Audi Alterem Partem – More from Boston

That is Latin for “Hear the Other Side” In Canada we call that one of the rules of natural justice.  What lawyers call the rules of natural justice, most people call fairness.  Why am I telling you this?   I’ll get to that in a minute.

The plenary session yesterday afternoon was Secrecy and Policy.  Again another interesting session.  Adam Pertman spoke about the work and philosophy of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute. Elizabeth Samuels of University of Baltimore spoke about birth mothers as the Object of Others Desires.  Naomi Cahn of George Washington Law School spoke about Assisted Reproductive Technology.  As an industry it seems to have very few controls. She is also on the board of  Sibling Registry.  Some people seemed to be surprised by the notion that reproductive technologies will raise the same issues adoption does about wanting to know the true nature of your origins.  This seems self-evident to me.  In my opinion, it is just the next wave.  One of the problems in studying this situation is that people may not know they are the result of reproductive technology as they are not told.  I did a post on this once.  Whose Your Daddy?  Here is the link: I thought it was an interesting and respectful discussion.  Although one of the organizers of the conference got somewhat upset at the importance being placed on biological ties.

The next session I attended was Complications of Search, Reunion and Aftermath.  One of the presenters was Betty Jean Lipton who is an icon of the movement to give voice to all the issues surrounding adoption from a perspective of someone other than an adoptive parent.  The other two women read academic papers that analyzed existing literature in both the academic and writing sense of that word.  For example, Marianne Novy of the University of Pittsburgh did a review of “Seven Adopted American Women’s Memoirs of Reunion and its Aftermath.”  Conclusion,not surprisingly, each one is different.

Some of the points that hit me:  Closed is more familiar for adoptees than open, even if they are unhappy in their personal closed situation.  The door they are opening feels like a chasm. One adoptee described it as”I came,I saw, I fled.” But the fleeing didn’t last long; he was back in reunion after a year.  That searching often feels like regressing. That they are falling down the rabbit hole like Alice into the life they might have lead.  You meet the ghost baby,the who you might have been.  The baby who got to live with her mother.  One adoptee said, there was the me that was born and didn’t live and the me that wasn’t born and did. That alternate self is totally unscripted,while the adopted self is scripted.  One adoptee said it was a fear of being erased.  Betty Jean Lipton said some adoptees are stuck being the mad, sad baby. She also said the adoptee feels a great need to be in control of the reunion.  Setting down rules, apparently, is not uncommon.

And now the reason for the title of this post.  The secondplenarysession: Adoption and Mental Health:  Realism, Risk and Responsibility.   The presenter was Anita Allen who has a fairly impressive resume.  But despite the resume,I found the presentation a little light.  And a number of statement were made with which I disagreed.

For example:

Adoption is win,win,win.  Win for the child, win for the birth mother,win for the adoptive parents.  How could any one listen to the presentations I described yesterday by birth mothers and believe that adoption is in any way a “winning” proposition for a mother.   But there was more.

The birthmother is, after all, looking for a family for her child.  Maybe in 1952 – and probably not even then – but these days, PAP’s are looking desperately for a child to adopt is a more accurate description of the situation.  And more.

In discussing the merits of open adoption, Ms Allen actually said, that they did not have to worry that they were making their daughter overweight by feeding her doughnuts, because her birth mother was overweight and that’s where she got it from.  The statement was accompanied by an overhead projection of the daughter and her birth mother.

The mental health aspect of this discussion?  It was about the ethics of complete disclosure to the PAP’s about mental illness in the adoptees family.  How ethically there should be full disclosure.  While Ms Allen did not support the return of the child to Russia that has so recently been in the news there was some sympathy expressed for AP’s who have tried everything and not achieved any success.  It was about the process not the fact of the return.

Of course, the topic of disclosure brings up many issues for birth mothers. Disclosure is an element of informed consent and I did not hear any discussion of mutual disclosure.  I did not hear how anyone considering relinquishing should receive full disclosure of the PAP’s family’s mental health history or the true impact of relinquishment on mother and child.

If we had had full disclosure about the true impact of adoption on our and our children’s lives we would not be sitting here today. If we had been given full disclosure of the  nature of the adoptive parents some of our children would be placed with,we would not be sitting here today.

Ms Allen talked about wrongful adoption lawsuits and what the approach should be to adoption, should it be caveat emptor – buyer beware (an interesting choice of phrase) or should it be expectation of a guarantee.  And while Ms Allen did not advocate either of these extremes, one cannot help but think that relinquishing mothers are often given and expected to base their decision on a guarantee of a perfect family for their child – one that is no more applicable to adoptive parents than anyother element of society.

I dont know if Ms Allen,s remarks were those of a person used to speaking to a room full of like-minded individuals.  I kind of suspected they were. I don’t know why she did not acknowledge the strong evidence given earlier in the conference that adoption is not win,win, win for mothers.  Many adoptees would say the same thing. I suspect she didn’t hear it.

