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WORKING TOGETHER TO UNLOCK THE SECRETS OF ADOPTION

                                                                                                May 6, 2004

It was seven years ago today when my phone rang. “Does the date November 28, 1966 mean anything to you? Your daughter Kathleen has been looking for you for a long time.” 

Kathleen was very fortunate in her search. She was born in New York City, to a woman with an unusual surname. It still wasn’t easy; she found a woman in New Jersey she thought was her birthmother, and was stung and hurt by the unsuspecting woman’s rejection. Her search could very well have ended there, but she persevered until she found the right home in Florida. An adopted person’s search for her story should never be this difficult or capricious.  Kathleen now knows her family medical history, her lineage, and how she came to be. She knows that everyone in her birth family loves to read, and her soft nails are just like her sisters. Her children have another set of grandparents to love and support them. She knows, for the first time, that there is nothing shameful about who she is.

I became pregnant when I was a freshman in college. My boyfriend was a senior, facing the draft, and unwilling to commit to a shotgun marriage. I felt shame, guilt, and abandonment. Raising a child alone was an overwhelming idea.  “If you love your child, you will do the right thing, and give her up to an adoptive family who can provide her with all the things you can’t. You’ll forget about this and move on with your life”.

I tried, I really did. It just didn’t work – the hole in my heart just grew with the years. I married the birthfather two years after relinquishment, and our first daughter was never forgotten, never mourned, just kept locked up in our hearts and minds. We wondered – alone – but I never felt we could or would know her. The two daughters born after our marriage were never told about their big sister. We followed what we were told all those years ago, waiting for the forgetting to begin.

That phone call seven years ago changed everything. We were able to finally talk about our first born, and begin to heal the pain caused by her relinquishment. Kathleen is now part of our family, and shares good times and laughter with her sisters. Her children call us grandma and grandpa. The reunion has been a wonderful, positive experience for all members of the birth family. We go to adoption conferences together, speak often, and visit as frequently as possible.

There are no losers in our reunion. Kathleen will spend Mother’s Day with her adoptive mother, as she usually does. She has been part of their family almost her whole life, and will continue to be. Both her families share a deep common interest in the happiness and welfare of Kathleen, her husband, and their children.  Family celebrations are large affairs, with contingents from both Kathleen’s families, and her husband’s family as well. Things have worked out very well for all of us.

Like most adopted persons, Kathleen still can not get a copy of her original birth certificate. She has no official record of the hour of her birth, or her birth weight. The original birth certificates of adopted persons were sealed not to provide confidentiality to birth parents, but to protect the children from the stigma of bastardry. That notion is not relevant today, but the practice of sealing birth records persists today in the state of Florida.  Adopted adults have a civil right to a document that is about them, and could be the key to unlocking their medical history. Studies demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of birthmothers yearn for contact, and the internet is full of adoption search websites. Let’s treat adopted adults like all other adults in society, give them their documents, and trust they can manage the relationships in their lives.  

Eileen McQuade
Delray Beach, FL.