Abducted Versus Adopted: For 1.5 Million of U.S. Adoptees, What's the Difference?

By Jennifer Lauck

February 9, 2011 / huffingtonpost

Carlina White said she always had a sense she did not belong to the family that raised her. The twenty-three-year-old woman had been abducted in 1987 from a Harlem Hospital when she was nineteen-days-old. White was then raised by her abductor, Ann Pettway. Pettway is now in custody for kidnapping.

What White expresses about her sense of belonging is what I have felt for all the years of my own life -- only I am called adopted versus abducted.

I have to wonder, what is the difference in these terms, especially when I consider the circumstances of my own birth and subsequent relinquishment.

I was born December 15, 1963 at St. Mary's Hospital in Reno, Nevada. My mother, seventeen-years-old, was told she had no legal right to keep me. The Catholic agency who facilitated the adoption also told my mother that, with their help, a good family would raise me. The doctor who delivered me told my mother she would not be a good mother and would not allow her to hold or even see me when I was born.

By today's view of birthing and mothering, it is considered inhumane to deny a woman even a glimpse of her own child but this severe method of dealing with young mothers was standard procedure in the 1950's, 60's and even the 70's and stark evidence of this is provided in Ann Fessler's groundbreaking book The Girls Who Went Away. Those babies, forced from their mothers, are grown now and are learning -- as I have -- that it was illegal to take a child from a mother, no matter what her age.

And what of the promises made by the agencies who facilitated adoptions? In my own case, the Catholic agency placed me in the home of a terminally ill woman. My adoptive mother died when I was seven. My adoptive father died when I was nine. I was homeless and wandering the streets of L.A. by ten. A long investigation into my case revealed that the Catholic agency knew of my parentless circumstances, noting the deaths of both my adoptive parents in their files, but they did not inform my original mother.

And it turned out that my original mother became a very good mother despite the fact she was told such a reality would be impossible. She married my father when she was eighteen and they had a second child. She went on to have another child as well. Both of my mother's kept children grew to be successful, well-educated and productive adults.

Ms. White has been reunited with her biological first mother. DNA tests this week confirm her as the daughter of Joy White and Carl Tyson and her case has made headline news in the U.S. and internationally.

I have also been reunited with my mother and am confirmed to be her child but my story will never make headlines in the U.S. or internationally because at this time in history, human beings have sanctioned adoption as a moral act and have given it legal and even religious support. Despite the fact that nearly 60% of American's are impacted, directly and indirectly, by the fall out of adoption and adoption policy, as shown in research by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, we remain steeped in denial.

My mother has lived in a forced pocket of secrecy so deep she wasn't allowed to tell anyone about me and so our reunion is complex. My mother has re-experienced the deep shame she felt as a young girl and the pain and loss of separation from relinquishing her first child -- none of which she was allowed to talk about by the rules imposed by family and society. The only coping mechanism available to her has been denial. On my side, I have re-experienced feelings of abandonment, sorrow, fear, confusion and even anger -- the natural fall out of separation from my mother. Together now, by sheer will on both our parts, we work together towards forgiveness and healing.

My mother and I are two of hundreds of thousands of separated mothers and children who struggle in near silence to regain dignity, identity and wholeness. There is no justice surrounding our story and even less recognition of the injustice done.

Jennifer Lauck is the author of Found: A Memoir, The True Sequel to Blackbird with Seal Press and her book video trailer can be seen on YouTube. She is also the author of the New York Times Bestseller Blackbird, Still Waters, Show Me the Way. She is a regular blogger on Prolifically Raw and Shewrites.com.


Future fakes and frauds... a freaking nightmare

Years ago I lost my driver's license and as dumb luck would have it, my passport had expired.  In order to get a new driver's license, I needed among other things, either a current passport or my birth certificate to prove identity and citizenship.  Of course I don't have my original OBC, that's in Canada, but I did have my 'real' copy, the one that had the raised seal, and first and last names of my previous owners adoptive parents.  I also had my marriage certificate (complete with messy folds and coffee stains) and my nursing license.  In addition, I came prepared, and brought lots of bills with my name and address on them.  It was scary having to prove my identity in a post 9/11 NJ town, and I felt like I looked like an idiot with so many papers proving who I was... and yet, had to be told I was I was missing the one piece of paper the DMV wanted and needed... my friggen OBC.

