' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Sealed birth records are an abomination of individual rights; CT needs written testimony by TUESDAY eve

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sealed birth records are an abomination of individual rights; CT needs written testimony by TUESDAY eve

Lorraine testifying in New York, 2015
Imagine that you are at a family gravesite. A grandmother is being laid to rest alongside her husband, perhaps a sibling or two, and other relatives connected by birth. You are standing there, head bowed, but you can’t squelch the awareness that when you die you do not really belong in this family plot. You should be elsewhere. You have a whole other passel of relatives, but you don’t know who they are, or where they are. You are adopted.

You have no knowledge of who you really are, where you came from and how you got here, you have no family medical history. You don’t look like anyone in this family, and you wonder where you got your flat feet or why your second toe is longer than your big toe, when nobody else in the family has feet like yours.

You are an orphan in the world.

You’ve known since you were five or six that you came from another life, but you understand that you are not supposed to question, or
wonder what that life would be like, or even who those people are who gave you life. You have a birth certificate, but the information on it doesn’t tell you who gave birth to you, only who adopted you. The state took away your right to know who you are when your parents adopted you, and sealed your original paperwork forever.

For the vast majority of adopted people in America, this is the way the world works.

What sealed records do to adopted people is no less than a kind of identity theft, a state-sanctioned robbery. Only a handful of states—and none of the most populous—give an adopted individual the free and clear right to that basic piece of paper. Call them free states. There are nine.[1]

Elsewhere adoptees are subject to a crazy-quilt of laws with various caveats that still leave some unable to learn their true place in the world. Those states permit a mother to redact her name on the original birth certificate with a simple request to the state.[2] Consequently the most critical birth data—whom one was born to—is eradicated. There is no appeal, no legal recourse.

Lawmakers in those states have insisted on such vetoes because they ostensibly smack of a certain fairness: adopted individuals may have their birth certificates as originally written—except if the mother objects.

There is nothing fair about these vetoes. They give the individual who wishes to remain anonymous the right to deprive another knowledge about one’s being that the rest of us enjoy without asking and have always taken for granted. For those of us who know who we are—who have known since the age of reason—the enormity of this blank wall in the mental makeup of another individual is impossible to fully grasp. You were raised Jewish but maybe you were supposed to be Episcopalian. You were raised in a hot-blooded Italian family but you’re cool and less excitable. You are something else. Your mother is a poet but all you care about is politics.

These vetoes are becoming the path states are mistakenly taking as they move to unseal birth records of the adopted. Reflecting the zeitgeist of an earlier era when an out-of-wedlock birth was the cause of great scandal, these half-way measures today are chauvinistic holdovers of that time. Legislators who enact them insist they are protecting these scandalous women from—whom? Their own children.

But the laws that sealed birth certificates were never designed to give mothers anonymity. The goal was quite the opposite: The laws were written to shield the adoptive family from the natural mother’s interference.[3] It was presumed that she would want to know what happened to her child, and adoptive parents did not want her intruding. Despite how desperate a woman may have been to keep her baby’s birth a secret at the time, today that assumption has been subverted to allow her to hide from that child, and thus prevent his ever knowing his real identity. In effect, the state has set up a system that allows this type of identity theft, issues him fake ID papers, and offers no recourse. These new laws are not fair and equitable. These laws make a mockery of justice for all.

Adopted individuals were never asked if stripping away their identities and histories was their choice, or in their best interests. These infants and children grow up into adults with all the rights and obligations of the rest of us, yet—due to a contract made by others—they are denied basic facts about themselves. Sealed birth records of any kind, with any restrictions that apply to the person whose record it is, codify the same kind of appalling thinking that allowed slavery to flourish in centuries past.

Other than slavery, there is no instance in which a contract made among adults over another individual binds him once he becomes an adult. It takes from him full autonomy as a free person; it makes him subject to the whims and preferences of another, and it does so indefinitely and for all time. Anything other than full autonomy—which surely includes the right to know who one was at birth—is wrong morally, wrong legally, wrong anyway it can be interpreted.

