' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Daughter sues to undo her adoption

Friday, November 27, 2015

Daughter sues to undo her adoption

Melanie Gilmore and Zella Price
Melanie Diane Gilmore filed a petition in a St. Louis court seeing to undo her adoption and restore the parental rights of her natural mother, Zella Jackson Price. To FMF's knowledge, this is a first of a kind lawsuit. If successful, it would make legal history. It would put another nail in the still popular myth that a child can be seamlessly transferred from one set of parents to another.

Gilmore was born prematurely 50 years ago, on November 25, 1965 in St. Louis. The circumstances of her adoption are murky. Price says a nurse told her that her daughter had died but she was not allow to see her daughter's body nor given a death certificate. Gilmore began searching for her natural mother soon after her adoptive mother died when she was 20. She had her original birth certificate with her
mother's name but was told her mother had died. Gilmore's adult children began searching for Price when they were planning their mother's 50th birthday party. They found her
through Facebook living in Springfield Oregon. A DNA test confirmed the match between Gilmore and Price, 76, a popular gospel singer with a following. Mother, daughter, and their families met in April, 2015.

After Price's story came out, more than 300 other women who gave birth at the
same hospital told similar stores: nurses told them their babies had died but they were not allow to see the body or given a death certificate. The children were born at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis which cared mostly for black patients. It closed in 1979.

St. Louis U. S. Attorney Richard Callahan investigated the facts surrounding Gilmore's birth and adoption and says the evidence contradicts Price's story. According to Callahan, Gilmore was born at City Hospital No. 1 and abandoned by her mother. Price's attorney, Albert Watkins, says his investigation found discrepancies in the adoption and hospital files; it was possible that Gilmore was born at Phillips and transferred later. Gilmore spent two months in City Hospital and was placed with a family for adoption and then returned because she is deaf. She was taken in by another family and adopted in 1983. We don't know what caused the delay in the adoption.

The Associated Press obtained death certificates for almost two dozen of the babies mothers whose mothers suspect were stolen. The certificates indicate the bodies were sent to medical schools for research. Mothers told the AP that they never gave permission for the bodies to be donated for research, only that they were told everything would be taken care of.

Giving parental rights back to Price would allow Gilmore to be an heir to Price's estate according to Watkins. It also gives him, as Gilmore's attorney, legal access to more details about her birth. But the suit was necessary beyond pragmatic reasons. "This is, on an emotional level, something really important to both of them."

Gilmore has huge legal barriers to overcome if she is to prevail in her lawsuit. There's no statute allowing such an action. A court would have to find the right to undo an adoption and develop appropriate procedures. Gilmore may have consented to her adoption. Under the laws of many states, the consent of the person to be adopted must be obtained if the person is 14 or over.

Once finalized, adoptions can be overturned only if there was fraud or duress in obtaining the consents of the birth parents. Actions to overturn an adoption must be brought quickly, often in less than a year.

Revoking an adoption raises questions about the rights of the adoptive parents. Would the natural parents have to re-pay the adoptive parents the costs of raising the child since their obligation to support him would have vanished? What about any inheritances or government benefits the child obtained through the adoptive parents? Would these have to be repaid?

If Gilmore prevails, we anticipate more lawsuits to undo adoptions. Adoptees have commented on FMF that they would like to undo their adoptions. We've heard of adoptees being readopted by their natural parents. Some have re-joined their natural families, disavowing any relationship with their adoptive family. Some have had their names changed legally back to their original name.

