Month: December 2014

On Adoption:  The Unnecessary Barriers to Search & Reunion

I grew up knowing I was adopted. I grew up knowing that when I turned 18 I could search for my birth parents. What I didn’t know, is that adoption laws and agency practice in my state would leave me feeling like a second class citizen. Living in the dark, I literally thought I would call the agency that handled my adoption and they would turn over information that rightly belonged to me; especially since the agency had documented that both of my parents said that they would like contact from me when I reached adulthood.   I was completely wrong.

  1. Seeking out information can be Intimidating

Before I turned 18, I always talked about searching as soon as I could. By the time I was 20, I finally mustered up enough courage to call the adoption agency and get my information. They made the mistake of putting me on hold and I quickly hung up; it would be another 12 years before I called them again. When I did, I had someone coaching me on what questions to ask. I had to have deliberate questions because they were not just giving out the information they knew I was looking for. They immediately asked me if I was an adoptee, birth parent, or adopted parent: I wondered if this changed the way they interacted with me.  There were forms to fill out, and fees to be collected. I never even knew that I could’ve had my name on file all these years so that if my mother tried to search for me they could give her my contact info. No one told me anything.  

Now adoption is mostly open, but for children in closed adoptions, I believe when the child turns 18 they should receive a packet in the mail with their non-identifying information and steps explaining the search process. This is precisely what the UK does and I think the country is still standing. They should also offer suggestions for material to prepare for reunion and counseling if desired, but not required like some states. The adopted person could then choose to search or not, but at least it’s in their hands, literally!

  1. Search is costly with no guarantee

Not only is the act of searching intimidating, it is costly. I get that people need to be paid for their work, but I never chose this for myself. Put a search fee in the initial adoption expenses; what’s an extra $400 in the scheme of $30,000 (hey they might even make more money from people who choose to never search). I seriously cannot come to terms with the fact that I have to pay for information about myself. With the internet there is no way I should be charged for someone else to search. I have Google too. (Really, Just give me a name). With help from my search angel, we found my mother in probably 10 hours of searching the internet without a name. With a name it would have taken less than 1. That’s $400/hr. Maybe I should switch careers.

SEARCH FEES

Catholic Charities 

Identifying Information – $400.00

Non-identifying Information – $75.00

 

Christian Family Life Services

Identifying Information – $400.00

Non-identifying Information – $75.00

 

Lutheran Social Services

Identifying Information – $460.00

Non-identifying Information – $110.00

 

The Village Family Service Center

Identifying Information – $460.00

Non-identifying Information – $110.00

 

And here is the real kicker: This stranger can open my file, read the names of my parents, contact them somehow;  Oh, but since paternity wasn’t legally determined they can’t even contact my father-even though he was involved in the adoption-even though he said yes he would like to be contacted.  They now must get my mother’s permission to release her information.  If she says no, I’m done. The end. Sorry you are out $400 AND your birth family, your questions, your missing piece. This is not acceptable. I can’t accept it.  I won’t accept it. Which brings me to the next point.

*some states don’t even have the option of forking out money to the agency who holds their file. They instead have to enter their information into a state mutual registry (which may cost and require counseling). I’m not sure how often people actually find each other through these registries; one misinformation (which happens often in adoption paperwork) can send you down the wrong path and I’m guessing could cause people to miss each other, forever. You can also hire a private investigator, can you see the continual trend: adoptees continually forced to spend money on a choice that was made for them. Totally unfair.

Original Birth Certificate

Original Birth Certificate

  1. Access to original birth certificate by court order only

I could take it to court, but add another $1,000 to pay my lawyer and good luck finding a judge who will say yes to obtaining  my original birth certificate: the legal piece of paper documenting my birth. I have no access to it. My birth mother has no access to it nor was she allowed to keep a copy (good thing since she gave them the information and might do what with it???). My adopted parents have no access to it. Instead, my birth certificate was changed to say that my adopted parents gave birth to me, and my original has been sealed for all time.

I love my adopted parents, but they don’t belong on my birth certificate. They raised me, but they did not conceive, carry or give birth to me. They were not at the hospital. They did not even know I was born until days later. This practice began in the 1930s when being born out of wedlock labeled you illegitimate. They actually stamped it on your birth certificate.  In the 1950’s, birth certificates were available to be seen by anyone.  To avoid stigma, and to keep birth parents away, the states started to seal birth certificates; even keeping them from the adopted persons themselves. These days of stigma and shame are long gone, yet Adult Adoptees still are not given access to their very own information.

When persons seek to change these archaic laws, suddenly the big concern is the privacy of the birth parents. While there may be a few out there who wish to remain a secret, it is quite laughable to me.  Being found can be hard for many, but in states where birth certificate access has been granted to adult adoptees and states have made provision for birth parents to redact their information or ask for no contact only about 1% have done so. We are protecting the 1% while 100% of adoptees (I realize not all adoptees are interested, but there is potential at some point in their life they would)  and 99% of birth parents are searching for answers. If you go online you will find hundreds of websites and registries with families trying to find each other. Some for 30 years, some ready to give up. It’s a true shame.

Many adoptees struggle with identity and value- they do not know their beginning; have never caught glimpse of a face that looks like them;  and often wonder if they were ever loved by their birth mother.  Even if a mother(father) does not want to be found, you cannot convince me the mother’s privacy is more important than the needs of that child she made a choice for. In her new book “Worthy to Be Found” Deanna Shrodes says, “I believe every human being has a right to look into the eyes of the two people they originate from, at least once…..I believe that if you birth a child, it’s the humane thing, the kind thing-yes, the right thing”  even just once.

