|Brian Wheeler and his parents|
Wheeler was born in Chicago and, thanks to a new Illinois law, he obtained his original birth certificate in August and discovered his mother's name. A searcher helped him locate his mother in Chicago. He called her and learned Yes, she had been wondering about him all through the years. "She had looked for him a few times over the years, but she was really shooting an arrow in the dark. She had no name, nothing to go by."
FROM WONDERING TO WONDERFUL
His parents married after his birth and will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in February. Since my reunion with my daughter Rebecca 15 years ago, I've found that about 20 to 25 percent of birth parents marry after giving up their child. They took the advice of well-meaning adults--that they were too young to be parents, that starting a marriage with a baby would jeopardize their marriage--and regretted it ever since. Often the couples never spoke of their lost child. Adoption searchers say that reunions where first parents married are often the hardest, the child brimming with resentment that he was not kept.
Wheeler's parents kept his birth a secret from friends for 50 years, and are just now sharing the story, although they celebrated his birthday every year. Last weekend Wheeler flew to Chicago to meet them, as well as a full sister who told him she always wanted a brother. He met her son, his nephew, who asked for help with a homecoming tie. As he was giving good-by hugs, he told his mother he loved her, and she said "I love you too. This has been wonderful."
The Illinois law that allowed Wheeler and his parents to reunite is not perfect--it allows parents to prohibit release of identifying information for five years. After five years, the law provides for a confidential intermediary to contact the parents and find out if they still wish to remain anonymous. If so, the parents' names cannot be released until their deaths. Bastard Nation and Illinois Open opposed the bill, holding out for a "clean" law that would allow unrestricted access to original birth certificates like Oregon's law. (Oregon's law was enacted through Ballot Measure 58 in 1998. Both Lorraine and I added our names to the list of birth parents supporting the measure.) Only seven states have clean laws. Besides Oregon, they include Kansas and Alaska (which never closed their records), Alabama, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island. Delaware and Tennessee, like Illinois, allow parents to veto access. Ohio, Colorado, Montana, and Washington allow adoptees born during certain time periods to obtain their original birth certificates although both Montana and Washington allow parents of adoptees to veto access.
While we believe restricting access is wrong, Lorraine and I came out in favor of access bills with the hated contact veto. We believe that allowing access to the great majority of adoptees is better than allowing no access for any. The New Jersey bill passed (it allowed for a year window for birth parents to file a veto) but the governor, Chris Christie, who clearly has presidential aspirations as well as an adopted sister, vetoed it. Here's what Lorraine wrote about the NJ bill in 2010:
"So while I totally understand how incredibly annoying and wrong these bills are, for they let a very very small group of birth mother deniers strip the rights of another group of people whose rights should be paramount, I have my qualms about what to do. Somewhat reluctantly, Jane and I have supported such a bill in New Jersey, which has a limited (one year) window in which birth/first mothers might file such a cruel veto, to deny their own children the right to know who they are--but yet it bothers us. ...The states that pass them (Delaware,Tennessee) do not go back and "fix" them. The states that have a "contact preference" instead of a veto (Oregon, Maine, New Hampshire, Alabama) report no problems with the law as is. A contact-preference is just that: mothers and fathers can state they do not wish to be contacted, but the adoptees still gets their original birth certificate. (Alaska and Kansas also give adoptees their records for the asking.)"The video of Wheeler's reunion (Trailblazer announcer Brian Wheeler finds birth parents) brought tears to our eyes. Politics is the art of the possible, and politics helped make this reunion possible. Without the Illinois law--albeit an imperfect law --Wheeler's parents might still be keeping their son a secret while wondering about him; his sister might still wish for a brother, never knowing she had one, and he might never had heard his nephew say "thanks Uncle Brian" for tying his tie for homecoming.--Jane.
Sources: Trailblazer announcer Brian Wheeler finds birth parents
Illinois BirthParent Preference Form
What's better: A contact veto or no reform at all?
CHRISTIE Vetoes Adoptee Rights Bill in New Jersey and other legislative news
"The Right to Know" by adoptee-activist Jean Strauss