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Adoption Disclosure Arrives
June 2, 2009 permalink
The Toronto Star profiles a man seeking his family through Ontario's new adoption disclosure law. Time will tell whether interested parties get disclosure of their birth families, or the kind of bureaucratic foot-dragging that now awaits persons applying for membership in their local children's aid society.
Emotions high as veil around adoption lifts
Crush of applications expected as new rules on disclosure take effect
May 31, 2009 04:30 AM, Nicole Baute, STAFF REPORTER
Paul O'Donnell wants to meet his mother. His other mother, the one who gave birth to him.
O'Donnell, 45, was adopted as an infant and raised by a gregarious couple. Although he loved them dearly, the differences between them were stark: he was a serious, introverted math whiz; his parents were the most popular couple on the block.
"My father was a salesman. I couldn't sell if my life depended on it. I don't have that kind of personality," O'Donnell laughs nervously, a self-deprecating tic.
Nor were his adopted parents bookish like Paul, who, despite his age, looks a bit like a university student in his thick, brown glasses and blue backpack. His adoptive mother, Donna O'Donnell, wonders why her son talks to her at all, "because I don't really know all he's talking about."
Though he has had a great life, Paul always felt like an outsider. He hopes that is about to change.
Tomorrow, the secrecy that has shrouded the adoption process will be lifted, and adult adoptees and birth parents will have access to adoption orders and birth registrations.
In Ontario, 250,000 children have been adopted since the government started keeping records in 1921. For Paul, that means he could finally learn his mother's name and can begin to track her down.
The Toronto computer programmer has been clinging to information he got in 2005, when, at age 42, he went to the Catholic Children's Aid to ask about his birth family.
When the envelope came, he was too nervous to open it himself. While a friend read all 10 pages aloud, Paul sat shaking, almost dizzy, and an image of his birth mother began to take shape in his mind. She was short, five-foot-one, with a medium build, dark blond hair, blue eyes, and "lovely teeth."
"Birth mother," as she was called throughout, was from Eastern Canada, of good health and average intelligence. She couldn't afford to go to school past Grade 10 and moved to Ontario, where she worked as a clerk-typist in a hardware store until she had Paul, at age 19.
She was not married and Paul's father denied paternity. She later had two more sons – Paul's half-brothers. She was of Scottish and Irish descent; his father was Italian.
For Paul, these were meaningful details, but it is the description of his mother's personality that he dwells on. She had a quiet, withdrawn manner and did not make friends easily. His grandmother stayed at home; his grandfather, laid up with an arthritic foot, was an intelligent man and an avid reader. Much like Paul himself.
"When I read that thing about my grandfather reading a lot, that really clicked," Paul says. "What did he read? What was he interested in?"
He went home and read the document at least 20 times, and typed it up on his computer.
"I'm a different person since having gotten that piece of paper," Paul says. "The day I got it, or the day after, I remember looking at myself in the mirror, when I was brushing my teeth in the morning, and I liked what I saw more than I did the day before. And I'm not even sure I can articulate exactly why."
Tonight, Paul will sit at his computer in his Toronto apartment, waiting for the application forms to appear on the Service Ontario website. He hopes they will appear at the stroke of midnight so he can fill them out quickly and squeeze to the front of the line, although a spokesperson for the Ministry of Community and Social Services didn't know when they would be posted. He also didn't how long it will take for the forms to be processed. Adoptees like Paul expect a backlog: a few months, a year, perhaps even longer.
He is fortunate to have his nonidentifying information, and a piece of paper with his birth name on it, William Thomas MacDonald, which was given to his adoptive parents by the Catholic Children's Aid in 1963. But even with his mother's first name, she will be difficult to find.
It is also possible she saw one of the ads the government spent $6.8 million on to warn adoptees and birth mothers they could soon be identified, and urged them to file a disclosure veto if they wanted to protect their identity.
The veto option was added last year, after Toronto human rights lawyer Clayton Ruby managed to have the previous legislation struck down on the grounds that it did not protect those who wanted to remain anonymous.
As of May 1, only 2,483 people had applied for the disclosure veto. The forms will be available after June 1, but it will become a race of sorts: If the disclosure veto is not filed before the other party applies for adoption information, the information will be released.
