Marley Elizabeth Jane Greiner
I am a doctoral student in American History at the Ohio State University. I am employed at OSU as the Graduate Admissions Administrator and the Coordinator of Alumni Relations for the Department of Theatre. I am also an adoptee.
I am over 50 years old. For the first 36 years of my life I did not know the circumstances surrounding my birth and relinquishment. I did not know the name of the woman who gave birth to me. I did not know that she had even given me a name, since I had been told long ago that children given up for adoption never have names.
Although I knew that I was adopted from the time that I was three~that I was a so-called "chosen child,"-- I never felt chosen or lucky or any of those other things that most adoptees are told they should feel. Instead, I felt alone, unwanted. and abandoned. I felt an unrealness about my existence. I was an alien left behind in some extraterrestrial experiment. If ET had existed back in the 1940s, I would have been him, only I could not phone home because there was no home. I have distinct memories of standing in front of the mirror and shouting, "Who are you? Who are you?" Sometime before my fourth birthday I remember specifically telling my mother while she was combing my hair that I thought I was living" in God's dream." I do not remember her reaction to this rather odd comment, but I have since learned that these feelings of psychological and even physical alienation are very common to adoptees.
My adoptive parents, who are my "real" parents, were loving, indulgent, and to them I was always their "real" child. If they had any fault, it was their refusal to deal with adoption issues such as abandonment, insecurity, identity, and secrecy~in other words, the truth. Adoption was not a subject open to discussion, except on the anniversary of my placement, December 21, which was "Betsy Day. It didn't take long for me to catch on that the subject of my parentage, heritage and adoption was not a welcome topic. I was told repeatedly that I had no other family. I was never permitted to ask what my parents knew about my biological parents. You'd have thought that these two other people never existed. Maybe I was never really born. The only answer I got were two old saws, which of course, contradicted each other, "Your mother could not take care of you"-which I translated rightly or wrongly into, "Your mother didn't want you,"-- and "Your parents were killed in a traffic accident right after you were born." I dismissed the latter and believed the former.
Not only was I denied the simplest knowledge about myself, but I was told to never tell anyone that I was adopted. It was our little secret. After the age of seven or so, except for "Betsy Day," the subject of my adoption was seldom brought up, but I carried the dirty little secret with me. It never left me because I was the dirty little secret. In 1966, shortly before I married my first husband, my mother, who did not approve of him and was probably hoping he would leave me, if he knew the" truth" about me "ordered" me to tell him that I was adopted because "maybe he won't want to marry you if he knows you're adopted." If I didn't tell him she threatened that she would. Telling him our dirty little secret was one of the most difficult things I had ever done up to that point in my life. His reaction astonished me, "So?"
I never knew any adoptees growing up. Actually, I probably did, but who in their right mind would have admitted such a shameful secret? I grew up outwardly "normal" but inwardly extremely angry and resentful. I had "lots of potential" but never tried very hard. In reality, I would have liked to have done a lot of things, but I felt I had no right to do them. After all, I was an accident. I didn't belong here. I was something that had to be hidden away. At no time did I fantasize, as do some adoptees, about the "perfect" mother who would come and rescue me. I knew instinctively that I had a good deal. What I did want, however, was knowledge of my past, my ethnic heritage, my religion, who I looked like, the woman who gave birth to me. Did I have brothers and sisters? How about grandparents?
I had been provided with my adoptive parents' heritage, which admittedly is rather illustrious. While I have always accepted this as a cultural heritage with which to be proud, it was also a bogus heritage. It was a lie to me and about me. I became obsessed with where I really came from. Was I really English, Scottish, and German? (As it turns out, the answer is yes.) I wanted to know who I looked like. What my mother looked like. Where did certain interests and traits come from which were certainly outside of my adoptive family's purview. And since there was no way of knowing this-in adoption the parent is dead to the child, the child is dead to the parent- the obsession with the secret grew.
