I explained that no, it wasn't like that, and all the movies on television (of which he has some knowledge) and just plain old common sense about what is right to the contrary, adoptees in all but ten states are unable to get their original birth
certificates, and that even in some of those states there are some restrictions. As for us birth mothers, tossed away like yesterday's newspapers, forget about it.
Jean Strauss's movie, Adopted: For the Life of Me, is a compelling antidote to the utterly inhumane system in place in most of the country that prevents adults from knowing the truth of their origins. Strauss follows Dave Kiley, a college administrator she meets on a plane, as he goes to the Massachusetts Vital Records bureau and gets his identifying information at age 52, all the way to meeting friends of his mother in Maine, where she had lived. Her visits her grave, he touches things that were hers, he learns the story of why he was given up for adoption for the first time.
Look, many of you know from previous posts that I'm a weeper, whether from birth mother trauma or not, and the movie had me right from the beginning, but I can't imagine a dry eye in the house when a friend of his mother's pulls out a scrapbook of poems--dozens of poems--that Dave's mother, Isabella, collected over the years, and Dave reads one of them aloud:
I want a boyYes, I know it's a schmaltzy, sentimental poem but it gives voice to the emptiness that so many of use first mothers have felt when our children are out there in the void, when our children are missing. But this isn't so much about first mothers, the movie is about the real anguish of being denied your identity--and first mothers do not suffer that indignity--unless they too were adopted, a not uncommon occurrence. Strauss captures the cosmic emptiness of not knowing spot on with the story of Dave, whose original name was Bruce Edward Kegresse. He learns from her friends that he was given up for adoption because she was badly abused by her father, with the implication that she would have brought her son home, and she feared that he too would be abused.
A small boy, a not-so-very-tall boy,
A boy I can talk with,
And take a long walk with,
Then home again to chatter over
what we've seen,
I want a boy who needs me
As I need him.
Isabella kept the secret of her son quite close, though she did tell another mutual acquaintance, someone who was doing a search for another adoptee. Isabella had closely followed the progress of the search, and when the woman asked her why she was so interested, Isabella told her. Isabella believed her son would not look for her until his parents died. I don't remember if we learn whether Dave's adoptive parents are deceased, but if he had done his search a few years earlier, he would have met his mother. Message: Don't wait. Don't wait another week, month or year.
Like many first mothers, Isabella never had other children, so Dave has no siblings. He does meet her dog, a Brittany spaniel, which his mother's friends have kept, and makes the observation that "Brittany" is the name of his daughter, one of those coincidences that we find all the time in adoption connections.
The movie also follows another adoptee, Joe Degironimo, 68, as he learns that in the Eighties he lived quite close to a family home. He finds and meets a half-sister, a daughter of his father, in a diner one afternoon. Strauss, in an voice-over, notes that his sister, instead of treating him like a dirty little secret, accepts him as family and "the brother she always wanted to have." She gives him several of the very few possessions of her father that she has. "It's strange meeting your sister after sixty-eight years," Joe reflects, "it's a good feeling but at the same time, Man! what the hell you had to go through to find out who you are and who your family is."
What is so compelling about the people in the film in their age: they are not youngsters, they are not "children," they are adults. Yet of course they are the children of someone who is real--first mothers like many of us--and the film follows a few of them as they make their way back to their roots. You see brave and tireless Pam Hasegawa of New Jersey, who has made changing the sealed-records law her life's work, and who herself will probably never find her own roots; you see a woman in her nineties ask that she learn the true story of who she is before she dies; and you see how easily truth is meted out in Kansas where the records were never sealed. You see someone in Kansas City, Kansas get her records for $18 in 18 minutes, while right across State Line Road, in Kansas City, Missouri, two women are denied and told to write to their legislators.
As Jean says at the end of the movie:
I mean, come on people! How in the world, in a just, sane world, can it be right to separate these people who so clearly need each other? Who can give each other solace and peace in their hearts? We all need to be connected to someone out there to feel whole, as if we didn't spring whole from the earth with no connections, but yet the laws in most states deny our children that very right. We first mothers had no say as to whether we wanted to seal their records, to hide our identities from them, yet now that forced anonymity is being used against our children who are told we must have such secrecy. The situation is so convoluted and absurd, yet there it stands and there is will stand unless we speak out against it, one by one by one by one all over the country. Let us make our voices heard in a giant roar announcing that such separation is wrong, cruel, and so certainly unjust."Every human being in on a journey. But that journey is more difficult if they don't know where they began. In the end, one has to ask who is being served by this life sentence of secrecy?"
Adopted: For the Life of Me is a powerful compelling film that makes a irrefutable argument for open records for all adopted people. It has been shown on several PBS stations around the country, and the website has listed where it has been shown and invites you to schedule private screenings. For information, contact Jean Strauss at email@example.com. Bring your hanky--and a legislator! Every person we convince of the right of our cause brings us one step closer to freedom from the shackles of sealed records. --lorraine