Thursday, February 25, 2010

Identical Strangers: Twins Adopted Separately in Secret Study

In 2004, two adopted women in their 30s suddenly discovered that they had an identical twin. Their families hadn't known this when they were adopted in New York--they were part of a secret research project conducted by the Louise Wise agency that separated identical twins as infants and followed their development. It was the perfect nature vs. nurture study. The parents were only told that the children were already part of "an ongoing child study" but no more details.

The two women, Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein, have reunited and are amazed at their similarities. Other than looks, they share many personality traits and interests. They mourn the 35 years they were separated and the lies that kept them from knowing about each other.

Because of the controversial nature of the study, the results have been sealed until 2066. There were 13 children involved in the study. Four still don't know about their twins.

Bernstein and Schein said, "It's kind of disturbing to think that all this material about us is in some file cabinet somewhere..." Um, yeah. Talk about adding another layer of secrecy and records-hiding to an adoption story!

Together they wrote a memoir called Identical Strangers. I'm interested in the story, but quite underimpressed with the excerpt here on NPR. Has anyone read it?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Adoption Conference at MIT April 29-May 2

*Adoption: Secret Histories, Public Policies*
A conference sponsored by the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture
at MIT, Cambridge, MA
April 29-May 2, 2010

Keynote speakers:
  • Anita L. Allen, whose work focuses on the law and ethics of privacy and data protection, race relations and feminist philosophy. She is the author of numerous articles and several books: Privacy Law: and Society (2007); Why Privacy Isn’t Everything: Feminist Reflections on Personal Accountability, Uneasy Access: Privacy for Women in a Free Society, The New Ethics: A Guided Tour of the 21st Century Moral Landscape (Miramax Books/distributed by Hyperion Books, 2004).
  • Ann Fessler, an installation artist, filmmaker, adoptee and author of /The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade, based on oral history interviews she conducted between 2002 and 2005 with surrendering mothers across the country. See my previous post on this book.
  • Lynn Lauber, *birth mother, writer, teacher, and book collaborator, has published three books with W.W. Norton. White Girls, (1990) and 21 Sugar Street (1993), both fiction, that deal with the topics of birth families and adoption. Listen to Me, Writing Life into Meaning (2003), is part memoir, part exploration of writing as self-discovery.
  • Deann Borshay Liem, producer/director/writer for Emmy Award nominated documentary First Person Plural (PBS 2000). She is also the producer/director/writer for the new documentary In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, which will be broadcast on PBS in Fall 2010.

Other speakers include Me! (I'm presenting on blogging and adoption) and Lisa Marie!, Marla Brettschneider, Naomi Cahn, Maryanne Cohen, Marley Greiner, Meredith Hall, Craig Hickman, Margaret Homans, B J Lifton, Kate Livingston, Karen McElmurray, Marianne Novy, Joyce Maguire Pavao, Adam Pertman, John Raible, Lisa Marie Rollins, Elizabeth Samuels, Sarah Tobias.

Documentary films, panels on topics such as: Secrecy and Policy; Lesbian/gay Secrecy Issues and Adoption; Complications of Search, Reunion and Aftermath; Transnational Adoption as Immigration Policy; Secrecy and Adoption: Historical Perspectives on the U.S., Europe, and Asia after World War II; Birthmothers: Agency and Activism; Biological Preference Critiqued and Analyzed; Secrecy and Openness: Legal Issues; Transracial Adoption in Contemporary American Literature; Adoptive Parents, Race, Difference. There will also be an evening of creative writing and performance, featuring Lisa Marie Rollins.

Friday evening performances and all keynotes are free and open to the public. All sessions free to MIT affiliates, and special rates are available for non-MIT students and the un/underemployed.

For more information, visit the
Web site or contact:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Update on SD Senate Bill on Adoption

The bill was rejected, due to lobbyists' claims regarding abortion and birth mothers' privacy.

These are common misperceptions: that allowing adoptees access to original birth certificates will cause birth mothers to choose abortion, fearing their privacy will be invaded. Birth mothers, in survey after survey, are concerned about their confidentiality. People misconstrue "open records" thinking that it means their records are open to the public, but they are only there for the persons involved--often only the adoptee himself or sometimes the adoptive parents.

