' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Allow adopted people right to know their true identity

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Allow adopted people right to know their true identity

Too shy to push myself totally into the shot...
Some people have said they can't adequately reach the Albany Times-Union site where the piece I wrote that my assemblyman, Fred Thiele, referenced in the New York Assembly in the discussion just before the Montgomery/Weprin bill giving New York adoptees the right to their original birth certificates at age 18. It's at the end of this note about what has been happening since. 

As most know by now, the bill passed both the New York Senate and Assembly with an overwhelming margin, and now awaits Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature, which is expected. For reasons that baffle me on the one hand and are not surprising on the other, the emotional passage of this bill in the Assembly--the Senate passed it first the previous week--did not receive nearly the coverage it merits. Many of the speakers were highly emotional--not just three three who are adopted--and when the vote tally was first announced, a cheer went up in the hall. Yet media coverage has been scant. The NY Times so far has ignored it. Newsday did not. The big three news stations in New York City seem to have ignored it.  My local television station (Long Island Channel 12) did a good job, and another spot is scheduled, this time with an adoptee looking forward to getting his real not amended birth certificate in a day or two. I'll post the link when it appears.

Jane and Lorraine, summer 1983; I did
not wait for unseal legislation to find her
New York will be the largest state to have open records, no veto, when Gov. Cuomo signs the bill, and the feeling is that with a large state on the list--now grown to ten--the others will fall, if not like dominoes, but they will fall. Decades ago, when I first got into this fight with Florence Fisher, the founder of ALMA and the energetic, fiery springboard to the adoption reform movement, our most prominent opponent was the founder and first president of the National Coalition for Adoption in Washington, DC, William Pierce. 

He was usually the naysayer that the media phoned up for a quote about the destruction and damage that unsealing the records would cause. And he had that nice-sounded foundation after his name. When Judy Klemesrud wrote a story for the New York Times about my reunion with Jane in 1983, Mr. Pierce was quoted saying that he opposed giving adoptees their real birth certificates because ''The potential for human sorrow is great....''A lot of women do not want to have a meeting. These women may have had their child through rape or incest, and a meeting could be very harmful to them.'' He also estimated that only one to two percent of all natural mothers wanted to meet their children. In another story in the Washington Post, he said that the women like myself who wanted to meet their children were the "same 2,000 people who belong to each other's groups," and claims that 95 percent of those who make the adoption decision are happy with it.

Well, we know that is baloney. William Pierce* died in 2004. 

Yet Bill Pierce privately told Florence that he believed that one day the records would be open. 

We are still riding on euphoria in New York, waiting to hear when the bill will be signed, or has quickly been signed. I keep thinking of the time I was on the huge stairway in the Capitol and engaged a lobbyist on another issue. He listened and asked: What are other states doing? At the time, only two or three states were open. He took the information in and said: You need another nearby big state. 

Well, that didn't happen, but let us hope we are the "big state" that will push this over the edge elsewhere. Connecticut has a crazy quilt of laws but they still leave a little slice of the pie where adoptees are held hostage by a veto that effectively denies them the right to their own simple piece of paper. We got close there this session, but not over the finish line. Again, it was held up because of "birth mother privacy." 

Back to the Times-Union. Back story: I originally submitted a piece in early May at around 800 words; told that if I wanted to get it in soon, I'd need to trim to 725. I did that. Then a week later, I was told that to get it in while the session was still going, I had to trim to 625 words, including the tag line. I realized I had basically to write a whole different kind of piece and began again, writing the following one Sunday afternoon. Then it sat around again. I had to urge the editorial page editor--he has a lot of submissions, limited space--to hurry up, and it ran on a Friday when the legislature was not in session. However, Fred Thiele sent it to everyone in the Assembly. In case you are wondering, many newspapers, including the Times-Union, do not pay for commentaries or op-eds. 

The blog's headline is what ran in the Times-Union.

By Lorraine Dusky 
Published 4:55 pm EDT, Thursday, June 6, 2019

Debate over whether the original birth records of adopted people should be opened to them as adults always comes down to a "promise" made to the women who relinquished those individuals when they were infants and could not speak for themselves. The New York Senate voted Monday to do away with this outdated regulation, but the Assembly has long ignored it.

