Below you will find the transcript from the Nine Months, Gains and Losses Q & A session. As noted previously, I edited the audio down to exclude the audience questions due to lack of permission to post. I have transcribed the audio and changed minor identifying details (that leave the full context in tact).
I have also uploaded a PDF of the presentation. You can find it here.
Q & A Session – Nine Months, Gains and Losses, American Adoption Congress, 2009
Q1: I am a mom. I lost my daughter in 1972. My question is to Margie. I have a sister who adopted a young boy from the Philippines. She has this fantasy, and I don’t know how true it is, she didn’t really see it, that this poor little boy was abandoned by his mother, rooting in the dirt with the pigs, she has built up this huge idea. When I suggested to her that possibly, that wasn’t true, that he really had a mother, and of course as he grew, he had some issues and in fact they sent him to Boys Town when he was a teenager, and he has sort of come out it, he has a girlfriend, they had a baby, he is sort of settling down, but still my sister gets furious with me when I suggest that maybe he has some issues.
Margie: Yeah, yeah. First, let me ask a question back. Does she have any contact with the Philippine American community? That would be number one.
Q1: No. None. She is like in small town USA. Everyone is white bread.
Margie: And yeah, that is the situation that is you know horribly frightening for adopted people of a different race from their parent, to be the only person of their ethnicity or their race in a particular community. Unfortunately the way inter-country adoption was done, starting in the 1950s, which you can largely lay at the feet of the Holt’s and I say that not negatively, but people forget the context, when Korean adoption first started, a war had just been fought, and kids were, particularly Amerasian kids, were running in the streets and shunned entirely by society. So there was a reason for them to do what they did. And from a humanitarian perspective it was very important. You start turning the corner after the war, into the late 60s and 70s, you have got a different ball game. But I think people got locked in that “we are saving a war orphan” attitude towards adoption. Even when you stop them today and say “Your child is two. Now what war would that be?” Because I don’t remember a war in Korea, or China, or yeah, the Philippines and oh by the way, have you been to Manila? I know the company I work for, which is a Fortune 25 company, we put all our call centers in Manila. I mean this an extremely high-tech environment. Her vision is wrong. What I think needs to happen is for her to connect with the reality of the Philippines, today. And she is going to find that if her son is, I am guessing her son is in his 20s, if she backs up to the 80s, it is not going to be much different, she needs to get in touch with that, she also needs to get in touch with adoptive families who have had similar experiences, which is going to be tough, because it sounds like she doesn’t want to believe that adoption could be part of it. That might take you leaving some magazines, you might have to be the intermediary that sort of delivers the information. I am never an advocate of going around parents to kids, but you are talking about an adult here, you might want to have a discussion, sort of off-line, with your nephew to see if he has an interest in connecting with his community. Maybe that is part of his longing, but nobody is telling him how to do it. Ya know, if you could, even getting him subscriptions to magazines, almost every ethnic community there is a magazine, you pick the country. My family is Slovenian and Croatian. I get a Croatian newsletter every week. My gosh, how many Croatians are there in the country. Lots more Koreans I think. So, find that magazine or that organization, sign him up, let him start to connect, let him figure out ways on his own.
Q1: Hmmm. Yeah, I guess I never thought about approaching him. I guess I still think of him as the child.
Margie; That’s the problem. The perpetual child. He is an adult and you can give him directly what his mother might vet out. He really needs to have a connection with his community. There is a Filipino adoption family community, I know we have one in DC, I am sure they operate nationally, contact them because they will know where the resources are.
Q2: I had just a comment that I was thinking about when you are talking, Suz, that by being middle class that actually made you so disadvantaged to not know, about the resources that were there, that folks that might be growing up less fortunate, would know about resources that were available.
Suz: I believe that is true and I also believe there is a lot of research that supports that. It typically is the middle class white girls that get targeted to have their babies taken from them because in the lower class welfare, public assistance, is accepted, generational. The upper class either will have forced marriages, fund abortions. I should also add that I am first generation on both my mother and fathers sides. My father was from Poland, my mother from Ireland. They were hard-working middle class and that was a big deal to them, it is what they were taught, you, your family did not go on public assistance. So it was never offered as an option. And of course they did not have the money from their perspective to help me. So I think you are dead on with that and there is plenty of research that supports that.
Q2: And I guess, um, my question is what is your relationship like now with your parents and I realize that is very personal, and if they admit that they pushed you into this.
