September 2014

Posted on September 3rd, 2014
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2014 is the year of fourteen. 14. That’s how many states to date provide access to original birth records for adopted citizens. It’s wonderful – yet also sobering. Its taken so much effort to get to this place – and there’s still so far to go. I stand in awe of those who have navigated the sluggish and tricky waters of reform.

Sad to think that states sealed adoptees’ birth certificates with such ease, often with little or no record of who was involved or why. Bills passed in silence. No one fought on behalf of the children being adopted, there was no impassioned testimony about what this might do to them, just a quiet closing of doors, a creation of vaults, and generations of stone-faced clerks taught to say ‘you have no right to this information’, a monotone inhumane response stretching out forever.

What past legislatures did in an instant has taken decades to undo. New Jersey sealed records in 1940. When those children of the sealed era grew up and asked for the piece of paper that the state held on the first chapter of their lives, it took 34 years to finally reverse. Young people who began the effort are now white-haired. And even with victory, there was a need to compromise. What made the ink on the New Jersey bill palatable was the knowledge that going there would be no more sealed records going forward.

Not every state has been as complicated a battleground as New Jersey – but all of them have required tenacity, courage, and enormous amounts of personal time. On the surface, it sounds so easy. If a law is unjust, change it. If it were just that simple.

2014 has felt like a tipping point. Washington, Ohio, Colorado, New Jersey – all enacted or passed laws this year. Connecticut has inertia. Illinois passed an additional statute. And Pennsylvania has looked hopeful all year long. But like so many other battleground states, as votes draw close, old and antiquated fears and foes appear. This may not be Pennsylvania’s year – but one day it will be.

For if the history of the adoption reform movement suggests anything, its that perseverance works. The stamina required is daunting. The cost, in terms of human time, personal expense, coping with attacks from within and without, the discouragement – its impossible to quantify. Applaud the people in the trenches doing the work. Their efforts are for more than a simple piece of paper. They dignify us all.

2014. It could be a tipping point. It’s definitely a year to celebrate!

APRIL 2014

Posted on May 23rd, 2014
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Last June, as I was filming testimony of NJ-CARE members during an Assembly hearing, my primary camera failed. I was filming Susan Perry at the time, and I remember thinking – well, New Jersey isn’t going to pass access legislation while Governor Christie is in office, and Susan Perry is one of the most important voices out there so there will be lots more opportunities.

Susan taught us many things. One of them is, we can never foresee the future.

Shortly after her testimony, she was diagnosed with fourth stage melanoma. She passed away less than a month ago. If she had access to her own birth information, it’s quite possible she would still be alive.

And somehow, Governor Christie is finding his way to ‘yes.’ So in May of 2014, New Jersey will see the light at the end of its very long tunnel of adoption reform. Secrecy in adoption will end – and Susan Perry will have played a significant role in that. While I don’t think she’d be happy that adult adopted citizens will have to wait until 2017 to access their birth certificates, or that redactions were a necessary compromise for the passage, I have to believe she would be thrilled about eliminating the secrecy for future generations. Her advocacy alongside the NJ-CARE team will save lives and provide both equality and dignity for adopted citizens going forward.

Susan and I both had cancer scares mid summer 2013. Mine ended up just being a lot of tests and good news. Susan’s experience was far different. I just reread the last emails between us. As she cheered the good news I’d received, I kept prodding her to consider doing a film. She would have been a natural filmmaker with her storytelling gifts, with her laugh, and with her wisdom. But Susan was very clear about what she intended to do with her time: spend it with her husband, her daughters, her grandchildren – and her two newly found sisters, who arrived bearing love and kindness last fall.

Mid winter, I sent Susan and Ty the very first copy of my new film, A Simple Piece of Paper, about adoptee access in Illinois. I don’t know if Susan felt well enough to even watch a few frames – but it made me feel good to know she was its first audience, in spirit.

