Allowing first/birth mothers access to the names of their children after being adopted is an issue that does not come up in the United States in the battle to give adoptees their original birth certificates. Given the way some legislators act about first mothers--that most of us are all still cowering in the closet and fear contact from our children--a lot of them would keel over if we started lobbying to be included in the legislation.
After all, what rights do we have? We are the poor women who had the babies we couldn't care for, and we ought to thank our lucky stars that someone else came along and took over.
Yet there is enlightenment across the border in Canada. In Ontario as of June 1, first mothers are able to get their children's new names--unless the individual has filed a disclosure veto, and vice versa. Yes, it's true! Here's how the official Canadian website outlines the law:
Adopted adults and birth parents also have the option to protect the privacy of their post-adoption birth information. Adopted adults and birth parents can:
- file a notice of contact preference to specify how they would like to be contacted
- file a no contact notice if they do not want to be contacted, but are willing to have their identifying information released
- file a disclosure veto if the adoption was finalized before September 1, 2008. This will prevent identifying post-adoption birth information from being released.
As of June 1, approximately 1,100 people--closely divided between adoptees and first parents--had asked that identifying information NOT be released to the other party, according to Canada's premier newspaper, the Globe and Mail. That's less than half a percent of the estimated 250,000 adoptions since 1921 the new law covers. Since this law was hotly contested in Ontario, one assumes that most people became aware of this provision through the many stories in the media. Another 1,400 filed affidavits indicating the identifying information can be released but they wish no contact, or how they might like to be contacted, such as by email. The "no-contact" preference includes a steep penalty if it is violated.
The Canadian law makes me want to stand up and cheer.
While any rights for first mothers are not even whispered as we work for adoptee access to their original identities, it was not always so in the U.S. of A. As one of the old war horses involved in adoption reform for a long time, I remember that back in 1980 when the then U.S. Health and Human Services Department proposed changes in the adoption law, giving first mothers the new names of their children upon reaching adulthood (can't remember if it was 18 or 21) was amazingly enough included. Before the proposed legislation was written, hearings were held all over the country. Florence Fisher, B.J. Lifton, and I were among the many many people who testified at Columbia University to testify for such openness in adoption. Lee Campbell, founder of Concerned United Birthparents, served on the advisory committee (and was the only first mother who was) which wrote the legislation. Here is the wording from that long-forgotten Model Adoption Act:
“There can be no legally protected interest in keeping one’s identity secret from one’s biological offspring; parents and child are considered co-owners of the information regarding the event of birth….The birth parents’ interest in reputation is not alone deserving of constitutional protection.”
We did have some support in Congress, but we also had a strong foe in the late Senator John Tower of Texas, adoptive father, known drunk and womanizer in DC, as well as the National Council of Adoption. To those who do not know, NCFA is a consortium of adoptive agencies (including Mormon [LDS] and Bethany Christian Services) who have been opposed to openness in adoption from their origin. In fact, NCFA is a direct outgrowth of the movement for open adoptions. The Gladney agency in Texas is a founding member.
Somewhere in my voluminous files I have the original 1980 bill, and when I can fish it out I will post the wording that speaks more directly to first mothers and their rights.
In the meantime, what do First Mother Forum readers think? Adopted people, first mothers, adoptive parents, let us know. --lorraine