Sunday, April 04, 2010

Justice Means Having to Say You're Sorry

PRESIDENT CLINTON (addressing the syphilis research perpetrated on the Tuskegee Airmen): The United States Government did something that was wrong, deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was an outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens. We can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people what the United States Government did was shameful, and I am sorry. (May 19, 1997)

On June 19th, 2009, the U.S. Senate on Thursday apologized for slavery, making it the second body in Congress to approve such a measure. The vote comes a year after the U.S. House of Representatives apologized for slavery. The resolution admits that Africans were "forced into slavery" where they were "brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized, and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage." And it acknowledges that many enslaved families were "torn apart after family members were sold separately."
In 1993, the U.S. government apologized to native Hawaiians for overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawaii, but a similar apology to American Indians, though proposed, has never come to pass. Now Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), has re-introduced the Native American Apology Resolution, offering an “official apology to Native peoples for the poor choices the federal government made in the past.”

“I firmly believe that in order to move forward and have a true reconciliation, the federal government needs to formally apologize,” said Sen. Brownback in a press release.

Just the other day, Karen W. Buterbaugh's wonderful article about Adoption-Induced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Mothers of the Baby Scoop Era came out and is a must-read for anyone with questions about the criminal nature of the treatment we received during that awful time. The forces and attitudes used against us formed the model for the more subtle coercion of today. Closed records began in that era, to protect those who adopted against the possible intrusion into their lives of the grieving, natural mother.

All manner of wrong was done, with impunity, to a specific segment of our society and we and our children have suffered for it. I will state, at this point, that, while the pain was different for the adopted and mothers, each was equally intense and damaging. Decades later, some of the mothers from the BSE are still so emotionally paralyzed that they cannot face the truth about that time in their lives.

People have said we need to leave the past behind and get on with reformation. Well, let's look at how this affects reform. I doubt, since the case of the Tuskegee Airmen was placed in the public eye and a formal apology was delivered by no one less that the president, that there will be further government experiments on ethnic groups who have less, shall we say, "autonomy" than others. With recognition and an apology, an injustice was faced and a new set of checks and balances became part of our society that would prevent this heinous thing from happening again.

It is no longer popular to ignore the fact that the US imported Africans and kept them as slaves and, after the Civil war and the Emancipation Proclamation, kept them in a place of second-rate citizen status. It is no longer smart nor politically correct to waltz in to a peaceful culture, such as Hawaii, and "Americanize" it, replace their religion and cause the dying-out of the leaders of that culture. It certainly makes sense that many of us, now, get an uncomfortable feeling when we realize we are probably  owning property on which Native Americans lived for centuries and from which they were barred.

Yet, people still believe that the separation of mother from her child, especially if that mother is young and/or poor and/or single, is just Okie-Dokie. Where others who were injured by society are seen as worthy of recognition and redress, the aging mothers of the BSE seem to still be seen, by our Puritanical culture, as "girls who made a mistake," or "sluts who didn't have to raise their skirts." Notice that the guys who participated in the conceptions of our infants were not included in either the category of brainless or morally challenged.

I don't remember who said it, but I have heard it often enough to believe it has reached the status of an adage or truism. Paraphrased, this adage states that, in order to change the present and the future, we must understand and learn from the past. Those of us who want justice for the mothers from our era are not "living in the past" but using it as a valuable learning tool which, if heeded and addressed, would change a lot of things in the here and now. An official apology, such as was offered in Australia, would shine the light on the fact that something was done that was just terribly, terribly wrong.

So, what's the difference between the groups mentioned above and natural mothers from the BSE? I don't think it has to do with race, gender or culture. I also don't see our trauma as any less harmful and real than what happened to the others. But I do notice that while grabbing the land of other cultures and using people of other races for experimentation do not come with their overtly booming industries, adoption does have just that. It is a money-maker for individuals and state governments, It has its own spin-doctors and lobbyists. If we learn from the BSE and if it makes our nation view the separation of mother and infant differently, then the bottom line of a thriving business will be threatened. The rosy, pink cloud picture of adoption would change to show the dark and painful background of surrender and loss. The goose would no longer lay the golden eggs.

That would really be tough...gee. It would be like depending upon our own exploration and new ideas for energy rather than letting OPEC and Big Oil run the show. When (not if) that happens, one door will open as another closes. It happens every time. People would no longer feel entitled to the child of another just because they are infertile or want to be saints. Young mothers-to-be would no longer see adoption as another form of birth control without the "guilt" level of abortion. Hey, they might even start allowing education on birth control in our schools. Wow!

But, until the doers see the damage they have done...until our nation understands that many, many of their  sisters, mothers, daughters, wives and friends had their human rights most painfully taken from them with no remorse or compassion by the takers, it will be business as usual for agencies, adoption attorneys and the God-playing social worker.