Beyond that adoption has a ripple effect. It made an impact on the rest of the birth parents’ family: grandparents lost grandchildren, aunts and uncles lost nieces and nephews, cousins lost cousins, siblings lost to each other. Even if a birth mother doesn’t want contact, someone else in her family might.  It will also have an impact on the generations to come from that adopted child. They will never have their true genealogy. It could affect their health and their children’s health. Adopted persons should have access to the identifying information of their birth parents. Then like grown-ups they can navigate contact or relationship or lack thereof.  At the very least they deserve a chance without anyone in the middle.

When my mother was in her 30’s she chose to be adopted by her step-father, and do you know what happened? The state issued a NEW birth certificate and sealed away her original. DID I MENTION SHE WAS IN HER 30’s?!?!?   There is no reason for this! Adoption should not change the information on a birth certificate. Either lines need to be added to include adoption, or adoption certificates need to be issued that have just as much legal value as a birth certificate. This only makes common sense and I can’t figure out why we aren’t doing this already!!!!! Birth certificates are available to people as they study ancestry and genealogy. Amended birth certificates created through adoption have NO indication that this child was adopted and will forever twist the true genealogy of our nation.

When adopted persons turn 18, they should be able to request their original birth certificate just like any other citizen. It really comes down to civil rights. We are being treated differently than the rest of America’s citizens. Slowly, state by state, laws are changing, and the world isn’t ending. Even without changed laws people are reuniting every day thanks to the internet, search angels  and DNA. Reunion is beautiful. Reunion is challenging. It brings up a lot of buried memories and emotions; but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be allowed to happen. It doesn’t mean that the government or adoption agencies get to be the middle man. Let adults be adults.

So many times reunion is denied because a stranger is standing in the middle. And all the stranger can say is I’m sorry, it’s the end.

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On Adoption: A Seat at the Table

November was National Adoption Month and this year I participated in a very successful campaign to get adoptee voices out into the public:  called “Flip the Script.”  Timehop graciously reminded me that three years ago I was singing the praises of National Adoption Month and expressing my gratitude, this year I was sharing the complexities of being adopted. Something I’ve only let myself think about in the past year.

natl adoption month

Being adopted is complicated. You cannot separate adoptees into happy and mad and assume those that are “mad” can be dismissed because they must have had an unusually bad experience. Adoption is a life long process.  It can be confusing when an adoptee who has seemed happy all their life suddenly is sharing all of these negative feelings. I’m sure I took many of my family and friends by surprise. There is a theory that helps explain this process: Adoption Reconstruction Phase Theory.  It’s not as simple as saying some adoptees are happy and some are mad; many adoptees go through these phases over the course of their life; and many don’t.  The Declassified Adoptee conducted an interview with the creators of the Adoption Reconstruction Phase Theory: check it out here.

Adoption Reconstruction Graphic

Adoption support and practice has changed drastically since I was adopted. Now parents are entering into open adoptions, keeping connections open with birth families and taught how to help their child grieve their loss.  For me and many before me, our parents were given a newborn, told we were blank slates and to treat us as if we had been born to them. They even changed our birth certificates to make it look as though that is what happened. The problem is, we were not blank slates. We experienced a painful separation with no way to communicate or remember this loss. We needed the space to explore this loss. Our parents loved us, but were never given the right tools to help us grieve; didn’t even know we needed to.

So unfortunately, many adopted children grew up unable to talk about how it felt to be adopted, the questions they had, the hurt. We were shushed (and are still) with mixed messages from all around us and quickly learned adoption wasn’t something we could talk about- unless it was the happy stuff. The feelings of loss and sadness are suppressed and we become grateful for the life we now have; after all it’s our only choice. Like so many have said and I said about myself: at least I wasn’t aborted. Take a minute and think about how this attitude could be painful. My choice is unwanted or dead. Yuck. The reality is most birth mothers are choosing between parenting and adoption NOT abortion and adoption.  Adoptees are often told they are special and chosen, but deep down many of us question our worth; question love. After all, love has been defined for us as leaving; “your birth mother loved you so much she wanted a better life for you.” This concept can be true and make sense for an adult; to a child it’s confusing. When I told my 7 year old daughter my birthmother did not feel as though she could take care of me her response was “of course she could, all mommies can.” And that simple childlike thinking causes many adoptees to believe that certainly there is something wrong, something unlovable about themselves. These feelings are nearly impossible to erase.

The general public, and many (not all) adopted and birth parents do not want to hear us. They do not want to acknowledge the pain and hurt many of us feel. They want to view adoption as the best thing ever. After all adoption equals love. Don’t get me wrong, adoption has its place and can be a huge blessing, but it’s not an easy road.  Honestly, I would love for people to say, “wow I get it; it really must be hard to be adopted”- but I know that will not come easily. Those conversations will mostly stay within the confines of adoptee networks because we get it; we lived it.

What I want more than anything, and what I hope anyone can agree upon,  is for us to at least be seen as adults who have rights. The fact that I cannot have a copy of my own original birth certificate and laws demand that I be babysat while I search out my biological family members makes me angry.  An anger that will cause me to fight for justice.

Really we just want a seat at the table. We want lawmakers and adoption agencies and adopted parents to understand what this means to us. How not having access to our own information is taking a piece of our identity from us; possibly our life if we don’t have crucial medical information.   How many of us will never feel complete until we understand all of who we are: it doesn’t matter if what we find is good or bad- we need our truth.

THIS is why we flip the script.

But a few adopted parents have come out this week with reminders that we belong at the kids table. We ought to just be grateful, proving our love and loyalty and not ruin the good name of adoption.

Listen up people: if adoption is about the kids then I suggest you start listening to the kids who have lived it and are now grown adults. Don’t you think we could help influence best practices in a way that truly benefits who adoption is supposedly for??

Or maybe you’d like to admit that adoption (infant and international: not from foster care) has become a billion dollar industry benefiting adoption agencies and parents who need children??