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by Sandy Musser

Secret Adoption Grief Art Show

Spokane, WA

November 3, 2000

        Since the birth of our nation there have always been individuals in the forefront of their movement who were known as "radical." What exactly does it mean to be radical? In checking with Webster, we find that the word has two primary meanings - revolutionary and fundamental. Synonyms of revolutionary are nonconformist, rebel rouser, ringleader, but also activist and reformer. The word fundamental means such things as basic, essential, innate, original and constitutional - certainly these terms are appropriate to our discussion here today. 

          Think about it - were it not for radical leadership, slavery would still exist and women would still not be allowed to vote. William Lloyd Garrison began his personal attack on slavery in 1829 when he called for 'gradual emancipation.' But only two years later, he published the first issue of The Liberator and called for "an immediate end of an immoral institution." Yet 126 years passed before Rosa Parks dared to test the waters of racial equality fueling the Civil Rights movement of our century. Susan B. Anthony another one of those radical individuals, along with 15 of her friends was arrested on November 5, 1872 for daring to go to the ballot box, but it would be another 48 years following her arrest before the 19th Amendment was finally passed allowing ALL women the right to vote. Ironically, I walked through the prison gates on the same date 121 years later - in 1993 for daring to challenge our adoption laws and then refusing to take a plea bargain.

      It was sometime during the early 80's that I first recall someone referring to me as a 'radical.' I also remember feeling uncomfortable with that label because it seemed to have such a negative connotation. But it was during the late 70's that I became committed to the cause of adoption reform at any cost. So the radical label was apparently correct. Why was I sent to Prison? Because I refused to plead guilty to the government's ridiculous charge of "conspiracy to defraud the government of confidential information" in my work of reuniting families. Early on, I had made a conscious decision that I would not be deterred by the threat of prison, mainly because of my passionate beliefs.

      Prior to being processed into the general population, I was placed in solitary confinement for 3 days. I only mention that fact because I'm extremely claustrophobic and because I was denied medication during those three days. Needless to say, I was a basket case by the time I got out of solitary. Did I question myself as to whether it was really worth what I was going through? Yes, I did - in fact I had lots of time to consider that question. Did I suffer emotionally - I can assure you that I did! But do I have any regrets about my decision to stand my ground? No, I don't!

      What are you passionate about? What changes would you like to see and what are you willing to do to make them happen? What I'm going to share with you today may seem radical, but if it resounds within your heart and spirit, then I pray that you will commit yourself to radical leadership. Either way, I hope you will keep an open mind and hear me out.

      Organizations and institutions rise and fall - they rise because they fulfill a purpose for a specified period of time and when the need for them no longer exists, they fall. The institution of adoption, as we know it, started its rise in the 30's, rose steadily during the 40's. 50's, 60's and 70's and then began a decline during the 80's and 90's. Many of us now living at the beginning of the 21st Century realize that an institution so riddled with secrecy and lies has no place in our society. There comes a time when a foundation is so decayed that it becomes necessary to tear it down rather than to try to build upon it. I believe that time has come. I can hear some of my old former cronies saying "She wants to throw out the baby with the bath water." They're the same ones who believe the foundation of this institution can be "fixed", and that somehow it can be improved upon and made better and stronger, but I propose to you that a crumbling, broken infested foundation cannot be fixed nor can it be repaired.

      The reason is this: The huge major crack in the substructure is not whether adoptees should be entitled to their information (that goes without question - of course they should!!) or it's not in trying to determine how many hours should pass before a mother signs a surrender paper (there aren't enough hours to justify a permanent separation of mother and child). The major crack in the adoption foundation is the way adoption was constructed back in 1917 when the first State sealed their records and all the others eventually followed suit, sealing records FOREVER!

     Ever since then, adoption has been a charade similar to the one we all used to play when we were kids - the game of "Let's Pretend". This game of 'Let's Pretend' allows the Adoption Service Providers (ASPs) to use the legal system to carry out the charade. The mother is told to go on were life as though it never happened - 'Let's Pretend' you never had a baby; then you can go on with your life, start a career, and put all this behind you like a bad dream. The adopters are told that this child being adopted was "given away because he/she wasn't wanted" and even though this child comes pre-packaged with their own unique genetic makeup, let's just pretend that all that will be wiped out when you adopt this baby. Later as the adoptee gets older and starts asking the "Who Am I" question, we tell them to that their ancestral roots which include their entire cultural, medical genetic and social history really aren't that important! These civil and constitutional rights you are trying to claim just aren't important enough to break the almighty 'sealed record!' Here is the crux of the entire charade - it allows ASPs to alter, falsify, "doctor" legal documents sanctioned by a Court of Law creating the legalization of lies and protected by the SEALED RECORD law!

