' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Does everyone have a basic need to know the truth of their origins?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Does everyone have a basic need to know the truth of their origins?

Wading into the unknown--photo by ken robbins
Can an individual who doesn't instinctively understand about the need for everyone to know his or her true and original identity be made to change his mind?

I don't know. After a conversation I had the other night it seems unlikely--unlikely at least that a non-adopted person can move the heart and mind of anyone who knows an adoptee who professes no need to know, and is, for all the world to see, a well adjusted, successful, happy individual. But I cannot help think this: Since curiosity is the sign of intelligent life, how can an otherwise intelligent person not be interested in the story of his own life?


It would seem to be axiomatic that every person who has all his identity ducks in a row--knows without a doubt who his parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on were--would immediately understand that everyone would normally want to know who they are, who they were at birth, and why they were given up for adoption, or abandoned at a shelter, despite how good or bad their adopted situation is.

But that is not the case. The other night my husband and I spent twenty minutes trying to convince a friend--who supports unsealing the records, that was never a problem--that ALL individuals who lack knowledge of their real ancestries have an innate need to know, sometimes buried under the fog of impossibility. He had just heard Kathryn Joyce, author of The Child Catchers, on NPR, he knows I am deeply invested in unsealing the original birth certificates of adoptees, and he totally understands why the records should not be closed.

What I had forgotten--and what struck a chord with him after listening to Joyce--is that he has a nephew
Lorraine and her daughter, Jane
who was adopted from Korea when he was four, and today the young man, now in his twenties, has no interest whatsoever in finding out about his past. Though the boy was troubled (wouldn't hug, hid under his bed) when he first arrived here, and he had the usual teenage issues, today he is doing well and getting married, but when asked if he wants to know about his original family, he says: not interested. I'm fine with the way things are. Really, I'm fine. I don't have any interest at all in finding out my background, or who my parents are, what my story is. I'm fine.

Couldn't it be that he really is not interested in knowing, our friend wanted to know. Wasn't it possible that he really did not feel the slightest tinge of interest? Why were we convinced that he had just put aside the quest for the truth of his origins because he almost certainly can't find out anything? Why not just take what he says at face value?

I cannot imagine that any other wise intelligent person does not have some curiosity. Whether he acts on it is another matter, because there are hurdles: the feeling of guilt towards his adoptive parents; fear of rejection from his first mother (she abandoned me once, what does she care now?); an abiding sense that being able to unearth the truth will be impossible.

But what if I am wrong: Can it be that some people really don't want to know their own stories, or who they are related to by DNA? When asked, they say they are not curious, and maybe truly, deeply aren't. Perhaps we should take them at face value--and accept that some adoptees really don't give a damn about their backgrounds. I've read first-person pieces by such individuals in magazines; but then, I sometimes read how the writer came to change her mind when confronted with a living relative, such as a child she gave birth to.

Personally, I have two friends who are successful people with spouses and large circles of friends. I met them through my life outside of adoption, and neither are involved in the adoptee-rights movement. They have satisfying, successful careers. They do not seem unfulfilled not knowing the truth of their origins. Yet both of them began searches for their original parents, but did not finish. Their curiosity did not compel them forward to finish their searches. One actively called it off.


But if adopted people present a face to the world about being so well adjusted with ancestral anonymity they have no desire--forget need--to know the truth of their origins, legislators say, what's the big deal? This is on my mind as I write legislators in New York because once again, our clean bill (without a first/birth parent veto) has many supporters but until we convince the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, that the adoptees' need to know is greater than the (birth) mother's supposed right to privacy, we face a huge uphill battle.--lorraine
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 SEE ALSO                                                               
A Korean woman changes her mind about her identity from American kid to a woman with a past elsewhere: Adopted From Korea and in Search of Identity

FROM FMF
The Child Catchers exposes the stench of international adoption--and domestic adoption too
Why adoption reform frustrates me

RECOMMENDED READING
The Language of Blood by Jane Jeong Trenka: "My name is Jeong Kyong-Ah. My ancestry includes landowners, scholars, and government officials. I have six siblings. I am a citizen of the Republic of Korea. I come from a land of pear fields and streams, where people laugh loudly and honor their dead. Halfway around the world, I am someone else."

Jane Jeong Trenka and her sister Carol were adopted from Korea and raised in the small, homogeneous town of Harlow, Minnesota—a place “where the sky touches the earth in uninterrupted horizon . . . where stoicism is stamped into the bones of each generation.” They were loved as American children without a past.  “A book that translates, and transcends, the eternal question of home, belonging, family,  identity.” Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee's Return to Korea Trenka’s award-winning first book, The Language of Blood, told the story of her upbringing in a white family in rural Minnesota. Now, in this searching and provocative memoir, Trenka explores a new question: Can she make an adult life for herself in Korea? Despite numerous setbacks, Trenka resolves to learn the language and ways of her unfamiliar birth country. In navigating the myriad contradictions and disjunctions that have made up her life, Trenka turns to the lessons from her past—in particular, the concept of dissonance and harmony learned over her years as a musician. In Fugitive Visions, named after a composition by Prokofiev, Trenka has succeeded in braiding the disparate elements of her life into a recognizable and at times heartbreaking whole.

FROM FMF
The Child Catchers exposes the stench of international adoption--and domestic adoption too
Why adoption reform frustrates me 

58 comments :

  1. Many adoptees, Katie Hern, Ann Fessler, have written and spoken about how they suppressed feelings about needing to know their origins for many years. Eventually something triggers their desire to search.

    Paula Bernstein recounts in "Identical Stranger" that she went so far as to write a column for "Redbook" in 2000 about having no desire to search for her birth parents.

    A few years later Bernstein was contacted by an identical twin sister whom she didn't know existed and her interest in her origins rises. Together they search for their birth parents and learn their origins.

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  2. There are few universals in the human experience, so when you phrase a question like "Does everyone [insert blank here]," your argument is bound to be caught in the exceptions. You waste time in the loopholes - people love to trot out the exception that disproves the rule.

