Tag Archives: adoption

The Last Piece of Dirty Carpet: Adoption in Ireland

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Bessboro, Cork, 1961

The tides are finally turning…

Twenty years I’ve been at this, promoting and advocating for the rights of adopted people in and from Ireland (and in the US). We’ve talked, cajoled, written, and held countless meetings with successive governments in that period.  A small but fearless band of us connected in the early days of the Internet, spanning the Atlantic. It was the first time I’d ever spoken with people adopted in and from Ireland in my life.  We eventually began a Yahoo! group, which even today continues to receive members and posts. Some of us who had been ‘banished’ to the US, particularly in the Northeast, formed a small group (Adopted Citizens of Eire).

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Solidarity for Magdalenes, 2009

The topics have certainly been well-covered, even internationally. In 1989, activist and survivor Paddy Doyle led the charge with his excellent The God Squad. In 1997, former RTÉ journalist Mike Milotte researched and published his results on the trafficking of children from Ireland to the US in his seminal Banished Babies (updated in 2012). Mary Raftery and Eoin O’Sullivan had written Suffer the Little Children on the heels of Raftery’s award-winning three-part series States of Fear on RTÉ in 1999.  Stephen Humphries produced an excellent documentary on the Magdalene Laundries, Sex in a Cold Climate, in 1997 and it eventually became the basis for Peter Mullan’s award-winning feature film The Magdalene Sisters in 2002.  BBC also released the documentary Sinners in 2002. The latest, and perhaps most widely-seen chronicle of Irish adoption, is the award-winning film Philomena. The film was inspired by Martin Sixsmith’s 2009 book,  The Lost Son of Philomena Lee. And our heroine, the real-life Philomena Lee, has been playing a blinder as one of the most eloquent, gracious and courageous spokeswomen for Irish mothers of loss. Thanks to her good work, Adoption Rights Alliance has now partnered with The Philomena Project, and it set the cogs in motion toward the most recent explosion and revelation in Tuam.

Our merry band in Ireland, the US, and the UK eventually formed AdoptionIreland: The Adopted Peoples Association of Ireland and began the first full-throttle campaign to restore the rights of adopted adults. We were bolstered by a wave of adoption activism in the US, and particularly informed by the work of Bastard Nation.  Eventually, AdoptionIreland and those of us involved in it withered from burnout. Sometimes it becomes prudent to stop banging your head against a brick wall, hide behind the sofa and take a break. But in the interim,  some of my intrepid colleagues and I, whose mothers had been in Magdalene Laundries in addition to the mother-baby homes, found the energy and impetus and decided to fight the cause of the Magdalene women. We founded Justice for Magdalenes (now JFM Research) in 2003, and began a long campaign to seek restorative justice and redress for those women. In 2008, some of our original AdoptionIreland core group were rejuvenated enough to resume battle, and Adoption Rights Alliance was formed, quietly but diligently working with a small group to foment change at the legislative level.

Philomena Lee at her son Anthony/Michael Hess’ grave, Roscrea, Tipperary, January 2014

Throughout this work and the long campaign for adoption rights, we’ve often talked about the children left behind, buried in mass graves on the properties of many of the mother-baby homes in Ireland, or at the Angel’s Plot in Glasnevin and Mt St Jerome’s, Dublin.  Shortly after Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s arrival in Dublin in 2004, appointed as ‘cleaner extraordinaire’ by Rome to deal with Ireland’s many problems of child/women abuse and rape, two of my JFM colleagues, Angela Murphy and Claire McGettrick, met with him to discuss the Magdalenes, mass graves and adoption rights issues. None of this is new.

We saw a glimmer of hope in 1999, when the Irish government finally decided to lift the lid and investigate industrial schools, residential homes, mother-baby homes, vaccine trials and Magdalene Laundries. But it was too much — too massive a horror — for them to cope with. So sadly, the mother-baby homes, those of us subjected to illegal vaccine trials, and Magdalene Laundries were left behind in that investigation. More than ten years passed before we were finally able to achieve a small measure of justice for Magdalene survivors.

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Original Irish birth certificateThere is no doubt some of the reticence to peek into the dark past of Ireland’s history of adoption involves the fathers. Oh yes, those daddies. Frequently known as “Mr. Diagonal Line” for those of us with dodgy birth certificates. Some (or perhaps even many – we’ll likely never know) were men of standing: government officials, the clergy, prominent businessmen. So of course we can’t sully their “good reputations,” right? But the scab of that “old boy club” secret has finally got to come off, however painful. Ireland must finally deal with and it appears the collective will of the public demands it.

