Tag Archives: Bastard Nation

Keeping Adoption Secret

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A story about a secret

This story about keeping adoption secret was first published a decade ago. The advice columnist Amy Dickinson chose to re-publish it a few days ago while she takes a brief break from her column. Keeping adoption secret is a vampire of a subject in the world of adoption. Will it ever die? Apparently not.

A decade is a long time. The adopted girl the letter writer asks about could be sitting in a bar now, downing her third mojito. Maybe she’s telling the bartender about her recent discoveries on 23andMe. Maybe she’s estranged from her family. Or maybe just her mother. Maybe her siblings are her best and most stalwart friends. Maybe she just found out she’s been dating her biological brother.

In other words, is keeping adoption a secret ever a good idea? No.

Amy’s answer

The letter, written by the 16-year-old sister of the adopted girl, was simple. Straightforward. She knew that keeping her sister’s adoption secret was a terrible idea. However, Amy Dickinson’s response requires a closer reading. “Your mother’s refusal to tell your sister her adoption story has now devolved from lying by omission to outright lying,” she writes. I don’t think there’s much devolving here. Lying by omission to a 10-year-old about the fact that she’s adopted is already subterranean.

That said, I like much of Amy Dickinson’s response. “Your sister… was always old enough to know this story, because the story tells the truth about her life.” Beautiful.

A Reader comments

Dear Amy: I disagree with your advice to “Distressed Sister.” Adoption is between the parents and the child.

Everybody else should stay out of it. This sister should be told, “If you ever adopt a child, you can handle it the way you like.”

–Also Distressed

Amy’s answer to “Also Distressed”

Amy’s answer to “Also Distressed” opens on a strong note. “Adoption is not only between the parents and the child. Keeping this a secret affects the entire family system.” But the answers drifts a bit after that.

Adoption can be a painful and emotional subject for parents, in part because they cannot imagine that the child they chose to join their family wasn’t always in their family. They also worry about any future complications regarding the child’s curiosity about — or contact with — biological relatives.

Complications? Complications sounds like something one might die of after surgery or an illness. Certainly, having a birth family and an adopted family is more complex than having simply a birth family. Having a birth family was probably pretty simple until adoption stepped into the picture. That’s when things got complicated. Birthmothers and other birth family members are not complications. Unless of course you’re adoptive parent who lies or otherwise deceives your adopted child into thinking they’re your biological child.

The rights of the adopted person

Despite the fact that the adopted daughter was only 10 at the time the column first appeared, I wish Amy Dickinson had included something about the rights of adoptees. While the following applies to adult adoptees, probably every adopted parent should be acquainted with it from the beginning. Because a 10-year-old is not going to remain 10 forever. It’s the mission statement from Bastard Nation.

Bastard Nation is dedicated to the recognition of the full human and civil rights of adult adoptees. Toward that end, we advocate the opening to adoptees, upon request at age of majority, of those government documents which pertain to the adoptee’s historical, genetic, and legal identity, including the unaltered original birth certificate and adoption decree. Bastard Nation asserts that it is the right of people everywhere to have their official original birth records unaltered and free from falsification, and that the adoptive status of any person should not prohibit him or her from choosing to exercise that right. We have reclaimed the badge of bastardy placed on us by those who would attempt to shame us; we see nothing shameful in having been born out of wedlock or in being adopted. Bastard Nation does not support mandated mutual consent registries or intermediary systems in place of unconditional open records, nor any other system that is less than access on demand to the adult adoptee, without condition, and without qualification.

Access to Birth Records

Unrestricted access

Adoptees need access to their birth records. Only 9 U.S. states currently provide adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. Although partial access or restricted access might sound like it’s better than nothing, it’s not. It’s actually heartbreak waiting to happen. Just when you think your state has passed a law that will provide you with your original birth certificate, you might discover there are date restrictions. Or that your birthmother has veto power over the release of your original birth certificate.

Restricted access hurts adoptees

Adoptees need unrestricted access to their birth records. And original birth certificate can pave the way to medical history, ethnic and cultural origins. All of the things that an un-adopted person has access to.

Connecticut is one of the most recent partial access states, and here’s how it works:

On June 6, 2014 Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law Public Act 14-133 (House Bill 5144), which restores the right of adoptees adopted after October 1, 1983 to access their original birth certificates upon reaching the age of 18. This law restores the right of access to approximately 24,000 of the 65,000 adoptees who were born in Connecticut since 1919. —FROM THE AMERICAN ADOPTION CONGRESS WEBSITE

If you were adopted after 1983 as a youngster or an infant, chances are your birthparents are still relatively young. Or at least still on the planet. Older adoptee’s parents are probably, well, older. Or deceased. But you might never be able to find out if they’re dead or alive.

In Delaware, it goes like this:

Birth parents wishing to block release of identifying information must file a written notarized statement to that effect with the Office of Vital Statistics. Such statements must be renewed every three years.

Vital Statistics will make a reasonable effort to notify a birth parent when an adoptee applies for birth records. If no disclosure veto statement is filed, the original birth certificate will be released to the adoptee approximately 65 days after the initial request. — ALSO FROM THE AAC WEBSITE

This birthmother’s perspective

I confess that I do suffer the tiniest bit of ambivalence. I’m a birthmother. I understand the shame and secrecy element. I realize the upheaval this might cause in the life of a woman who kept her pregnancy a secret. Or did not tell her spouse that she had a child from a previous relationship. I understand that if she has other children they might be shocked. It could be quite a surprise that their mother is a mother to someone else.

Access to birth records

BUT I think the right of adoptees trumps all of it. Adoptees must have unrestricted access to their birth records. To know who they are, where they come from. To know what their medical history is must have priority over the birthparents’ concerns.

There are 7 states with partial access or restricted access. It’s depressing to read the details and do the math regarding how many adoptees can get their OBCs and how many cannot. The adoptee rights organization, Bastard Nation follows the progress of state legislation regarding birth records very closely. If you are an adoptee and want the latest on the status of OBCs in your state, check there.