Here's a survey by the Guttmacher Institute (Planned Parenthood research division) I just found out about, conducted in 2004, that surveyed more than 1200 mothers. None of the women mentioned that a guarantee of a "confidential adoption" played a part in their decision to abort. Top two reasons? Money and life interference (education, job). NOT adoption.

It's mainly fear that keeps this atmosphere of secrecy going. Let's wake up to the 21st century.

As the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute reiterates in one study, "for many adopted persons, the desire to obtain their records is entirely separate from any desire to search for their birth mothers or other relatives; they simply believe--as a human and civil right--that they are entitled to the same basic information about themselves that people raised in birth families receive as a matter of course."

The SD bill could pass in the House and get kicked back to the Senate again, so if you support it, click here and write to the state representatives and let them know.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Another Hair Adventure with Adri: Bangs!

Yesterday Adri decided that she was bored with her hair. "Let's chop it all off--do you have scissors?" she says to me.

It cracks me up that she thinks I know how to style other people's hair. I try to tell her that it took me a quarter century to learn how to do my OWN hair, that my hair obsessions stem from the cultural meanings of ethnic hair and not my ability to actually style hair of any kind. She dismisses these pleas and insists I do something.

"How about we give you bangs?" I ask tentatively.

She agrees, and it turns out this was not simply my way of skirting a major hair crisis that she'd have to run to the salon to fix, but a brilliant idea.

It looks absolutely wonderful on her, don't you agree?

South Dakota Senate Bill on Adoption

An update from adoption folks in South Dakota: Tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 16, Senate Bill 152 will be heard on the SD Senate floor. It has no restrictions for access! You can get e-mail and contact info for specific legislators here. Send a quick e-mail saying you, a voter (even if you're not from SD!), support the bill. It makes a least that's what we hope.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Adoption Film: Off and Running

A wonderful documentary on adoption called Off and Running was released January 29, 2010, to much acclaim.

It is the story of Avery, Black adopted daughter of white lesbian mothers in New York. She is a good student, a track runner, soon to leave for college. She begins a journey of seeking her birth family. She has a lot of support from her adoptive family, but still things go, quite literally, off track. This film does a wonderful job capturing the complexities of transracial adoption, searching for birth family, what can happen when contact is made, and the varying perspectives and responses of family members involved.

It has won numerous awards and several film festivals--deservedly so in my opinion.

I'm presenting on a panel about the film here at the University of Pittsburgh next Thursday, February 18 (for those of you in the area, room G-24 in the Cathedral of Learning). If you can't make it to the showing, I highly recommend finding a way to watch it on your own. Check out more details here. Watch the trailer below.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky Book Review

At last, Heidi Durrow's debut book is out! (You know her from Mixed Chicks Chat and the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Fest.)

It is The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (Algonquin, 2010), and it is a most lovely book. I gobbled it up in two days.

Our main character is Rachel, daughter of a Danish mother and Black American G.I., whose story begins with a mysterious, tragic accident in which she is the only survivor. Suddenly placed in the care of her grandmother in a Black American community, where her hair, light eyes, and fair skin are often the source of much attention and scrutiny, she is forced to examine what it means to be Black. Because she is a child of multiple worlds—White-Black, American-non-American—she is at once an insider and an outsider to all. Rachel’s position allows her to examine these worlds clearly and critically; she is continually confronted with perspectives that tell her these they must remain rigidly separate. Rachel wonders what it means when her friend tells her she “talks white.” She ponders how identity is tied to what is seen by others and what is unseen, what remains only in her memory and what she lives now: “I don’t want the Danish in me to be something time makes me leave behind.”

This book spoke to me on so many levels. It addresses race in America, the changing perspectives of generations.

I've heard Heidi talk about Nella Larsen's work, and I can definitely tell she channeled her. Here is a new classic to add to the canon. Heidi is coming to Pittsburgh to give talks and readings at UPitt (and hopefully a bookstore or two) April 12-13, while on her book tour. Read her book and check her out!