THE STORK MARKET
My review of “The Stork Market” is in the current Adoption Today Magazine. You can view it in the magazine online at: Adoption Today (from there, go to page 58-59).
Stork Market: America’s multi-billion dollar unregulated adoption industry
Mirah Riben, Advocate Publications, 2007
The Stork Market is not an easy read, whatever your perspective on adoption. Chances are you will squirm, gasp and shake your head in disbelief (as I did). Then, you will likely come to realize that this book is an important addition to the body of adoption literature — in fact, a must-read for every mother who is considering surrendering a child, every couple seeking to adopt, and every adoption professional and legislator in the United States.
You won’t find a more straightforward account of the adoption industry as it exists today. Concise, well researched and documented, The Stork Market offers a comprehensive history of current adoption practices, including the lack of regulations (no requirements for training, licensing and reporting) for agencies and facilitators in 47 of our 50 states, transgressions committed against both natural mothers and adopting parents (including recognizable names like Georgia Tann and Seymour Kurtz), varying international adoption policies, trends toward rushing mothers into the decision to surrender, unenforceable open adoption agreements, safe havens, foster care, and sealed records.
Mirah Riben’s conclusion (a view shared by Origins-USA, on whose board of directors she serves) is that family preservation is the answer — with kinship adoption and legal guardianship as viable alternatives to adoption by strangers, the end to amended birth certificates, enforcement of open adoption agreements, and a greater focus on finding families for older children in foster care.
“It is far easier for the general public to identify and empathize with the plight of someone who desires to be a parent and cannot, than with expectant mothers needing support,” Riben writes. Many in the media “lament the ‘shame’ of the lack of ‘adoptable’ babies, and describe painfully desperate attempts to adopt and ‘deserving’ couples being forced to endure long waiting periods, traveling overseas and/or paying exorbitant fees, and being victimized by scammers. What is overlooked is that the intended purpose of adoption is not to fix infertility but to find homes for children whose families cannot raise them.”
After reading The Stork Market, I believe family preservation is an aim worthy of our consideration and effort. At the very least, major reforms are in order. Riben (along with Evelyn Robinson, a social worker, author and speaker on the long-term outcomes of adoption separation, who has lived and worked in Australia since 1982 and wrote the book’s foreword) cites Australia’s Children’s Protection Act of 1993, an adoption alternative model based on the best interests of children that might well provide a road map for changes here in America. The act makes private adoption illegal, bans commercial adoption agencies and payments of any kind connected to adoptions, encourages and supports expectant mothers in raising their children, requires counseling after birth at least three days prior to consent for adoption, prohibits consent for adoption until the child is at least fourteen days old, and includes the names of both the natural and adoptive parents on the birth/adoption certificate.
Change of this magnitude takes years. In the meantime, The Stork Market provides vital information on mothers’ and fathers’ rights and how adoptive parents can avoid being victimized by unscrupulous agencies and facilitators.
“Adoption is a very personally and emotionally charged issue for those touched by it,” Riben acknowledges. “Few can think about or discuss it without passion. For that reason, this may be a difficult or painful book for some to read. It may make you sad, it may shock you, or it may make you angry. But it is for just these reasons that you might need to read it.”
I hope you do.
THE GIRLS WHO WENT AWAY
This book review appeared in both the PACER and American Adoption Congress newsletters:
For years, I wondered if I’d imagined it — not my pregnancy, nor the birth and relinquishment of my son, but what happened on the fringes. My parents’ hardhearted reaction, the indifference with which I was treated at the hospital and by the adoption attorney, and the collective expectation that I would walk away unscathed, played in my head like a bad movie. When I reunited with my son, 25 years after his birth, the memories came back with a vengeance. And yet, I couldn’t help but think that I imagined it worse than it actually was. Surely, I could have done something to keep my baby, and barring that, I should have been able to bounce back, instead of letting the experience so profoundly impact my life. Reading about adoption issues and participating in support groups helped free me from the cruel grip of “what ifs.” But if I still harbored any fantasies that, as a frightened 19-year-old, I could have bucked the giant adoption machine of that time, Ann Fessler’s book would have put them all to rest.