There is no doubt some of the reticence to peek into the dark past of Ireland’s history of adoption involves the fathers. Oh yes, those daddies. Frequently known as “Mr. Diagonal Line” for those of us with dodgy birth certificates. Some (or perhaps even many – we’ll likely never know) were men of standing: government officials, the clergy, prominent businessmen. So of course we can’t sully their “good reputations,” right? But the scab of that “old boy club” secret has finally got to come off, however painful. Ireland must finally deal with and it appears the collective will of the public demands it.

Obviously, dead babies lying in unmarked graves is nothing new in Ireland. Again, we’ve talked about this before, with the Magdalene cause, and certainly Toni Maguire’s (Queen’s University, Belfast) excellent work in uncovering and excavating the mass grave sites of Cillini (unbaptised babies) has been well known for some years. So what tipped it this time? Was it the horror of the phrase “septic tank” as the purported tomb for these infants just the final straw? Whatever the cause, we are grateful the world is finally seeing what we’ve known for many, many years. #800 babies is now catching fire in the way #200girls did a month ago.

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Sean Ross Abbey, Tipperary, 1950’s

Here are some of the gruesome statistics we’ve collated over the years, which bolster what the world has recently learned about Tuam, Galway:

In 1943, the birth and death rates for the three Sacred Heart homes were as follows*. This year is particularly poignant, because it is also the year former Chief Medical Office for Ireland, Dr. James Deeney, undertook an investigation of the Bessboro, Cork Sacred Heart home and discovered an epidemic of staph infection among the infants, witnessing nappies filled with infected diarrhea, babies with sores and raging fevers, etc.

Sean Ross Abbey births: 146
Deaths: 45
Mortality rate: 31%

Castlepollard, Westmeath births: 77
Deaths: 6
Mortality rate: 8%

Bessborough, Cork births: 106
Deaths: 60
Mortality rate: 57%

*Initial, early research is based upon available online (Mormon-held) records, and may not include some records, quarters or is otherwise missing data. Further in-depth research is ongoing to pull all actual death certificates and available archival records. Initial inspection of some death certificates indicates marasmus (severe/acute malnutrition) was a leading cause of death among these infants.

Two years later, in 1945, the Bessborough, Cork home was shut down for a year as a result of Dr. Deeny’s investigation. and care and treatment of infants and mothers began to slightly improve. But overall, marked improvements weren’t to be seen until the arrival of Cork-born midwife, June Goulding (author of A Light in the Window) in 1950-51. It is remarkable that in 1951, only one infant and one mother perished under June’s care. The picture of neglect and ill-treatment at the hands of the religious at these institutions begins to become quite clear when juxtaposed against these statistics.

The call is to now demand the government put in place a full, independent inquiry. This means it cannot be a case of the government investigating the government (and let’s face it, they’re even more complicit now than in the case of the Magdalenes – the State has always paid capitation grants to mother-baby homes, the equivalent of an industrial wage, for each mother and child). That would be like allowing the burglar who cleaned out your house to investigate the crime. It needs to be led by a completely independent chair/body. I would suggest someone on the order of a Felice Gaer, UNCAT; or perhaps Mary Laffoy, Ireland Chief Justice who valiantly did try to have our issues covered during the 1999-2003 Child Abuse Commission Investigation; UNICEF, Amnesty – other human rights groups would also be possible choices. But absolutely not the Irish government. That will get us nothing more than a retread of the Martin McAleese-led Magdalene “independent” investigation, and his subsequent white-washed report. The UN CAT stated that was not unacceptable, and we couldn’t agree more. The memorials and stones and gardens and what have you can come later…no memorials before true justice.

taken_adoptionLet’s rip it all up. It’s long past time it be dealt with. And let’s remember that it’s not just about 800 dead babies in Tuam, Galway, or the thousands more we’ve commemorated and honour in Dublin, Roscrea, Cork and elsewhere. But it’s also about the living – some 60,000 Irish-born adults who are still considered second-class citizens by virtue of our birth, and denied access to even the most basic information about ourselves.

For more information or to join relevant Facebook groups campaigning for justice:

Adoption Rights Alliance (website)
The Philomena Project (website)
The Philomena Project (Facebook group, open to all supporters)
Banished Babies (open to all supporters, those trafficked to the US and the wider adoption community)
JFM Research (website)
Justice for Magdalenes (Facebook group, open to all supporters)

Because personal and private information is shared, some of these Facebook groups and pages are only open to only those who are adopted, mothers/fathers of loss or those who have a family connection:

Adoption Rights Alliance
Sean Ross Abbey
Bessboro
Castlepollard
St. Patrick’s Guild
St. Patrick’s Navan Road
Justice for the Tuam Babies

A Modest Proposal

we_eat_babies1299170258

TO: The Adoption Authority of Ireland
Shelbourne House, Shelbourne Road
Dublin 4
Republic of Ireland

RE: A Modest Proposal

Dear Chairman Shannon and Board Members,

It has come to my attention that the Adoption Authority of Ireland recently met with the U.S. Department of State with a view toward establishing a bilateral adoption agreement that would allow for the export of available U.S. citizens to Ireland for purposes of adoption, particularly from Florida. I understand this is in response to continued insatiable demand by prospective adopting couples in Ireland, who have been thwarted by now closed-off avenues such as Vietnam, Russia and other ‘sending’ countries.

