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!

October 2010

Posted on October 3rd, 2010
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We’re live!
Please visit www.adoptedforthelifeofme.com!

September 2010

Posted on October 3rd, 2010
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What a month!

We’ve been working hard to prepare an outreach campaign to coincide with the broadcast of the film on Public Television Stations, beginning in November of 2010. The film’s website is going live on October 5th, with all kinds of new tools, for everything from hosting a screening to how to find when the film is playing in your neck of the woods, to maps which will help audience members learn about their state and find out what simple things they can do to help in this effort.

I headed with my husband Jon to Wisconsin mid-month, for a brief break in the film outreach, to begin work on a new project which has been in the works for a few months. This new short film (working title: “The Value of a Single Life”) is an examination of two men who both fought for the Wisconsin 6th in the Civil War. One lived and one died, and the impact of their destinies on their families is a testament to the value of fathers, a value that affects generations. I was able to watch my nephew, Reed, one of the lead cheerleaders for the University of Wisconsin, toss teammates in the air and somersault in celebration as the Badgers beat the ASU Sun Devils.

Jon then headed to South Dakota (where he went down 5,000 feet underground, to see a new lab being built by the National Science Foundation), while I went to Minnesota for the first community screening of the PBS version of “ADOPTED: for the life of me”. Over 70 people showed up for the screening – a fantastic turnout, and hopefully a portend of screenings to come. Many thanks to Mary Mason and her wonderful team of Minnesota colleagues for a memorable evening.

Then I was off to spend a few very special and rare days with my birth family. I got to attend a high school reunion with my brothers and sisters (my brother Mike being the main organizer), spend an afternoon with my very special nephew Lucas, hang with my brother Jim, hug my birthmom Lee and tease her mercilessly (my goal in life), and meet my sister Sue’s mastiffs Lily and Chloe (who are taller than me…)

Then it was off to Chicago to spend three incredible and exhausting days with Sara Feigenholtz, the Illinois State Representative who spent the past fourteen years pushing an adoptee access to information bill through the state legislature. With passage of the bill in May, Illinois became the 10th state to provide access to its citizens. Sara, and her intrepid staffers Stephen and TIffany, whisked me and fellow filmmaker Jerry Peck, to countless interviews, feeding us only sporadically, but introducing us to some extraordinary legislative colleagues, from Senator Mike Madigan to Senator A.J. Wilhelmi, who graciously found time to meet with us during a tense elective season. I arrived back home with some extraordinary interviews in my film bag. Can’t wait to get into the editing room!

August 2010

Posted on October 3rd, 2010
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August began with Annette Baran’s incredible memorial service in Santa Monica. With many of Annette’s dearest friends traveling across the country to attend, from Joyce Maguire Pavao to Martha Hulbert, as many Californians traveling hundreds of miles, from Sharon Roszia to Karen Vedder to Nancy Verrier and Sarah Burns, those of us from the adoption reform movement at the service had an opportunity to know Annette from new perspectives, through the eyes of her family and friends. Montages of Annette’s life and short video clips illuminated the life of this irreplaceable advocate for openness in adoption. It was fascinating (and hard!) to watch a video of Annette on “60 Minutes” back in 1975. She was spot on with her comments to Morley Safer – yet the exact same discussion could have taken place today, making many of us feel like we hadn’t moved the ball down the field very far in the 35 years since that taping – until we reflected on what Annette accomplished in her lifetime. 85% of adoptions are open today – and Annette was one of those who led the parade. While we continue to fight on behalf of an increasingly aging population of adopted citizens who seek to the know the beginning of their life story, we can celebrate the battles won in recent years. Annette’s pioneering efforts led the way for so many of us. We will miss her every day – and work hard to continue the work she began.

The day I returned from California, I received word that “For the Life of Me” will be screened on PBS in November! At the suggestion of my friend Peter Daulton, who has made the terrific short films “Flowers From the Heartland” and “Eyes Wide Open”, I submitted the film to NETA, which supplies programming to PBS. The film was selected and we’re now gearing up for the broadcasts with an outreach campaign. Hopefully, we’ll be up and running by November 1st, when the broadcasts begin. There’s much to do – and everyone interested in having a broader debate across the country about adoptee access to records, is welcome to find ways to utilize the film as a tool to spark a discussion and hopefully engage new people to take action!

July 2010

Posted on August 18th, 2010
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On July 11th, 2010, all of us in the adoption reform movement lost one of the most significant pioneers in our history. Annette Baran is one of a handful of individuals who changed the way our society would look at adoption. As a social worker, for a quarter century, in her own words she bought the necessity for sealed records in adoption “hook, line, and sinker.” But the day that a young adult adoptee came into her office, wanting her help in connecting with his birthparents, Annette not only listened – she took action. Her groundbreaking study with colleague Reuben Pannor, on the impact of secrecy in adoption, and the subsequent publishing of their findings in “The Adoption Triangle”, Annette led the way. She was tiny in stature, but a giant among us. She mentored many of us, was a friend to all, and a wise sage who became the ‘go to’ person about adoption issues, from Oprah to 60 Minutes to McNeil and Lehrer, Annette helped educate millions of people. The work she began is not yet done, and the baton she carried must be borne by many. She asked us questions, played matchmaker in many of the friendships we all share, and was I believe, to her dying day, pushing us all to seek the better angels she spent the second half of her life pursuing. Any reform that is achieved, past, present or future, will have in many ways, been sparked by Annette. She will be missed. Forever…