Sunday, October 17, 2010

Give the Gift of Life: Help give back your child's true identity

Lorraine
You know how when birth/first mothers lobby so that our children can learn the truth of their origins, and yes, locate us, legislators say, but you were promised anonymity? 

Makes me crazy, this does.

We were not promised anything! And if your social worker did tell you that once having relinquished the goods (that is, your baby) you could live a life under a rock and pretend that you did not have a child, she was lying! Cotton growers in the South
thought they were promised that they could have slaves forever too--the state said they could, right?--but that turned out to be so massively unjust that it came to an end one day, just like sealed records for adoptees will be one day. 

Now why would the state guarantee that they would strip an infant of his true heritage and tell us that we would go on our merry way without wondering what happened to our child? Why would they say this when common sense makes this a bunch of malarky?

Because they can. While they hide behind first mothers' skirts, they are really acting in the "supposed" interests of adoptive parents for whom the law was written. Here is one example: In New York the law was written and promulgated (that is, pushed through the legislature) at the behest of the then governor, Herbert H. Lehman, adoptive father of three.

The trouble is, the legislators don't seem to get it that in almost every instance we can find, we couldn't be promised anonymity because the records of the individual were only sealed when they were adopted. No adoption; no sealed record. And secondly, we were not so much "promised" anonymity as it was forced upon us.

After I discovered that surrendering my daughter meant anonymity for life, I rebelled and argued with Helen Mura, my social worker at Northaven Terrace, the bland name for the local adoption agency in Rochester, New York, about this nefarious aspect of the law. She finally said: If you insist on one day being able to know her, we can't help you. In other words, all the mothers who surrendered children through the system after 1935 had no say in whether they wanted their children's records sealed or not. It just happened. Period.

Open adoptions have changed this somewhat, but what about all the adoptees in those years adopted under this unjust system? It is 75 years later, and we still have these archaic laws on the books, robbing generations of people who were adopted of the most basic information about themselves. You would think that this would be a no-brainer today--with all the stories about finding one roots on television and in magazines--but New York's moribund legislature is still stuck in time, robbing new generations of people of their identity.

Ladies, we need to disprove this and show them that we do not wish to be anonymous. Let us stand up and be counted. In New York, we have lots and lots of supporters in the legislature (check out Unsealed Initiative's website for more) but still the gatekeepers of our bill are recalcitrant, hiding behind our skirts. How annoying is that? Very! We needs support now in the form of letters to those gatekeepers.  Though you could not nurture your child, give him or her the priceless gift of identity. Please write a letter today, or tomorrow, and do two things with it: send it to your own state assemblyman and senator, and send it to one or, better yet, all of these folks in New York:
Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the Assembly
LOB 932
Albany, NY 12248

He is against our bill and is very powerful. Holds the keys to getting the bill on the floor, where it would likely pass. This is how one person can stop legislation. 

Joseph R. Lentol [chair of the Codes Committee, where our bill, A841, languishes]
LOB 632
Albany, NY 12248

Note: Helene Weinstein is also on the committee and she is a sworn enemy of open records. FYI, she is not an adoptive mother, but a powerful force in the Assembly. 

Richard Gottfried, Chair of the Health Committee
LOB 822
Albany, NY 12248

FYI: Gottfired supports our bill and needs to be encouraged to work harder for it. In the Seventies, he sponsored a bill that would have opened the records, but only from that time forward. We thought we would win in the courts, but did not. Gottfried should be a much stronger supporter of our bill, and needs to hear from us, as he has said he mainly hears from adoptive parents. So any adoptive parents reading who support giving your children the right to their true identities, please write him.

Please write! Ask them to move A8410 to the Assembly floor for a vote. Tell them it has never been against the law to search and the state adoption policy is unfair and unjust, outdated and discriminates against a while class of people. Tell them  you could not have been "promised" anonymity, even if it was indicated, because the law does not support that. Tell them your own story in your own language and hold nothing back. And be sure to include your postal address and phone number with area code. This is to ensure the legislative members that you are who I say you are.
In closing, here is a quote from a letter opposing the law: 
"1) It legalizes the falsification of permanent public records.
 2)  It nullifies the inalienable right of a person to know the actual facts of his birth.
 3)  And special provision for illegitimate children which will single them out from the group of     legitimate children is bound to be cause of embarrassment to them in later years." 
                                                                                  --Sister Dominica Maria, April 25, 1935

Sister Dominica was the superintendent of New York Foundling Hospital. May she rest in peace with the angels. --lorraine
_____________________________
Do not forget to include your name, address and phone number--this is important for your letter to be taken seriously. And then please let us know that you wrote, include as much of your letter here in comments that you care to share. And yes, thought I much prefer comments that are not anonymous, you can be anonymous here, as this is a public forum.

