Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Adoptees Who Say They Only Want Information Hurt Everyone


First Mother is feeling rather feisty this morning thinking about how many times she has heard adoptees say: I only want the information. I have a right to that, but, no, I don't intend to search for my birth mother. 

And First Mother got to thinking, then of course if a legislator hears that...he can say, with a clean conscience, so, We'll give them "the information, the updated medical information, the cultural, social and medical history and since they say, they don't need more than that, why do they need the name?  We have to protect all those birth mothers in the closet who have not talked about the child they gave up for years...and certainly don't want to be reminded...because they have never talked about it. So let's go with the "information."

Closed adoptions are built on such fictions of identity that the web they weave afterward is a skein of lies: adoptive parents having trouble with the truth of the child's adoption; adoptees growing up and saying--out of hurt, out of anger, out of a primal wound they can't even reach verbally, out of fear of causing discomfort for their adoptive parents--I only want the information. What does "only the information" do to birth mothers? It reduces them to mere "reproductive agents," as an acquaintance of mine once called me. (See link for an engaging story about what some think of birth mothers.) I am a whole lot more than "information," but to be able to have my daughter be adopted legally in New York State, I was forced to go along with a closed-adoption law so heinous, so unjust in its intent that it violates all tenets of human decency.

First Mother has some sympathy for adoptees who say they only want information; she believes it is said defensively, in order to stem any possible rejection from one's birth mother, or to please their adoptive parents who fear any contact with the woman who shares their adult child's DNA, or to take some control over a life-changing situation over which they had no control. But this attitude is what has confused legislators. Especially those legislators, we believe, who have some connection to birth mothers in hiding, or adoptive parents who feel any intrusion by the pesky woman who merely gave birth to the child they have taken to the dentist, stayed up all night with, had emergency room runs at 3 a.m., talked to teachers about his boisterous behavior that they do not understand.

First Mother believes that all adopted people unequivocally should have their original/real/non faked birth certificates. And adoptees should stop asking merely for "information," and go to the heart of the matter: the birth certificate, with the real name, the real date, real time and place of birth. And take it from there. Search/find/reunite and try to be kind and forgiving. Not everyone will be happy with what they find, but at least they will have the truth. You can't have peace until you have all the pieces.

Here at home, First Mother is updating her kitchen, replacing 60-year-old dark brown, wood-grained Formica and a counter that is disintegrating, so she is busy collecting information about green countertops made from recycled glass, as well as Corian, granite, quartz, with the clear plan that she is going to do something with that information. First Mother is not simply going to file the information she is collecting. It will be put to use. First Mother will eventually have a new counter top.

First Mother also woke up with the thought this morning that birth mothers should also get the information: the last known whereabouts and name of the children they gave up under arcane, cruel and unusual laws we had no choice over. We could say we only want the "information."

But who would believe us?--lorraine

From Author and Adoptee B. J.Lifton via FaceBook:
Lorraine, remember that adoptees are in process. They don't really know what they want at first, and gradually as they move on in the search, they realize they want more than they thought they did. Eventually, they want the whole enchilada -- which means of course, meeting the mother and having a relationship with her.

41 comments :

  1. kitta here:

    good post, Lorraine. I have always supported access to identifying information..for both sides.

    I think relatives should be able to face each other as human beings and share information.

    Reducing either side to "information only" is objectifying.

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  2. I can think of several other reasons why some adoptees say they "only want information". One is to avoid hurting their adoptive parents to whom many feel close and/or obligated (the "grateful" mentality). Another is because it's more socially acceptable to say, "I'm adopted, I only want information" rather than, "I'm adopted, I want my civil right to my original birth certificate." People can understand the former but don't know about closed adoption records so they don't understand the latter. How many of us have been told we should "just go to the courthouse and ask"? (raising hand) People may also belittle the adoptee for potentially intruding upon her mother of origin, because the right to one's identity and search/reunion have been so conflated in the public mindset. I am sick of the assumption that adoptees are going to show up on doorsteps merely because we have access to names. It's part of the perpetual child assumption, that we aren't capable of acting like adults. (And, as I've said before, those few mothers who don't want contact should support access to OBCs because many current laws in sealed-records states require adoptees to contact them.)

    I, too, wish adoptees would stop saying "I only want information" or "I only want my medical history" and instead educate themselves on why it is our records are sealed so they can more appropriately insist upon the right to identity. As you correctly point out, it's easy for politicians to dismiss civil rights in favor of pseudo-solutions that provide access to "information" but not the restoration of rights.

