' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Oregon man finds first family thanks to new Illinois law

Friday, October 12, 2012

Oregon man finds first family thanks to new Illinois law

Brian Wheeler and his parents
Brian Wheeler, the play by play announcer for the Portland Trailblazers, always wondered about the teenage girl who gave birth to him 50 years ago and placed him for adoption. And he wondered if she wondered about him, Wheeler told KGW-TV (Portland) reporter Pat Dooris.

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."

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
From FMF:
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


  1. Hi Jane.

    Just a quick note - Washington state allows adoptees born after 1993 to access their original birth certificates. We're working to extend access to all adoptees born in Washington, but I anticipate that any new legislation will have a veto clause.

    Thank you for this post!

  2. What a great story. Thanks for sharing. In addition to the "marriage" factor, I've also noticed that some adoptees are also brimming with anger when they discover that their found mothers have what they perceive to be a great life. For some odd reason, it seems that in some instances some adoptees would prefer to find out that their mothers are impoverished and suffering from guilt and life-long grief. So reading about Brian's experience was refreshing.

  3. Thanks, Mswandergirl,

    I've added Washington to the list of states which allow adoptees born during certain periods to receive their original birth certificates.

    Anytime you need first mothers to testify in favor of an open records bill, let me know.

  4. Thanks for sharing this story.

    I'm so glad that, thus far, things have worked out well for this man and his family.

    All too often when an adoptee searches for parents who ended up staying together the adoptee ends up being rejected.

  5. Justine: Absolutely true. I was amazed when I talked to a CI in Michigan who told me that when she discovers that the parents have married and are still together, her heart sinks because she knows the likelihood of a first mother happy to meet and greet plummets. I thought the opposite would be true.

    I'm just guessing here, but I think what happens is that the father of the child feels totally emasculated by not being able to step up to the plate and keep the child, and his feelings of weakness from that time that are resurrected are overwhelming. Since he has put it "behind" him for all these years, going back to that place emotionally is unacceptable. He wants to believe that the child has turned our fine, and in any case, what happened back then is not his responsibility. The mother, on the other hand, may have feelings of longing to know the child and reunite, but goes along with the father in order to keep peace in her marriage.

    Sad but true. I did meet a married couple and their reunited daughter once lobbying in Albany, and I thought they would be the norm. I spoke to the father about how they dealt with this through the years and he said that whenever anything came on television about adoption they changed the channel, walked away, etc., and never spoke about the lost daughter. Then she called. Now here they were, lobbying with her. It was great to see them together. I did not realize at the time they were rare.

  6. Thank you for sharing a happy story about a reunion. I certainly hope that their positive relationship lasts.

    I do have to ask though. What on earth were the factors that enabled stranger adoption to get such a strong hold on the culture seemingly starting around 1950? I mean here we have a couple who obviously had a strong relationship and yet they were led to believe that giving their son to strangers, never to be heard from again, was best for all of them? I mean, it's crazy. This story reminds me of Steve Jobs natural parents, too. They wanted to get married and keep him and yet when they were unable to marry the whole of society seemed to think that giving him to strangers was the right thing to do. I have read that prior to the 50s, children born out of wedlock were passed off as the grandparents' kid or raised by relatives.

    Anyhoo, I think that the argument for open records cannot focus on the wishes of the first parents for privacy. This argument will go round and round. Some want privacy, some don't. Although I understand that there was never any legal guarantee of anonymity. The real issue is the adoptee's human/civil rights and the fact that this contract was made over her life when she was a minor and should no longer be in effect once s/he reaches the age of majority. And that no one has the right to deny another person all knowledge of his or her biological connections.

    As for reunions turning out badly for adoptees who find that their parents married, I think the real issue is guilt. I mean if the couple have gone decades without talking about their relinquished child that is one hell of an elephant in the room. And I would guess that when the issue is brought front and center (i.e. the adoptee finds them) that facing it could make the NPs' whole house of cards fall apart.

  7. "She'd been pressured by her family to give him up. Seventeen years old was too young to have a child. But she never forgot him."

    Robin, it's just hard to take everybody back to what it was like in the 50s. If the father was the same age, there would have been tremendous social pressure to give up the baby coming from the parents. And without their help,it would have been nearly impossible for the couple to keep the baby. Possible yes, likely no. The shame of an out-of-wedlock baby was intense. We don't know what happened here, but it's likely the mother "went away" and even if the neighbors gossiped, there was no baby to prove that she had "gotten in trouble." And that's what it was called.