I am aware that these avenues were cut off because of mounting cases of fraud, illegal and gray-market practice and inability to comply with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. And that’s as it should be. I am pleased that the Authority took such action to insure that adoption practice is always carried out for the right reasons and in the best interests of the child involved. Adoption should always be about finding homes for children who desperately need them; not about finding children for homes that desperately want them.

But now Ireland turns to the U.S. as a sending source. And while on the surface, one would imagine this to be an idyllic situation – after all, America is a developed nation, one of the ‘greatest’ in the world – unfortunately, as an adopted adult living in the U.S., I sadly know it is far from idyllic. Many U.S. states continue to abrogate the rights of adopted adults. Original birth certificates in all but six U.S. states remain retroactively sealed. And of those six states with some measure of openness, only three offer complete, unfettered access to the original birth certificate (Kansas, Alaska and Oregon). Moreover, adoption agencies in many U.S. states continue to violate the Hague, dealing in gray-market placements, coerced relinquishment practice, infant stealing and trafficking, and shoddy post-adoption services.

In looking to Florida as a potential sending ‘source’, one cannot find a more abhorrent situation. As a ‘border’ (water) state, Florida is a gateway to thousands of illegals entering the U.S., largely from Latin America. And a good part of that illegal flow is equally illegally trafficked children, often outright stolen from parents with little resources or understanding, from countries like Haiti, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile and elsewhere. Florida also has an abysmal placement record even among its own citizens and many agencies operating out of the state continue to use practices such as falsifying birth certificate, allow private, ‘sub rosa’ unregulated adoptions (c.f. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman), improper vetting of prospective parents (resulting in poor placements which often leave children at risk for abuse and neglect) and, of course, sealing the original birth certificates of adopted adults in the state.

It is ironic, too, that Ireland would look to the U.S. as a sending source now, considering it has hardly dealt with the aftermath of its own export of children to the U.S. from the 1940s through the 1960s. The Adoption Authority recently reaccredited St. Patrick’s Guild, an agency notoriously involved in the past child export scheme and still currently involved in investigations concerning fraud (c.f. Tressa Reeves and other pending cases). St. Patrick’s, along with the Sacred Heart Adoption Society, St. Patrick’s Home (Navan Road) and others, sent thousands of Irish children to the U.S., often illegally (particularly those sent prior to the 1952 Adoption Act). Informed consent and signed relinquishments were given little thought in that time, and mothers were often cruelly unaware of where their children were being sent, or that they were giving permanent relinquishment. Concrete evidence exists that many of those children were used in unethical vaccine trials conducted by Burroughs Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline); this investigation is still ongoing, despite recent attempts by the Oireachtas Health Committee to once again sweep it under the carpet.

I was one of Ireland’s original ‘Banished Babies.’ And I have a modest proposal for the Irish Adoption Authority. Rather than risk the potential for fraud, corruption and violations of the Hague Convention and take a chance on ‘unknown’ U.S. children, why not choose a ‘known quantity’?

I would like to offer myself for placement with any Irish parents seeking to adopt from the U.S.

I already possess Irish citizenship rights; am toilet-trained and easily adaptable; speak English well (albeit with an American accent); I get along well with others; and most importantly, I come unfettered as my mother long ago gave up rights to me, is more than likely dead, and even if still alive, because of the shabby, post-adoption trace assistance offered me by my original placing agency in Ireland, I am unlikely to ever find members of my family of origin. I could even pay my own way over. I can cook and clean, drive my new family around and be quite useful.

I promise not to be ‘ungrateful,’ whinge over my circumstances or create a nuisance for my new family. I’ve already been broken of those ‘bad habits’ by my former adoptive family, agencies and the general public. All I seek is repatriation to the land of my birth and I can be whatever my new family wants me to be. I understand that being at least 50 years of age, I may be a bit ‘older’ than what my new family expects. But I am truly in need of a good home – a home in the land where I was born, before being cruelly ripped away from my first mother and shipped more than 3,000 miles away to a strange, new country at an age where I was already walking, talking and had a close, prolonged bonding experience with my first mother for nearly two years. But don’t worry – I’m over all that now, which is one of the benefits of advanced age. In another few years, I likely won’t remember it all. And the good news is, my new family won’t have to deal with me for long, or at least no more than 30-40 years, which is far less than what they’d have to contend with in procuring a newborn.