Flustered, I told the lady, "It's in Newfoundland, and my passport is expired".

The lady was very polite, and kind... not at all snotty, which I appreciated.  She took a deep breath and told me my case could not be done locally.  

I had to go to the closest major city, which happened to be Philly.  I was told there, I could get my passport updated.  Easy-enough, eh?

I had sooooooo many problems getting my passport updated, simply because I had no driver's license.  But thanks to luck, fate, God (something), I was able to turn a freaking nightmare into yet another stupid Kerry-life-story -- one I could (and would have to) tell over and over again.

I'm convinced, had I been a person of color, or had my personality been different, I'd still be waiting for my paperwork to be approved.

The crazy scary part?  If crucial paperwork was never filed, or a mistake is found on a particular document, some adoptees can face deportation. [Ah, the joys and fun that go with the story that include an "orphan" born in another country, the loving American couple, who had a son, but wanted one more, and family service providers working hard and "doing the right thing".]

Some adoption stories are simply so horrible, it's insane.  But even when the adoptee's situation is not so horrible, it is amazing to learn what an adoptee still has to go through, just to obtain the most simplest thing, like a correct birth certificate.  These are issues a non-adopted person can never fully understand because to my knowledge, these are things a non-adopted person does not have to experience.  

So, as I was reading the above article, my mind clicked, as I read the following:

Ms. White has been reunited with her biological first mother. DNA tests this week confirm her as the daughter of Joy White and Carl Tyson and her case has made headline news in the U.S. and internationally.

I have also been reunited with my mother and am confirmed to be her child but my story will never make headlines in the U.S. or internationally because at this time in history, human beings have sanctioned adoption as a moral act and have given it legal and even religious support. Despite the fact that nearly 60% of American's are impacted, directly and indirectly, by the fall out of adoption and adoption policy, as shown in research by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, we remain steeped in denial.

As I read the above comment, I thought about all the information and articles I keep reading in terms of child trafficking, and I truly believe in some parts of the world, mothers are still being treated like it's America in the 1950's and 60's, and how traumatising a DNA confirmation can be for adopter and adoptee.

And just as bad, here in America, while young moms-to-be are still being coerced to choose adoption as the best option, some people, like the dads on this page, continue to lose their parental rights to their children, simply because they are the wrong gender. 

The notion that poor adoption policy is a thing of the past is absurdly untrue. In fact, I'm inclined to believe correct, accurate information related to birth facts and the legality of an adoption are 'rights' still being denied, but on much bigger scale and much broader scope than it was denied a generation or two ago. 

This puts me in an odd frame of mind... because as much as I always understood and respected the mission behind Bastard Nation, and as much as I can empathize with the frustration many adult American adoptees feel as they struggle and fight for the right to get their OBC's, I can't help but feel a bigger concern for the new crop of mothers being forced or tricked into an adoption-plan that may not be 'best for child'.    After all, what are foreign parents being told about adoptive families, and who is protecting the parental rights of those who speak a very different language? 

In addition, I can't help but worry about the way in which forced adoptions and illegal actions not stopped by goverment officials are going to affect the next wave of adoptees.  How many so-called 'orphans' are going to be procured and produced for those looking to (earn extra 'God Points') adopt one or more 'poor babies' in need of a family/home.  How many of those children will be forced to live in an orphange, until an AP comes to save the day?

Then after the adopted child is brought home -  how safe will that home be?  Will Forever Fundo Families take religious instruction far too literally and seriously, and torture their adopted children to death?  Will loving mommy and daddy decide sex with a child beats sex with a spouse?  Will the sibling at home snap, and go on a murderous rampage?

There are so many things to worry about those touched by modern-day adoption.... which is why I try to limit my time on PPL.  It can get very overwhelming.

Outside my PPL-world, I don't have much time to worry about my own OBC anymore.  I accept a missing OBC is just one more missing piece of paper that would be hiding in an already overwhelming pile of documents, anyway.  I might get back to it, eventually.

But I do appreciate the author's question:  Abducted versus Adopted, for 1.5 million of US adoptees, what's the difference? 

Well, if you're an American, through adoption, and you learn the legal adoption was not so legal?  The difference, my friends, can be really HUGE.

