American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption by journalist Gabrielle Glaser explores postwar adoption in the United States. Glaser first meets David Rosenberg in 2007 as she is working on an article about Rosenberg’s upcoming kidney transplant. Glaser’s plan was to follow David and his friend who was donating his kidney to David. During the interview, David shared with Glaser that he was adopted. One hope for Rosenberg to share his story was that not only would it spread throughout America, but in particular through the Jewish community. David’s initial goal was to locate his biological family so he would have information about his biological family’s medical history to share with his own children. In 2014, David found his biological mother, Margaret (Erle) Katz. Glaser goes on to weave the lives of David, Margaret, George Katz (David’s biological father), the history, and impact, of adoption in America.
Glaser has done an outstanding job of creating a vivid picture of David and Margaret’s experiences. Included is a detailed history of adoption in America from “baby farms”, to orphan trains, maternity homes, Georgia Tann and Louise Wise. It is clear that the development of the adoption industry was predatory, cruel and harmful to children and their families of origin. I am grateful that David shared his raw emotions, personal experiences and how adoption impacted his life. It is imperative that the stories of adoptees are listened to and heard. David had no voice in who would be his parents. Despite having loving and doting adoptive parents, David did experience challenges throughout his life. I cannot help but wonder if some of those were related to being separated from his family of origin. I cannot imagine the feelings David experienced looking at strangers and wondering if perhaps they were his biological kin. My heart hurt for David during his struggles and I cheered his accomplishments. As I read his story, I kept thinking that his birthmother never forgot about him and loved him very much.
Along with David’s story, Glaser writes about the atrocities committed within the adoption industry. It is apparent how Georgia Tann in particular played a role in policy that has been detrimental to adoptees, such as sealed pre-adoption/original birth certificates. Such actions still negatively impact adoptees to this day. I was equally horrified to learn more about “experiments” done to child by those working for Louise Wise Services.
Even now, young people are shamed and stigmatized for having sex—especially if it results in an unplanned pregnancy. It is apparent in Glaser’s reporting how cruel society could be to young women like Margaret in 1961. Margaret’s personal story of being banished to a maternity home, and Glaser’s reporting, shows the shame and mistreatment pregnant people endured while living in these institutions. It was gut-wrenching to read how so many new parents were denied the right to hold their baby while in the hospital and were often told to forget that they had a baby. This is absolutely preposterous and cruel.
As a birthmother, I admire Margaret’s candidness and vulnerability. I appreciated the hope and determination Margaret had that she and George would parent their son. It is appalling how Margaret was manipulated, coerced and bullied into terminating her parental rights. Adding to my outrage is the fact that sadly in 2021, there are still systems in place that prevent people from parenting their children such as white supremacy, racism, the patriarchy, misogyny, ageism and ableism. And unfortunately, this also means there still are individuals and organizations who are primed to take advantage of pregnant people when they are vulnerable and/or trying to survive in a system that is working against them.
Adoption is more palatable to the masses when presented solely as “beautiful” with angelic adoptive parents and brave birthmothers. The media has done a reprehensible job of presenting all facets, including the nefariousness, within the adoption industry in the past and present. American Baby is an important must-read, in particular for those who are unfamiliar with adoption. I applaud Glaser for her work and commend David and Margaret for sharing their stories.
Adoption story depiction: A
Trigger potential: A
Angie Swanson-Kyriaco, MA, CLC
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