Tag Archives: sealed adoption records

Birthmothers and Witches

collage by author

Scotland’s Witches

King James VI of Scotland and subsequent rulers vilified people believed to be witches with great fervor during the 16th and 18th centuries. They tortured and executed over 2500 during two centuries of Satanic panic. The witches have recently received a formal apology. This apology, delivered by first minister Nicola Sturgeon in early March, was a very long time coming. It’s been hundreds of years since the witches of Scotland, most of them women, suffered their terrible fates.

“I am choosing to acknowledge that egregious historic injustice and extend a formal, posthumous apology to all of those accused, convicted, vilified, or executed under the Witchcraft Act of 1563,” Ms. Sturgeon said. The apology was the result of an activist campaign. The campaign asked for three things. A pardon. An apology. And a national memorial. Discussions regarding the memorial are in progress.

Scotland’s birthmothers

Between 1950 and 1980 over 60,000 Scottish women gave up their children for adoption. A group of activist birthmothers began asking for a formal apology for these forced adoptions around a decade ago. In 2015 Scotland decided against issuing that apology. But the struggle continued. By the end of 2021 the Scottish parliament was reconsidering. Australia had apologized to its birthmothers. And Ireland apologized. And England’s families minister, Vicky Ford, apologized. Way back in 2013 the Catholic Church in England and Wales apologized. At long last, the government of Scotland is now seriously considering an apology. But as of yet, Nicola Sturgeon has not made a formal speech.

It is easier to apologize to the dead. There are no surviving witches from Scotland’s execution heyday. Officials do not have to look into their eyes. The dead witches will not sit at the table to discuss the details of the memorial. They cannot shake anyone’s hand or say thank you. Or stand there weeping inconsolably while a politician awkwardly ponders what to do. Modern day witches will, no doubt, participate in discussions about the memorial. But their ancestor’s fates are long-ago history.

Movement for adoption apology

Thousands of Scottish birthmothers are still alive. The Movement for Adoption Apology is asking for mental health support for these birthmothers. They want changes in the management of adoption records, which currently are closed for 100 years. And they want an adoption reunion registry. And a memorial. They also want a formal apology.

Will they get it? I don’t know. But it seems Scotland finds birthmothers more frightening than witches.

Ireland’s Last Magdalene Laundry

collage by author

A Magdalene laundry memorial

According to the New York Times, a new memorial will be developed in the last remaining “Magdalene laundry” in Dublin. The compound with its convent and laundry buildings is the only facility of its type in Ireland that has not been demolished. Narrowly escaping development as a hotel, the memorial will become an education center and a museum know as the National Center for Research and Remembrance. There is an awful lot to research and remember.

Fallen women and girls in trouble

Ireland turned its “fallen women,” its “girls in trouble” into slaves. According to most sources, from the 18th century to the late 20th century some 30,000 women were confined in these institutions. But there are no official statistics. Secrets are by nature resistant to statistics. Imagine a family desperate to rid themselves of the shame of having a pregnant unmarried daughter. There may have been tears and regret when she was delivered to the gates of one of these places. But I’ll bet you your firstborn child there was also an immense sigh of relief by the parents who left her. By some estimates, in Ireland alone there were 41 of these facilities and perhaps as many as 300 in England.

My own troubles

I lived in a small Catholic town in Iowa when I got pregnant in 1970. I was in my final year at a Catholic school–the only high school in my home town. It seems like a miracle, but I kept my pregnancy a secret throughout my senior year. I went to prom. I graduated. When my parents found out I was pregnant I was due to give birth in six weeks. Plans were made very quickly.

After I confessed my plight to my mother she went downstairs to the phone. She called my father and asked him to come home early for lunch, and then she called the home for unwed mothers in Dubuque, a city of approximately 30,000 a half hour’s drive down the highway. I figured a place like this would be my fate. I imagined girls who smoked and wore too much mascara. Girls who were mean, perhaps, and way wilder than I was. I needn’t have worried. There was no room at the inn. Imagine, there I was feeling completely alone, and there was so many girls like me that there was not enough room to house us.

