March 08, 2007

On Wanting to Impress My Parents

Over the past few days, I have enjoyed a correspondence with a delightful woman who learned about my adoption quest at a forum and then wrote to ask me to clarify something that I'd written about it. Yesterday, she sent an email that posed an arresting question.

All children want to impress their parents though, don't they? Do you think it's different for adoptees?

I can't speak about anybody else, but it was certainly different for me. I hadn't gotten very far with my reply before I saw that I was really writing an entry. Here it is.

January 25, 2007


It was very good news to learn that The Girls Who Went Away was nominated for a Nonfiction award by the National Book Critics Circle. It's good just to know that Ann Fessler's book appeals to a general audience. I read it with mounting obsession, but, then, I'm an adopted child.

The ball is in my court on the reunion front. I've received the "non-identifying" information that the New York Foundling Hospital could release, and I've been notified by the New York State Department of Health that when each of my parents registers with the Adoption and Medical Information Registry, then we can all get in touch.

I'm sorry, but that's profoundly unacceptable. The state has no business here. One of my parents is supremely unlikely to be alive - he would be one hundred ten years old - while the other is in her late eighties, living who knows where. Thanks to The Girls Who Went Away, I no longer believe that the State of New York had or has the right to hand me over to biological strangers while denying me access to information about my birth family, which may, as it happens, include as many as three half-siblings and their children. My daughter has a right to know her not-so-distant cousins.

That's why I'm happy about the nomination. The success of The Girls Who Went Away will be a step toward the repeal of New York State's inhuman adoption-records statute.

September 18, 2006

Ann Fessler's Adoption Bombshell: The Girls Who Went Away


Return receipt requested - my papers, seeking reunion with my mother, have been received by the right people. I expect that nothing much will happen for a while. Any suggestions?

"Adoption" is now a subcategory of the Daily Blague's archives - you'll find it under "Yorkville High Street," which is where I shunt everything of a remotely personal nature. If this development had been foretold to me a year ago, in some miraculous vision, I'd have been bewildered. Searching into my origins was something that I'd long ago decided not to do. And nothing has happened to change the feelings on which that decision was based. I still have no real desire to know the people whose conjunction produced me.

But since Ann Fessler's The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v Wade (Penguin, 2006) came into my life, my desires have taken a distinct back seat to a mounting sense of obligation. Now I must do everything in my power to put an end to the anxieties of the woman who bore me and who was, almost certainly, not allowed to keep me. It is possible that she has put me out of her mind as an unhappy chapter. That's what the social workers in the adoption racket would like us all to believe. If she managed to do that, then I'm honestly happy for her - worrying about me has not been a part of her life for nearly sixty years. But if she's like any of the moms whom Ann Fessler interviewed for The Girls Who Went Away, she may have tried to put me out of her mind, but she has never been able to pull it off.

Three Daily Blague entries mention this remarkable book already. It first came up in June, in the course of business, when it was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, and I completely declined to assess Kathryn Harrison's review in favor of making my own remarks, rehashing my old, "not interested" position on adoption clear. And yet I began the paragraph by stating that I'd already ordered the book. On Independence Day, I wrote about the change that it had wrought in my thinking. And then, two days later, I mumbled an apology for not having started sooner, laying out the reasons why I'd thought it would be a bad idea to seek reunion. Then, nothing happened for over a month. It was a glitch involving the safe deposit box, where the papers that I'd been given after my father died were parked. The glitch was resolved  in the middle of August, and a week later I received a form to fill out. I fiddled with it last week, writing my answers in pencil on a copy so that Kathleen's kind secretary could type them onto the actual form. (I have an electric typewriter in a box somewhere, but I never use it, and the form was way too hot an item for me to type competently.) My first move was completed yesterday, with the mailing of the form and the attachments.

Continue reading about my The Girls Who Went Away at Portico.

September 01, 2006

Step One

Taking the first baby steps toward the possibility of a reunion with my birth mother, I fill out a New York State Department of Health Adoptee Registration Form (MCVAR). MCVAR stands for Mutual Consert Voluntary Adoption Registries, and the New York Foundling Hospital keeps one such registry. The form will be copied, presumably, and sent on to the State Registry, which coordinates all the others in New York State. I have all the information requested - except for the date of adoption. I've got a petition, and two investigator's reports, but no order of the court. Who knows how much that will screw things up.

