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.
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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).
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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.”
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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.”
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