' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: To Amy Dickinson: First/birth mother's right to privacy is a myth

Friday, March 6, 2020

To Amy Dickinson: First/birth mother's right to privacy is a myth

Should a man who has just discovered he has a child--DNA testing at work--reveal to his son, who he and his family have warmly welcomed, the woman who he strongly believes is his mother? It's a question that is sure to come up more and more in the future as more people join the DNA data banks.

Washington Post columnist Amy Dickinson dealt with the question the other day, but gave the father advice that is just plain wrong as well as misinformed.

She suggested that instead of doing what the father feels is the right thing to do--otherwise he wouldn't have written to Dickinson in the first place--the son should petition a court for access to his birth records to learn his birth mother's name. Dickinson also wrote it as an argument for birth mother privacy: "People placing children for adoption also have the legal right to their own privacy. They have tackled a very painful dilemma, which is worlds away from yours." And, we might add, a birth mother's dilemma, and the long aftermath of that decision--as well as the experience of an adoptee--is world's away from Dickinson's experience. That is, of course, unless she herself is a birth mother.

Here's our response to Dickinson:

Dear Amy,

Your advice to a Dad who wanted to know if he should tell his newly discovered son about the woman he thought was his birth mother* is incorrect. You told the father to advise the son to petition a court for access to his adoption records. In 30 states, the son has a much quicker and cheaper way to learn his birth mother's identify. He can obtain a copy of his original birth certificate from his birth state's vital statistics office. The birth certificate will have his mother's name except in the unlikely case that she gave a false name. A few states also allow adoptees access to their court adoption file just for the asking; no order by a judge is necessary. States allowing access to birth certificates and court records can be found at First Mother Forum, which we write.

Enlightening essays from all
members of the adoption triad
You also state that people placing children for adoption have the legal right to privacy. This is not true any longer in every state. Twenty-one states at this writing allow adoptees access to their birth certificates--if their birth/first mothers do not object, or if the birth and adoption occurred within certain years. In reality, only a small percentage of those women exercise that provision and object to releasing an unredacted original birth certificate. Ten states give adoptees their original birth certificate without any restrictions. Courts have upheld laws allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificates in face of arguments that the sealed-records laws violate mothers' right to privacy, stating that not only does the Constitution does not guarantee any such right, but that the state has no interest in protecting such a "right."

Adoptees speak their
Adoptees should not be bound by an agreement between a mother and the state, as implemented by adoption agencies, when those individuals at the center of the adoption had no voice in that agreement. Sealed-records laws, at their core, treat the individual as chattel without free agency over their own lives in the same legal framework as slavery. These state laws, dating from the 1930s on, are being overturned in state after state as we now see them as inherently unjust to the adopted person. A popular misconception is that laws sealing adoption records were enacted to protect mothers' privacy; in fact these laws were enacted to protect adoptive parents from intrusion by birth parents. Adoption agencies and religious organizations such as the Catholic Church have long misinterpreted these laws. It is time to set the record straight.

On a personal note we are both mothers who surrendered children to adoption under these laws. We have both been reunited with those children. And we both have been involved with support groups and adoption reform for decades. We cannot speak for all natural/birth mothers but we do speak for the many. The overwhelming majority welcome--deeply desire--contact by their lost child. But whether they do or not, the truth of one's origins must be an inviolable right to all individuals in a fair and just society.

Lorraine Dusky and Jane Edwards

Dickinson added in her response that she knows in her own small circle several men who have been discovered by offspring. The world is changing. Secrecy in birth is becoming a thing of the past.
*DNA proves he's a dad but where is the mom?

For More Information
Laws, Searching, Reunion
State Adoption Legislation

The Adoption Reader: Birth Mothers, Adoptive Mothers, and Adopted Daughters Tell Their Stories
This is one of the few books written about adoption that has brought tears to my eyes with the emotional intensity shared by the writers in their stories from all perspectives of adoption. I would recommend this book to anyone touched by adoption, or who is considering entering into the world of adoption, whether through adoptive parenting, placement, counseling, or reunion.

Dusky here: Note: she only mentions adoptees interest through reunion. Adoptees will find excellent insights here in both birth and adoptive mothers. Full disclosure: I have the first essay in the book.

The Adoptee Survival Guide: Adoptees Share Their Wisdom and Tools
Very insightful & touching stories, it helps to more fully understand the issues for adoptees. Each of the sections was very clearly written by each of those who contributed their truth. I deeply appreciated the honesty of the writers & their experiences. If you're an adoptee or know someone who is, this book can be a tremendous support in understanding what the experience is like for them.


  1. Amen to that Lorraine and Jane.

  2. Since no one has posted for a while here - where is everyone??

    I just wanted to share a very unexpected thing that happened to me. My daughter (51) & I have been exchanging emails & posts on FB for the last year (after no contact for 13 years) - and yesterday for the very first time she wished me a Happy Mother's Day! :D

  3. Hi Lee2, I'm here, sheltering in place. I haven't written for a while because, to tell the truth, I've run out of things to say. It just occurred to me that perhaps the adoption and eggploitation industries are taking a hit along with retail and entertainment. That would be welcome news.

    Fantastic news about your daughter.

  4. Hey Jane! I guess everyone over there is sheltering in place. Hope you are keeping healthy!
    And where is Lorraine? Hopefully you are okay?!

    My daughter (& her mother) will be visiting me next year! :) I can't wait.

    1. Yes, thanks I've been poking around starting on a book. I'm okay. Lorraine is working on a book and she's okay too. Exciting your daughter and her mother are visiting. Be sure to write to us after the visit.

  5. I still have trouble understanding why people think mother's have any right to privacy...truth, most of us don't want that "privacy"...

    I am delighted to hear that someone has connection after such a long break. My daughter, other than to tell me I was an idiot about 2 years ago, hasn't spoken to me in over 5 years. We have been in this reunion thing for, well, almost 20 years and it never got any better or easier. Most of the time she finds a reason to be angry with me and pulls back. Right now, we are in that phase again and, because of Covid 19 I worry about her and my grandchildren constantly.... I just can't bring myself to call - even just to hear her answer the phone.

  6. I've yet to hear my daughter's voice.... must be nice!

    Good luck on that book you are writing Jane!! :)

    1. I am very fortunate my daughter has been committed to our relationship. My heart goes out to you and Lori and all mothers whose children distance themselves or reject them.



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