We can't predict how Gilmore's lawsuit will play out but we know it will be an uphill battle for Gilmore. We also know that regardless of the outcome, Price and Gilmore are truly mother and daughter--jane.
Oregon aims to revoke adoption after 32 years 
Mother reunited with daughter nearly 50 years after being told she died
Oregon woman was not stolen at birth despite mother's claims: US attorney

Returning a Child: It happens More than You Think


Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption

"...an intricately-crafted, tender and honest reminder of the damages suffered by parents and children amidst even the best-intentioned of adoption decisions. Hole in my Heart should be required reading for all who are contemplating placing a child or adopting for this precautionary tale offers poignant lessons about the importance of adoption being an option of last resort; the inadequacy of openness and/or reunion as a salve for lifelong adoption losses; and the need for adoptee rights legislation in America."
--Elizabeth Jurenovich, director of Abrazo Adoption Services, San Antonio

thank you for ordering anything through amazon....it all helps. 


  1. It's not the first time that someone has sought to annul an adoption based on suspicious circumstances. Michael Chalek successfully sued -- and won -- in a Florida court in 1999.


    I certainly wish Ms. Gilmore success in her endeavor; however, I doubt it will set a precedent for other adoptees -- any more than Mr. Chalek's case has.

    My adoption was straight-forward and legal in every aspect. Though *morally* wrong, no legal basis exists to request its annulment, and I think that's going to be the situation for the majority of adoptees.

    So what about those of us who simply no longer want to be legally tied to families where we don't fit it, where we're not accepted, where we're not loved? Right now, there are no options for us except, of course, to be adopted by another adult.

    I've reclaimed my birth name through the courts ... I've severed all ties with the remnants of my adoptive family ... my bio siblings acknowledge me as one of their own ... there are no issues with inheritance, as all of my birth and adoptive parents are deceased.

    And yet, I'm stuck. I can't undo this knot that was tied almost 60 years ago and regain the life status that the majority of the world takes for granted -- that of "non-adopted person."


  2. I will leave all of the ins and outs of the legal issues involved to our resident attorney, Jane. But I do think it's important to point out that if the petition does get approved, adoptees will FINALLY be allowed some say in what happened to us. It has always bothered me how adoptees have our lives changed so dramatically, and without our knowledge or consent, yet even once we become adults are still being held to these life-altering legal decisions that were made for us without our input.

    On another note, I sense such a strong connection between a mother and daughter when they look alike (as Ms. Gilmore and Ms. Price so clearly do). Obviously, both women look overjoyed to be reunited again, but I can't help comparing a pic like this one to the pic you used with your most recent post on Rosie O'Donnell and her adopted daughter, Chelsea. Rosie and Chelsea, of course, do not have such happy expressions on their faces and are just looking towards the camera. But it's not just that. The fact that Rosie and Chelsea look absolutely nothing alike makes me feel this jarring disconnect. Their disparate looks makes it much harder for me to think of them as 'mother' and 'daughter'.

    1. Robin, you are saying what I am often fearful of pointing out here, so we let the pictures do the talking. The blog is read by all, and so being a mother who points out the look-alikeness of biological mother and child can make some angry. But I know exactly what you are talking about. Looking for the physical similarities is something that I always do when I see a mother or grandmother (now that I am one). It happens instantly, unconsciously, but I find I am alway looking.

      Now I am going to go back and look at that photo of Rosie and Clelsea.

      In my own family photo on the other post I put up yesterday, I am sitting next to my full brother Tom. I don't know if you can see the resemblence. His wife is of Chinese ancestray and so my nieces are Polish/Chinese. :)

    2. Yes, I did think their was a resemblance between you and your brother. I was going to ask if he was your full brother or half-brother. I recall you mentioned that your mother had been married previously.

      A more fair comparison would have been a picture of Rosie and Chelsea hugging and smiling, but even then, I suspect I would still sense the disconnect because they look nothing alike.

      Speaking of grandmothers, I am amazed at how often grandchildren look like one of their grandparents. Many times, there is a stronger resemblance with them than with the natural parents. Looks do seem to skip a generation. I know I look more like my maternal grandmother than I do my own mother. My looks are really a cross between both of my (extremely good looking) grandmothers. :)

  3. Lorraine, you do look a lot like your brother - and like your paternal grandfather, based on the picture in "Hole in my Heart." And your nieces are stunning, by the way.

