of his release had extreme significance for him, though I honestly can't recall which of two events it represented. It was either his natural mother's birthday or the anniversary of her death - on the summer night when he believed she was saying goodbye to him.

Whichever the date represented to him, he felt the need to visit her grave. It wouldn't be the first time he'd visited it, but he felt drawn to it on that anniversary. However, with a revoked drivers license, he couldn't drive there himself, and he felt uncomfortable asking his adoptive mom to take him there, even though he felt confident she would have been glad to do it.

The answer was obvious. I offered to take him there; he accepted. So we began making plans. He would be going home from jail with his parents, but he would call me when he arrived and I'd pick him up at their house.

Then I had a thought.

"Since you weren't able to attend her funeral, would you like me to plan a little memorial service for her for tomorrow?"

Charles not only indicated his pleasure with the idea, but began making plans of his own, which I would discover the next day.

The Service

Once again, I was wading in unfamiliar waters.

Although I was an ordained elder in my church (Presbyterian) and had experience as a lay speaker, I had never officiated at a funeral - or memorial - service. But I was absolutely certain that God would give me the words to say, hear our prayers, and lay a comforting hand on Charles' shoulder as we shared this special time together.

The next morning, I gathered up my Bible, my cassette tape player, and a tape of The Lord's Prayer (I can't recall the artist), and waited for Charles' phone call.

At his home a bit later, I spent a little time chatting with his parents before leaving for the cemetery. I had met his mom previously, but not his dad. Wonderful folks.

The weather was perfect; the drive to the cemetery enjoyable. Our brief but meaningful service consisted of prayers, select Bible readings (including the 23rd Psalm, of course), listening to the beautiful rendition of The Lord's Prayer, and an opportunity for both Charles and I to share some personal thoughts in his mother's memory.

Charles Leaves a Message 

When we returned to the car after our ceremony, Charles took his Polaroid camera from its case and handed it to me.

"I'd like you to take my picture at her grave," he said.

Her gravestone was flush with the ground, so he knelt by it and put his hand on it for the photo. After it came from the camera, he checked it and approved it for the next step. He asked if I had anything to write with, and I gave him a pen from my purse. He put the photo against the hood of the car and wrote something on the wide, white space at the bottom of it.

"You wouldn't happen to have a plastic bag of any kind in the car for me to put this in, would you?" he asked.

I had no idea what he had in mind, but I poked around in my car and found only one thing that might suffice: a little plastic 'envelope' from a floppy disk.

He handed me the camera again, took the now plastic-covered photo, and asked me to take another picture for him. Returning to the gravestone, he knelt and began to dig a narrow slot beside it, using only his fingers. When it was deep enough, he placed the photo - with message for his mom - into the slot and covered it with the loose soil. It was while he was doing this that he wanted the second picture taken - for his own memento.

I can tell you that I've had tears in my eyes throughout the writing of this account.

God bless you, Charles, wherever life has taken you since that memorable day.


*Charles is a pseudonym, as are all names in this series.

Charles Part One - The Psychic Connection

Charles Part Two - An Hour in the Drunk Tank

Friday, March 10, 2017

An Hour in the Drunk Tank - Charles Part 2

Charles Off the Wagon

"Is there anything you can do to help me?" I hear a low, coarse, almost-whisper on the phone.

"Is that you, Charles*? What kind of help do you need?"

"I'm in jail again. Third time DUI. The judge might send me to Jackson this time."

"Oh, boy! I'll have to think about this. I really don't know what I can do for you, but I'll try. Hang tough, pal."

Big talk, lady, I say to myself. What can you possibly do? You know that if you can't do anything and have to let him down, it will feel like another rejection.

What did I get myself into?

I'd been hoping that once Charles found his original family and had established relationships with some of them, that he'd begin making his way toward sobriety. But of course I knew that alcoholism isn't just magically 'cured' with a positive turn of events. Besides, Charles was still grieving the loss of the mother he would never meet. In his troubled heart, her death had taken the shape of yet another abandonment.

The Letter

Drawing on my non-professional but experience-based post-adoption leadership record, and utilizing my desktop publishing skills, I designed an impressive letterhead for the support group I had founded and led and used it to compose a letter to the judge.

