Adventures in Reading

Nonfiction: The Baby Thief by Barbara Bisantz Raymond

During a past round of Weekly Geeks that had bloggers posting for social causes they promoted, I stumbled across This Book is For You and the recommendation of The Baby Thief: the Untold Story Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption. Though I cannot say I have ever had much personal interest in adoption the book sounded so interesting I could not pass it up. Raymond’s book is a biographical look at Georgia Tann as well as an autobiographical memoir of Raymond’s own experience with adoption and helping her daughter find her birth family. Through these combined stories the reader is given a peek at the history of adoption and how it began to chance during the early 20th Century.

During her decades of work, Georgia Tann placed more than 5,000 children into adopted homes and gave the adoption process a public relations face lift. Thanks to the wonders of eugenics adoption prior to the 20th Century was often non-existent or merely a means to obtain child labor. Some of you may recall the L. M. Montgomery’s loveable adoptee Anne, but even the beginning of Anne of Green Gables provides a look into the mindset of the fear of adoption: adopt children poison the well or catch the house on fire. Tann turned this idea topsy-turvy by creating an argument that adopted children are blank slates and are more than ready to please and to be loved.

However, of these 5,000+ adoptions an enormous amount of the children were actually kidnapped from their parents and through an intricate and crime riddled system in Tennessee, Georgia got away with it. During the adoption process the children lived in horrendous conditions and were not properly cared for. In fact, many children died while waiting to be placed in homes do to inadequate care. Additionally, Georgia was not interested in checking out the background of the adopting families, which led to some children being placed with pedophiles. At other times, because of Georgia’s lies about the children she was placing, parents were sworn a rocket scientist and found themselves with a simply a normal child. During this period, Georgia made immense sums of money from the extravagant fees she charged parents.

The Baby Thief reads very much as a human-interest report, which only makes sense as Raymond first wrote a human-interest report in a magazine regarding Georgia Tann. The account is emotional and charged with much of Raymond’s own opinion and changing thought as she investigated into Tann’s history. I would say that my one crux with The Baby Thief is Raymond’s own naivete of the history of children, child labor, child marriage, infanticide, etc. It wasn’t even until fairly recently that children began filling the role western society now ideally consider children to fill.

The Baby Thief was a fascinating introduction into the history of adoption and how Georgia Tann in particular plays an enormous role even today. I was made aware of the still pressing issue of opening adoption records as well as questioning what exactly are the reasons to keep them closed.

An additional review from This Book is For You.



It reads like a fast paced detective novel. Georgia Tann pushed hard for the sealing of records to cover up her misdeeds. As an adoptee rights activist, I can tell you that the adoptee’s OBC were sealed to protect the adoptive parents. Now in this day and age, those records are sealed to protect the adoption agencies themselves.

My own natural mother was tied to the bed and possibly blindfolded to keep her from bonding to me. I also found out that they fed my mother three sparse meals a day. Of course they called her every nasty name in the book for a woman who became pregnant. Whore, slut and many others. You see I couldn’t understand why both of my daughters were so big compared to myself. My oldest was 8 pounds six ounces and my youngest was 7 pounds, nine ounces. I was only six pounds three ounces. Now I know why.

The adoption agencies are worried that they will get sued for their actions.

Comment by Amyadoptee

Amyadoptee: I would have to disagree with the “fast paced detective novel” comparison. Raymond’s book was definitely interesting and provided a great deal of food for thought, but also at times was very dry and repetitive.

“As an adoptee rights activist, I can tell you that the adoptee’s OBC were sealed to protect the adoptive parents. Now in this day and age, those records are sealed to protect the adoption agencies themselves.”

I found this interesting because from what I recall of the reading, Raymond’s interpretation at least seems to disagree somewhat. I gathered the impression that Raymond felt that OBCs were originally sealed to protect her misdeeds/the agency’s misdeeds, and states in which the records remained seal was a result of this “tradition” with a public relations face lift that it was the only way to promise privacy and respect for all three parties of the adoption triangle.

Though I certainly don’t mean to glamorize contemporary adoption agencies, and if you have two grown daughters of your own I’m assuming this terrible experience of your mothers was roughly 40 – 50 years ago?, and undoubtedly some agencies still use sealed records to protect their practices, but I left Raymond’s book with her argument that it was most often argued for if for nothing else really than this “tradition.”

Comment by bookchronicle

Let’s count the books you’ve made me add to the tbr today, shall we? You know what? No. I get the feeling this isn’t over. Damn your good taste.

Comment by raych

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