PS: Though I'm not a fan of Desperate Housewives tonight's show has one of the women surprisingly turning out to be a birth mother who searches for her child. Tune in and let's see how this is played for yuks.
                   
Jane here.
My letter to the New York Legislature:
In November, 1966 I gave birth to a daughter whom I surrendered for adoption. I was not promised confidentiality and did I want it. We reunited 31 years later. Since our reunion, I have felt much more complete. It is indeed true that the truth will set you free.

I live in Oregon. On November 3, 1998, Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 58 with 57 percent of the vote. This measure allowed adults adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates. Opponents immediately challenged Ballot Measure 58 in the courts as violating birth mother privacy. The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the law and the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The Measure became effective May 31, 2000.

While opponents of the law claimed that birth mothers did not want their children to know their identities, birth mothers said something quite different. Two days before the election, over 500 birth mothers including me placed their names in a full page ad in Oregon’s largest newspaper, the Portland Oregonian, supporting the measure.

Over 10,000 Oregon-born adoptees have received their original birth certificates since 2000. The Oregonian which opposed Ballot Measure 58 has continued to follow the Measure. Neither the Oregonian nor any other media has reported a single case of a birth mother who became upset over being contacted by her child. I have met birth mothers and birth fathers from all over the country. I have never heard any regret reuniting with their child regardless of how the reunion turned out.

23 comments :

  1. Hi, Lorraine, I want to make sure I understand this:

    "No adoption; no sealed record"

    This really means that there's no actual relationship between what may have been promised (or in fact NOT promised) at SURRENDER, because it is really a function of ADOPTION.

    That seems really significant to me from a legal perspective, but what do I know?

    Hope all is well with you!!

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  2. Yes, Third Mom, you are right :-) The only thing a mother is promised at surrender is that she has no rights. They do not and cannot promise her anonymity based on amending and sealing because nothing is sealed at surrender.

    Until decree of adoption, that birth certificate is not sealed, belongs to the surrendered child, and is a matter of public record. My decree of adoption was not issued until almost a year after my birth, until that time, my birth certificate was mine.

    I want to add something about talking about wanting to be found when speaking to a legislator in case the response "what about those who don't want to be found?" comes up. Tell them, searching and finding is a private matter between adoptee and first mother. The non-adopted are not asked what they will use their birth certificate for, neither should the adopted. I think that's something that out to be pointed out to legislators. Our private lives are not their concern. Equality is.

    An adoptee should have access to their OBC, without hinderance, because it belongs to them and they have a right to be treated equally under the law. Mothers should want adoptees to have access to their OBCs for the same reason. When legislators say to me "what about mother's rights?" I simply say back "they have a right not to be shoved into a subclass of mothers whose descendants are the ONLY U.S. citizens who do not have a birth certificate. When you discriminate against a person for the sole reason that they are the descendant of a first mother, how in the world is that 'mother's rights' or feminism?"

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  3. Amen, Lorraine.

    I am for individual rights and this is one that has been denied to select — i.e., adopted — individuals.

    Will the NY legislators care/listen if we did not relinquish in NY? If you think they will, I'm in...

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  4. I'm happy with the 'embarrassment' of being a bastard.But then I know who I am, my name and my mother.
    There is no moral justification for sealed records, no argument that can ever make sense.

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  5. I hope you don't mind but I created a link to this on my blog. This is one time that I wish my own birth mom was interested in something about adoption. Thanks for this.

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  6. Lorraine, You are certainly right about here in Oregon. For many years, I have lived in a suburb of Portland. The Oregonian has a reputation of needing to find a way to say, "See I told you so,"as a way trying to push their narrow-minded views on the public. You can bet the various news outlets as well would have picked up on the negative consequences to if they could have found any. I have several friends that are into searching/genealogy and said they haven't heard of any birth mothers in our state that feel that their rights have been violated. Thanks for sharing!

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  7. Lorraine, here is the letter I sent to an adoptee who is compiling a pkg of letters from mothers...

    I am writing to your office for the purpose of urging you, as a member of the state legislature, to support Bill# S5269/A8410. This bill is often referred to as "The Adoptee Bill of Rights" and as such has deep personal meaning to me. Please allow me to share with you my personal experience.

