Here’s an obituary of Betty Jean Lifton who died yesterday at the age of 84. As the obituary notes, Ms. Lifton was a passionate advocate for open adoption.
There’s been discussion on this blog in the past of parallels that can be drawn between those who are donor conceived and those who are adopted. Most recently, this discussion was triggered by the Pratten case now awaiting decision in British Columbia. By no means do I consider the topic to be closed or the issues raised there to be settled. But it isn’t my intention to reopen them right here an now.
Instead, I thought I’d take a moment to appreciate the changes in our attitudes towards adoption over the last thirty-plus years. Although according to the NYT obituary, only nine states allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates (I would have thought it was–but that’s merely a measure of my own ignorance), I don’t think that’s a fair measure of the shifts in attitudes we’ve seen.
Secrecy in adoption was once the overwhelming norm. Shame was coupled with secrecy, as is so often the case. Clearly this was not a good thing for anyone involved in the adoption process–not for the children, and not for any of the adults.
By contrast today I think conventional wisdom is that adoptive parents should be forthright with their children. (This may, of course, be born of necessity where adoptions are transracial or where the adoptive parent is single or a same-sex couple.) As the culture generally has come to accept this, resources to support adoptive parents have emerged–everything from children’s books to support groups. Surely all of this is for the good.
I don’t mean to say that all the change is attributable to Ms. Lifton. Obviously change like this is the work of countless individuals, some well-known and some not known at all. But it’s not a bad moment to take the time to look around and appreciate how much can change over time.