Tag Archives: birth certificates and adoption

Refusal to Unseal Adoption Records

Iowa. Stop being weird.
Focus on adoptees who need to know.

A refusal to unseal adoption records by a judge in Iowa leaves an adoptee with no recourse.


Above is a link to a news story that will break your heart. Or maybe just make you swear a blue streak. The judge’s refusal to unseal adoption records for mental health reasons is just plain cruel.

Thirty-some years ago I begged the agency that handled my son’s adoption to help me. Begged. And was I shown no mercy. I petitioned the court to no avail. No mercy there either. I had medical reasons for wanting to contact my 20-year-old son. Two of my doctors wrote letters on my behalf. I shared them with the agency and with the court. Nothing. The agency made excuses. The court claimed there was no record of the adoption.

That was then. And sadly, it’s also very now.

If you’re interested in a state-by state summary of the fight for unsealing adoption records go HERE.

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.

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.

Illegal Adoptions

If you’re searching, I wish you luck. And if you don’t want to search, I wish you luck. No matter if you’re reunited–or not, I wish you luck.

What makes an adoption illegal

“Illegal adoptions arise in different ways, but one of the most controversial is when a child’s birth certificate falsely states that its adoptive parents are its birth parents. It’s believed this practice often followed the forced handover of children from unmarried mothers.” –IrishExaminer.com



Are all adoptions illegal?!?

Maybe I’m missing some finer point here, but I think amended birth certificates are commonplace here in the USA. Or at least that’s how it was done in 1970 when I gave my son up for adoption. He’ll be 44 in a few days, and his birth certificate makes no reference to his birth parents or adoption. Which is to say, his birth certificate is an amended birth certificate. It’s the only birth certificate he has access to. The parents listed on it are his adoptive parents. My name is not on the amended birth certificate.

If I hadn’t subverted the system, searched for him and found him, it would have required the luck o’ the Irish for the two of us to have met. What a weird world.

Here you go, if you’d like to read the whole article.