|Daughter Jane and Lorraine, 1983|
Amended birth certificates are basically falsified legal documents that perpetuate a lie for they are not a record of birth, they are a record of a "pretend" birth of a child to two people that child was not born to. When the laws that legalized such falsification were passed, from the Thirties and even into the Eighties, the claim was that it was done to "protect the integrity" of the adoptive family. If the
child could not ever have access to this true family of origin, everybody would be happy, and the real** mother would "make a new life for herself."
Life is not that simple. Adopted children grow up to be adopted adults. No matter how tender their upbringing, many of them want to know the truth of their origins, a right they should be entitled to simply by the fact of being born. No state should interfere with that right. But as we know, they have and continue to do so, now claiming that the "birth mother's right to privacy" must be protected. Yet in "protecting" that right--which most of us first mothers had no choice to but to acquiesce to--another person's right must be violated.
WE NEED TO 'PAY IT FORWARD'
At least part of the reason that the laws do not change more quickly is that so many of the adopted are not clamoring for their right of self-knowledge. We understand the complexities involved for making the choice to undertake a search. Some do, some do not, but whatever their personal decision, they are not in huge numbers are filling the chambers in their state houses demanding the right to know the truth of their origins. Some have, of course, and have worked tirelessly to move the ball forward, but the paucity of numbers who will write a letter to their legislator, lobby in their state capital, or do anything to help the movement sends a message to this message to state capitols: the current system is not bothersome to most, so there is no need to change the laws,
Yet we can see in those states that have given adoptees access to their original unamended birth certificates, that they do come calling for them in number. Now the crisis is, even in those states where change is occurring, legislators are still tacking on an insidious--and that's what it is, insidious--biological-parent veto. Such a veto by either birth parent prevents the adopted individual from receiving his or her full unamended birth certificate with the names of her real, actual, biological parents. In other words, the truth of one's origins is still under the control of someone other than the adopted individual. This is blatantly wrong. This perpetuates the emotional bondage of another. This must not be the way we move forward.
Lost in adoption reform has been almost any claim for birth/first mother rights, though when most of us signed termination of parental rights, we had no say about how the law worked: we had to agree to anonymity or the state would not be party to the adoption. Most of us--and I am one of them--had no other resources to fall back on. We had no one to help us arrange an adoption another way, and for most of us, adoption was the only "solution" to our lives at the time. No matter how we came to the decision to give up our children--whether we were young and our parents forced us to relinquish our children, whether were older and felt society gave us no real choice--doing so changed our lives in great and small ways. We absorbed our sorrow, picked ourselves up, etc. and went on. In time, I felt the internal call to work on adoption reform as a personal crusade, and though I took a long vacation from it after I found my daughter in 1981, it never left me completely and eventually, it demanded my attention again. On my bulletin board is a Christmas card from a friend from high school who lives now in a distant state. The card reads:...be the change you wish to see in the world..--Ghandi. These are words I try to live by.
So, yes, I am frustrated. I am frustrated with people who get theirs and do nothing to help others. I am frustrated by people who search and find, and then, not only do nothing to "pay it forward" by helping others, actually do things that set back the movement. Their continued silence is one way they do this; sometimes they even write letters extolling the inhumane legislation still in place. Other adoptees write magazine pieces about why they never want to search, and thus...what's the big deal, why bother changing the laws? Magazine editors love these kinds of pieces and they will always find a home, as non-adopted people, if they stop to think about it, understand the inborn curiosity of the intelligent mind to understand where one came from. A writer claiming otherwise is quirky, unusual, controversial. So deep is the understanding of the need to know the truth of one's origins, some adoptive parents who actively seek to adopt from foreign cultures often do so to cutoff any real possibility that their children will ever be able to connect with their natural parents. The more honest even say so in their books. What normal person wouldn't be at least curious? Yes, I am frustrated by those who do nothing yet criticize others who do work for change with snide and snarky comments.I am frustrated by people who fight among themselves over whether we can ever use the term "birth" parent or whether that is permanently verboten under any circumstance. I am frustrated by the clamor over the Primal Wound--If one persons says yes, that I who I feel, why criticize them for saying that makes sense to them? This in-fighting stymies progress.
IF WE ALL DO NOTHING, NOTHING WILL CHANGE
And despite the difficulty some first mothers have in facing the reality of their lives, simple humanity requires them to be available at least once to the children they bore. Anything less is a crime against nature. Because one has been living a lie for a long time is no excuse to let that lie continue for all time. One doesn't have to shout one's first-motherness from the rooftops or even tell the neighbors, but if a reunion brings some measure of peace to you, could you please write one letter to a legislator, meet with him at a coffee hour, make a phone call to his office? In doing so, you pass on the boon you received when your son or daughter contacted you. The same is true of the adopted. Is it not worth your attention--if say, you are even reading here--to take 15 minutes of time and write a single letter or make a phone call? Or if you have a little more time, attend a neighborhood meeting where your legislator is speaking, or a candidate for the legislature is campaigning, and ask her about adoptee rights. Chances are your legislator or candidate hasn't thought about the issue and you'll have an opportunity to educate her. We have been pushing the petition for New York on the right sidebar, and while simply signing might seem like a small step, it is something, and my hope is that it awakens the desire to do more sign a petition.
Of course I recognize that not everyone will take a strong stand and do something to further rights for their class, or their children's class--the adopted. Of course I recognize the constraints of a first mother who has lived with this secret buried, and the shame she feels. Of course I understand every and all of the complications involved in being a birth mother in public. Some say that the issue is "complicated" and not black and white, making the choice to do something, or do nothing "complicated." Really? Complications are an excuse to do nothing. All big issues are complicated. Slavery, gay rights, equal education and employment opportunities, equal pay for equal work, the list can do on ad infinitum--everything is complex and can get you lost in the details, but at its core, the issue does come to a simple "for" or "against." Stand up and be counted; or stand back and do nothing.
But if we all do nothing, nothing will change.
More adoptees will die without ever knowing the truth of their origins. Many birth mothers who fervently wish for reunion will die without ever seeing the face of their son or daughter. Jane my daughter, and Jane my fellow blogger, and all the other adoptees and first mothers involved in closed adoptions, or semi-open adoptions, or once-open-then-closed adoptions are all part of some gigantic social experiment not of our making. For far too many people, this failing experiment has been allowed to continue for far too long. And that is the real crime.--lorraine
*Alabama closed its records in 1990 and reopened them without restrictions in 1999.
**In the sense I am talking her, "real" versus "false" on the birth certificate. I understand that all mothers who raise children are also "real."
Is it a 'Birth' Certificate or Certificate of Title?
Gays have political clout; bastards don’t. Lessons from New Jersey and New York.
The difference between the gay marriage movement and adoptee rights
FOR more information on state legislation:
at the American Adoption Congress site
And Now for Something New: We at FMF have other lives too. I recently got both of Rodriguez's album--he is the focus of the Oscar-winning documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, an inspiring story of a man who was a huge phenomenon in South Africa during aparthied but he did not know it because so little got in and out of the country during the world wide embargo of that country for its racial policies. Meanwhile, "Sugarman" was living in poverty and obscurity in his home town of Detroit, the city where I grew up in the suburbs and where I went to college. Now that he has achieved some success after the movie, and in South Africa again, he gives much of his money away. He is a Mexican-American folk singer with songs of love and redemption. If you like Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, you will like Rodriguez. His two albums are Cold Fact
and Coming from Reality. I got them both. And catch the movie if you can, it is so inspiring and there is no adoption story therein.