    I am a natural mother - NOT a "birthmother". Even better, just call me a mother. I was not a breeder, I wasn't an incubator used for someone else's gain. That's what it feels like to be called a "birthmother". When I lost my daughter to adoption in 1980 I was young, didn't have family support, had no resources, had no job, no husband or boyfriend and had no options. I didn't have anywhere to go and wasn't given any information about help that was available to me. When I gave birth to her I was alone. My records were labeled with the letters BFA, meaning Baby For Adoption. This was code for telling the hospital staff that I was not allowed to see my own baby. I didn't know at that time that I was the only person who actually had legal right to my child. No one bothered to tell me what my rights were. I never saw her, never held her. All I had of her was the sound of her cry as she was being taken from the delivery room. I caught a glimpse of her arm as it came loose of the blanket she was wrapped in.

    I surrendered my daughter through Catholic Social Services and had to sign the papers 4 days after her birth. There was no revocation period. In my state of Florida, there's still no revocation period. I had no choice. Having one option and one option only is not having a choice. In 2003 I met my daughter for the first time. Just a couple of months ago I saw the adoption papers for the first time. At the time I signed them in 1980 I was not given a copy of the papers - when does this ever happen? When do you sign a contract and not get a copy of what you signed? I had to request them from the agency and repeatedly was asked why I wanted them? They were my records, I had a right to see them! Early on when I was going through this experience I was repeatedly told that it would be best if I left the adoptive family alone. I was told it would disrupt my daughter's life if I tried to find her. I was told I would be damaging her if I tried to find her! What mother wants to do that to her child? When I recently read the papers I looked for something, anything that said I was to have confidentiality regarding the adoption. There was nothing! I wasn't promised that, I didn't want that. I was counting the days, months and years until I could look for her. I was praying that maybe she would try to find me so I wouldn't have to wait until she was 18 years old.

    I started the search for her when she turned 18 and it took 4 years to find her. I had to wait until my daughter was 22 years old to find out if she was alive or dead! Do you know what it's like to live through that? It's not like losing a child to death, it's like losing a child to a kidnapping. Now that she is found she is finally part of my family. She's finally met her brother and sister. She's finally met her grandparents. Her entire family had been kept from her. Please, please, please stop keeping families from each other. We love our children and need to know that they're ok. Adoptees grow up. They're not children forever and they have the right to know where they come from. They have the right to their genetic information. They have the right to their medical histories! They have the right to their own families. Everyone else enjoys that right, why can't they?

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  8. Thank you Carlynne. I hope to get my letters out tomorrow myself!
    and will post!

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  9. General Question:

    I was born in one state and adopted in another. Is my OBC in both states or only in the state where I was born?

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  10. There never were, nor are there any confidentiality laws, meaning mothers who surrendered like myself simply were not given confidentiality or a right to privacy. Seems this is a Myth of Modern Man. Remember people believed the earth was flat.They are still referred to as flat earthers. We don't have a name to apply to people who believe in this confidentiality or right to privacy myth however any way you look at it, it's dishonest and perpetrating lies against women. The shroud of secrecy surrounding adoption was a social more, nothing more/ Yes, Senator Duane and Assemblymember Weinstein give your constituents the gift of their identity. The holidays are just around the corner.

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  11. Robin, to answer your question about intrastate adoptions, I'm in the same boat. I was born in Illinois but adopted in Ohio. In my case, my OBC is from Illinois, as is my amended BC. But my adoption file is in Ohio. My understanding is that my OBC is also in my adoption file so it is in both places. Intrastate adoption searches are hard, but it's worth it to try both states. If your experience is like mine they will try to defer to one another in a neverending round of bureaucracy. They'd rather have you fall through the cracks than have to figure out how to deal with you. You have to be persistent. I petitioned both Ohio and Illinois but failed both places.

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  12. Why do we want our children to have their original birth certificates? Simple. They are our children. We gave up our right to parent but never gave up caring for & loving them. We were not allowed to do very much for our babies as their first parents, but we can show them our love & support now. We want our children to be treated like everybody else's children by issuing them their real birth certificates & not the phony legal document that the state claims belongs to them. The only ones who want confidentiality are the law makers who are afraid of the truth. We are not hiding & claiming confidentiality because the laws said we must.

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  13. I have gone through my copy of the original surrender documents I signed in 1972 with a fine-toothed comb, and there is NO promise anywhere of confidentiality... absolutely none.

    I really resent the legislators and NCFA (as well as the ACLU--I've resigned my decades-long membership and told them why) for using "birthmother confidentiality" as their reason for denying open records and OBCs. They're not only hiding behind us, ladies, they're putting the burden of blame on us. I can't even count the number of forum posts I've come across lately from adopted individuals venting their anger towards natural mothers and privacy concerns in regard to open records. The adoption industry is brilliant in the way it places the blame and anger right on our shoulders...as usual.

