A Belated Tribute to Annette Baran

Pioneer adoption reform pioneer and adoptee rights advocate Annette Baran died on July 11. Due to my unplanned writing hiatus, I am only posting our Bastard National Memorial today.

Annette Baran was one of those rare people in adoption: she listened to bastards and learned. She abhorred adoption secrets and lies. Going against her social work training, she worked for decades, with much opposition from “professionals,” lobbyists, and adoption bagmen, to undo the damage caused by the adoption industry. She may have been a traitor to them, but she is a hero to us.

No one enjoyed kicking Annette around more than Bill Pierce, founding president of the National Council for Adoption. His NCFA Factbook 3 (no longer online) is full of attacks on Annette’s “junk science” of adoption openess and honestly. Annette was, in fact, one of the most radical thinkers in AdoptionLand I have ever known. In her lifetime she moved from being the keeper of adoption secrets, to advocating open adoption–and records–to promoting guardianship and simple adoption over the closed secret system. Annette believed in adoptee dignity, integrity and identity. She believed that each of us have a right to our own identity, history, and documents. She believed the industry must take responsibility for the damage it has caused and continues to cause.

Since I knew Annette mainly by reputation I can’t speak to any deep personal relationship. We emailed occasionally, and I met her only once: at the 2004 Kansas City AAC conference. During her opening keynote address, Annette, much to my surprise, took a few moments to acknowledge and celebrate Bastard Nation and our leadership in the struggle to regain our rights.

Longtime adoption reform activist and poet Maryanne Cohen knew Annette well and wrote the following memorial, posted with Maryanne’s permission, below.

Annttte’s obit from the LA Times is here. A memorial page for Annette is here.


A small bright bird
Filled with life
she graced the space she filled
Always moving, never still
except to listen to a friend
which she did with full heart
Her kind eyes saw you
her silence let you fill the cup
Her words were milk and honey
on any hurt or fear

I knew her as grey but never old
Her spirit ever young, eager
for the next adventure, the next laugh
the next delicious shopping trip

Annette knew what to buy, and where to find it
What to read, I loved every book
she led me to, her wisdom
carried on, oblique, in other’s words.
She showed me the lipstick that won’t wear off
said, “it will change your life”
Her sense of style impeccable, unique
A joy to see
A joy to follow

My Yiddishe Mama, witty, wise
down to earth, a true friend
Annette stood before a crowd
at an adoption conference once,
and said “I am sorry
for what my profession has done,
for what I have done”
That’s all, no excuses, no justifications,
No Big Buts……

Just courage, integrity, intelligence and class
She laughed at fools, the pompous, the self-righteous
She cried with those who truly grieved

Now we grieve her, her valor, her light gone from this world
But she shines on
In blessed memory
In her work we take up
In the quest for truth and justice
Still undone

She shines on…….

Mary Anne Cohen
July 2010
Rest in Peace, Dear Annette
The good race is run.

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3 Replies to “A Belated Tribute to Annette Baran”

  1. Thank you so much for posting this Marley… I met Annette at a couple of conferences years ago. I didn’t get to know her well, but felt she was a forthright person who took the time to publicly acknowledge the pain that she and other social workers like Reuben Pannor inflicted unknowingly. I know very few adoption activists who would be honorable enough to do that.

    There was a very ugly backlash against Annette on Facebook by a small handful of first mothers, when some of us posted her obit. They just could not get past the fact that Annette had been a social worker who had made mistakes. I heard from several people who knew Annette well, including BJ Lifton about how appalled she was that these mothers just didn’t get it. And how it was such poor form for anyone to publicly lambast a pioneer in adoption reform that so many of us admired, simply because we published her obit.

    I for one, am glad that you have posted this tribute to Annette. And Maryanne, I have seen your poem before and I will tell you again that it is beautiful and fitting.

  2. As I said in comments elsewhere, those who demean Annette can’t touch her integrity or kindness. They only really demean themselves. Small minds, small hearts, and boundless bitterness, ignorance and spite.

    Thanks for using my poem about a good friend who is very much missed.

  3. Though I am sickened that I am still suffering from the consequences of my hypnotic agreement to surrender my infant son I feel grateful to have been at this ‘quest to become educated about adoption’ for long enough to have met Annette Baran at an AAC conference in the early 90’s. I still have papers (some are transcripts of interviews) from her and Ruben Pannor outlining the benefits of guardianship and I still quote her in my responses to those who question my stands on adoption reform. I liken her to the asbestos salesman. She didn’t ‘sell’ adoption at a time when we had all the research on the cruel effects of separation Mother and Child. She was ahead of her time when she STOPPED doing it. She came up with a more humane alternative and promoted it widely…and tirelessly.
    I read the things some posted about Annette as well….some comments were not so forgiving about her early social work that was ignorant of long term affects of the way we were treated…perhaps they felt she was in a position to do even more. But, I don’t dismiss their perspective as small minded. Would Annette have?
    I’m deeply saddened that we have lost such a noble advocate for Motherhood. But, I feel so honored that the light of her beacon will forever shine upon my small spot on this earth.

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