Both of the reports were submitted by Marugerite Duffy, "known in religion as Sister Mary Madeline," then the treasurer of the hospital. One of them includes the following statements:

That on the 29th day of January, 1948, the mother of said child delivered said child to the New York Foundling Hospital.

That the mother of said infant who had sole custody of said infant signed a Surrender thereof at The New York Foundling Hospital on the 15th day of March, 1948, recorded in the New York County Clerk's office in Surrenders, page 467.

What does this mean? Did my mother keep me by her side for the three weeks between my birth, on 6 January, and the end of the month? If so, where? Surely not at a maternity home - could that have been permitted?

I'll have the form in the mail on Monday.

August 24, 2006

Getting Going

All right: here's why I had a big day on Tuesday. (Did I spend a minute on the Book Review? I don't think so.) Last Thursday, a parental figure by the name of Z - she is only a few years older than I am (two? three?), but she rocks - asked her daughter about my adoption search. That would be my plan to make contact with my birth mother, should she be interested, just to let her know that I'm okay. Until reading The Girls Who Went Away a few months ago, I had no intention whatever of learning more about my birth parents, but Ann Kessler's book changed my mind about that within the space of three chapters.

Here's what happened: Z wrote to her daughter, "How RJ's search for his mother going?" This was passed on to me in a very neutral way, but I understood, as if at the wrong end of a stun gun, that Impatience was being Registered.

I'll spare you the part about how I had to have birth certificates or whatever before I could proceed. It was all nonsense, but I didn't know how much it was nonsense until I finally had what I thought I "needed to have" before beginning the search. I didn't. On Tuesday I got the documents from the safe-deposit box. On Wednesday, there was a Joan-of-Arc moment in the blue room, where I write. I didn't see any angels, but I certainly heard the voice of Z. "Well, honey, it's nice that you've got your papers now. What's next?" It was a voice that, without being insistent, laid down an ultimatum. What it really said was, "If you think that you can give yourself the kind of credit for getting those papers yesterday that will allow you to do nothing for a few days until the middle of next week, you, mister, are full of shit!" Not that Z would ever put it that way. But it was the message.

I dropped what I was doing (writing to Z's daughter about my day) and Googled the Foundling Hospital, the organization that placed me with my adoptive parents way back in 1948. It took a bit of determination - they can't be actually happy about answering the requests of people like me - but I did find, finally, a contact whom I could call about my records. Ms Josephine Wintz was pleasantly straightforward about the form that she was going to send me, which I would fill out and have notarized - pretty much what I expected to be the next step, and a sensible step it is, too. She asked for the name of my adoptive parents, and a few other details. Conceivably, there could be a "no records" screw-up, but I don't expect that.

Everyone in my circle says, Bravo, RJ! You're so courageous! But bravery has nothing to do with it. I want my mom* to know that I'm okay - that's all. I'm not planning to find meaning in a new family. That may well be what happens, but my objective is simply to assure a woman who took from 6 January until 15 March 1948 to sign surrender papers that, wow, I'm still here. A middle-aged creakopotamus, but still good for a few lines. She will, if the anecdotal information is correct, be 77. Not so old these days. At 58 I feel a lot older. But as Christine Lavin sings, I was once somebody's baby, and if she is worried about me, this mother of mine, then I must do what I can to still her anxieties.

(And then, sound Irishwoman that she probably is, she'll find out that I'm resolute about the need for gay marriage, and have a fatal heart attack.)

My good friend Susan was here for lunch. "But of course it's got to be disturbing. You were part of a project, short on experience but long on agenda, that hardly knew what it was doing, something like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study." Oh, not nearly that bad. But perhaps that irresponsible.

* And this is far from the least interesting detail. I called my adoptive mother "Mother" from about the age of eleven on. I couldn't call her "Mom." In this I was partially echoing my adoptive father, who called his mother "Mother" until the day she died. But the woman who gave me birth seems like Mom to me.