Betty Jean Lifton, a writer, adoptee and adoption-reform advocate whose books — searing condemnations of the secrecy that traditionally shrouded adoption — became touchstones for adoptees throughout the world, died on Nov. 19 in Boston. She was 84 and lived in Cambridge, Mass.
* * *
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.
“When I was born, society prophesied that I would bring disgrace to my mother, kill her reputation, destroy her chances for a good bourgeois life,” she wrote in “Twice Born.”
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.”
* * *
She dedicated “Journey of the Adopted Self” to her two mothers, who, she wrote, “might have known and even liked each other in another life and another adoption system.”
Still hoping for change
4 weeks ago