' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Demanding adoptee rights! Now!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Demanding adoptee rights! Now!

Unsealing Initiative demonstrating on the steps of New York's City Hall for adoptee rights legislation in 2013. 

When people ask for something for themselves--rather than others asking for them--they are more likely to get it.  Sounds simple, right?

I'm thinking about rights for adoptees and natural mothers. 

Twice recently I have heard the above idea expressed. On CBS This Morning a woman was talking about this being the week students must make their final decisions about where they will go college this fall. The woman noted that since financial considerations enter into it, if the circumstances of the family have been reduced since the application was filed, they should call the financial officer, explain the changed situation, and ask him to reconsider the aid package being offered.

But the next sentence is what caught my ear: If the student herself makes the call, it is much more likely to be granted than if a parent makes the same request. Okay, got that. If a student requests for himself, he's more likely to get the desired end.

A packed hearing in 2014 in New York
On NPR recently I heard about how voters can be swayed on issues such as gay marriage and abortion if the person doing the talking is someone who has been directly affected. Send out gay people to go house-to-house or stand on street corners and engage passers-by, and more of the average Joes and Jills who were against gay marriage before will change their minds--and stay that way--than if straight people do the talking. Earlier studies had shown that people might say they had changed their minds to straight people (and actually lean that way for a couple of weeks), but later would return to their original stance. But not when gays themselves spoke to them about it. They had their minds turned and stayed that way. 

This was also true when surveyors sent out women to talk to people about abortion. When the individual said--in what began as a non-confrontational talk--she herself had an abortion and how she felt about it, the individual was most likely to change their opinion. This was true even when speaking to people who on a scale of zero to ten were most strongly against it. This doesn't imply they might get an abortion themselves, but that they would support pro-abortion legislation. 
Lorraine testifying at 2014 hearing

Of course, I thought about adoptee rights. We've--natural birth biological mothers, adoptees and the rare adoptive parent--been at this for many years without much success. Lately a few states have begun to turn the corner on this, but still legislators seem to be in love with the damn natural-mother veto. About that I could scream but that's another post (and several previous posts)!   

Adoptees will do a way better job demanding their rights than we mothers will. There is no way around that. "Power concedes nothing without a demand," said Frederick Douglass about slavery. It is true about adoptee rights. Demand is necessary to force change. 

Attitudes on gay marriage shifted quickly because gays could come out of the closet without seeming to tell their parents that...there were other mothers and fathers--those shadowy biological ones--that they were interested in. From what we've learned, adoptees grow up afraid to discuss their deep feelings and yearnings to know their roots--and the actual people who conceived them--with their adoptive parents, to whom they owe everything. That thought runs through so much of what we hear adoptees say, and it's perfectly understandable.

But like it or not, that attitude is why adoptees aren't boisterous and demanding for what should belong to every human being by the mere fact of being born: full and complete knowledge of who they are. 
Washington Adoptee Rights Advocates in Olympia

How often do we hear of adoptees who do not search until their adoptive parents are dead? All the time. It happened with one of my husband's best friends from college. He attended our wedding, knew about Birthmark and me before we met, was married to a judge, but when did he search? Only when his adoptive mother died. On his father's deathbed, his father spoke of his being adopted (for the first time ever) but told him not to search because "it will kill your mother." 

Who's going to want to search until he no longer can kill his mother by doing so? After she died our friend asked relatives if they knew anything and immediately learned who his biological parents were; both were deceased. 

Because searching to some implies rejection of one's adoptive parents, adoptees aren't massing and marching like they have every right to do so, and so change is coming ever so slowly. Given the attitudes with which adoptive parents of the last century have been imbued--blood doesn't matter, shouldn't matter--I don't see how this is possible to change in my lifetime. That doesn't mean I'm giving up, however. 

We natural mothers are needed to be the back up to say that we were never promised anonymity. That the state has no interest in granting us anonymity. That our voices were taken away when the records were sealed; we had no choice but to go along, that abortions do not go up when adoptees are access to original birth certificates. We must argue for NO VETO on birth records access. Noting a "preference" to be given an adoptee when he requests his original birth certificate is one thing; veto is another. 

What else can we mothers ask for? We can start asking for information about what happened to our children once we relinquished them. That is not an unreasonable request! We can start asking for agency records--and even the hospital records of our child's birth. We too can say you the state made these laws without considering how these laws affecting our children's lives--and ours!--forever were done without consideration of the long-term lasting impact on both the children and their natural mothers. 