There are two goals, then. Reforming adoption and addressing the injustices of the BSE are not mutually exclusive. This isn't an "I was hurt worse than you" contest. It is an actual historical happening, made notable by the huge numbers of mothers separated from their babies. And, to me, it is a first step in making changes happen.

Our nation made a BIG mistake all those decades ago. Let's learn from it, not ignore it.


Lori said...

I often wondered if women, especially the BSE mothers, could realize this. This beautiful statement. "I was hurt worse than you". Such nonsense.

We, women in general, need to learn from history. We need to stop minimizing ourselves and our place in the world and the only way to do that is one way.

WAKE UP! Remember the past and vow to avoid repeating it. Fight for the positive, the reform of adoption and the understanding that we should all share.

Women bring life into this world. Yes, the man puts in his million little fishies - and then his job is done. Women and women alone are the ones that bring to fruition that one silly looking (it really is) act. Now all we have to do is realize that we have the power and we can choose to use it or lose it.


Robin said...

Not sure about your meaning there, Lori, but none of the BSE mothers I know think that we were more hurt by our loss than any other mothers. I am a BSE mom and what we think sets this apart as an era to be addressed is the sheer numbers of young women who were warehoused and treated like criminals just because they were pregnant. There was a waiting list for the homes I was in. No choices were given and no support was available. In the present day, there is still coercion, but it is much more subtle and devious.

Anonymous said...

"In the present day, there is still coercion, but it is much more subtle and devious."

As a mother who lost her child to a supposed open adoption, what I consider to be "subtle and devious" is the fact that we are conned and manipulated out of our children with the promise of ongoing contact with our children and their adoptive parents.

We learn only after our rights have been severed by a piece of paper, that we have no legal recourse to stand on if and when the adoptive parents cut you out of the picture, as so many do.

How many scared, young vulnerable woman, who think they cannot be a good mother to their own flesh and blood (because they are young and unmarried), fall for this LIE, hook, line and sinker. I did and it was devastating.

Open adoption is newest craze for the adoption industry to swindle babies out of their mothers arms; and into the arms of the paying adoptive parents. Mothers were not relinguishing their children at the rate they were before, so they had to come up with something.

With any luck, women of TODAY'S generation will hear and read about all the stories out here about those of us who have been burned by this farce, this lure and LIE called Open Adoption. With any luck, they not fall for it as some of us did.

Robin said...

I have no argument with the fact that open adoption is just a bit of bait with which the industry attracts the mother. I know of one mother who committed suicide after she was shut out of her child's life by the adopters.

We of the BSE make no claim to greater pain or worse treatment. But we were there when the bricks were laid that built the prison. That time frame is notable for the sheer number of girls and women forced, with impunity, to surrender their children.

This was a time when a single, pregnant woman could be thrown out of school, fired from her job, and denied housing due to her condition. It was hard for a married woman to obtain birth control and impossible for the single women. Safe, legal medcial abortion was unheard-of and those doctors that did do the procedure charged outrageous rates.

When open adoption was thrown out there as the best thing since sliced bread, many of us said and wrote that it was the same stuff in a different package. Many of us talked to young women who felt that they were getting a good deal with open adoption, begging them not to fall for it. Most didn't realize that, in most states, contact rights aren't enforcable for the mother.

We still feel that bringing the attention of the citizenry and the government to the crimes of the BSE against mothers will change how this country looks at adoption. The industry didn't have to lie or use devious coercion, then. They just demanded and it was like shooting fish in a barrel. They had no regulations place on them to require full disclosure and there were so many of us they couldn't miss.

Anonymous said...

I appreicate your position on the differences between the different era's.

I was/ am not denouncing any mother, from any era and hell any of us went through when we lost our children.

I don't think it serves us any purpose, for any of us, to do that. I actually think it takes away from all we are trying to do when it comes to adoption reform.

Regardless of the notible differences between the today and the BSE era, I still love your blog and the truth you speak here. It reasonates with me on many levels, even though I am of the "open adoption" era...

Anonymous said...

I appreicate your position on the different era's.

I was/am not denouncing any mother and the hell we have lived through in losing our children to adoption.

I actually think for any of us to do that serves no purpose; but in fact takes away from the adoption reform movement.

Regardless of the obivious differences in adoptions of yesterday and today, I still very much appreciate your blog and the truth you speak. It reasonates with me on many levels, even though I am of the "open adoption" era...

Mandy Lifeboats said...

