One picture…

12 Nov

At the age of 45, I saw the first pictures of my mother.  I was also given one of those pictures to keep.  I felt like I had just been given the moon.

The first person I showed the picture to was mom, and her response was that she did not recognise the dress and I looked older in the picture, not realizing it was a picture of my mother, not me.

When I arrived home I started going through the box of pictures I have collected over my lifetime looking for a picture of me with my head turned the same angle and finally found one.  I sat in the chair and just stared, and stared, and stared.  Then I started the mental checklist.

The hair style was the same – a style I had worn for years.

The hair color was the same – although mine had highlights added.

Forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, cheekbones, jaw-line, chin – almost mirror images.  Body shape – same.

And then I looked at her hands and that knocked the breath out of me again.  The shape of her hands, the left hand with each finger splayed exactly how my hand naturally positions itself when I’m talking to someone.  Her other hand showing how her fingers were shaped, right down to those same knuckles and joints that bend funny.  The back of her hands with prominent veins visible – my hands – our hands – the same.

And I had to wait for 45 yeas to be allowed to see myself reflected back in a picture of my mother.  All because one woman, Georgia Tann who used secrecy and falsified birth certificates to cover her illegal baby selling, initiated the change in adoption from openness to secrecy.  You really need to read the book to understand the damage this woman caused, and then recognise that the damage is still being done to adoptees today.  It has to stop. 

The Baby Thief – The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption by Barbara Bisantz Raymond

Page 209 – 210  excerpt

Considering her general proclivity for deception, her need to cover her tracks, and her energy, it was perhaps inevitable that she would be the person to begin the practice of falsifying adoptees’ birth certificates.  What is remarkable is that until I began my research neither I nor anyone else knew that she had originated this identity theft.  One reason for this, of course, is her escape from historical notice.  Another is that the first state to pass a law “amending” adoptees’ birth certificates, in 1931, was Alabama, not Tennessee.

Adoptees and their advocates, however, have long suspected a link between falsified birth certificates and baby selling.  “Secrecy in adoption does cover a multitude of crimes,” Hal Aigner wrote in Adoption in America Coming of Age, published in 1992.

The instincts of adoptees and their advocates are correct.  In 1928, three years before the passage of the Alabama law calling for the “amendment” of adoptees’ birth certificates, Georgia Tann had, extra-legally, begun having the Tennessee Department of Vital Statistics issue phony birth certificates for her adoptees.  Nine years later, in 1937, she used her political connections to have a law passed legalizing the practice in Tennessee.

Within twenty years all forty-eight states were issuing adoptees falsified birth certificates, and upon admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states, the number rose to fifty.  And in the vast majority of states, legislators and social workers deny adoptees knowledge of their identities forever – for far longer than they did when states first began falsifying birth certificates.  Georgia’s inducement of legislators and social workers across the country into becoming almost as secretive as she was is one of her most terrible, and extraordinary, accomplishments – one that required her, once again, to stand previous adoption practice on its head.

Page 211 – 212 excerpt

Ethical agencies evolution from sharing of information with adult adoptees to the secretiveness practiced by Georgia was gradual enough to make identifying the date of its change difficult.  But by 1960 virtually all social workers denied adoptees information that would help them find their families.


Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Adoption


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4 responses to “One picture…

  1. wsbirthmom

    November 12, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Just so heartbreaking. So many lives denied the very simplist of things, the similarities of those who made them…and the greatest of things at the same time.


  2. The adopted ones

    November 12, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    thanks WS – yet so many in the adoption community are unaware or believe it is the right way because their agency said so or they haven’t bothered to learn – or are so insecure in their own relationships with their children that they are afraid. The last is the saddest portion of that group because they put their needs ahead of their childs needs.


  3. myst1998

    November 13, 2011 at 1:40 am

    I am so sorry. Its so wrong and yet no one seems to be listening enough because it keeps happening. I have often heard of Georgia Tann yet was not aware of how she contributed to the secrecy of today. This post was written so well, very sad though you have been denied so much.


  4. Melynda

    November 15, 2011 at 3:20 am

    I remember distinctly the emotion that arose in me as I read the book about Georgia Tann. Why isn’t every single social worker required to read it? WHY does this practice still go on?????



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