Category Archives: Adoptee Discrmination

Crittenton General Hospital: A rare photo and its meaning

One of the unexpected outcomes of the American adoption experience is how the stigma of illegitimacy and out-of-wedlock pregnancy created a virtual cloak of invisibility around the birth of adoptees and their presence in the general population. That shame and stain of illegitimacy lives on in the form of laws that discriminate against adoptees who are denied the human right to their birth records and equal treatment under the law.

Crittenton General Hospital of Detroit is shown on Jan. 24, 1974, in this photo from the Detroit Free Press, two months before its closure. I was born here, as were thousands of other babies who were place for adoption. (Click on the photo to see a larger image.)

I was born at Detroit’s Crittenton General Hospital, one of the nation’s largest maternity hospitals that served unwed mothers and ultimately where thousands of infants were relinquished into the adoption system. The facility opened at Tuxedo and Woodrow Wilson in 1929, at a time when Crittenton homes and hospitals served the needs of “problem girls” and gave them a place to give birth and bond and stay with their children. 

By the late 1940s, the Florence Crittenton Mission, later Florence Crittenton Association of America, had transformed its maternity homes and hospitals into temporary residences for thousands of single moms, who gave up their children at these facilities across the country. The infants today sometimes call themselves Crittenton babies, and I am one of an uncounted group who today still face legal discrimination accessing their birth records.

The photo seen here was taken on Jan. 24, 1974, two months before the hospital closed permanently on March 22, 1974. The building was demolished a year later. It closed due to financial strains, the decline of adoptions, and the gradual economic decay of Detroit.The story in the Detroit Free Press that accompanied this photo that I bought failed to mention the hospital’s historic role serving unwed mothers and then relinquishing those infants to new families.

The story from Jan. 24, 1974, in the Detroit Free Press, makes no mention of the hospital’s pivotal role delivering thousands of infants like me for adoption. (Click on the image to see a larger picture of the text copy.)

I was one of those infants, born about a decade before this picture. This journalistic oversight was not accidental—it fits into a larger pattern of hiding adoption from the public and erasing the story of adoptees from American history.

In 1967, the Crittenton General Hospital opened a new facility in Rochester, Michigan, in the suburbs, and became a general hospital that did not serve single birth moms and their children like all previous Crittenton missions and maternity homes. The two operated under the same names, but only the Rochester facility remains, still bearing the Crittenton name. Nationally, it is a name tied forever to the service of single, pregnant women, and later adoption.

Today, the Crittenton Hospital Medical Center in Rochester also has whitewashed its past and does not acknowledge who it once served, how that hospital helped to hide illegitimacy from the public, and its pivotal role transferring babies from a birth mothers to adoptive parents during the boom adoption years after World War II, through 1975.

The stigma surrounding illegitimacy drove the institution of U.S. adoption in the decades after the war and helped turn it into one of the largest social engineering experiments ever in U.S. history. That stigma is deeply woven into how state laws impact birth parents and adoptees today.

The new hospital in Rochester claims, after many efforts to contact its communications team in 2016, that it has no records of the number of adoptee births at the Crittenton General Hospital in Detroit—its predecessor. The hospital spokesperson did not return multiple calls and repeated emails for interviews and records. The only two documents the hospital shared were photocopies of short institutional histories, which did not outline the hospital’s important historic role as way station for birth mothers and adoptees. The summary documents did not offer a count of patients served or babies delivered by single mothers.

There are no records of the number of adoptee births kept by the National Crittenton Foundation, the mission’s successor group now located in Portland, Oregon. The official repository of all National Florence Crittenton Mission records, at the University of Minnesota Library, also did not have any documents that showed how many babies were born in Crittenton General Hospital in Detroit or in the multiple maternity homes in the city that opened first in 1900.

From a public health standpoint, it is practically scandalous that we still, to this day, have no accurate record of the number of adoptees who were relinquished in the United States. The U.S. Census in its last two counts failed to account for all adoptees in the way it counted adoptees and foster children, which missed entire generations of adults like me. The lack of data ultimately undercounts adoptees, and thus undermines their efforts to restore adoptees’ rights to receive copies of their original birth records in most states, where they are denied access unlike all non-adoptees.

