' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Why were adoptee birth certificates sealed?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Why were adoptee birth certificates sealed?

My husband, Anthony Brandt, wrote this column less than a week ago, and it seems apt to publish it here as it is his outsider take on what he saw happened to his cousin when she became pregnant in high school. It also explains why he was so understanding of my life as a mother who relinquished a child when we met. And it led to a disagreement over on Facebook when I posted it. 

As many of you know, he has been a staunch supporter of my involvement in the issue of my life, and supported me and writing this book, even though money has always been tight in our household. 
Anthony Brandt--in his hat
May 31, 2015
The Adoption Tragedy
by Anthony Brandt

Lorraine, my wife, is within a day or two of signing off on the last corrections to her new book, Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption and very soon thereafter Amazon will be publishing it, making it available via Kindle or as a bound book, selling for a price yet to be determined, but probably around $12.00. What a long road it has been--five years, as many versions, always refining it and making it better. I'm proud to have traveled this road with her and done the little I could do to encourage and help
her. The book is, as most of my readers will know, about giving up her daughter for adoption, reuniting with her years later, Lorraine's campaign to open adoption records, and her sometimes troubled, sometimes happy relationship with her daughter.

From very long ago I have known that adoption was an iffy business at best. When I was eleven my cousin Joan came to live with us. She was sixteen and pregnant, and we were her safe haven, my mother hiding her in our small house, taking her out to the doctor only in big loose coats to prevent the neighbors knowing her condition, and Joan with the red eyes, the crying fits, and all the rest involved in such a profound loss as giving a child away entails. She never had a choice. Worse, the father of the child, a boy she loved, was told by his parents to spread the word that Joan had slept with a bunch of other kids as well as him, so how could they be sure--and help pay the costs--that their son was responsible? Joan, and Joan's life, was never the same. Her own mother was an alcoholic, and she used to tell me that my mother was the only real mother she had ever had. But my mother presided over the private adoption, arranged through the family doctor, that took her child from her.

So I was not shocked or surprised when I met Lorraine and she told me her story--young woman, married man, the mess that is an affair and the sometimes terrible consequences. Shit happens. Happens all the time. People make mistakes, especially when they're young, and sometimes they suffer the consequences the rest of their lives. I already knew from Joan's experience something about the void the loss of a child creates in a woman's life, and while I also knew that adoption was sometimes the only solution for people, I knew it was a desperate solution, a tragic solution.

That's largely because of the secrecy involved. And here, I realized when I started to think about it, was the crux of it. And the crime of it. According to the laws that dominate adoption in the United States, the mother who gives birth and whom circumstances force to give up her child is never to know what happened to him or her. While the adopted child is never to know who his actual parents are. You don't think this haunts them both? 

It certainly haunted Lorraine, as her book amply demonstrates. It also haunted her daughter, as her daughter's testimony in the book also amply demonstrates. For the adoptee, it means that she has no natural identity, and no right to it. She or he can never know whether she's of Irish heritage, or English, or Spanish, whether her or his grandmother also had red hair and big ears, who their flair for dancing or mathematics came from. On my mother's side I am descended from Rebecca Nurse, who was hanged at Salem for witchcraft in 1692. On my father's I am entirely Swedish, which accounts for my height, my square head, my quietness, and something of my natural calm. Quite apart from all the writing I've done in my life, my accomplishments, such as they are, and my relationships with other people, these things are a major part of my identity.

And one's identity is a natural right. Fundamental to being human. What gives a government the right to mess with it? Nothing. The laws on adoption are an aberration, a disgrace, designed only to protect the adoptive parents from the loss of their illusion that they are the real and only parents, and the knowledge that their gain--some other woman's child--is that woman's tragedy. The United States was founded on natural law, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the right to one's own identity is without question part of that heritage. I cannot imagine myself without my own identity. As Lorraine's daughter testifies eloquently in Lorraine's book, adoptees walk around fantasizing about being the children of princesses, or somebody famous, or prostitutes; they make up scenarios; or they improvise identities. But they never really know. The right to know who you are has been taken away before they have any say whatever in the matter. They walk the earth always with this feeling of incompleteness, of missing something essential--who they really are--and always with this question--why was I given up? What's wrong with me?

Lorraine has spent much of her adult life trying to get the laws changed. She reunited with her daughter, with my encouragement and that of friends, by paying a searcher many years ago. The story she tells in her book is poignant, sad, compelling. I cannot read parts of it without crying; I was there. Other parts make me laugh. It has the feel, the substance, of lived lives, in all their complexity; and it is all true. She and I, like all married couples, have our differences, but they vanish here, in our joint belief that adoption in America needs to be rethought and reconfigured, that a quiet but fundamental injustice has to be corrected. To that end, she has written one hell of a fine book. The kind you'll remember. It should be available in a week or so.
Of course the man is prejudiced to like the book, he's my husband--he's supposed to be. Interestingly, when I posted a quote from the above with a link to his blog at the ALMA page at Facebook, an adoptive mother objected, saying that she believed that the laws sealing original birth records were done to "protect the mother's privacy"--because that is what she heard. First she resents the "tone of this" and then when informed that laws were not designed to let natural mothers be anonymous, she writes: Sorry but I find that hard to believe...everything I've read is about breaking the anonymity that was "promised" to the birth mom....

