Operation Identity to Celebrate
Silver Anniversary Next Year

     Next year, in 2004, Operation Identity will celebrate twenty-five years of existence. We’re hoping to have some really nice activities to mark such a milestone. We will need to start planning now in order for that to happen. It seems such a short time ago that we were celebrating twenty years by hosting the Southwest Regional Conference of the American Adoption Congress!
     In the last few years, many adoption support groups have gone out of existence. Many people assume there is no longer a need for such groups, now that people can search on the Internet. This overestimates the ease of searching for many, and underestimates the need for support from real, live people, face-to-face, when one is searching or going through the development of new relationships in reunion. Operation Identity has been there all these years for so many people, and we want it to continue to be a vital organization, open to all those affected by adoption.
     In starting to contemplate how to celebrate and publicize Operation Identity’s history and purpose, we asked Sally File, one of the founders of O.I., how it got started and where the name came from. She said she had searched for and found her birth family, a difficult and clandestine thing to do in that time, and discovered a couple of others who had done the same thing. They thought there must be others who would be interested in searching, so they ran a small ad in the Personals section of The Albuquerque Journal, saying something like “Anyone interested in meeting to discuss how their lives have been affected by adoption is welcome to meet for coffee and cookies,” with a time, date, and address given. Sixty-five people showed up! After a few of these meetings, they decided they had better get a name and become official. For legal reasons, they were advised to incorporate as a non-profit organization. This is one of the things that distinguishes Operation Identity from many strictly peer-led support groups, or from professionally led therapy groups.
     How did they choose the name Operation Identity, which many now find puzzling? Sally says she actually made it up, that she saw a piece on television about a local woman starting a program called Operation Identification, where children would be fingerprinted to help prevent kidnaping, or aid in identification in case that did happen. As she watched, she thought, “Well, we’re doing something a little like that, trying to find our identity, so she chose the name Operation Identification. What she had not anticipated was that the woman heading up the fingerprinting program was also named File, and for some time, they got each other’s mail and calls! Remember, in those days, the night to search for one’s biological parents or offspring was almost unheard of. Florence Fisher’s book, The Search for Anna Fisher, was just out, along with The Adoption Triangle, by Reuben Pannor, Annette Baran, and Arthur Sorosky.
     Most states had sealed adoption records and no legal means of searching, although some states had not yet closed all their records yet. Only Kansas and Alaska had open records for adoptees throughout these years. Many people across the country read these two pioneering books and decided to search, even though they may have had to hide the books in their homes, lest parents, spouses, offspring or neighbors suspect! How times have changed in twenty-five years. Yet many still do not know they have a legal right to search, let alone how to go about it. Part of the mission of O.I. is to let people know they can search, and that the group is there to support them through that search and possible reunion process.
     We have recovered the minutes of that first meeting of O.I., and they are printed elsewhere in this issue. When O.I. started, the Confidential Intermediary System in New Mexico did not yet exist. Operation Identity and Sally File were instrumental in getting the laws changed to allow for such a legal means to search, without the need for a medical reason or “good cause” for searching in New Mexico, by either an adoptee or a birth parent. This was truly courageous, painstaking work. Our laws are still far ahead of many states, even though we still have a closed-records system. When we contemplate trying to get that changed, we need to be sure we have the energy, resolve, and resources to make it happen.
     Operation Identity has always been available for all those affected by adoption, whether adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, or even siblings and spouses of adoptees and birth parents. This is one of the features that has kept it healthy and prevented meetings from becoming gripe sessions, or focusing on just one aspect of adoption. It has helped attendees see different points of view. For an adoptee who has previously been told that birth mothers are uncaring or worse, to meet a real live birth mother and find her to be conventional, very caring, and thoughtful, and that she has never stopped caring about her relinquished offspring, is a real boost to an adoptee’s courage in deciding to take the risk of searching. For a birth mother to attend for the first time and meet other birth mothers, and even birth fathers, can be overwhelming, especially if she thought she was the only woman who ever had to relinquish a child and didn’t want to, and who never knew she could find that child again. For adoptive parents, O.I. has provided a place to learn that their son’s or daughter’s desire to search is normal and healthy, and not a negative reflection on the adoptive parents’ love on parenting. It has also been a place they could meet birth parents and find out they are normal, loving persons, not a threat to anyone. Birth parents, in turn, have been able to meet adoptive parents who are supportive of search and reunion, which encourages birth parents to come out of the closet and search.
     Over the years, O.I. has become somewhat smaller as far as attendance at meetings. Yet, many who searched years ago continue to attend and to contribute to O.I., so that newcomers can benefit from their experience, and also because as relationships in reunion change and grow, O.I. still offers valuable support and camaraderie. One of our current challenges is to increase attendance, membership, and awareness of O.I. once again. We hope that all who receive this newsletter will respond with stories of their own. Some will be the story of their search and reunion, some will be about the role of O.I. in their adoption connection, some will be their hopes for the continuing existence and purpose of O.I. We hope that those receiving the newsletter will continue to contribute financially, so that we can continue, hut also continue to attend or correspond with us. Sometimes receiving a note from a member who has moved out of town or out of state, or who can no longer attend in person, is really a help to the current members and officers, and lets us know that what we are doing is worthwhile.
     There are now many online support groups, which serve a valuable purpose, but do not take the place of a live group of welcoming faces, sometimes an offer of a tissue or a cookie, on the sharing of tears of both regret and happiness. If you haven’t been to O.I. for a while, even for a very long time, we welcome you back. As we spend this next year looking at our history, and looking forward to the next twenty-five years of adoption support work, we hope you will join us in person and in reading the newsletter, and offering your comments and support.

Excerpted from the October 2003 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2003 Operation Identity