This will be a 2-parter:

May I ask, are the concerns being brought forth here (and elsewhere on the net), in response to Karen Buterbaugh's well-written, well researched article on the BSE? Because if so, this same thing happened after Ann Fessler's book was published. These 2 women have chosen to historically write and publish on a specific time period in America regarding women's issues and the discriminatory practices in place at that particular time in regards to unwed mothers, pregnancy and surrender.

I don't believe any person who chooses to write on a specific subject, specific time-period on any subject, and those people within those subjects, be made to feel guilty or made to feel that they must apologize that others were not included.

There are many books written specifically about the Civil War and includes nothing about other wars previously or later. The author chose (their interest) to write about a specific war at a specific time. Should a Civil War author apologize to the vets of wars afterwards, because the author chose only to write about the Civil War? I surely don't think so. No more than Ann Fessler should, Karen Buterbaugh or any person who has chosen to focus and write on the time period of post WWII thru the early 70's, when the hugest numbers of young unwed mothers lost their newborns to closed adoptions..without choice or other recourse. That time period in American Women's History with the highest numbers of unwed mothers losing newborns to adoption and babies lost to adoption, had not happened prior to WWII nor replicated again after the mid 70's in America. Historically, this is note-worthy and should be written about by those who choose to do so...without guilt or apology. It is what it was.

Each generation of women has their own stories to tell, we are telling ours...the 2 generations of women after us, will hopefully tell theirs as well.

No mother would ever deny another mother their pain, sadness and sorrow, no matter how that surrender came to be....that pain remains the same for all of us mothers who lost our babies to adoption. Pain is pain, no matter what decade/century a mother is separated from her baby.

I must say here...on more than one occasion I have tried to talk to a young mother who was contemplating "placing" her child for adoption. Not only was I called filthy names (I kid you not!), but I was also told "times have changed, it's different now". I tried, my words fell on deaf ears.
I guess like raising our children, giving advice/suggestions to a young adult child...sometimes they simply will not listen to Mom..they know better, they will do it better, they know what they are doing, "Mom I'm not you"! "OK! I wish you well, guess we all learn from our own mistakes, I learned from some of my own. Hopefully it will all work out well for you, but if not sweetheart, I'll be here for you..a big shoulder for you to cry on." I have spoken these almost same identical words in the past year, to the daughter I raised who will soon be 43 yrs old. Guess what! Mom was right, my baby was hurt beyond anything I could imagine for her. She came Home, she cried and now she has to pick up the pieces of her life once again..and I will help her the best I can. I could have told her, "I told you so"..but I didn't..because I love her too much to hurt her more than she already does.

To ignore the past, is one sure way of repeating the past.

Mandy Lifeboats said...

Part II:

"Forgotten" Mothers and OAE Mothers, tell your stories far and wide. Research, research, research..get yourselves published, tell your individual stories, let the world know how surrender has harmed you.

I don't deny you this..please do not deny the BSE Mothers to do the same for themselves. Telling our generational collective stories is not about Adoption Reform, it is separate your stories will be also. They are stories of pain and sadness and how badly women, mothers and her children can be used and treated....historically, across the generations of.

Robin said...

Thank you, Mandy. You are right in that no one wants to deny the feelings of any mother from any era. But there is one more thing that bears mentioning. We are entering the last part of our lives. Some BSE moms are already departed from this life, leaving those of us who remember that hypocritical, punitive time in our history to try to speak for them.

We can work together if we do not deny the realities of history. In fact, we can show how the industry grew fat feeding on subsequent generations, even when there were restrictions they had to find their way around. It cannot be was at its worst in numbers during the BSE.

Sandy Young said...

I think that one of the major problems we have in the adoption community is a difference in perspective. We tend to lump it all together and label it "adoption reform" and include open access, OBC, medical information, surrender, foster care, stepparent adoption all together, and that is way too big an issue to deal with for
ANY group, let alone one that is as divided as ours.

I, for one, have no interest in "adoption reform". My reformer days are over. I have spent too many hours in forums, or in meetings with women of today who are pregnant, and wanting to surrender their children for adoption because the timing, finances, schooling isn't at the optimum or the order is not as they planned it. My efforts have been met with "Its different today" or "that was then..." It isn't my job or my concern to insure ethical adoption, or to talk young mothers out of relinquishing. Been there, done that, not interested any longer.

I am purely interested in justice for an isolated and distinct group of young, unmarried, white women, who, like the Tuskeegee airmen, were targeted for social experimentation. That ours was linked to the Puritan Ideal of Wife/Mother and our violation of that ideal demanded swift and unalterable action makes it even worse.

We mothers of the EMS who are speaking out are the tail end of the EMS. We are the survivors. The ones who are older than us, the ones who lost in the early part of it are now in their 80's and 90's! It is up to us to get it done, and we owe it not only to our older and frailer sisters, I believe, but to future generations of women. How easy to forget. How simple to turn a blind eye. How convenient to say that it was an aberration, and things like that no longer happen. They do. The laws of today have their foundation in the laws that allowed the atrocities against us to happen. They morphed; they didn't go away.

