Reunions 'not all happiness and joy' Adoption: When a young adult meets the birth parent who gave the child up, strong feelings can result. A birth mother and the son, now 26, she met for second time two years ago have formed a group to help.

September 02, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Ellen Berman and Mitchell Rosenwald met two years ago for the second time in their lives -- and learned that reunions between a birth mother and the child she once placed for adoption can be complicated.

"It's not all happiness and joy," says Rosenwald, 26, a Cecil County resident. He and Berman say such reunions can trigger strong feelings about personal identity, long-held secrets and guilt.

Coping with such emotions can require help and support from those who have been through the experience. That's why Berman and Rosenwald formed Encore, a support group for adoptees and birth families that meets the first Sunday of each month in Pikesville.

"It's like playing 52-pickup with cards," Berman, 45, says of the feelings that can overwhelm reunited adoptees and birth parents. "They're never in the right order."

Such reunions are far from uncommon.

In Baltimore County, where Rosenwald's adoption was arranged, the Department of Social Services has operated a reunion list of birth parents and adopted children for four years.

Social workers have arranged 99 reunions and done 150 searches, mostly on their own time, says Jay Fisher, adult post-adoption services coordinator and an adoptee. The agency arranges reunions gradually, screening both parties and attending their first meetings.

"If we think a reunion would be detrimental to either party, we don't do it," he says.

Up to three counseling sessions are available through the county.

But adoptees and birth parents can take different routes in making those connections.

For Rosenwald, the idea of looking for the woman who placed him for adoption in 1970 grew slowly as he lived with two sisters and his parents in Cecil County.

After a few halfhearted efforts, a casual conversation with another adoptee who had reunited with birth parents sparked his interest anew a few years ago.

He began searching, using first names, ages and other tidbits he knew or obtained from persistent questioning of social workers.

Yearbooks provide lead

After searching through college yearbooks of the era, he found a picture of the man he mistakenly thought was his birth father -- and a reference underneath to the girlfriend who turned out to be his mother. Two years ago, he found Berman, formerly of Baltimore County and now of York, Pa., and a new extended family.

Berman's journey took another route.

At 19, while a student at the University of Maryland, College Park, she became pregnant by a man 26 years older.

She carried the child, gaining only 12 pounds, gave birth at a Towson hospital, put her baby boy up for adoption and went back to school -- all in secret.

The only person she shared her secret with was a boyfriend she met before learning she was pregnant.

He helped her through, and they later married, raised four children and moved to York.

"For 24 years, I never talked about this child," says Berman, a short, dark-haired woman with a friendly face and large eyes, adding that she never told her mother about the child until Rosenwald contacted her. "I was ashamed to tell."

Throughout the years, she says, her son "was always in my heart. I thought about him all the time." The price for keeping those emotions locked inside was chronic depression and weight gain, she says.

Rosenwald found Berman through her husband, Ira -- the man in the college yearbooks -- and a reunion was arranged in Ellicott City in 1995.

"The whole family welcomed him," Berman says. "He lived with us for a summer."

Then Rosenwald backed off, worried about being disloyal to his adoptive parents.

"I felt this pull and draw to Ellen and her family," he recalls.

But sometimes even casual remarks among the Bermans about some family event in the past would secretly wound him, reminding him that he wasn't part of most of their lives.

Rosenwald, who also has met and visited his birth father, says self-knowledge was an important part of the search for his birth parents.

"I feel I've had a near-death experience," he says. "It makes you stop and look at your life."

The support group he and Berman founded is intended to help other adoptees and birth families through that experience. "Ellen and I, we've really gone through the array of feelings," adds the slim, dark-haired Rosenwald.

Newsletter published

Berman publishes a newsletter on adoption search and reunion issues, including names and phone numbers of group members willing to lend a sympathetic ear, along with poems, messages and sometimes reprinted articles or speeches.

She says she is glad that Rosenwald persevered in his search. She also hopes that the state legislature will pass a bill opening Maryland adoption records to young adults adopted as children.

"I think I never would have initiated the search," she says.

The Encore support group for adoptees and birth families meets from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. the first Sunday of each month at St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church, 101 Church Lane, Pikesville.

Pub Date: 9/02/97

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