Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience

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Overview

The first edition of Betty Jean Lifton's Lost and Found advanced the adoption rights movement in this country in 1979, challenging many states' policies of maintaining closed birth records. For nearly three decades the book has topped recommended reading lists for those who seek to understand the effects of adoption-including adoptees, adoptive parents, birth parents, and their friends and families.
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Overview

The first edition of Betty Jean Lifton's Lost and Found advanced the adoption rights movement in this country in 1979, challenging many states' policies of maintaining closed birth records. For nearly three decades the book has topped recommended reading lists for those who seek to understand the effects of adoption-including adoptees, adoptive parents, birth parents, and their friends and families.
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Editorial Reviews

Psychology Today
Important and powerful...[the author] is concerned not just with adoptees but with the experience of adoptive parents and birth parents.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060971328
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/1988
  • Edition description: 1st Perennial Library ed., updated ed. w
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Author and playwright Betty Jean Lifton is a leading advocate for adoption reform and an adoption counselor. Her books include Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter, the novel I'm Still Me, and, most recently, The King of Children: A Biography of Janusz Korczak. She lives with her husband, the author and psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

On Being Adopted

I am sitting in a small New York cafe in the late afternoon with Judith, an actress and writer. We have gone there rather than to either of our apartments because it is quieter. A telephone won't ring, a child won't wander in. Here, with the roar of traffic swirling about us, we are alone, free to disconnect ourselves from our present families and talk about the "other" us, the child in us.

Judith is the first friend I have scheduled to talk with about what the adopted and. nonadopted have in common as people, as marriage partners, as parents. She is not adopted, I am. I want to explore how much being adopted influences who we are. I grew up thinking it meant everything. Although I never spoke of it to anyone, it permeated my being like a fungus spreading slowly through the various stages of my development. Since it was invisible contamination, I passed as being nonadopted. It was a secret. I am not proud of that now.

Judith is not saying the things I expected to hear. "The pain in growing up is not too different whether you are adopted or not," she informs me. "In fact, I hated my mother. I was afraid of her. She was a killer. I got out at sixteen, as soon as I could."

She speaks rapidly now, passionately. She has told this motherdaughter story before to many analysts over the years as she sought release from her anxiety. I listen as a woman, but being adopted I am an impostor. I am one of those animations that keeps shifting in size and shape. At times I am a helpless changeling, at others an omnipotent creature from another planet. I amnot real, and so I do not have a receiving set that will pick up everything Judith is trying to tell me.

I will miss some things.

She does not understand this. She keeps seeing me as someone like herself and her other friends. I forgive her. That's the mistake all nonadopted people make.

"I think the obsession to find out who you are is universal," she is saying. "It is an obsession to re-create yourself. To give birth to yourself under another set of circumstances." She pauses, and then adds: "I always thought adoptive parents must be better than natural ones, because at least those people wanted a child."

Does she understand what she is saying? She speaks as if the mere wanting makes one into a good parent.

I know that not too many people have thought about adoption. Why should they? They have accepted society's myth that the adoptive family is no different from the biological one. I remember a friend who was raised by her grandmother telling me that she never realized adopted people were displaced persons like herself. We decided that it was because everyone is so busy pretending there is no displacement in adoption that the Adoptee's feelings are not allowed to radiate out into the community. Even Judith, who understood so much, having been sensitized to others through confronting her own pain, could not grasp what it meant to grow up separated from one's own blood kin.

"It doesn't matter if the person is your real or adoptive parent," she insists. "What matters is if they are truly loving. Otherwise you think there is something the matter with you. You take the blame on yourself. If a person cannot keep the illusion of being loved, she might commit suicide."

"But even if you are rejected by your parents, at least the blood knot holds you," I argue. "You don't blow away. You are rooted on this earth."

It was not roots we were talking about, but being rooted.

"Still at some stage of your life you have to give birth to yourself," she counters. "You have to recover and rewrite your own history."

But histories must have a beginning, I tell myself. Judith knows where she began.

Over the next year I had many conversations like this with nonadopted men and women. At times they sounded like a broken record, and so did I. At times we seemed to have a lot in common, and then we would be worlds apart. But we got a lot of insights into each other, and ourselves, in the process.

I came to understand that all people, if they dare to think at all, think of themselves in some sense as orphans — foundlings — who are struggling with problems around alienation. Everyone has some feeling of having been deprived, of playing the impostor because they're not supposed to be here. Everyone is in some kind of pain. Everyone, as Loren Eiseley observed, contains within himself a ghost continent.

And yet — everyone but the adopted has caught a glimpse, however fleeting, of his own ghosts. Unlike the real orphan who still carries his family name, the Adoptee is cut off completely from his past. And though he has "psychological" parenting in the adoptive home, he suffers a severe physical deprivation in being cut off from anyone whose body might serve as a model for both the wondrous and fearsome possibilities of his own. To explain this to the nonadopted is like asking the sighted to see into the dark isolation of the blind. Even the adopted, themselves, do not always perceive the peril of the darkness within them.

It was to try to purge myself of that darkness that I wrote Twice Born, my own memoir of what it was like to grow up adopted and then set out on the forbidden search for origins. But I remained haunted by the complexity of this subject even afterward. Rather than freeing me as a writer to go on to other things, it seemed to plunge me deeper into the mysteries around what it means to be adopted. I was inundated with letters from men and women telling me I had told the story of their lives, that my experience was a mirror image of what they had been through. It made me realize that I had plumbed the depths of my own personal journey, but not its universality. What did I share in common with those who recognized a kindred spirit in me, a voice that seemed to come from within themselves?

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Table of Contents

Preface: Adoptee with a Capital A ix

Part 1 Lost

1 On Being Adopted 3

2 Messages from the Underground 9

3 The Adoption Game 12

4 The Chosen Baby 19

5 The Adoptee as Mythic Hero 28

6 The Adoptee as Double 34

7 The Adoptee as Survivor 39

8 Adolescent Baggage 43

9 Good Adoptee-Bad Adoptee 54

10 The Adoptee as Adult 62

Part 2 Found

11 Waking Up from the Great Sleep 71

12 Who Searches? 73

13 The Decision to Search 78

14 Stages of the Search 86

15 Varieties of Reunion Experience 101

16 The Journey after Reunion 139

17 Father-The Mini-Search 152

18 Siblings 162

19 The Unsuspecting Spouse 168

20 Aftermath: The Restless Pulse 172

Part 3 Roots and Wings

21 Taking Wing 177

22 Telling the Adoptive Parents 178

23 The Chosen Parents 183

24 Telling the Child 188

25 Birth Mothers-Are They Baby Machines? 207

26 Birth Mothers Who Search 228

27 Adoptive Parents-Are They Baby-Sitters? 256

28 The Right to Know 263

Afterword 270

Rights and Responsibilities for Everyone in the Adoption Circle 283

The Adoption Resource Network 289

Recommended Reading 303

Acknowledgments from the Second Edition 307

Notes and Sources 311

Index 323

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