One principle Abrazo holds sacred is an adoptee’s right to know the truth of their origins (including the birthparents who are part of it.) This is why every placement we do includes an entrustment agreement. In it, the adopting parents promise to raise the child they’re adopting to know their true adoption story from Day One. It’s why our agency goes the extra mile to teach all parents the importance of open adoption, in which adopted kids grow up never remembering a time they did not know about their adoption and their birthfamily.
But that’s not the way adoptions were always done, of course. Progressive adoption agencies like ours have listened and learned from those who went before us. Abrazo knows an adoptee’s right to know is how to do adoption better because of the shared wisdom of adoption survivors– like Florence Anna Fisher Eigenfeld, who passed away October 1, 2023 at the age of ninety-five.
When Florence was just seven years old, she found a document in a desk drawer and out of sheer curiosity, asked her mother “who is Anna Fisher?” Her mother recoiled in horror, telling her to never ask again. There was no further discussion of it in the home, which only fueled young Florence’s curiosity. The document disappeared, but Florence’s parents’ resolve to keep the secret remained just as fervent as her desire to know the answer.
Yet even after her mother’s death in 1950, it took Florence twenty more years of searching to resolve the mystery of her origins. The doctor who’d delivered Florence shut the door on her when she went to ask him questions. The family attorney did the same. The nuns at St. Anthony’s Hospital where she was born were of no help. So Florence turned to her own resources, searching public records and phone directories. Eventually, she discovered she was Anna Fisher, who’d been adopted as a newborn, in an era in which adoption was to be kept a secret forever.
As it turned out, she’d been born to NY teenagers, Anna Cohen and Fredrick Fisher, whose shotgun wedding had been annulled. The baby’s adoption was arranged by a doctor, and Florence’s adoptive mother desperately sought to persuade everyone the child was born to her, from the start. The ginger-haired adoptee grew up in a three room apartment with Jewish (adoptive) parents and a grandmother who repeatedly referred to her as “mamser” (Yiddish for “bastard.”) according to Nikki McCasslin in the book Finding Our Place. (Is it any wonder that Florence finally opted to reclaim her birthname as an adult?)
Adoptee Turned Activist
She finally found both of her birthparents; her birthmom was a Manhattan sales girl, and her birthdad had become a Hollywood stuntman. Her long quest had convinced her of every adoptee’s right to know their truth, regardless of whether their adoption story had been positive or negative.
So in 1971, Florence took out an ad in the New York Times, seeking to make contact with other adoptees who longed to find their origins. (She is actually credited with having coined the term “adoptees.”) To her surprise, thousands responded. Much as Taylor Swift is now signing up young people to vote, Florence Anna Fisher Eigenfeld ended up uniting countless adoptees in need of answers. That resulted in the birth of ALMA. It stands for Adoptee Liberty Movement Association and it was the first adoptee rights organization in America. At its peak it had ten thousand members, with chapters nationwide.
As Fisher Eigenfeld told the NYT in 1972, “the need is not that of a child for a parent, but rather, a need to acquire a history and biological relatedness in a world that has asked us to live a contrived identity in a contrived reality, not just as a child, but for all our lifetime.” She published the first adoption memoir, “The Search For Anna Fisher” in 1973. The petite NY housewife became a militant activist, calling for the abolition of sealed adoption records, a fight that continues to this day. She also aided countless other adoptees pursuing search and reunion, knowing firsthand how much knowing one’s own answers meant to her.
Support an Adoptee’s Right to Know
Sadly, Florence did not live to see her dream become the law of the land, as ALMA’s dreams of a SCOTUS ruling died in the lower level courts and never become federal law. But in 2020, she was one of the first adopted New Yorkers to receive a certified copy of her original birth certificate, as a result of that state’s adoption reform. (That’s something the Texas Legislature continues to deny adults once adopted in the Lone Star State. And it only took ninety-some years for New York lawmakers to come around, so maybe there is still hope for Texas?)
Too swiftly, we are losing the frontline of the the fight for adoptee rights, as original reformers like Florence Anna Fisher Eigenfeld, Annette Baran, and Betty Jean Lifton have now gone on to their eternal rewards. Yet the need for all states to recognize adoptee rights is as great now as ever. And so is the need for good people like you to take a stand for every adoptee’s right to know their own truths.
You can help further this cause by ensuring that any child you may have placed or adopted is growing up knowing that they were adopted, knowing who their birthparents are, and having access to the true facts of their beginnings. Don’t stop there, though! Help support Texas organizations like Texas Adoptee Rights Coalition and Support Texas Adoptee Rights, which are leading the push to get OBC (original birth certificate) access for all adults ever adopted in Texas.
The acronym for the adoptee rights movement Florence Anna Fisher Eigenfeld began is ALMA. It is the Spanish word for ‘soul”, which seems so very fitting, given how much of her own heart and soul she put into this effort.
This month, as Abrazo prepares its ofrenda for the Day of the Dead, we will remember “Annie” and the good work she did.
May her memory continue to be an blessing, as we continue efforts to further every adoptee’s right to know the truth of their origins.