I told him I was aware of Charles' incarceration and the possibility he could be transferred downstate to the Jackson maximum security prison. I filled him in on the work I had been doing with Charles relative to his separation from - and recent reunion with - blood kin.  I said I had hoped I could have continued working with him as he processed all his feelings upon learning of his mother's death, but now with his incarceration that was interrupted. I said it was significant that his record of DUI arrests coincided with events in his life that he perceived as rejections, a common, though erroneous, perception among adoptees.

I said that maximum security incarceration would do nothing to help him come to terms with the inner pain he experienced that drove his negative behaviors. Until he was helped to deal with his adoption-related issues, he would continue on the merry-go-round of attempted sobriety followed by mind-numbing drinking.

I boldly asked the judge to consider my offer of help for Charles - at no charge to the city or the county - to continue my adoption-related work with him. I said if he could stay in the local jail instead of being sent to Jackson, I'd donate up to 20 hours with him, an hour at a time, there in the jail.

I provided a number of very impressive references and sent the letter on its way.

A New Experience - Locked In!

The judge granted my request and directed the sheriff's office to make provisions for me to use the consultation room, used by attorneys with their prisoner clients. I was glad Charles and I weren't going to be separated by glass, but I admit to having a queazy feeling as the door locked behind us the first time the turnkey led me back to the consultation room.

Understandably, I won't reveal here the very private conversations we had over those weeks before his release. But I will mention that one of the times I came to the jail to see Charles, I was informed that the attorney consultation room was already occupied. And there was no way of knowing how long it might be unavailable. So I had two choices: I could skip that day's time with Charles or......we could spend our appointment in the drunk tank!

Charles knew I was scheduled to meet him that day, and there's no way I would have let him down. So I agreed to the drunk tank. After that experience, I can tell you I never want to be put there for the reason it exists! Stark stainless steel everything, including bed an loo, with glass walls facing the halls on either side. No cushions; we sat on the hard stainless steel 'furniture' and shifted our weight from side to side. But despite the discomfort, the hour went fast. And since then, I've enjoyed telling people I once spent an hour in a drunk tank!

Prayer Through Glass

I made one emergency evening visit to the jail during those weeks – at the request of his adoptive mom. It seems his favorite niece from his new-found family had been killed in an auto accident, and Charles was totally distraught. To make matters worse, he had inquired about the possibility of being released from jail long enough to attend her funeral, but was turned down.

I met his mother at the jail and we went together to see him. This time, we had to be separated by the glass window. After a brief exchange, I asked Charles if he'd like for me to pray with him. He said he'd like that. So his mother and I placed our hands on the glass on our side of the window and he placed his hands on his side, and I prayed. I prayed for the family of his niece and for peace and comfort for Charles as he struggled with yet another loss in his life. And I asked God to help him cope with his feelings of helplessness there in jail, unable to attend the funeral. After the prayer, he seemed less stressed and we even chatted a few minutes about when our next visit would be.

The Note

On one of our last visits, we talked about the fact that, as a newborn, he'd had no voice in what was to become of him. It's a lament shared by a great many adoptees: why did no one care what I would have wanted?

I handed him a pencil stub and small piece of paper from the desk. "If you could have communicated with your mother right after your birth, what would you like to have said to her?"

He wrote quickly, folded the paper and handed it to me. I asked his permission to read it and he gave it. I said then I'd like to take it with me and read it privately. (I wasn't sure of my gut reaction, remembering my own separation from my child years before.) He nodded and I signaled for the turnkey to show me out.

I didn't open the note until I got into my car and prepared to drive away. The note was very brief.

"Dear Mom. Please keep me. We'll make it somehow."


*Charles is a pseudonym, like all names in this series.

Part 1:The Psychic Connection

Part 3: The Memorial Service

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Psychic Connection - Charles Part 1

Goodbye, Son

Charles* was fleeing again.

He had no idea where he was headed. He just got into his car and aimed it west.

It was typical behavior for Charles; it was one of two responses to emotional pain. Adopted at birth, Charles escaped overwhelming feelings of rejection by either drinking himself into oblivion or driving off somewhere with no destination in mind. Unfortunately, there were times he'd done both and ended up in jail.

