N.J. woman relives painful past after child she gave up for adoption reaches out
Kathleen Hoy Foley was 16, alone and pregnant from a rape in 1964 when she decided to put the baby up for adoption, intending to forever close that chapter of her life.
“The day I walked out of that hospital, it was the day it ended for me,” Foley, now 65, told the Daily News. “I was emancipated. I truly believed I was free.”
More than 30 years later, the child defied the odds and found her, shattering the life Foley had created and forcing her to reveal a dark piece of her past that she had wanted to keep hidden from her grown daughters and husband.
“It was beyond devastating,” said Foley. “My life before that and after that are two different things.”
Abortion was illegal in the early 1960s so Foley had settled on a closed adoption with Catholic Charities — the only feasible way she could relinquish ties to the rapist, a senior at her high school.
“I was just trapped,” said Foley, who did not report the abuse. “This was before rape was invented. I had no way of identifying the violence.”
A closed adoption, which seals birth certificates to prevent adoptees from learning the names of their birth parents, seemed like the best option. But the adoptee found Foley anyway and repeatedly reached out, despite Foley’s efforts to make it clear that she didn't want any form of relationship.
Foley, who is currently writing a follow-up to her book “Woman in Hiding: A True Tale of Backdoor Abuse, Dark Secrets and Other Evil Deeds,” said the adoptee “stalked” her by obtaining information from a private investigator — and reaching out to Catholic Charities, where Foley said an employee unlawfully released a great deal of private details regarding the adoption.
Catholic Charities did not return The News’ request for comment.
The adoptee, Foley said, then went even further and began contacting her family.
The most hurtful offense, she said, came when the woman reached out to her son-in-law, a lawyer, who then revealed Foley’s past to his wife, Foley’s daughter.
“It was horrible,” Foley said. “It was humiliating, degrading, dehumanizing.”
Elaine Penn, the adoptee, acknowledged she made contact with Foley’s son-in-law. Penn said at the time she simply thought he was Foley’s attorney.
“I found an old, public deed of hers,” Penn, of Howell, N.J., told The News. “I said to myself, you know what, I’ll contact the attorney. I had zero idea that he would end up being her son-in-law.”
Penn, 48, contacted many people in her quest to learn more about her ancestry, a search she started after having her own daughter in 1996.
Giving birth “smacks a lot of adoptees right in the face because it’s the first time you see anyone who is biologically connected to you,” Penn said.
Penn said she never used a private investigator and only found Foley and her now-deceased birth father after poring over library documents and public records.
She also challenged Foley’s assertion that she had gotten her personal information from Catholic Charities.
Despite Foley’s repeated refusals to meet with her, Penn said she doesn’t regret seeking out her past — but added that Foley’s reaction to her attempts at contact “were a knife to my heart.”
“It’s really sad,” Penn said. “It is very hard for somebody in this time to put their brain back in 1964 in that society. I’ve never experienced it. But I would hope that whatever happens in that situation that at this point, I would get myself help and I wouldn’t take it out on the person I gave birth to.”
Foley and Penn have never met. They do not speak.
Donald Cofsky, president-elect of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, said their case is one of the many sad ripple effects of closed adoptions.
“It’s just a bad situation,” Cofsky, who has presided over more than 1,500 adoption cases, told The News. “It was probably upsetting for the birth mother who didn’t want anything to do with this because of the way in which the child was conceived. And was probably just as upsetting for the child who then finds out that her birth mother doesn’t want to create a relationship.”
“There’s no way to fix it.”
There may be no solution for Foley or Penn, but Foley said she is instead focused on helping others in similar situations realize that there is life after pregnancy from rape.
“I was always taught that it was my fault,” she said. “It’s a long process of acknowledging, understanding — but you can liberate yourself.”