The film now goes out into the ‘ether’, as it premieres in twenty states on PBS this week, and will hopefully air in every state in the Union through the summer and fall (see www.asimplepieceofpaper.com/find-pbs-screenings.php for the schedule). I wish she were here so we could talk a bit more about about writing with pictures, and the impact films can have. She had the most important gift of any storyteller: an intense passion coupled with a compassionate mind. I am imaging the films she would have made, stamped with her own special wisdom and wit. I will always regret that I didn’t capture her testimony last June. Her words were so powerful. They will always be powerful…

2013 December

Posted on December 7th, 2013
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When I was younger, I felt somewhat cynical. I didn’t believe people could change. But then bit by bit, things began to shift here in America. Drunks who got behind the wheel of a car were no longer funny (watch any movie from the 50′s and 60′s when drunk driving was a comedy staple). Public smoking was no longer tolerated. Homosexuals came out of the closet, and began to be treated like human beings (at least in some places). An African American was elected president. These shifts all represent the capacity not only for individuals but for our large and often unwieldy culture to change, to evolve. But if you had told me a quarter century ago that apartheid would end, I would never have believed it. Ever. And yet it did – and one man was largely responsible.

Nelson Mandela stands to me as a symbol of hope, of change. Mandela was filled with hatred for the first eleven years of his imprisonment. And then, he somehow found the capacity inside himself to let go of his hatred, and to try to love all people, to not let anger dominate him. His smile won people. Smile at your enemies. It will disarm them.

You know – he was a boxer. He looked like Muhammad Ali. When he was younger, he was heavier. He did some things that really were… violent. He was not like MLK or Ghandi. But he was magnifying, articulate, charismatic – and hopeful.

When Jon and I were in South Africa three years ago, we went to Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years. I stood in his cell, and tried to imagine the transformation he allowed to happen inside of him. He might have been in a cell, outwardly under the control of others, but he was free in his mind and heart.

It meant a great deal to me to see this place, to stand for a few moments alone in that small room. I had seen it once before, and vowed if I ever got a chance to go there, I would.

When the Millenium celebration was happening in 2000, I had the flu. I lay on the couch and watched as the clock hit midnight in Fiji (the first country to enter the 21st century), and every hour, television crews showed the celebration in each country. There were huge, spectacular demonstrations, full of magnificent displays of fireworks, millions of people partying, everywhere. Except one country: South Africa.

There, on Robben Island, a camera crew followed twenty-seven barefoot men, drummers, as they walked in a line into the prison hallway where Nelson Mandela had been kept. And they began to drum on the floor. Then they pressed their feet against the sides of the walls, inching their way up, above the ground, all the while drumming the sides of the hallway as they climbed, until they were drumming on the ceiling, their legs forming an archway below them. And underneath that human arch walked Nelson Mandela, holding the hand of a small boy. They walked into the cell where he’d been imprisoned, and together lit a single candle.

I wept. I still do, thinking of it. It was the most hopeful thing I have ever witnessed. Every other country had celebrated with a party. South Africa reminded us of how far we can come, and how far we have to go. They chose to embrace hope.

I would encourage all adoption reformers. Light a candle. Let the anger go. Smile at everyone. Forgive them for their ignorance. Never lose your hope and resolve – people can change…

August 2013

Posted on August 23rd, 2013
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My oldest son was married last Saturday. To an amazing young woman. It was an magic day – full of remember-forever moments for our whole family. It was a day of joy for Tiff. A day of strength and brotherhood for Jonathon. A day of passage for Jon and I. A day to join with a new family, and to welcome a daughter-in-law to hold hands with us. It couldn’t have been more extraordinary.

Perhaps for those of us who are adopted, or who spend far too much time thinking about the issues adopted adults can deal with, there is something about it all, the growing up of one’s kids, the expanding of a family, the wonderfulness of the joining, that fulfills certain longings, fulfills a sense of belonging. I have heard others speak of the sense of loss when their children wed. I felt only gain – and an odd and wonderful sense that I don’t have to worry so much, something that I’ve spent far too many hours doing.