    We human beings are visual, first and foremost, and we do seek our kind to a large extent based on looks (then come mannerisms). I look almost exactly like my mom, and I get the "warm fuzzies" every time someone tells me that. It reinforces the connection for me, that I came from her, that she has left a permanent stamp on me.

    My son has very unique, large almond-shaped eyes - exactly like his mother's. I wish they could have journeyed through life side by side, as I was able to do with my mom. For me, there is something about that connection through looks that strikes a chord deep within. I totally get what Robin was thinking when she saw the mother-daughter picture in this post.

    1. True--I do see a resemblence to my paternal grandfather. I looked and sounded a great deal like my father's sister, Jean. Relatives could sometimes not tell our voices apart on the phone. Of course, she was my favorite aunt on that side of the family.

      My older brother (a half brother) and I do not look much alike, to my mind. And no one has ever thought we had.

      When I wrote about connecting with the daughter of the young man I almost married--her son, now in college, looks a great deal like his father, my first love. It's even eerie. Also acts like him. I'll be seeing everyone in Michigan soon--even staying with Jennifer--as I'm going to my granddaughter Britt's graduation from college in Northern Michigan.

  4. I read a few months ago that some gay couples who used adoption as a means to create a legal relationship have now filed to have the adoption annulled so that they can get married. If they win, then perhaps this will be another step in creating a legal path to annul adoption.

  5. I definitely see similarities between children and grandparents in my family and other families. Like Robin and Lorraine I see children who look more like their gps than their parents and children who share more interests with their gps than their parents.

  6. Looks can skip more than a generation. I have a picture of my grandma's parents in Poland whom I never knew and know almost nothing about except their names. My great-grandmother Agata Smarz looks like me in a costume when I was young, babushka and all. It is spooky. My grandma did not look much like her, nor my mom. My youngest son and and the son of a cousin on my husband's side look like my husband's grandfather bad Barney who left his wife and baby and never returned. Mike resembles my Polish grandfather and his Hungarian birth father. One of my other sons is very like my Irish father, in looks, gestures, and personality.Another is the picture of my uncle Stanley. Two of my sons have repeatedly been mistaken for cops, must be the Irish side:-)

    Genetics is fascinating, but it takes more than looks to make real emotional connections. Everyone should be able to know their roots, this is a big piece missing for adoptees that they should be able to fill in, in most cases without losing their adoptive families as well. My son found it enough to just cut the adoptive mother and family off, but he is proud and fond of his late father and that heritage.I don't need a paper to make him my son. I don't need family resemblance to make his adopted kids my grandkids.

    It is easy to put your surrendered child in your will, I did and so did countless other mothers I know. I hope the mother in this story has done that as well as pursuing her case to cancel the adoption which is an iffy proposition.

  7. Thanks for the link and for sharing about yourself.

  8. Some are also opting to adopt back their children since in many jurisdictions an adult can consent to being adopted. See: http://adoptingback.com/

  9. Happy (belated) Thanksgiving everyone!

    I have to say my daughter looks SO MUCH like me! :) and this is sort of off topic, but I got an email from LinkedIn that a friend of mine on there got a promotion, so I went there to congratulate her, and there is a tab that says "See who looked at your profile in the last 90 days", so I hit that tab, and lo and behold, my daughter had looked at my profile! A million smiles went on my face! :) :) So, maybe she is finally changing her mind about getting in contact me?? It has been almost 7 years now... I hope so, but I know NOT to get too high expectations! Just wanted to share with you all!

    1. That is so exciting, Lee. I think I would do cartwheels if I saw that and we are in contact. Maybe you can send a thinking of you card? Not sure of your status with her so maybe it's off limits.
      Anyway, Congratulations!!!