Prolifically Raw

The author's blog, Prolifically Raw, features another article featured on the February 13th edition of Huffington Post.  The topic-matter in the second installment, titled 'Adoption Myth Buster: What Does it Take to Wake?' covers the type of magical thinking adopters and adoptees tend to embrace.  On the one-hand, an adoptee may think he/she did something wrong to bring upon a co-called chosen fate, the adopter may believe born in the heart is indeed the same as developed in the womb.  Using research findings used by Nancy Verrier (author of "Primal Wound" and "Coming Home to Self"), research findings that study the effects of skin-to-skin contact and the adverse effects separation can cause, and why organizations like Lamaze International promote the benefits of keeping moms and babies together, Jennifer Lauck draws the following conclusion:

The last barrier to the magical thinking I'd been using my whole adult life came when I met my original mother and my birth family. Finally my nervous system and my brain had recognizable genetic markers to latch onto. My mother smelled right, sounded right, looked right, was right! I discovered that an essential part of me had been waiting to make contact with my homeland -- the mother who had given me life. Basic biology.

Make no mistake, my reunion was no panacea for me or my original mother. The wounds of separation, 47 years deep, will take a lifetime to heal; but I am now fully aware that I was not the cause of my adoptive parents' death, and to take that awakening a step further, I began to accept that my adoption was not such a blessing after all. I could see my truth from other perspectives. If separation from original mothers has negative effects on babies, as it had on my own son, then it had, necessarily, a negative effect on me. I did not have to be happy about my adoption, nor did I have to feel thankful for it.

And at the end of her well-presented report, she poses a question others might want to seriously consider:

To force a mother to choose between keeping her offspring or losing acceptance by the culture is to force her to split in half and as a result, to collapse. Rather than divide mothers, can we keep women intact, empower them and thus empower children to feel whole, safe and content?

...and so the discussion will continue, as I myself will compare what is being posted on places like Huffington Post, and what gets posted in more private web-friendly communities, and pro-adoption websites, where strong emotional appeal is given to help urge others to care for one or two (of the 163 million) so-called orphans in the world. 

Some really interesting stuff.....as it has inspired me to work on a new blog-essay I'd like to use as a follow-up/companion-piece  to my own Adoption Myths, and Realities.


I read both posts too, while perusing my daily dose of news and opinion about things American and have a somewhat ambivalent opinion about the two pieces.

I had to remind myself that Jennifer Lauck is the author of a memoir, so her approach is very much a personal one, more geared to explaining her own experiences than trying to unravel the workings of the adoption system.

The part that struck me most was this bit:

And what of the promises made by the agencies who facilitated adoptions? In my own case, the Catholic agency placed me in the home of a terminally ill woman. My adoptive mother died when I was seven. My adoptive father died when I was nine. I was homeless and wandering the streets of L.A. by ten. A long investigation into my case revealed that the Catholic agency knew of my parentless circumstances, noting the deaths of both my adoptive parents in their files, but they did not inform my original mother.
from: Abducted Versus Adopted: For 1.5 Million of U.S. Adoptees, What's the Difference?

From this, in my eyes all important issue, she quickly moves to the issue of separation, a theme she further explores in the other post.

I am not at all unsympathetic to the separation issues in adoption, and they should be spoken about, but at the same time there doesn't seem to be a cut and dry answer to it. Nancy Verrier has made a name with the Primal Wound, but that work mostly stands on its own, and the entire field of adoption issue research is amateurish at best.

There have been outcome studies pertaining to adoption for decades, but those usually don't dig deep into issues like separation. Outcome studies tend to focus on things like education, marriage, finances, but rarely dig into the soul of the adoptee. It could certainly be true that adoptees on average finish their education just as well as their non-adopted peers, but that doesn't say anything of the price paid for that achievement.

While we are decades ahead of proper information about the effects adoption has on children, we are sitting on decades of tangible information about improperly performed adoptions. No agency should place a child with terminally ill adoptive parents, just like agencies shouldn't place a child in a family that has not been properly screened for potential abuse.

There is also decades of information about coercive adoption practices, both in it's baby-brokering incarnation as in its modern day child trafficking form.