As for the impact of asking for yourself--consider this: In Maine, the records were unsealed after adoptee Paula Benoit took it on as an issue and didn't stop until Maine became a full access state in 2009. The legislators might not empathize so deeply with others talking about the issue, but when one of their own spoke up, they listened. And voted for free and full access to birth records. Coincidentally Maine also has a natural mother in the House of Representatives, Roberta Beavers, who is also the state rep for the American Adoption Congress. 

Paula later found her natural parents and amazingly learned that two of her nephews--Sen. Bruce Bryant and Rep. Mark Bryant--were also serving in the state legislature. How's that for genetic disposition and synchronicity? 

In New York, we now have a legislator in the Assembly who is adopted, Joe Borelli from Stanton Island, but he's relatively new to the legislature, and says he doesn't have a lot of clout yet. But he is there. And he is asking for his rights. And so is our long time and passionate advocate, David Weprin,* who will be introducing our adoptee-rights bill in Albany soon. Albany, hear us roar!--lorraine
*Assemblyman Weprin is in the first photo in white shirt and red tie. That's me on the side with the big green bag. 

Ohio opens sealed birth records Friday
Gov. Cuomo: Right the wrong of sealed birth certificates THIS YEAR
Opening court records to adoptees and first parents
Adopted People Are Not Allowed Ancestry Because It Might Upset Somebody

For information on Massachusetts where mothers are asking for documents:
http://www.obcforma.org http://www.obcforma.org/ 

Lorraine's You Tube of her testimony at public hearing on unsealing birth records:

Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self (Anchor Book)
To my mind, one of the best books about what it is like to be adopted. I read this years after I had reunited with my daughter and learned a great deal. Both natural parents and adoptees can gain from this slim volume.

"...will reassure adoptees that it is usual for questions about adoption and birth parents to persist throughout life. Using Erik Erikson's stages of life as a framework, Brodzinsky (Psychology/Rutgers) and Schechter (Psychiatry/Univ. of Pennsylvania), here writing with Henig (Your Premature Baby, 1983, etc.), call upon years of experience as researchers and counselors in the field of adoption to describe the continual adjustments that adoptees make as they grow from infancy to old age. Most moving is the litany of losses that move adoptees to grieve, often unknowingly. 

"Even infants only a few months old show signs of mourning their first caretakers. Later, the authors say, adoptees may confront the loss not only of a birth family but of a personal and genetic history. The latter is particularly painful when it is time for young adults to begin their own families. 

"Such life crises often kick off a search for birth parents. But the book's authority is undermined by what the authors frankly admit is the rapidly changing environment of adoption, where secrecy and shame are now rarely invoked and searches are often unnecessary. Open adoption-- in which the birth mother is known to and is often closely attached to the adoptive family--and increasingly available birth records eliminate the information gap that most often causes stress in adopted families (although open adoption may create its own set of stresses, the authors point out). Replete with anecdotal material, this offers few new insights but does lay out issues of development that only adoptees face over the course of life."--Kirkus 


  1. I hear ya loud and clear.

  2. I'm not the first person to suggest this, but I think we desperately need to frame the issue of adoptee vs. birthmother rights in a new way. Adoption agencies and legislators want us to think that opening adoption records is a delicate balancing act of "rights" of first mothers and adoptees. What if we started talking about adoptee rights and first mother rights as mutually beneficial rather than in opposition to each other? The myth that the paternal state is somehow "protecting" first mothers from the consequences of their choices is patently false--I'd argue that the the paternal state is now trying to avoid admitting its own culpability in coercing mothers into relinquishing their children. In addition, continuing closed record policies are actively depriving many women of information about their children that would prove beneficial to both them and the children they relinquished. We've got to act quickly, though: the fight to open records will be over in the next twenty-five or thirty years or so as adoptees from the closed adoption era begin to die off, thus eliminating this whole pesky open record business. Our greatest allies are common people--every single person who has listed to my rant on closed records has expressed shock, horror, and support. The average person on the street has no idea that this is even an issue.
    /end rant

