“Dystopia’s Child” was originally published in LUMINA vol. XVIII. Yesterday I republished it on Medium.com. Because…
November is National Adoption Awareness Month.
Not just happy stories
As a birthmother, I’m a proponent of lots of different types of adoption stories. Not just the happy ones we’re blasted with all during the month of November. Because, well… not all adoption stories are happy. Every adoption begins with loss. A child losing their mother. A mother losing her child.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Okay, not a meal exactly–but chocolate! According to the article I read on the Internet, the attorney who made the arrangements for the young woman, known as the Burger King Baby, and her mother to meet, “had his staff prepare for the reunification with flowers, chocolates and boxes of tissues.”
My son and I had drinks
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.
Social media and searching
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.
Searching without 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 birthmother.
The injustice of sealed records
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 recently I read this. It has to do with the birth certificates of children of same-sex couples. The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that both parents in a married same-sex couple must be on a child’s birth certificate.In the past, Iowa’s Department of Public Health has insisted on listing a biological parent on these birth certificates. The court now says that practice is unconstitutional.
I have some personal experience with Iowa’s bureaucracy regarding birth certificates. In 1990 I began to search for the son I had placed 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.I knew this birth certificate would provide no identifying information that would aid in my search for him. However, I viewed it as an empowerment exercise. My son had been taken from me. And they erased the evidence. I wanted someone to acknowledge the wrong. And the erasure of it.
Silenced for two decades by shame, I came out of my closet after the birth of my third child. I wanted the state of Iowa, at the very least, to acknowledge that the birth of my son had taken place. I had my daughters’ birth certificates. And now I wanted my son’s. My name was on it. A legal document. Wasn’t I entitled to it?
The interesting thing here–the thing that relates to the court decision above— is that my son’s biological father’s name did not appear on the birth certificate. The social worker advised me not to name the father of my baby—to protect his reputation. My name, however, would most definitely be on the birth certificate. And so, there you have it. A birth certificate without the names of both parents.
Birth certificate identity crisis
What is a birth certificate exactly? Is it a certificate of ownership? Is it a legal record of birth? A documentation of parentage? What kind of parentage? How many birth certificates can a person have? Can the people whose names are on it have a copy of it?
I did not succeed in obtaining a copy of my son’s original birth certificate even though it has my name on it. Even with the intercession of my doctor and a verifiable need to pass on medical information to my son, the only response from the Iowa Department of Human Services was that “there were no records pertaining to my inquiries.”
And what about these children of same-sex couples? What are their rights regarding knowledge of their biological parentage?
And….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. Because surely they don’t expect birthparents to supply a birth certificate. We know that’s impossible.
Rhode Island Adoptees have won the right to access their original birth certificates! And isn’t it cool that the Rhode Island flag says, “Hope?”
It’s enough to make me want to move to New England. Along with Maine and New Hampshire, Rhode Island has restored the rights of adoptees. Rights advocates battled for twenty years in Rhode Island, and it could be that Connecticut will be the next state to win its battle for adoptee rights.
So now there are seven states where adoptees have access to their original birth certificates. Maybe soon there will be eight. So…while we’re all excited about that, let’s pause for a moment. Really, what that means is eight out of 50. Eight out of 50 states allow adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. That is dismal.
My son’s original birth certificate resides in the state of Iowa. Dear Iowa, please look east and pay attention. Your mutual consent registry excludes some people and it’s kind of a money-grubbing operation. $25 bucks for each application?
Birthparents can now sign a petition to unseal adoption records. I joined American Adoption Congress recently and saw their call to action asking for birthparents to sign their list in support of open records for adoptees.
I’m not much of a joiner. I don’t especially like meetings. I don’t have the business skill-set to be a good organization volunteer. But I liked the idea of this list. Birthparents willing to write their names on a list to say, yes, I believe adoptees have the same rights as other adults. And no, I’m not hung up on confidentiality. Studies and surveys have shown that many birthparents do not feel the need for a gatekeeper.
Open records are a crucial part of adoptee rights.
As as 17-year-old about to place a child for adoption, I wondered exactly what was meant by sealed records. Just a humble envelope? Closed with sealing wax, maybe? An envelope with the state seal? A locked file cabinet? A vault? I still don’t know exactly how they seal those records.
Because “birthmother confidentiality” is often trotted out as an argument opposing open records, it really can help the cause if birthparents sign. Only a handful of U.S. states grant adoptees access to their own original birth certificate. Even worse, some state claim that adoptees have access to their original birth certificates, but they don’t really. They’re only conditionally open. As an adoptee in a state like this, you have the right to request your original birth certificate, but it might come back redacted. What good is that? I think more birthparents would be in favor of unsealing those records if they really considered what’s at stake for adoptees..