This morning, I read in The New York Times that ”writer, adoptee and adoption-reform advocate” Betty Jean Lifton died on November 19 in Boston. She was 84. Ms. Lifton was born in Staten Island in 1926. Her birth mother is described as “a 17-year-old girl”; her birth father as a “bootlegger and bon vivant.” The couple was unmarried. Ms. Lifton was placed in foster care; a Cincinnati couple adopted her when she was 2 1/2.
The New York Times says:
Ms. Lifton, who lectured widely about the potential psychological effects of adoption, was best known for a nonfiction trilogy: “Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter” (McGraw Hill, 1975), in which she recounts her adulthood search for her birth mother; “Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience” (Dial, 1979); and “Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness” (Basic Books, 1994).
When “Twice Born” was first published, there were few books about the adoptee experience. Adoption in general was a veiled topic, and adoptees — assuming they were told anything — rarely knew their given names, their birth parents’ identities or the precise circumstances of their adoptions. …
As a result, generations of adoptees grew up with a void where their personal histories should be and, Ms. Lifton argued, with deep feelings of confusion, grief and loss.
She added: “I say that society, by sealing birth records, by cutting adoptees off from their biological past, by keeping secrets from them, has made them into a separate breed, unreal even to themselves.”
Betty Jean Lifton’s writings on adoption are thought-provoking and powerful. May she rest in peace.