  8. Robin, you might take a look at Rickie Solinger's "Wake Up Little Susie" to get an ideas of the thinking behind giving children to strangers in closed adoptions. Threads that came together to create this bizarre scheme include: protecting children from being abandoned by poor single mothers; sparing families from shame-- shotgun marriages were almost as shameful as single women giving birth; misguided ideas promoted by sociologists that children always did best in a "stable two parent" environment; reducing welfare roles; male supremacy -- women had no right to have a child without approval/acceptance of a man; and meeting the needs of the infertile to have a family without interference from the natural family.

  9. Robin asked, "What on earth were the factors that enabled stranger adoption to get such a strong hold on the culture?"

    I have to preface this with, I don't have alot of time - I'm out the door in a second so I might not use the right words.

    Short of murder, I equate the coercion and pressure of kids FROm single parents in the 20th century to Muslim honor killings. Children were transferred to respectable strangers to save face for the family - to save the family honor! Our families were killed to save the family honor!

    But - this adoption-thing was a whole SOCIETAL DANCE which sprung up into a multi-billion dollar industry. Many, many, factors were involved - plenty of "cooks in the kitchen" of supplying kids to infertile couples.

    Alot of it had to do with your jealous neighbor! The audacity that you, an unmarried person, an unmarried couple, would be blessed with the gift of a child!

    Just look at what we, as a society, did to Blacks, and to gays. We were killing gays and blacks. We locked up our mentally and/or physically challenged in institutions. Oh, the list of disgust is endless. I love my country; but, we shouldn't look down so much on other countries because we did some pretty horrific stuff!

    Not too long ago, goofy, old-fogey Senator Robert Dole actually made a commercial and in it he cajoled viewers, something to the effect of, "Let's get the shame & stigma back into single parenthood, Gang! (wink-wink)! Ostracize your unmarried pregnant neighbor! (wink-wink!)"

    There are people like Dole right now who stay awake nights trying to figure out how to demean and punish his neighbor!

  10. We were such a sick society that when a married woman became pregnant with her first child, her friends and neighbors would count backwards 9 months to see if she had sex before she was married! Oh, yeah, we were sick!

    Gotta' go!

  11. I am a resident of Illinois, an adoptee, and a recent recipient of my OBC. I reunited with my birth parents 3 years ago (we are now estranged), however did want to receive my OBC.

    My OBC was falsified by my birth mother and father was "unnamed", though she did know his identity and later shared it with me, thankfully.

    I worry that many others may have falsified docs, may be searching for someone who doesn't exist-wild goose chases, broken hearts and dreams.

    I have contacted the adoption agency, The Cradle, of Evanston, IL, and the social worker said that anyone can change his or her name on a hospital record, and I'm pretty much out of luck. I'm not so sure.

    Of course, I am not pleased and have considered legal action against the agency, the hospital, the doctor, and even my birthmother. I want a note in my file with the corrected information. I want to make a wrong right.

    I feel that once again, my desire for truth, legitimacy has been cast aside. The paperwork needs to be corrected.

    Friends say, "what's the big deal? You know who they are now.". They don't get it. It's just one more slap in the face that I'm not real, a ghost. It never happened. I don't exist. That's hard to get over.

    Also, it's very irritating when one does receive the actual form because it is stamped all over the place that it is not a "real", legal document. It's kind of like a 5th place ribbon when everyone else got first.

    I pray others don't have this experience. Sad.

  12. Diane,
    When you say your mother falsified your OBC, do you mean she gave a false name? I've heard some mothers were encouraged to do this.

    State officials may have refused to put your father's name on your birth certificate. In Oregon fathers' names are not put on birth certificates if mothers are unmarried unless fathers sign affidavits of paternity and file them with the state. Of course many don't know of this requirement. Sometimes state officials write "unknown" rather than leave the space blank. This misleads adoptees into believing their mother was promiscuous. I know of a 1968 birth certificate where the word "negro" was in the father's name space.

  13. Diane I agree that is a bunch of horseshit that your BC is not legal.

    My mother gave me my orignal, and truthful BC and for that I am thankful. no thanks to those fuckers in the state of NY.


  14. Caliegh, what was the Dole commercial for? The last ad I remember him in was for erectile dysfunction, or ED, as they like to call it. Never saw this one you are talking about. Maybe they did not bother to show it in NY since we are all such sinners anyway.

