New Memoir Examines U.S. Adoption as Public Health Issue

Rudy Owens, MA, MPH

How One Story Tells a Bigger Story
In many ways my birth characterized national adoption trends that saw annual adoption numbers rise from an estimated 107,000 in 1960, to 142,000 in 1965, to 175,000 in 1970.
I arrived in the spring of 1965 as an underweight, sickly infant born at Crittenton General Hospital of Detroit, one of the nation’s largest maternity hospitals that promoted adoptions. It was originally created to serve socially scorned single mothers in 1929. By my birth year, it had become a major adoption placement center. Single, pregnant mothers stayed next door at the Detroit Crittenton Maternity Home. Many single mothers after World War II stayed at these maternity homes and hospitals, created by the National Florence Crittenton Mission and groups like the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities.
Other significant players who determined my and other adoptees’ fates were social workers, who encouraged mothers by the hundreds of thousands to relinquish their infants, and vital records keepers, who managed the records and who created dual identity documents—amended and original birth certificates—as the national standard.
Health care workers also “normalized” adoption by making it safe and healthy for the infants and mothers, who were permanently separated days or weeks later. (I was adopted five and a half weeks after after my birth.) Those families were then kept apart by laws that eventually sealed birth records for most adoptees.
I also discuss the role doctors, such as members of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In 1960, as number of births outside of marriage was increasing, the group’s Committee on Adoptions wrote: “The most suitable plan for the unmarried mother has been found, in most instances, to be the relinquishment of the child so that it may be placed in adoption. A child kept by the mother may suffer from lack of support that a father, family, and other relationships provide.”
In my case, I found and interviewed the immigrant doctor who delivered me and developed a personal friendship with him while finishing my book.
We both shared a strong personal interest in this mostly ignored chapter in American history—he as a delivering doctor who served many socially scorned, young, and single moms, and me as one of hundreds of children he delivered. Every doctor involved in the care of these women was aware of the maternity homes and hospitals and the status of the women they cared for, yet almost none have spoken publicly of their role when adoption flourished through the late 1970s.
What It Means to Claim Victory
Unlike so many adoptees, I found my kin in my 20s and describe in my book how I later won a 27-year battle with the state of Michigan to obtain my true birth certificate in 2016, more than five 50 years after I was born and relinquished.
As of July 2018, Michigan is among 18 states with laws that limit the rights of adult adoptees in accessing their true birth records, and another 24 (including the District of Columbia) will not release such records without a court order. Michigan is similar to these more restrictive states with statutes that deny all adult adoptees born in Michigan between 1945 and 1980 such records without a court order.
According to emails I received through a public records request, the state did everything it could to deny me my true birth certificate, even though I provided documentation I knew my biological families for more than a quarter of a century. The judge sided with me and ordered the state to give me a copy of the true record of birth in June 2016.
In my book, I compare this personal victory to that of the archetypal hero, who completes a hero’s journey against numerous adversaries and who works to help others in their quest for justice.
“In the end, I had confronted my dragons, and slew them,” I write. “I climbed the mountain and crossed the ring of fire. I reclaimed the person who was taken away. I came back a better person, more committed to those less fortunate than me, who could never slay their dragons and who never found their past and their families at no fault of their own.”
Adoption Issues - September News

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