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Published 01/26/2010 at 8:52am  |  Views: 16698
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by Paula S. Bernstein
She tells me I'm angry. I tell her that I'm not. She insists I'm in denial. She is Betty Jean Lifton, a prominent adoption counselor and author who believes that adoptees can only be fulfilled by reunited with their birth parents. I beg to differ.

I was adopted when I was an infant, and although I've been imprinted with a set of neuroses all my own, I'm relatively well adjusted. I'm close with my family, I've got intimate friends, I'm in a romantic relationship, and I like my job. I have no craving for biological relatives, and the way I see it, I've got enough loving friends and family. But members of a new movement of adoption reformists--including therapists like Lifton--don't buy my story. They promote the idea that genes are all-important and contend that it's unnatural for me to deny my roots.

Everything I know about my birth mother I learned from a letter that my adoption agency sent to me when, as a curious college sophomore, I requested non-identifying information about the people who gave me life. "Our records indicate that your birth mother was a 28-year-old, single Jewish woman. Because she came to us very late in her pregnancy, our record is scanty. However, we do know that she was a woman of superior intelligence who attended one of the better colleges for one years before she dropped out." The letter goes on to present a psychological portrait of a confused young woman and concludes by informing me that "her decision to relinquish you was a carefully considered one, make in the hope that you could have the security and stability of family living, which she could not provide."

Thirty years have passed since this woman selflessly granted me a promising future. I feel no bitterness, only gratitude. Although I have no desire to find her, I often with I could plant a thought in her brain: The child you bore is healthy and happy; you did the right thing.

Adoption search organizations promote the idea that reunion should be every adoptee's goal. The oldest of these groups is the Adoptee's Liberty Movement Association (ALMA), founded in 1971 by Florence Fisher, who spent 20 years tracking down her own birth mother. "I would have killed to open my records, to find her," says Fisher. "There is no way that anybody on this earth could have stopped me." She describes the day she finally met her birth mother as "even more exciting than my wedding or the days I gave birth to my two children." All adoptees, she insists, suffer from lifelong separation anxiety that can only be alleviated by a reunion.

One of ALMA's goals is to unseal confidential adoption records. (Records have already been opened in four states, and there are mutual-consent registries for situations where both parties are searching.) ALMA's own search registry helps adoptees find their birth parents. Some ALMA members go so far as to hire private detectives.

"Your birth mother was 28 years old, not a confused 16-year-old kid," says Lifton (who is not affiliated with ALMA, but whose book, Lost and Found, is something of a bible for many of its members) during our phone conversation. "She could have kept you, but she didn't." Then she condescendingly informs me that I'm still "somewhere in the process" and that my need to meet and talk with my birth mother will surface when I'm more evolved.

This sentiment is everywhere. Talk shows feature tearful reunions where adoptees meet their birth mothers and suddenly feel--for the first time in their lives--whole. Of course, adoptees who need to search make for better television than those of us who are content.

When people learn that I'm adopted, they invariably ask if I've found my "real parents" yet. If only these well-meaning people realized that I've always known my real parents. They are the ones who took me home as a tiny, sickly baby and who fed, educated and supported me--not out of charity, but because I'm their child. The man and woman who conceived me, on the other hand, were two people haphazardly creating life; they clearly were not ready to bear the responsibility of nurturing it.

Now, I'm not going to say that I never fantasized about my birth parents while I was growing up. I remember being riveted to reruns of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour at age 7, convinced that the stars were my parents. I envied Chastity, their sunny blond daughter, because she was taking my place onstage.

Childhood dreams behind me, I have serious reasons for not searching. When my birth mother gave me up for adoption, she signed a confidentiality notice. Do I really want to violate her privacy? Fisher says, "Any mother who wants this privacy is beneath contempt." But I disagree. Maybe my birth mother harbors deep shame about giving up a child and has never told anyone. Or perhaps she has a family of her own and is not ready to begin a new parent-child relationship.

Originally Published: Redbook, March 2000