' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Lobbying for OBCs in New York

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Lobbying for OBCs in New York

What is it like to lobby for a bill that gives adoptees the right to know who they are? We in New York have worked long and hard for a clean bill only to be rebuffed year after year. We need more bodies, more people willing to be strong and stand up for their own rights, and while mothers must be part of the effort, it is adoptees in numbers and unafraid to ask for what should be theirs by fiat are the ones who will bring this victory home.

As noted previously, a very bad bill supposedly for adoptees did pass the New York Assembly in the last hours of the session this year and was sent to the Senate. Our hope is that the bill dies there and next session a new clean bill that gives adopted individuals the right to a copy of their Original  Birth Certificates (OBCs) will be introduced. A well-place source in the Assembly tells me that the counsel of the Speaker of the Assembly was the person who amended our bill and tacked on ridiculous restrictions, but that he retired at the end of the session.

Since we will be lobbying again next year, it is relevant to talk about what it is like to do so. Below is an excerpt from Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
that I wrote several years ago:

Yet we are breezing around the Capitol, pressing our luck, having a great time, wish you were here. I make the rounds of legislators’ offices with two adoptees: Chuck, who lives in Albany, and Cathy, who has flown up from Maryland, but who was born and adopted in New York. All morning our reception has been amazingly warm.

We meet an aide whose adoptee husband recently had a successful reunion with his mother. One legislator says as soon as we walk in that he is going to put his name on the bill as a co-sponsor, and tells his assistant to follow up while we stand there. We educate a man in his fifties about the issue who says he’s never considered this before. He takes copious notes, and as we shake his hand to leave, he promises to recommend his boss support our bill. At our last stop before lunch, we meet an attorney who said that he had never met an adopted person who didn’t want to know.

Then the wind shifts as if some switch had been flicked when we weren’t paying attention. We hear the refrain that has become the safe harbor of the opposition: the woman in the closet. Who doesn’t want to be found. Data I know by heart pours out of me—as well as I’m a grandmother, I don’t want to be protected, this is about the rights of the adopted, but the man on the other side of the desk looks at me as if I am speaking Urdu. What about the one woman in a hundred who doesn’t want to be found, who was promised anonymity by the state? he says, daring me to respond. What about her?

I want to ask his connection to adoption—Are you an adoptive father? Does your daughter want to adopt, or already did? Are you unaware that your tribe has changed its tune, that most adoptive parents today think the original birth records ought to be available to their children? [1] I am reminded of an essay I’d read about how rare it is that scientists identified with either side of a contentious issue change their minds: “No wonder the historian Thomas Kuhn concluded almost 50 years ago that a scientific paradigm topples only when the last of its powerful adherents dies.” [2] It seems that it will be the same with adoptee rights. Shad Polier is dead, Bill Pierce is dead, but still we wait. Must we wait until they all die or are indicted for some crime?

One of the last appointments of the day is with Danny O’Donnell, brother of  Rosie, adoptive mother of several. Cathy and Chuck are speaking to one of his aides when O’Donnell rushes in and says, surprisingly, that he will see us. He motions for us to follow him into this inner office. We sit. He tells us that we are all well dressed and look like fine people. We are all dressed in business attire like the aides and legislators we are speaking to.

Yeah…? I am thinking, this is not starting well. Why say that? It implies you expected us to arrive looking like bums. After a few startled seconds, I start talking about legislation in other states, about how even if you go to court you are denied—which Chuck was—but within thirty seconds, 

O’Donnell interrupts and leans back in his chair and announces: I will never support this bill. Never. He goes on at some length. His voice leaves no wiggle room.

O’Donnell is dismissive, condescending, cold. He is a beefy, smug tribal leader whose power is absolute, a man who has never had to question where he came from. I sense Chuck’s mounting frustration, Cathy’s escalating anxiety. Cathy is talking too fast, about medical histories, unnecessary and costly medical tests, her daughter’s marriage, her brother’s inability to get a passport. She tears up, her voice rises in a hurried crescendo.

I will never support this legislation, O’Donnell repeats, calm as the Dead Sea.

Cathy is still spilling out words—

I stand up to leave. We gotta get out of here. At that moment, I understand as well as I can what it is like to be treated like a second-class citizen, without recourse, asking for information that simply should be yours because you want it. Chuck has had it. He explodes as we leave, announcing angrily to anyone in earshot that their boss is the most obnoxious person he has ever met. Cathy’s eyes are glassy. I recall hearing that O’Donnell told a previous lobby group—maybe the one he didn’t like the looks of—that he and his sister, Rosie, were afraid that the mothers of her adopted children would come back and ask for money. At least with O’Donnell there is no pretense that he is protecting the privacy of the natural mother. He is protecting his sister Rosie, screw the kids, screw all adoptees! Even if they dress well.[3]

A few years later, O’Donnell, who is gay, becomes one of the strong-arms pushing to legalize gay-marriage in New York. One would think he would understand about being a member of a discriminated group. One would think. Later I read about his marriage in The New York Times to his longtime partner, a man of some culture. How unexpected. O’Donnell was so rude, and cruel, to people who simply want to know who they were when they were born.   

What is so hard to understand about that? (copyright, 2015, Lorraine Dusky) 

Since writing is my best skill, my best way of lobbying for change, my hope is to get this book into the hands of legislators--in New York and anywhere adoptees do not have full rights to learn their original identities. 

[1] A 1997 Cornell University survey of more than 1,200 adoptive parents in New York found that close to 80 percent of them favored allowing adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates. A few adoptive parents have become our champions too. In New Hampshire an adoptive father, Senator Lou D’Allesandro, led the charge for open records in 2004 and succeeded.

[2] Sharon Begley, “On Second Thought,” Newsweek, Jan. 12, 2009, p. 17.

[3] Ironically, later Rosie O’Donnell would become the subject of an episode of  “Who Do You Think You Are?” A TV show that traced the roots of well-known people. Rosie went back to Ireland and saw the poor house where her ancestors lived before they came to America. She was visibly moved. 


  1. Luckily I was born in New Hampshire and I gave my OBC. However I now live in NY. Although I am quite happy with my family as it is and have no interest in my bio family, I do agree it is an essential right. So much so that I bought another copy of your book and sent it to my state senator with the hopes hell read it and understand. Fingers crossed!

    1. Mashka: that is the best piece of news I have had in days! Getting it to the various legislators and hope they or someone on their staff reads it. I'm sending 3 to various legislators myself.



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