When I met Charles, he had been in and out of treatment programs a number of times. His sponsor at one of the treatment facilities unknowingly had contributed to his distress, causing him to cut and run. Charles had confided in his sponsor that he wanted to find his natural mother and that he was pretty sure she lived in the sponsor's small community. The sponsor offered to help him find her. Charles' hopes soared, only to be destroyed a few days later when his sponsor said the matter had been discussed with the facility's director, who told him that the plan had to be scrapped. "He needs to get his alcoholism under control first," the director said. (Do I hear groans here?)

It needs to be mentioned that his adoptive parents were very supportive of his efforts to connect with his first family. True, they didn't realize the depth of his anguish or how it drove his behavior. But their love for him was strong and steady; they tried to help him within the parameters of their understanding. He was an adult in his late twenties, so their sphere of influence was limited.

We found his family, and I will share more of his story in future postings. But for the purposes of this essay, I am focusing on his account of what happened on his drive west after one of his perceived rejections.

Sleeping Under the Stars

It was summer, and in the absence of better overnight accommodations on the long cross-country haul, a weary Charles pulled his car off the highway onto a side road and found a clump of bushes to huddle under. He slept soundly at first, then came wide awake with a jolt. He just knew - he just knew - his mother had died! Sleep was impossible for the rest of the night, so he hit the road again, making his way to a service station with a pay phone. (No cell phones yet.)

His dad answered the phone. A breathless Charles cried, "Mom died, didn't she?"

"No, no. She's fine. She's right here! Would you like to speak with her?"

With unfathomable relief, Charles spoke to his mom, trying to hide the near panic in his voice by making small talk about his unscheduled trip and assuring her he was OK.

Examining the Dates

Several years later, Charles was reunited with a sister, who had to disappoint him with the news that their mother was deceased. But he would make two very startling discoveries about her.

First, he discovered that he had met his mother and sister, unknowingly, some years before in a bar. They had sat together and chatted merrily, even leaving the bar at the same time. He remembered thinking as they walked down the steps together how nice this older lady was. He said he even wished she was the mother he was seeking!

Second, when he learned the date of his mother's death, he began to reconstruct the details of that westward trip he'd taken. What was the date of his night under the stars with its disturbing message that jolted him awake?

It came as no surprise to learn that the dates were spot on. His mother died that night.

Was she saying goodbye in a voice that only he could hear?

Charles is convinced of it. And so am I.


An Hour in the Drunk Tank - Charles Part 2

*Charles is a pseudonym, as are all other names in this series.

Here's another account of psychic connection between an adoptee and a first parent.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Arduous Task of Attempted Facial Recognition

Freed to Shop

His wife called me about a month after I'd helped him identify and locate his original family. She could hardly wait to tell me about an unexpected bonus from her husband's recent reunion.

"He went to the mall shopping with me," she crowed. "First time in many years!"

That seemed like a strange residual from an adoptee's reunion. I thought I'd heard about every possible benefit of reconnecting with one's blood kin. So what was this all about?

"He couldn't go to the mall before because of all the shop windows. He couldn't pass a single shop without stopping to look through the window, as far into the store as he could see, searching for a face similar to his own. It was exhausting for him, so he quit going long ago."

Of course! Adoptees yearn to look into the face of someone who resembles them - for the first time ever in their lives.

Since that phone call, I've read or listened to adoptees describing similar fatigue after visiting crowded venues like theme parks. The task of studying faces, occasionally spotting one that 'just might be...but wasn't,' is both physically and emotionally draining.

Second Generation Bewilderment

Faye's* son Greg* was troubled by his inability to see his features in anyone else. Greg was six feet seven inches tall with red hair and freckles. His mom, Faye, was an adoptee with no knowledge of her original family. At one point, Greg was convinced he was adopted, since he didn't resemble his mother or his father or either of his siblings.

We found Faye's family, no thanks to Michigan's sealed adoption records laws, and she was welcomed by a host of  siblings, nieces and nephews. One sister's son, ten years Greg's senior - you guessed it - stood six feet seven inches, was red-haired, and had a face full of freckles. Greg and his cousin were like twins separated at conception and gestated a decade apart. They compared photos of themselves at various ages and marveled at how nearly interchangeable their pictures were. It turns out they were throwbacks from a great-uncle, their grandfather's brother. And before that? At least now Greg could explore that, too.