Perhaps I can understand her feeling that way--she says she totally supports her children's search and the other adoptive parents she knows do also. And we know that some of those who comment here do also--but we also know that a great many adoptive parents, especially the older ones who were duped into thinking and the emotional bondage of adoption law as "a good thing" and necessary, are having a hard time adjusting. And we also know that many adoptive parents went overseas to adopt in order to avoid saving a seat for the natural mother at the child's recital, as one adoptive father so generously put it. 

But it also indicates that she knows no history, that her circle of adoptive parents is limited, that she has on blinkers and feels no compunction telling us that any other opinion other than hers is WRONG. I kinda felt like I was dealing with a holocaust denier on this issue. But I realize that the other side, opposing opening the records has totally subverted the original intent of the law to suit their own purpose, allowing natural mothers in the closet to be the reason for the sealing. But that is not why the records were sealed. Historian Elizabeth Samuels has done an excellent job disproving that--but that's not the message getting out today.

As someone who vocally objected to the sealing at the time I relinquished my daughter, this makes me crazy!!! This is what the other side has repeated so often that the uninformed simply believe. 

There were over 40 comments at the post, and fortunately some adoptees came to the defense of the original post, which was a few lines from the post about the laws. I did not get the feeling the woman read the whole post, just the excerpt I posted. Which she objected to. (I added italic in the post to the lines.) 

However, I have had youngish adoptive parents and their friends say to me that how fortunate it is that so-and-so's daughter is not curious about her roots. Only to those I know who understand adoption from my point of view do I say: Curiosity is always considered a sign of intelligence. In adoption however, it is seen as a pathological. 

Tony's blog is Completely Out of My Mind. He writes about whatever interests him, and BTW, he used to be Esquire's Ethics columnist. When they had an ethics column. 


CLICK ON any of the links or cover to go to Amazon. Thank you all for ordering through FMF. 

(about Elizabeth Samuels's writings on the matter)


  1. What the public doesn't seem to understand is, if the child was not adopted, they would have their birth cert. with the biological parents name. So for anyone to insinuate that the parent was promised something is ridiculous. NY state was open till 1935. The only reason they sealed the records was because the Governor of the state adopted Blackmarket children. Otherwise things were going along just fine. Kansas was never closed. No one hears of horrible repercussions from the birth certificate being available to the Adult adoptee when they request it. I think one of the misconceptions people , mostly adopted parents fear is that the birth parent can get a copy of the amended birth certificate and find the adopted family. That is not how the laws are or would be set up. For example in Alaska, an adoptee can request a copy of their original birth certificate. IF the adoptee knows the Alaska laws, they need to sign a Consent waiver to allow the birth parent to learn their amended name and find them. Without that consent form, the birth parent can't be given any information. I am an adoptee. I also run search and support groups. Maybe some of this will help the public and adoptive parents to be less fearful. Some of the things people have resorted to by putting posters and flyers, all over public formats have set them up for more harm. I am happy to speak with anyone on these matters. Thank you.

    1. Yes, exactly. Because of the MISinformation out there, I write about why people think that way you-know-where, hoping to get the message out--even to adoptive parents who are open to reunion who have been led to believe this by the workings of NCFA and attorneys, and unfortunately, mothers in the closet who want to stay there.

      I both feel sorry for them, and understand up to a point, but want them to get some backbone and be nicer to their children. and damnit, now I see we have a canon ad at the bottom with a shot of a newborn...because this blog has "mother" in the title. If they only knew....

  2. I love Tony's writing. I remember he had written an earlier post called "Blood", which was one of the best pieces I have ever read by a non-adoptee highlighting the importance of the biological connection. This current blog post is equally as good. It's not surprising that his first hand experience with his cousin would have opened his eyes, but not everyone would have opened their heart as much to really 'get' what a tragedy adoption is. I am glad you are so supportive of one another.

    P.S. I had wanted to leave a comment at "COMPLETELY OUT OF MY MIND", but I see that the blog is not set up to accept comments. Thanks for reposting it here :)

  3. Excellent essay, Tony. Thank you for your wholehearted support of Lorraine. Not all mothers get that from their spouses, friends and family.

  4. Right. It doesn't make any sense, since other people, who have also been legally surrendered but who don't get adopted and consequently age out in the foster care system, do retain their original birth certificates.
    This is not about "protecting the mother". Her interests, such as they are presumed to be, have nothing to do with it.