    And really, what does it matter if "everyone" does or does not need this information? It is hardly debatable that the vast majority of people _do_. And the logical consequence seems to pathologize people who are in the minority or to psychoanalyze strangers - what good does that do anyone? Insisting that other people must have deeply held emotional pain that they will not acknowledge may be satisfying, but it alienates exactly the people the message should be reaching.

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  3. I always had the need to know about my origins and my people.

    However, I don't believe every adoptee has that same need. And, I think we need to respect where an adoptee is in his or her journey. Some will eventually change their minds and want to learn about their heritages. But, others will never seem to feel that need. I respect their choices. And, I respect them enough to believe that they are not simply in a lesser stage of adoptee development (i.e., "in the fog").

    Adoptees deserve clean bills in every state within this country. No adoptee should be denied access to his/her original identity, heritage, medical information, etc., simply because of privacy rights.

    I was born in Illinois. As the state law recently changed, I was able to find my mother and subsequently my father. My mother is in the closet, and I respect her right to stay there. But, she has given me some information about the circumstances of my birth and, obviously, she gave me my father's name.

    So, she has been able to maintain her life as it was, and I have been able to learn some information about my origins. That's the way it should be.

    Lorraine said, "But if adopted people present a face to the world about being so well adjusted with ancestral anonymity they have no desire--forget need--to know the truth of their origins, legislators say, what's the big deal? This is on my mind as I write legislators in New York because once again, our clean bill (without a first/birth parent veto) has many supporters but until we convince the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, that the adoptees' need to know is greater than the (birth) mother's supposed right to privacy, we face a huge uphill battle."

    It truly doesn't matter if 100% of us need to know about our origins or if only 20% of us do. It's important for us to have the absolute right to obtain our original birth certificates, so we can seek out our original families if we so choose. Do 100% of Americans who are eligible to vote actually vote in elections? No. But, it's the right to vote that is important.

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  4. I do think every adoptee is curious at some level - whether or not it is strong enough to want to go further is where it becomes more individualized. Anger also plays into that for "some" - whether the anger is acknowledged or not. I passively searched since chidhood - starting with the personals on my birthday and then registering on registries. I honestly don't know if I would have gotten the guts to reach out if my OBC had been unsealed because my concern was protecting my mother over my need. I think I probably would have, but who knows because the need wasn't a daily constant, rather it resurfaced about ever six months or so - life is busy and when you have a chance to breathe it comes back.

    I do think being a Korean adoptee would be similar to a US BSE adoptee in the shame for the mother to be unwed story and how it could potentially ruin her life to be found out - at least that is what you hear as an adoptee.

    I do think that age plays a huge role in searching and perhaps even moreso for males as they tend to mature a bit later than females - who knows - we are all unique.

    Ultimately the choice to search or not was taken out of my hands when I got sick and the doctors told me to for both myself and my family to be protected.

    Finding out my mother had passed made me regret not pushing harder when I was younger whether or not I would have been successful...

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  5. Anna, No one was insisting anything, not even my friend, but it is impossible to convince someone that knowing one's true heritage is a universal need if he is faced with someone---an adoptee--who professes no interest and is otherwise happily living his life.

    And HDW I agree that whether all want to know is not the real issue in opening the records, but because there are not greater numbers of adoptees clamoring for their records and bugging legislators, those of us--first mothers and adoptees-- fighting for change face a bigger hurdle in effecting change and opening sealed birth certificates.

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  6. I wish I had never looked. I thought i wanted to know, but what I've found has hurt me so deeply that I will never be the same. The hostility that I've felt from the people who gave me life, and their close relatives has been astounding. My parents want nothing to do with me or my 4 wonderful children. My half brothers and sisters actively despise me. It's been 2 1/2 years, and I am still devastated. I can't understand how human beings can be so cruel.

    I know why adoptees don't search, because they don't want to be like me. At least before I had dreams of loving parents. Now I have only sorrow.

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  7. Why waste your time explaining that one aspect of the issue when you could be expaining that it's a civil and human rights violation? Whether people are "curious" or not is not the issue! Some are some not. They still should have a right ot ehri own BC whether they ever use it to serach or not. And what about medical right to know? What about risk of dating or marrying a sibling or other close relative?

    Thay er all aspects but the bottom line is that this is about equality versus discrimination. It is a about the RIGHT to be treated equally, even to convicted felons!

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  8. adoptomus,

    I'm so sorry to hear your story.

    The only reason I can think of as to why your relatives rejected you is that they are truly unaware of why you searched. They accept the view of some that adoptees who search are malcontents and trouble-makers. Notice how the media uses the phrase "tracking down her birth mother" which has a sinister connotations instead of "found her mother."

    Your mother may have suppressed her feelings and doesn't want to go against the wishes of her family.

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  9. @ adoptomuss "I wish I had never looked. . . etc"

    I'm really sorry you have had to deal with hostility from your natural family. It's wrong and must be excruciatingly painful. But your comment is just the kind of ammunition the people who want to keep records closed just wuv.

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  10. My experience at the NYC dept of Vital Records was heartbreaking. I filled out the application for my birth certificate with the names of my true parents, in the hope that somehow I might be able to get my factual birth certificate, since I knew the names of my parents. The clerk typed in the information, then paused and asked if this was an adoption. She said I wouldn't be able to get my birth certificate unless i crossed out the names of my natural parents. and wrote my adoptive parents instead. I was almost crying and I asked the clerk why I had to do that, since they weren't there when I was born. They didn't even know where I was born! The clerk didn't know what to do, so I relented and crossed out my mother and father's names and wrote my adopters. Does that story support closed records also? PS, my mother actually received my OBC a few weeks after I was born, and SENT IT BACK, because she thought she would get in trouble for having it.

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  11. have been thinking about my adoptedness for what seems like forever, but I think it started when I was 5 or so.