  10. In Illinois, adoptions can be vacated:


    Section 500.60 Court Order to Restore Original Certificate of Birth

    a) If a court of competent jurisdiction enters a decree or order in which it finds that it is in the best interest of a person for whom a new birth certificate has been established that his or her original birth certificate be restored, the State Registrar, upon receipt of a certified copy of such order or decree, shall restore the original Certificate of Live Birth to its place in the files, and the new certificate and evidence shall not be subject to inspection or certification, except upon order of a court of competent jurisdiction.

    b) The copies of the original birth certificate shall be returned by the State Registrar to the custodians of local records who shall replace them in their official file and surrender the copy of the newly prepared birth record to the State Registrar to be sealed from inspection.

    (Source: Amended at 15 Ill. Reg. 11706, effective August 1, 1991)

    1. I don't read this selection as saying an adoption can be vacated. It says only that an original birth certificate can be restored, Restoring the original birth certificate would not affect the adoption.

      Illinois, like most states, probably has a statutory provision that allows natural parents to petition to overturn an adoption if consent was obtained by fraud or coercion. Typically there's a short time frame to bring an action to overturn an adoption, a year or less.

      In the post case, the person bringing the action is the adoptee, not a natural parent and the action is many years after the adoption took place.

    2. Not a lawyer, but it seems to me that restoring the original birth certificate as the person's legal ID does vacate the adoption.. It restores John Doe, adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Doe, to his original identity of John Smith, son of Mary Smith, as stated on the original birth certificate. Or am I reading this wrong?

      There is no way to make the adoption not to have happened except in the legal sense of restoring the original ID of the adopted person. How does restoring the original OBC as legal ID not work to accomplish this? Vacating the adoption does not wipe out the life the adoptee has lived, nor cure the pain of one who suffered abuse in the adoptive home. It seems like a huge amount of legal hassle to go through for only a symbolic result when there are other ways to legally become part of the birth family again for either inheritance or emotional reasons. I can see why someone with a horrible traumatic adoption would want control over their identity, but I thought restoring the OBC would accomplish this.

    3. Yes maryanne, you're not a lawyer and no, restoring the original birth certificate does not undo an adoption. An adoption comes about when a judge signs a paper (called a judgment of adoption or adoption decree) which transfers legal parentage of a person from one parent or set of parents to another parent or set of parents. In the judgment, the judge also orders that the name of the child be changed to the name selected by the adoptive parents.

      The adoptive parents, may or in some states must, have a new birth certificate prepared showing them as the parents of the child. The amended birth certificate reflects the judge's action but does not confer any rights or obligations. The child's legal relationships and name would have changed regardless of whether the birth certificate was amended.

      Some have suggested that states do away with amended birth certificates. A child would use the judgment of adoption to register for school and so on.

      I would guess that the Illinois statute cited may have been part of recent legislation allowing adult adoptees (with some restrictions) to access their original birth certificates. The thought may have been that once they had their obc, some may prefer to use the certificate which accurately reflects their birth. Adoptees may think of it as wiping out their adoption but it doesn't.

    4. I still do not get it, guess I am dense. Legal parental rights and obligations are over once a person, adopted or not, is a legally mentally competent adult. Even if Mom and Dad bought and paid for them, they do not own them any more. So how would an adoptee changing back her name to the original one legally, and obtaining the right to use the original birth certificate as legal ID not accomplish the task of making them not part of the adoptive family any more? Especially if they had physically left and had no association with the adoptive parents?

      And wouldn't the biological parents have to name them in a will in order to inherit even if they did vacate the adoption or assume their original identity, or readopt them as adults? I can see where this all could lead to some complicated lawsuits where someone contested an inheritance no matter how the removal of the adoptee from the adoptive family was accomplished. Sure if some adoptees want to try to anull the adoption they should go for it if it means a lot emotionally, but I do not see any legal advantage.

    5. Unless one undid the adoption, he or she would still be legally the child of the adoptive parents. This would mean, for example, that if the state had a relative's responsibility law, the adult adoptee could be responsible for contributing to the adoptive parent's support. It would also mean that the adoptee could inherit from the adoptive parents based on the state law of intestate succession unless the adoptive parent made a will cutting the child out. If an adoptee became incapacitated, the adoptive parent would have the right to make medical decisions for the adoptee as next of kin unless the adoptee were married or had designated someone else to make decisions.

