May 31, 2015: The Adoption Tragedy
Lorraine, my wife, is within a day or two of signing off on the last corrections to her new book, HOLE IN MY HEART, and very soon thereafter Amazon will be publishing it, making it available via Kindle or as a bound book, selling for a price yet to be determined, but probably around $12.00. What a long road it has been--five years, as many versions, always refining it and making it better. I'm proud to have traveled this road with her and done the little I could do to encourage and help her. The book is, as most of my readers will know, about giving up her daughter for adoption, reuniting with her years later, Lorraine's campaign to open adoption records, and her sometimes troubled, sometimes happy relationship with her daughter.
From very long ago I have known that adoption was an iffy business at best. When I was eleven my cousin Joan came to live with us. She was sixteen and pregnant, and we were her safe haven, my mother hiding her in our small house, taking her out to the doctor only in big loose coats to prevent the neighbors knowing her condition, and Joan with the red eyes, the crying fits, and all the rest involved in such a profound loss as giving a child away entails. She never had a choice. Worse, the father of the child, a boy she loved, was told by his parents to spread the word that Joan had slept with a bunch of other kids as well as him, so how could they be sure--and help pay the costs--that their son was responsible? Joan, and Joan's life, was never the same. Her own mother was an alcoholic, and she used to tell me that my mother was the only real mother she had ever had. But my mother presided over the private adoption, arranged through the family doctor, that took her child from her.
So I was not shocked or surprised when I met Lorraine and she told me her story--young woman, married man, the mess that is an affair and the sometimes terrible consequences. Shit happens. Happens all the time. People make mistakes, especially when they're young, and sometimes they suffer the consequences the rest of their lives. I already knew from Joan's experience something about the void the loss of a child creates in a woman's life, and while I also knew that adoption was sometimes the only solution for people, I knew it was a desperate solution, a tragic solution.
That's largely because of the secrecy involved. And here, I realized when I started to think about it, was the crux of it. And the crime of it. According to the laws that dominate adoption in the United States, the mother who gives birth and whom circumstances force to give up her child is never to know what happened to him or her. While the adopted child is never to know who his actual parents are. You don't think this haunts them both? It certainly haunted Lorraine, as her book amply demonstrates. It also haunted her daughter, as her daughter's testimony in the book also amply demonstrates. For the adoptee, it means that she has no natural identity, and no right to it. She or he can never know whether she's of Irish heritage, or English, or Spanish, whether her or his grandmother also had red hair and big ears, who their flair for dancing or mathematics came from. On my mother's side I am descended from Rebecca Nurse, who was hanged at Salem for witchcraft in 1692. On my father's I am entirely Swedish, which accounts for my height, my square head, my quietness, and something of my natural calm. Quite apart from all the writing I've done in my life, my accomplishments, such as they are, and my relationships with other people, these things are a major part of my identity.
And one's identity is a natural right. Fundamental to being human. What gives a government the right to mess with it? Nothing. The laws on adoption are an aberration, a disgrace, designed only to protect the adoptive parents from the loss of their illusion that they are the real and only parents, and the knowledge that their gain--some other woman's child--is that woman's tragedy. The United States was founded on natural law, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the right to one's own identity is without question part of that heritage. I cannot imagine myself without my own identity. As Lorraine's daughter testifies eloquently in Lorraine's book, adoptees walk around fantasizing about being the children of princesses, or somebody famous, or prostitutes; they make up scenarios; or they improvise identities. But they never really know. The right to know who you are has been taken away before they have any say whatever in the matter. They walk the earth always with this feeling of incompleteness, of missing something essential--who they really are--and always with this question--why was I given up? What's wrong with me?
Lorraine has spent much of her adult life trying to get the laws changed. She reunited with her daughter, with my encouragement and that of friends, by paying a searcher many years ago. The story she tells in her book is poignant, sad, compelling. I cannot read parts of it without crying; I was there. Other parts make me laugh. It has the feel, the substance, of lived lives, in all their complexity; and it is all true. She and I, like all married couples, have our differences, but they vanish here, in our joint belief that adoption in America needs to be rethought and reconfigured, that a quiet but fundamental injustice has to be corrected. To that end, she has written one hell of a fine book. The kind you'll remember. It should be available in a week or so.