    I wrote papers about it incessantly and read books about it, but if people ever asked me there was a period of time when i would have said that being adopted had not really affected me all that much...a weird juxtaposition.

    I think from my personal experience it feels like being adopted has altered my brain in large measure. Everyone's story is so, so different although many of the emotions are so much the same.

    It is my belief that everyone who is adopted is affected by it somehow...no one is truly "fine:. I think some babies got lucky and were matched with parents who were more similar to them...others not some much. Some are abused and neglected just like parents do their bio kids.

    For me the clincher was the not knowing...and not knowing that not knowing was affecting every aspect of my life from the way I parented to how I act in my marriage. I had that trigger like Jane talked about, and it was meeting my original father and learning more about my adoption. Meeting my original mother 20 years ago did not do it. Coping skills I had developed worked until they just stopped.

    All I know is that this adopted life for me has caused a world of hurt, but now that I understand much more of it I am not going to let that hurt take control of me even though it is a daily struggle sometimes.

    It's like a cocktail of complex emotions and you can never quite separate the booze from the mixer....it's mixed up forever in some ways.

    I was bound and determined to turn over every stone with regard to my own adoption...it's not for everyone. I turned every single one over, and I look in the mirror and know who I am now, and I know how lucky I am and I feel such empathy for everyone in this crazy mixed up life. I want everyone to get what they desire...so, so badly.


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  12. And, I think we need to respect where an adoptee is in his or her journey. Some will eventually change their minds and want to learn about their heritages. But, others will never seem to feel that need. I respect their choices. And, I respect them enough to believe that they are not simply in a lesser stage of adoptee development (i.e., "in the fog").

    I just love that, thank you!

    I am a 58 year old Mother of 3 who was adopted in infancy. I have never felt driven to search out my biological roots.

    I absolutely respect the rights of others who wish to do so and will fervently fight to secure that basic tenet for all adoptees.

    I do however bristle when confronted by another adoptee or blog post that implies I am somehow mired in fear, not truly aware of my own feelings or saturated in the adoption kool-aid. My adoptive parents passed many years ago; they are not the hurdle. I am none of those things but I am content, have been content and am completely at peace.

    For me, my family was my adoptive family. Period. My identity is intact.I realize that is not the case for everyone. I only wish that those on the other end of the spectrum would offer the same understanding to those of us not needing to search or the "exceptions" if you will.

    Barb

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  13. I've often thought that I'm like one of those children raised in the wild, the ones they find from time to time who had no contact with humans for awhile during their development. They are never able to rejoin society, because they missed out during their formative years, and now it's too late to learn some things.

    That's how I feel being adopted. Like Julie said, my brain is actually altered. I cannot understand biological relationships. I don't know how to be a sister. I was raised an only child and I have no idea what that is. I don't know how to be related to my own family, and it's too late to catch up.

    I have no problem relating to my children in a normal way. I've been married almost 30 years, and that's going well too.

    It's just my bio family. I don't get them, and they don't get me. Being raised by strangers really does strange things to some people. Why do some accept their adoptive family as their own, and some never do?

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  14. Mirah: The man in question is a very good friend of ours and actually knows some of the people who could affect change in NY. He is very supportive of open records--about that he has no doubt and I did state that in the post. He asked an honest question, and he wasn't trying to be provocative. While I can't imagine not knowing, we do hear from adoptees, like Barb, who are content with not knowing, just as we know there are first mothers who reject reunion.

    It's not my way, but it is their way.

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  15. "Since curiosity is the sign of intelligent life, how can an otherwise intelligent person not be interested in the story of his own life?"

    Perhaps because he or she is more interested in other subjects besides themselves? Why does something have to involve "everyone" to be valid? As Anna said, many adoptees are interested, some are not, but that is really irrelevant to legislative change. To insist that there must be a universal need to know for change to be important may even be detrimental to that cause. Those who are interested should be legally entitled to their OBC and other information. Those who are not interested are only a problem if they actively campaign against adoptee rights. I think people have a right to their own personal choice to search or not, without being stigmatized or criticized. The opportunity to search should be there, but nobody should be guilted into either searching or not searching because of what others think they should do. Why would you argue with a person who already supports adoptee rights that the need to know has to apply to all adoptees and be a universal?

    I question whether searching or not searching is a sign of intelligence. I have known both very bright (think Edward Albee) and very stupid people who did not search, same thing with those who did search. Why insult non-searchers by saying lack of curiousity equals lack of intelligence?

    ON a more universal level than adoption, some people are interested to the point of being obsessed with genealogy and can trace their ancestors back a thousand years. Others have no interest in genealogy at all, or just a mild interest. Does that indicate that one group is smarter or stupider, or just that people have different interests and temperaments?

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  16. Maryanne:

    Our good friend comes to dinner; he has supported my work to change the laws--even let me use his name where it was appropriate--and he asks a question on a subject about which he knows I am well versed. Suddenly answering his very real--non aggressive--question is "arguing?"

    Why didn't I just say, oh, he's probably just not interested...and let it die?

    Because we have seen so many adoptees dramatically change their minds. Because I do find it hard to believe--like this or not--that an otherwise intelligent person is not interested in the most basic facts of his existence unless for some reason he or she has decided to shut it off. Robert Jay Lifton and the American Academy of Pediatrics and lots of other people believe this is more than a simple curiosity, but a deep-seated issue that comes with being adopted. And finally, because we have seen so many adoptees change their minds. If I hadn't answered the question, my husband would have, and in fact, did, because he was talking to another guy his age.

    Adopted From Korea and in Search of Identity<>

    This is akin to arguing about Primal Wound, which I think is very real, affecting some people more than others, some seemingly very little. I know you virulently disagree, but I see no point in "arguing" about that.