So, for all the women who say that it is divisive to talk about only one era, only one time, highlighting the differences...maybe they are the divisive ones for not allowing one singular, isolated group the time to seek what THEY feel is good for themselves, and then build on the back of that, rather than forcing all of us to an accord, that frankly benefits none....

Robin said...

"I am purely interested in justice for an isolated and distinct group of young, unmarried, white women, who, like the Tuskeegee airmen, were targeted for social experimentation. That ours was linked to the Puritan Ideal of Wife/Mother and our violation of that ideal demanded swift and unalterable action makes it even worse."

That is well described, Sandy. While I can lend my verbal support to other good efforts, my real work is the same as yours. Just because it was legal to treat us like criminals during the EMS doesn't make it either right or just. I get so tired of hearing "well that's just the way things were back then." Slavery was the way it was until the 1860's. That didn't make it either right or just.

I wish that some of these who say things were not different could have sat with my mother and me in the principal's office at my high school while I was expelled for "moral failings." Damn it, it WAS different and it IS the reason that so many women went so many years without speaking up. I know one young woman who, just hours before her nursing school "capping" ceremony, was told by the Dean of her school that she could not graduate with her class nor could she practice the profession she had studied so hard to attain for four years. She had quietly told her best friend that she was pretty sure she was pregnant, but, since she was getting married in two months, she wasn't worried about it. She should have worried. A pastor of a large Methodist church in SC was asked to resign when it became known that his oldest daughter was in a home for unwed mothers.

Shit like that went on all over the country. We know, We lived it. So don't tell us it wasn't different and don't begrudge us the right to seek justice.

maybe said...

It's really hard for today's young women to fully appreciate how different times were and how unforgiving society was towards women. I did not grow up in that era, but I have friends who did and their stories are harrowing. One friend attended an all-girls Catholic school and their rule was that any student who became pregnant, married, or even engaged (in any order) was summarily kicked out, no exceptions.

I think I understand where you are coming from with regards to fighting for the injustices of that era. Thanks for writing.

Robin said...

Maybe, Thank YOU for making the effort to understand. And your friends are right. It was harrowing.

Sandy Young said...

It was not limited to the Catholic Schools. That was the rule in the public schools, too. Young women who found themselves pregnant were not allowed in school, not allowed even on the school grounds. They HAD to go away or be out of school or home schooled for their confinement, an old fashioned term, but truthful. The ones in Catholic Schools returned to the public schools when they came back, never being allowed in Catholic School again.

Thanks for trying to understand this issue. It is vital for us, and we don't have a lot of years left, for the most part. When we are gone, that will be the end of it.

kittz said...

kitta here:

Any "era" in which mothers are abused and violated must be documented. It is important that the facts be told, and Karen Buterbaugh has done a great job with her research about the BSE.

I hope that mothers of the so-called "open adoption era" will also document what has happened to them and to their children.

Open adoption is still adoption. it is not a custody arrangement with natural parents retaining parental rights. I think this issue is one where there is a considerable amount of confusion. Mothers may go into an "open adoption" thinking that they have "visitation rights" and even parental rights ...but...they do not.

There can be no doubt about the civil rights issues of today compared with the past.Women in general have established their civil rights today, however, hanging onto them may be another matter.

And the adoption "professionals" have been lobbying for, and passing... laws that cut short the timeframes in which pregnant women make decisions.Some states even have legalized pre-birth surrender signing.

The reason for this strategy by the industry is simple; the more time a mother has after the think and rethink her decision...the more likely she is to keep her baby.

Agencies also know that if the baby is placed with the pre-adopters at birth, there are judges who will sympathize with the idea that the baby has 'bonded" to the pre-adoptive parents, if the mother tries to revoke consent. If "best interest of the child" comes into the argument the mother may lose physical custody..even if she wins legal custody.

Von said...

Viewing your situation as an outsider although an adoptee I view any trying to say who had it worse as a serious distraction from the serious task in hand.All relinquishing mothers suffer and wrong was done by an insatiable and immoral adoption industry which has religious and state backing.That industry gets bigger and cleverer by the day, that seems to me to be the worthy target.

Robin said...

Hi Von..glad to see you here. It is noting the difference in the eras rather than measuring the depth of pain that is my point. If we are going to fight, for us from the EMS, it is a matter of exposing the guano that makes up the foundation of adoption practices...the guano that was laid down in our time. We were, like the Tuskegee airmen, the early subjects of a social experiment and received some pretty harsh treatment.