Anyway. It was cool! I will post pictures somewhere for friends who’ve known Tiff for forever, and share with them the video of the wedding, and the video of Jonathon’s amazing toast as well, if he’ll let me. Wedding days are certainly lifetime moments for the bride and groom – but they can evoke lifetime moments for others as well.

This one did for me.

For all the ‘scares’ that July had wrought, August erased them a thousand fold, and gave us all a day in the sun. Literally.

Okay. For all who are waiting, I am back to cutting the film. And feeling very very happy!

April 2013

Posted on April 22nd, 2013
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ADOPTEE OBC: a simple piece of paper, had a rough cut premiere in the same fantastic venue in Cleveland, with much of the same audience, that For the Life of Me enjoyed four years ago. The American Adoption Congress returned to Ohio for its annual conference, with an incredibly exciting backdrop: a clean bill passed the Ohio Assembly while the conference was in session. It was an awesome moment. One of my favorite memories of the entire week was watching Betsie Norris’s face as she was given a long sustained standing ovation the morning after this historic passage. Betsie was visibly moved as she was acknowledged by her peers for the 24 year effort she has made to help Ohio get it right. There is still more work to be done – a Senate vote, a governor’s signature, and none of it taken for granted. But it was sweet to watch – for everyone in attendance. Rock on Betsie!

The premiere of the film was equally thrilling. It’s the longest film I’ve ever made, topping the scales at almost two hours. It will need to be shorter in its final cut, but for this audience, it was appreciated (that three minute standing ovation is something I’ll never forget). With many people in attendance who are key in the film taking the stage (State Representative Sara Feigenholtz, her chief-of-staff Stephen Landfear, and the stars of the film, Jennifer Dyan Ghoston, Bill Buchholtz, Gay Ellen Brown, Maura Duffy, and Krista McCoy) as well as many others who helped make this film what it is, it was a spectacular night. Many thanks to the AAC hospitality suite – we partied long into the night! Illinois may have passed a bill that many felt was controversial, but it has gotten the job done in many ways. It has been an honor to be in the state the past year, and to witness the results of a fierce battle. That Feigenholtz and others were able to reverse a bill that sealed all records retroactively in 1989 – well, its just remarkable. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a decade and a half. Move to California Sara. Figure out the mousetrap there. The big states present hard challenges, not only in geography but in sheer numbers (its easier to rally adoptees in states with populations in the thousands, than in states that have tens of millions, not mention thousands of miles between borders.) Suffice it to say, I have learned that education works both ways – working a bill through the legislative maze in any state is an art form which demands patience, hard work, and street smarts born of years in the field.

The AAC continues to evolve in its membership, and in the content of its presenters. The organization has always provided a forum for new voices (I adore so many of the new faces these last few years – all with fresh perspectives and important voices to add to the dialogue!), and for the academy of pioneers who continue to find their way to the conference each year. We missed Sharon Roszia – whose name on the brochure got me to come on Wednesday for the first time. Be well, old friend, and here’s hoping you come next year, when the conference is in San Francisco. Oh my gosh – wish I had a film to take there! But these things take years to hatch (as evidenced by this one), with each story deserving the time and care to ‘get it right’.

I told many at the conference that this is most likely my last feature film on adoption (though I said that about the last one too, come to think of it). When people ask if I’m going to do a shorter version or another film about a different aspect of this, it often feels like when each of my kids was born and people asked if I was going to have another baby. A film, like a book, or like any piece of art, be it a painting or a sculpture or a play, is a birth. Truth be told, I’m exhausted. This film, following the journeys of so many people, has worn me out. I feel both hopeful and sad. Each story leads down a path – each story has a resolution of some kind. But so many people are in the wings. So many states remain closed. And there are those handful of people who cope with redaction or disclosure – equally deserving of being given a piece of paper with the facts of their arrival on it. Why is it taking so long for our culture and citizenry to understand the need for access for all. Why?