  3. LLM, those of us mothers involved in adoption reform for years (almost 40 years for me and Lo and a few others) HAVE been talking about adoptee rights being mutually beneficial to most surrendering mothers and fathers for years. The problem is that no matter how many of us there are at hearings, or how many letters or emails we send to legislators, those of us who favor adoptee rights are dismissed as being not representative of all those phantom closet mothers who live in fear of being found. It is very hard to argue with a ghost, the pitiful scared mom who can't speak for herself due to fear of scandal, so politicians and our opponents most chivalrously speak FOR her and do not listen to the living, breathing women standing before them arguing that we love our children and need to know what happened to them. It is terribly frustrating to be there, many of us have left those hearings in tears because we were not really heard. I once wrote a piece about this for a newsletter, how patriarchal politicians view outspoken birthmothers as "shameless hussies" and thus suspect, and "good" birthmothers as those who stay in their place in the closet. It is hard to win against that mindset. Also, many politicians and clergy that oppose us may have their own skeletons in the closet that they fear will come to light with more openness and light on the subject.

    You are absolutely right about the general public either supporting our cause or not caring much either way. The passing of the ballot initiative in Oregon testifies to that. I too have met many in the general public who did not know adopted adults could not get their own OBC and were appalled. It is the politicians and special interest groups that are our problem, not the common people. Not all states have ballot initiatives, and in those that do, it is extremely expensive to fund a successful campaign to get an issue on the ballot. If it were up to the public, we would have won long ago. As it is, we have to deal state by state with the politicians and powers that be.

    The fight for open records will not end until the records truly are open to all adopted adults. Even when everyone from birth and adoptive familes know each other, there is still the matter of the adopted adults' RIGHT to a correct original OBC. Even in fully open adoptions, a false amended BC has to be issued and the original sealed. We also have the ongoing problem of various forms of assisted reproduction and anonymous donors and how that will be handled in the future as those children grow up and want answers. We are slowly making some progress, but there is still much to be done.

  4. Adding a N.J. lawmaker-hero to those you've mentioned, Paula Benoit and Roberta Beavers in Maine: Assemblyman Dave Wolfe, who has represented his district since 1992. As the son of an adopted man, Asm. Wolfe has testified with gentle power to the benefits accrued by an adopted person's family when the truth is available. Since election to public office at the state level, Asm. Wolfe has consistently sponsored access legislation as well as co-sponsoring good bills introduced by others. He was a co-prime sponsor of the bill that, after the governor's conditional veto, has become law in N.J. which will result in adoptees born and/or or adopted in NJ having access to their original birth certificates from JAN. 1, 2017.

  5. Ny has a wonderful Bill. NY adoptees and parents and siblings and friends can get behind the group http://www.nyadoptionequality.com/ They are getting more and more people to support the bill. So join forces.

  6. It is the moral obligation of the AP to support and pay for search and reunion. AP's are the beneficiaries in the adoption. It is the least we can do for our children.

  7. So here's the thing. I'm adopted. I've always known I'm adopted. I was taken from mother who has bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (accordong to my biological uncle) and placed with a family at 10 days old. Unlike most adoptees I always felt meeting my birth family was a bad idea. My grandmother was ultimately the person who gave permission and pushed for me to be adopted as she felt my mother was too unstable and she was too old to care for me and my uncle was in the military. This was in 1989.

    My biomother through more open records was able to find me. I gave no consent to her unsealing records. She begged me for a meeting and I felt obliged (and slightly forced by my parents) to meet her once. The meeting did not go well. She took offense to the fact I'm gay and felt that it was unacceptable and insulted my parents for doing a lousy job parenting me. I felt she was disrespectful so I thanked her for her time but told her that this was too much, if I was ready for a relationship in the future I would contact her. She cried and begged me to stay but I left anyways.
    A few months later and she's sending me harassing messages on my work cell (that is listed on my company website). She showed up at my parents' house and refused to leave until I came over to talk to her. My parents made the difficult decision to call the police and have her arrested for trespass and harassment. 4 days later she shows up at my work begging to speak to me. I threatened to have her arrested if she didn't leave. She did but continued to blow up my work cell. My job understood and they have changed my work number and I had to file for a restraining order. It's harsh but I cannot allow for this invasion of my privacy and violation of my boundaries and a complete disregard for my repeated requests to leave me alone, even if she is my birth mother. I feel bad and I can see how giving me up left an already mentally ill woman more traumatized, despite being the right decision.
    The one good thing that came out of this was getting in contact with my biological uncle. I'm cautious after the drama with my birth mother but he's been respectful and understanding so far. He is working to become my mother's guardian again as her condition has deteriorated. I can see myself having contact and a relationship with him but only time will tell.

