Monday, August 27, 2012

Adult Adoptee Access Day, 7-2-12, Providence, RI

Talking Points for Adult Adoptee Access Day, 7-2-12, Providence, RI
By Steven M. Costantino, Secretary, Executive Office of Health & Human Services

Knowing where you come from.
It provides you with a sense of place, a sense of grace, a face that resembles at least some other members of your family.
Knowing where you come from.
It anchors you to your past and poses new possibilities for the future.
 Very soon, thanks to Senator Perry and Representative Carnevale, thanks to Governor Chafee, and thanks to Access Rhode Island and other advocates, many adoptees 25 and older will have a moment in time to cherish, to celebrate.  They will have that anchor to the past in the form of a non-certified copy of their original birth certificate.
 On behalf of Dr. Fine, the director of the Department of Health—one of the four departments of the Executive Office of Health & Human Services—I want to express appreciation to everyone staffing the Office of Vital Records here at HEALTH.  They have worked enormously hard to research certificates for those who have applied ahead of time, to prepare birth certificates for mailing, as requested, and to ensure that certificates that will be picked up in person are ready and waiting.
 I also wish to mention our Department of Children, Youth & Families whose staff works vigorously to facilitate successful adoptions of children who are in state care.
 This legislation signed by Governor Chafee provides adult adoptees with a passport to the past.  Whether the adults who were babies at least 25 years ago will want to pursue reunions, or whether the birth mothers and fathers will be receptive, are personal decisions.  
 But these birth certificates—these passports to the past—empower the recipients to uncover their identities, their nationalities, and to discover the very core of who they are.  In some cases, they will have valuable medical history information as well.
 It provides another dimension to their experiences with the families who chose them, and closes gaps in their existence.  It’s another affirmation of civil rights, human rights, justice.
 It’s a time for celebration and we acknowledge all here today who are responsible for the passage of this significant piece of legislation, along with the first of many who finally and rightfully receive their birth certificates.  Thank you.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Priscilla's Mother's Day Letter to Michelle Obama

Mothers’ Day

First Lady Michelle Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20500

Dear Mrs. Obama ~~

Happy Mother’s Day!

I am a mother who lost her child to adoption.  It was in early 1964 I found myself pregnant; the father refused to help and abandoned me.  I was afraid to tell my family because I knew my strict, Polish-Catholic stepfather would make life unbearable for my mother, so I approached my employer to ask for guidance, and he referred me to an adoption agency.  No one ever gave me any hope that I could keep my baby.  Not once was any suggestion other than adoption discussed.  It was understood that I had to hide in shame and suffer for what I had done.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized I had done nothing but trust my boyfriend when he promised he loved me and would take care of me.

The agency found a place for me in a “wage home” in the next town over where I lived for six months as housekeeper, cook, and babysitter for $10 a week plus room and board.  Other than friendship with two other unwed mothers, I was alone and depressed and afraid.  I had prenatal care, but nothing prepared me for what was to happen.

On the day I went into labor, I was unceremoniously dropped off at the hospital by my employer’s boyfriend.  I was stripped of my clothing and possessions, placed in a windowless, empty four-bed ward and told to stay put and not come out.  How long I was there I have no idea.  There was no clock, no phone, no radio, no visitors other than medical personnel who would come and check my progress.  No words were spoken other than to the effect of, “Well, aren’t you proud of yourself now?  Look where your slutty ways have landed you!”  When my water broke, I didn’t know what was happening.  I went to the door and called for help.  The nurse (a nun) came running down the hall yelling at me to “Get back in there!  There are ‘decent’ women here having babies!”  Then angrily, “Look at this mess you’ve made!”