    As I respond, I am reminded of my granddaughter who was not able to go to a lot of the movies her adolescent pals were seeing, and of course talking about, like "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." When I asked her about it once, she said, quiet defiantly as she was batting back tears, I knew I couldn't see them so I stopped wanting to go. That may seem like a wildly different kind of example, but it covers the same kind of situation. If you can't have something, why want it? And beyond that, I do not try to convince anyone to search if they aren't interested; it is a very personal decision. Some will, some won't.

    And how many times must I say that of course because some people don't want to find out who they are, who they were at birth, that does not mean that every individual should not have the right to do so? They should, they must, and ultimately, they will. But the lack of people agitating for change holds back the movement. How many letters does Shelden Silver want to get from me, a granny first mother?

    Think of what happens when legislators passed mandatory helmet laws for motorcycles. I remember reading that a vocal group of 400 of them showed up in some state to object. Now that is making a statement. I'm talking realpolitik here, political changed based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic or ethical premises.

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  17. Yes, accept what they say at face value. Just accept it. It is their truth at the moment. If it changes later, it changes.

    This is the post-modern era, folks. All of us are allowed to have our own "truths."

    Here's a comparison for you:

    As an engaged Christian, I know that everyone has an innate desire for a relationship with deity. I also know that God has established universal Absolute Truths. However, through the years my agnostic/ atheist collegues have argued that they don't need God or salvation, that my truth is not theirs. Some have later changed their minds and have sought a relationship with God, and others never will.

    Same thing with adoptees. Some seem to have an innate desire to know their genetic roots, and others say they don't. Some will eventually find that they desire to have connectedness to their families of origin, others never will. They just won't. Love them anyway. They are not defective, they are just different than you.

    Post-modernism. Gotta love it.

    Personally, I was always curious and I eventually found the information I was looking for.

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  18. my answer to the question "does everyone have a basic need to know the truth of their origins" would be

    "I don't really know, but doubt this is true of everyone". However, many adopted people I have known and read about do want to know their origins. Others do not, but of course people can change their minds over time. I generally respect what people say about their own needs and motivations rather than questioning their intelligence if they choose a different path than I would.

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  19. Obviously, Maryanne, my answer is certainly different from yours.

    If I didn't believe truth of identity was a deep and crying need for the vast majority--of not all--people, I wouldn't be here today. I surely wouldn't be involved so deeply and time-consuming in an issue that sounds as inconsequential and unimportant as your remark makes it seem. Some people care, some people don't...so....why bother? I bother because I do not agree with you. At the same time, I am not forcing anyone to care or have a desire to know when they say they do not. And if someone wants to not have an interest in their roots, that is their business and I am not trying to convert them.

    Now I am busy writing letters to Albany legislators because we might actually have some movement there this year. We just go a hopeful sign. If anybody out there has a NY connection--and is interested in this as a basic human right--please get in touch with me at forumfirstmother@gmail.com.

    We need you. NOW.

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  20. Yes, of course our answers are different, as are our beliefs. However, I do not think it trivial to want to know one's background, if that matters a great deal to someone. Far from it. That a need or interest is not universal to all does not make it trivial or not worth supporting. That is your interpretation, not what I meant.

    By the way I have no desire for "virulent" debate on anything at this point, just contributing another point of view. We may come at this from different angles but we have both contributed much to adoption reform, in our own ways.

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  21. When adoptees go public about not wanting to search, it marginalizes those wanting to search and can make it more difficult to pass legislation.

    As for Edward Albee, he may not have spoken about being curious about his origins but he clearly had a lot of issues about adoption. When Albee was born, records were still open in many states. It's likely that his adoptive parents had the name of his first mother and other information about his first family. This information may have satisfied any curiosity he did have or given him reasons not to search.

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  22. From Wikipedia:

    "Albee left home for good when he was in his late teens. In a later interview, he said: "I never felt comfortable with the adoptive parents. I don't think they knew how to be parents. I probably didn't know how to be a son, either."[1] More recently, he told interviewer Charlie Rose that he was "thrown out" because his parents wanted him to become a "corporate thug" and did not approve of his aspirations to become a writer."

    Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, in light of Albee's adoption, seems to be about the couple who had a child and lost him, and were forever scarred by that loss. It is one of the most well known plays of the last half of the 20th century:

    "His play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was selected for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize by the award's drama jury, but was overruled by the advisory committee, which elected not to give a drama award at all."

    I laughed when I read that. Too controversial, obviously. Like writing about the other side of adoption.

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  23. "Since curiosity is the sign of intelligent life, how can an otherwise intelligent person not be interested in the story of his own life?"
    How could anybody possibly not feel the same as I do about the things that are important to me? How could they possibly not be curious about the things I'm curious about?
    Hard to accept but I guess it's something to do with them being them and not me.
    My feeling is that most if not all adopted people do experience what you describe as "a slight tinge of curiosity" at some time or other, but the fact that they don't follow up on it may not have to do with guilt, fear, anger or anything like that. It could simply be that there are other things going on in these persons lives that demand more urgent attention, priorities, stuff that won't allow them the luxury of ruminating about their origins. It could even be that they just aren't interested enough to be bothered. It would be nice if the types who don't oppose opening adoption records but just aren't interested in their own pre-birth histories would come out and actively support reform, but it's unrealistic to expect them to do so. Also, IMO it's counterproductive to suggest they lack intelligence because they don't conform to your idea of what they should be like. In fact it's quite insulting.

    "I cannot imagine that any other wise intelligent person does not have some curiosity."
    I find it difficult to imagine too, but perhaps that indicates a deficiency of imagination on my part.
    I agree with RGI. Adoptees who don't want to know
    "are not defective, they are just different than you."

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  24. I am familiar with Albee's works and his many issues with adoption. From his plays, he had a profound grasp of what was wrong with the institution of adoption. It did not help at all that his adoptive parents did not accept him being gay. I saw him speak at an adoption conference years ago, and one of the things he said was that not knowing what his background was left him more free to create himself. It was his way of making the best of a bad situation. At that time, he had not searched.