  15. Diane,

    In 1969 in WI I gave my daughters fathers name but it was not on her birth certificate because at the time it was not proven. I think that might be what went on in your case.

    I have been in contact with the agency and the state to try to correct it but am getting nowhere. I also named her at birth and she is just listed as baby girl. I agree with your frustation and the fact that your original birth certificate should most certainly be correct, legal and available to you and all others seeking them.

    Not sure how to change any of this except to keep trying. I have my daughters support and her adopted mothers support on this and we still keep hitting the wall.

    At this time they say the only way to get this changed would be for me to adopt her back. Not sure how that makes anything right.

  16. Diane,
    The first few years of reunion is no time to get to know your authentic mother. We NMs are such a mess dealing with our grief of losing our precious children. I hope things turn around for your relationship.
    All US birth certificates should require DNA testing for both parents. With sperm and egg donation you can't be too sure who carries the DNA. Every citizen deserves to know their heritage.

  17. Yes, Jane. My birthmother used a false name on my OBC. I believe she was encouraged to do this by the agency, but that may be hard to prove. It would interest me greatly to find out how many other "Cradle Babies" are in the same boat as me. That would be telling.

    From the records in the file it was noted that my birth mother refused to speak to the social worker about my birthfather--"she was possibly still very much in love with him.".

    I think she knowingly left his name blank. I believe she was in love with him. They continued to date off and on for 10 years and almost married, however my birthmother has repressed this. I have proof in the form of photos and letters from my birthfather and his sister. I've not challenged her on her truth. I'm still trying to piece together my own.

    Both parents have lied, shaded, denied, avoided, and tried to put the best face on things without taking one iota of responsibility. No "I'm sorry". I want my file corrected by the agency without their involvement. Neither puts effort into any relationship that is not on their terms, so asking each of them to help would likely cause me more harm than good.

    I'm open to any and all ideas!

  18. As an AP, I agree that OBC's should be available to adoptees. In our case, the OBC doesn't list the father because he wasn't at the hospital when the document was submitted and state law would not allow his name to be on the OBC unless he's present at the time.

    I've been documenting and saving everything I can as well as maintaining contact with the first parents as I fully expect our daughter will want to know.

    It's ridiculous that today we still allow one person's insecurities to trump another person's civil rights. I see this is an important step in changing adoption. The next steps are to provide the appropriate support to women (whether that be birth control, access to abortion, or social services that allow them to raise their child) and also, to provide a living wage for all people.

    I'm seeing to many people that are poor that are in an intolerable situation because they don't make a living wage. We need to address this issue too. Yes, it will mean less infants available to be adopted, but that's how it should be.

    Thanks for sharing all your thoughts. I mainly lurk and read here to understand the feelings of first parents, and to make sure I don't forget the loss that created my family.

  19. Diane,

    I'm so sorry. That is just so terribly unfair.

    An amended birth certificate is ridiculous enough.My adoptive parents did not create nor give birth to me, so why in the world would anyone think it is okay to have them listed on my BIRTH certificate?

    But, for you to then have to deal with false information on your OBC, that just makes my heart hurt for you.

    I'm also from IL. MY OBC is accurate, but my father is not listed. Fortunately, my mother told me who he was. I don't think they actually falsified that part on your OBC. I asked the state, and they told me that the protocol for unmarried women was to leave the father's name off of the certificate. Oddly, his age and state of birth were still listed.

  20. Diane,

    I am so sorry you have to deal with all these lies as well as non-responsive, self-centered birth parents. I hope you can take the agency to task.

    I'd love to be around when states get rid of amended birth certificates. Sadly, birth certificates have become certificates of title rather than factual documents.

  21. "Sadly, birth certificates have become certificates of title rather than factual documents." --Jane Edwards

    True. But, people need to realize that I am not a car.

  22. Cayleigh said "Short of murder, . . . etc."

    Cayleigh, "honor" killings ARE murder.
    Coercion, closed records and altered birth certificates are wrong, harmful and unjustifiable, but they are not murder.

  23. Diane, I believe that the birthmother name on my 1958 Illinois birth certificate was also falsified. There was a place of birth, a year of birth, and a name. As far as I can tell, no person by that name was born anywhere close to that place in a reasonable time span for her. So we are searching again. My question is this: did your agency know the "real" name? If so, I might go back to the agency, although they won't give me any information -- just an expensive search service.



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