Adult adoptees are frequently infantilized by virtue of the fact that they are perpetually regarded as adopted children with, in most U.S. states, no access to their medical histories due to closed adoption records. Imagine going to the doctor and filling out that sheaf of forms by simply scrawling across the top “unknown.”
A few months back the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement regarding adoption records. It’s not unequivocal good news since it contains the caveat “unless specifically denied by the birthparents.” I’m a birthmother, not an adoptee, but I’m pretty sure many adoptees viewed this as only a partial victory. What strikes me is that it was the American Academy of Pediatrics that came forward to voice their (partial) support for open records. My research cannot find a similar policy statement issue by the American Medical Association. Doesn’t their silence perpetuate society’s view of adult adoptees as children? As a person grows older, doesn’t medical history become even more important?
I never let go of the idea that I would someday find my son, but I had absolutely no idea how I would do it. At first I imagined myself as Nancy Drew, the girl detective who would sleuth and sleuth and finally break the case. There was very little reality to this scenario since the adoption records were sealed, and I didn’t have a single clue. Some years later I imagined that serendipity or coincidence would allow us to meet. In a way, that’s what happened.
I made friends with a mother of two little girls who were about the same age as my own daughters. One day at a park playgroup when the two of us were sitting away from the rest of the mothers, she told me she had gotten pregnant as a teenager and had given that baby up for adoption. I stammered my way through my own confession. She told me she was going to search for her daughter and invited me to a Concerned United Birthparents support group meeting. At one of those meetings, I met a woman who told me that, through a series of connections, she might be able to make arrangements with someone who could find my son. To this day I have no idea who this mysterious connection was. But he/she found my son two decades after I’d given him up.
I met a woman two thousand miles from where I’d relinquished my son. She happened to be a birth mother, and the two of us happened to connect on that day in the park. She took me to a meeting where I met someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. And that someone found my son.
Okay, not a meal exactly–but chocolate. According to the ABC News article I read on the Internet, the attorney who made the arrangements for the young woman and her mother to meet, “had his staff prepare for the reunification with flowers, chocolates and boxes of tissues.”
Shortly after my son and I met for the first time in a hotel lobby in downtown Los Angeles, I invited him into the bar for drinks. An hour or so later, we went out for Mexican food, and then to my house in Silver Lake for fruit and cookies and coffee.The kleenex part happened in the wee hours of the morning when I drove him back to the hotel and said good-night. I was crying so hard by the time he got out of the car that I kept turning on the windshield wipers, thinking it was raining.
I am indescribably happy for this young woman and her mother. I share all of these searching posts on Facebook if I see them in time. This one resolved itself before I ran across it. Like many people, I have my complaints about Facebook, but searching for a family member lost through adoption is one of the best uses I can think of for social media.
When I worked up the nerve to search for my son, Facebook didn’t exist. I wrote letters to the Iowa Department of Human Services and to the agency that handled the adoption. I filed an affidavit with the court saying that, if my son ever tried to locate me and managed to convince the court to unseal his adoption record (unlikely), I was willing to be found. Each of these campaigns was its own peculiar exercise in futility, the details of which I will not go into here.
Eventually, after months of searching the haystack without so much as a glimmer, I got a tip after a support group meeting. This woman knew someone who knew someone who knew someone, and if I delivered 2,000 in cash to her in a plain manila envelope, the someone at the end of the chain would find my son.Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, I got a phone call with his name, address, and phone number.
My son and I have eaten a lot of chocolate since then. I wish the same for the Ms. Deprill and her birth mother.
And I hope that the states who continue to maintain sealed adoption records, treating birthmothers and adopted adults as disenfranchised children will realize that reunion can and will happen without the states’ participation. Each Facebook reunion will give dozens more adoptees and birth parents the courage to post their own pleas. Everybody share!
I’ve been blogging regularly on my Other Blog which is not to say that I do not frequently think of adoption and its myriad issues. I continue to see the world through the eyes of a birthmother, and those eyes popped wide open recently when I read THIS.
I have some personal experience with Iowa’s bureaucracy regarding birth certificates. In 1990 when I began to search for the son I had given up for adoption 20 years earlier, I wrote several letters to the Iowa Department of Human services asking them to provide me with the original birth certificate for my son. While I knew the original birth certificate would provide no identifying information that would aid in my search, I viewed it an empowerment exercise. My son had been taken from me, and the evidence of that separation had been erased. Silenced for two decades by shame, I came out of my closet after the birth of my third child brought home to me the fact that my son could not be replaced. At the very least, I wanted the state of Iowa to acknowledge that the birth had taken place. I wanted the piece of paper that held my name and his–although he was listed as merely “baby boy.” It’s probably worth noting here that my son’s biological father’s name did not appear on the original birth certificate since I declined to identify him. Nevertheless, with my own name as the only identifying information, I could not obtain the original birth certificate.
On medication for glaucoma at the time and afflicted with a moderately severe case of scoliosis, I had my doctors intercede with the state of Iowa as we attempted to have my medical history passed on to my son. The only communication that I received stated that there were no records pertaining to my inquiries.
Until the recent Iowa Supreme decision confirming the rights of same sex couples to have both their names appear on their children’s birth certificates, The Iowa Department of Public Health insisted on listing the biological parents. While gay marriage has been legal in Iowa since 2009, Iowa has the dubious distinction of being the only state in the union to allow gay marriage while refusing to list both spouses on the birth certificate.
The irony of that, Iowa, is thicker than a cloud of mosquitos on a humid summer evening.
As a postscript, I’ll say that I hope the gay and lesbian couples who are now officially recognized as their children’s parents will not relegate their offspring to the blackout of information that many adult adoptees continue to endure in the state of Iowa.
Of course, there is this:
Effective July 1, 1999, Iowa law enables adoptees, their “birth parents,” and their blood-related brothers and sisters to find each other if the birth is registered with the State of Iowa. The “Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry” was established in order to match those persons requesting that their identity be revealed to registrants “matching” information concerning an adult adoptee. All information provided to the registry is confidential and revealed only in the event that an appropriate match is made and the parties have been notified of the match. A $25 fee in U.S. funds and a certified copy of the applicant?s birth certificate must be submitted with each consent application.
I’m trusting the instructions are a bit oversimplified. Surely, they don’t expect birthparents to supply a birth certificate……
Readers, have any of you out there used the Iowa Registry? Did reunions result? I’d love to hear about it.
photo credit: astoria-rust.blogspot.com
I recently met someone who is an adopted mom. She and her son are searching for his birthmother. She’s asked me to re-post what she has posted on Facebook:
I believe my son has a right to know who his birth mother is. He was born in 1977 at Parkview Hospital in Riverside. His birth mother named him Kevin, and she used Parker as a last name on the birth certificate. She would be in her early 50’s now. She once lived in Southern California, and we were told she joined the army not long after his birth. If you know anyone who fits this profile, please contact me.
As as pregnant seventeen-year-old, I wondered exactly what was meant by sealed records. Just a humble envelope? An envelope with the state seal? –done in sealing wax, perhaps? A locked file cabinet? I still don’t know.
But I do know this, birthparents can help the Adoptee Access Movement in their struggle to obtain original birth certificates for adult adoptees. You can sign this form: Birthparents for Access .
Because “birthmother confidentiality” is often trotted out as an argument opposing open records, it really can help the cause to sign in favor of unsealing those records.