We are not activists, Phil and I, at least we never set out to be. All that changed when a stranger-adoptee refusing to accept "no contact" for an answer, rampaged into our family inflicting such personal damage I did not think I could survive.
The stranger-adoptee had gained access to my confidential personal and medical information from records legally and permanently sealed by State of
. New Jersey
Thousands of women in this country now in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond experienced catastrophic pregnancies as girls and young women and with no other options available, were forced to give birth. For many of us, adoption--our confidentiality guaranteed by permanently sealed records--gave us our lives back. Giving birth does not make you a mother any more than abortion does.
Today these women, many of them elderly, face threats of being hunted down and found by stranger-adoptees and the dread of their secret pasts being exposed to friends and family, including their children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren. I was subjected to that naked exposure and it is an anguish unimaginable, practically unexplainable to those who have not suffered such inexcusable public humiliation.
The New Jersey State Government, (and many other states) at the insistence of adoptees, is opening or seriously considering unsealing confidential adoption records. Every girl/woman listed in those records will be coerced into the frequent relinquishment of her private medical information for the rest of her life to a stranger-adoptee; perhaps beyond, by way of surviving relatives. Government actions will insure that whatever event brought about the secret, catastrophic pregnancy--rape, incest or any traumatic situation--will be exposed and forever attached to that woman's legacy, to be relived with each mandated medical update.
For over a decade Phil has been on a one-man mission to combat this injustice. He pounds on the doors of legislators. He shouldered his way into testifying before the N.J. Human Services Committee. He talks to anyone who will listen about this sanctioned cruelty toward aging women. Together we have appeared on television news, granted interviews to newspapers and written op eds. I have written a book.
My own personal mission is to speak the ugly in terms that cannot be misunderstood or romanticized. To validate victims of sexual violence and other forms of abuse by illustrating with raw clarity the harrowing details hidden beneath society's sanitized labels of rape, incest, abuse, stalking, birth mother--all the nearly polite, acceptable descriptions that ignore and deny horrors experienced by victims of such ordeals.
The women hiding these horrors include our mothers and grandmothers. Our great-grandmothers. Women too ashamed, too gracious to reveal sexual traumas buried in their pasts. Women who serve Thanksgiving dinners and wrap birthday presents. Women we never want to imagine being forced into sexual acts. Women who bear that agony in silence for a lifetime. Because sexual abuse is a life-long sentence that no amount of love or therapy can erase.
It was not until I faced what hid in the dark and expressed it as powerfully as I experienced it, did I begin to reclaim some of what was stolen from me. By speaking the ugly, the past began to release its power over me. However uncomfortable I am depicting the realities of abuse, I believe that each time I choose to speak, I validate not only my own ordeal but that of every woman in hiding.
So, yes, if speaking out is considered activism, then I suppose Phil and I are activists.
If you are a woman fearful of being exposed through the unsealing of confidential adoption records and have a story to tell the N.J. legislators and the Human Services Committee, please feel free to contact us (anonymously is fine) and we will make sure your voice is heard. Or perhaps you are from another state and simply want to express your outrage.
If you are a woman of age and have been concealing the secret of sexual abuse in your past, please know that we invite you to speak your own ugly here. You may contact us by regular mail or email.
Kathleen & Phil Foley