People who get birthparents get birthparents. Four individuals come to mind – all of whom are/were adoption social workers whose job it is/was to advocate for women who place(d) their babies for adoption, as well as birthfathers when they are involved.
The first is Jim Gritter. I don’t know if Jim has any personal connection to adoption beyond his role as a social worker, but according to the National Association for Social Work (NASW) website:
James Gritter is a nationally known champion of open adoptions. He became a child welfare caseworker in 1974 in his native state of Michigan and has been practicing, writing, and educating the profession and the public about the issue of open adoption since then. In 1982 he organized the first conference on this issue, “Beyond the Shadow of Secrecy,” in Traverse City, Michigan, bringing together adoption professionals from around the US.
I met Jim at an adoption conference and have always admired and appreciated him for being such an outspoken advocate for openness in adoption.
The next is a person I’ve mentioned before, Sharon Kaplan Roszia. She is the mother of biological children, adopted children, and foster children. According to her own website:
Sharon Kaplan Roszia is an internationally known educator, presenter, and author who has devoted fifty years of her professional career to the institution of foster care and adoption. While working in public and private agencies as well as private practice venues, she has focused on crisis pregnancy; infertility; infant adoptions; placement of children from the foster care system, including sibling groups and teenagers, and search and reunion. The additional issues of international adoptions; trans-racial adoptions; gay and lesbian built families; and traumatized children with attachment challenges have also become a specialty. In the last twenty five years, Sharon has also paved the way in the world of open adoptions; believing in preserving connections over time.
Sharon impressed me from the first time I learned about her when my friend Lynn Franklin interviewed her for her book, May the Circle Be Unbroken. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of meeting Sharon in person, hearing her speak, and reading her books. Like Jim Gritter, she’s been a vocal champion of birthparent rights.
I’ve also mentioned Judy Greene, the birthparent coordinator when I placed my son through the Spence-Chapin agency in New York City. As is probably appropriate, we knew virtually nothing about her private life. I don’t even know how old she is – except that because of the long, completely white hair she usually wore in a single braid down the back, she seemed old-ish to me. Of course, when you’re 27, everybody over 35 seems old-ish. I know she’d worked on the birthparent side of the adoption world for her whole career and had been doing it for 26+ years when I was placing. She retired before I moved back to Phoenix, with a plan to move up to Massachusetts and start a B&B. I would love to have an update but haven’t been able to learn any more.
What I most remember was that Judy was truly a birthmother champion. She arranged for me to speak to many different groups, comprised of prospective adoptive parents, parents who had already adopted, social workers, and hospital staffs. Judy would usually be the one to introduce me, and the other birthmothers, if it was a panel. I’m not sure why – my guess is it’s because I knew that Judy was not a birthmother and had no ties to adoption other than her professional life – but every single time she introduced me (and other birthmothers), I would hold my breath and wait for her to make a mistake. I would wait for her to say something – anything – that misrepresented us or indicated that she didn’t really know what it was like to be a birthmother because she wasn’t one. And I’m really glad to say that every single time – probably a dozen or more – she proved me wrong. Judy never, ever said anything to disrespect, denigrate, or misrepresent the birthmother’s perspective when it came to adoption. I really wish I could find her to thank her for that.
Lastly, I want to tell you about my friend, Beth Kozan. I met Beth here in Phoenix way back in 2005. I had been living here for a few years and was missing my connection to other birthmothers. So I decided to host a spoken word event that I called “The Birthmother You Know.” My intention was to have women come to share their stories, written or oral, as they related to being birthmoms. The only problem was that I didn’t know any birthmoms in Phoenix. So I reached out to every adoption agency and adoption support group in the area to ask them to invite their birthmothers to my event.
Very few responded. We held it at a now-defunct coffee shop, and for a first-time event with little response from the Phoenix adoption community, it was still pretty well attended. Some women read poems, others short stories. One gal read the email correspondence she had exchanged with her daughter before their face-to-face reunion. Beth was a big part of the success of this event, as she brought a number of the birthmoms who attended.
Subsequently, Beth has written a book titled, ADOPTION: More Than by Chance, about the coincidences and synchronicities that occur in so many adoptions. Hers are stories of the more memorable ones she witnessed over her 30-year career. Beth is currently working on a second book, Helping the Birthmother You Know, which will be a resource for friends and family members of women who are considering placing their children for adoption. So many people struggle with what to say and how to behave. Birth-grandparents my try very hard to talk their daughter out of the decision, because if she places, “normal” access to their grandchild walks out the door with the baby. Siblings and friends often just don’t know what to say. I can’t wait for Beth’s book – because it’s so long overdue.
The other night, Beth and I attended a meeting together where we were discussing our goals for 2018. Beth mentioned that she belongs to an adoption triad group in Phoenix that has an incomplete logo. There are images for the adoptive parent and adopted person sides of the triangle that represents the adoption triad – but the birthparents have no image. Almost like they don’t exist. Check the adoption literature, and it sometimes feels that way.
When Beth asked the organization about the missing piece of the logo, the answer was, “Well, birthparents don’t really attend the group very often.”
“Could that be because you do nothing to welcome them?” Beth asked in response. So Beth promised that by May 12, Birthmothers’ Day 2018, she will make sure that birthparents are equally represented on this organization’s logo – and, hopefully, at the meetings. Like Judy, Beth has no personal link to adoption. She fell into it as a young social worker, and has been advocating for birthmothers and birthfather ever since.
I’m sure there are other birthparent champions out there. These are the four I happen to have met, whose books I have read, and whose hearts I know. If you know of others, let me know. Let’s give them a resource page so that we can help them help us to continue to destigmatize the birthparents’ role in the adoption process.