WASHINGTON — Philomena Lee wistfully described losing her son to adoption and her search for him 50 years later, a quest depicted in the Oscar-nominated film starring award-winning actress Judi Dench.
Her experience is a powerful argument for Ireland to open the adoption records for thousands more mothers whose children ended up in U.S. cities such as St. Louis, Philadelphia, Boston and New York, Sen. Claire McCaskill said last week after a meeting with Lee.
The two women, joined by Lee’s daughter, Jane Libberton, spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill about the Philomena Project and its efforts to reconcile
McCaskill said the Irish government needs to immediately pass legislation to help children and birth parents reconnect. Many of those records remain closed despite the thousands of adoptions that took place. McCaskill is considering a Senate resolution or formal letter of protest to the Irish government in its role of keeping many of the records sealed.
Lee was an unwed, pregnant teenager in 1952 when her Irish Catholic family sent her to the Sean Ross Abbey in Rosecrea, Ireland. She worked seven days a week but was allowed only an hour a day with her son, Anthony. After three years, the boy was sold for adoption to a St. Louis family.
Lee said she kept her secret for 50 years, then with the help of her daughter and BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith, sought to find him. Unbeknownst to Lee, her son was trying to find her, too.
“They wouldn’t tell him anything at all,” she said Thursday.
Lee eventually discovered that her son had died.
“They originally told him that I had abandoned him at 2 weeks old,” she said. “But I was there for 3½ with him working in the laundry. He died thinking of me. At least I found him.”
Lee also met with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-
Conn., and Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., on her first trip to Washington.
Though the movie shows Lee traveling to Washington, her daughter said it was a bit of artistic license.
Lee has appeared on daytime television and been invited to the Oscars on March 2, where the movie, Dench, the score and the adapted screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope are nominated.
Since the movie’s release and her involvement with the Philomena Project, she said she has been warmly welcomed in the U.S. and appreciates the support.
McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this story.