Most importantly, this proposal is quite a ‘green’ option: recycling citizens (particularly trained, working, tax-paying ones), rather than bringing in new ones to add to the already overburdened Irish economy just makes sense.

I do hope you’ll consider my proposal with all due seriousness. And if not, at least consider cleaning up the mess left by Ireland’s previous ‘export’ business before repeating history, only in reverse.

Sincerely yours,

Mari Steed
nee Mary Therese Fitzpatrick
or whatever new name you’d like to assign me…hell, I’m easy.

Adopted ‘Children’ and Parents: at age 50?

I recently read a letter to the editor of the Irish Times by a Mark Kearney of Trinity College.  I really must reassess my whole conception of Trinity as a seat of higher learning.

I couldn’t resist a rebuttal, although apparently the Times could — they didn’t publish it.  So I’ll post it here instead:

Mr Kearney’s letter rather poignantly cuts to the crux of the matter with regard to the rights of adopted people.  Interestingly, in both the title of his missive and thrice in its contents he refers to himself/other adopted people as ‘the child’ or ‘adopted children.’  As someone with children and grandchildren, who votes, pays taxes and earned the right to drink and serve in the military more donkey’s years ago than I care to count, I consider myself an adopted adult or adopted person, not a child.  Moreover, I am an adult whose rights have been abrogated not only by the Irish State, but by the U.S. as well (specifically the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) as I was chosen for exportation in the early 1960s.  And this abrogation is what continues to keep me a ‘child’ in the eyes of those governments.  In fact, in Pennsylvania, if one chooses to petition the courts to have their adoption file unsealed, the case is heard in the Juvenile Courts, even if the petitioner is 55.  Child indeed, sir.  How demeaning.

What Mr Kearney doesn’t seem to understand is that the fight isn’t about just the ridiculous wait times through agencies, the sometimes inept handling of our cases, or even the ingratiating and infantalising way we’re generally treated by agencies, often the media and general public, our parents or other family members, and perhaps most painfully by one of ‘our own’ like Mr Kearney.  Those are small injustices that pale in comparison to the true issue at hand: the fact that adults are still denied unfettered access to the documents of their birth in 2010.

Trace, contact and reunion are wholly separate issues and yes, understandably not everyone desires to know their heritage, medical history or who they resemble.  But the right to have one’s original birth certificate (a right enjoyed even by felons) should be every citizen’s right.  What they decide to do with that document is their own business.  Perhaps they’d like to just frame it and hang it on the wall.  I, too, had a very satisfactory adoptive experience and it was with the support, love and assistance of my adoptive family that I was able to trace my natural mother as well as the daughter I relinquished to adoption in the US.  Both contacts were welcomed, positive and have brought me a sense of self and healing.  I realise I was lucky in those results and that it isn’t always that way.  But I also prepared myself for the worst and knew what I could expect.  All of this was accomplished on my own and with the help of friends — the agency I first sought assistance from was not only incompetent, but unethical in many regards (c.f. vaccine trials at Bessboro’ circa 1960-61).

As they say, it’s foolish to mix apples and oranges and the right of access to one’s birth certificate should not be confused with trace and reunion.  They are not mutually inclusive.  But those, like me, who have the desire to know more about who they are and where they came from, should be treated with dignity and respect, and not as some ungrateful, whingeing ‘child’ riddled with insecurities and self-esteem issues.

Using terminology like ‘adopted children’ smacks of the concept that adoption begins and ends with the receipt of a ‘warm bundle of joy,’ when in fact it’s a lifelong process.  Perhaps Mr Kearney could benefit from the words of the Rev. Keith C. Griffith, MBE: “Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.”

Ireland’s ‘first wave of intercountry adoptions’?

Irish Minister for Health and Children Barry Andrews’ official statements on Wednesday, 3 March (at the Committee debate on a pending adoption bill) leave me with my jaw gaping and wondering if this man is fit for office. He said, “The first wave of inter-country adoptions occurred in the early 1990s. Some of those individuals are now coming of age and beginning to take an interest in tracing. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to wait until we have a little bit more knowledge and experience of this area. There is a perfectly good system for tracing in this country. It has worked well. “

This is an absolute insult to the more than 2,000 of us who were involuntarily sent from Ireland for adoption between the 1940’s and 1970’s, largely to the U.S. We represent that ‘first wave’ and are now well into adulthood (some of us even have grandchildren…imagine that). We are tax-paying, voting, middle-aged adults who, by the way, hold dual citizenship. We, along with our in-country adopted Irish brethren, have also been vocal in adoption reform for the last twenty years. It is truly unfortunate that the government largely chose to ignore us, despite our best efforts to produce sane legislation and truly efficient post-adoption services. It is clear Minister Andrews himself has either chosen to ignore us or would like to conveniently forget this dark chapter of baby-brokering in Ireland’s own history. Time and again, we have offered sound proposed legislation, including the restoration of unfettered access to the original documents of our birth – a right enjoyed by every other citizen save adopted people.