When I was 36 years old I moved to Columbus to start work on my Masters at Ohio State. Through an article in The Dispatch, I learned of an adoption support group and that it was possible to search. I was dumfounded. I learned under Ohio law I could access my original birth certificate because my adoption was finalized prior to 1964. I made an appointment at the Bureau of Vital Statistics, and one day on my lunch hour, right here in this building way back in 1980 I learned who I was. I learned that I had been given the name Marlene Sue Granecome at birth. And that my mother's name was Dorothy. And that I was born four days before her 24th birthday. My father's side of the birth certificate read only "Unknown," but that was OK for the time being because for the first time in my life I knew who I was and from whence I came.
On that afternoon in 1980 my life changed irrevocably. I cried uncontrollably. I had a name. My biological mother had cared enough to give me a name. Only a person who was told for 36 years that she didn't "exist" can understand the emotions that surged through me. I had a name! I had a name! The healing began.
Shortly after that, the Lucas Country Probate Court opened my adoption files and I received a certified copy of my adoption papers. And shortly after that, the social worker at Toledo Crittenton Services wrote me the following, "I have something that belongs to you. Would you like it.? " A week or so later she forwarded to me this certification of birth issued from Toledo Hospital. And on it, as you see, are my baby footprints. To this day, these baby footprints are the only thing--the only thing--that I have that belongs to Marlene Sue Granecome, the person who was to become Marley Elizabeth Greiner.
These tiny footprints, to me, represent not only an identity, but a process of becoming whole. Through some very simple public records searching I was able to locate my biological mother in Florida. She informed me that she did not care to know anything about me. This, I must point out is atypical. Most birth mothers react in just the opposite manner, but the older a birth mother is, the more difficult reunions can be. I was stunned, hurt. As before, I did not particularly want a relationship with her I just wanted information. I also did not want to disrupt her life, and decided to let it go~at least as far as direct communication. was concerned.
As my proficiency in public records search increased, through my Masters and Doctoral research, I was able to build a profile of the Granecomes. I learned that I had two siblings. but because of some erroneous assumptions on my part, was unable to learn their genders, much less their names. In December of 1994, I decided to once more pick up the search, and made a breakthrough. I learned my brother and sister's names and where they lived. I talked to my sister, Kathryn, for the first time in February of this year. It was a terrifying experience. And only minutes into our conversation, I saw that Kathryn was confused. You see, my brother and sister, are in fact, the adopted children of my biological mother! My sister thought initially that I was a member of her biological family. For four hours that night, Kathryn, my brother, Charlie, and I talked. They filled me in on many aspects of my biological mothers life and my heritage. Much of it not good, but I would rather know the truth than keep on wondering. Kathryn says that for the first time in her life she feels "connected." She is, in fact, thrilled and grateful that I found her.
Knowing each other has changed each of our lives, made each of us stronger. Saturday I received a letter from Kathryn's 10-year old daughter, Alysia. The front page here reads "I Love You. To My Beautiful Aunt Marley from Your Niece Alysia Marie Robinson." Inside she writes, " I feel sad right now because I really want to meet you. Even though I don't know you that well, I still love you because you are my mom's sister and you are my aunt." Then a little poem, "Roses are red, violets are blue/If you weren't my aunt/I don't know what I'd do."
I am here today to ask you to support HB 419. There are those out there who claim that HB 419 will violate the assumed confidentiality of biological parents. There are those who claim that HB 419 will force women to have abortions rather have their "mistakes" come home to haunt them. I submit that these people do not know what they are talking about. Is there anyone here today who can look me in the eye and say that I do not share the right of the rest of the people of Ohio to know who my mother, father, sister and brother are? Is there anyone who can look me in the eye and tell me that knowing my roots, my ethnicity, my religion, my genealogy, and my medical history is bad? Is there anyone out there who will look my niece in the eye and tell her that she has no right to know and love her aunt? Is there anyone out there who can look me in the eye and say, "No. You do not have the right to heal and be whole."?