These are issues I would love to see adoptees warm up to. So far, I have seen huge interest among adoptees into issues like closed/open adoption records and many adoptees seem very interested in issues like separation, but few seem to look deeply into the malpractices of the adoption industry. In that sense the posts of Jennifer Lauck confirm a prejudice I have towards my fellow adoptees. As a group we seem so focused on our personal experiences that we don't see the forest for the trees. Without the voices of adoptees speaking out against corrupt adoption practices, children remain to be placed with terminal ill adoptive parents, or abusive ones. Without our voices baby brokering and child trafficking will still be around two decades from now.

Personal experiences are important to discuss, but we need to look beyond the perimeter of our own self and realize what we experienced is still happening to this day. There is no clean break with the past. The baby scoop era never stopped, it just moved to different places. Home study practices have improved on paper over the last 30 years, but have they really improved in reality? These are issues I would love to see my fellow adoptees address. Without our voice these practices will continue and more children will be damaged.

In the colleges and universities

I attended a small lecture-series presented by the Department of  Women's and Gender Studies, and indeed memoirs were intricately used. A very popular trend these days is exposing cross-cultural encounters and conflicts involved in transracial and transnational adoptions, and I have seen courses featuring books written by authors such as Lifton, Saffian, Trenka, and Rothman. If a professor, or department is lucky, a film-maker or author will visit for a lecture or special series-event, but for the most part, the search for identity, the meaning of family, critiques of secrecy, social inequalities (especially related to gender, race, and class) and child-rearing practices, are the themes covered by an instructor delving into the study of women.

Corrupt adoption practices and the flawed home-study? Not well covered. At least, not in my neck of the woods. .

Higher education

Ah, yes, the good ol' College Experience.  Personally, I get a real kick out of a very popular belief held by many.  It seems a lot of siblings left-behind and many others want to believe the adopted child is given all sorts of great advantages and opportunities that can only come from adopters who appear to have some serious cash.

Yea, when you're adopted, you don't have to pay for ANYTHING.... it's all great, and it's ALL free for the taking!  <rolling eyes>

My college experience, AKA Higher Education, was classic-Kerry, all the way.  I love telling the story, because it features so many elements I wish I could have changed, so certain things could have resulted in a very different way.

Spring, my junior year in high-school, I was16.  At that point, it was decided, after many many years of fine grooming, (thanks to my Amother's carefully planned and plotted course and instruction), I was 'ready' to fill-out college applications to the schools my Amother and I selected for myself.   Fourteen applications were sent-out soon after my 17th birthday, in October.  In theory, this was supposed to be a time for me to feel positive and confident -- happy, upbeat, relieved, even, because according to my list of achievements, (described in brief detail and attached to my completed applications), I had all the qualities (+ some) a very good school was looking for.  Truth is, I was developing a stomach ulcer, before I reached the age of 17.

Spring, my senior year, I learned I had the chance to attend an Ivy League school, but I was stubborn --  very stubborn and very resistant.  I didn't want to give my owners the pleasure of knowing (or thinking) their 'connections' got me where they wanted me to be. After all, I didn't want my future to be all about them and their role in my life.  I didn't want my whole life to be based upon false appearances, even if those appearance looked and seemed best.  For once, I wanted some... just some... pleasure to be mine, and as luck would have it, that pleasure was not only short-lived, but that pleasure turned on me, and kicked me in the hard-core ironic ass.

After long deliberation, I finally made a daring move my senior-year.  I decided it was time I stopped playing the role of 'ideal child' in my Aparent's mythical world.  The stress of the charade was killing me, even though at the time, I had no idea just how much damage was already done, or what damage was still ahead of me thanks to that forced role-play.  Enormous liberating move for the young, strong and determined?  No, more like small micro-shift in the infantile posturing kept and maintained by the scared and insecure.

In the most pathetic, unplanned way possible, I presented my arguments, and told my Aparents I was going to choose the college I was going to attend, and this choice was going to be based on my wish-list, not theirs. (Oh, if only I used those words, and not the lame words and excuses I actually used!)  Nevertheless, in the end, it was decided, rather than attend the big university my Aparents wanted on their proud-parent resume, (but in no way could afford), I was going to get my way, and go to the small liberal arts college I liked most.  It was still within close driving distance, it was a school we could actually afford, (yes, we, because my parents did not foot the bill nearly as much as they'd like people to believe).  Most of all, the school I chose was known for it's excellent pre-med program.  [I was groomed to become a doctor, and come hell or high water at a small but expensive religious-affiliated school, I was expected to succeed.]

