' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Give adoptees their original birth certificates as a birth right--writing to New York Senators

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Give adoptees their original birth certificates as a birth right--writing to New York Senators

My letter to New York Senators on the Health Committee in the state legislature:  

Dear Senator X:  A true identity should be everyone’s birth right as a matter of course. I am writing to ask you to support legislation which would allow adoptees to receive a certified copy of their birth certificate upon reaching the age of 18.

In 1966 I relinquished a daughter for adoption in Rochester, New York. At the time, I objected vigorously against the “forever” sealing of my daughter’s birth record to my social worker. All to no avail; I had no choice but to go along. The law—the 1935 law—was the law, and I had no voice, no choice.

In 1976 I testified at the NY Joint Senate/Assembly Public Hearing on Sealed Adoption Records and Identity, chaired by Richard Gottfried and Joseph Pisani. Forty-three years later, Assemblyman Gottfried and I are still at it, for as you are aware, no progress at all had been made in New York to revoke sealed records in our state, while the world’s attitudes about adoption and secrecy have taken a great leap forward toward openness.

In 1981, I paid some anonymous person $1200 (roughly $3,500 today) to locate my daughter, and to my astonishment, she had already been identified through the particulars that I put in my first memoir, Birthmark (1979). Soon I had her name, her family’s name, address and phone number. I called a few days later and within ten minutes I was on the phone with my daughter, after speaking to her adoptive mother and father. My daughter had epilepsy and her parents and doctors had already been trying to find me. We had a 26-year relationship until my daughter’s death in 2008.

Now I am the only connection my daughter's daughter--my granddaughter--has to the only blood relatives she knows. She has moved to the same place where I grew up and they now live—the Detroit suburbs—where she teaches school, and they are friends as well as her support system. Yes, that is our personal story, but it is emblematic of what giving adoptees the right to know who they were when they were born can do. In my granddaughter’s case, that is comfort and grounding.

Everyone’s story is different, but everyone has a right to their own story.

Adoptees and first mothers in New York still are living with the burden of what is clearly failed social policy, one that promotes secrecy and lies. Sealed birth records place an undue psychological hardship on an entire class of people—the adopted. They live and die with a burden that the rest of us never have to even ask: Who was I when I was born? Or more simply: Who am I?

While legislators may see the justice and moral certitude to giving adopted people the right to their original birth certificates, it is women like myself—mothers who relinquished in another era—who are held up as the reason not to proceed. But we—unless adopted ourselves—have always known who we are; and the secrecy we were encouraged to fester is not a good enough reason in today’s world to keep the records locked up from the very people they most concern. DNA results have opened a different alley for adoptees in search, but not for all, and besides, the adopted should not have to rely on an iffy route for honesty in their identities.

"Apart from slavery there is no other instance in our laws, or in any other jurisprudence in civilized system of jurisprudence, in which a contract made among adults, in respect of an infant, can bind that child once he reaches his majority," wrote the late Cyril Means, the New York attorney who brought suit in the 1970s to unseal birth records for the adopted. While that lawsuit failed, other courts in the past have found—and unquestionably courts in the future will find—that the mother has no constitutional right to remain anonymous to her child, and thus the state has no obligation to keep her identity secret from her offspring.

Let me add something about that 1976 hearing that sears in my mind, and has been renewed in intensity since the movie, Three Identical Strangers, came out. The most virulent opposition of unsealing birth certificates at that hearing was the attorney for Louise Wise Adoption Services, Shad Polier. He was married to the daughter of Louise Wise.

Mr. Polier rattled on about the poor girls who gave up their children and who wish to go into hiding, using words such as disaster, havoc, pathology, and harmful. It’s all in the record. Supposedly, the words all referred to the adopted. Yet, as we learn in Three Identical Strangers, Mr. Polier would have been aware of how the agency he represented was hiding how they had separated identical twins and triplets in some Nazi-like psychological experiment. If the records were opened then, all of this would have come out and destroyed Louise Wise Services—the havoc and disaster and harm would have been theirs. Incidentally, Louise Wise did go out of business after a couple of well-publicized lawsuits for flagrant lies to their clients. The defamed Louise Wise agency is not unusual in how the adopted were treated as fungible parts to be moved around under the rubric of “doing good.”

I fervently hope that the new political climate in Albany will allow for the inequity of years of secrecy and stolen identities will come to an end in New York, and that S3419 without crippling amendments at last becomes law.

