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Quest for true understanding about the pain associated with adoption

Most Sundays, the New York Times’ Modern Love column makes me smile, or cry. Today’s sent me straight to the keyboard.

Elizabeth Foy Larsen’s “Untying a Birth Mother’s Hands,” gets points for having the right instinct — to connect her adopted 6-year-old daughter to her roots — but what it has in heart it lacks in understanding.

I’m not qualified to speak about the extra challenges connected with international adoption or the prevalence of open adoption today in the United States, but I do take exception to Ms. Larsen’s comment that, “In the United States, the overwhelming majority of birth parents meet and choose their child’s adoptive parents.”


Open adoption may be more likely today than in the past, but Ms. Larsen’s assumption doesn’t apply to me or the millions of adoptees and first parents desperately trying to find each other in the U.S.

In fact, 44 of our 50 states deny adoptees access to their original birth certificates and other details about their origins, as The Declassified Adoptee explains.

Many of us will spend years wondering about the circumstances of our birth and the truth of our identities. We will struggle to fit in, learn to go with the flow, but a vast number of us will simply never know who or why or how.

I was 43 years old before I learned that my ethnicity is English and German. Not the Italian of my adoptive dad or the Swedish of my adoptive mother. Not the Irish we always guessed based on my dark hair and hazel eyes.

My mother, Ginger Salvatore, introduces me to the rest of the family, May 30, 1966.

And while I have a bunch of other clues, I simply don’t know who I think like, where my love of the written word is rooted, if my social awkwardness is inherited or a subconscious defense mechanism, my medical background, my family history, or a whole host of other things — not even who I look like.

I continue to search for Patricia Clark, who gave birth to me in Yonkers, NY, on Feb. 15, 1966, and baptized me Jennifer Elaine Clark 10 days later in the chapel of St. Faith’s Home for Unwed Mothers, the minister of Christ Church in Tarrytown presiding.

I don’t know if she is looking for me. I don’t know if she’d like to be found. There are far too many things I don’t know.

The story is no less sad for first parents who live their own pain of wondering. I imagine Lorraine Dusky pounding away on her keyboard this very minute writing a response to Ms. Larsen that neatly captures the birth parent perspective.

As a former longtime journalist, I know that Ms. Larsen didn’t write the headline for her column. And the editor who did write the hed doesn’t seem to have grasped the whole story.

Reading the final graph, it’s clear that Helen, the woman who gave life to Ms. Larsen’s adopted daughter, hasn’t been freed, but — like far too many people affected by adoption — remains shackled by the emotions of her experience:

“I wanted to walk in the street holding hands with her,” Helen said. “But I was so ashamed to ask, because I saw her walking with you.”

About Terri S. Vanech

Wife, mother, communications specialist, Jazzercise instructor and recently reunited adoptee. I'm living out loud -- and trying to make it all work -- in midlife. Having a sense of humor sure helps.


13 thoughts on “Quest for true understanding about the pain associated with adoption

  1. That was heart wrenching that article and I really did feel for all the mothers in the story, including the absent Grandmother. Best read with compassion and empathy, but for the little girl, I think it is positive to know that she is indeed loved unconditionally by them all. Such a tough road to walk, everyone in need of healing.

    Posted by Claire 'Word by Word' | August 7, 2012, 1:54 am
  2. It’s a beautifully written article, but unfortunately she does not seem to be aware of the heartbreak of women years ago when parents were not allowed to know, much less choose the adopted parents. For we children who have grown up under that pall, it’s unfortunate that writers such as this don’t know or understand the realities of the past and all that it has cost us. Would that the agencies of today could apply the rules of today to adoptions in the past. How much richer that would make all our lives! I have been searching for my birth parents/family for about 35+ years. I always knew I was adopted, but my adopted parents both died when I was young, so had very little true childhood memories of family, etc. although I do have some adopted cousins, who I was also separated from for many years. Oh, to have a true family and know their history and medical information. When I requested medical info from the courts years ago I was told that as long as my girls had my husband’s family’s side, that should be enough. How stupid of that judge! Of course, then we found out that he had an adopted daughter. I sure hope she didn’t have any medical problems. If she did, I’ll bet he got those records opened quickly.


    Posted by M Rogers | August 5, 2012, 6:39 pm
  3. Random children are randomly given away to random strangers by the States, who are mostly ok with that forever. The adults at the time have all the facts. The adopted child struggles to become an adult, yet in many ways remains the child unable to ever know the answer to every young child’s question, “Where did I come from?” The costs are huge in so many ways to find out the facts, which may never be known. My Mother and her Family were certainly affected, my Adopted Family also. My Daughters are affected and probably their Families will be affected. This harms generations on all sides of the Triangle. Once a person is 18 years old and capable of understanding, the States need to give us the facts.

    Posted by Barbara Van Balen | August 5, 2012, 6:33 pm
  4. Dusky here–Yo! My fellow blogger is momentarily putting up a new post, that goes along with the previous post Adoptive parents say the darnedest things. To Us.) but we will cover this Modern Love story tomorrow or the next day.

    Posted by zoozig | August 5, 2012, 5:50 pm
  5. It is amazing how many misconceptions there are out there. People just assume that birth parents and adoptees are able to find each other if the want, but the truth is back in the day this was all very hush hush and even the records that do exist are hidden. I’ve been using DNA to help my wife learn more about her ancestry and it has brought her many new distant cousins. We are still on the search for her birth parents and it is a shame that people are still allowed to hide the real facts from a grown woman with adult children of her own.

    Posted by Rob Warthen | August 5, 2012, 3:50 pm
  6. I live in Kansas City. I was 53 before I found my birth parents. It took paying a couple of searchers to do it. And there are ‘search angels’ out there who help for free. There is a local adoption support group that I joined that helped hook me up with the people who found the persons responsible for my birth. I got some background, some ethnicity- I’m DUTCH! and some worrisome health hx. But neither parent wanted to meet me as the heavy emotional pain from those many years ago still hangs over them, and they chose not to get past it. I did force a meeting with my Dad, and we talked for an hour, but he wanted no more contact. Good luck with your search. It was way wonderful to get the information that I did get and worth the search in spite of some disappointing results. Joining a group helped give me the support and the nerve to push forward and get as far as I could. I strongly believe, contrary to our laws and attitudes of many in our culture, that it is my right to know my roots and who my parents are. I am an advocate for releasing original birth certificates. I would love to see that original, even after I know the names on it.

    Posted by tibmagirl | August 5, 2012, 12:16 pm
    • As an addition, I did find some relatives that were delighted to meet me, and knew about me from rumor or fact. They said I looked more like my mother than any of the children she had after me. I have an Aunt and half sibling that I cherish and were happy to meet me. My grandmother, it was told to me, on her deathbed, talked about me. I was not forgotten.

      Posted by tibmagirl | August 5, 2012, 12:22 pm
      • I’m glad you were able to find them — sorry you didn’t have a joyful reunion, but pleased to see you were able to find some answers and connect with other relatives. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

        Posted by Terri S. Vanech | August 5, 2012, 1:07 pm

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