Courts in the past have held[4]—and unquestionably courts in the future will find—that the mother has no constitutional right to remain anonymous from her child, and thus the state has no obligation to keep her identity secret from her offspring.

While these veto-burdened laws perpetuate a great injustice, they do this in the name of the very few. In free states where adopted individuals may obtain their original, intact birth certificates, mothers not wishing to be contacted may file such a preference with the state, and this is passed on should their adult children request their original birth certificates.

Few women choose this option. According to statistics compiled by the American Adoption Congress, fewer than 600 women have requested no contact in the six states that have opened their records since 2000, out of nearly 800,000 sealed birth certificates there. That is .0007, or seven-one-hundredths of one percent. In essence, only 1 of out of every 1,429 mothers named on sealed birth certificates in those states have requested no contact. In those six states approximately 30,000 people to date have asked for their original birth certificates, and the number continues to grow. How many received a no-contact request is unknown.

Fathers are not normally named on such documents, for most states prohibited that if the mother was a single woman—unless he filed an affidavit attesting to paternity. “Unknown” on a birth certificate does not mean the mother did not know who he was; it only means that the state did not recognize anyone as the father.

When adopted individuals began contesting sealed records, states and organized groups, such as ALMA, set up mutual-consent registries to match adoptees and natural parents. They are a step in the right direction, but they are largely ineffectual and ignore the basic injustice of sealed records. Most people do not even know such registries exist; dead parents and dead adoptees can’t register; some people do not know where they were born; young mothers who were heavily sedated and living in secrecy may be uncertain of the correct date or specific location; both parties must file with the same registry; some registries have inane restrictions, to wit: New York and California originally required that the adoptive parents sign off on their adult child registering.

Some states allow confidential intermediaries to do a search for the missing parties in one’s life. Who may initiate a search varies from state to state, but typically the name of the person sought may not be revealed without her permission. While either side may refuse, it is only the adopted individual who is seeking his own identity; the mother knows hers.

Neither intermediaries nor registries are a solution to the central issue of the right of the adopted to be able to answer the question: Who am I? Lacking that, the adopted remain a subordinate class of people, denied what the rest of us take for granted. This is social engineering gone awry.

Some may see a mother’s right to anonymity as a twisted extension of her "right to choose." But surely that right ends with her, and does not extend to future generations. Only in a Kafkaesque hell would someone grant anyone the right to erase the past history of another and sentence him to a state of genetic ignorance. Yet that is precisely what sealed records, and those laws that allow a mother’s veto, do.

It is not a hidden mass of natural mothers demanding such a twisted interpretation of fairness when states attempt to correct the wrongs of the past. Instead it is legislators listening to the ghosts of the past. It is adoption agencies and their agents, adoption attorneys—even search companies—who perpetuate the image of the vulnerable, fearful woman at the time of her greatest anguish, and place her in the present now, needing protection from her own flesh and blood. But she is a straw woman created by an industry fearful of change and of being discovered to have been wrong all these years.

The right to know one's heritage should be a given, not something to be asked for as a favor. It should—in a free society, it must—belong to all individuals by the very act of being born.--from hole in my heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption by lorraine dusky

Connecticut is on the radar as possibly the next state to totally open their sealed adoptio records to all adoptees. First mothers and adoptees may submit testimony for a public hearing that is scheduled for Wednesday morning. I will be sending the above to the Planning & Development Committee which is holding the hearing. Send yours to pdtestimony@cga.ct.gov with Senate Bill 977 in the subject line.  JUST DO IT!

[1] At this writing: Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Rhode lsland and allow adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates; Rhode lsland adoptees must be 25. I call them free states.  

[2] At this writing: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington. New Jersey will join that list in 2017. The American Adoption Congress website lists the state laws and the access they grant. See: http://www.americanadoptioncongress.org/state.php

[4] Samuels, “The Idea of Adoption: An Inquiry into the History of Adult Adoptee Access to Birth Records,” Rutgers Law Review, Winter 2001, Vol. 53:2, pp. 432-434.