Suz: Ya know, interestingly. Over the years, it has had its ups and downs. My father…uh, probably a few years…uh, gosh, my daughter is going to be 23 so maybe when she was in her teens or something, my dad and I had a conversation and he had broken down and cried and said that he knew it was his fault and that was HUGE for me, from a healing perspective, for a mother, to have your parents say “I am sorry. I failed you” is enormous. That was really helpful to me. Throughout reunion, now I found my daughter four years ago, we still have not met, or spoken, we have a very odd relationship, for her choice, not because of mine, but my parents through the reunion will talk about it more and more. It comes out gradually. It is so huge for us because it is such a wound for me. They tip toe around it. It is like going to a funeral. They don’t know what to say. If they say this, it’s the wrong thing. If they say that, it’s the wrong thing, so they don’t say anything at all. And that to me is interpreted to me as their shame. I feel they aren’t talking about because they are ashamed of me. And that is really not the case. It is very hard. There are no resources post surrender for families like mine who are forever effected. No one tells my parents how to deal with me. I came home from the maternity home two weeks post surrender of my daughter and my family pretended nothing happened. Nobody acknowledged I had a baby. I was supposed to go right back into my life. It was bizarre. It was like a Twilight Zone episode. Here I am. I am a mother. I have a child. I have pictures. I am in massive emotional trauma and they are all walking around like everything is perfectly normal. I have often said I wish we changed colors when we are in emotional trauma. I believe then people would attend to us. But since they don’t see anything, life goes on as normal.
Q3: My name is M and I am birth mother. First I want to thank both of you for sharing. And Suz, please don’t ever apologize for getting emotional. It is a very emotional topic (applause from audience). And your story so validated mine. I had my child in 1979. It was status post Roe v. Wade. Catholic family, Catholic schools, the whole nine yards, and I hid my pregnancy from everyone. And I was told about welfare, public support, or what have you, and like you, I was from a middle class family, you just didn’t do that. You just did not come home and say I am pregnant and say what am I am going to do. To hear someone else, around my age, your younger, tell my story. I don’t think people understand. I was ‘79. You know, in the eighties there was so much family and societal pressure, like you said, on white middle class girls that I did not feel as if I had any choice. If the father was not going to marry me, I was absolutely damaged goods, I was absolutely not the best thing for my child, the best thing would be to go to two parents, …um, he would be fine, and I would be fine. I absolutely swallowed that hook line and sinker. I went about my life with that belief. And not until he found me, six and half years ago, and now we have a relationship, did I ever even start processing any of my grief. Before he found me, I could have come to a conference like this, sat here for four days and thought “This has absolutely nothing to do with me”. Because it was so buried inside of me. And thank you so much to get the perspective from the adoptive parents, the only way any of us can move forward, is to understand where we all came from, but also other members of the triad. Thank you.
Margie: And I guess the one thing I would say too is that maybe this session is one way for us to talk about those different experiences. We know that wall is there. What do we do to take down this wall.
Suz: And congratulations on your son finding you.
Margie: Yes, that is wonderful.
Q3: Hi. Yes. I have a comment and a question for both of you. First my comment is we should not be the ones that feel shame or guilt. The social workers, the agencies, the institutions should be the ones that feel the shame and guilt and embarrassment for perpetuating a lot of these lies and for violating individuals basic human rights.
(applause from audience)
So my question, for you, Suz, at what point in your process did you begin to realize that what happened was a violation of your basic human rights and what point did you begin to raise your head up and say I am going to push back.
Suz: Excellent question. I believe I realized immediately after the loss of my daughter, yet I had no vocabulary to articulate it, it when I started having serious PTSD related issues. I was living alone in Chicago and started having nightmares, flashbacks, couldn’t sleep. It was when I was alone, on my own, and put myself into therapy, and saw several therapists really, but one I saw started asking questions, asked me to tell the entire story, and my daughter was about two years old by then. From an activism perspective, to really speaking out against that situation, I would say it was about 7 years ago. I waited until she was, my daughter, eighteen. In my head, I could not look for her until she was eighteen, um, and I was still functioning under the belief that this waiver of confidentially guaranteed she wanted to be found, she was waiting for me, and that everything would be good, but when I started to do the searching, when I started to uncover, the, uh, horrible things that my agency, the network of agencies that had place my daughter, had done that I got really involved. It made me so angry. It was the passion that came outside of me. I could no longer help myself, I couldn’t help her but I was damned sure going to try to do whatever I could to stop these guys from doing it to other vulnerable mothers and children. It was right about the time I started to actively search that.
Q3: Margie, at what point in your process did you discover the ugly side of adoption and how has that changed you?