For the first time in five years, I didn't hate my summer break.  Normally, I was expected to follow my Amother's instruction, and take 'extra courses' to get ahead (maybe graduate early). My senior-year, I was given a break, so I could emotionally prepare for big move in August.  From a professional stand-point, my mother was a teacher, and I was supposed to see and understand her push for me to succeed was not the punishment it felt like, but a gift... a gift with perks and advantages no one else in my school was given.  I failed to see life through her lens, and she forgot to stop, and take a moment, just to see life through my eyes, as well.

My Adad's response to a complaint was "Who cares?"  In fact, if you wanted any sympathy from the man, he's say, "You'll find sympathy in the dictionary, between shit and syphilis".  So.... Who cares if every summer since eighth grade was spent in summer-school, so I could 'get ahead'?  Who cares if my free-time was supposed to be spent on activities I hated, but looked good on a resume?  Who cares while I was attending high-school, I was also attending college, on a part-time basis, and expected to get good grades in each and every class?  Who cares I had no idea how to be a normal teen, or be a normal friend to kids my age?  The only people who cared about those things were me, myself and I.  My Aparents... specifically my Amother... cared only about her master-plan... and my dad?  He did not want to hear any one piss, moan, bitch, or complain... especially his ultra-controlling narcissistic wife.

My first semester started-out rough, as I will explain later.  But I managed to survive.  My grades were not the best, but it was easy to use 'freshman adjustment' as a reasonable excuse.  My Adad, had no room for excuses, but since he never went away to college, he was willing to give me the benefit of some doubt.  [After all the man served time in the Army... he had some sense what 'living away' can mean.]

When 1987 on-campus spring-semester course registration arrived, I found myself more nervous than a lone sheep around a lonely shepherd.  I was suddenly painfully aware of one simple fact:  all my life I had been told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, no questions asked.  To say independent thinking was encouraged in my Afamily is like saying the Titanic was a boat made famous for it's prolific ice cube production -- NOT at all.

I remember that class registration day like it was only a couple stressful months ago. There I was, for the very first time in my life, free to choose which courses (from the list of mandatory requirements) I would take the following semester.   Language, literature, philosophy, history were gaps I had to fill, and I knew, the courses I would choose for myself will eventually reflect far more than my personal interests.  My final decision would eventually prove just how well I could advance myself, without my owners telling me what I can and cannot do.  As I considered my options, I had to ask myself,  "Do I have the ability to make small decisions, and choose wisely for myself?"  This is what I faced:

  • Do I take Spanish, which I always hated but was forced to take, or do I finally branch-out, and try Intro to French, because it's the language I always wanted to learn?  Ah, yes, fast-forward to yet another cruel joke.  It turned out I did not do well in my Beginner's French class.  My French instructor begged me to leave her class, and go back to the Spanish curriculum I started the previous semester.  It was obvious to her, 8 years +1 college semester of Spanish programming inside my head was ruining my ability to Think French.  It was obvious to both of us, I was not going to fit well in her class.  When my final grades arrived back home, my Aparents saw French was a huge mistake.  [Just add it to the others...] Imagine how it felt, many years later, when I learned my first-mother spoke French, German, and English.... fluently.
  • Do I take Creative Writing, or something more formal and structured?  I followed my heart, and kicked ass.  Too bad my major was not English, looking back, I think I would have done really well.  Unfortunately, my owners said there was no future in English or Writing.
  • Which Philosophy and Religion courses should I take, because they all read the same?  Well, I learned Meaning of Life was fun and easy, but Logic killed me, for reasons I can't quite explain unless the reader took the same Logic class with me.  And while I did OK in my religion class, I realized I was really done and finished with religious instruction, thank you.  Try telling any of that to parents who not only never understood what motivated me, but always insisted they were always right, and I was always wrong. 
  • History, World or American?  I can't remember what I took... after a while, a requirement is  just a requirement....something to have and get through.  But I do recall seeing  Women's Studies as an option, and as I read the course description, I remember thinking, "Hm, both my owners would like knowing I'd agree -- this class would be very boring. I should spend my time and effort on courses that will give me the foundation I need."  Besides, in all honesty, I didn't feel any burning desire to explore the many ways in which different societies and cultures define femininity and masculinity.  And I already had a good sense how gender roles influence power in a given society.  [Uh... I was adopted into a very traditional family... one that liked their women to be subservient and quiet, as they worked their asses off so the men of the house could have all their needs met, without the sound of one single complaint.]  I didn't need another lecture, OR a textbook on the subject.   I should mention, too, back then, gay and transgender issues were not taught in the classroom; neither were adoptee issues.  To my knowledge, those still-sore subjects never got touched, not even with an educator's ten-foot pole.  Even in more specialized classes, like those I took years later, when I attended nursing school, I learned certain subjects stayed out of the formal class-room, due to their controversial content.