As I mentioned above, Ms.Allen has a pretty impressive resume from acedemia to contributing to O magazine (perhas this is where Oprah got the idea that third world surragacy is women helping women) but in my opinion she needs to do a little more thinking about the rules of natural justice and she needs to Audi Alterem Partem.  It wouldn’t be hard to do there are some of alterem partems right here in the same building at MIT.

I am going to end with a personal note but it relates.  As I was walking out of the building where the conference events were being held there was a family mother, father,daughter.  The father was taking a picture of the mom and daughter. I think there are a lot of people here doing the MIT campus tour in anticipation of next September.  I offered to take a picture of all three. They accepted my offer. As I walked away from them I felt myself tearing up.  One of the factors that was stressed to me when I had my son was that he would not have the life that I had if I kept him. He would not get to go to university.  My son did not make it out of Grade 9.  Despite this, he has done very well for himself (not doubt due to his good genes) He has his own business.  But when I met him, it was one of my first clues as to the very false promises of adoption.

My daughter, the one I raised, graduates from one of Canada’s top universities this June.

It’s not a fair comparison of course but I can indulge in a little self-righteousness too.



from Cambridge/Boston USA


12 Responses to Audi Alterem Partem – More from Boston

  1. Mei Ling says:

    “You meet the ghost baby,the who you might have been. The baby who got to live with her mother. One adoptee said, there was the me that was born and didn’t live and the me that wasn’t born and did. That alternate self is totally unscripted,while the adopted self is scripted.”


    I see “myself” in my sister all the time, and I can almost picture myself being the baby who was raised there instead of her.

    But of course, it remains a lost dream…

  2. justenjoyhim says:

    Thank you for this. Wonderful and poignant.

  3. Suz says:

    Haha, Margie, I know the Quad A Adoption Attorney your reference. I believe you and I were trading nasty text messages about her while she was speaking. Amusing you said that as I thought the same thing when I read UM’s post above.

  4. Denise says:

    UM, all I can say is WOW! Thank you for your reports. Whenever I hear about an adoption conference, I consider it. Then decide I can’t afford the cost or the time away or whatever. The truth is I don’t think I can do them anymore. As much as I’d like to meet you and other adoption bloggers I’ve met online. I don’t know I would have sat through Allen’s presentation.

    When I was IN IT, I was drenched in it, couldn’t step in and out at will. I’m personally better off with just a toe in at this point. I read and learn, but I can’t go.

  5. unsignedmasterpiece says:

    Still on the road travelling home and had to work on another project today There is more coming.

  6. Margie says:

    Omigosh, Anita Allen sounds like the jerk they had speaking at the DC adoption ethics conference a couple of years ago. I forget her name, but she represented an adoption attorney’s association, and basically talked about how to trick women out of their babies. I am not making this up. If there had been tomatoes in the room, that woman would have walked out wearing sauce.

    Honestly, those are the kind of “adoption experts” I wish would just shut up.

    Thanks for posting, it sounds terrific!! Remember – be gentle with yourself!!

  7. Robert says:

    I think you’re far too kind on the Allen lecture. That was the worst presentation of the conference. First of all when I go to a lecture on Adoption and Mental Health: Realism, Risk and Responsibility — I think I’m going to learn something about the research as to what mental health issues are present, especially in adopteees.

    Second, yeah, the resume was long the wisdom was short. You’d think a PhD in Philosophy would allude to the work of ONE PHILOSOPHER in a lecture about responsibility in adoption.

    Instead, it seemed very surface level common sense yet shallow thinking, buttressed by tons of personal anecdotes about what her kids were up to. Heck, she didn’t even sprinkle in anecodotes of anyone ELSE’s kids. Horrible.

    after a while, it seemed obvious that she was a good buddy of one of the chairs of the conference.

    Learned nothing, left early for dinner.

  8. mybirthnameisallison says:

    thank you for the review…
    Your last lines say it all…

    “…it was one of my first clues as to the very false promises of adoption.”


  9. maryanne says:

    Hi, it was great meeting you at the conference. I was really tired and missed the last session you reported on, and now am glad I did. No, adoption is often NOT a win-win situation, especially not for surrendering mothers.

    I thought most of the conference was great, with one or two exceptions. The birthmother writers in the session you reported previously just blew me away. I had heard Karen McElmurray at previous conferences and love her book, but the others were wonderful as well. I get sent a lot of heartfelt but terribly written self-published memoirs to review, so it was cheering to see so many women who can actually write articulating the birthmother experience.

    I am eager to read more and write more about this conference, but think that the organizers did an excellent job. I got home to an email from my surrendered son with a whole lot of new photos he took, and an email from one of my raised sons that he has been offered a big promotion at Lucasfilms where he works, so I am smiling:-)

  10. susanito says:

    So hard making those choices about what sessions to attend!!!!!! I really wanted to go to the search & reunion one but alas. Could not split myself. It was such a big weekend.

  11. Suz says:

    Crying again. Yes, I understand that completely. All too well.

    And again, glad I did not go. Sad I missed you but glad I opted out of this conference. Way too much other stuff going on. This stuff would have derailed me.

    Hugs to you.

  12. jmomma says:

    Thanks for your wonderful reporting! And congratulations on your daughter’s graduation.

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