The Girls Who Went Away is the first book to fully capture the birthmother experience in the years before choice, sex education and birth control, when shame and secrecy ruled, and options other than marriage were virtually nonexistent. Like Rickie Solinger’s Wake Up Little Susie (1992), it portrays the socio-economic climate that allowed 1.5 million babies to be relinquished in the U.S. between 1945 and 1973. However, in Fessler’s book, statistics and analysis take a back seat to the birthmother’s personal and powerful stories.
The hauntingly similar tales of more than 100 women paint an accurate picture of the era I remember. There were no “adoption plans,” no choices offered. Only desperate girls, sent away to wait out their pregnancies in disgrace, until the babies they would not be permitted to mother were born and taken away. They were chastised by religious figures, sometimes tricked by social workers and adoption agencies, and ultimately scorned by a society with black and white rules.
Fessler, herself an adoptee, had been producing short films and audio-visual installations on the subject of adoption for fifteen years, when she began recording the birthmother stories that she found “so powerful that they transformed my understanding on adoption.” Framed by the author’s own story of waiting to search while her adoptive mother was alive, and then finding and reunited with her birthmother, while still working on the project, the stories are told with courage, insight, and refreshingly little whining. (The tapes, on which the book is based, will be housed in the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard.)
Thank goodness, Ann Fessler saw the significance of a time in history that will hopefully never repeat.. Like many adoption books, this one is not an easy read. But for birthmothers, the validation is worth the discomfort. And for adoptees who were relinquished during those years, and the parents who adopted them, the potential for understanding is vast.
WITHOUT A MAP
Meredith Hall, Beacon Press, 2007
This review appeared in the AAC Newsletter.
The moment I heard about Meredith Hall’s Without A Map — praised in a number of magazines even before its release in April — I rushed to Amazon.com and ordered it. As far as I knew, this was the first book by a birthmother not being shoved into the “adoption book” category, one that people who didn’t necessarily have an adoption connection would read, one with the potential to make the bestseller lists. I was not disappointed — in the book or its success.
Hall tells a familiar and yet deeply personal story of loss and redemption: the harsh treatment of pregnant teenagers in the sixties, the emotional aftermath and life-altering effects of giving up a child, and the struggle to resolve long-buried feelings of grief, worthlessness, and betrayal. A sexually-naïve, small-town girl, she gets pregnant at age sixteen by a college boy who has no interest in her after their summer fling. It is 1965. She is expelled from her high school, shunned by her friends, and sent from her mother’s home to live with her father and stepmother who keep her hidden for the duration of her pregnancy.
After giving birth and relinquishing her son, she finishes high school at a nearby boarding school, and then travels to Europe and the Middle East, where she wanders alone and without direction for months, until a chance meeting with a group of mothers and their babies somewhere along the Mediterranean instills a sudden longing to return home. Back in the U.S., she begins piecing together a life that includes graduating from college and having two more children.
At the heart of the story is the chasm created between Hall and her parents, who deserted her when she needed them most. When her twenty-one-year-old son finds her, she learns that he was raised in poverty with an abusive father. Through her relationship with him and his adoptive parents (who now seek their son’s forgiveness), as well as her inner strength, Hall attains a sense of peace with her mother, her father, and herself.
Without A Map is one of the most compelling and artful memoirs — on any subject — to come along in years. Give it a read, and then pass it along to any family members and friends who have been less than willing to explore adoption issues.
WAITING TO FORGET
I just finished reading Waiting to Forget by Margaret Moorman.
I thought I’d read every first mom memoir in print, and I don’t know how this one escaped my notice. It was excellent. I recommend it. The author artfully integrates current events on open records, birthparent battles to reclaim their children, and the formation of groups such as ALMA and CUB into her story.
Margaret (Peggy) got pregnant at 15, relinquished her newborn at 16. When she refused to go into a Crittenton home, her mother found an out-of-town boarding house where she could stay until she gave birth. With the help of a tutor, she kept up her studies and re-entered high school after.
