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Lost children: the story of adopted children searching for their mothers.

Lost Children: The Story of Adopted Children Searching for Their Mother. Polly Toynbee. Hutchinson. Caroline Barnes, a beautiful woman in her mid-twenties, had two distinct fantasy images of her mother when she was growing up. In one her mother was ultra-glamorous, a Joan Collins, "beautiful and glittery." In the other vision, she was a poor little Irish waif, burdened with children, too poor to take care of Caroline.

Tom O'Mara had few fantasies about his mother, just a grinding obsession to know the woman who made him ashamed of his origins. His curiosity and anger accelerated when he heard that she had had another son whom she had also named Thomas.

Georgina Ellis knew everything she needed to know about her mother In fact, she read it in a faded newspaper clipping she found in a drawer when she was eight. Her mother, Ruth Ellis, had murdered her lover when Georgina was three, and achieved a macabre distinction. She was the last woman hanged in England.

Polly Toynbee, an English journalist and a former editor of this magazine, explores the psychological and sociological concerns of Caroline, Tom, Georgina, and others, and looks for their common threads. It is an elegant, provocative, and poignant study of children who have grown up without their original parents (which some euphemistically call "birth parents") and are usually obsessed with questions (often without answers) about themselves and their families.

The basic question Toynbee asks is one that her subjects feel passionately about: whether it's a good idea for adoptive parents to preserve the secrecy about the original parents. Should official adoption records that guarantee confidentiality to "birth parents" be open later to the child? In 17 states there is a "mutually voluntary registry," where medical information and other biographical facts can be retrieved. Seven states will search for a parent or child at the seeker's expense, if it's understood that either can veto exposure once the search succeeds. Two states allow records to be opened to the adult child. All states have "good cause" statutes, which means that records can be opened when the reason is good enough-such as the need to know about an inherited disease.

Toynbee wants to do away with the deception inherent in most adoptions. She contends that cutting a child away from its mother is profoundly out of keeping with all that we know about child care. "At the time of adoption, or any time afterwords," she says, "a natural mother should be able, and indeed should be encouraged, to seek some access to her child."

She concedes that such an arrangement would be asking a great deal of adopters, who are particularly vulnerable in the early years of their lives with an adopted child. But she believes the rewards available to the child outweigh the risks. She oversimplifies the degree to which the child could be confused by a dual set of parents (usually two mothers, since the "birth father" is generally long gone). And analogies drawn from the complicated sets of relations that have occurred as a result of divorce are not quite as persuasive as she thinks.

But she scrupulously considers all sides of the issue, animating abstractions with dramatic personal stories, showing how "human emotions rarely fit so neatly into tidy compartments, especially when they deal with some of the most fundamental feelings about identity, heredity and lineage."

Lost Children has been published in England, but so far, not here.

A publisher ought to make itavailable in this country too.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Washington Monthly Company
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Copyright 1986, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Fields, Suzanne
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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