    I say all of this because I think we need to be very careful in opening up these records and I think there needs to be mutual consent and a centralized system for this kind of thing. I totally respect adoptees wanting to find their birth parents and vice versa, despite my own personal reluctance. But mutual consent and a central 3rd party should be involved with initial contact and they should not give out any information without the mutual consent of both parties. I know it sucks when adoptees reject first mothers and first mothers reject adoptees. But that doesn't give either party the right to invade the space of the other and force their way into the other's life. You don't know who you that other person is. I feel if there were professionals to go through to initiate contact, that would put the non-contacting party at ease. So until I see those safeguards put into place, I have a very hard time supporting open adoption. I know my experience was not the norm and I wouldn't want to prevent others but to prevent experiences like mine I think it is better to err on the side of caution and put measures in place to make everyone feel safe and have the best reunion possible. Neither side has a right to feel they are entitled to information without the consent of the other party. I hope I'm not offending everyone and I hope what I says makes sense.

    1. Jennifer, you do make sense and you do seem to have a lot of sense in that you understand that adoptees and natural parents should be able to find one another. Your case is a very particular one in which you have to deal with an unstable parent.

      However, registries and the like do not work for a great many people since there are so many caveats involved, such as, dead people can't register; most registries are underfunded and most do not know about them; a great many people would not be able to register, because of circumstances; no central agency is set up to deal with the millions of adoptees in 50 states and overseas because adoption itself is not centralized; and no registry could give adoptees the right to what should be theirs by birth: knowledge of who they are.

      Your case is one of those that fall outside the norm because of the mental condition of your mother, and I'm sorry that you have to go through this trauma repeatedly. I hope that connecting with your biological uncle brings you some peace, and perhaps medical history that will be of use to you if not today, then in the future.

      Open adoption is a somewhat different issue, and history shows that in general it is a better solution than a closed adoption.

      I'm sorry you have to go through this but please keep your mind as open as it is about others. As in life, most women--including birth mothers--are not bipolar and schizophrenic, as you say yours is.

    2. Jennifer a registry would not have prevented the problems you describe. Until you met your first mother and your uncle you would not have known of her mental problems. People don't include their mental health histories in registries.

      A person stalked by a mentally ill relative, whether it be a first mother, ex spouse, whoever can take the actions you have taken. Requiring a mutual consent registry would be a barrier for many adoptees and first parents who would have a great relationship for the reasons Lorraine stated.

    3. Jennifer, I am so sorry you had a horrible experience with your mentally ill and inconsiderate birthmother. When you are the person who has to deal with a relative like this, it is small comfort that most mothers who surrendered are sane and respect boundaries. From what you have said, I doubt that having a mandatory intermediary system in place would have stopped someone like your bio mother from finding and harassing you. She could have found you without records being "more open", as countless birthmothers and adoptees have.

      When I found my son at a young age, he did not want a relationship, and I respected that for many, many years. I found him while records were tightly sealed. Eventually he came around, but it was his choice and had he ever told me to leave him alone I would have done that. Making every searching adoptee deal with an intermediary whether they wanted that or not would not protect anyone, and would be further state interference in a private matter. It would be assuming that all searching mothers and adoptees had ill intent, a restraining order before the fact of any unseemly conduct. As your story indicates, there are already laws in place to deal with harassment once it happens. The use of an intermediary is fine if that is what the person wants. It should be a voluntary choice, not mandatory for all. That the intermediary is a professional does not always mean that they are sensitive or able to deal with people who may be frightened already, and feel even more threatened by more official intervention in their private lives.

      What happened to you and your family is awful. Someone obsessed like your bio mother would not be deterred by a rejection from a third party intermediary, as she was not deterred by your begging her to leave you alone. There are so many ways to find a person without open records. Keeping all searchers beholden to state intermediaries will hurt many good people, and not help those like you who are dealing with harassment and mental illness in the relative who searched.

      As Julia Emily and others have stated, the quest for one's own Original Birth Certificate is about rights, not reunion. You have every right to refuse to have a relationship with your bio mother who sounds impossible, but you have met other relatives and gotten some information that may be useful to you, especially medically.