*Faye and Greg, like all other names in this series, are pseudonyms.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Startling Realization - Spouse Abuse?

The Challenge

I wasn't prepared to lead a support group for mothers of loss to adoption (commonly referred to as 'birth mothers' in the media) when I attended this American Adoption Congress conference. But the scheduled leader had been unable to attend the conference and I was asked to pitch hit for her.

The public speaking aspect didn't ruffle me, but I quickly realized I had to find a way of addressing the concerns of women in all stages of post-loss grief. In addition, there would be 'old timers' in attendance, who surely had heard and discussed it all before. But there would also be 'newbies' who were counting on taking something valuable away from this gathering, and I owed them something.

Was there a topic or theme that could give this particular group of attendees something they perhaps hadn't received from the rest of the conference? From the keynote speeches, the workshops, the printed materials in the book room? From the valuable interaction with one another?

The thought occurred to me that this might be a good time to explore a theory I'd formed over the years as I'd observed all stages of adoption search, reunion, and post-reunion. The goal would be to neither prove nor disprove my theory, but merely to start a vigorous discussion.

The Question

There was a good turnout for the support group meeting, and just as I'd expected, participants represented both long-time conference attendees and first-timers. I looked out over the faces in that room and wondered how the question I planned to pose would be received. Well, I plunged goes!

"I have a question for all of you. And don't feel obligated to participate. Raise your hand only if you feel comfortable doing so.

"How many of you have experienced what you'd consider some kind of abuse - physical, emotional, or sexual - from your mate?"

I had anticipated a small number of hands would go up. And I surely wasn't going to put anyone on the spot by questioning her about it. If someone did care to speak, she'd be given the opportunity, but it would have to be voluntary.

The Stunning Response

I could scarcely believe my eyes! There in front of me, a sea of hands shot up, as though they'd been waiting all day for the opportunity.

The discussion that followed revealed a tendency for many mothers to endure, or perhaps downplay, some form of abuse out of deep feelings of personal unworthiness. To some extent, they felt they deserved the treatment they received because of their internalized guilt and shame. Not on a conscious level, surely, but buried in the psyche where it can be sensed and exploited by others.

Perhaps, then, I postulated, this might account for the marriage break-ups that occasionally followed mother-adoptee reunions. Not that the reunion itself was a stressor or the actual cause of the marriage breakup. But that in reunion, the long-denied mother-child reconnection shed an almost holy light on her long-ago birthing experience, replacing the dark shadows of guilt and shame that had occupied that space. New-found self-confidence, fueled by elevated self-worth, no longer tolerated condescending or downright abusive treatment, and she felt emboldened to step out and away from it.

A lively discussion continued for the allotted time, with much agreement on my postulation. And although there is yet neither statistical nor academic-study validation of this theory, on that day and in that room at the AAC conference, participants felt free to explore and discuss their own feelings and situations after having raised their hands in response to my question.

I'll always wonder whether any of them experienced it as their own personal Liberation Day.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Language Trigger

She noticed the conference materials I was digging out of my carry-on bag and piling on my lap, trying not to bump her arm on the armrest between us.

There was no mistaking what kind of a conference I had attended. Every document I shuffled to the top of the pile had 'adoption' somewhere in its title.

Finally, she spoke: "Are you adopted?"

"No. But I just attended an adoption conference here in New York. I brought lots of reading material home."

"I was adopted from Canada," she offered, adding, "Quebec."

Because of her street-clothes attire, I hadn't guessed that she was a nun. (My second encounter with with a nun connected in some way to adoption.)

"Oh, really? As a baby?"

"As an almost newborn. My parents went there to get me."

This wasn't the time, nor was it appropriate, to fully engage in a conversation about adoption with this sweet lady. Instead, I just listened as she told me of a recent jolt she had experienced.

"We had a guest speaker at the convent," she said. "A monsignor from Quebec. He was a marvelous speaker. And after he gave his presentation in English, he said he'd like to repeat a few paragraphs of it in French, just so we could hear the beauty of the language."

My seat mate paused briefly to collect her thoughts and prepare for her next sentence.

"When I heard him speaking in French, I lost it! I cried and cried and had a hard time pulling myself together. It was just so strange!"