Never mind if the law as written never intended to "protect" those women. Never mind the rights of those children, now adults. Never mind their need for medical histories, or an innate, unquenchable quest to know the truth of their origins and where they fit into the tree of life. Never mind that DNA matches may find one's original family. Never mind that television shows highlight the deep comfort that comes in knowing one's genealogical history, where even people who aren't adopted sometimes break out in tears when they learn about their ancestors

Despite the overwhelming reasons to do away with an outdated 1936 law in New York, it stays on the books. There is that supposedly legal promise of "anonymity" made to mothers.

I want to scream.

When I relinquished a child in 1966, I railed against sealing my daughter's birth certificate — from her — until my exasperated social worker said that unless I agreed, "we can't help you." That "right" to anonymity was a mandate forced upon me by a law written when Franklin Roosevelt was president, before I was born and four decades before my daughter was. I had to agree to let the state take away her right to ever know her true identity, for her birth certificate would be sealed for all time, even to future generations. Her true history would be erased.

That knowledge was the absolute cruelest part of signing those papers.

I speak not for all birth mothers, but I do speak for many. We are the women who wait and hope our children will one day find us. For myself, I paid someone a hefty sum to find my daughter decades ago, and discovered that for medical reasons her parents were already trying to locate me.

But whether we mothers who want no privacy from our own flesh and blood are few or many, any such "right to privacy" loses all moral authority stacked against an adopted person's right to their own, true identity.

Yet in the arguments that keep original birth records sealed from people whom they most concern — the adopted — their well-being is conveniently swept under the dusty rug of old law and settled practice. Opponents of unsealing the birth certificates don't argue that sealed records are in the best interests of the adopted. Instead, they demand birth mothers keep a "right" that the law never included or intended, and courts have ruled is not constitutionally protected.

No other law exists that holds binding a contract between one person (the relinquishing mother) and the state over a third person (the adoptee). In doing so, the state treats adopted people as no more than chattel over which the state retains a lifelong bondage of anonymity.

No just government should exert such invasive and degrading control over any group of people, people otherwise equal under the law. Adult adoptees can marry, enlist, vote, get a driver's license, divorce, in short, do everything the rest of us can as fully functioning adults without anyone else's permission, but what they cannot do is have an unamended copy of their original birth certificate. Not only is this social engineering at its worst, it is immoral and unjust.

There ought to be a law against such mindless cruelty. And there could be, if only the Assembly would act.
Lorraine Dusky is the author of Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption


*Google William Pierce without the word "adoption" and you find another William Piece, a white supremacist neo-Nazi who died two years earlier.)




  1. Clap clap clap. Well said. Well written. Well felt.

  2. I was moved by your report of the legislators’ comments and votes, and the many years of people’s activism that brought this victory about. I really didn’t know just how long this struggle had been going on. When I read, “I have been praying for this day since I signed the relinquishment papers, April something, 1966. I remember reading a piece in the New York Times in 1972 about Florence Fisher who started ALMA (Adoptees Liberty Movement Association) and felt less alone from that day on, and I took what ability I have and put it to use in this cause.”, my eyes well up with tears once again. The day my son was born, I promised I would search for him. I was a bereft mother, and my grief would remain with me until I found him 39 years later. Florence Fisher and ALMA were also my first ray of hope. I read about her in People Magazine (August 18, 1975 Vol. 4 No. 7). That article had a profound effect on me. In 2008, when I learned about the movement to enact a bill that would make it possible for adoptees to obtain their original birth records, I became an advocate. I often had to respond to the question, “Isn’t the birth mother entitled to her privacy?” I had to think about that. In the People article, Florence Fisher states “This is a society that says one is responsible for taking a life; it should be equally responsible for giving a life.” I arrived at the same conclusion thirty-three years later. I felt responsible to help my son access his origins. We reunited in 2009 and before the end of 2010, by my efforts, he met forty-two members of his original family – maternal and paternal. Ten years later, we continue to build a history. Part of that is there being friendly communications between his adoptive family and me. His adoptive mother has been able to experience the joy of all three of her adopted children reconnecting with their original families, coming full circle.



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