The Washington area chapter of Concerned Birthparents United meets the fourth Saturday of each month, 2 to 5 p.m., at the Martin Luther King Library.
After 24 years, Nancy still recalls vividly the counsel of a family priest the day she decided to give her out-of-wedlock child up for adoption.
"He pulled down the blind . . . and told me 'Act as if it never happened.'" . . . I feel anger after all these years. I did what I was told was best for the child."
Nancy, now the mother of five, is a member of Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), a support group for men and women who have surrendered children to foster homes. Each month they meet to exchange confidences and (often bitter) recollections: A teen-age pregnancy, the advice of parents and social workers and, ultimately, the agency or charity.
Even after years of marriage and the rearing of other children, CUB birthparents say they are haunted by the children they never knew. For most, the separation came at birth. For others, it was years later, when poverty or illness forced the parent to surrender an older child.
Seated around a conference table at Martin Luther King Library, the eight men and women speak frankly of their longing to know about their children.
"I wonder if the child is alive . . . if she was raised the way I'd want her to be raised," muses Nancy.
"If I had some inkling she was well, that would ease some of the anxiety," Anna tells them, referring to a daughter born 18 years ago in New York.
Without a husband or adequate means of support, Virginia Rader was forced to give up four children to a state social service agency. Now she is coordinator of the Washington area CUB chapter.
She stresses that CUB does not help reunite birthparents with their children. That is a personal quest. But CUB does offer support and advice to men and women seeking information about their children. It also counsels women faced with the dilemma of whether or not to give a child -- sometimes unborn -- up for adoption.
After 16 years, Carol, a quiet Washington secretary, still cries when she thinks about a daughter she has never seen.
"I feel her adopted parents have rights, but I'd like to pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, I'm here.'"
Brenda, now mother of an 18-month-old son, is certain that she wants to see her (adopted) 14-year-old son.
"I'm going to ask the parents if they want to meet me and hope for the best," she declares optimistically.
A major obstacle to birthparents, claims Rader, is their public image. They are often depicted as malevolent, bent on upsetting the happy adopted family.
"Our image goes out on the networks as if we're thieves or murderers. It's because they don't know us.
"We are asked to get lost, drop off the edge of the earth. How can we tell the system we don't want them to protect our confidentiality?"
After an adoption, the child's original birth certificate is legally sealed and an altered birth certificate is issued to the adoptive parents. Although Rader says she is "uncertain whom this process is intended to protect," in most cases the document is "almost impossible" to obtain after it has been sealed.
In addition to their goal of educating the public about birthparents, CUB members are also asked to take part in studies evaluating the sociological and psychological effects of the adoption process. And although CUB does not lobby formally for legislation, members are often asked to testify on adoption law.
A large part of CUB's activities are devoted to keeping membership apprised of adoption laws and procedures to gain access to records.
"Most birthparents want to make available what (the child) may someday want to know about their parents," says Rader.
Three of the eight persons present at a recent CUB meetings (seven women, one man) are trying to add information to medical records at state agencies.
"I want to make sure my son will know about my medical problem (an eye disease)," said Brenda. She was "suprised" when Baltimore County social services seemed willing to amend her medical records, but disappointed to be told that she must wait until July -- there are 25 cases in front of her.
CUB is a national organization, started in Boston in 1976. There are about 16 chapters and 12 informal CUB groups with approximately 6,000 members.
CUB envisions the ideal adoption to include direct participation of the birthparents, adoptive parents and child. At least one birthparent would take part in the selection process of the adoptive parents. There would be periodic reports on the child's progress, meetings between both natural and adoptive parents and, perhaps, visitation rights.
While acknowledging that these options are controversial, Rader points out that many states and countries have already adopted more liberal visitation and foster-parent selection processes. "It's important to add that each [option] would have to be agreed upon by both parties."
In line with CUB's philosophy of open adoptions, they are publishing several "My Family" books for birthparents, adoptive parents and child. The books are a fill-in-the-name genealogy tracing the origins of both families.
Birthparents say they are acutely aware that adopted children often feel rejected by them. Says Nancy: "Adopted people need to know the pain they feel is less intense than ours."