In 1966, Lorraine Dusky gave her daughter up for adoption. In 1979, M. Evans & Co. published her bestselling memoir Birthmark, which broke the silence on the traumas many women struggled with in the wake of such a decision. Since then, Dusky has become a voice for first mothers and adoptees across the country. Her latest memoir, Hole in my Heart, picks up where Birthmark left off. Dusky reunites with her daughter and the author stresses throughout the book just how much work is to be done in the world of adoption reform.
“So there I was in my fabulous breakout job, and boom. I’m a woman, and I’m pregnant.” Dusky explains. At the time, adoption was one of the only choices offered to single women. “In the public’s mind, adoption is a win-win situation. There’s this woman, she got pregnant and can’t take care of the child, and then there are two loving parents… but I want people to know it’s hard on the adoptees. You’re likely to have this whole sense of abandonment,” she says.
Since Birthmark was first published in 1979, Dusky says, “there’s been a change, but the laws are changing at the speed water erodes rock. In New York State it’s been a fight for over 20 years…people assume because there’s so much in the media about adoption that it’s all changed, that if adoptees want to know [about their parents] they just breeze in somewhere and get their information. That is not true at all.”
“Last year it looked like we had a good chance in New York, and then right at the last minute revisions were tacked on to the bill making it almost impossible for adoptees. I mean, you could get your birth certificate if your parents were dead. But how did you know your parents were dead?” she asks.
For Dusky, giving her daughter up for adoption came with its own suffering. She was haunted by the idea that her daughter was in danger and needed her. When she finally managed to find her daughter, she discovered the truth; her daughter was suffering from epilepsy. Dusky and her daughter began to develop a relationship, but they both wished the adoption had been open from the start.
“And even now” Dusky says, “what’s wrong with open adoption is it’s sold to the prospective mother as a ‘it’s gonna be fine.’ But what happens to many of them is they just communicate by letter through the [adoption] agency and then the agency might close. Legally you don’t have a leg to stand on because you signed away your parental rights.”
According to Dusky, adoptees are “highly overrepresented in addiction, in prison populations…there’s a lot of trouble that adopted people have that their adoptive parents don’t want to talk about a lot. They feel like failures I think, so, this information is there but nobody really wants to make it public.”
One of the main problems, Dusky says, is in the language we use to talk about adoption. A mother doesn’t “give up her child,” she “makes an adoption plan.” She is not a “natural mother,” but instead a “birthmother,” only significant in the act of giving birth. “It removed the emotional quotient from the situation,” Dusky says. “As if anyone would say ‘I made an adoption plan one calm day while having a cup of tea.’ It’s not like that, even today.”
“Being adopted isn’t a better life; it’s a different life,” she says. “I’d like people to know that adoption is a really difficult thing.”
Lorraine Dusky will be reading and speaking on her experiences at the John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor on Saturday, November 7 at 3 p.m. Seating is limited. Please call ahead. 631-725-0049.