Category Archives: Adoption

The Opening of Adoption: The Early Years

I was delighted that Peach brought this film to my attention: The Right to Know: America’s Adoption Crisis. It’s a documentary from 1990 by Michael Branton and Elizabeth Snider and narrated by Michael Reagan, son-via-adoption of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman.

I’m share below 12 highlights that impressed me (bolding is mine), and I urge that you devote 50 minutes to watching it to find the parts that impact you. Those who are currently dedicated to eradicating shame and secrecy in adoption are building on the work of these pioneers in openness. Here is an instructive look back from where we’ve come. Some has changed, and some has remained the same.

Bonus: Throughout we get to see some fabulous 1980s-1990s hairstyles and fashions in both men and women, and be reminded what some old-style computers looked like. Flashbacks galore!

1. The documentary starts  with a clip from a 1950 film called Three Secrets.

“A plane crashes in California and a 5-year-old boy survives. Little else is known except the child is an orphan.

Susan Chase believes the boy could be hers. Before she was wed to lawyer Bill Chase, she was involved with a Marine during the war, and became suicidal later, putting their child up for adoption. Bill has never been told Susan’s secret.”  — Wikipedia.

Two other women have reasons to believe the boy may be the one they gave birth to and relinquished.

We are in the maternity ward where a woman is counseling her daughter, Susan, to place her newborn son for adoption:

Woman: Don’t cheat your son, Susan. Think of the moment when he finds out [you weren't married].

Susan: But giving him away. My own flesh and blood. It’s wrong, unnatural.

Woman: Living with an illegitimate child will be wrong and unnatural, too, only it will last the rest of your life. This will be over in a few months! It’s right and natural for every child to be brought up in a normal home.

Okey dokey. People really did believe that a child-ectomy was no different than an appendectomy, and that you’d get over both with equal ease.

2. Kathleen Silber, a name many may recognize from her advice in Adoptive Families magazine and from her books Dear Birthmother and Children of Open Adoption, comes in at 6:50, sharing the social worker’s perspective, historically speaking.

There was definitely an element of playing God. Agencies really felt like we knew what was in people’s best interest. And there were some fallacies in that. There were things we didn’t know at that time…Some social workers really got to like that power and control.

Agencies are all guilty of telling lies…we left out information…like alcoholism or other problems. We tended to only mention the positives and leave out the negatives. This was partially because we believed at the time that everything was environment, that it really didn’t matter if there were some of these problems in the background.

3. Another social worker (and author), Reuben Pannor, divulges the two big lies (about 9:10):

I would say to [adoptive] parents, “this is your child now” — which gave encouragement to denial, which in turn gave encouragement to the development of many serious problems for everyone That was the #1 lie.

The other biggest lie was to say to adoptive families: “We will guarantee you of anonymity and secrecy. Once you have completed your adoption, birth parents will not trouble you any more because records will be sealed and locked away and you will never hear from them again.”

4. Segueing back to Three Secrets, a scene in which a file is pulled from a file cabinet. It’s marked with the date of Susan’s baby’s birth.

“We placed four children on September 15.” says a matronly bureaucrat to a cohort. “But no one’s going to see those records. Not even ourselves.”

She places the unseen files into a bank vault and spins the dial (10:00).

5. At 16:15 we hear from Betty Jean Lifton, author of the influential Journey of the Adopted Self.

Even though a child is told they’re adopted, an adopted child soon learns that the adoptive parents don’t want to hear any questions about it. You’re supposed to play their game of “as if” — which is pretending that they’re really your mother and father. And in one sense they are, but they are your adoptive mother and father.

6. An adoptee explains how a person can have mixed feelings about adoption (18:35):

One minute you can feel great because your parents love you so much and the next minute you can feel terrible because your birth parents abandoned you.

7. Reuben Pannor says later (19:10):

We have a disproportionate number of adoptees in these facilities [mental health, correctional]. And this is precisely why we are now attempting to change the system, to unlocked sealed records, to move into a system that we think is much healthier — psychologically sound, emotionally sound — and that is an open system in adoption.

8. We are shown how adoptees decide to search and how the news of a search affects their adoptive parents. We see how adoptees connected with each other, how birth parents joined together, and how search angels worked to manifest connections of a different sort — all pre-Internet.

We see a birth mother and a birth father tell us how their decisions to relinquish felt in retrospect, and how small, ordinary moments can bring up the loss anew, despite the efforts to dissociate from a painful time in their lives.

9. Back to Three Secrets. Susan signs away her motherhood, with her mother and the bureaucrat overseeing (35:45). Oh, my (the filmmakers use dialog well here).

10. We learn of research that during the final stages of pregnancy women develop a heightened maternal preoccupation, which continues after the birth of the child. At 38:15 the narrator tells us that it’s also during this time that the child develops a sense of separate self.

Annette Baran, another adoption opener and author, reveals that “Most adoptees and birth parents suffered from a lack of the final stage of this heightened maternal preoccupation process. When the child is taken away at birth, neither one of them are able to complete the process. They become emotional amputees.

11.  We see examples of infantilizing adult adoptees starting around 43:45.

12. Kate Burke, then-president of the American Adoption Congress, talks about specifically who was tending the locks on keeping things closed and secret. Who were these Elites that made and enforced the rules for others? She adds, “We’re not afraid of each other. So you don’t have to be afraid for us” (47:35).

12.  On the effects of search and reunion a few adoptees share: It makes you feel complete. I’m happier. I know myself better. When I reunited with my birth family, I got closer to my adoptive family (50:30).