       The true and accurate information is hidden in a sealed file - never to see the light of day. All the while , the child's entire identity, medical history and culture have been stolen FOREVER (according to law). We are then forced into the position of playing the game by their rules. When you, the adoptee, as a grown adult, request your own basic information, they are able to hide behind the secrecy laws which they themselves created, put into place, and now, even in this age of enlightenment (2015) continue to staunchly defend. We need to stop this pretense so inherent in adoption. By its very nature and language, the entire process is full of pretense. Let me cite just a few examples from two of the many adoption documents - the final decree states "As if born to the adoptive parents now and forevermore" allowing the charade to begin. But just as outrageous is the surrender paper which still uses the term "ABANDONDED!" Can you think of anything worse than for a child to feel or be told that they were 'abandoned' by their own mother - or for a mother to feel she abandoned her child?

    I left the hospital that July day in 1954 with empty arms and a broken heart and the memory of my daughter never ceased, and though I was told to forget, I never did. I can assure you that I never abandoned her, but that's what the paperwork would have us believe. Did I wish there could have been another aolution! Absolutely! The real truth of the matter is that no mother wants to surrender her child. It is not the norm, nor is it a natural act. In fact, it is probably one of the most unnatural acts known to the human race and, sadly, we are one of the primary countries in the world that encourages young and poor mothers to give away their babies and endorses the taking of young children from poor families. In fact, he has become a $13 billion dollar industry! 

     How did an institution supposedly built upon love and compassion for children become a billion dollar business requiring professional intermediaries and legislated rules and regulations to make it function? My friends, it's an outrage. The time has come for us to end this charade. We need to have a vision that no child has to be permanently separated from their family of origin - their birth kin.

Now hear me out on this. I'm not so naïve that I don't realize there are times when a child needs to have other caretakers (formerly called guardians), but when it becomes absolutely impossible for a child to remain with the family of origin, then let us at the very least establish a way for them to maintain their family ties. And let us NOT eradicate their family name - it's who they are! Many of you are probably thinking that these are lofty, idealistic or unrealistic ideas, but if we are really pro-family, then we've got to begin somewhere. It's so important to remember that we don't just remove a child from a mother or a father; when a child is taken, they are taken from an entire family of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents - their entire root system.

    The trauma of separation from one's family of origin is one of the most agonizing traumas we suffer as human beings. I am reminded of Louise, a 56 year old searching adoptee who told our support group that on the way home from a former meeting, she began to think about her mother 'out there somewhere' and suddenly the tears began to flow and she began to cry. Over and over again, she cried "Mommy, Mommy, where are you?!" I remember her look of embarrassment as she was telling us about it, but everyone shook their heads with complete empathy and understanding as to what she had experienced. Yes, the loss is so great that we could all well relate.

     Then there was Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a mother whose words have been ringing in my ears since she first spoke them 24 years ago. She said "My social worker told me to get on with my life, to go to college get a degree and 'make something of myself.' I did just as she suggested because I had no other options open to me, but it didn't take me very long to realize that what I had done was to trade my child for a PhD and I've never gotten over that awful realization. I've regretted my decision ever since."

    And finally there was Nora, an adoptive parent who pleaded with us to locate her adopted daughter's mother. In her letter to us, she wrote, "My daughter is in so much pain. It breaks my heart to see her struggling with who she is and it doesn't seem fair that she would be denied this basic information" She went on to express how she hoped we would be able to locate her mother in time for her daughter's 21st birthday. She wanted to provide her with the information as a gift. We did complete the search, but not in time. Sadly, her mother had passed away just a short time before. Nora and her daughter were both totally devastated and is full of grief, which so many others suffer as well when they find "the grave at the end of the search."

    Friends, time is always of the essence. The trauma of separation caused by adoption affects all of us for all of our lives. Statistics have proven over and over again that our jails, our mental health facilities and our treatment centers are filled with those who became separated from their family of origin at an early age. And they're filled with rage. The repressed anger that results from the trauma of separation is, I believe, the most toxic emotion known to man. Traditional, closed, sealed, secret adoption has got to stop. Too many lives have been devastated in its wake.

     What needs to be done? We need to be creative as we search for new programs to help our young families remain together - we need to do everything we can possibly do to prevent the loss of separation from ever occurring in the first place. As Hal Aigner, author of Adoption in America stated using a medical analogy - "Adoption healing is wonderful, but the better path in not to contract the disease."

    While I was in prison, and soon after the 60 Minutes Show aired, I received a commendation from The Giraffe Project, ( a non-profit organization that encourages risk-taking. The Giraffe Award is presented to individuals who are willing to 'Stick One's Neck Out for the Common Good.' 

I can tell you that it's one of my proudest awards. It turned out that the Founder, Ann Medlock, also lost a child to adoption and when she heard about my story, she decided to present me with the award.

For the first time in this new century, I've decided to once again stick my neck out. Because giraffes have such long necks, they always see the "bigger picture" - the bigger picture is that someday NO child will have to be separated from their family of origin forever. I'm hoping that those of you who also see the big picture will want to become giraffes and join me. If so, would you send me an e-mail and let me know.

On this cool Friday in November 2000, seven years to the day that I went to prison for adoption reform, I am calling for the ABOLITION of closed sealed secret adoptions and a return to Guardianship. As we go forward into the 21st Century, let's end this charade once and for all, and allow this archaic institution to fade into obscurity and become a 'thing of the past.' In doing so, we will truly be proponents for Family Preservation.

c 2000-2015