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  3. Triona, your points, as well as ones raised by a very informed searcher (my friend< Jen) are well taken--and I have changed the blog to include them about why adoptees say they "only want the information" about their origins.

    Adoptees need to stand up, act out for their rights.

    And on another note: I just heard that the hearing in Michigan today did not go well. Lies, lies, and lies out of the mouth of adoption attorneys. Why do I hate adoption attorneys so much? Because they lie and line their pockets.

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  4. Great post Lorraine!

    I'm sorry to hear that Michigan did not go well. They are a black hole state. Talk about discrimination!

    I've also heard from adoptees who say they do not want anything, not even information, and from adoptees and first moms in open adoptions who don't understand what all the fuss is about.

    It's interesting that in most states, even walking into Vital Records with your adoptive parents on one arm and your first parents on the other does not get you your OBC.

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  5. I do not see how adoptees who only want information and do not want to search hurt anyone. Not being an adoptee myself, I do not second guess what their motivations might be either to search or not search, It is a highly individual choice.

    My son did not search and did not want to be found. I do not see how that makes him less authentic or honest or anything else than adoptees who do search.

    There are adoptees who support access to OBCs who do not want to search, or do not want to search at this time. I object to those adoptees who say that because they do not want to search, nobody should, or that records should not be open, but making a personal choice not to search without opposing others is, well, a personal choice. None of my business and nothing I can judge.

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  6. I could not agree more. There are so many who will take whatever little bit they can to keep records sealed, including using adoptees, just as they have First Moms, to "prove" their point and strengthen their stance to continue to deny access to OBC's.

    And honestly, in my opinion, when you downplay the importance of having full and open access to OBC's, you harm those like my oldest son who fights EVERY semester with his college to be recognized as even existing because his THIRD birth certificate, after adopting him back, gives him yet another identity which, to the college, shows he has only "existed" for the past year and a half. And even though my name is again on his birth certificate, he still is denied access to his OBC and fights this battle constantly.

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  7. Amen, and thanks for this post. This is spot on, Lorraine! Good work.

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  8. I am interested in the question of "why do adoptees want their records", and "when they get their records, what do they then do with them?"

    In open records states and provinces:

    - How many adoptees get their records and then never search because they have no intention of searching?

    - How many get their records primarily *because* they intend on searching and having a name makes finding the person far easier?

    - How many get their records primarily because it is their right?

    - How many get their records primarily because they want medical information?

    Has anyone ever done a study on this?

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  9. No offense, but I completely disagree.

    Access to Original Birth Certificates ought to have absolutely nothing to do with reunion OR 'just wanting the information.' Access to OBCs is about the right to be treated as every other American citizen is treated. OBCs are government documents owned by the government. However, since they are made available to non-adoptees, they need to be made available to adoptees too. The current state of most laws 1.) is a first Ammendment deprivation of useful information 2.) It's a modern connection to historical aspects of slavery. Slaves were property to be passed from person to person and were cut off from their original families, completely dehumanized by having no right to their original heritage, language and culture. We are to be Constitutionally FREE from ALL aspects of slavery. 3.) it's a violation of the 14th Ammendment's Equal Protection Clause where adoptee births are handled differently than non-adoptee births and adoptees are deprived legally from information that the non-adopted are not.

    OBC laws in their current state spell out a perpetual childhood for adoptees, holding them to agreements made on their behalf as minors before they could consent--this is one of the very many reasons why the 'secrecy' arguement is rediculous. Agency reps should be FINED for promising "secrecy'..there simply is NO such thing and something that can never be guaranteed.' There is no 14th Ammendment provision for procreational secrecy. If it were so, on-demand access to OBCs would be available to no person without parental permission--regardless of adoption status. There is no reason for any person or entity to deny an adopted person's access if the non-adopted are not denied.

    Not wanting to be forced in a suspect class and perpetual childhood and wanting to be treated like everyone else has nothing to do with reunion. Making it about reunion is the quickest way to gut a bill and have states force manditory counseling, compusitory sharing of information on both sides, priori restraining orders and disclosure veto nonsense. Instead of providing unhindered access, we are instead provided with rediculous registries that seek to micromanage reunions and use government control over interpersonal relationships (I'm forever owned by the TN Department of Children's Services because I signed my rights away to get my OBC).

    The line of thinking is: "if it is about contact, then women who don't want contact should be able to withhold OBCs." We have to avoid this. No one has the right to control someone else's birth document based on their adoption status. That's Institutionalized Discrimination.

