Opinion in the NY Times
Knowing vs. not knowing. This is the central conflict in an adoptee’s search for their original identity. Regarding that question, this was an interesting piece in the NY Times the other day.
Here’s my response. It did not get published.
I try frequently to step into the shoes of an adopted person. I’ve been trying these shoes on for size ever since I was a pregnant 16-year-old in a small Catholic town in 1970. I knew that my only respectable recourse was to keep my pregnancy a secret and give my son up for adoption. Like Ellen Ullman’s records, my son’s adoption file was sealed, too. His original birth certificate, which bore the standard particulars of birth along with my name and his name listed only as “Baby Boy MacDonald” contained information that I was already well aware of. Yet, I was not allowed to have a copy. Once I relinquished custody of my son, knowing anything at all about him was no longer an option.
My son, whom I reunited with when he was 21, says that being adopted is like being in the witness protection program. But without the medical information. While Ullman is certainly entitled to tell herself any story she likes about her origins, I object to her passive glossing over of the disservice that sealed records inflict on both adoptees and birth parents.
Yes, it is true there are many ways to conceive and carry a child these days. But it seems a shame to let the intricacies of that conversation obscure the totalitarian approach state governments take toward adoption records. And I suspect that Ullman herself, having made the phone call regarding her adoption file, might someday like to fill out a form in her doctor’s office without drawing a slash through the medical history section and marking it “unknown.”
Her essay betrays a longing for other things, too. I sincerely wish the power to discover those things resided in her hands and not with the state of New York.
I’m willing to give not-knowing its due. I’m fine with not knowing whether or not my son’s five-year-old daughter whose baptismal picture looks just like my own will turn out to resemble me or share my talents. But I could never be fine with not knowing my granddaughter existed at all.