Joy Cheskes, an elementary teacher from Stratford, has already applied for a veto. She was adopted as an infant and raised in a small southwestern Ontario town by the only family she is interested in knowing.
Cheskes was part of the Constitutional challenge that struck down the legislation in 2007 and made way for the disclosure veto.
"I have lived almost 45 years of my life deciding that I want to keep that part closed," she says. "My life and everything that's happened to me makes up who I am and I don't welcome that kind of intrusion unless I decide that that's okay. And at this point in my life, that's not okay."
Other adoptees have spent years looking for their birth parents, wondering whether anyone else on this planet has their crooked pinky finger or curly red hair or aptitude for complex algebra. Some worry about inheriting genetic diseases.
"Adoptees often feel like aliens," says Karen Lynn, who gave a son up for adoption in 1963 and now works with three adoption support and advocacy groups. "They're not really sure they were born on this earth."
Lynn reunited with her son in 1999.
As adoptees and birth parents fill out their applications tomorrow, the disclosure veto will be on many minds. As Monica Byrne, registrar of the Ottawa Parent Finders group, says: "Everyone's scared that they're going to be the one that's had their information blocked."
Paul, who says he has great adopted parents, says his mission is not a search for parents. "I already have parents. It's really more about learning where I came from."
Donna, a bubbly 70-year-old who refers to her son as "my Paul," believes he has a right to know his birth mother, and if she ever had the chance to meet her, she would thank her.
Paul knew he was adopted before he understood what "adopted" meant. Donna loves to tell the story of Paul correcting a neighbour who called him cute: "I'm not cute, I'm adopted," he said gruffly. The neighbour was horrified, but Donna just laughs.
Donna is scrupulous in her lack of judgment: She supports Paul's search completely, but she can also see things from the other side.
She worries that Paul's birth mother could reject him.
Paul already attends an adoption support group called Adoption Support Kinship that will help him deal with the fallout.
Paul has read between the lines of his nonidentifying information so many times he is convinced he and his mother are of similar minds. He would never fill out a disclosure veto, and does not expect she will either.
"Maybe it's just wishful thinking," he says. "But ... I think my mother's brain is a little bit like mine. I think she's like me."
If you apply for adoption information or file a veto on the disclosure of information and want to share your story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Toronto Star
Addendum: Here is the opposition. Adoption disclosure has to be stopped, to prevent people from falling in love.
Genetic sexual attraction
Pull of attraction felt between adoptees, biological family members
Last Updated: Thursday, May 7, 2009 | 10:59 AM ET , CBC News
Two weeks after Sally reunited with her biological son, she began to have sexual feelings for him.
"This is feeling really bizarre, but I think I'm falling in love with this person," she recalls thinking.
Sally, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, had given up her son for adoption when she was 16, but vowed as she cradled the little boy swaddled in a blanket that she would someday, somehow become part of his life again. She never imagined that their reunion some 30 years later would lead to a sexual relationship.
After their first meeting, the two found themselves spending more and more time together. "We kind of gave ourselves permission to do more hugging," said Sally in an interview with CBC's The Current. Eventually, it progressed into a sexual relationship.
"I do remember the night we did and it was amazing … the most amazing thing I've ever experienced," Sally says. "He said, 'I've finally found the most perfect person in the world for me in every way and she turned out to be my mother.'"
Sally's not alone in feeling a deep attraction to a blood relative upon meeting as adults for the first time.
Genetic sexual attraction, as it's called, is a little known consequence of reunions with adoptees and their biological family members, where attraction is felt and sometimes acted upon. It has been known to happen between mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, uncles and nieces, and even same-sex relatives.
While recognized by some adoption agencies and psychologists, there is little information on the subject. As Ontario, Canada's most populous province, gets set to become the fifth province to open its adoption records on June 1, there are calls for more education and support on GSA.
Though some adoptees and birth parents will likely use their power to veto access to their files, the change of law holds the possibility of affecting some 250,000 children officially adopted in the province in the past 88 years.
Single study on subject
Sally, who met her son after B.C. unsealed its adoption records in 1996, wishes she had known more about GSA at the time. "I would've appreciated knowing about it," she says.
A B.C. adoption counsellor said that when the province unsealed adoption records there was an increase in GSA occurrences.
