Chapter Summary: You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are
Introduction: The scrappy bastard from Detroit tells a different adoption tale
I summarize how my story fits into a larger political and legal system that promoted adoption, but stigmatized the mothers and their relinquished kids. My adoption narrative will address societal taboos, discriminatory state laws, public health data, and kinship research while radically breaking from the genre of treacle adoption feel-good stories.
Chapter 1, Meeting My Half-Sister:
Finding meaning from life and adversity as an adoptee
I describe what it is like to meet my biological half-sister for the first time after nearly five decades. This meeting in 2014 forced me to question how I am living my life and what living a meaningful life actually means, all captured in her statement: “You don’t know how lucky you are.”
Chapter 2, The Most Suitable Plan:
Illegitimate infants pose a threat, and adoption offers the best solution
I examine my birth mother’s experience in the context of the social engineering experiment that led to millions of adoptions from the 1950s through the 1970s. Before societal views on out-of-marriage sex softened in the mid-1970s, the rise of illegitimacy among mostly single white women was perceived as a societal threat, and experts from child welfare groups to the American Academy of Pediatrics proposed adoption as “the most suitable plan for the unmarried mother.”
Chapter 3, A Place for Unwed Mothers:
A mother gives birth to a child, the journey begins
I show how single birth mothers who relinquished their infant children frequently went into hiding at maternity homes, outside of public view because of the shame they represented and the stigma babies born outside of marriage posed for society and families. Bureaucratic systems and organizations that served them, notably the Crittenton missions and hospitals such as the Detroit facility where I was born in 1965, promoted healthy adoptions but hid that experience from the public.
Chapter 4, How Scott Became Martin: A Life Told in Records:
My first few years as two different people
I examine my own birth as an example how records-keeping methods and vital records systems changed the identity of adoptees like myself from a person with a family past into a clean slate. Medical, vital records, and social service personnel facilitated this identity change, all enveloped in bureaucratic systems that fostered a culture of secrecy.
Chapter 5, Knowing You Are Adopted: Just Look in the Mirror:
Navigating early years knowing I was different
I describe growing up in an often-turbulent adoptive family and knowing what it means to be adopted. My extended adoptive family never invested any resources in my family, myself, and my adopted sister or supported us when it was needed the most.
Chapter 6, Blood Is Thicker Than Water:
The underlying science why adoptees have different lives than biological kin
I unravel this critically important phrase by exploring how research in evolutionary psychology and biology demonstrate that genetic kinship is a critically important issue in human relations and that outcomes can be seen in reliable and population health-based research on many health outcomes for adoptees and illegitimate children.
Chapter 7, Legalized Discrimination Against Adoptees: The Demon Behind the Problem:
The snarling dragons that adoptees must battle
I explore the legal and political underpinnings that have led to a national system that discriminates against adoptees and birth parents who are denied access to records and relationships. In addition to stubborn bureaucracies who ignore science and best practices, evangelical Christians and the GOP have championed adoption secrecy to advance their religious and political agendas that harm millions of adoptees born after World War II.
Chapter 8, Who Am I?:
A hero’s natural quest for the truth is undermined by medical, mental health fields
Asking who am I is the most important question a human will ask, but mental health, social work, and medical professions have stigmatized adoptees for decades for asking this question. Medical groups still have not championed adoptee rights, even when major medical health groups and specialists say knowing one’s medical and genetic health history is a best health and public health practice.
Chapter 9, The Paper Chase:
Beginning the quest in my 20s and facing defenders of secrecy
I describe a hero’s journey battling bureaucracies for records intentionally kept from me by Michigan, my adoption placement agency, and the probate court. Demonizing adoptees is related to historical discrimination of bastards and illegitimate children, who have much worse health outcomes than other children.
Chapter 10, Flying to Detroit:
I leave the ordinary world and succeed in the first leg of the quest
With the few facts I had about my birth families, I took a leap of faith in 1989 and flew to Detroit to find my birth mother. We meet in Ann Arbor and begin a new relationship for which there is no stage direction and guidance, and I learn at last I have true genetic kin and finally look like other people who share my ancestry.
Chapter 11, Out of the Darkness: A Son Emerges from the Shadows:
A son meets his father and learns the true meaning of being a bastard
After meeting my birth grandparents, I fly to San Diego to meet my birth father, who denied his paternity. I learn I have two half-sisters I never knew about and confront the reality of what it means to be a bastard and be denied by one’s flesh and blood.
Chapter 12, After the Discovery: Figuring out a New Identity:
The long journey of decades with new family, culminating in a transformation
Over the decades, I navigate a new identity having adoptive and biological families, including biological kin on my birth father’s side who never knew me. I learn my birth father died and meet my birth father’s kin, who acknowledge I was not the existential threat they claimed I was, all before reclaiming my true family name when I turned 43.
Chapter 13, Battling Michigan for Records:
The hydra never dies and continues to fight adoptees who dare challenge the system and dragon of adoption secrecy
I examine how adoption laws fail adoptees, exemplified by Michigan’s system that uses some of the most regressive methods now championed by promoters of global adoption—the Christian far-right. My research shows how Michigan and its public health service fail to serve adoptees, and why an apology similar to Australia’s in 2013 to all birth mothers and adoptees might never occur in the United States.
Chapter 14, Adoption Narcissism:
Whining solves nothing and championing change that goes after the real villains
The ability for every adoptee to become a publisher had allowed adoption narratives from every voice to reach a wider audience, but many telling those stories wallow in whining and narcissism. Such storytelling prevents solving problems and looking at root causes, and a public health and political advocacy model offers a better way of framing adoption that points to systems problems and solutions, not stories that discuss adoption in purely personal terms.
Chapter 15, Birth Certificate, the Final Journey:
The hero’s quest ends: I climbed the mountain, crossed the ring of fire, and at last slew the dragon
After five decades, I finally obtain my original birth certificate, the most magical of all documents adoptees fight for against state bureaucracies who seek to promote legal practices that are not used in most developed nations with open-adoption-records laws. Michigan’s vital records bureaucracy refused to surrender a copy even 27 years after I knew my birth name and birth families, forcing me to get a court order, defeating the last dragon on my hero’s quest and lifelong journey to address life’s great question: Who am I?