During my period of grief, I discovered some adoptees searching for their biological mothers. Finding them worsened my concerns. I wondered if she was looking for me, too. I started to focus my research on adoption, reading everything about it. I saw stories of adoptees being abused by their families. I felt terrified. When I thought of my daughter, I tried to imagine her in a big house somewhere, living a nice life. After all, that was what the agency promised me.
NEW JERSEY, United States — As an activist in the adoption community since 1980, I co-founded a support group for mothers who lost their babies to adoption. During the 1960s to 1970s baby boom, the stigma surrounding single parenting and the lack of resources for young mothers resulted in an increase in children being put up for adoption.
A lot of young unmarried mothers at that time felt they had no other choice. The government offered almost no support. Their own families often sent them away for getting pregnant and not letting them come home. To any woman on her own, with no financial aid and very limited options, it can feel like the only way. While adoption has helped many people find happiness, there exists a dark side to it we rarely discuss.
Many women, myself included, experienced the horrible guilt and pressure that comes with separating from a child you gave birth to. Back in 1967, I was pregnant and completely on my own. As much as I wanted to keep my baby, everyone around me told me I was not up to the task.
The adoption agency kept pushing me to sign over my child, using my own maternal instincts against me. “If you love your baby, if you want her to be safe and happy, you know what you have to do.” They repeated these words to me over and over, until I no longer believed in my own ability to raise my child.
My parents convinced me my pregnancy was just a mistake. They hoped I would give up my baby, forget about it, and move on with my life. To this day, I still remember every moment of it, and I always will. It became the most pivotal moment in my life. Initially, I refused to sign right away.
I hoped during this time, I could get my life in order, or my parents would help me somehow. I longed for some sort of miracle. The agency constantly pressured me. They told me that if I did not sign by the time my baby turned six months old, she would be much harder to adopt. Most parents wish to adopt newborns. That added a new layer of guilt and stress. They told me it would be selfish to keep her. I feared she would remain in foster care if I did not act soon.
Ultimately, I gave in, and they took her away. I later found out that she got adopted a year later anyway. It meant I could have kept her an additional six months to get my life together, but they only cared about the money. Once I signed the papers, I felt convinced she would hate me forever. My world fell to pieces, and I wondered every night where she was, whether she got adopted, whether she was safe and well cared for.
During my period of grief, I discovered some adoptees searching for their biological mothers. Finding them worsened my concerns. I wondered if she was looking for me, too. I started to focus my research on adoption, reading everything about it.
Every time I got the newspaper, I saw stories of adoptees being abused by their families. I felt terrified. When I thought of my daughter, I tried to imagine her in a big house somewhere, living a nice life. After all, that was what the agency promised me. It never occurred to me that she might be living horribly. For most children, adoption offers them a chance at a better life. It helps parents who cannot conceive a family of their own and to give unconditional love to a child. However, not all adoptees become that lucky.
After I became aware of so many instances of abuse, I urged people to do something. Cases of foster parents beating kids, locking them outside, or sometimes even killing them, haunted me. There are very sick, twisted individuals in this world who see adoption as a way to get their next punching bag. Adoption today is privatized and entrepreneurial and they perform very little background checks before handing over the child. As long as the customer is paying, all is good.
I eventually found and reconnected with my daughter briefly when she was 16. It felt surreal. Her parents were not in favor of it. They sent her off to college, and I never saw her again. I later found out she had committed suicide. She was 27 years old. A woman I knew happened to belong to the same synagogue as the adoptive mother. One day, after the service, she overheard a group of women offering their sympathies to my daughter’s adoptive mother because she had recently died. My friend realized they were talking about my daughter Alicia.
One of the women in the circle asked the mother if she was going to tell me about it. She said no, and that she even left the obituary out of the newspapers to ensure I would not come to the funeral. I felt my entire world shatter as my friend told me the news. I later learned that adoptees attempt suicide four times more often than non adoptees.A couple years later, I posted some photos of my daughter on social media, as a tribute to her. Her adoptive family contacted me to take it down. They tried to report it. It felt dehumanizing, like I was not allowed to grieve for her. Her college friends felt so mortified when they saw my post. They were unaware she had died. Losing her twice nearly destroyed me. At least when I lost her the first time, I could tell myself she was happy and well cared for. Not a day goes by that I do not think of her.
Whenever I discuss these matters openly, people always assure me those bad cases are just an anomaly. They tell me that abuse also exists in biological families, and that adoption plays no part in it. While that may be true, adoption is meant to be our safety net. They promised us it would be the better option. Yet, there are no guarantees. We need more viable options and more support for young single mothers. It feels vital for me now to continue to fight to make sure children are cared for everywhere. Adopted children do not even get a right to their own birth certificate. Agencies deny them the right to their family history and their own culture. Even when they get placed in loving homes, they maintain a sense of rejection and abandonment.
I wrote a second book and over 250 articles on the lack of regulation and no enforceable code of ethics for
the demand-driven adoption businesses who serve the needs of the paying clients only. Currently, some families are willing to pay as much as $50,000 for a baby, keeping the pressure on struggling expectant moms to relinquish their babies. At the end of the day, I am just one person. I hope that in time, we begin to take stricter measures to protect mothers and children in the foster and adoption systems. Years have passed, but everything remains fresh in my memory. Today, I have three grown children and three grandchildren I love dearly. Alicia, my first daughter, remains in my heart forever. She is in everything I do.
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