It's difficult to quantify genetic sexual attraction since many of those who pursue a sexual relationship with a blood relative won't even reveal it to adoption counsellors or psychiatrists.
Pastor Bill Bossert, a former president of the Oregon Adoptive Rights Association, says he believes at least one person feels a deep attraction in about half of adoption reunions.
In what remains the only academic study on GSA, Dr. Maurice Greenberg looked at 40 cases and concluded the sexual attraction was a normal response to an extremely unusual situation of blood relatives meeting as strangers.
Greenberg, the former head of student counselling services at University College London in the U.K. and ex-adviser to London's Post-Adoption Centre, says interviewees described emotionally charged meetings and the shock of familiarity as they noticed the same interests, traits and mannerisms in their relative. Many described it as feeling like they were looking into a mirror.
Combined with the feelings of loss and trauma associated with being put up for adoption and the excitement and fantasies of a reunion, the adoptees often felt vulnerable to such attraction.
Not seen as incest
Paul, also from B.C., recalls the strong attraction he felt when he first met his biological sister.
"I just felt like I had met my soulmate. The one that you don't think you possibly will ever meet," says Paul, whose name has also been changed.
"My heart wanted to just leave the rest of my life and walk away into the sunset with this person."
While technically the sexual relationship was incest, Paul says that "tawdry" term never crossed his mind and doesn't describe the deep connection he felt with his sister of wanting to blend with her "physically, emotionally and soulfully."
His wife soon learned of the affair and confronted him at a coffee shop.
"He cried. He couldn't understand why he was feeling the way he was because he was so frightened," his wife said.
The couple decided to stay together and to explain the situation to their two children, telling them Paul and his sister never experienced the sibling rivalry that occurs between most brothers and sisters but only the "pure love."
"I treated it as if it was an occurrence in life, one of the growing pains of life. I didn't want to harm them, and I didn't want them to hate their father," says Paul's wife.
Desensitized by living together
Dianne Mathes, a Toronto expert on GSA who counsels people involved in GSA relationships and is herself an adoptee, says relatives who don't live together miss out on the daily events that prevent such attraction from occurring.
"The birth mother … has not raised that child, hasn't done all the parental roles with that child whether it's diapering him or being there when he was sick," said Mathes.
According to the Westermarck theory, developed by anthropologist Edward Westermarck in the late 19th century, people living in close domestic proximity during the first few years of life are desensitized to sexual attraction later in life.
The Westermarck effect has been observed in communal child rearing in the Israeli kibbutz system where few sexual relationships and marriages developed among peers.
While there are rare cases where GSA evolves into a stable relationship and the couple makes peace with the societal taboo, many others soon break up but are left with a psychological scar.
"Some people are saying, 'I've lived my whole life being a good husband, a good father, a good provider, being a stable citizen. I've met this woman, I've never felt like this in my life. I've never been happier,'" said Mathes.
"These are people who have had a need and a feeling stirred in them so deeply that it's rocking the core of who they thought they were, what they needed, how they understand things and their worlds, and they're struggling."
Those who have experienced the turbulence caused by GSA say the only way to prevent others from the same heartbreak is through education and support.
Struggling to move on
Barb Gonyo, a leading expert on GSA and author of I'm His Mother, But He's Not My Son, says people need to know that the intense feelings at the beginning of a reunion will eventually subside.
She spent more than a decade struggling with feelings for her son and runs a website, www.geneticsexualattraction.com, aimed at raising awareness about the issue.
"I've known many people who have gotten through this without having a sexual relationship and have been glad that they didn't because they still have a good relationship. Then there are people who have had a sexual relationship that still have a good relationship but they might have had to put up with an awful lot of pain," said Gonyo.
For Sally, her sexual relationship with her son crumbled in the face of ostracism from their friends and the shame and guilt they felt about the secrecy of it all.
She realized they had a choice: start a new life elsewhere where their situation wasn't known or stop what they were doing.
The two decided to stop their sexual relationship and have remained close. A new feeling has since evolved between the two.
She says her son now feels sick to his stomach when he thinks about the fact that they slept together.
"And that's good because that's normal. I finally got to a place where I'm like his mother, kind of. Not really, but kind of. And that's a good thing. That's a blessing."
With files from Aziza Sindhu