Birthmothers, Confidentiality, and Sealed Adoption Records


Let’s start HERE. (It’s a WikiHow, and it’ll take less than a minute of your time.)

If you’re an adoptee, you might be rolling on the floor either laughing or crying right now. If you’re a birthmother and you’re trying to obtain the birth certificate for the child you gave birth to and surrendered, these instructions are similarly ridiculous. It is not possible to obtain the original birth certificate (unless you live in one of the handful of states that have unsealed adoption records.) Let me reiterate: Even if you are an adult, an American, a law abiding citizen with medical cause, or any other pressing reason for wanting to contact your birth family, you cannot, as an adoptee in most U.S. States, get your hands on your original birth certificate. Period. Original birth certificates are sealed. The only birth certificate available to you is the amended one, containing your new name and the name of the adoptive parents. A fiction.

This issue is debated regularly in state legislatures. Birthmothers are always mentioned in these debates over unsealing birth certificates. We’re held up as the reason it can’t be done. We were promised confidentiality, they say, and they can’t betray us.

I have absolutely nothing–not a contract, nor a certificate, nor a letter– not a piece of paper of any kind promising me confidentiality or even recording the fact that the adoption of my son took place.

At my intake appointment with the agency my mother took me to in June of 1970, it was explained to me that I would be hidden away for the duration of my pregnancy so my secret would be safe. It was also explained to me that my name would have to appear on the baby’s birth certificate, but that I did not have to name the baby’s father ( and I didn’t.) His name did not have to be recorded, but my full name as well as the baby’s, in the rudimentary form of Baby Boy My Last Name, most certainly had to appear in black and white on the birth certificate. Not a promise of confidentiality at all.

I am far from the first birthparent to bring this up, but it bears repeating because the same confidentiality argument is brought up over and over again. In 2006 The DONALDSON ADOPTION INSTITUTE issued a report on the flawed practices in the adoption industry regarding birthparents. The issue of confidentiality was addressed, yet state legislatures continue to cite the distress of of some mythical band of birthmothers over the breaching of their confidentiality. If I were still searching for my son, confidentiality is the last thing I’d want, and dozens of sources, in addition to the Donaldson Report, support this point of view. Yet, the myth persists. So, dear state legislators and your confidentiality cronies, stop telling us birthmothers what we want.

3 thoughts on “Birthmothers, Confidentiality, and Sealed Adoption Records

  1. Gaye Tannenbaum

    I constantly remind access opponents that original birth certificates also seal in step parent adoptions (about 50% of all adoptions). Three possible scenarios:

    1. One parent disappears, remaining parent (presumably) files for divorce, remarries and has new spouse adopt the kid(s). And the records are sealed because????
    2. Parents divorce, custodial parent remarries and has ex TPR’d and new spouse adopts the kid(s). And the records are sealed because????
    3. One parent dies, other parent remarries and new spouse adopts the kid(s). And the records are sealed because????

    Many many other examples confirm that sealed records are NOT NOT NOT about “birthmother privacy”. Period. Full stop.

  2. Terri Moran

    Great post. As a Michigan adoptee, I can’t have anything but “non-identifying information” regarding my biological family unless one of my birth parents or a sibling who may not even know of my existence has previously filed a consent form with with the Michigan Secretary of State. I think the WikiHow for getting my birth certificate would be a tad more complicated than this.

    I’m midway through your book right now. It’s very good.


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