I only found out I was adopted about five years ago and it was completely by accident that I came across the irrefutable evidence scrawled on the back of a photo of my dad and myself (as a baby) where I was referred to as his “adopted” daughter by someone whose handwriting I didn’t recognize.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. There just aren’t words to describe how I felt at that moment. I had looked at these old family photos, given to me by my sister the year before, a dozen times and never had I seen the writing on the back of that picture until I put it face down on my scanner. I was going to use it to make my dad a father’s day card.
So I confronted my father over the phone and insisted he tell me everything. It was hard for both of us but in the end, I understood why he never told me and why my mom never told me when she was alive and I forgave them.
Of course I still feel very betrayed when I consider that well over a dozen people that were close to me knew this crucial information, including my sister. But I’ve also found peace with it in the ways that really matter.
I found peace because I now know where I come from; because I found my birthparents.
In a nutshell, I contacted the appropriate party in the Department of Vital Statistics to request what’s known as the “non-identifying” information associated with my adoption. This is basically all the information known about my birthparents with anything that would identify them or any details about my adoption stripped out.
I was told the information no longer existed, that the agency had closed and never turned over their records to the state. This information only strengthened my resolve. I flatly refused to accept that this was the end of my search.
After several wrong numbers, three phone calls and exactly one email, I had done what the state couldn’t. I had located the supposedly non-existent records of over one hundred adoptees.
I eventually got my non-identifying information and with one small and seemingly inconsequential nugget of info about my biological grandfather, I was able to locate my birthfather in two phone calls. From him, I acquired my birthmother’s full name and found her on Classmates.com.
After many tense emails with her in which I initially explained that I simply wanted some information, we finally met in person and four years later, I have a pleasant and somewhat close relationship with both birthparents.
But I was extremely lucky.
You see, there are many people out there who have not been able to learn of their parentage, their ancestry, or any of the other elusive information that haunts so many adoptees.
I realize that forty years ago, being pregnant out of wedlock was one of the worst things that could happen to a woman or teenage girl. I’ve read many books and I know the social alienation and ostracization was both systematic and cruel beyond words. I DO understand why adoptions were so secretive.
But what about the adopted children who grow up, both knowing or not knowing of their adoptive status? What about them? What about their rights? What about MY rights?
Doesn’t everyone deserve to know with whom they are forever linked by blood, by shared genes, by shared heredity? Don’t we have a right to know where we come from? To know if we have siblings? Or an important medical history?
As soon as found out I was adopted, so many things started to make sense to me and I quickly developed an insatiable need to know more. When I found out my records were not available, my need only intensified. I had to know who I was. I needed to find my tribe, so to speak.
When I finally did, so many things “fit” and the ability to see that I was like these other two living beings both physically as well as in personality and character brought me a peace I’d been seeking not only since learning of my adoption but really, throughout my life.
The reason I decided to write this because of something I recently read in the NY Times titled “States Urged to Open Adoption Records.” A friend with whom I spoke frequently during my search sent me the link along with a single word… “Finally!”
But there are those who don’t agree, like the American Civil Liberties Union and various anti-abortion groups who feel, despite a lack of supporting data, that women would seek abortions if they couldn’t have closed-record adoptions. I totally disagree with this. You can read why in the comments section where I have responded to a commenter.
Conversely, “States’ experiences in providing this information make clear that there are minimal, if any, negative repercussions,” said the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. “Outcomes appear to have been overwhelmingly positive for adult adopted persons and birthparents alike.”
As noted, I understand that when closed adoptions were the norm and required by law, it was, out of ignorance, thought to be the best decision for all parties concerned but times have changed. Frankly, I don’t think that it was EVER the best decision for the adoptees. We were just babies. We had nobody to speak for us.
Additionally, adopted people are the only class of Americans not permitted to obtain their real and unaltered birth certificates (yes, the state FAKES your birth certificate when you’re adopted). We don’t have the same rights as every other American and it’s completely unconstitutional.
That said, I strongly disagree that one person’s wish to not know their child or remain anonymous can trump another person’s right to their identity.
If a birthmother gives birth in a closed-records state and doesn’t want to be contacted by her child, she should be able to file a “do not contact” request with the state and be required to routinely re-validate the request (the same right to not be contacted should also be afforded to adoptees who wish to not be contacted) but ALL information should be open and available to any adoptee who wants it or at the VERY least, adoptees should be able to have access to their original birth certificates.
Birthparents who wish to know the fate of their surrendered children should also be able to have access to said records.
The adoption world is entirely too secretive. Exactly what are we trying to hide and why? Are the reasons really compelling enough to deny a consenting adult their own birth certificate? The right to privacy argument is, in my opinion, bullshit and if you’ve ever been involved in the adoption community, you’d see just how many birthmothers never wanted secretive, closed adoptions. The few that do are a very, very small minority.
I guess one way to really know how supposedly awful and terrible open records would be is to survey adoptees and birthparents from states where adoption records have never been sealed (there are a handful) and see what they have to say.
I know this is a hot button issue for a lot of people and I just want to say it’s not my intention to diminish the importance of adoptive parents. You are your child’s parents and you always will be. No birthparent or the knowledge of one can ever change that.
And for anyone who is wondering, though they are no longer with me, I loved my adoptive parents with all my heart. Knowing of my adoption and meeting my birthparents could never change that for me, either.
Addendum: Open adoptions can and do work. Secrets, however, NEVER work and nothing stays secret forever. Just ask my family.
Edited to add: You can read some more comments and discourse on this topic here. As per usual, the divisions and opinions are strong but there are some excellent points made in favor of open adoption records. Thanks to Amy for the link.