The last sentence of his statement above also absolutely beggars belief and I happen to know firsthand that it is largely untrue.

Having availed of the ‘perfectly good’ post-adoption services offered by the Sacred Heart Adoption Society in Bessboro’ as early as 1997, I can attest to the absolute ineffectiveness of the current system. In fact, the handling of my own particular case was so disastrously mismanaged by this agency that in 2003, I was forced to file a complaint with Mr. John Collins of the Irish Adoption Authority. Among the agency’s many egregious mistakes were the following:

Their trace coordinator was following several incorrect birth certificates for my natural mother, despite the fact their own records noted her correct date of birth on admittance forms (which I was given a copy of, in violation of the agency’s own ‘non-identifying information only’ policy). I was told my mother was an “orphan,” that her parents had been killed; she was actually, like me, born out of wedlock. The same trace coordinator would have contacted some poor woman in Limerick of no relation to me, except that I had grown so weary of their inefficiency that I managed to trace my mother on my own. It took me one e-mail to a heritage researcher based in Dublin, and an hour later I was looking at a faxed copy of my mother’s and my own birth certificates. Over the next few years, I established welcomed, careful contact with my mother (we enjoy an ongoing close relationship).

For my mother’s part, she too tried at various times over the years to contact this agency. Initially, she was told I had been sent to California, when in fact I was raised in Philadelphia. Shortly after I arrived in the U.S., my adoptive parents sent a letter to her, along with photos of me at my first Christmas with my new family. They wanted to assure her that I was happy and healthy and assimilating to my new life. She only got one photo; the others and the letter were withheld from her.

After informing them of the success of my self-trace, I received a nasty letter from the aforementioned trace coordinator, including a copy of private and confidential correspondence between this coordinator and my adoptive mother (still living). I did not solicit this letter and it was unnecessary. When I informed my adoptive mother of this breach of her own confidentiality, she was absolutely horrified.

This same coordinator was captured on videotape showing a visitor from the U.S. the records room at Bessboro’ and announcing that only she and one other person had access to this room – a professional publicist who they were “hiring to write a book to refute that [June, author of ‘The Light in the Window‘] Goulding woman’s lies.” So I’m given to understand that some publicist off the street can have free access to my and my adoptive parents’ private information, but I myself can’t? And this is effective post-adoption service?

My experience is completely typical of that currently experienced by many thousands of adopted adults in and from Ireland. For me and others who were part of the wave of children sent to the United States, it is further compounded by distance, costs and either lack of information or disinformation. Let’s try listening to the elder voices of those who have experienced inter-country adoption – we don’t have to wait for the “1990s” crop to come of age. And here’s a news flash, Minister Andrews: many of those voices came from your own backyard.

Bastardy, History, Sealed Records and Activism

yelseal2I just wanted to take a few minutes of your time to discuss what may be, for some, an uncomfortable topic — perhaps several uncomfortable topics. So before you read any further, allow me to warn you that the following will likely contain multiple uses of the word “bastard” I am well aware that there are many adopted people who feel uncomfortable with the term “bastard”, and perhaps justifiably so, given the media’s (and in general, society’s) misuse of the term. By dictionary definition, a bastard is any child born outside the bonds of matrimony. The origin of the word and its use in ancient times bear not even a fleeting resemblance to the current negative connotation of the term. In ancient Ireland, under Brehon law, bastard children were accorded the same legal status, right of inheritance and eligibility for clan leadership as any child born inside marriage. It was not until Roman Canon law and Napoleonic law supplanted Ireland’s highly-developed and extremely progressive legal system that we began our slide toward “second-class citizenship.” Food for thought.

During the Middle Ages, heraldic symbolism included the “bar sinister”, adiagonal black stripe accorded to the coat of arms of an individual born outside marital bonds. Legend has it enemies would flee upon sight of a warrior carrying the bar sinister on their shield: “bastards” were known to be fierce and inexhaustible fighters and much feared. [Note: thanks to Tom of Know My Own for his research on the ‘bar sinister’]

In the US prior to the 1920’s, the original birth certificate of an adopted child was filed publicly; however, generally those certificates were stamped or noted as “illegitimate”. Post-1920’s, popular psychology held that all children should be reared under the “clean slate” theory. Moreover, there was a concerted effort by adoptive parents (particularly those with celebrity status) to eradicate this original birth certificate from public view and remove the “illegitimate” terminology. Sound reasoning — but unfortunately, state lawmakers chose to interpret this as not only removing the Birth Certificate from public view, but also from the parties privy to it: adoptive parents, adopted child and natural parents. That, in a nutshell, pretty much sums up the history of sealed records in the US.