Let me end with a bit of history: In 1980. after numerous hearings around the country, the then U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare issued a Model Adoption Act stating:
“There can be no legally protected interest in keeping one’s identity secret from one’s biological offspring; parents and child are considered co-owners of the information regarding the event of birth…. The birth parents’ interest in reputation is not alone deserving of constitutional protection.”
Some provisions of the act were promulgated, but the late Sen. John Tower of Texas, an adoptive father, led the opposition to this provision and it died. But the words ring as true today as they did in 1980. It is time for the law to catch up with the world, and end the unequal treatment of the adopted.
Lorraine Dusky
Author, hole in my heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
Video of my testimony at 2015 hearing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLtxow5rkw8



  1. My husband was adopted. I saw first hand the agony he went through, constantly saying "what could I have done as a baby that my mother would give me up?" He was an exception insofar as his mom did try to raise him for 6 months and found she was not able to do so.

    I watched him anguish for years with the questions "who am I?". He struggled with this issue his entire life and due to the psychological issues wound up steeped in drugs and alcohol for much of his earlier years.

  2. Continued...

    We married late in life (35 or so) and yet he still struggled with this issue and it would make him cry. He was beating himself up over it.

    When 23andme started doing health DNA we got him a DNA test to see if there were any health issues lurking, and there were. A greater than average chance of getting Alzheimer's. The extensive report they used to be able to give can no longer be done. People have a right to know their genealogical medical history.

    I started doing genealogy about 1998, not long after we married. Once I felt I knew what I was doing, I posted a query on an ancestry.com chat board. He was adopted in San Francisco, so we at least had adoption papers his adoptive father had given him, that gave us clues as to who his mother was. I asked for any information using the 2 names I had. (we later found out she had been using a different surname as she had another out of wedlock child who she raised.

    10 years later I got a response...from his 1/2 sister. We took our conversation private and talked on the phone. She said she had been looking for him for many years, but she had been searching under his birth name.

    I surprised my husband that Christmas with a visit from his sister who lived across the country. He was finally able to find out why he was given up for adoption. His sister had become very ill and she was in and out of the hospital requiring blood transfusions. His mother worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant and just could not afford all the medical bills and her newborn son.

    I then set out to figure out who the birth father was...did another DNA test on ancestry.com. There were cousins related closely enough that I was able to narrow down the family. Then I dug into obituaries and other sources to see who was "in the running" to be his father.

    Later another 1/2 sister turned up on ancestry...another child of his father.

    It took me nearly 15 years to get to the bottom of everything. By the time we had full resolution my husband was nearly 60.

    We have not touched base with his 2 half brothers, although I know who they are, because their mother is still living. Her husband was quite the scoundrel. We found out that he had attacked their young babysitter and got her pregnant. Then I discovered things about my husband's mom that indicate she too would have fallen easy prey for this wretched man.

    I see no reason to burden this woman or her sons with this information. The important part is we know, HE knows where he came from and what happened.

    That is all any adoptee wants. To know where they came from.

    4 years ago I discovered a 1st cousin through DNA. My mother's brother was a known philanderer, so a child showing up was not a surprise. My cousin was born in NYC. He now knows who his dad and his half siblings are due to my research.

    He still doesn't know who his mother was though. She is likely deceased. He has a right to know. He too is in his 60's.

    That is just too long to go without knowing who your parents were. Adoptees know birth parents can say "I don't want to know you" if they reach out. It's a risk some will take and some won't.

    But adoptees have a right to know who their parents, grandparents and other ancestors were-even if the best they can do is find out their names and a little bit of information via Census records through the years.

    Imagine never being able to know anything--it is horrible to think about for anyone who has grown up in a traditional family unit.

    NY needs to stop treating adoptees as 2nd class citizens. They have a right to know their heritage.

    1. Thank you for understanding, and thank you for writing. It is absurd that adult adoptees have no right to their original birth certificates. It is identity theft of the most insidious, malicious kind. It is a crime against humanity.

    2. Yes it is. I sometimes work with an adoption angel who devotes all of her time working with adoptees to find out their birth parents...but the hill is a steep one to climb. Sometimes we are successful, but often we are not. She does this for free, as do I, but many times adoptees have to spend so much money just to find out what should be theirs to start with. We have a right to know who we are/were at birth.

      Feel free to use my story if you think it will help. I ordered your book today on kindle. It will be a bittersweet read I am sure. I'm due for a good cry anyway. :-)

      Good luck with the fight. NY has been fighting coming out of the dark ages for a very long time on this issue.



COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.