    I fail to see how some people not wanting to search "marginalizes" those who do. Shouldn't all adopted people be able to speak their truth about their lives? Of course I DO NOT mean those testifying against open records legislation or saying that other adoptees should not search. I do not see how anyone expressing the opinion that they have chosen not to search, without telling others what to do, hurts anyone.

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  25. Apathy leads to inaction.

    Apathy leads to the records staying closed. Why bother, they don't mean anything to me?

    Every time anyone reads an article that says: I don;t want to search, I am not interested, it gives the opponents an opening and legislators the comfort of not doing anything.

    Why bother? Then the legislators think, Oh, it's just a few unhappy people who didn't get along with their adoptive parents who are interested. We don't need to do anything.

    That is how politics works.

    Look at the history of any controversial movement:

    If only a few people opposed Viet Nam. If only a few women argued for the right to control their own bodies. If only a few African Americans wanted to sit at lunch counters with the whites. If only a few people wanted to ride in the front of the bus. And if only a few adoptees care about their roots....

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  26. Adoptive parents are one's psychological/social parents and they can never be more than that. If that is all any adoptee needs or wants, then that is their business and their choice. And there is nothing wrong with feeling that way. It is not a sign of lesser intelligence to not want to pursue finding one's natural parents. I think it is more likely, and I hate to say this, a sign of the effectiveness of adoption. I think it is also a sign of not fully understanding what one is missing. As dpen once stated, biological connections are the basic building block of what constitutes family for most people. An adoptee who has no knowledge and does not want to have any knowledge of his/her natural parents is missing a (the?) major element of human existence.

    An adoptee with no knowledge of his bio-family has no medical history. S/he has no idea of how s/he will age. S/he has no knowledge of her genetic ancestry. Every person ever born is biologically connected to others whether we know them or not. We all carry the genes, the medical history, the looks, even the personality traits and quirks of our relatives who came before us in history. Adopted people have no sense of being a reproduction of someone else. This is our norm. It is not a fluke that I have my father's eye color and my mother's hair color. But living so long without connecting our traits to any one else makes it hard to fully appreciate what we're missing.

    Some people don't want to search because they don't want to risk what they might find or how it might change their lives. I have noticed that many adoptees change their minds when they think about having their own children. It's no longer possible to deny that one does have bio-relatives and that our children will be a part of them, too.

    I do think it hurts the political side to this when adoptees state publicly that they have no need to know who their blood relatives are. But I don't think people like Adoptomuss, by telling her real story, are to blame.

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  27. adoptomuss is certainly not to blame.
    And she found her roots anyway. She has answers.

    We are talking about celebs and others who want to advertise they are not interested in their heritage. We are talking about people who write magazine articles about being totally happy without a lack of information. That is what fuels inaction.

    Robin: Exactly!

    "....I think it is more likely, and I hate to say this, a sign of the effectiveness of adoption. I think it is also a sign of not fully understanding what one is missing. As dpen once stated, biological connections are the basic building block of what constitutes family for most people. An adoptee who has no knowledge and does not want to have any knowledge of his/her natural parents is missing a (the?) major element of human existence."

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  28. The " Curiosity is the sign of intelligent life, so how can an otherwise intelligent person not be interested in the story of his own life? " attitude is elitist and condescending.

    It's not reasonable to expect to successfully spur adults into action by shaming and guilting them, whatever the reason for their apparent indifference. Maybe shaming is a strategy that can work with young immature people, but it's not going to cut the mustard with emancipated adults. Shifting the question to intelligence - or a lack thereof - is much more likely to repel support than to attract it. Guilting and chastising always incurs resentment.

    A better and far less manipulative way to reach these "apathetic" adoptees is to remind them *repeatedly* that whether they want to discover their origins or not, they are being denied a right belonging to and taken for granted by the rest of the population.

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  29. I always wanted to search, and even though the results of my search were rejection and disappointment, I would take knowing over not knowing. Any day. But it does take interest and courage. Sometimes people feel they already have enough. I would say that not having family medical history can be dangerous...but to each her own.

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  30. Robin said "We are talking about celebs and others who want to advertise they are not interested in their heritage. We are talking about people who write magazine articles about being totally happy without a lack of information. That is what fuels inaction."

    Who are "we" and why didn't "we" make the above clear? The OP didn't touch upon the the subject of celebs doing that kind of thing.

    Human nature being what it is, perhaps these "celebs and others" who proclaim their indifference to their heritage are reacting against being told what is best for them and how they are supposed to think. I can see why they might.

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  31. All of you who are so offended by Lorraine are writing to tell her but have you taken any steps to let other adoptees have their records, since you don't want yours?

    I read her post again after I read the comments because I was surprised at how upset some of you are. And Maryanne, you have practically turned into a apologist for adoption. Maybe it works for you.

    Elitist? Please. Other people have said the same thing. Don't think about your roots, or want your birth certificate and be happy dappy in your cocoon. She did not insult any one but expresses her dismay that the records don't get opened more quickly because so few people--adopted people--get involved. Instead of doing anything, you are "insulted."

    How about this quote instead if you don't like hers: Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

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  32. I am saddened that some on this forum feel it necessary to marginalize or qualify an adult adoptee's decision not to search.

    I previously stated my fervent belief that everyone is entitled to that information, should they seek it but stand frustrated that others insist there must be something deficit in one who doesn't seek that ancentral link.

    Some of you cautioned about genetic loss/medical history. I have done a DNA test and have a fairly accurate idea of what, if any issues, I am more likely to encounter medically. Further more knowing your biological family or history is not a complete blue print or foretelling of what medical hurdles you may one day face. I am dilligent with annual check ups and screenings.

    Some questioned my intellect. Please let me assure you that I have somehow stumbled through life with my "limited intellect", achieved a Master's Degree and successfully navigated strong social ties with my children, spouse, family members, friends and community members.

    It is interesting to me that so many may feel threatened(?) by an adoptee such as myself and therefore feel the need to categorize or label. Does that strengthen your own argument or make you feel less threatened by my decision not to search?