I knew, of course, why she was triggered by the sound of her mother tongue. And she knew, instinctively, the reason for her reaction. But it was obvious she had not scratched the surface of her separation trauma from all that had been familiar to her in her mother's womb. Had we been in a position to have explored that trauma at length, she might have made far more discoveries about herself. But we were simply two travelers making conversation that day. And of course I'll never forget her.

God bless you, Sister, wherever you are.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sister Mother

The Phone Call

"We found her!"

"You did? Where?"

"You're not going to believe this! But it's going to explain why she was so hard to find."

Becky* knew that a whole team of sleuths had been working on her search for months. This was back before high-speed Internet. What little was available online was painfully slow (and by-the-minute costly) to retrieve with dialup access. Those of us who could afford sets of CDs of regional phone directories felt fortunate, indeed. Much searching was done by phone and by snail mail, using various ruses to track people down without spilling the family beans.

Becky's mother wasn't listed anywhere. We could find neither a marriage nor a death record for her, so it would seem she shouldn't be that hard to find. But it was as though she had left the planet.

Until the breakthrough came, explaining it all.

"Your mother is in a convent."

"A convent? As in a nun in a convent?"

"A nun in a convent."

"Oh! Oh, now what do we do?"

"But there's more. You have a sister."

"Now I'm really confused. How can I have a sister if my mother is a nun?"

"It's a long story, and there's something else you need to know. Your mother was told, following your birth, that you were a boy and that you died."

"What? Are you serious?"

"I'm serious; I've spoken to her."

Silence; sound of sniffling.

"She wants you to write to her and send her a picture."

"To the convent?"

"Yes. She gave me permission to give you her address. And she said not to worry. Mother Superior knows all about you."

And so it began. Becky and her Sister Mother began the get-acquainted dance we're so familiar with - but with a twist unlike any other.

Recapturing a Childhood Dream

Sister Mother had been on her way to becoming a teacher when an 'unwed pregnancy' (don't you hate that term?) sidetracked her. Obeying societal and religious mandates at the time, she hid her pregnancy, gave birth - in a Michigan hospital - and intended to relinquish her baby for adoption. But even that part of her planning went awry. Her baby, a boy, died shortly after birth - or so she was told - so she felt like a double failure.

Life went on, however. She became a teacher, got married, and had another child - a daughter. But her marriage was on shaky ground and eventually ended. Yet another failure. After her daughter graduated high school, Sister Mother did an evaluation of her life to that point and pondered how to rebuild it in some meaningful way. In the evaluation process, she remembered fondly her childhood dream of becoming a nun. But would the Church let her, after all her troubled life experiences, actually become a nun?

The upshot was that she could, indeed, become a nun, but first she had to have her marriage annulled. She was already divorced, of course, but now she had to make it appear she'd never been married. This is a bit difficult for me, a Protestant, to understand, since that would seem to make her second daughter illegitimate. Be that as it may, she did what she had to do.

She was now very happy and felt satisfied and fulfilled with her new life. So would the shocking news of her thought-to-be-dead child's sudden appearance - a daughter instead of a son - destabilize everything she had worked so hard to achieve?

The Reunion

Mother Superior had known of Sister Mother's pregnancy and her 'dead' baby all along, since this had been shared with her from the first interview. Now she would need to be told of this new development and would be asked for guidance on how to handle it.

A loving Mother Superior came through with flying colors for this anxious sister. Not only did she endorse and encourage a mother-daughter reunion, but she arranged for a private apartment for them to spend some time together at the convent. It was like something out of a movie!

Witnessing all this from a distance, I made a guess that Sister Mother would leave the convent after the reunion and take up being 'mother' to her two daughters. But I was wrong.

Peace at Last

Sister Mother found peace in a way that had alluded her prior to her meeting Becky and bringing closure to that long-ago traumatic experience. Her religious fervor deepened and she was able to give herself over totally to her chosen vocation.

I didn't communicate with either mother or daughter very long beyond their reunion, but the last I knew, they - and Becky's half-sister - had settled into a comfortable, largely long-distance, relationship with occasional visits at the convent.

And I just know God was smiling on them all, including Mother Superior.

*Becky, as in all names in this series, is a pseudonym.