Interview with Mari Steed

Mari Steed was adopted from Ireland and brought to the US, her mother is a survivor of the Magdalene laundries. Mari has worked in the field of adoption activism for decades. She is the US coordinator for Adoption Rights Alliance, she also works with Justice for Magdalene’s Research and The Philomena Project. I got in touch with Mari through my dad, ¬†she works closely with Bernadette Joyce who originally put my dad and his birth mother in contact with one another. Due to busy schedules I was not able to sit down with Mari, instead we corresponded via email. Here is what she had to say…

1. Can you briefly tell me about where you work and what you do?
I serve as the co-founder and committee director of Justice for Magdalenes Research, an advocacy organisation that successfully fought for restorative justice, including a State apology in 2013, for survivors of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries. I also serve as the US coordinator for Ireland-based adoption advocacy organization Adoption Rights Alliance, as well as for The Philomena Project. I have been an adoption reform/rights activist since the early 1990’s, and had previously served as US coordinator for the former AdoptionIreland.

2. What is the most difficult part of your job?
Reaching and educating the public on human rights issues that affect many adopted people, but particularly those of us trafficked in intercountry adoptions. Because wider society sees adoption as such a ‘feel-good’ social policy, it is often very difficult to get people to see its dark side, where it has failed as social policy and what needs to be done to insure it is always in the child’s best interest.

3. And the most rewarding?
Most rewarding is the direct connection with others for whom the issues surrounding adoption (and as an adjunct, the Magdalene Laundries) are shared. Working directly with survivors, connecting families severed by adoption, is incredibly rewarding and keeps me going. The help I received when I first embarked on the search for my mother and extended family is what motivated me to pay it forward and continue helping others as lost as I once felt. The Magdalene survivors, including my own mother, I’ve met and interacted with hold a special place in my heart. These elderly women, who were so abused and cast off by society and Church, are so resilient, dignified and forgiving – they never cease to amaze me.

4. Is it common for the adoptees you work with to have happy endings in the long term, like my father?
I would say it is more common than the bad experiences/reunions. Even with rocky starts, like your father had, often times windows open elsewhere (other siblings, extended relations), or mothers have a change of heart, and the outcome in the end run is positive. To me, getting any answers at all where none existed at first is a positive, regardless of whether reunion is in the cards. I think most people have a better result if they proceed slowly and with caution, armed with as much information as possible, rather than throwing themselves into tracing family with little to no preparation. We always advocate for a “slowly, slowly” approach.

5. How do you feel about all of the attention the movie Philomena has brought to this issue?
We of course welcome the attention – it has been an outstanding boon. Those of us fighting for rights for adopted people for going on twenty years or more were battling upstream, and immensely frustrated by the slow progress. ‘Philomena’ gave a much-needed boost to that fight. And of course, having a brave, lovely octagenarian publicly coming out and saying it was okay to be open about one’s past and heal from it brought literally hundreds of mothers out of hiding and shame.

6. where can readers go to learn more about your organization?
These three websites will give readers good background and current information:
We also maintain a number of Facebook groups:
And FB groups devoted to individual mother-baby homes, like Bessboro, Sean Ross Abbey, St Patrick’s Navan Road, etc.

Mari also has a twitter page where she voices her own opinions on Irish adoption issues from the perspective of an “Irish Bastard” check it out!

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