Single motherhood, unlike 20 years ago, 40 years ago, 50 years ago is common and accepted in this country. There is no stigma attached to it. There is stigma, however, attached to adoption as it is practiced today in this state which segregates the adoptee and creates a separate legal system by which he or she is subjected. Closed records say in effect that the adoptee is a second class citizen and that she or he does not deserve the simple right of identity. Closed records are legally sanctioned lies, and if they were not so psychologically and sometimes medically harmful, they would be considered a "quaint" holdover from the past.
Closed records degrade all members of the adoption triad. Biological parents, especially mothers, are told to "forget and get on with your life"; adoptees are told to" be grateful for what you have', and adoptive parents, who more and more want and need information about their children's roots are told it is not important~"they're yours, now." But no one belongs to anyone else. We belong to ourselves., and this is what open records are all about: ownership of the self; ownership of the soul.
Presently in Ohio, birth certificates are altered, records sealed. The State, in effect, creates and upholds a system of untruths. With the flick of a pen identities are destroyed and new ones created. Germans become Irish; Catholics become Baptists; and people who never conceived and gave birth suddenly do. Am I the only one who feels like, with my forged "documents", I was part of the Federal Witness Protection Program? Am I the only one who feels I'm in the middle of the TV show Nowhere Man? Adoption, as it is practiced today in Ohio, is a closed system, a secret 'system which breeds personal and familial dysfunctionality. Any therapist or counselor will tell you that family secrets are bad secrets. Alcoholism, incest, child abuse, infidelity, cannot be swept under the rug to be forgiven and forgotten. These family secrets must all be dealt with in the open in order for the wounds to heal. Only adoption is closeted. The secret shame.
I would submit to you that the closed record system in most states today is the last of the Jim Crow Laws, and only when these laws and 'regulations are cleared from the books will adoptees be considered authentic human beings and begin the healing process. My biological mother does not want a relationship with me, and I'm not sure I want one with her, but it would be nice if she's just say, "Hi, how'ya doin'?" I found her. No one forced her to accept me, and I accept her choice. She did not have to have the force of law to back up her decision. And no one is going to force an adoptee to search if she or he has no desire. Open record laws are a matter of simple human dignity. As long as we cannot know our pasts we cannot know our futures.
I was lucky to be bom in a time period that fell in the flukey Ohio open records law. I was able to find a name and run with it. Since February I have become a different person. For the first time in my life, I feel that I know myself and am capable of achieving goals. I feel connected to someone else. I am not afraid to be what and who I am. It has been a grand adventure. As I said earlier, my adoptive parents are my "real " parents. I did not betray them by searching and finding my lost self. For those out there who say that adoptees need "protection" from some horrible truth, I would submit that there is seldom "some horrible truth,." and if there is, as adults we can deal with it. Most adoption stories, including mine, are quite mundane. When this was all over last February, I had to stop, and look back, and wonder, "What was the big deal?" Or as my ex-husband so simply said, "So?" My big 'regret is that it took me so long to find the truth. My life would have been so much easier, and I believe better, if I could have gone on without the secrets. A long time ago, while I was still searching, I wrote this short poem called "The Mother Knot"
Elizabeth, adopted daughter of
Jane daughter of
Alice daughter of
Caroline daughter of
my lost generations
daughters of mothers
whose names I'll never know but whose mother knot
is tied around my heart
holding me fast
to generations of mothers
who wove their experience
into my life.
Elizabeth daughter of
my lost mother
my lost generations daughters of mothers whose names I'll never know
but whose mother knot
draws me to their eyes and skin
to their hair
to their singing
to their pain
to my reflection in the mirror.
I was able to see finally that reflection via an open records law which respected me as an individual and whose framers understood that we must all know our roots. Times change. Customs change. Culture changes. Yet Ohio and many other states retain laws which echo a time and custom and culture that no longer exists. Today and in the weeks ahead this committee and the Ohio General Assembly have the opportunity to redress the wrongs of the past and to create a permanent legacy for the future adoptees of Ohio: The gift of self knowledge, of identify, of roots, of a life founded not in lies but truth. We all have a right to this and I ask you to grant this right to the next generation of children now being born who will one day ask "who am I?".
10 October 1995
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