  8. I disagree with Jennifer. I am a middle aged adult who does not need anyone else's permission to see my own birth certificate. And I do not need an intermediary. I do not want reunion. I want to read my documents and I'm very tired of other people interfering in my business. No one has the right to keep this information from me.

  9. Julia Emily: Hi, I would never want to prevent someone from accessing documents. You have a right to documents. However, I don't think it unreasonable to have you sign something to agree to not use those documents to find your birth parents or their relatives.

    And Lorraine, I think that's where the problem with adoption lies. I think in any adoption there needs to be a central database with all records and information related to any adoption whether it be private, public, open, etc. That database could be accessed by adoptees and parents. Like I said, everyone has the right to search for their roots but it boils down to making sure everyone feels protected and safe in doing so. That's all I'm saying. I had an extremely rare case if it going really bad so I only speak from that experience and I understand that.

    1. Jennifer, you say, "However, I don't think it unreasonable to have you sign something to agree to not use those documents to find your birth parents or their relatives." What?
      I would think you would be saying that for parents (considering the circumstances you describe) who were searching for their children. NOT for adoptees. What you say puzzles me. How can you say that you want an adoptee to sign something to PROMISE NOT TO USE those documents TO FIND their birth parents or their relatives .....IF you "so totally respect adoptees wanting to find their birth parents and vise versa''? Can you explain this disparity?

  10. The problem is: There can never be a central database. States handle adoptions, not the federal government; adoption records altered, birth certificates with fake names and no names of fathers; illegal adoptions without any semblance of a honest documentation; international adoptions. The history of adoption is rife with false documents. Agencies close, records are lost. There needs to be openness and honesty from the start.

  11. I signed nothing as an infant who was handed to strangers. I would not sign anything now. These documents are about my birth and they are MINE. No one has the right to keep them from me. If I want to search, I will do so. If I don't, I won't, but the documents are still mine. No other citizens of this country are treated in this infantile, demeaning manner.

  12. How do you expect us to ask for what makes us guilty even thinking we should want? Be told it's bad to want your own ancestry and you get the message and are powerless to stand up and be counted.

  13. Anonymous, what are you ''guilty'' of? What is the ''crime'' you have ''committed''? Wanting to know the truth? If that makes a person ''guilty'' then add me to the group. Wanting your own ancestry'' is only ''bad'' for those that are bothered by 'your own ancestry'... your truth, because it puts them in a position where they must face -their- truth. For me if a person can't take me as I be -wanting to know and claim my ancestral truth- (my dad was adopted) well, that is theirs to work through.

    I don't believe an adoptee (or anyone else for that matter) ought to be a 'shape-shifter' or a chameleon for ANYONE.
    Disclaimer: No. This does not mean (for those that might feel a need to point it out) to throw decent behavior or good character out the window.

    Be real
    Be true
    Be wonderful you...
    We each have to live in our own skin. We have to be true to ourselves. Whether we have all or any of the ancestry answers, or not. I don't see how we can ''be true'' to anyone else if we are continually pressed into someone else' expectations, demands or guilt-trips. We have to live with the decisions and choices in our lives... and as adults we need to be the ones to make those decisions and choices for ourselves. Because we are the ones that will live with the results of them. If someone else makes or is allowed to make those personal ''choices'' for us, through guilt or other controlling measures then we end up angry or blaming others for how our life turned out or just plain very unhappy and feeling controlled. It's great to have friends and family give wise advice.... but ultimately the choice must be up to us.

    Think of it this way, guilt-trips, shame and abandonment or threat of abandonment was what put many mothers in the place of surrendering their child.... for adoption. Was that a good thing?

    Oh, that I had the sense/understanding at 18 ....... or 45 for that matter, that I hope I have now. Better late than not at all, I suppose.

  14. Cindy: adoptees have been walking on eggshells around other people since the beginning of time. It may be the adoptive parents, the extended family, friends, teachers, you name it.... everyone wants the adoptee to appear happy, well adjusted, grateful, and not interested in their family of origin. That is why very few realize that adoptees are unhappy. We are great pretenders. I do it simply to avoid putting myself in the middle of what would amount to nuclear war. I can not live with all that stress on top of what I am already dealing with.

    Very easy to say "be yourself.... Do what you want"... But adoptees are in an impossible position. That's why so many wait until their AP's are gone before they start searching.



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