Bittersweet one-year anniversary of winning court order for my original birth certificate

One year ago today, on June 17, 2016, Michigan 3rd Circuit Court Judge Christopher Dingell signed a court order requiring the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to release a copy of my original birth certificate. This decision came more than 27 years after I had found my birth family and knew the names of all my biological kin.

This is what I wrote on June 17, 2016, the day a court order Michigan to give me my original birth certificate: “That’s me on the phone this morning with the Michigan 3rd Circuit Court making the case why an original birth certificate of an adoptee is not a top secret document that should be held under lock and key by a paternalistic state that treats a class of individuals as lesser citizens simply because they were born illegitimately as adoptees. The judge agreed with my points and the facts of the case. Booyah!”

Judge Dingell agreed with facts of my case. Great. We all like to win and see justice prevail.

However, just getting the trial proved almost as frustrating as getting any record from the fanatically-unhelpful MDHHS. (This is the same department that covered up its failings in the Flint lead and water scandal.)

I had to make repeated calls on a weekly basis to get on the court docket. A court date was cancelled without notification or apology.

When the court date came, by phone, the judge’s line of questioning took a bizarre twist, when his questions showed he had more interest in whether my birth father had some abstract legal standing in the matter, not the immorality and openly discriminatory nature of a law that promoted unequal treatment or the denial of a record that should have been given to me nearly three decades earlier, by law.

In fact, the judge took little personal interest in my story at all. What’s more, his out-of-nowhere questions about my birth father had no bearing on my request, as my birth father was dead and more importantly had no legal standing at all in my case. I had already provided the state legal documents in 1989 that should have forced the state to surrender my birth certificate along with other birth records I received.

I will not even begin to discuss the larger historic issue of how paternity issues have historically harmed birth mothers and illegitimate infants throughout history, in often lethal ways, and how the judge’s questions seemed oblivious of historic reality.

The court victory, though satisfying, was another frustrating and also insulting experience that typifies the systemic and discriminatory practices in most U.S. states against U.S. adoptees seeking their equal rights and documents that are theirs by birthright.

No court case should ever had happened, according to at least one approved written statement the MDHHS shared with me after the hearing–see the state’s explanation to question 19 on this summary of the state’s replies to my emailed questions. No official involved in deciding my request for my birth certificate would speak to me on the record, despite repeated attempts to secure interviews with those handling my case.

I wrote a detailed account of my experience on my website, revealing how the state almost certainly broke state law denying my original birth record and enlisted nearly 20 state officials to keep me from having my birth record without any policy rationale or basic human decency. I also alerted more than 20 media outlets about the state’s abuse of power and likely violation of law after I won the court ruling. Only one reporter contacted me, and the newspaper did not write a story.

In the end, the story of an adoptee is essentially the experience of being a bastard–and this came as no shock to me. It is the experience that many adoptees live navigating secretive public health agencies and the courts for many decades of our lives. 

I describe my journey culminating in my court victory in my forthcoming book on my experience seeking justice as a U.S. adoptee. Today, only nine states allow adult U.S. adoptees to access their birth records and, essentially, be treated equally under the law like other Americans in seeking their identity and the most essential identity document humans will own.

 

How many infants were relinquished to adoption?

I just published a short essay on the the limited and imprecise data available on the number of U.S. adoptees who were relinquished during the boom years of adoption between 1944 and 1975. The most frequently quoted data cited in most respected sources comes from a 1984 paper published by Penelope Maza for the United States Children Bureau. I have put her data into an easier to read chart.

Number of Adoptees in the United States Adoption Boom Years

Table 1: Penelope Maza published the most frequently cited population data study on the number of U.S. adoptees born in the United States from the 1940s through the 1970s in her paper called ““Adoption Trends: 1944-1975,” in 1984.

On my of goals for my forthcoming memoir, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are, is to show policy-makers, the media, adoptees, the public, and researchers the size of the adoptee population in the country.

It is likely not a coincidence that the data collection on the number of adoptees has always been imprecise. I cannot rule out that the role of secrecy, shame, and stigma attached to this class of human beings mattered in the way they have been improperly counted. This lack of precision likely prevents the public and also public health and other experts from truly understanding the scope this modern social engineering experiment.