    Reunions happen every day without OBC access. Having an OBC with your mother's maiden name guarantees no person a reunion. I am so very pro-reunion but IMHO, we have to avoid he reunion arguement. Legislators who have no loss connection to adoption (e.g. being the adoptee or First Parent) have no idea how to empathise with this on the level that we do--we have to lay it out plainly. It is a violation of rights; period.

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  10. Everybody: READ THE POST CAREFULLY.

    If adoptees insist they only want "information," that becomes a mantra for legislators to conclude that giving only partial information is adequate. Since the adoptee does not want to search.

    In terms of rights, I don't care if adoptees search or do not search after they have their original birth certificates, which some have misinterpreted the post to read as harming the movement; but saying you only want information means you do not need the name since you have no intention of searching and so why aren't you happy with just "social, cultural, medical information? Does that hurt adoption reform. Yes.

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  11. I believe what Triona says is very accurate. No one who is not an adoptee has an inkling of the frustration of not having access to their own information.

    And I also firmly believe as she states that most adoptees want to avoid hurting their adoptive parents. My son started out with the premise of "wanting information" for just that reason.

    This is a hell of a situation but as it unfolds - with its ups and downs - my son and I are bonding in a very special way, his adoptive family notwithstanding. We truly have a connection, we are learning how we are so alike.

    This isn't easy and not for the faint of heart. Nothing about adoption is for the faint of heart.

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  12. Lorraine,
    I really appreciate this post. You're addressing points that can help get more of us lined up and moving in a positive direction to maybe do something, instead of splintering and fighting.

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  13. I am an adoptee who only wanted to contact my birth family for medical information. I respect your opinion but wish you would let me have mine without claiming to know what my unspoken motives are. I am just as entitled to my own feelings. Guilt or loyalty to my parents have nothing to do with it. I honestly just don't feel anything for my birth family. I don't know them. I feel no resentment, but no desire to know them personally. I would, however, like to know some medical information to allow me to take better control of my own health.

    Yes, all adoptees should be entitled to their OBC. Absolutely. This has nothing to do with a search or reunion. Your argument is stronger if you keep the emotions out of it.

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  14. Thought proving. So much so that what began as a comment wound up an entire blog post with suggestions for overcoming this phenom.

    http://familypreservation.blogspot.com/2010/03/equal-access-slogan-contest.html

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  15. Lorraine, I agree completely. Whether an adoptee wants to search, make contact with their family or not, should not be the concern of legislators as to how the information on the OBC is used. It's a basic civil right that they shouldn't have to justify.

    Since most of us seem to support an adoptee's unfettered, unconditional access to their OCB, I believe that those of us who are working hard to effect this change, have to stick to the same story line when asking to have these closed laws changed.

    Triona expressed it so well - by questioning their motives it perpetuates the myth that adopted people are forever children not to be trusted with the same information about their birth that all other citizens are entrusted with.

    There is nothing wrong with only wishing to get information and but no interest in reunion; but continuing to imply publicly (meaning to legislators and the media) that this information is the only reason one wants their OBC; belittles the legitimate right adoptee's have.

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  16. I searched for information at first because that was all that I believed I would find. I knew nothing about adoptee rights movements. Now I think differently, but only after learning a lot more both from finding my first mom (and dad) and meeting other adoptees and first moms. I was isolated from the social movements.

    Adoptee rights are pretty obscure in the wider scene.

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  17. All I can say is wow, just wow.

    An amazing group this of adoption reform. How quick to demand rights and claim discrimination and in the same breath completely disregard the rights and experience of those touched by adoption who feel differently, not to mention blaming them for everyone else's problems and making claims to know their "true" motivation.

    Adoptees who say they only want information hurt everyone?!?!?!

    I'm speechless.

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  18. "If adoptees insist they only want "information," that becomes a mantra for legislators to conclude that giving only partial information is adequate. Since the adoptee does not want to search. "

    So long as adoptees continue to make restoring their right to their OBCs their primary goal, it's nobody's business but their own what they do about reunion.

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  19. Thanks for a great article, Lorraine!

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  20. Call me flummoxed, but there's something I'm not getting here.
    Are there really hoards of adoptees out there agitating for "their information" alone, *without* their OBCs?
    Who are they? Where are they?

    I think Mark makes a good point when he says that adoptee rights are pretty obscure in the wider scene.