      In other words, there are legal consequences to legal relationships even if the child is an adult and the parties have nothing to do with each other.

      If the adoptee undid the adoption, the natural parents would resume their legal status.

      Yes, undoing an adoption could lead to complicated lawsuits.

    6. I looked into restoring my birth certificate in IL. But, in order to do so, I would have to vacate the adoption.

      So, yes, in the state of Illinois, birth certificate restoration can only be done by first vacating the adoption. I just wanted to restore my factual birth certificate, so I didn't persue it.

    7. From Illinois Departmentvof Public Health:

      "Reinstate an original birth record as a legal record of birth after an adoption

      A certified copy of the court order to vacate the adoption must be submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Records – Adoption Unit. The court order must be issued by the circuit court that originally granted the adoption.

      The court order must direct the Illinois Department of Public Health to vacate the adoption and to reinstate the original birth record.
      The order will need to include the following information:
      Complete name after adoption
      Complete name before adoption
      Date of birth of adopted person
      Place of birth of adopted person"

    8. Could you give us a cite to the statute allowing an adoption to be vacated? I'm wondering if this is a statute allowing a natural parent to have an adoption set aside because fraud or allowing an adoptive parent to disrupt an adoption.

      If you can't find a cite, I'll try to find it. It would be highly significant if it allows an adoptee to have his adoption vacated. Thanks.

    9. Jane, do you argue that a REINSTATED original birth certificate, making by its reinstatement the amended one obsolete, which I would see as the equivalent of removing the names of the adoptives from a Dutch one, which would mean that the original Birth Certificate regains its function as basal registration of identity (with other words, for tax, passport and similar purposes at least the name and mother are back to original), would not be understood as a revocation of the adoption? Any law, case law to back that up? I mean it would mean that the person whose birth was recorded in the reinstated document could have more than two parents in the legal sense, not that there is anything wrong with that, but if THAT is allowed, why not offering an adoption option without cutting the original family ties?

    10. You cannot reinstate your original birth certificate until a judge signs an order undoing the adoption. Reinstating the original birth certificate is simply a clerical act.

      To my knowledge, no state gives adoptees the right to petition a judge to undo their adoption. That's why this case is important.

    11. Maybe you call it simply a clerical act, but that clerical act means that the state "fully forgets" the adoption, that one's legal birthrights, though they usually do not add up to much, are fully restored, it is the actual ending of the observance of the legal fiction by the state. You made me ask by writing "Restoring the original birth certificate would not affect the adoption.", the restoring in the preceding text seemed to describe a reinstatement, granted only after ordered so by a judge and all... I mean the text does not say anything about under which conditions such can happen, but it does seem to indicate a return to recognition of original filial relations, how could that not affect an adoption? Maybe just a difference in estimating the importance of the lawyer's work and that of the civil servant, I guess. Of course, this is a mere side issue. The importance of the case is very clear to me, the meaning of your words less so.

    12. I'm sorry I wasn't clear when I first wrote. Creation of the amended birth certificate comes from the action of a judge to grant a judgement of adoption. The registrar of vital statistics has no discretion in whether to amend the birth certificate. That's why I called it a clerical act.

      It would take the action of a judge to revoke the adoption to restore the original birth certificate.

      In Oregon and a few other states, adult adoptees can get a copy of their original birth certificate. I'm reasonably sure that they are marked in some way so that the adoptee cannot use them for purposes of identification, to get a passport for example.

  11. Thanks Jane. Wow, I never heard of a "relative responsibility law". Are there really laws that require people to support aging parents whether they want to or not? Scary. I did know about the medical consent because of some awful cases involving gay partners before gay marriage was legal where the parents stepped in and would not let the partner see their terminally ill lover or make any choices for them. Good reason for everyone to have a will and a living will about medical care.