As most health and public health experts say, “If you aren’t counted, you don’t count.” This rule applies today because of the imprecise system for counting U.S. adoptees by the U.S. Census Bureau (only started in 2000).

There is also no standard practice for counting adoptees in each state by the states, many of which lack adequate auditing procedures to help lawmakers understand the scope of people impacted by their policy decisions and lawmaking that impact adoptees. Those decisions can continue to deny a class of people equal rights under the law simply because they were, almost certainly, born out of marriage and illegitimate, and placed for adoption.

State of Michigan public health officials I contacted for my book and during my quest for my original birth certificate could not share any data with me on the number of adoptees impacted by their laws. They claimed, “It would not be possible to determine this number.”

This again showed me the simple truth that if you aren’t counted, you don’t count.

 

 

Many U.S. adoptees become expert researchers because of legal discrimination

Photo of Adoptee Records and Research for Book on Adoption in the USA

My vital records and research on my adoption experience now fill a box. For most people, they have a single file, with their original birth certificate. I was denied that by the adoption system and discriminatory laws.

Many adoptees may have a box or several boxes that look like mine. It is my adoption records box. I have taken it everywhere I have moved over the last three decades. 

Unfortunately I had to become an archivist just to know who I was. That is because the state where I was born, Michigan, had laws that denied me my human right to know who I was and where I came from. I was forced to play a game that unfortunately went on for nearly 30 years, without any apology from anyone in state government who did everything they could to prevent me from rightfully knowing my past.

However, I was really good. Records I kept and used were instrumental in my later and final battle with Michigan’s discriminatory public health  system that did all it could to keep my birth certificate from me, even though I knew my birth family and mother for decades. Welcome to my world and the world of tens of thousands of adoptees.

Most people’s vital records files have one document, and that is it. My story has a box. My book tells that story that is contained in papers in that box. 

Who has the right to lead on adoptee rights?

The Donaldson Adoption Institute’s new campaign has a hashtag and tagline, but is it really about reform?

On May 20, 2017, I published an article on my policy blog that replies to a recent newsletter flash I received from the adoption research and advocacy group called the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI). The organization has suddenly proclaimed a bold new advocacy position and campaign on adoptee rights as a “human rights” issue.

In my piece (“Adoptee Rights Advocates Must Critically View Any Group Lacking ‘Street Cred’”) I make three key points about this new effort and how adoptees, the media, policy-makers, and supporters of adoptee rights should cautiously view this and all other efforts by groups who claim to promote legal rights for adopted persons, illegitimately born people, and people who call themselves bastards:

  • The institute’s new campaign seeking to become the champion of “human rights” for adoptees seeking their birth records must be viewed critically given the group’s track record and the way it is linked to the promotion of what some adoptees and reporters like Dan Rather call the “adoption industry.”
  • Authentic advocacy and scholarship on adoptee rights or any issue involves “walking the talk” and having what ordinary folks call “street cred.” For example, Florence Fisher, and the group she lead in the 1970s called the Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA), showed that when ALMA took a clear stand for adoptees by calling for the “free access to our original birth certificates and the records of our adoption” and went to court in New York in 1977 with a federal class action lawsuit, claiming adoptees had rights under the U.S. Constitution’s 13th and 14th amendments to their original birth records. They lost but their actions spoke volumes. You have to demonstrate what you believe through meaningful action, not fluffy words of cute social media memes.
  • My work in my upcoming book on my adoption experience and how U.S. adoption should be understood through a public health lens gives full credit to insightful writers and advocates, like Lauren Sabina Kneisly, who clearly define the real power systems involved in adoption and the political realities of being an adoptee and bastard. Real advocates and credible scholars acknowledge their sources and forebears. Those who only seek influence or power in any field will try to co-opt the work of real reformers.

I have shared this article with numerous adoptee rights advocates I know on Twitter and now await a possible reply by the DAI to my piece. I alerted the DAI about my article with two tweets.

In my article I said I would publish a reply, but I will need to see how the group responds first. As I stated in my article, “I do not endorse their work to date as being clear, mission-driven advocacy that seeks to address historic discrimination against adoptees or work that seeks to change laws to promote equality for all adoptees by giving every single living adoptee full and unfettered access to their records–as done in most developed nations.”