Little children--before they know they are not supposed to ask--all ask the question about the beginning of their lives. How did I get here? Where did I
come from? Mommy points to her stomach and says, "You came from my tummy" and that's at age three, four, five. If a mother has to say, you came from "some lady's tummy," what child is not going to immediately think: Whose tummy? What happened to that lady? Where is she? What am I doing here?
But time passes and for some of those who cannot readily answer that question--the adopted--the quest for the truth of one's origins becomes clouded with doubt about the basic desire to know the answer. One can tell oneself there is no desire or need to know; that life is fine as it is and any change from incoming data is unwelcome. Ergo, these adoptees have "no curiosity." When something is completely cut off from you, like an amputated arm, you do have to lose the desire to not use that arm.
My granddaughter Kimberly once said something to me once about the movie, Sisterhood of Traveling Pants--about how she didn't want to see it. I knew that at the time her peer group would have been totally into it. I asked why she felt that way. She admitted that all the other kids at school had seen it, but since she knew that she was not going to see it, so she made herself stop wanting it. "If I can never have it, what's the point of wanting it?" I volunteered to get it for her that summer, but the moment had passed.
Many years ago, Robert Jay Lifton, Florence Fisher, and I testified in a court case for a woman named Ann Smith, who was asking Spence-Chapin Adoption Services to release her adoption records with the name of her mother. When I wrote about this experience in my memoir, Birthmark, I used the trial transcript, and I quote here from that chapter. Dr. Lifton is a noted psychiatrist, writer, thinker and husband of the late adoptee-rights advocate and author, Betty Jean Lifton. He was asked by the Spence-Chapin attorney:
If there is no universal need or desire to know where one came from--which can be thwarted by a number of factors and so seemingly not exist--then there is no universal right to know.
"[Is] the need for historical connectedness important for any adolescent or adult, or only for those with specific problems or conflicts?"
Lifton: "One's sense of relationship to one's own history is very important to all of us. It is by no means in any way to somebody only in conflict or somebody particularly disturbed, nor is it limited to the adopted person. It is general."
Attorney: "Would you consider it sufficient for the adult adoptee to identify with the historical background of this adoptive family?"
Lifton: "It is the most natural and desirable aspect of any adolescent to have curiosity about his forebears, about his biological heritage and the sequence of his general connectedness. Incidentally, that curiosity is immediately stimulated by the very announcement that he or she is adopted. It is inevitable."
...Attorney: "Does this need for complete information of the adult adoptee or adolescent include knowledge of his original name?"
Lifton: "Very much so. A name is an enormously important element of identity over the generations and over the course of one's individual life. 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 its and pieces, ethnic or social characteristics, medical background, only become further stimulants to curiosity.
"From my experience with adopted people and from the literature, it apparently seems as though every single adopted person has 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. When it is blocked, one remains locked in more extreme fantasies.... [A] gap in one's sense of identity will always remain is one cannot find out this information about one's heritage....One's sense of identity comes closer to reality."
If not everyone, at some level needs or desires to know his particular story, then certainly not everyone, as a basic right, is entitled to the right to know. If we do not all need to know where we in particular came from, then we have set up the logical basis for the first/birth/biological mother's right to anonymity. If the need to know is not universal, there is no need to not allow birth parent vetoes in the legislation we work so hard to pass to open sealed records.
If the need to know is not universal, then there is no inherent right to know. Universal rights can only arise out of universal needs.--lorraine