On the last visit, the medic (a doctor? nurse?) decided that I was dilated enough.  I was given a shot, wheeled to the delivery room and immediately put to sleep.  I woke up in a dark private room (there might have been restraints on my arms – I don’t remember).  I had no idea what day it was, whether my baby was alive, healthy, was a boy or a girl.  And I was told to not ask questions.  I had no right to know anything about my baby.  Sometime later the candy-striper brought the most beautiful little baby to me wrapped in a pink blanket.  I thought I was dreaming! “Here,” she said.  “This is your baby.”  I can still remember 46 years later all the feelings that went through me – joy, awe,  relief, sadness, fear -- when the nun suddenly burst into my room and literally snatched my beautiful daughter out of my arms.  “You were not supposed to see this baby!”

Thankfully, at that moment my doctor walked in (Dr. Barney Bowlin – I will bless his name forever) and said, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, sister, let her see her baby!  Let her ‘count the fingers and toes’.  She’s not in any condition to run away with her!”  I am grateful for the time I got to spend with my daughter.  I was able to whisper in her ear how much I love her and the reasons society had decreed we could not be together.  I named her “Donna Michelle” after her father.  Then they took her away, forever, and the nun began to lecture me.  “Now you must go home and get back to your life and forget about this baby.  You will marry and have more children.  Don’t ever tell anyone, especially not a potential husband, what you’ve done because no ‘decent’ man will want to have anything to do with you.”

When I protested and begged for some way to keep my daughter, I was told I was being selfish and inconsiderate.  There were married couples who could not have children, who would love my baby and provide her with everything I could not – a good home, care, and education.  With an ‘illegitimate child’ I would not be able to find a job.  “You won’t be able to take care of yourself, let alone a baby!  You’ll have to become a waitress or ‘walk the streets’!  What kind of life is that for a child?!”  I was told if I wanted to keep her, I would have to pay our entire hospital bill before I could take her from the hospital and the charges would increase by $5 a day for every day I could not pay.  If I kept my part and gave her up, the agency would pay the bill.   (In fact, I did pay the agency back every penny.  It took me over a year, and I paid my own doctor bill, too.)

Three days later I signed the papers in the agency office.  I could not see what I was signing because my eyes were filled with tears.  I was never given copies of anything I signed, but I do remember seeing or being told that I would face criminal charges if I ever tried to find my daughter or interfere in her new life.  I remember begging the social worker for some assurance that, if she wanted to know me, she would be given information about me and be able to find me.  (I found out later that many other mothers were promised the same thing, and even advised to keep a phone listing in our maiden names, but we came to find out it was all lies – the records were sealed forever in all states but Kansas – and adoptees would never be legally entitled to know their identities or ours.)

I did try to go on with my life, but as a mother I’m sure you know how impossible it was to forget about my baby.  I moved 2,500 miles away because everywhere I went I would see happy women with babies and I would wonder if it was my daughter they were mothering.  There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think about her.  Even five years later, my loss tainted the joy I felt when I gave birth to my precious second daughter.  Every moment of happiness was followed by many moments of questions.  I wonder where/how Donna is.  Did she look/act the same at this age?  Will we ever see her again?  I’m sure unconsciously I clung to my second child a little too much, was too protective and hysterical for fear I would lose her, too.  I also had a nagging sense of insecurity, low self-esteem and self-loathing.  I was a bad person.  I was not worthy of anyone loving me or being a mother because of the terrible thing I had done.  It has taken many years of self-analyzing, praying, studying, and enlightenment to realize none of that was true.  In fact, I’ve probably gone overboard now and become a super-achiever to prove them all false.  Still I mourn the loss of my daughter – what might have been -- and future generations – I was deprived of being her mother and a grandmother to her children and perhaps even great-grandma.

Yet, I am here to testify that, although we have been deprived of the mother-child relationship, physically and genetically, I am her mother.  I always was and will be into eternity.  I am not a “birthmother”, a “first mother”, “natural mother” or “tummy mommy” or any other qualification.  I am a mother who lost her child to adoption.