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  21. Lorraine,

    I did read your post carefully. You had made two mentions to searching and reuniting tied into your post about OBCs which is what raised the red flag for me and what I commented to.

    If your entry was saying "give me my uncensored OBC because it's my right" period, then I agree with that! And I'm sorry if I misinterpreted. But because of the mentioning of searching and reuniting, I couldn't be sure. Right now in PA, the #1 obstacle to getting our bill a hearing is the NCFA breathing down the PA Adoption Taskforce's neck claiming we're all going to take our OBCs to track down our mothers and bang on their doors, disrupting their lives. It's why the passive registry exists in the place of open access. The reunion arguement right now is something we're combatting heavily against. (abortion is the #2 arguement).

    I should know my mother's name and have access to my OBC because it's something no one else is restricted from. If I use my OBC to reunite, that's my business and the concern of no judge or legislator.

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  22. kitta here:

    I have testified before legislative committees when access to OBC bills were being heard.

    Lawmakers can become convinced that adopted people "only want background information" if adopted people testify to that effect.

    One lawmaker said "well, let's just give them access to the background information and take out the identifying information." This amendment was proposed after he had heard several adopted people say they didn't care about a reunion or knowing their family.

    If adopted people want access to OBC, then that needs to be stated specifically.

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  23. Author and adoptee BJ Lifton provided this insight on FaceBook:

    Lorraine, remember that adoptees are in process. They don't really know what they want at first, and gradually as they move on in the search, they realize they want more than they thought they did. Eventually, they want the whole enchilada -- which means of course, meeting the mother and having a relationship with her.

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  24. I understood Lorraine's point to be that claiming you only want "information" and not "reunion," etc. leads the OBC to CONTINUE to be SEALED. After all, if all that is desired is a little background info, then there really is no reason to release OBC. That's the message that is sent with this argument.

    If you want the OBC, say so clearly and without qualification. It is everyone's right to access the same info that is held by the government.

    I think there have been too many other explanations for what adoptees really want, which just confuses the matter and keeps the OBC sealed.

    Ask for what you should have an unfettered right to: THE OBC.

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  25. I agree with BJ - none of us really know what we are hoping to find when we search for our lost family member. Or whether we will want a relationship should we find a child or parent that is our worst nightmare.

    But adoptees have for good reason, a pretty major fear of rejection. I don't blame them for taking little baby steps and testing the waters before deciding what it is they hope to find.

    I'm still astounded at the strident attitude some have that adoptees are only searching with the intent to objectify or be disrespectful of mothers if they initially say they only want medical information and prefer to keep it impersonal!

    That's a pretty broad statement and over the 25 years or so that I've been involved in reform, I've rarely met adoptees that have that attitude, once they get involved with support and understand the issues involved.

    Many of us here have testified before legislative committees when access to OBC bills were being heard. While I still think that we need clean bills, it really doesn't bother me if an adopted person is only looking for information. I don't see that as any different than some mothers who choose to deny contact because of their shame issues.


    That's their right, but making sure adoptees are made aware of the importance of the language used when they submit their requests to agencies, courts and mostly legislators, can only help us all appear consistent and logical. I agree - whatever you want, first make it clear that you want your OBC!

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  26. kitta here:

    "They don't really know what they want at first, and gradually as they move on in the search, they realize they want more than they thought they did. Eventually, they want the whole enchilada -- which means of course, meeting the mother and having a relationship with her"

    Not all are the same. Some adopted people search as soon as they can.Some even try to do it when they are still underage.

    And some adopted people wish for their mothers to find them.

    Allowing for direct communication in those situations where adoptions must still occur would eliminate the need for searching. And it would eliminate at least some of the feeling of mystery.

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  28. "They don't really know what they want at first, and gradually as they move on in the search, they realize they want more than they thought they did."

    I echo this statement EXACTLY for my case.

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  29. Kitta here:

    "and we also are stuck with the Church's rage being spewed on us as they do not want us to have our information because we are "bastards" and our Mothers are "whores"

    Improper, you have spoken the truth. Some Churches are angry with us because we have not accepted their judgement, and because we have dared to seek out our family members.

    Once I received a phone call from a natural mother who had gone back to the Church and she had decided to try to spread the word to other "fallen" women. She contacted our support group, telling us we needed to go back to her church where we would be "forgiven" and would be accepted back.

    She kept telling us "the Church will take you back, the church will take you back" but we didn't want to take that church back.

