Friday, February 25, 2011

Who Are You?

My great-grandfather
with my mother in his arms
My notion of who my family is drives so many things I do and refuse to do that I can scarcely imagine what it might be like to find out, suddenly, that these are not my people. Maybe all bets would be off. As things stand now, I don't tell lies as a general rule, not only because it's wrong but because my 8x great-grandmother, Rebecca Nurse, went to the gallows before she would tell a lie. I don't steal things because my parents wouldn't steal things. My people were honest and hardworking with occasional whiffs of glamor. That my grandmother kept store for most of her adult life, that my other grandmother made it through nurse's training, that my mother was presented at court (she taught me the court bow, which I have never had occasion to employ), and all the other proud achievements and wacky deeds of a cloud of ancestors would become irrelevant. I would have to make myself up from scratch, possibly as a bad person.

This is how it is, though, for many adult adoptees. Impenetrable legal barriers exist between birth parents and their adopted children. Adult adoptees are never allowed to see their own original birth certificates, bearing the names of their birth parents. These are kept sealed. In the case of black-market adoptions, there may never have been any such documents to begin with. From 1927 to 1963 in Miami, Florida, a doctor named Katherine M. Cole housed desperate pregnant women and delivered and sold their babies to "good homes," like puppies, more than a thousand of them. She put the names of the adopting parents on the babies' birth certificates. Sometimes she lied to the birth mothers about the sex of their infants to further confuse the issue. There is no way for these people, all adults now, to know where they came from.

You're probably wondering why I'm talking about this at all. I wasn't adopted. (Yes, I'm absolutely certain.) Some of my friends were adopted, though, and the happiest ones reunited with their birth mothers after they grew up and had children of their own. They found whole constellations of welcoming siblings and relatives. People need that. I have two adopted sons, who are grown now, and who found their birth mothers. I'm writing a new story with a character who was adopted. I'm looking into the issues. The plight of the black-market babies seems dreadful to me, like that of the children in The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman, who were cut off from their daemons.

So if you gave up a baby, decades ago, don't be afraid to go and find this person. If you gave up a baby to Dr. Cole, it's the only way you'll get together, by your coming forward. Your child wants to know you. You may have grandchildren who want to know you.

And that's all I have to say about that.

--Kate Gallison

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