So, why am I writing to you – along with, I know, many others of my sister mothers of loss?  Because we hope you will help us tell the world how wrong infant adoption is.  That separating mothers and babies should be a last resort and we, as families, churches, and communities, should instead be working to help these young women become better mothers and insisting that fathers step up to their responsibility, as well.  We need to understand the terrible damage it will potentially cause to both the mothers and babies, and that adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary predicament.

We also want to draw attention to the fact that millions of adult adoptees are still subjected to archaic, ridiculous laws that deny them from getting their original birth certificates, particularly poignant in President Obama’s life at this time.  Adopted persons in all but six states are barred from knowing their original identity, their family history, heritage, genetics, health information.  People 50, 60, 70+ years old are cruelly denied the most basic information about their existence and told by nasty bureaucrats and politicians that they can never know who they are or those to whom they are blood related.  These laws were instigated back in the 1930s by the infamous Georgia Tann, the woman who was charged with snatching and selling thousands of babies and who changed the face of adoption forever, and were designed solely to protect the adoptive families and hide the adoptee from the stigma of illegitimacy.  Now today we are coming face to face with the awful ramifications these decades of secrecy and lies have wrecked upon our families and society.

Finally, we hope you will reach out to other mothers of loss who have been hiding in fear and shame, who perhaps never told their families, or who are waiting in silence, too timid to come forward and proclaim their motherhood.  We understand.  We know the experience and the remaining years after have been painful, with terrible damage to our emotional and physical wellbeing.  There are many who are afraid their sons and daughters are angry and resentful.  “Why did you abandon me?”  These adoptees don’t understand why or how and assume it must have been because we didn’t want them.  There is a lot of educating that needs to be done about the way life was for pregnant, single girls.  There are many mothers who are afraid of “opening old wounds” and reliving the past, but we are here as testament that it must be done for healing to begin.  There are thousands of us here to support and love them through it.

As a search angel, I have helped about 300 families reunite over the past four years.  Here is what one of the mothers I found wrote to me just this morning:

  “I just wanted to say thank you to you for finding me! … My love for and my bonding with [my son], I believe, started at that conversation. Then I received a picture of him and his wife and I was just thrilled! I recently met him in person and am very proud to claim him as mine!
  “The Christmas of 2010, I received the best present I've ever received; the gift of a son! Not only a son, but I have two wonderful grandchildren! So, when I say thank you, it seems woefully inadequate. You've changed my life! I've never been happier. Thank you for finding me!”

Fortunately, this woman is typical of mothers of loss-in waiting.  More than 95% are delighted to be found, giving proof that the adoption industry is lying when they claim that we mothers want to remain in anonymity and privacy.

It’s time to blow the lid of secrecy and lies off of the adoption industry, and we look to you as First Lady – our Nation’s leading mother – to help.  Thank you for giving your time and attention to our cause.

With sincere best wishes for you and your family,

Priscilla Sharp
Mother of Loss ’64, Reunited ‘86
Now Search Angel/Genealogist/Adoptee Rights Advocate
Mothers of Loss (to Adoption) on Facebook

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Phone Dialogue for Contacting Family

A phone call between the two primary parties is the best way to make initial contact. If possible, do not have a third party intermediary make the call. As one adoptee put it, “This may be your only chance to hear your mother’s voice.” Although, we have to reassure you, this form of contact is successful 95% of the time, if it happens that you are one of the few where it’s not successful, and you are positive you have the right person, come back to us for suggestions for further follow-up.

Before you make the call, go to a quiet, comfortable spot in your home. Make sure you have no distractions such as TV, radio, other people, children clamoring about, etc. Write out a script of what you want to say. The following is our suggestion; you will want to put it into your own words before you call.

It is much more preferable to call someone’s home, if possible. But, sometimes you have no choice and have to call at work, and, if so, it’s very important to say from the get-go, “I’m sorry to bother you at work, but this is the only number I could find. Is it okay to talk about a personal matter now, or would you prefer to call me later at your convenience?”