    I can understand why my feelings might be difficult for a First Mother to internalize but am honestly baffled why my decision and contentness engenders so much theorizing by other AA's.

    I also take exception to the notion that adoptees expressing their free will someone diminish the fight for this basic access.

    Having been told over the years by well meaning but clueless people how I should feel or should act as an adoptee, I find it egregious that I be subject to that on a blog that so often rails against that very injustice. I am grateful for the few voices on this thread that seem comfortable with free will.

    I also disagree with the assumption that someone not chosing to search is one with whom the adoption has gone well. Again, grand assumptions. Mine has but that is not indicative of all experiences. Is the opposite then also true that only unhappy adoptees search? So in fact their search is not for medical purposes or out of basic humanity or curiousity but rather bitterness, unhappiness, etc.?

    Finally, I'm not at all certain what the commenter meant by stating I am missing some basic element of humanity. Perhaps I am lacking in intelligence if searching for one's biological roots is the only way to sustain said element. I suppose I could say I have found that in my parents, siblings, children, spouse, friendships....or maybe one positive of diminished intellect & curiosity is being at peace.

    Barb

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  33. I have also done a DNA test. Several, in fact. But the tests missed important types of risk factors in both of my biological families that my physicians are glad to know. At this point, DNA tests alone are not subtle enough. I wish everyone good health but would not put all my eggs in the DNA test basket. Just as I had to ask and ask and ask my biological families for family medical histories to at last get a truly holistic view. They would "forget" things. It is an imperfect world.

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  34. "A better and far less manipulative way to reach these "apathetic" adoptees is to remind them *repeatedly* that whether they want to discover their origins or not, they are being denied a right belonging to and taken for granted by the rest of the population."

    If you are a slave to a rule that controls your life, do you need to be reminded repeatedly? Apathy leads to closed records, like the writer of the blog post says.

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  35. "Elitist? Please . . . How about this quote instead if you don't like hers: Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living.""

    Socrates' maxim has an elitist underbelly. Reproaching others for not thinking and exhorting them to self-examine because without that their lives wouldn't be "worth living" has disturbing implications.
    Most people in the past and even today don't have the luxury of scrutinizing their lives in the minutely detailed way Socrates meant. They may wonder in passing, but most are much too busy struggling for survival to get heavily engaged in philosophical questions about the nature of their existence.
    If the examined life is one in which more than just a little personal inner searching takes place, great numbers of our species aren't much more than beasts.

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  36. Barb, Your decision is yours, and I state in the post that I have two friends who have chosen not to complete a search or to get involved in the adoptee rights movement. That is their choice and I don't bug them about it--in fact, I make every effort to not even discuss what I am doing and feel embarrassed when somebody brings it up because I think it might make them feel uncomfortable. Neither were adopted in New York.

    But while a handful of people--adoptees and first mothers, typically, I know almost no biological fathers involved but I have lobbied with one--are trying to move a mountain the lack of sheer numbers of people who will write a letter or make a phone call or do anything to work on this issue is preventing this movement from quicker and greater success in knocking down the sealed records. We may actually have a chance this year in New York, but our numbers are small. If anyone reading this would like to write some emails today--which is what I will be doing, writing to legislators who are not in support of our bill--please contact me. We need all the help we can get.

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  37. @Anon 9:29 wrote "Robin said "We are talking about celebs and others who want to advertise they are not interested in their heritage. We are talking about people who write magazine articles about being totally happy without a lack of information. That is what fuels inaction."

    Pls re-read. I did not write that, Lorraine did in her comment at 7:07pm.

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  38. Barb wrote:"Finally, I'm not at all certain what the commenter meant by stating I am missing some basic element of humanity."

    Your comment completely proves my point. As I wrote before, many adoptees don't understand what they're missing. I can practically guarantee that if you were to find your biological relatives you would know exactly what I meant by that.

    You do have parents and grandparents and siblings but you have no genetic ties to them and no shared genetic history.

    It is of course your choice whether you want to know them or not. And there is nothing wrong with not wanting to search and/or reunite. But there is a missing piece in your life from that choice and it is a piece which most people in the world take for granted.

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  39. "Pls re-read. I did not write that, Lorraine did in her comment at 7:07pm"

    So she did! My comment should have been addressed to her. I was confused by the fact that she placed the words "Robin: Exactly!" immediately beneath that sentence.

    It still remains that there is no mention in the OP of celebs and people who write magazine articles to advertise the fact that they are not interested in their heritage.
    I've searched and found and I'm glad I did, but the implication that *not wanting to search* indicates a lack of intelligence IS insulting, and it's not going to goad people who don't want to into doing so or stop celebs and others from writing about why they don't. In fact it may spur more of them on to do that very thing.

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  40. I certainly don't mean it is a lack of intelligence, but as Robin wrote, something in the adoption process itself shuts down the impulse to find out anything about one's self. And then the state says, right, that's why we shut the records; you don't need or want to go there. But all too often adoptees wait until their adoptive parents have died to search, so that would indicate that that event has a major effect on what adoptees previously had shut down. This is what a very good friend of my husband did, and countless other adoptees.

    I accept that that is the situation. I find it less than comforting as a too small group of adoptees and first parents are working very hard to get the old laws changed. The lack of interest does give legislators an out--if most adoptees send out the message: Not interested, they can thing: No problem. We'll leave things as they are. Numbers matter.

    And consider the Angelinia Jolie effect on the BRCA gene. Her breast removal certainly is encouraging other woman to follow suit. That is only human, If she can do it, I will have the BRCA test...and maybe. I am sure the stock of the company that owns the patent in the BRCA gene has shot up, if it is a publically held company. Same is true in any act like that, adoption curiosity about roots not an exception.

    And now I have to say, we seem to be getting a number of these anonymous comments from the usual suspects in Canada.

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  41. "something in the adoption process itself shuts down the impulse to find out anything about one's self."

