Category Archives: You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are

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.

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.”

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, 2017, 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.

 

 

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.”