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  2. On opening sealed adoption records:
    To Whom It May Concern,
    I became pregnant, by the love of my life at the age of 19. He broke up with me in May of 1972, and I didn't acknowledge I was pregnant until that fall. I went to the only gynecologist I knew. As I lay there on her table, with my stomach sticking in the air, her nurse laughed out loud. That same nurse was the one who started making plans to get my baby for her sister. They rented a cabin for me to stay in for the next three months. I delivered my baby on January 13th, 1973. I held her in my arms only when I was signing the papers the day after her birth, and she was put on a plane and sent 1200 miles away to a much older couple. I went back home, and suddenly began drinking a great deal. There didn't seem to be enough alcohol in the world.
    I went back to school, but I wasn't myself anymore. I could not stand to be alone. I eventually had a breakdown and had to go to a mental hospital. All I wanted was my daughter, but was told I was would never see her again, and that to even know me, would cause her terrible harm.
    I drifted through many years, brokenhearted. I developed Agoraphobia and panic attacks, I was hospitalized several more times, and became an alcoholic and drug addict.
    One day, 39 years later, I opened Facebook and my daughter had sent me a friend request. I couldn't believe it. I was hysterically happy for weeks. I realized where all of my pain was coming from now that the answer was finally in front of me.
    She had heard that someone in my family was a lawyer, so she went to law school, and got a degree. She also earned a degree in Psychology, which had helped her with her own therapy. The couple who adopted her, were very poor and the mother was a diabetic and sick most of my daughter's life, so she took out student loans to get these degrees.
    She said she had a good life. Both of her adoptive parents have passed away and she is now pursuing a photography career.
    She said she had been trying and longing to find me for the past twenty years. I had been trying to find her as well, calling the doctor who delivered her every year, begging for information, just anything. All she would say is that she had lost contact, or that she had 'wonderful parents' and I was not to bother these mythical super humans.
    My daughter said she looked nothing like her adoptive family. She said she loved them, but realized she was far more intelligent. She is an amazing, strong woman, much like my mother. My mother and my relationship also ended the day I lost my daughter.
    I wished my daughter had been able to find me before my father died, he was the most loving and wonderful man, and it would have meant the world to him. She did get to meet my mother before she died last year, at the age of 95.
    Adoption is a travesty for everyone but adoption agencies and adoptive parents. It destroyed my parents and it destroyed me.
    After watching shows such as 'Long, Lost Family' you can put yourself in their place, and wonder what it would be like to never know your very own child, or your own parent. To never know your own medical history.
    Opening adoption records prevent heartbreak for the original family that was artificially destroyed. Secrecy does not prevent pain, it causes it.
    Please do it for those still searching. Please make their dreams come true and restore their humanity.

  3. Thank-you Lorraine! Awesome essay! Supporters please get your testimony in by Tuesday, March 21 in support of CT adoptee rights. Go to www.accessconnecticut.org for details! EASY!

  4. Thanks for this reminder Lorraine and for all you have done to keep awareness of these issues present. We need to keep repeating this over and over and over again.

  5. All adoptees should have a right to obtain their original birth certificates. Big thanks go out to people like you, Lorraine, who keep fighting for adoptees to get these rights.

    However, I always feel a bit uneasy when we paint with a broad brush.

    You are standing there, head bowed, but you can’t squelch the awareness that when you die you do not really belong in this family plot. You should be elsewhere."

    Some adoptees, I'm sure, feel this way. Others probably very much feel as though they are fully part of their adoptive families and have no qualms with being buried alongside them. Still others probably don't feel like they belong next to either their first or adoptive families.

    The bottom line is that all adoptees deserve access to their original birth certificates. Whether or not an adoptee wants to access the information is up to him or her.

    So, we don't need to attempt to paint scenarios with a broad brush. Not every adoptee longs to know his or her origins. And, that's okay. But, every adoptee should have the right to access the information that is key to learning more about his or her origins, if s/he so chooses.

    1. Indeed, if a person is old enough to vote and old enough to fight for his/her country, he/she is old enough to know the origins of their birth. For whatever reason, or interest or lack of interest, the info should be made available. It seems irrefutable, and hard to believe any lawmakers would see it otherwise.