The documentary ends with a plea for the public to begin to help change public policy (51:00). The fight continues as we head into 2014, for 41 states still have bureaucrats and Elites guarding vital records (inaccessible to those whom they are vital to) via metaphorical locks and bank vaults.

If you take the time to watch, I’m interested in knowing your thoughts about  The Right to Know: America’s Adoption Crisis.

Meet me at the library

Calling all front-range adoptive families, birth families, adoption professionals, people considering adoption or donor gametes as a means of family-building, and people who have adopted internationally, through foster care and domestically.

Join me in kicking off National Adoption Awareness month by coming to the Denver Public Library Schlessman Branch ( this Sunday, November 3, at 2 pm for an hour-long workshop called “Don’t Split the Baby!” Thanks to the generous sponsorship of my publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, this workshop is free to the public.

And? Bye week for the Broncos, so I know you are already free that afternoon.

Denver Public Library hosts author Lori Holden(click image to visit Denver Public Library announcement and to get location details)

Our agenda includes the following:

agenda for workshop on openness in adoptionThis workshop will be helpful to those who are considering adoption as a way to build a family and for people who are currently navigating adoptive parenting, as well as those who work in the field of adoption. Birth parents and other birth family members are also welcome.

Review of Lori Holden's adoption workshop(click image to visit an attendee’s tweet-review of the San Francisco workshop)

I can also direct you to an insightful joint review of the book on which this workshop is based by Lisa and Liz, an adoptive mom and a birth mom to the same daughter: “We were excited to read a book addressed to both of us, and found many insights which resonated with our own experiences. We highly recommend this book.” Lisa and Liz attended the workshop in Portland.

Someone has asked if children are welcome at the library workshop.  Please feel free to bring younger children if childcare is an issue — babies, toddlers, preschoolers. But I suspect that some of what we’ll cover may be triggering to kids who have begun to understand what adoption means to them, that it often starts with and involves loss.

No registration is necessary, but it would be nice to have some idea of a count so I can be sure to bring enough handouts. Just email me to let me know you plan to attend.

Your help spreading the word to any Denver-area connections is appreciated. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

Does Open Adoption Get Easier?

Hey, I was there at the headwaters of this Open Adoption Roundtable topic!

Last week I led workshops on openness in adoption in Seattle, Portland and Eugene (OR) for an agency whose values closely align with my own, Open Adoption & Family Services.* The staff members at all three offices were incredibly hospitious (to employ a term Jim Gritter coined about using the hospitality model in adoption), as were Monika and Heather, who generously opened their homes to me and let me hang out with their delightful family members.

The Portland workshop was attended by my bloggy friends Heather, JoAnne, Liz and Lisa. One of the questions that came up from the general audience, a woman who is preparing to adopt, is the question the Open Adoption Bloggers now puts forth to you:

Does open adoption get easier?

It was another participant who gave this insightful answer — in the form of another question: Does marriage get any easier?

Things change and get different. Comparing something at the beginning of a journey to something seemingly similar later down the line is like comparing apples and oranges.

And as someone told me when my kids were little and I was exhausted, wondering if parenting gets any easier, “little people little problems; big people big problems.”

I didn’t really get that notion back then. It had been years since I’d slept through the night. I was with the kids, not yet in school, all day. There was crying, frustration, and boredom (not to mention what the kids were experiencing). When my husband came home from work each evening I often felt like hiding in a closet for awhile just to be alone and regain sanity. The problems from this era did not seem small. They seemed huge and unrelenting.

Now I sometimes sleep through the night. The kids are in school much of the day, much of the year. And still we have issues and angst. Bigger issues and bigger angst with higher stakes. We are constantly negotiating household rules. We are helping the kids navigate school and friendships and relationships with teachers and coaches and each other. We have health concerns, treatment plans with the orthodontist, disagreements about fashion and makeup and high fructose corn syrup, negotiations about shower time, bed time, screen time. We mediate between our kids and with neighbor kids. We teach, we model, we teach more and model more. Are we teaching and modeling all the right things? Will we have covered all the important lessons before they are ready to leave home? In less than a decade?

They will be ready to leave home one day, right? We will raise them to be independent, won’t we?

Hence why I don’t always sleep through the night.

So I can’t say that parenting has gotten easier. I can say that it’s gotten different.

Maybe our open adoptions have gotten not easier but better. When we started we had just one first parent around — Crystal. Since then we have connected with Tessa’s birth father, Joe. After talking with AJ on the phone for a few years, we finally got to meet Reed’s birth father (and his parents, wife and daughter) for the first time when he came to town this summer. And we have hopes in seeing Reed’s first mom in the coming months.

The relationships with the people who created our children are gradually shifting from me as caretaker to Tessa and Reed as the owner-operators. So my role is also changing. Whereas my prime responsibility was at first to maintain a wide-open conduit between our family and our children’s birth parents and make sure there was no corrosion, I am now moving into more of a consultant role. As Tessa and Reed begin to helm their own relationships with Crystal and Joe, with Michele and AJ, I will be on hand to assist as requested, to comfort if needed, and to abide, always to abide.

As John F Kennedy advised, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger people” (gender neutralization mine).

~~~~~

 Some scenes from my night in Seattle.

Lori Holden leads open adoption workshop

Open Adoption & Family Services adoption workshop

Open adoption agency and workshop with Lori Holden

 Monika and the Seattle staff of Open Adoption & Family Services.

* Check these out on the Open Adoption & Family Services website: