Sunday, July 25, 2010

What's in a Name? A Great Deal to an Adoptee

Today is the day of the demonstration for Adoptee Rights in Louisville, KY where the annual summit meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures is being held. When last checked, adoptee activist Jeff Hancock, the organizer of this year's event, had 791 signatures (including moi) to be linked as symbolic of those who are there in spirit. This was a Facebook gathering, but only 791? Where is the angry mob, demanding their rights? The ones who want their original, unamended, non fake birth certificates? Until they come out of the woodwork, efforts to repeal the archaic and unjust legislation that stripped them of their birth right upon adoption--their one true identity--will be stymied.

In that vein, I came across this passage this morning from Robert J. Lifton, author, psychiatrist, thinker, and husband of Betty Jean Lifton:
 "The origin of the secrecy is the specter of illegitimacy in the background. Instead of confronting these issues openly, there is the pretense that they don't exist and the whole subject becomes pervaded with guilt in a way that harms that relationship between the adopted child and his or her psychological parents. Every adopted person I have spoken to has confirmed that process....

"A name is an enormously important element of identity over the generations and over the course of one's individual life. Moreover, by learning the name, by learning about the person--one's mother and father--he or she becomes an actual vibrant human being rather than fragmented bits of information. Such bits and pieces, ethnic or social characteristics, medial background, only become further stimulants to curiosity.

"From my own experience with adopted people from from the literature, it apparently seems as though every single aodpted person has some significant curiosity about this. Some are blocked from further effort by that layer of guilt; others make no effort. But the desire to find out is probably universal."--from Birthmark.
Yes, it's my memoir, published in 1979. I was leafing through it this morning and came across Lifton's testimony included in a chapter about a 1974 trial in which both he and I testified in the Bronx. It was my first public admission of being a woman who had relinquished a child to be adopted. I don't recall that the term "birth mother" was in use yet. I do remember being a somewhat terrified and nervous (I'm about to admit in public I gave away my child!!!), but determined. The judge was kind. I found my voice.

It was the case of Ann Smith versus Spence-Chapin Adoption Services; she wanted to look at her case file. The judge denied her claim, but noted that anyway, that the file it did not contain the names of her natural parents. Unless Ann Smith was dropped off without any identifying information, her original birth certificate would have given her what she sought. I'm thinking about all this because Jane has a good post in the works about what the original birth certificate signifies, and why it's been so hard to unlock them from the damn vaults where they are hidden away from the eyes of the people to whom they rightfully belong.--lorraine
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15 comments :

  1. We have our son's original birth certificate with his original name on it, given to us by his birth mom. He will always have a copy of both and for that I am forver grateful to her. I wanted him to have it and eveyone said it would be really hard to get. On one of our visits she gave us a copy, she had ordered two. I definitely think that birth records should be opened.

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  2. Bravo! I wish that a lot more people would learn that lesson. May I link it to my Adoption Education blog? I want as much valid information as I can find. We can't stop it unless there is real information.

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  3. Meg and Ken: Thank YOU! and please spread the word about the identity issues important to all people who happen to be adopted among your friends who are adoptive parents. Not enough of them feel as you do. And please please let your state legislator, in whatever state you reside, that this is important. Together we can change the law that seals original birth certificates.

    Lori: Please link to anything on the blog whenever you want. NO NEED FOR ANYONE TO EVER ASK PERMISSION TO LINK TO www.firstmotherforum.com

    Link away! As often as it suits you! We love links!

    And by the way...reports of the death of Robert Jay Lifton are premature. Sorry about that, and thanks Maryanne for bringing it to my attention.

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  4. "the whole subject becomes pervaded with guilt in a way that harms that relationship between the adopted child and his or her psychological parents."

    Yet many adoptive parents use the guilt card to control the emotions of their adopted child without regard to the adopted person's needs. And woe to the first mom.

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  5. Great post again!!Everyone is entitled to have all their birth information it is essential to identity but I don't need to tell you that.I'm linking!

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  6. Meg and Ken....

    The thing is, if the copy of the birth certificate your son has and the other copy his first mother have are both destroyed, he cannot get another one! These two pieces of paper could be lost, burned in a fire, drowned in a flood, etc. and the state WILL NOT give him another one like it unless it unseals adoptee birth records. Only 6 states do that right now.

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  7. Cat here.

    My son was over the moon to get his OBC from Ontario.

    There is one fly in the ointment though.

    It seems that at least in the
    1970's, the government decided to obliterate or omit all unwed fathers names off the OBC's. I run a search group which has hundreds of people and not one member from the 1960's or the 1970's has the unwed father's name on their OBC's.
    Not one!

    The Ontario government has now admitted that over 90 percent of father's names are missing from these documents. The only OBC's that I can find with father's names on them are those from the 1950's or before, or those fathers who were married to the mother.

    I am now fighting to get my son's father's name on there - my son and his father are helping me. The Ontario Ombudsman has been looking at this.

    We have now found that the Ontario government has lied to the Ombudsman about our rights. If we follow the advice given by the Ontario government via the Ombudsman, my son's father could be fined up to 50,000 dollars or go to jail for making a false statement because he is not on the OBC which is a requirement of these particular forms we were told to use.

    I sometimes think it is a plot to put us protestors into jail
    (like that mass arrest at the G20 fiasco).

    I have now informed the Ombudsman of this and have formally complained. I await his answer - it had better be good!

    I will not give up until my son's father's name is restored on the OBC.

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  8. @ anon--what surprised me in the first place is that Meg stated that "everyone said it (the OBC) would be really hard to get". I wondered: did these PAP's really understand so little about the sealed records adoption system in PA (where the baby was born) that they did not even know that adoptee access to birth information is prohibited by law? Did they not understand that no Pennsylvania law would enforce the open adoption "agreements" they made with their son's Mother and Father while in their mutual pre-birth courtship? This means that Meg and Ken could --though they say they will not---cut off contact with their son's Mother at some point and never revel her identity to the child (who is still quite young). This adoptee will not be able to, on his own and without permission from anyone, obtain a copy of his OBC unless the right to access his OWN birth information is restored. Unlikely to happen, IMO, without the "credible and powerful" voices of Adopters,like Meg and Ken, who "definitely think that birth records should be open". Call me crazy--but if I knew there was a law that prevented my child from obtaining something that BELONGS to him I would work my butt off to see that that law was changed. Yes, I would 'say' that I thought he should have it but I would, and do, back it up with action. Just like Meg and Ken's adopted child, my (adopted away son) has a copy of his OBC that I gave him. But, I do not rest assured that that piece of paper is enough. Even at age 42, he does not have a right to obtain his OBC and know who I am. I understand that it also takes the voice of Mothers, like me, to say that we do not seek anonymity from our children. But, since it is mostly fearful and misguided Adopters who stand in the way of access in most states, I dare say that if folks like Meg and Ken could really step up to the plate--that they'd likely hit a home run with folks like me.

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  9. Cat, I'm delighted your son was able to get his OBC in Ontario and that you and his father supported this. I hope that one day fathers will be able to get their names added retroactively. This has been done in the UK, so fingers crossed for your efforts.

    But for those who may not realize this, the new law includes a disclosure veto (as well as a contact veto) for both adopted adults and first parents.
    So access to one's birth records in Ontario is NOT a constitutional right.

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  10. Cat,

    It wasn't just Ontario that obliterated unwed father's names, many state did this as well, going back many years. Legally in the US, unwed fathers were considered dead until the US Supreme Court resurrected them in 1972.

    In law school I was told that the reason unwed fathers' names were not put on birth certificates is that mothers would likely lie about who the father was, even giving the name of a celebrity as the father.

    Registrars often entered "unknown" instead of leaving the name of the father blank. Of course when adoptees get their birth certificates, they see this and believe their mother was some sort of trollop, not realizing the law prevented her from putting the father's name on the birth certificate.

    Hard to believe but I saw a birth certificate that an Oregon adoptee born in 1969 received which had "negro" in the space for father.

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  11. I am all for it! I have to say I know that there are laws that would prevent him to acess his OBC on his own, that's why it was important for me to have it for him in the first place. As far as campaining to get the laws changed, I have not done that. I'm sorry, I am going to be completely honest I was not really thinking "I" could do anything to change it. Let me know what it is I need to do exactly and I will help the best way I can. I am kind of new to the blogging world and have not read too much on all of this.
    earthmother~ While I do not know alot about the sealed records adoption system in PA, I did know that he could not acess them Should I have not adopted him because of this? My answer is no, I still would do it over again.
    As far as our open adoption agreement being legal, I knew and still know that it is not enforceable. I believe it should be. I WILL NOT CUT OFF CONTACT, I don't just say it I mean it. OUr son is everything to all of us and we all wants what's best for him. What's best for him is to have love from both if his families and to always know where he came from, who he looks like, and when things get tougher and he wants some answers he will get them from his birthmom.
    I would not call you crazy, I agree with you and I am not just saying it. I am also a mom who is enjoying her very active 2 1/2 yr old and totally have been enjoying that. We are also in the process of trying to adopt again. So I have not been trying to get laws changed recently. While I know it would help to hear from adoptive parents like ourselves, I don't know where to start. Just curious, did you happen to know all the laws about adoption and sealed records when you placed your son? Did knowing or not knowing influence your decision?
    Please let me know what I can do to stand up for what I DO believe in. Batter up!!
    Lorraine, thank you. I do try and tell all of my friends that have adopted and those who haven't about open adoption and the child's right to know his/her past. I am thankful for a site like this to make me have to be even more accountable for what I feel. I know it is very hard for alot of people to trust that some adoptive parents REALLY do want whats best for their child no matter what. No matter how uncomfortable things can be, no matter how things will change in a relationship, just no matter what. I want our son to be proud of his parents, all 4 of us that we can do what is right for him. In the process I happen to love it :) Again thanks Lorraine, earthmother and anon.

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  12. Cat here.

    You are right that there is a disclosure veto. The Ontario government tried to pass the law without one but it was challenged by 3 adoptees and an alleged father who denied paternity (no one knows why he was allowed in the courtroom - even the judge had misgivings on that.)

    It went to court - thousands of us including myself gave money for extra representation in the case to help the Ontario government's case. We literally put money where our mouth is. Not one mother objected to the totally open records law in court. Not one!

    The Ontario government lost when a judge ruled that not having a disclosure veto was unconstitutional. Yes, you read that right. The judge is seen as one of the most liberal ones sitting, so the Ontario government decided it probably would not win an appeal against less liberal Supreme Court judges. This is a constitutional ruling in Canada, so all provinces in Canada now contain disclosure vetoes for past adoptions. There is nothing that can be done about that now as it would take literally millions of dollars and at least a decade (or two), especially without the government backing the case.

    Justice is costly and slow in Canada. No one I know has that sort of money, even if they could spare the time of 10 - 15 years it would take to be heard.

    The Ontario government can't be blamed for this - they took it as far as they possibly could. I can't find another example of a state or province that has gone to court for completely open records.
    If there is, I would like to know about it.

    The best that Ontario could do is remove disclosure vetoes from future adoptions. I'm afraid that the records for adoptees will never be as open in Canada as they are in the UK (which is where I now live).

    The judge's ruling is pretty much final on that matter and there is very little anyone can do to change it (as much as we wish we could). The province's hands are tied by this judge. No amount of protesting will change that.

    I don't mean to be sound like the voice of doom, but that is how it is in Canada (sadly). We did try and even paid lawyers to help but it just didn't work out.