    Do people really not understand that closed adoption records and sealed OBC's were NEVER implemented for the benefit of natural mothers or to protect their privacy?? These practices were implemented to protect adoptive parents back in the days they were encouraged to treat their infants "as if born to," back in the days when children were never even told they had been adopted...back in the days when many adoptive mothers disappeared for a few months and then showed up with a baby, saying that they had been staying with old Aunt Sally during their pregnancy.

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  14. Triona,

    Thanks for responding to my question. I'm not surprised the states try to bounce us around and hope we'll get lost in the shuffle. Btw, I already know both sides of my family but I still want my OBC because IT IS MINE.

    Have you found your natural parents?

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  15. Robin's question about her birth certificate where she was born in one state and adopted in another got my curiosity up. I took a look at Oregon's birth certificate law:

    432.230 (1) The State Registrar of the Center for Health Statistics shall establish a new certificate of birth for a person born in this state when the state registrar receives:

    (a) A report of adoption or a report of adoption prepared and filed in accordance with the laws of another state or foreign country.

    So, if a person was born in Oregon and adopted in Washington, the Oregon State Registrar would issue the amended birth certificate upon receiving documentation of the adoption. A copy might be sent to the Washington court for its files but access to the certificate would be governed by Oregon law which allows an adoptee to access it when she turns 21.

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  16. Robin, I feel the same way about my OBC. Some people have told me that I shouldn't want it because my first mother has filed the denial of contact, but in my mind access to my OBC and contact with my first mother are two totally separate things.

    Jane, I have heard stories from adoptees who were born in open states but adopted in closed states. They can get their OBCs from the open states and yet the closed states still deny even though it's the exact same information. It's ridiculous!

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  17. Triona,
    I am so sad for you. I find this unconscionable. You never asked to be given up for adoption and had no say in the matter. It should be illegal for a bparent to deny their own child this information. I am sick of this adoptee/slave status. Actually rather than sad, I am now spitting nails!

    Are you still searching? Where does your situation stand (if you don't mind saying)?

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  18. Here is what I added to my note to Richard Gottfried, chair of the Health Committee in the New York Assembly:

    I am aware that you have supported out bill--and have for years--but is there anyway we can get this to the floor: Or is it really possible for Weinstein to nearly single-handedly stop progress?

    We need strong, tough support on this. Closed records will one day to a thing of the past, but it will be too late for many. Adoptees lost their right to an identity, a true identity; let it be part of your legacy that you helped give it back to them.

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  19. Robin, I'd be glad to share my story. It's long for a comment so I'll direct you to my own blog:

    http://73adoptee.blogspot.com/2008/05/case-closed-another-adoptee-becomes.html

    My status is limbo. Because my first mother has filed the denial of contact, I am locked out of my OBC. I am trying to find out where people like me fall under the new Illinois legislation that was passed this year (legislation I vehemently opposed because it turns adoptees into haves and have-nots and puts more money in the coffers of those who profit from OBC access).

    Actually I got locked out in both states. My adoptive father (the attorney who sealed my file in Ohio) may have used his influence to make sure my petition there was not granted. So, double limbo.

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  20. Triona:

    That last sentence in your post is so friggen sad. I think I knew that but it slipped my mind.

    Not all adoptive parents want to screw their kids but those who do prevent the records from being opened. It's sick.

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  21. What a story, Triona. I agree that access to our OBCs should be unfettered. I think I sometimes forget how lucky (and rare) I am that I was able to find both sides of my family. Don't give up hope.

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  22. Thanks. I feel sure one day I will have answers, although it will likely take a lot of effort to change laws and minds.

    Lorraine, I wrote a blog a while back about how adoptive parents have too much control over adoptee information.

    http://73adoptee.blogspot.com/2009/04/when-adopted-parents-control-knowledge.html

    I'm working on another one after Cricket's latest Blog of Shame brought it to mind. She points us to the blog of adoptive parents who took it upon themselves to change the adoptee's birth date simply because it's more convenient for them. Makes me want to retch.

    http://peaceofcricket.blogspot.com/2010/10/fourteenth-blog-of-shame-award.html

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  23. I agree with Carole401...under whatever circumstances that forced FIRSTmothers to surrender our child(ren), this does not implicate that I(we) surrendered love, concern, desire, and need. I just said this to my daughters adopted mother yesterday in a disagreement. I am excited to get involved and do whatever I can to help changes go through.

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