Category Archives: Public Health

Does bias influence how publications choose to tell stories about adoptees and adoption history?

This historic photo of a Crittenton mission from the late 1950s or 1960s shows how expecting mothers who stayed at Crittenton homes and hospitals were given maternal health instructions. Almost all of those mothers gave up their infants for adoption at the encouragement of doctors, social workers, and staff at Crittenton and other maternity homes in the decades after World War II. (Photo courtesy of the National Crittenton Foundation.)

This week I was informed by a Michigan historical publication that its editorial committee rejected my proposed article on the historical significance of my birthplace, Crittenton General Hospital. “While the committee appreciates the article you submitted, it unfortunately does not meet our magazine’s editorial needs and we will be unable to accept it for publication,” the editor wrote. 

This means that an article I proposed to tell the story of thousands of single Michigan mothers who gave up their children for adoption in the decades after World War II in Detroit will not reach a wider audience in Michigan. For that, I am disappointed. 

I respectfully asked for feedback how I did not meet their needs, and did not get a reply. I do not expect a response, and to date have not received one.

[Author’s update, 9/15/2017, 1:05 p.m.: Hours after publishing this article, I received a reply from the publication I had contacted that its editorial committee thought my article was a “personal opinion piece,” which they do not accept in their publications. That reply arrived only after I had provided the publication a courtesy email to let them know I had published this article.]

No publication is obligated to tell any writer why they are rejected. Rejection is the norm in the world of writing and publishing. It also inspires good writers.

However, this outcome, which I have experienced when reaching out to many different publications to engage them on the history and problems in the U.S. adoption system, likely has other issues beyond my storytelling abilities or even the merits of the stories I am trying to tell.

The outcome falls into a trend of editorial bias by people who likely do not recognize how their decisions about covering the story of the U.S. adoption system and its history are influenced by their own subconscious views. My forthcoming book on the U.S. adoption experience investigates how bias influences individuals’ and society’s views about illegitimately born people (bastards like me), including adoptees. I also have published an essay on that topic on my blog.

Is it Bad Writing/Research, Bias, or a ‘Suspect’ Writer/Researcher?

Source: Pannucci, Christopher J., and Edwin G. Wilkins. “Identifying and Avoiding Bias in Research.” Plastic and reconstructive surgery 126.2 (2010): 619–625. PMC. Web. 15 Sept. 2017.

The larger issue of research bias is well documented in human-subjects research. That field boasts a staggering list of biases that impact the research outcomes, before, during, and after clinical trials. It also is a well-documented issue in communications.

The open-source scientific publication PLoS noted in a 2009 editorial, “A large and growing literature details the many ways by which research and the subsequent published record can be inappropriately influenced, including publication bias, outcome reporting bias, financial and non-financial, competing interests, sponsors’ control of study data and publication, and restrictions on access to data and materials. But it can be difficult for an editor, reading a submitted manuscript, to disentangle these many influences and to understand whether the work ultimately represents valid science.”

When a writer or researcher is rejected, they have almost no chance of persuading a potential publisher to chance its views. If you push your case, you also are further discounted as too “attached” or “engaged.”

In the world of investigative journalism, you are even considered dangerous, and your own publications may turn against you if you fail to accept outcomes that can squash controversial stories. This is a common experience to anyone who has mattered in the world of journalism. 

The celebrated investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in 1993 that telling stories that some people do not want to read but should be told is often a thankless, even dangerous task.

Author and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Reporters write a story once, and then there’s no response and they stop,” says Hersh. “Somehow the object [is] to keep on pushing. The problem is, what do you do when you make yourself a pain in the ass and you become suspect? Because as everybody knows, for some mysterious reasons, if you have a point of view in a newspaper room you are suspect. Or if you’re a true believer you’re dangerous, you’re political. That’s really crazy. Because it seems to me the only good stories that come out of anything come from people who have a passion about right and wrong, and good and bad. It’s a terrible tragedy. It’s very tough.”

I always turn to Hersh’s quote that I jotted down when I first became a journalist, when I need to remember that telling important stories, including ones that challenge orthodoxy and prejudice, will never be an easy road to travel. That is why I wrote my book about the American adoption experience, knowing it would not be an easy story to tell or to sell.

But anything that matters, really and truly matters, requires overcoming such obstacles. That is how you find personal meaning and how you make positive and meaningful change that may take years to achieve.

