Carlina White said she always had a sense she did not belong to the family that raised her. The twenty-three-year-old woman had been abducted in 1987 from a Harlem Hospital when she was nineteen-days-old. White was then raised by her abductor, Ann Pettway. Pettway is now in custody for kidnapping.
What White expresses about her sense of belonging is what I have felt for all the years of my own life -- only I am called adopted versus abducted.
I have to wonder, what is the difference in these terms, especially when I consider the circumstances of my own birth and subsequent relinquishment.
I was born December 15, 1963 at St. Mary's Hospital in Reno, Nevada. My mother, seventeen-years-old, was told she had no legal right to keep me. The Catholic agency who facilitated the adoption also told my mother that, with their help, a good family would raise me. The doctor who delivered me told my mother she would not be a good mother and would not allow her to hold or even see me when I was born.
By today's view of birthing and mothering, it is considered inhumane to deny a woman even a glimpse of her own child but this severe method of dealing with young mothers was standard procedure in the 1950's, 60's and even the 70's and stark evidence of this is provided in Ann Fessler's groundbreaking book The Girls Who Went Away. Those babies, forced from their mothers, are grown now and are learning -- as I have -- that it was illegal to take a child from a mother, no matter what her age.
And what of the promises made by the agencies who facilitated adoptions? In my own case, the Catholic agency placed me in the home of a terminally ill woman. My adoptive mother died when I was seven. My adoptive father died when I was nine. I was homeless and wandering the streets of L.A. by ten. A long investigation into my case revealed that the Catholic agency knew of my parentless circumstances, noting the deaths of both my adoptive parents in their files, but they did not inform my original mother.
And it turned out that my original mother became a very good mother despite the fact she was told such a reality would be impossible. She married my father when she was eighteen and they had a second child. She went on to have another child as well. Both of my mother's kept children grew to be successful, well-educated and productive adults.
Ms. White has been reunited with her biological first mother. DNA tests this week confirm her as the daughter of Joy White and Carl Tyson and her case has made headline news in the U.S. and internationally.
I have also been reunited with my mother and am confirmed to be her child but my story will never make headlines in the U.S. or internationally because at this time in history, human beings have sanctioned adoption as a moral act and have given it legal and even religious support. Despite the fact that nearly 60% of American's are impacted, directly and indirectly, by the fall out of adoption and adoption policy, as shown in research by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, we remain steeped in denial.
My mother has lived in a forced pocket of secrecy so deep she wasn't allowed to tell anyone about me and so our reunion is complex. My mother has re-experienced the deep shame she felt as a young girl and the pain and loss of separation from relinquishing her first child -- none of which she was allowed to talk about by the rules imposed by family and society. The only coping mechanism available to her has been denial. On my side, I have re-experienced feelings of abandonment, sorrow, fear, confusion and even anger -- the natural fall out of separation from my mother. Together now, by sheer will on both our parts, we work together towards forgiveness and healing.
My mother and I are two of hundreds of thousands of separated mothers and children who struggle in near silence to regain dignity, identity and wholeness. There is no justice surrounding our story and even less recognition of the injustice done.
Jennifer Lauck is the author of Found: A Memoir, The True Sequel to Blackbird with Seal Press and her book video trailer can be seen on YouTube. She is also the author of the New York Times Bestseller Blackbird, Still Waters, Show Me the Way. She is a regular blogger on Prolifically Raw and Shewrites.com.