I was already out of high school. I got pregnant on my nineteenth birthday, and gave birth a few months before turning 20. That I was legally an adult (as in “you could have taken charge”) became a point of contention with my son and some others upon learning of my situation. But that’s a story for another time…
What stunned me as I devoured the pages of Moorman’s book was how stoic we were: the pre-Roe v. Wade mothers, also known as BSE (Baby Scoop Era). Not that unwed women in later years didn’t face the same fears, shaming, and coercion (and still do). Not that they haven’t experienced the same loss and pain.
So I’ve been contemplating the difference. Surely, young women in the 1940s, fifties and sixties were having sex before marriage. But we weren’t supposed to be. We weren’t “nice girls.” We were loose, easy, sluts. Except we only got found out if we got pregnant.
Whether or not it was socially and religiously acceptable, teens and young women were known to be having sex in the late seventies, eighties and beyond. They still got (and do get) sent to homes or hidden away at relatives to protect the family image. They are still preyed upon by agencies seeking babies for infertile couples. That has run rampant. Demand has increased and so has the coercion.
We from the BSE were easy marks. They didn’t have to say much; they didn’t have to threaten us. We knew we had done wrong, felt it in the very core of our being, and were anxious to correct our transgressions. The only way we would be accepted back into our families and society was to relinquish our babies and keep it a secret.
Guilt and shame seeped into our cells. We didn’t talk about it. We didn’t seek support. There was none at that time. We didn’t expect to see our children again. We didn’t feel worthy of such a gift after what we had done. And wasn’t search illegal? Many of us believe we didn’t deserve to have more children. We thought of ourselves as bad mothers.
Moorman didn’t forget her lost son, even though she didn’t think about him every day. She tried to move on. She didn’t talk about it; she denied her feelings for decades. She started to search, then stopped, then started again, and stopped. Until she could no longer stand not knowing.
“You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out…” Frightened Hokey Pokey moms.
Me too. Finding my son was a vague notion, a dream I thought would never come true. Something I didn’t believe I deserved. Never seeing him again was my curse, Thinking back, I’m surprised that I registered with Soundex.
That was before the Internet. And there’s another difference between BSE moms and the first moms of today.
Blogger pal Suz wrote in a comment on my previous blog: If there is too little awareness of the adoptee perspective, there is equally or less of the moms, dontcha think? Look at all the memoirs and books by adoptees. Look at all the known research on adoptees. Where is the research and books on moms and what we feel and endure? How can be expect to be understood if no one writes or speaks for us or listens to us? One of the reasons I believe Fessler was so successful in her book is that it…was finally a voice for mothers, finally SOMEONE was putting the moms perspective into circulation. …We need more mom books and stories.
I agree! Actually, there are a lot of books by and about birthmothers out there. But we need more like Ann Fessler’s “The Girls Who Went Away” and Meredith Hall’s “Without A Map,” both of which got more exposure and accolades than others like:
“Birthmark,” Lorraine Dusky, 1979 — which I believe was the first and is now out of print.
“Birthbond: Reunions Between Birthparents & Adoptees, What Happens After,” Judith Gediman and Linda P. Brown, 1989. (This was the first book I read after reuniting with my son and I highly recommend it, not just for first mothers, but for adoptees to better understand the trauma of relinquishment.)
“Birthmothers: Women Who Have Relinquished Babies for Adoption Tell Their Stories. Merry Bloch Jones,1993.
“The Gift Wrapped in Sorrow,” Jane Guttman, 1999.
“Giving Away Simone,: Jan Waldron, 1995.
“I Hope You Have A Good Life,” Campbell Armstong, 2000.
“May The Circle Be Unbroken,” Lynn Franklin and Elizabeth Ferber, 1998.
“The Other Mother,” Carol Schaefer, 1991.
“Soul Connection: Memoir of a Birthmother’s Healing Journey,” Ann Hughes, 1999.
…just to name a few.
For a fairly comprehensive list of adoption-related books, visit:
PACER BOOK LIST