|NOVEMBER IS NATIONAL ADOPTION MONTH
This month reminds us that adoption reunions were the idea that led to the creation of Reunions magazine. We have rarely revisited those intense personal reunions, but are always in debt to Jean Strauss, whose reunion story generated the idea. This year, to acknowledge National Adoption Month, PBS will feature Jean’s documentary ADOPTED: for the life of me, which follows the journey of adult adoptees searching and hoping for a reunion. We urge you to watch these very personal stories that will explain a still painful civil rights aberration for the orphan minority (pun intended) who just want to know who they are, but are kept from that information in all but one state.
The film is being broadcast on PBS with a prime time screening in New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York City on Sunday, November 7th, at 7:00 p.m., and at other times and regions throughout the coming year (Orange County, CA during Thanksgiving week!) The filmpowerfully illuminates the lifelong impact that secrets can have, not only on adoptees, but on birthparents and adoptive families as well. To learn where you can see ADOPTED: for the life of me, go to www.adoptedforthelifeofme.com and click on “Find a Screening.”
If you are beginning an adoption
search, see below for a getting started guide.
by Carolyn Campbell
Her parents and in-laws feared she might stir up trouble and break
her own heart but 42 year old adoptive mother Ellen Brown was
determined to help 15-year old Becky find her birthmother.
Becky struggled to cope with unresolved
anger and a feeling that a piece was missing in her life. She
had fits of temper and frequent rage. Becky's conflicts weren't
caused by her adoption but Ellen was eventually convinced that
meeting her birthmother might help resolve Becky's inner turmoil.
To understand adoptee's feelings, Ellen and Becky visited adoption
support groups. Ellen reported that many people in their 30s and
40s still hoped to fill a void by meeting their birth parents.
She didn't want Becky to hang onto that pain for 40 years, nor
to have a longing for her identity hold her back.
Ellen became firm in her conviction that finding her daughter's
birthmother was appropriate, despite Becky's young age
six years below the recommended legal age of 21. "She is
on the brink of adulthood. I though it would help her live a happy
and productive life if she knew where she came from. I felt she
needed to see her birthmother at least once to see the
whole person to make her own inner self whole," says Ellen.
Ellen was grateful to the woman who'd
given Becky up for adoption. Ellen and husband, Al, hoped to have
several children. After five miscarriages adoption was their last
They were approved to adopt in December and the following July,
received the phone call from the social worker. Ellen remembers,
"They left us alone in a room with the baby. She was dark-haired,
gorgeous and so tiny. Just over a year later Browns were thrilled
to discover themselves pregnant. Son, John, was added to the family.
Al and Ellen were always open with Becky about her adoption. Becky
thought it was great to be adopted because she felt special and
different from others. In about sixth grade she began to be curious
about her adoption. They attended support groups and discovered
the significance adoptees place on finding self-identity. Ellen
was convinced such knowledge is vital; it became important that
Becky know everything. She thinks even biological children fantasize
and question "what if these aren't my real parents?"
As family love expanded to include
John, Ellen felt it could increase to include Becky's birth family.
Rather than weakening their ties Ellen felt that establishing
a relationship with Becky's birth family could create a bond they'd
all share. She says, "I saw my search as expanding our family,
as if Becky were getting married. I hope I'll love my future son-in-law
and I hoped to love Becky's birth family.
Ellen felt Becky should write a letter authorizing the search,
when she sensed it was the right time.
Ellen admits fear when the social
worker found the birthmother's name, Debbie Wallace, in just three
weeks. When they called Debbie, emotions were running high and
Ellen felt a sense of loss. "My ultimate goal," she
said, "is to make Becky a happy, healthy person by fulfilling
her needs." When adoptive and birthmother first spoke, Debbie
surprised Ellen by asking, "Where have you been? Why haven't
you called before?
Following Becky's birth, Debbie sneaked
to the hospital nursery to gaze at her beautiful dark-haired baby.
After the adoption, Debbie's whole family longed for the baby
they'd never seen. She never had another child. She consoled herself
with the assumption that she'd agreed to an open adoption. She
sent diary excerpts, letters, Christmas cards and gifts to the
adoption agency for her daughter. She never received a response.
Debbie invited the Browns to visit
her in Michigan. Teacher Ellen agreed as soon as the school year
The families hit it off immediately during the 15-day reunion
that included river-running, sightseeing, an extended family reunion
and lots of time to reflect and talk. "It's eerie
like we belong here and have been here forever," reflected
Besides their striking physical resemblance,
Becky and Debbie share common personality traits. Both are strong-willed,
assertive, impulsive and, like Becky, Debbie struggled to control
her anger while growing up. Both like fantasizing about the future,
movies, exercising and the same foods. Both growl in the morning.
Along with their warm friendship,
the families reached an understanding that both the mom who gave
her life and the mom who raised Becky are vital parts of her identity.
After Becky met her birth family, she told Ellen, "Mom, if
they hadn't placed me for adoption, I wouldn't have gotten you."
About the author
Freelance writer Carolyn Campbell has published 200 articles
in local and national magazines. She has been writing for 20 years.
She lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and four children.
A group who have adopted from Guatemala is looking for people/groups
in the US to share information. Contact Melvin Willis, 18 Norton
Way North, Letchworth Herts SG6 1BX, England; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Star Demint would have traveled around the world to meet birth
family but she only had to go 10 minutes to meet a half-brother.
Demint was abandoned as an infant and later, adopted by her foster
mother. Not long after beginning her search, Demint was told her
birthmother had died, the one thing she didn't want to hear. After
more searching she ascertained that her mother died in New Orleans
in 1976 and was buried in California. A call to the funeral home
revealed that Demint had three brothers and two sisters. The sisters
are not dealing well with the surprise of another sister but the
brothers have been welcoming and supportive.