Make sure you speak only to the primary party about the reason you are calling, and NEVER reveal to a third party the purpose of your call. If you are calling your mother or father, DO NOT EVER “out” them to anyone else.

Say, “May I speak with Mrs. So-and-so?” If she is not available, give your name and call-back number or ask when is a good time to call back.

If the answering party continues to question why you are calling, say, “I am doing research on the Whatsit family of such-and-such place. I am looking for Mrs. So-and-so, whose maiden name was Whatsit.” If they continue to want to talk, say, “I have to go now. Thank you for your help, and I will look forward to speaking with Mrs. So-and-so at her convenience.”

If you get only an answering machine or voicemail, do not just hang up and call back again and again. Many people screen their calls when they don’t recognize the number on their caller ID. Leave a message: “My name is — and I am calling about the Whatsit family. I’ll try back in a couple of days if I don’t hear from you.”

When you do get the party on the phone, repeat your name and where you are calling from. Ask, “Is this a good time for you to talk about a private family matter?” Make sure the whole family isn’t hovering around or she has visitors. Say, “If it’s not convenient, I can call back at any time you say.”

If she indicates it is okay to speak, begin, “As I said, my name is —. I think we might be related.” She’ll probably ask, “Oh? How?” and you can say “I was born [birth name] on [date] in [city, state].” PAUSE

If you don’t hear a loud gasp or “Oh my goodness!”, say, “Does that mean anything to you?” DO NOT EVER say “I think you’re my mother!” You must let her come to the realization herself, at her own pace, and really “own it.”

If she indicates, yes, she does recognize the name and date of birth, immediately say, “I am so happy to have found you! I am 99% sure we are a match, but there are things we can do to verify it 100%, if you want, such as registering with the state registry, DNA test — whatever you are comfortable with.”

Be sure to reassure her that you do not want to intrude in her life or make her feel uncomfortable, that she might want a few hours or days to think things over, etc. You have the rest of your lives and no need to rush into anything. Just let the conversation flow naturally. Ninety-five percent of the time, the loved one will be happy to hear from you and at least know you are okay.

We have had reactions ranging all the way from, “Oh, yes, I think I am your mother, but I can’t talk to you. My husband and other children don’t know about you.” –to– “Oh my God! I’ve been searching for you for thirty years! Where are you? I’m coming right now!”

Do not begin pressuring her for information, for example, about your father. Let her manage the conversation, both pace and content. If you press for details about your father, she might feel hurt and discarded. Don’t forget, mothers are just as afraid of rejection as adoptees are. ← Memorize that sentence and believe it!

If she indicates that your birth name or date of birth have no meaning for her, ask her leading questions about the facts which led you to her to begin with, i.e., “Is this not Jane Doe Whatsit who was born [date] and lived in [city, state]? Your father was — and you have [sisters, brothers]?” IOW, don’t immediately assume you have the right person but keep her talking.

If she continues to deny knowing anything, back out of the call gracefully. Apologize for disturbing her and say, “Please keep my name and number in case you think of or hear about someone with your name and other identifying information who fits the description of the person I’m looking for.”

Whatever the outcome, positive or negative, follow up the conversation with a note and photo. If positive, “I’m so happy to have found you, and I am excited about the prospect of us getting to know each other better.” If negative, “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I am so disappointed that you are not the person I was searching for. If ever you think you can help me, please get back in touch with me at any time.” Include your Facebook address so she can check you out. Always leave the door open.

* * *
If the call is to the father, the procedure is the same, except you will ask if the name of your mother is familiar to him and your date and place of birth.

* * *
If the call is to a son or daughter, you will say, “I am looking for So-and-So who was born [date] in [city, state] and who was adopted shortly after birth.” If they say they were not adopted, again back out gracefully, but leave your name and number. We’ve actually had adoptees who did not know they were adopted who confirmed it after the mother called and called her back.

Please don’t hesitate to ask us to help. We’re happy to do practice calls with you anytime.

With love,
Your Search Angels