After my first rough semester, I thought I did well for myself. That first year...in fact, the first week, away from 'home', is when it was 'safe'? for the nightmares and flashbacks of physical and sexual abuse to hit.   The hints and reminders were subtle, at first, but it didn't take long to find myself immobilized by fear and anxiety.  Instead of turning to counselors or family members, I turned to new-found friends for comfort.  That's when I learned the benefits of being around those who didn't know a thing about my family, and the pleasures that could be found in alcohol, eating disorders and substance abuse. I did my best, but according to my Aparents, my best without them sucked.

Looking back, I can identify one thing I would have changed.  I chose the easy route, and didn't let any of my instructors know what was going on in my private hell.  In that regard, I wish I chose differently, and confessed what was really going on.

Although at the end of my sophomore year, I was still struggling with a lame GPA, I was not the failure my Aparents made me out to be.  They simply decided no more tucked-away money will go to that private college. (I guess if people are going to earn C's on a transcript, it's smart to pay a local community college fee, knowing brand-name won't matter as much, ten years later.)  I was forced to leave the liberal arts college of my choice, and move back at 'home', where my owners could watch over me, and make almost all my choices for me.  But who cared?  None of the great fun friends I made while away, at school.

It took a couple of years for me to finally detox completely.  I went to a tuition-deferred 3-year nursing program, where among other things, I learned facts related to women's health and normal maternal-child growth, bond and development.  Many of these things I knew, but a lot of little details suddenly made much better sense... and separating fact from adoption-fiction was the confirmation I needed.  [I knew I had sound reasons to support many of my core-beliefs.... I just didn't have the scientific facts to prove it!] 

Senior year, we were expected to identify one or two areas of nursing we'd like to go into.  My dream job? It was a toss-up... between death and life.  Oncology, or  Maternal-child (OB/GYN) nursing... I couldn't really decide.  So many things about both I really loved, and feared.

A year after I was supposed to graduate college, I graduated nursing school, with honors.  I was a few credits shy of a BSN.  At that point, I was sick of school, and had no money, because even though I still lived at home, (I was not allowed to move-out until I was married), I still had to pay my owner's rent.

Upon graduation, I agreed to work on a floor I really hated... thinking my stay would only be temporary, and the experience would provide the foundation I needed for the specialty I always wanted to get into.  I never did follow my heart.  Instead, I followed tradition, and did as my Afamily expected me to do.  I got married when I was 23.  I got pregnant when I was 24.  The rest is ancient history, repeating itself like a sour, upset stomach.

The part that saddens me is, when I left my owner's home that very first time in August, 1986, I really DID want to be the success I knew I could be...  I wanted that fresh-start, and I was eager to prove I CAN DO THIS... there was just one small problem, I felt so alone, and I felt like I had very little support, even though on paper, I came from a 'good' family. [My Aparents brought me from Newfoundland, to their home in the US, August, 1969.  Lord knows what they knew or thought about my first-family!]

 <reflective sigh>

I would love to know what is being taught in the bigger pre-professional colleges and major universities these days... especially in terms of adoption, the adoption industry, and adoption issues.  I have the gut feeling that more attention is given to the great success stories written on paper, than the more human element that often depresses the crap out of the confused adoptee who is trying to find him/herself and create a positive self-image/identity. 

I think many could and would benefit from a more honest look at the adoption experience... from an adoptees POV... but I'm afraid those who support the adoption industry would not like such transparent uncensored honesty told in a classroom.

Pound Pup Legacy