About Secret Sons & Daughters
In the spring of 2009, after Heather and I had been driving each other’s sons to school for several months, I had to trade days at the last minute so I could go to New York. Through her car window I quickly explained: “My birth mother has cancer. I was adopted. It’s a long story.” She said, “You’re what?” then shared that she recently visited her own birth mother, whom she’d met eighteen years earlier. She pointed to another neighbor’s house and said, “He was adopted, too.”
Here we lived on the same short street and attended the same block parties, yet unlike today’s adopted kids who freely share such information, we kept our adoptions quiet.
Over the next several months, Heather and I talked about our birth families, and about the secrets we had to keep even after our reunions.
Unbeknownst to us, a seed for Secret Sons & Daughters had been planted. It took root a few springs later, during the 2013 American Adoption Congress conference, when I heard Richard Uhrlaub read aloud from a book he’d contributed to:
“As children who were transferred from one mother to another, adoptees need words to help navigate what in important respects is a dual reality. She or he is simultaneously: a social problem and a precious gift; a symbol of shame and normative family; a source of grief and joy; a human being and a commodity; the answer to one mother’s prayers and an alleged threat to another mother’s privacy…The adopted have lifelong, but different ties to both mothers, each of whom is real…”
As a recent MFA graduate, three words resonated: Adoptees need words. I had just spent two previous years studying the power of words to inform, to entertain, to connect and even to heal. I’d been reunited with my birth parents for more than twenty years, and while I’d written about adoption, I still struggle sometimes to find the right words to talk about it.
It’s hard to find non-offensive words, politically correct words, or words that won’t hurt someone else’s feelings—which meant I often kept my own thoughts and feelings secret.
That conference was the first time I’d ever been in a place where everyone spoke openly about adoption. I met American and British and Chinese adoptees, birth (first) moms, adoptive parents, social workers, and documentary filmmakers. I’d found a tribe. And I knew Heather had found a tribe, too, through social media sites.
The following week we wondered: what if there was a place where a whole tribe of adoptees could connect and share their stories with people who understand what the words mean? Secret Sons & Daughters grew from there, to include John Murphy, Jason Clawson, Darlene Coyne and Kendra Crookston, who believed in this idea of the power of stories and were the first to share their photographs and tales.
It is estimated that there are more than 4 million of us impacted by the sealed records era, and there are 36 U.S. States with years, if not decades, worth of sealed records—even now in 2014. This means millions of American adoptees have restricted access to their origins, ancestry, and in many cases, critical medical history that could help an adoptee and his or her children.
It’s our great hope that this collection of stories grows and helps shine a light on that fact, and put a human face on those numbers. In addition, we hope it will give adoptees an opportunity to be heard and foster a deeper understanding of what it was like to be adopted in an era of societal secrecy and shame.
Please join us, as readers or writers. We want to hear about your secrets, searches, reunions, rejections, and about the relationships—both adoptive and birth—that you can’t live without.
Reference: Based on “Culture, Law and Language: Adversarial Motherhood in Adoption” by Richard Uhrlaub and Nikki McCaslin, in Adoption and Mothering, by Frances Latchford, ed.
Photo credit: Angela Buck