The first brother she called told her another brother lived just
10 minutes from her. She impatiently went right over to her brother's
house. He said she looked so much like her mother he knew they
were related when he saw her coming. Demint who lives in St. Petersburg,
Florida, has attended reunions with her new family in Tennessee
submitted by Ken August Brunner
from the St. Petersburg (FL) Times
If everyone lighted just one little
by Alice Syman
A few years ago a member of my Orphan Voyage Adoption Search and
Support Group in Arizona hosted a Christmas party. The home was
a Christmas Wonderland. Thousands of lights twinkled on the lawn;
the inside looked like a Santa-Land. The atmosphere was warm,
loving and affectionate. The Christmas music and candlelight sparked
some real magic that night.
Each person searching for someone
was invited to light one of the red or white tapers arranged in
a circle around a lighted taper in the center of the dining table.
Those who were already reunited lit a candle for a member who
couldnt attend. Each persons name was called as they
lit a candle. Then, everyone joined hands, observed a moment of
silence and visualized a reunion taking place.
During the next 16 days Janice had
a telephone reunion with her birthfather and two siblings. Sadly,
Victor found out that his granddaughter died 10 years earlier.
Caroles birth-daughter, and Sho-Meis birth family,
were located. Sho-meis mother had died. Carls birth-sister,
who was located in spring, but had not consented to meet with
him, called; they met before New Year! His adopted daughters
birth family was located.
Linda, a birthmother, received word
that the court finally located the record of a son she had given
up. She had also lost custody of several children shed not
seen since they were small. They were now all adults with families
of their own. The night of the party, Linda was home alone, ill,
wondering where her children were and if shed ever see them
again. She knew nothing about our candle-lighting ceremony but
said that suddenly she felt all her children around her and knew
she would see them again. I asked what time this happened. She
said about 7:30 PM. We were lighting candles at 7:30 PM! We located
Lindas children shortly after.
As far as I know everyone at the
party that night has been reunited with the person they were searching
About the author
Alice Syman operated Orphan Voyage of Arizona 12 years and
now operates Orphan Voyage-at-St. Augustine (Florida). Orphan
Voyage, founded by Jean Paton in 1953, was the first search and
support organization for the adoption triad in the US. They have
an adoptee/birthparent memorial site on the web; request guidelines
Adoption Related Searching
These are very basic steps for doing
an adoption search; Adoptee for birthparents; birthparents for
adoptees; adoptive parents for birthparents.
The single difference that distinguishes
an adoption search from any other is that, often, you begin without
knowing the name of the person for whom you're searching. This
is complicated by name changes when birthmothers marry.
You face a two-step process
1. Find the name
2. Find the person
There was a time when searching was
done in isolation and secret. That, mercifully, is no longer true.
There are many places and much help. Assert yourself.
Register with the International
Soundex Reunion Registry
ISRR is a totally volunteer organization thus your complete cooperation
is required. Read carefully and follow their directions to the
letter. Answer every question as thoroughly as you can to give
them details to make a match.
Registration is free (donations encouraged).
Send self-addressed, stamped envelope to ISRR, PO Box 2312, Carson
City NV 89702.
Decide if you will search or hire
Searching is not to be taken lightly. It is a large commitment
of time, energy and emotions you probably didn't know existed.
It is not for the faint of heart. Enter your personal search with
determination and be prepared for challenges, obstacles and disappointments.
You may be facing a long and compelling experience.
If you decide to hire someone to
help you, be prepared to provide information and financial resources
necessary to complete the job. We make no recommendations because
like all other help you hire, there must be a comfortable fit.
Check Reunions magazine Classifieds, your local search and support
organization, the Yellow Pages, the American Adoption Congress,
and others who have searched (whom you know personally or meet
in books and articles).
Join, attend and be active in
a search and support organization; list in their registry
Join a local group for support and assistance. If you were born
or adopted elsewhere, affiliate with a group in that area too.
There are local groups throughout the country. Check Reunions
magazine Classifieds, the Yellow Pages, ask a social worker, minister
or librarian, ask someone who is searching or has searched.
Read, read, read
There are many books about searching and reunions. Many inspire.
Some anger. All teach. You will learn about other people's searches.
What worked. What didn't. Keep your mind, heart, eyes and ears
open to the message of each. Begin at your local library.
If you are an adoptee, ask your adoptive
Most adoptive parents expect their
children to ask for information. Some offer it but most must be
gently confronted. The best outcome should be that your parents
share all the information they have, which sometimes includes
the name and more. If not, they can direct you to the agency or
intermediary who helped make the placement.
Be very circumspect and thoughtful
about why you are searching. Medical information to survive is
probably the most compelling reason to search. Think through what
you hope to find and alternative realities that might be the case.
Try to prepare yourself to be surprised, overwhelmed, disappointed
or even underwhelmed. Use your best judgement. Let everyone adjust
at their own pace.
Resources for beginners
International Soundex Reunion Registry
PO Box 2312
Carson City NV 89702
American Adoption Congress
1000 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 9
Washington DC 20036
National Adoption Information Clearinghouse
11426 Rockville Pike, Suite 410
Rockville MD 20852
Search and Support Groups
The Blue Book Birthparent Connection
Encinitas CA 92023-0643
With a Computer
There are individuals, bulletin boards, chat rooms and web sites
on the Internet which you can visit or to which you can connect.
Some of them are hot-linked from here. Also try Yahoo and other
Internet search engines. Resources are added daily.