Margie: Okay. I will tell you exactly the moment. It was the moment my son was placed in my arms. National Airport. September 20, 1989. Up until that moment, his first family was a very abstract entity in my mind. It was…the father was non-existent. He had planted his seed and run. The mother was a woman, under the confines of Korean culture and therefore bound by honor to forget this child. I was doing the best for all by adopting my son. That, that was my attitude. There was a shred of reality in it in so far as from the material perspective that my son’s life would have been more challenging. And the kinds of challenges that are experienced in Korea are not just the lack of material resources, it is real social stigma. You want to go to university? Bring me your chokbo. That is your family tree. Children born out-of-wedlock are listed as head of household and that is code word for illegitimate. You go to a university with a chokbo that has you listed as head of household? You aint getting in. You want a job with a big corporation? Bring your chokbo with you as head of household. You aint getting that job. You will not have a life that allows you to develop your potential. So there was reality But there was complete misunderstanding. How stupid was I? This was a woman, of course she was going to be in grief. I fought myself. She was a Korean woman. This was what I told myself. Duh. I coulda had a V8 moment. Somehow their culture made it different to me. And I believed it because I wanted that baby. So, 1989, I remember, thunder storms in Washington, we could not find parking, we thought we were getting to the gate late, fortunately the storms had also delayed landing on the tarmac…I have photos. My son’s arrival from going down the tarmac. We are waiting, waiting. Out come the passengers, out come the crew, we are waiting…out comes the garbage…they clean the plane. And finally out come the babies. I had a dream that my husband was supposed to hold the baby first. But I practically knocked my husband down when my son came off the plane. You saw his little hands, his little toes, his ears, he has the most incredible ears, his little hair, he had been in the intensive care unit so they had shaved his head. He had fringe. And I took one look at that child and all I saw was his mother. It was electric. It was like a punch in the gut. And you start saying to yourself ‘They told me this, but they told me this..”. You start to play it all backwards….
Q3: Thank you both for being here.
Q4: Hi. I am a birth mother. But I am also a social worker. I want to share a tiny bit of the experience that I have had working the last seven or eight years in foster care. I cannot speak about international adoptions. We are bridging the gap from the eighties when you relinquished till these years. And I went into be a worker in foster care thinking that the stories are what I had always heard about. I found, at least where I was, and this is just to make you feel better, about some good things going on, is that one all of the things that I worked legislations on, like siblings having access to siblings, and lets put it this way, adoption is a business, it will always be a business, and there are always going to be agencies that work in the way your agency worked, and especially because there are less and less babies, and I hate to say it, but white babies, available, but I think the agencies, at least the ones in my area, get it now, and they are not out there looking, they are changing and trying to help foster care children. We would admonished if we did not share everything we know about a child with a prospective foster or adoptive parent. We have to tell them anything we know. In my area, they have this thing called Wednesday Child, and I have heard of people who stand up and say how wonderful a child is, and they don’t say that oh, they also have cognitive deficits, they are supposed to share. In my agency, everything was on the table. Read the psychological. And also to do things correctly, on the dotted line, so what happened to you has certainly happened many times, but times have times have changed.
Suz: I am glad times have changed and I am glad you are seeing progress but I still believe it happens. I was interviewed a few weeks ago for a national magazine and the journalist has asked me if I had seen change and I have seen change but I still feel we need to be careful and not be blinded by positive change. One good agency in your state does not mean they are good everywhere. Positive plus negative still equals negative.
Q4: I agree. I think that one of the important things is that vulnerable birth mother out there, what does she do? She opens the yellow pages. And just like you, you did not want to share with your family, because you thought you were afraid of them, and yet, I had the same experience, I ran away, and they came after me and they were so supportive. And I would never have believed they would have been supportive.
Margie: Where the agencies are doing it right, let’s get out there and share those best practices. Hopefully you will do a session at the next conference. That would be one thing. The other thing, and this is a personal opinion, as to the agencies are still doing it wrong, I do believe the profit issue is huge. I seriously believe that. I also believe that non-profit organizations motivated by other than first and foremost concern for the mother and child can get themselves off on dangerous tangents. Within the past couple of months, I encountered an agency, online, with the slickest advertising, I cannot even go through the way they used photographs to marginalize the pregnant woman but the very worst thing was they had a price list for children. Children were valued by race. I wrote to the people. I got no response. I wrote to the people who ran that agency. They are out there. And they are not at THIS conference.
Q5: I am a birth mother who surrendered in 1968. This is the first time, I have read a lot of stuff, you are the first person that I have heard speak out about going through one of these very commercialized agencies and how they work. It is really wonderful that you are speaking out.
Suz: I can tell you that, a few months ago, they finally had their license revoked in the State of Illinois.
My concern is that they are just going to set up shop in another state, post a new shingle up, because they have done that. There are a number of names they operate under. But its like a game of whack a mole for me. I am on them. And I am not letting up.
Q5: I think it is really important that we keep letting people know that this is still happening. I personally feel that the idea of the Baby Scoop Era is damaging. Because it puts a line between this group of mothers and that group. It did not end. It is still happening. I completely hate the concept of Senior Mothers. Which is an internet group for anyone that may not have heard of it. It has a cut off date for when you surrendered. It is so divisive. It is so unrealistic. I thank both of you. It was a wonderful presentation.
Q6: I am an adoptive mom and my daughters are from China. In the Chinese community, we have no way of knowing the birth mothers because the children are abandoned. We have no information. That makes it really easy for us to make the birth mother The Other. We can discount her and her pain. We still do that with birth mothers here in America. I teach adoption law and my students will say birth mothers are so wonderful, they are saints, they are so loving, and then they say “I could NEVER do that” and they don’t even realize the kind of judgment they are making when they say that. They are her into The Other. The more we make her not like us, the easier it is for adoptive parents to disregard her…and that is why I think it is so important that you talk here. And I refuse to forgive you for being emotional for there is nothing to forgive.