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Behind the Lens
Decades of shame disappeared when I finally met the son I gave up for adoption 48 years ago
By Dorothy Steets Azouz

It is not in my habit to speak of events of 1968. It was a year of change, of violence, of turmoil in the United States, and it was a year that changed my life forever.

I got in “trouble,” as we called it then, and became an unwed mother of an “illegitimate” child. Attitudes were very different in the ‘60s. It took me many years before I realized that I had been sexually assaulted and that I was not at fault.

But fault or no fault, I was considered unfit to be the mother of this child. Because I was unmarried. My only salvation was to relinquish him to a married couple so that he would not be a bastard.

I buried the pain of this loss so deeply in blankets of shame that I never questioned any of the assumptions and condemnations of my culture. Shame becomes the filter through which you see yourself and the world, and you don't even know it is there. But it colours everything. I felt completely alone.

And yet there were hundreds of thousands of us who lived this loss. I think many are still silent, still feel the shame, are still buried under the secrets and lies, and that is why I agreed to tell my story in the documentary, I Think You've Been Looking for Me. I am free and unburdened. I want that for all of us.

After my son Joe, who I hadn't seen for 48 years, found me, I cried almost nonstop for two weeks. Decades of pain were released in those tears, and my body and mind and heart kept getting lighter and lighter until I found myself on the way to the airport to meet him.

When I went to North Carolina to meet his family, I told my story to everyone who crossed my path. I told the ticketing agent, "Forty-eight years ago I relinquished a child for adoption, and he found me, and it is wonderful." I told the people at security, at customs, on the plane. I couldn't tell enough people, and with each telling, slivers of shame dropped away. Joy and gratitude filled the spaces left behind. I knew I was blessed.

I had kept silent, but it is thanks to a few people who did not keep silent and who worked to change the adoption laws in New Jersey that this mother and child reunion took place.

I met two of them, Pam Hasegawa and Judy Foster, women who lobbied the state government for over 30 years for adoption legislation reform. Their determination ultimately got the bill passed that allowed Joe to finally get his original birth certificate with my name on it which enabled us to reconnect.  They did for me what I could not do for myself.

I have a different family now. The three children I raised are now joined by an older brother, and I am finally able to say aloud and often the sentence that had been in my heart for so long:  I have four children. I am blessed.

Watch I Think You're Looking for Me.