    Of course all those reason to annul the adoption would not apply if the adoptive and/or birthparents were dead, yet is seems some adoptees still would pursue it.

    1. State relative responsibility laws were were common at one time. Oregon got rid it its law in the 70's or 80's. These laws allowed the state to go after children for money if their indigent parents were receiving welfare or living in a nursing home paid for by the state. The amount children were ordered to pay depended on their income and family situation.

  12. "This is, on an emotional level, something that is really important to both them."
    I get that. I just wonder what their individual motives really are. And if they actually *know* what they are.

  13. When I die, whose names will be listed on my death certificate as "parents"? The adoptive couple -- unless my Executrix carries out my express stated wishes to have my real parents listed.

    No big deal, right? Wrong. It IS a big deal, especially for any descendants interested in genealogy. As they research, they'll be barking up the wrong (family) tree, because adoptees are grafted onto that tree. Upon finalization of the Adoption Decree, our biological roots and history are erased, and we are separated from our genetic family -- even into death.

    The death certificate perpetuates the deceit of "as born to" that starts with the Amended Birth Certificate -- and that's simply unfair.

    1. Interesting question. I didn't know death certificates included parents' names. One thing you could do is write your own obituary and insist your executor give that to the newspapers. A lot of genealogical information comes from newspaper obits.

      When I was in Salt Lake City a couple of weeks ago, I went to the LDS Family Research Center. A very helpful woman showed me some things about searching and pulled up the obit of my great grandmother, Martha Lacy Rummons. It was long and had lots of family history.

  14. This is a heartwarming human interest story, packed with ambiguities:
    Definitely worth a watch.

  15. This is a useful thread. I wish someone could highlight the case of Michael Chalek, who wrote a book about his case and what it means in the larger adoptee rights conversation and denied rights to most U.S. adoptees. I know little about this.

    I believe The law professor Elizabeth Samuels provides a good legal summary of case precedent how adoption law is designed to protect all biological parents, including fathers-by-sperm only, from any legal claim to their estates/assets. This is a carryover from the English and Catholic Canonical tradition of treating illegitimately born humans as outsiders and bastards--filius nulius (people who literally are nobody). The had no claim to land, title, or property. And of course many were denied basic care and treated to cruelties we can't imagine. (See the excellent book on this topic: Bastardy and Its Comparative History, edited by Peter Laslett.)

    In my case, the state of Michigan intentionally adulterated the original birth certificate I received finally and after a bruising fight and court order after 51 years of waiting and petitioning over decades. They did so to confirm my bastard status and to affirm I did not have legal rights as the person I was born as. It was an expression of power of the state over bastardized/illegitimately born people. Legalese conversations about case law and law in general overlook the discrimination that is at the root of this practice. You cannot separate historic discrimination of illegitimate people when having any conversation about the law and courts. Prejudice taints the entire case record and legal system regarding adoption, and to say otherwise is to ignore the legal reality impacting millions of adoptees today. It's that simple.

    Also, I petitioned to change my name to incorporate my original birth name into my new name. I then requested the state to give me my revised birth record. Again Michigan denied me right to my past/legal identity I was born as by still keeping my amended adopted name as the prominent name on the now legally changed birth certificate, and put in micro letters my new legal name that the courts bestowed upon me.

    So even as adoptees assert their rights to THEIR legal birth records, names, identities, the state "public health" agencies will assert through the perks of bureaucracy you have been erased and even your legal petitions do not allow you to reclaim your true identity. Regardless, now I will die with the kin name I was born into and the state can't erase that. It tried for decades, and it lost.

    1. Rudy, this is a 3 year old blog and your comment is unlikely to be read by more than a few. Please see comment notice. I published but in the future, please look at the date.

    2. But congratulations on your persistence and regaining your original name. If you check this blog, you will find that unsealing records has been the focus of the women who write here, Lorraine Dusky and Jane Edwards.



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