    2. Just used the e mail for the court tomorrow AM. Let the adoptees find their origin and medical history!!
      No more lies from CC and false promises.
      Praying any adoptees, who want, can get their OBC and medical records :) EVERY HUMAN BEING DESERVES THE TRUTH!

  6. I asked my daughter if she could have just gone to the library, and asked to see her original birth certificate, without it being a big deal, without having to involve her parents, but with it being as simple as checking out a book. She said 'I would have gotten it in high school if it had been easy, I suppose'.

  7. Today is the last day! This is the way legislation gets passed. PLEASE SEND YOUR STATEMENTS IN AN EMAIL TO THE COMMITTEE.



  8. I am a natural mother who gave birth to a son in October 1970. I surrendered my son at birth for adoption because I was in an extremely physically and mentally abusive marriage. I located my son in 2009 and we enjoy a steadily evolving and happy and healthy family relationship. He has connected with nearly fifty of his blood relations. He has a relationship with his sister.My son is discriminated against solely because of his status as an adopted person. He is denied equal access to his original birth record while every other American takes that right for granted. Had my son conducted his own search, he would have had to pay hundreds of dollars for DNA test results, or upwards of $2,500.00 FOR A PROFESSIONAL GENEALOGIST, while other citizens pay a small fee to obtain a birth certificate that provides the necessary information. 
    The United Nations states that it is a human right to have access to birth records that provide a link to a person’s biological origins. Connecticut is violating human rights. Adopted adults having DNA testing done to ascertain their natural parents expose those parents to third parties outside the family of origin. The same applies to professional genealogical searches. This law will reduce or eliminate such exposure. 

    The law provides the natural parents of adopted persons with a contact preference form allowing them to privately express their preference for contact. The Surgeon General and The American Medical Society affirm the importance of past and current family medical history. A woman I know personally had to undergo two full mastectomies because she did not have her original family’s medical history. In the many years I have been active in the adoptee rights movement, I have met many people with similar stories. And let’s not overlook the children of adopted persons going through life missing half of their family medical history.There is widespread support for open records not only among the vast majority of first parents, adoptive parents, and adult adoptees, but also among the citizens of Connecticut (and the nation).The fiscal impact statement to Public Act 14-133 indicated that the bill was “anticipated to result in a net state revenue gain.” Think of all the medical expense that would be saved if adult adoptees had access to their family’s medical histories that would aid in diagnoses of physical or mental illness. There lingers in our culture the myth of promised confidentiality to the birth mother. When I discussed surrender of my infant for adoption, I received no psychological counseling regarding the post adoption trauma that my child, our family, and I would suffer. The agency had legal counsel as did the adoptive parents. I had none. nor did I receive any legal counseling. The purpose of the agency was to smooth the way for my child to pass into the hands of adoptive parents. There was no support to protect my infant and I from a hazardous domestic situation. I was never promised confidentiality; I was told I would never see my son again. Despite efforts at secrecy, my family knew that my son was being adopted. Nine months passed from his birth to his adoption and had the agency reached out to family of origin, there is a very strong likelihood that family would have become involved in assisting with safe shelter while I worked out a legal way to separate us from the violent spouse. Had the agency helped me with legal assistance, I may have been able to act otherwise. I was a physically healthy, high school graduate with a steady employment record that continued to improve despite my circumstances. Four years after the adoption, the law firm that employed me took my case on pro bono, protected me from a stalker husband, and saw me through my divorce and relocation. Had there been a better system in place, my child and I may very well never have separated. This is my witness.

  9. That's quite a strong statement, Earthmom, thanks for letting us all read it and for others to find it. On an old site recently, a very angry apparently adoptive mother left an extremely nasty comment and said we were crybabies who needed to put on our "Big girl panties" and get over it.

    In retrospect of my own life, keeping my daughter still seems impossible given the era and the father's insistence that she be given up--and we were basically a couple though he was still married (though that would end in a few years)--but I know that for my daughter, giving her up was the wrong thing to do.

    If I can make up for that act by fulfilling what seems to be an ordained path--whether I want it or not--I will continue to try.



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