In 1995, a group of dedicated US adoption activists were posting away on the alt.adoption newsgroup. One visionary half-jokingly signed a post with her name, followed by “Bastard Nation.” And with a phrase borrowed from the canon of Queer Nation, the gay rights organisation, a movement was born. The surest way to disarm or deflect negative wording is to take ownership of it. If you educate the unwashed masses on what a bastard really is, you diffuse the terminology and take away its sting.

Over the years, we’ve kept track of media use of the term and in one year alone, noted over 100 uses of the word “bastard” on the ‘Drew Carey’ show. ABC, prime time. And all of them negative uses: “You BASTARD!”, “I can’t stand that bastard…”, etc. That’s just one network, one show. And ironically, about a year later, I was submitting feedback on an ABC news show with an adoption theme and signed my post with my Bastard Nation State Director title. It was promptly auto-rejected by ABC’s website for ‘use of offensive language.’ So apparently it’s OK with ABC to air the word every night on the ‘Drew Carey’ show, with its negative connotation, but I cannot submit the name of a legitimate, not-for-profit org using the word!

Now on to a topic I’ve harped on before: activism.

Every individual on AdoptionIreland’s Mailing List has benefited at some point from the search, help, advice or legwork of some tireless volunteer (and I stress the word ‘volunteer’ — NO ONE here gets paid to do what we do). In my many years working in adoption reform, I’ve seen countless individuals join lists, seek help, get help, reunite, etc., then disappear. It becomes rather disheartening to see this behavior over and over again when I know that the help these folks have been given comes on the back of the hard work and sweat of activists who fight daily to keep public records accessible to all of you, whether in Ireland, the US or elsewhere. Our diligent angels here would not be able to cross-reference the Adopted Children’s Register, or pull a cert at Joyce House, if not for the concerted efforts of a dedicated few to ensure that the GRO keeps those files open to you.

I’m not asking everyone to become politically charged, or even an active activist, by any stretch! I know we all have lives, children, partners and what not to keep us busy 24/7. But what does it cost to type up a simple email or letter, throw a stamp on it and send it to your local legislator? There are at least nine US states and two provinces in Canada, plus the UK, with records-related legislation (good and bad) pending. Ireland’s own Adoption Bill is currently under revision and there’s plenty more room for your voices to be heard. Find out if one of those states or provinces may affect YOU at www.bastards.org/alert/ and find out what you can do locally. Take five minutes and submit an online postcard to renounce the treatment of women in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries (one could be YOUR mother/sister/aunt/granny) at our online Postcard Campaign or comb through this website to get the latest news on where we may need your help. Please don’t just complete your search and then go away. We need your help to make sure that the next person who traces has access to the same information you did (or more).

Apathy is our worst enemy. Don’t let the media and the public continue to misuse the word ‘bastard’; don’t let lawmakers take away your dignity and relegate you to second-class citizenship. And the next time you hear someone use the term ‘bastard’ negatively, look ’em straight in the eye and say, “I was born that way…what’s your excuse?”

The Immigrant’s Song

immigrationThe conversation began in my adoptive mother’s kitchen on a sunny Sunday over a photo taken that previous Christmas. She was unhappy with the photo and when my mother is unhappy with something, she has the tendency to speak out. Normally, that would be more than fine with your humble narrator, who seeks truth and openness in all things. But her version of “speaking out” is more the type of commentary that leaves people startled and uncomfortable, scratching their heads and saying things like, “Did she really just say that?”

On this sunny May day, she was unhappy because she felt that I and my two teenaged children had not “dressed up” sufficiently for Christmas. My daughter and I were wearing, what we felt, were perfectly acceptable holiday-ish red sweaters and my son was wearing a dark green, long-sleeved polo. Casual maybe, but certainly not sloppy.

Now before we go further, you must understand that I am a Catholic in Recovery. I have long since discarded any belief, confidence or relationship I ever had in the Roman Catholic Church. My children have never been baptised, a fact that drives my mother to the brink of despair. However, I have exposed my children to all manner of religious beliefs and doctrines over the years — Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Wicca, non-denominational faiths, bible study groups, and general Christian youth groups. And I strongly believe that children should not have a spiritual belief system forced upon them. The spiritual path one follows should be a conscious, rational, adult choice.