To all those who are fighting the good fight, stay at it. Ohio – may 2013 be your year – and may you inspire yet more legislators and citizens to push this ball down the field. It’s time America. It’s time for all fifty states to provide all adoptees with the beginning of their story. It’s the record of their own birth dammit. Filming in Illinois rocked me to my core, made me adamant. THIS IS RIDICULOUS. It’s almost 2017. Minnesota became the first state in the union to seal records in 1917. Almost a century has passed since that misguided act. Let us use Minnesota’s centennial as a benchmark going forward – a hundred years of secrecy is enough. Eliminate the shame and the darkness. Every story in A Simple Piece of Paper drives it home: treat adopted citizens equally – let them have their truth. It is so empowering, so healing. Just let it be.

AUGUST 2012

Posted on August 21st, 2012
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Chicago is a great city and I have grown to love it. Over the course of the last nine months, I have been to the Windy City over a half dozen times, filming sixteen amazing people who applied for their original birth certificates when Illinois enacted HB 5428 on November 15th, 2011.

It took six months for all sixteen to receive their records – and each person’s story has been so unique to document. Weaving their experiences together will be a wonderful challenge, and focusing on transmedia (I wasn’t sure what this was either at the beginning) and outreach will make this venture bigger than a film, and a great opportunity to educate folks not only about issues adult adoptees face, but also about the legislative process that can change antiquated laws.

There’s so much to learn from each adopted citizen who has participated in this project, and their stories continue to unfold as each month goes by. When “ADOPTEE OBC: that simple piece of paper” is released in 2013, audience members will be invited to step into the shoes of Bill, Bob, Bryan, Carolyn, Gay Ellen, Jean, Jennifer, Krista, Linda, Maryellen, Maura, Mitch, Sara, Thomas, Tom, and Tracy, as each is finally able to see the document the state of Illinois sealed the moment their adoption was finalized.

Stay tuned…

February 2012

Posted on February 25th, 2012
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Both of my parents died in the month of February, my father in 1965, my mother in 1987. My husband’s parents also died in this month. So it’s a season when we spend some time thinking about family and about the people who are special to us. It is a month of remembrance.

This February is particularly special. A quarter century ago, my mother died. She never got to see her grandson, Tiff, who would be born that year of 1987, though she witnessed his impending arrival in an ultra sound. I miss my mom today. I miss her always. Our sons missed out on having a relationship with her – though they will always have a relationship to her.

I am reminded this month that there are people ‘out there’, people I’m related to, who are human beings – and treat others as such. It is a good month – and I am grateful to have lived to be here in this time and place…

2011

Posted on December 22nd, 2011
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2011 has been a significant year for adoption reform.

On May 9th, NJ-CARE made history by getting adoptee access legislation through both houses. After witnessing all that’s involved in politics in New Jersey, the dual passage was nothing short of herculean. All that remained to make access a reality was the governor’s signature. Governor Christie had 45 days to respond. He conditionally vetoed the bill on the very last day he could do so, timing his decision to coincide with a hotly debated bill regarding unions, effectively burying any response to the birthright legislation on the back pages of local papers. It was heartbreaking to watch – and yet inspirational as NJ-CARE regrouped this fall to begin anew.

On July 1st, unlike NJ’s Christie, Rhode Island’s governor Lincoln Chafee courageously signed legislation which will give all RI adoptees their OBC’s at the age of 25. While the age is problematic (if society believes an 18 year old is responsible enough to fight a war, why must they be 25 to receive their own birth certificate?), the bottom line is all adopted citizens will finally have access starting July 1, 2012. With only Vermont and Connecticut (and the sandwich in Massachusetts) to go, New England is poised to be the first region where adopted citizens have equal access in the US.

