Why has it been so damn difficult to give adopted people their original birth certificates? To do away with the noxious sealed-record laws and give adopted people the same rights as the rest of us, that is, to know whom they were at birth? You'd think we were asking for the gold of Fort Knox to spend on Manolos. A licensed private investigator, Dennis McCarthy of Auburn, New York , has some ideas and we've been having a lively dialogue.
Dennis: First, not all of the 1.5 million children put up for adoption during the Adoption Holocaust (1945-1973) were the result of a couple of teenagers getting themselves into a situation society wouldn't let them get out of. No, some of those children were the result of powerful "important" men who either betrayed their marriage vows, or were intimate with the "wrong kind" of woman, or who raped a female relative. Men who wield social power don't want their wrongdoing revealed, and I guarantee you, the names of many such men are right there in the adoption files along with the teenagers' names. Whatever power they held 30 or more years ago has likely only increased; if they're dead, they doubtless have left behind powerful families who will only perpetuate the secret. Thus, the records will remain closed on that account.
Lorraine: Yep, we know that a lot of men don't want their unacknowledged children to come out of the woodwork. We also are quite certain that the staunch opposition we run into in some instances from the Catholic church--such as in New Jersey--is at least partly the result of priests who fathered children. But in Albany, the bishop has come out in favor of giving adopted people their original birth certificates. But I'd like to know what it is with the American Civil Liberties Union, which generally is hell-bent on preserving the anonymity of birth mothers. I got into a public argument on a radio show once with the ACLU director in Miami, and he was surprised to hear the other side of the story. I'm not sure I turned him completely around, but he was expressing doubt about the ACLU's position by the time we finished talking.
Yet the ACLU in general, and at the national level, has certainly not been on the side of adopted people, which makes me nuts. Adopted people are the ones whose cause the ACLU ought to be supporting--instead of opposing them. Somehow I feel that the ACLU's support of sealed records--sealed from the people they concern the most--is simply corrupt. Like, maybe they have been co-opted by some of those big-shots you mention. Somehow the ACLU is largely convinced that birth/first mothers do not want the records opened, when the opposite is true. But their position is, We gotta protect those first/birth mothers in hiding.
Now, let's talk about the infamous "Searcher," whom I paid $1,200 in 1981 to locate my daughter. Those of us who knew of him feel that he must have been someone in a position to look at records at will and have contacts in all 50 states, as nothing seemed to deter him from a successful search. Later, I found out that he figured out who my daughter was by reading my memoir, Birthmark (her particulars were purposely included), and tracking her down, but he did not pass on the information until I forked over $1,200. In later years, his fee went up. I don't know when he stopped operating.
I have to say I would have paid more, and did not mind at all that I might have been breaking a law to locate my daughter. I have often felt that blood on the steps of Albany and other state capitals--or a publicized break-in similar to Watergate--is the only way we are going to convince some legislators that keeping the records sealed is as criminal and as wrong as slavery. As for first mothers being given the information about who got their children, forget about it. That was part of the proposed Model Adoption Act that made it to Washington in 1980--much to our amazement--but now it's such a hot potato no one will even consider it.
Dennis: Second, there is the likelihood that if The Searcher and "God" and others like him got caught, and their crimes were revealed, the scope of what they did was so enormous that the State would hush it up and simply fire them rather than doing the right thing and prosecute them, instead of risking a public scandal involving government criminality. No state wants a black eye like that, and if the records are unsealed, the crimes of people like The Searcher might come to light. Thus, the records will remain closed on that account, too.
Lorraine: I don't know if I agree the sins of The Searcher are important today. When you lobby in Albany, as I have, what you hear like a mantra is: The Privacy of the Birth Mother. Hosanna....they must be protected. Protected from whom, I'd like to know. That is all BS, but I'm repeating myself. I think most of the people I've met in Albany do not even know the Searcher operated. Behind enemy lines, as far as I'm concerned. This is war.
Dennis: Third, there is too much free-floating, unrequited anger among searching parents and adoptees whose posts I've read on the Internet. There is far too much public venting. It isn't that venting is wrong; indeed, venting is necessary. But when you memorialize your venting online, it will remain there for the world to see until the end of time, and when a political showdown happens between parents/adoptees and the politicians who control our lives, the politicians are simply not going to listen to people whose distinguishing characteristic appears to be anger. And on that account, the records will remain closed as well.
Anger has only one use, as a stepping stone to positive action. However, I see too many people who have decided to embrace their anger and never let it go. These are people who truly have been victimized, but they've made the useless decision to remain victims, and in so doing, they're robbing themselves of the opportunity to be listened to and to make something happen. Embracing victimhood gives one a sense of entitlement; victimhood makes people sit and wait for society to magically pay them back, to set everything right. And those are the people who will spend the rest of their lives in the hole society dug for them.
But this is what society wants and expects of its victims – society wants its victims to stay in the hole, to stay there and sit and wait for someone or something else to pull them out. It's a war of attrition in which no one accepts responsibility for anything. It's a war of attrition which society always wins, has always won, and will always win.
Lorraine: Wow. That's a very bleak way of looking at the situation. I agree that there is a lot of anger--I have some myself--because I felt when I surrendered my daughter I had no choice. I argued with my social worker over the sealed-in-perpetuity of the sealed records for I had been going along on the assumption that when she turned 18 or 21, both of us would be given the other's identity. That seemed like the natural thing, the moral way, the right way. I was shocked when I found out that was not the case. Finally, the social worker--Mrs. Helen Mura--said that if I would not agree to a closed-forever-adoption, the agency--Northaven Terrace in Rochester, New York--could not help me with the adoption. Incidentally, the agency no longer exists.
So as for "breaking a law" and paying some clerk or official who could make a phone call--he did his work before the Internet, remember--and get the information I would have walked over hot coals for, I did not give a damn. I was participating in a social revolution, and I'd do it again. Wait--I still am participating in a social revolution. Eventually, we will win. Even the Prince of Darkness, the late Bill Pierce of the National Council for Adoption, the scourge of open records, said that we would win one day, that open records were the wave of the future. He told that to Florence Fisher, one of the real pioneers of this movement, and the founder ALMA, an early organization that did much to move adoption reform forward, and is still around today. I'm going with that. That open records will be a reality in my lifetime.
Dennis McCarthy is a private detective bonded and licensed by the State of New York. "For 34 years, I have been an investigator/detective of one kind or another, but since 1983 I've worked as private detective and/or lawyer's investigator."