I went to stay with a foster family in the deep Iowa countryside. I helped the mom, Sarah, take care of her four kids while her husband was away on National Guard duty. There’s a lot more to this story, but here’s the thing–I was treated with love and kindness.

A Magdalene baby in Iowa

If you want a personal story about the Magdalene laundries, watch this movie. And believe it or not, my family had a connection to the real-life son of Philomena. You can read about him here. My mind was pretty much blown to find out he was adopted into the family of my brother-in-law. A Magdalene laundry baby in Iowa.

Secrets and Lies in Adoption

The big cover-up!
Cover up those secrets and lies!
photo by author

Medium.com essays

Secrets and lies abound in the the world of adoption. I’m finished with secrets and lies and have been for some time. November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Or NAAM, for short. I’ve made a promise to myself to write about my experience with adoption. I’ve been posting pieces on Medium. Here’s another one:

More writing

And here’s where you can find links to various publications where my fiction and nonfiction about adoption appear.

Dystopia’s Child

photo by author

National Adoption Month

“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.

You can find the story, Dystopia’s Child, here.

Links to other stories and nonfiction essays about adoption are here.

Adoptees and Medical History

Lily Tomlin playing Edith Ann on Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh In.”
If Edith Ann were and adoptee, she wouldn’t know her medical history.

Closed records hide medical history

Adult adoptees often don’t know their medical history. Treated as perpetual children, in most U.S. states they have no access to their medical histories. Why? Because their adoption records are sealed. Therefore, they don’t know who their biological parents are. Imagine going to the doctor and filling out that sheaf of forms by simply scrawling across the top “unknown.”

Adult adoptees need their medical history

A few months back the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement regarding adoption records.  Therefore, the Academy is aware that adoptees don’t know their medical history. They say they want adoption records to be unsealed. Well, sort of. Their recommendation contains the caveat “unless specifically denied by the birthparents.” I’m a birthmother, not an adoptee, but I’m pretty sure many adoptees viewed this as only a partial victory.

Pointedly, it was the American Academy of Pediatrics that came forward to voice their support for open records. Not the American Medical Association. Doesn’t the silence of the A.M.A. perpetuate society’s view of adult adoptees as children? And as a person grows older, doesn’t medical history become even more important?

When I was searching for my son I contacted the agency in Iowa that had handled the adoption, and I petitioned the court. I asked both entities to forward vital medical history to my son, who was 20 years old. But I got nowhere. Absolutely nowhere.

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.

The Search for My Son

Grain Haystacks at the End of Summer
by Claude Monet
The search for my son would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack without a very big piece of luck.

Nancy Drew, girl detective

From the beginning I knew I would search for my son. I never let go of the idea that I would find him, but I had absolutely no idea how I would do it. At first I imagined myself as Nancy Drew, the girl detective who would sleuth and sleuth and finally break the case. There was very little reality to this scenario since the adoption records were sealed, and I didn’t have a single clue. Some years later I imagined that serendipity or coincidence would allow us to meet. In a way, that’s how the search for my son began.

Two young mothers

I made friends with a mother of two little girls who were about the same age as my own daughters. One day at a park playgroup when the two of us were sitting away from the rest of the mothers, she told me, with tears in her eyes, that she had gotten pregnant as a teenager. But she had given that baby up for adoption. I stammered my way through my own confession about giving up my son. She told me she was going to search for her daughter and invited me to a Concerned United Birthparents support group meeting. At one of those meetings, I met a woman who told me she had some connections. She might be able to make arrangements with someone who could find my son. To this day I have no idea who this mysterious connection was. But he/she found my son two decades after I’d given him up.

A series of coincidences

I made a new friend two thousand miles from where I’d relinquished my son. She happened to be a birthmother, and the two of us happened to connect on that day in the park. She took me to a meeting where I met someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. And that someone found my son.

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.

Baby Meets Mother

Burger King baby has happy meal

 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!