Sealed Adoption Records

photo by author

Most adoption records are sealed. Under lock and key.
Not available.

A sealed original birth certificate

Want to know how to obtain an original birth certificate?

Let’s start HERE. It’s a WikiHow. And it’ll take less than a minute of your time.

Did you follow that? If you’re an adoptee with a sealed original birth certificate, you might be rolling on the floor. And maybe you’re laughing. Or maybe you’re crying. If you’re a birthmother trying to obtain the original birth certificate for the child you surrendered, forget it. The instructions are ridiculous.

Adoptees, it is not possible to obtain your OBC. 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. You cannot, as an adoptee in most U.S. States, get your hands on your OBC. Period. Original birth certificates are sealed. The only birth certificate available to you is the amended one. It contains your new name and the name of the adoptive parents. A fiction.

Birthmother confidentiality

The issue of birthmother confidentiality is debated regularly in state legislatures. Legislators like to cite birthmothers in discussions 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.

Birthmother confidentiality is a myth. I have absolutely nothing promising me confidentiality. Not a contract. And not a certificate. And not a letter. Not a piece of paper of any kind promising me anything. I have no paperwork even recording the fact that the adoption of my son took place. Furthermore, I don’t even have paperwork recording his birth. There’s no proof that either event–the birth or the adoption–ever happened.

At my intake appointment with the adoption agency in June of 1970, the social worker explained that I would be hidden away for the duration of my pregnancy. My secret would be safe, she said. And she also explained that my name would appear on the baby’s birth certificate. However, I did not have to name the baby’s father. His name did not have to be recorded. But my full name would appear in black and white on the original birth certificate. Not a promise of confidentiality at all.

Flawed practices in adoption

I am far from the first birthparent to bring this up. But it bears repeating. It bears repeating because legislators bring it up. They bring up the same confidentiality argument against unsealing records over and over again. In 2006 The DONALDSON ADOPTION INSTITUTE issued a report on the flawed practices in the adoption industry regarding birthparents. The confidentiality excuse 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. Dozens of sources, in addition to the Donaldson Report, support this point of view. Yet, the myth persists. So, dear confidentiality cronies, please listen. And stop telling us birthmothers what we want.

4 thoughts on “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.

  3. Pingback: Unseal Records - Denise Emanuel Clemen

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