 

 

Article on the significance of Detroit’s Crittenton General Hospital

Crittenton General Hospital of Detroit, MIchigan, my birthplace

Last week, I submitted a story to the Michigan Historical Society for consideration in their bi-monthly publication Michigan History Magazine. Their editorial committee agreed to review my piece that examines the history of Crittenton General Hospital and the five Crittenton mission facilities in Detroit. During its decades of operation, the hospital became the primary center for delivering infants to single mothers in Michigan and later for placing those infants for adoption after the mid-1940s.

My article draws from research and writings on the Crittenton organization and historic research surrounding adoption, adoption demographics, adoption secrecy, adoption laws, and adoption advocacy for adoptees, who numbers in the millions.

Opened in 1929 and then closed in 1974, it was one of the nation’s largest and most important maternity hospitals during its decades of operation. It played a major role in caring for single, unmarried mothers. Its historic significance is tied to its role promoting the adoption of thousands of “illegitimate” Michiganders, like me, who who were born out of marriage and placed for adoption from the late 1940s through 1974 because of their status as children conceived out of marriage.

My article accomplishes two goals:

  • It shows why the hospital is important historically: I make public its once primary mission of serving unwed, pregnant woman and their babies that remains hidden from public view. Ongoing efforts to gloss over its true past deny adoptees of their history and legitimacy and continue to support the stigma of single-mother births that prevailed during the time that the Crittenton Hospital operated.
  • It shows why the hospital’s story matters to the history of U.S. adoption and adoptee rights issues: I highlight its historic importance to give adoptees and birth mothers acknowledgement to their role in the history of this country and the treatment of illegitimacy, women, and, yes, bastard children who were not born “legitimately.” It also shows how those who run the hospital’s successor today continue to promote the stigma associated with illegitimacy and adoption by not formally acknowledging Crittenton General’s historic services.

Even if the historical society chooses to pass on this piece, I will bring the hospital’s story to the public through other publications, through my forthcoming memoir, and on my memoir’s web platform. It is simply too important of a story to be forgotten, because the people born there and the mothers who gave birth there still matter when we talk about adoption and human rights for all adoptees.

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.

On rejections and promoting my memoir and history of American adoption

Rudy Owens after the 2008 Mayor's Marathon in Anchorage. I finished 21st.

I like a challenge, and I am conditioned for succeeding in long races and difficult projects. This is me right after completing the Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage in 2008. I finished in just under 3 hours and 9 minutes, and finished the race 21st overall, in all ages. I do not walk away from momentary setbacks.

Every week, I continue to reach out to agents and publishers to consider my forthcoming memoir, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are: An Adoptee’s Journey through the American Adoption Experience.

Like nearly every writer who has come before me, I have been rejected multiple times. I expect this. It is part of the business and it is a part of nearly everything we do in life. You will not always succeed. You must try and try again. What matters is what you do after you are set back.

In my case, each email reply helps me improve my pitch. Rejection also fires up my spirit of perseverance.

Being adopted and having overcome discriminatory adoption laws, societal stigma, prejudice, and even family conflict is perhaps the best training there is for overcoming the word “no.”

Nothing trains one for confronting adversity like being an adoptee who challenges the system, and then wins. My book is essentially this story, and by winning I mean achieving justice and reclaiming what was taken from me—my history and family origins.

In my case, I labored several years until I found my birth family and received my birth records that Michigan and my adoption agency tried to keep from me. It would take another 27 years later until I won a court case that defeated the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and forced them, by court order, to surrender my original birth certificate they should have, by law, given me in 1989.

So I am totally fine with the rejection. I am tracking those rejections now, because they tell me how to improve. They also give me good critical feedback. Here are just a few of the comments I have received about my book proposal from editors and literary agents since April 2017:

  • “Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough presentation of your work to [OMITTED] . By contrast, your care in preparing your proposal makes the majority of submissions received thoroughly inadequate.”
  • “Thank you for submitting your proposal to [OMITTED]. We found the material to be quite interesting. Unfortunately, it does not fit into our current publishing plans. However, we encourage you to approach us with any future projects you might develop.”
  • “Thank you for your inquiry regarding the publication of “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are: An Adoptee’s Journey Through the American Adoption Experience.” Although the topic sound​s​ interesting, we have decided ​it do​es​ not look suitable for our upcoming publication list as [OMITTED] does not cover the topics within your proposal.”

Of course, there are many more rejection emails to date.

One thing is certain: I will publish this book. Just as Peter O’Toole’s character T.E. Lawrence told Omar Sharif’s Sheik Ali in the epic Lawrence of Arabia, “That is written.”

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.