    I really don't know what else can be done in the north. I really don't.

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  13. Cat here.

    Jane - you are right that the intention was to make us look bad.
    Sadly that worked on my son's father and my reunion with my son almost didn't happen because of it.

    In Ontario, they did some really nasty tricks to stop fathers registering so they would lose their rights (on top of making us look bad). I checked the old Ontario laws and unwed fathers actually did have the right to be registered there back in the
    1960's and 1970's.

    However, the authorities went out of their way to prevent them from doing so in all sorts of ways. As far as I am concerned, they broke the law.

    The deputy registrar has admitted to a friend of mine that names were whited out and blank forms were pasted over filled out ones. One mother has found her signature was forged as they accidentally pasted over that as well!

    Social workers went so far as to put forward the names of male social workers as the other putative father! If there were 2 fathers put forward, then neither were put on the OBC as there was no DNA in those days. This happened to my son's father.

    He went to make a paternity statement so he could be named.
    However, when he tried to, they told him that an *un-named* man was the father. They forced him to sign his paternity statement with this addition of saying that he had been told about another father.

    You can imagine how upset and angry he was.

    He walked out on me - I didn't even know what had happened.

    He just kept saying to me "How could you?" and that I knew when I didn't. When he walked, I became easy pickings for the social workers and lost my son. I didn't even consent to adoption - they just took him. No father's name meant I was an "immoral woman" undeserving of my son. They told that lie to my son as well - it almost stopped us being reunited.

    When I challenged this recently, I demanded the Minister have a good look at my son's file - which he actually agreed to and did. He told me that NO father had been filed at all for my son!
    *No One*

    There was no paternity statement from the *un-named father* (Hmm - I wonder why - no surprise there then) but my son's father's statement was also "missing". They said that he didn't complete one when he did. Fortunately, he has kept an official copy (boy, am I glad he hoards stuff!)

    I am fortunate that my son's father tracked me down when he started hearing terrible stories.

    He can't believe how he was lied to. I don't blame him - he was a victim too. He has apologized non-stop and he is trying as hard as I am to sort this. He is furious at being cut out of his son's life this way and he is trying desperately hard to make up lost time. He said that challenging the government the way that I have has cleared the air and made him realise just how low they went to take our son from us and to split us apart with lies.

    My son and his father now say that they don't believe a word from anyone from the Ontario government.

    At least they both know the truth which is most the important thing to me and our relationship with our son goes from strength to strength.

    I'll let you know if I succeed on the father's name thing - I haven't given up just yet.

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  14. Cat here.

    Jane - when I tried to put my son's father's name on the OBC, the person (not sure who she was officially) took that form out of my hand and tore it up. She said I had to leave the father's info blank until the father agreed to being named, so I filled in another form leaving the space blank as I believed that it would be filled in by the Registrar when the paternity statement was filed.

    I was lied to.

    When my son got his OBC, someone drew a line right across the father's section where I had left it blank. The line is in a different hand to my own - it is much thinner and lighter than my own handwriting on the form.

    The government is now implying (although not quite saying) that I put it there. They claim they received it that way. There was only one person that had that form between me and the Registrar General - the woman who ripped up my first attempt filling in the OBC form. I am pretty sure she is the one who would have done that.
    She had opportunity.

    She didn't even let me keep the form until I had a chance to see my son's father. She took it straight of out my hand, straight out of hospital and then she disappeared with it.

    The more I think about it, the more upset and angry I am about being denied basic human rights.
    I asked all sorts of questions and all they did was lie to everyone about everything.

    I don't know how these people sleep at night.

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  15. Speaking of the dead, another nasty trick in Ontario, Quebec and BC was to simply tell unwed parents that their child had died at birth and then put the "dead" baby up for adoption. That happened to a friend of mine. She only found out by accident 30 years later that her son was still alive and living in Europe.

    This terrible thing happened to a lot of native mothers as well.

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