And my adoptive mother knows all this. We’ve been down this road many times, painful and bumpy as it may be. So the fact that we were not well-dressed by her standards to commemorate a holiday in a Christian tradition that she knows we no longer accept or celebrate just makes her nuts, even beyond the fashion aspect of it all.

What followed her initial comment of displeasure at our appearance in this photo startled even me. She said, “You look like immigrants.” Now, in fairness I concede that Jessica was wearing a red bandana to hold her hair back, but that’s a common enough teen fashion. But more to the point, I am an immigrant.

So I can understand and own her statement well enough. In fact, I answered with, “Well, I am an immigrant.”

She sputtered and stammered for a few seconds and then shot back a statement that left me speechless for at least a minute: “Oh, but you’re not really an immigrant…not really. That’s not what I meant.”

So what the hell did she mean?

Let’s look at this statement from a psychological perspective and take it as an opportunity to learn a little bit about the effects of intercountry adoption 50-plus years gone. With intercountry adoption so much in the spotlight these days, there’s a chorus of voices I’m not hearing. These are the voices of adults who have lived through the experience of being separated from their mothers, their homeland and their identity and shipped thousands of miles away to be adopted by largely white, mid- to upper-middle-class families who cannot biologically have children of their own.

We have heard the angry voices of parents who, for the most part, adopted for the right reasons and with the right intentions, and did so legally and ethically. They are angry with those of us trying to expose the slimy, ugly stuff under the rock that often occurs in intercountry adoption. These well-meaning people somehow believe we are tarring them with the same slimy brush, which is certainly not the case. The individuals calling and writing letters to newspapers and so on are not the targets of our concern. We are concerned about those you will never hear who are certainly not going to expose themselves as callous monsters that sought to buy a child at any price from equally callous monsters who took advantage of a lucrative supply and demand in children. Or callous monsters that went through the process of obtaining a child, only to discover that said child didn’t quite meet their expectations, and like a dress that didn’t fit, they send the poor child back.

All of this furor currently saturating the media revolves around the practises in place today and largely affects the welfare of small, or at least young, children. Yet no one seems to be clamoring for the advice or wisdom of adoption professionals who can speak from long experience with the phenomena of foreign adoption, or more importantly, for the wisdom of now-adults who have actually lived it.

And yes Virginia, they are adults now. Thousands of European WWII “orphans”, US and Canadian “orphan train” victims, UK migrants, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian adopted people now vote, pay taxes, drive cars, raise children (and grandchildren) of their own. And they can now answer, with courage and conviction, the question of what it means to be a foreign, transracial or transcultural adopted person.

I am one of those adults. I am an immigrant. I am an adopted person. I was born in Ireland in 1960 and sent to the US for adoption in 1961, along with more than 2,000 other children, as part of a Church-led scheme that spanned the 1940′s-1960′s.

I believe many adoptive parents, in order to cement their new family, try to erase the fact that their child arrived from some other country and that adoption itself somehow magically erases the child’s foreign status, just as it legally erases the child’s identity and the “taint” of bastardy. And I believe my mother’s comment and thesis follows this — in her mind, I’m “not really an immigrant” because I was adopted and assimilated into her family and her culture.

What a dangerous delusion to harbor. We know so much more today about infant and young child psychology, and know how much even newborns absorb of their surroundings and their mothers (however briefly they may have been with them). To believe that a baby or small child can be stuffed onto a plane and flown thousands of miles from everything and everyone he has ever known, and not be in some way traumatised by this event, is beyond reason.

The popular belief is that all children being placed for adoption, domestically or internationally, are orphaned, neglected or mistreated by uncaring or incapable natural families. That is simply often not the case. Mounting evidence now tells us that children have been outright stolen or kidnapped from their parents, removed from parents who simply lacked financial resources or state support, or taken from frightened, coerced women who faced societal or religious shame for bearing a child out of wedlock. I was the product of that last category in a repressed, cold, religiously-strangled Ireland. These are not reasons to sunder a child’s bond with his natural family or to destroy his identity and heritage.

Adoption should always be about finding homes for children who truly need them, not finding children for homes that lack them. An adoption placement should only be sought when there are no other means of support within the child’s own natural family, and that includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other in-family placement. Adoption is still such a permanent, closed, secretive practise, one that erases the child’s original identity as well as generally hides/seals all “trails” to his natural family. It therefore makes sense that alternatives like legal guardianship or financial sponsorship be sought — that is, if the couple who claim they want to make a difference in a child’s life mean what they say. And this is supposed to be about the rights and welfare of the child, right?