    1. RIGHT!!!

      Mother's "rights" and promises of "privacy" (which individual social workers may have implied or made when they had no right to) are now being used as the reason to keep adoptees in emotional chains. Adopted people were never asked if they wanted their ancestry erased. And then they are supposed to go on as if nothing happened. Well, that's wrong. WRONG.

  5. Lovely, intelligent, understanding man, Lorraine. You are so blessed to have such a wonderful man in your life. I told my husband about my firstborn relinquished child after we were married , and for 35 years, he has thrown it in my face when angry with me. My past has been used as an emotional club against me to try to beat me down,as if First Mothers need any more punishment. You are truly blessed to have this partner who seems to get it. God love you, Anthony. The world needs more husbands and life partners like you. So happy for you, Lorraine.

    1. That is terrible and cruel! You have to find a way to not let him use your lost child. Next time you are arguing, consider bringing it up before he does, so it can't be used against you if you mention it first. It's off topic and does not relate to whatever the argument is. I really feel for you and send you lots of mental hugs. I don't know if that will help, but know that we understand your suffering and feel for you.

    2. I'm sorry your husband uses the fact that you gave up a child against you. That is mean and must be very painful for you. Glad you can find support here at FMF and other first mother blogs.

  6. It is great to have a supportive husband like Tony. My husband has always been 100% supportive of what I do in adoption reform as well, and that means a lot. I think I told him I had given up a child the day we met, that was my standard thing on meeting new guys. If they didn't like it, they were gone.

    Anon, was your bullying husband a virgin when you met? If not, what right does he have to criticize your previous life? You really don't deserve that, but lots of us thought we did and hooked up with abusive men. I was just lucky mine turned out to be a good one. Just start thinking about your options and not taking any more undeserved crap from your husband.

    Little OT note: My "Bob the Cat" book just arrived, can't wait to read it:-)

  7. Thank you for all the comments about my piece on Lorraine's blog. Having lived for the last 34 years through everything Lorraine describes in her new book, HOLE IN MY HEART, has given me, I think, a pretty intimate perspective on the adoption issue and all the pain secrecy causes both birthparents and adoptees. I feel strongly it's inhumane, and just plain wrong. Changes in the law are almost always blocked by adoptive parents in legislatures around the country. It's a sad case, largely ignored by the public, of American injustice. Lorraine and I both hope that HOLE IN MY HEART helps to educate that public and bring change.

  8. Both my adopted parents are gone. I talked to my mom before she died and told her why I wanted to find my birth mom. I wanted to find out what to expect health wise for my children. She understood and even gave me the money to send for the information. I would still like to meet my birth mom.

  9. A big virtual unthreatening kiss to Anthony! Now that's the kind of husband a writer--specifically Lorraine--should have.

    I very much appreciate Anthony pointing out that the adoption culture breeds and feeds on secrecy and shame: children are raised to be other than what they are, without access to information about their forebears.

    Secrecy and shame are toxic in any family, even when adoption is not a factor. I had an intimate talk with my eldest (it's been quite a week for family chats!), an engaged thriving professional whose life so far has been largely sunny and untroubled. He's worried about how he might react if/when his life becomes "not so good."

    I replied he undoubtedly will face much greater responsibilities and stresses, but that a harder life isn't automatically bad. As an example, I described how his father and I coped with medical and other crises facing one of our other sons. It was difficult and heartbreaking at times, but these problems were nobody's fault, there was no shame in confronting the matters head-on, and if people asked questions (even if they got a bit nosy), we answered them.

  10. That adoptive mother's response to your post pretty much insures that her child/ren will never let her know that they are curious about their origins. They know it's a forbidden topic. I sure did, and it took me 15 years to admit it to my adoptive mother -- I needed her help to find the records I needed to find my first family.

    If you want the best for your children, if you want them to be able to come to you with anything, you have to actually be open to those queries and curiosities. If you aren't, they know. And if their origins are a forbidden topic, what do you think they take from that? That they came from something so awful or so horrifying that you can't even talk about it? That they must have too much shame *in their very origins* to be allowed to be curious about them? That's a great foundation for life, really.

  11. Amen, Yan. I hear so often from relatives of adoptees that their nieces, nephews, children of friends, et cetera, that this one or that one isn't curious--and their parents said it was okay to search. But then I hear other things and I know the adoptive parents have not created an atmosphere where it is truly permissible to be curious openly. It's going to ...kill them.

  12. Kudos to Anthony and Lorraine both, what a great match you must be :) It is great to have such support and compassion, and also be able to share a passion for writing and being creative too ! I wish you both happy times ahead :)

    1. Merci beau coup.
      lorraine AND Anthony

      (That doesn't mean that together we get along like peas on a pod. Life is complicated and long.)



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