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  30. it's "okay" to want 'information only' because you're not hurting adoptive parents' feelings... you're not 'intruding' on bio-family... you're leaving well enough along. it was drilled into a lot of adoptee's heads that you need to be grateful that someone took you in - you need to be grateful that you weren't an abortion - you are NOT to make waves - you are NOT to hurt anyone's feelings - you are NOT to demand ANYTHING ever! you are to accept crumbs and be thankful that you got that... I wish I was exagerating!

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  31. I echo what Kitta said. If an adoptee states that he/she "only wants information," then the legislator asks "They why do you need names if you only need information?"

    And reunion is the elephant on the dining room table. Why does anyone in practical terms need their mother's name unless it is to search for her? Why not just one's own name at birth if what one needs is "information"?

    We need to address the reunion issue, or else the NCFA and others will use it against us. Saying "It's not about reunion," if many people are obtaining information in order to search, is then a blatant falsehood, because for some adoptees it will be about reunion. If it is "not about reunion," then what statistics support that? Lawmakers will only listen to these type of figures if the NCFA is spouting tripe denying it. The NCFA has to be proven wrong that "it is not about reunion," or if it IS about reunion, then this needs to be addressed up-front and honestly.

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  32. This post is absolutely ridiculous. Adoptees who say they only want info do NOT have esp that perhaps some day their feelings may change in the end.
    There is nothing wrong with saying an adoptee only wants their OBC.
    Many adoptee who actually DO want a relationship with their first mother eventually regret that attempt. Perhaps these situation could also be viewed as anti- adoptee rights.
    I really find it appalling every time I come here and see first moms trying to claim they know best on how adoptees behave and act. And you do it with such conviction.
    No wonder so many adoptees "only want information". Good for them.

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  33. ITA with Kathlyn.
    If adoptees want their OBC for its own sake what's wrong with that? It's their right.

    What they do with it after they get it is their choice and their responsibilty.

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  34. Kathlyn,

    I am a mother who surrendered and am reunited, and I would not presume to speak for what adoptees feel or want.I think adoptees can speak for themselves quite well, as individuals with their own unique feelings and needs. Of course, no one adoptee can speak for "all" adoptees, just as with any other group, but individuals should feel free to express their own opinion without fear that it upsets somebody else.

    Adoptees should be able to get their own OBC with no restrictions or conditions. What they do with the information is totally their own business. Searching or "just wanting information" are equally valid person decisions. Individual choices should be respected, rather than trying to force adoptees or anyone else into one mold.

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  35. Personally I don't care if adoptees search and reunion...but as long as some continue to say "they only want the information" they do hurt the adoption-reform movement. When I hear that, then I think: well, then give them the "information" without the woman's name. They only want to know if they are Polish, Italian, Jewish, etc. and have a history of mental illness or a record of delinquency or a Phi Beta Kappa straight-A intellectualism in their background.

    Say you want the original birth certificate so you can do with it what you please, that's fine. Asking for anything less is muddying the water and confuses legislators who are ready to have any excuse to not vote for open records because it might offend some birthmother (as in their cousin who has never mentioned the hole in her heart in all these years) or their buddies, the adoptive parents who live in their district and whom they are sure want those records sealed tight! Forever.

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  36. As an adoptee I wholly agree with what Stephanie Steinke said. Just my 2c.

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  37. you understand, as an adoptee society tells me I am wrong for wanting to know, I have loved my 1st mother all my life, but when I found her, she treated me like a medical project, icy cold what medical do you want to know and go away!

    She went on to become a midwife ,I am not human in her eyes

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  38. Hello,
    I am an adoptee. I have recently found the woman who gave birth to me but have not her contacted yet. I am still thinking all this through and letting it sink in. I am one of those adoptees you talk about that just wants the medical history. I can only speak for myself, but the reason I would like medical history is simple. Everytime I have a doctors visit I always get ask, any history of blah, blah,blah and so forth. Everytime that is brought up, I remind my doctor that I am adopted and don't have that information. As I get older I would like to have that information if nothing but for piece of mind.
    On the matter of wanting to know my birth parents, well in my case I don't want to hurt or disrupt anyone's lives including mine by asking for medical history only, but in the same breath if my birth parents have questions about me I am open to sharing that information. If my birth parents don't want information about me I am good with that, maybe mostly because I am a very happy person and my life is great. I can only speak for myself. :)

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  39. I want to mention that adoptees often have to use the line "I only want to info" to avoid tipping people off to the fact that we're searching. It's precisely because we're searching that we must say we're not. However, it is frustrating that this is the message that legislators are hearing and acting on.

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