The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption clearly defines those rights, as well as the strict guidelines, fees and general practise surrounding foreign adoption. Yet many countries have still not ratified this treaty. And many of these non-signatories to Hague are countries from which we continue to accept children for adoption.

On the positive side, the lesson many of us have learned as the product of intercountry adoption is how to become resilient, high achieving, compassionate and adaptable adults. And we are slowly starting to become a vocal and effective force in shaping best practice and policy. But on the negative side, the level of trust, comfort and sense of self we develop is hugely impacted by our trauma and loss. No one ever told our adoptive parents to expect these issues, or what to do with a child once they’re past the basic human needs of food, shelter, changing and so forth. And there are still many who won’t listen to us for fear of hearing the not-so-pretty truth.

I am an immigrant. I am the daughter of another woman. I do have a past, a history — an identity that existed before I arrived in a New York airport in 1961.  And no re-write of that history will make it go away.

 

Without a Home

I am an American citizen.  On 11 September 2001, like millions of my compatriots, I sat and watched the destruction of three great symbols of this nation’s strength, the instantaneous (I hope) death of thousands of men and women who had simply marched off to work that morning, and I cried. My tears held an extra measure of salt that day because in my solidarity with my fellow citizens, I still stood apart. My terror has deeper roots: I stand on the same U.S. soil as millions of other people do, yet not by birthright or heritage or by choice. And I have to wonder why I’m here. Forty-one years ago the Irish State made a decision on my behalf to send me to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. I was one in a 2,000-strong wave of children sent to the U.S. for adoption. I have no doubt my mother had little say in my destiny, much less me.

As I grow older the whole concept of “destiny” grips me more than ever. For the record, let me state that my adoptive parents and my upbringing itself were lovely. But at age 18, I found myself in the same position as my own mother in 1960, relinquishing a daughter for adoption in Pennsylvania in 1978. And in 1993, what had been an abusive, horrid marriage to the father of my two younger children ended in his suicide. The bullet he used to take his life lodged in my face and left life rather touch-and-go for a few days.

My adoptive mother recently told me that the first few agonizing hours after she’d been contacted by the hospital and informed I’d been shot must have been eerily similar to those experienced by the thousands of parents, spouses and children who waited for word of their loved ones in New York or Washington on 11 September. She was in Philadelphia and I in Florida at the time, so she endured an interminable wait for a flight to my side. Would all this have happened had I stayed in Ireland? This is the question that burns.

I have always considered Ireland my home. Like many adopted adults, I tend to be rootless, creating no strong or long-lasting bonds with anyone save my own children, and never staying in one place for very long. I’ve bounced between Philadelphia and Florida, with a stop in Indiana along the way, three times to date. What brought me back to Philadelphia was not necessarily my adoptive family (although I do enjoy their company for the most part). It was a need to be closer to my now-found eldest daughter, Kerry, and her own growing family.

Moments in my adult life, and a few during childhood, have been inexorably touched by adoption. My makeup, good bad or indifferent, has been defined by my bastard status.

And now, as I wonder what the hell I’m doing here a scant hour and a half away from the carnage in lower Manhattan, I can’t help but feel some animosity toward a government that cared so little for my status as a citizen that they’d send me 3,000 miles from home. As if that weren’t bad enough, my quest to learn more about my birth heritage has been met with frustration, secrecy, and thousands of miles of bureaucratic red tape, government ineptitude, and disorganized records. Ultimately, the cold almost unfeeling attitude I’ve encountered with various agencies and institutions have left me with such a vast sense of isolation, I have to wonder where in hell I really belong.

Perhaps this attitude I sense really doesn’t exist, and the individuals I’ve dealt with for what scant information I’ve received are really just victims of a bungled system in need of radical reform. But no adopted adult — in the U.S., Ireland, U.K. or elsewhere — should be subjected to the levels of incompetence we’ve witnessed in the last ten years. And more importantly, the indignities we’ve suffered as virtual second-class citizens have left us confused and wondering, do we matter at all?

And just to remind those in a position or place to initiate reform, those of us sent abroad have even less in the way of resources or direct contact than our Irish-adopted brethren. So we sit isolated and very much alone, especially in these days of fear and uncertainty, struggling with the fact that our natural parents are now aging and less likely to be found or contacted without fear of disrupting the tangled lives they’ve had to construct to hide their “shame”. We’ve precious little in the way of support from agencies and a mountain of backlog to work against. I fear that without serious reform and a consistent level of service and support from the government or sponsored agents, we will gradually fade into obscurity, our loved ones long dead, and a chance at any claim of national heritage gone.

Our naturalisation papers say we are American, our birth certificates say we are Irish. What we are, at the moment, is without a home or any way to contact those who might claim us through blood.