Oprah Winfrey revealed today a secret that will forever change the way she views her family history: Her mother hid a pregnancy and placed a child for adoption when Winfrey was only nine years old.
“Patricia is my half-sister I never knew existed,” Winfrey says, according to USA Today. Quite a revelation for the 57-year-old who has been very much in the public eye for decades.
Vernita Lee, Winfrey’s mother, is reported to have placed daughter Patricia for adoption at birth, primarily because she could not afford to raise the child. Winfrey, living with her father at the time, was unware of the pregnancy or adoption until recently. Upon being contacted by Patricia, Winfrey confronted her mother who confessed that the women were indeed half-sisters.
Adoption expert Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P. explains that “closed adoptions of the 1950’s and 1960’s were usually shrouded in secrecy and shame. Conceiving a baby out of wedlock and then placing a child for adoption was kept in strict confidentiality. Pregnancies were hidden or the pregnant mother traveled out of the area during the later and more obvious stages of pregnancy until delivery. They then returned home, their secret hidden, often for their entire lives.”
“This secret is likely one that Lee intended to never reveal,” Caldwell says. “Her reasons are likely be rooted in guilt and shame. As she has grown older, Oprah’s celebrity may also have played a role into Lee keeping her secret. And now, to have this revealed after nearly 50 years must be extremely emotional for her.”
Closed adoptions in the U.S. are rare today. Caldwell’s book, So I Was Thinking About Adoption is geared towards women considering adoption, as Lee did years ago. The difference, however, are the wide array of choices women have today as they make this choice. “Open adoption allows women to choose the adoptive parents, to choose to have contact, and even to make personal choices, such as whether or not to see and hold the baby in the hospital,” Caldwell says. “The result is an adoption viewed by the birth mother with confidence and assurance that the right choices were made for the right reasons, rather than the feelings of guilt, shame, and in this case, shock, that are typically the products of closed adoption.”
Caldwell says “I would advise the women to spend time together privately, letting their relationship evolve naturally without expectations. Forgiveness and acceptance will be important in the process, respecting their mother’s choice and understanding that she made the best decision she could at the time.”
For a free download of Caldwell’s book, “So I Was Thinking About Adoption”, please visit www.FreeAdoptionBook.com.
To contact Caldwell, please call Lifetime Adoption Center at 530-432-7373