    It is the institution of adoption. The adoption industry and many (not all) adoptive parents want to make believe that biology does not make one a parent.* But it does. A child's natural parents are her parents. And the parents of the natural parents are the child's grandparents. The natural parents' siblings are the child's aunts and uncles and their children are the child's cousins.

    Biology does make one a parent even if the natural parents don't raise the child. Biology makes family.

    *I do think this has lessened to some extent with the advent of open adoption.

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  42. Barb said: "Some of you cautioned about genetic loss/medical history. I have done a DNA test and have a fairly accurate idea of what, if any issues, I am more likely to encounter medically. Further more knowing your biological family or history is not a complete blue print or foretelling of what medical hurdles you may one day face. I am dilligent with annual check ups and screenings."

    Barb - I sincerely hope that your route to living a healthy life is never compromised, and that what steps you have taken are enough.

    I took advantage of yearly screenings, health check ups, and I questioned everything. I did okay for a long time, I felt protected and had always been very healthy and never sick. I did not have the dna tests because they weren't available then - and I would not take them now because I feel they create a false sense of security in people.

    Every professional will tell you that your FHH (a well documented FHH) is the key tool and DNA tests are only of secondary benefit. They will tell you this because:

    They have not discovered all the causitive gene(s) for all diseases. They have not discovered what other gene(s)turn on or off the causitive genes. They have not learned everything for the COMMON diseases - let alone the est 7,000 RARE diseases which by the way effect 1 in 12 Americans.

    The age of screening tests is also based on the average age - take breast cancer for example - it if runs in your family, and is early onset, you are encoraged to start getting screened ten years earlier than the age of closest/latest relative to have received the diagnosis - some have to start screening in their early twenties, when screening does not typically happen until you hit forty.

    Even if I had done a DNA test it would not have predicted my outcome because I am part of a study now trying to FIND the gene(s) responsible for my disease. The key knowledge I needed was my FHH that I lacked.

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  43. "I certainly don't mean it is a lack of intelligence,

    But you are insinuating in a not very roundabout way that for an adoptee to insist they are not interested in discovering their roots is either a lie or they are "in the fog" because they haven't had the essential experience that would lift that fog for them. To me, that is tantamount to saying you don't accept their reality and what they call their "truth" isn't truth at all - rather it is a mirage, brought brought about by the thirst for biological connectedness.

    ". . . but as Robin wrote, something in the adoption process itself shuts down the impulse to find out anything about one's self."

    Anything? Adoption skews a lot of things, but there are other important aspects to self-discovery and self-actualization that don't have to do with knowing one's genealogical roots, although obviously biological history is a significant building-block that everyone deserves to have. The question is, is knowing your origins essential to becoming a fully self-actualized human being ? I would say not for everyone. There are those unable to trace their ancestry who grow up to lead satisfying and rewarding lives and become fully self-actualized people *in spite* of what they have lost - even though they grieve that loss in all its ambiguity.
    Now, I know that that "in spite of" is important. The lack, even though an absence, presents an obstacle. It is a gulf to be bridged. That is why it angers me when a person's rightful history exists but is locked away and they don't have access to their own information, even if they want it. Or when the found original parent (usually the mother) refuses to divulge the full circumstances of their child's birth. But I rattle on. The point is that identity is a very fluid concept, and the fact that some adoptees' ideas of what constitutes self is different from yours and Robin's doesn't indicate a deficit on their part.

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  44. Good analysis, Anonymous.

    If we are going to get legislation passed, we do need people to care enough to demand/ask that the records be unsealed. But you have just explained why this movement is taking so long. All people obviously don't need to know. That shouldn't make the moral difference in passing this law, but it makes a practical difference when adoptees actually work against passage by talking about how they do not need to know.

    Think of it in terms of some other action: I am against the war in Viet Nam but I am too busy or otherwise preoccupied to demonstrate. Every woman should have the right to an abortion but I personally think it's wrong and would never get one. I think gays should be allowed to marry but I'm gay and it's not something I feel the need to do, or get involved in since I don't want to get married at this point myself....

    I find this situation sad.

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  45. Robin,

    Your words "a sign of the effectiveness of adoption"

    Thank you, this makes so much sense to me.

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  46. Question. After reading all these comments, do you understand why the legislation is not passing more quickly? Frankly I am amazed at the tenacity of those who stay committed given the kind of attitude I read here.

    Some adoptees care very much. Some aren't bothered and are not going to bother. Some adoptees are going to advertise how they aren't interested and hurt the movement. Wonderful.

    It is interesting to see how few people are commenting at the new post, the one about writing to legislators.

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  47. Anon 3:23pm,
    Again I did not write this line "but as Robin wrote, something in the adoption process itself shuts down the impulse to find out anything about one's self." I was quoting Lorraine :)And just adding my thoughts to her idea.

    I suspect you are the anon from Ontario that Lorraine was referring to.

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  48. Robin wrote on May 25, 2013 at 6:03 PM:
    "Anon 3:23pm, Again I did not write this line "but as Robin wrote, something in the adoption process itself shuts down the impulse to find out anything about one's self." I was quoting Lorraine :)And just adding my thoughts to her idea." "

    As Lorraine wrote on May 24, 2013 at 4:29 PM, "as Robin wrote, something in the adoption process itself shuts down the impulse to find out anything about one's self."

    No problem there. I was responding to Lorraine.
    I guess it's different when she does it.

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  49. Anonymous and anonymous, I have no idea exactly what your comment means. It is always different when something is said by a different person but there is a truth usually or often if the same people are saying the same thing, more or less.

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  50. Why doesn't anonymous from Canada just admit who she is? You can tell just from writing style she is indeed a usual suspect.

    I am reading this post as not a chiding of adoptees who have no interest, as many do but as a call to rally those adoptees who do care but have never advocated for themselves before. Unfortunately, I don't think it is quite as effective when it comes from a first mother. I am assuming it is the context of this post that is inciting people.
    Plus "anon" from Canada has very clearly stated ad nauseum that she has no interest in being an advocate and she tends to personalize much of what is written on this forum.

