Mothers seek children given up for adoption
In 1966 at the age of 20, Tina Caudill of Hazel Park found herself
pregnant and unmarried. While today she would be considered a single
mother, back then she was a disgrace to her family and community.
When her employer found out -- she was working as a secretary in
Detroit -- Caudill was forced to quit her job. She hid her pregnancy
and the job loss from her parents, telling them she had been
transferred temporarily to St. Louis, Mo.
To keep up the ruse, she set up a post office box in St. Louis and
got a subscription to the local paper so she could provide tidbits of
local happenings in letters from her new phantom home. In reality,
Caudill spent her pregnancy as a contracted, live-in domestic a few
miles away from her home.
Immediately after she gave birth to a son, she felt forced to give
the baby up for adoption. Because the culture deemed her "damaged
goods" and her baby "illegitimate," Caudill kept silent about her
long-lasting grief, never even telling her own mother that she had a
In 1972, Caudill founded the Adoption Identity Movement of Michigan
(AIM) in her own living room, bringing together birth mothers like
her who shared their private pain with each other. At the end of each
meeting, they would all light candles in honor of their lost children.
Now, Caudill and AIM members are largely credited with spearheading
the open adoption records movement in Michigan, which seeks to give
adult adoptees access to their birth certificates. As it now stands,
adoption records for those born between 1945 and 1980 are sealed.
Last June, a bill that would open those sealed birth certificates
passed the Michigan House of Representatives with overwhelming
support: 99 to 10. But the bill has languished in the Michigan Senate
ever since. Caudill fears if it isn't voted on before the legislature
breaks for the holidays, it will be stalled indefinitely .
"There will be a new batch of leaders we will have to re-educate and
we will have to start all over," Caudill says.
"I know the legislature has a lot of priorities. But we've been
waiting for so long already."
Two years ago, Caudill was largely responsible for putting me in
touch with close to 35 birth mothers who put their babies up adoption
under duress. Now, in their 50s and 60s, many of them were plucked
from high school or college and ferried in secrecy to maternity
homes. Back home, in order to keep up the lie, friends and family
were told the teen went to care for an ailing aunt or to spend a year
They gave birth to babies they were never allowed to hold -- some
girls were even blindfolded during childbirth. They were told to put
this "bad chapter" behind them and were expected to resume their
lives back at school as if it never happened. Not surprisingly, they
could do neither.
While the confidentiality and secrecy inherent in the closed-records
era of adoption laws was partyly intended to protect birth mothers'
anonymity lest they be scorned or their children taunted, over the
decades, society has changed significantly. Studies have repeatedly
shown that many of those concerns, like the stigmas themselves, no
Still, an adult adoptee born during the closed era in Michigan has no
access to his or her own birth certificate from which to search for
In Caudill's case, as soon as her son turned 18, she began to search
for him. It took her five years. She considers herself one of the
lucky ones. In a recent e-mail Caudill wrote: "Today my birth son,
who I have been reunited with for 17 years, called me from the
examining room at his doctor's office to ask who in his birth family
had high blood pressure. He said his was 'off the charts,' as he put
it. He told the doctor, he didn't know, but that he could find out
with a phone call. Think how many adult adoptees wish they had the
luxury to check on their medical histories every time they went to
Many of the birth mothers I interviewed had devastating repercussions
from decades-long grief over "giving away" their children. To this
day, they said, the most troubling part was not knowing how their
children are faring. They would search faces in crowds, at airports,
in stadiums. Who knows how many adult adoptees were staring back? So
many of them told me that while the love they have for their adoptive
parents is irreplaceable, they felt something was missing: a piece of
One of them said: "In essence, we are being protected from each other
when we don't want to be protected."
Caudill is right: They have waited long enough.
Marney Rich Keenan's column runs in The Detroit News Features section
on Wednesdays and in Homestyle on Saturdays. You can reach her at
(313)222-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org