And on November 15th, the state of Illinois enacted the last phase of their adoptee birthright legislation, opening the door for all adult adopted citizens to apply for their original birth certificates. On this one single day, more records became available (350,000 including the original pre-1946 release in 2012) than in all other states which have reversed sealed records laws combined. Because of a limited budget due to a state financial crisis, only two people are handling the thousands of requests that have come in. While the process is slow, and the inability to have an ‘opening day’ akin to Maine or New Hampshire was disappointing (not all records are electronic or centralized, so such an event was impossible), the enactment was momentous. A game changer. While there have been many naysayers, the bottom line is that ALL Illinois adopted citizens will receive something. If a birthparent wishes to remain anonymous (320 have thus far requested this out of a total of 350,000 sealed records) their name will be redacted, but the record will still be released. The adoptee will, in essence, receive a private communication from their birth parent with this redaction – for whatever reason, it is not a good time to reconnect. Far better to receive this, than to have a state clerk say ‘no’ to all adoptees. If there is no record of birth at all (which is the case for not only some obc’s but also for records of some non-adopted citizens, particularly those born in rural areas) the adopted citizen will at least learn that. Having witnessed folks at the moment they have received their Illinois birth certificate, its hard not to applaud this complicated bill. It is getting the job done.

I have had difficulty understanding those who attack the people who have been down in the pits fighting for this access. There’s always a presumption that those who work legislation which has become laden with compromises of redactions, age limits, and contact vetoes are copouts, that they are foolish or weak or worse – that they aren’t interested in unlimited access for all. It’s crazy, and nothing could be further from the truth. It is so easy to stand on the sidelines and shout about access for all – those are just words. But it’s action that counts if there’s going to be change. People of action were responsible this year for kicking the ball way down the field.

To all those who fight the legislative battles, thank you for making 2011 an extraordinary year. If the naysayers had their way, not one record would have been released in 2011. Instead – hundreds of thousands of adoptees now have the ability to apply for their obc – and THAT is something to celebrate.

Bravo!

DECEMBER 2010

Posted on September 15th, 2011
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We’ve heard that 250,000 viewers have seen the film so far on PBS, everywhere from New York City to Los Angeles. Once in a while, I’ll hear from someone, or see something like this online:

I was home sick last night. As I curled on my couch, flipping through channels, I stopped at my local PBS station because my cable box told me the program was called “Adopted: for the Life of Me”. There was no more program information available, but I stop for anything labeled adoption, even for just a minute.

I was riveted.

This was a documentary about older adult adoptees and their searches for their original identifying information – their birth certificates, birth parents’ names, health information – information that non-adopted folks like myself take completely for granted. The film was heart-wrenching and highlighted the ridiculousness that exists in most states in the USA, the inability for adults to find out their origins.

As an adoptive mom, it was hard for me to watch the scenes where a grown man finally found information about his birth mother, and began to say things like “I’m going to go see where my mom lived”. I ached for that man’s adoptive mom – wasn’t she his mom?! But I realized that yes, she was his mom, but so was this stranger that he’d never met – never have the chance to meet. It made me question how many labels we put on our families: adoptive-this, birth-that, half-the-other-thing. When what we could all use in this world is a bit more family.

The film really brought home to me the injustice of permanently sealed records, and the fact that state by state, that needs to change. Some states are slowly opening records to adult adoptees, but unfortunately, most do not.

When my daughter is ready to search, I know I’ll have some conflicted feelings about it, but it won’t be about me, it will be about her. And even if her records are officially sealed, I have some information in my back pocket that I technically shouldn’t have that might help us search. I need to make it clear that I would *never* violate her birthmom’s privacy or search for her without my daughter’s consent and participation. But I can make it a little easier for her if I need to.

And after watching that documentary last night, I know just how important that sense of finding out “who I really am” and “where I really come from” can be. A sense I’ve taken for granted all my life.

Wow. Annette Baran once told me that our work was all about education – that people needed help to understand the situation before they could comprehend the need for change. I don’t think I ever understood the power of her charge until now…

November 2010

Posted on November 2nd, 2010
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It’s NATIONAL ADOPTION MONTH – and ADOPTED: for the life of me will be screening across the country all this month on public television!
The film will be airing every day of the first week of November throughout New Jersey, and in New York City and Philadelphia.
To see when the film might be broadcast in your area, visit www.adoptedforthelifeofme.com and click on the “FIND PBS BROADCAST” button at the bottom of any of the five main pages of the site and you’ll see the most up to date list of broadcasts. New air dates are being added regularly so check often!