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  51. Bee, thank you for also understanding what is going on with K from Canada.

    But at this point, I have given up "trying to incite" people. I am however flabbergasted by the lack of interest from so many adoptees about their roots. I am merely pointing out that their indifference is the reason the laws are not changing more quickly. I will continue to fight for them, but by merely stating what I observe, some adoptees take mighty offense. And yet they wonder why the laws stay sealed.

    As for action from the adoptees, that impulse has to come from within.

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  52. Anon 5:36pm wrote "It is interesting to see how few people are commenting at the new post, the one about writing to legislators."

    I think one of the issues no one is mentioning is burnout. Many people have worked for years and years and nothing or very little has changed. I doubt that records will be opened in my natal state. I have found that I am of more use doing record searches and providing other suggestions to help people find their lost family members.

    Lorraine wrote "I am however flabbergasted by the lack of interest from so many adoptees about their roots."

    Well, as you know I was passionately interested in finding my roots. I refused to go to my grave without knowing who created me and brought me in to this world. Even my own mother said "I always knew you'd find me." Although I did have a huge advantage in that I did have her name.

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  53. Oh come on. Adoptees who say they are indifferent about finding out about their biological roots are the reason laws are not changing more quickly? I disagree. I think parents who gave up their children wanting and expecting anonymity, adoptive parents who are afraid of their children knowing their biological information, and agencies that have participated in fraudulent adoption activity are more likely to be the reason laws aren't changing more quickly.


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  54. When I write to legislators today I point out immediately that I will not benefit if they unseal the original birth records. To me, it is a matter of principle that anyone is denied their true heritage. That it continues personally affronts my sense of justice. I did leave the active movement for more than a decade and so very little happened in that time, when I thought surely the records would have been opened by the turn of the century. Slowly I began to feel that my work--the real work of my life--was not yet done. And so I came back.

    Giving up my daughter was so traumatic and changed my life so deeply that I felt I had to use the experience for some good in the world. In doing so, I have made plenty of people angry and upset, and I accept that. Change brings upheaval and confusion and anger.

    I was thinking about your comment, Robin, when I was reading The NY Times review section after I read and posted your remark, and came upon these words..."if you looked carefully at Johnson’s remarks [speaking at Gettysburg on Memorial Day to make a 100th anniversary of Lincoln's speech]and saw how they grew out of King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” in which the civil-rights leader spoke of his frustration with the pace of change:

    “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’ ”

    Johnson’s speech directly addressed King: “The Negro today asks justice. We do not answer him — we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil — when we reply to the Negro by asking, ‘Patience.’ It is empty to plead that the solution to the dilemmas of the present rests on the hands of the clock.”

    Replace the word Negro with "adoptee."

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  55. "And yet they wonder why the laws stay sealed."

    No actually, they don't.
    They don't care at all.
    That's kind of the whole point.

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  56. Most, if not all adoptees are programed from infancy not to ask too many questions. We can see the look on our adopters faces when we do. We have to comply, because we have to eat. After awhile the natural bonds we felt with our mothers change into something else. Sometimes it changes to hate. How can someone do such a terrible thing to us? We build walls, and for some of us, the walls cannot be torn down, they are part of our identity. It's not our fault that the records are, were, and remain sealed. It was not for our benefit. Nothing in adoption was for our benefit.

    We had to adapt to the most unnatural of conditions, and now I feel we're being judged for not behaving the way some of you want us to. Again. We can never win. Look for you roots, bad adoptee. Don't care about your roots? Bad adoptee.

    Don't lay this one on us.

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  57. Adoptmuss, no one is "laying this on you;" no one is blaming you for what happens in the process of being given up by someone and adopted and raised by another family. But the effects of that are the reason legislators don't see the need to change the law more quickly than it is happening. That is just the way it is, just as what you describe is also the way it is.

    I know that you found your natural family and were not welcomed, as I recall, and I don't remember the details but they were not pretty--which is even evident in the name you chose to write with.

    And I think everyone here agrees that the "rules" of adoption were not written for the benefit of the adopted; if that were the case, the records never would have been sealed. At least in NY, they were sealed because an adoptive father was governor at the time. And it is true that in many cases, it is an adoptive parent (Joe Bruno, Steve Saland) or uncle (Danny O'Donnell), or an aunt (the woman in Rhode Island whose name escapes me) who become a stumbling block on the way to equity for adoptees. In New Jersey a bill was finally passed that had a one year window for a veto, but Gov. Chris Christie (who has an adopted sister) wouldn't even sign that and vetoed that. As long as he is governor, NJ almost certainly won't get a good bill become law.

    Yes, that sucks.

    All this is one reason I so admire Lou D'Allesandro in New Hampshire, the adoptive father who made unsealing the records with NO VETO for the birth parent there his mission. It helped that he is one of the most powerful people in the New Hampshire legislature.

    In New York, we have adoptive grandfather Sen. William Larkin who supports our bill, even though its chief sponsor in the Senate is now someone else. In British Columbia, if I am not mistaken, the records were unsealed when a woman who was a first mother was the highest-ranking official in the province. (Her name, anybody?)

    This is at least an example of how private interests determine legislation.

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  58. The "ideal" for a child is to be born and raised in the one loving and functional family. In adoption, one is born into one family and raised in another. I think many adoptees want to be "as if born" into their adoptive family so they can be like everyone else and not have to deal with the unknown. I think for many that is the best way for them to cope with being adopted, i.e. by ignoring the fact that they are adopted. In fact, it seems that those who consider themselves happy about being adopted probably wish adoption wasn't in their life at all.

    Just one thing, I have no problems with adoptees who have no wish to search. What does get on my goat though is when those who have no wish to search imply that it is because they are already fulfilled. I felt complete before I made contact but now I am able to put things more into context - something I didn't expect.

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