I would so like to see more adoptive parents supporting the state-by-state efforts to update archaic adoption laws and to enable adult adoptees to apply for and receive their original birth certificates. You may think that the problem of sealed records has been solved since today, so many adoptions have some degree of openness. But when adoptees continue to be treated like second-class citizens in much of the United States, a heavy cloud still hangs over the institution of adoption. As adults, adoptees should be able to receive their own birth certificates, just like any other US citizen. When you fail to support reform, you are sending the message that treating adoptees differently than everyone else is acceptable. And you are tacitly supporting the myth that adoptees are insensitive stalkers, intent on disrupting the lives of their original families.
Even my own adoptive mother did not realize how severely compromised my civil rights really were. When I experienced a serious medical problem and encountered problems as I tried to obtain up-to-date medical records from the agency that had arranged my adoption, she was genuinely surprised. "But why can't you get them?" she asked. "We were told that information would be available whenever we needed it."
"Well apparently, my original mother wants no contact," I replied. "If she says she wants no contact, I have no way of getting up-to-date information." Of course, I had to take the word of the "confidential intermediary" that my original mother indeed wanted no contact. And I had to trust that the intermediary did ask for meaningful medical information, even though I didn't receive any. Later, I was able to contact my original mother successfully on my own, and she did provide me with information that was helpful, both medically and emotionally. But that's another story -- one that shows why a system that relies on confidential intermediaries is completely unfair to the grown adoptee.
My adoptive mother and I were products of the closed adoption system, and it was hard for her to even envisage another mother somewhere out in the world. As she said to me during my communications with the agency, "I don't like to think there's another mother. I like to think you came right from me." That's a painfully honest assessment, and because she felt that way, I didn't share much of my thinking on the matter. I loved her dearly, and I didn't want to cause her any pain.
Of course I didn't really know my original mother, but I did feel a link there too. She had carried me in her body for nine months and given birth to me, a rather profound process, to be sure, which I experienced myself two times. I didn't want to cause my original mother any pain either, but I did feel as an autonomous adult that I had an absolute right to information that might help me to protect my own health, as well as the well-being of my children and grandchildren. I approached her, after much thought, through a sensitive and carefully-worded certified letter. I was fortunate that she responded.
Can you understand as an adoptive parent what a difficult position you are placing your child in when you feel threatened by the existence of the original family? I completely forgive my adoptive mother for her limitations because she really didn't know any better. The agency personnel were the experts, and she believed what they told her. I forgive my original mother as well for not wishing to have a continuing relationship. I believe denial was her way of coping with a closed adoption system, and I have to respect that.
It is the perpetuation of the closed system that upsets me the most. It is so unfair to place a child into a situation in which she must be ultra sensitive about the adoptive parents' feelings, and ultra sensitive about the original families' feelings as well. Why should the adopted child be the one who must put everyone else's feelings before her own? Such a system -- which is still enshrined in law throughout much of the country -- is truly backwards, because it places the best interests of the child below the best interests of the adults involved.
I believe that as an adopted person, it took me a little longer to grow up than it should have. It took me quite a few years to realize that it was acceptable for me to sometimes put my own feelings first. It's not my job to protect everyone else's feelings and drive my own feelings underground. It also took me quite a while to do what I needed to do to feel like a fully-empowered human being, just as capable as anyone else and in some cases more capable of handling my own personal affairs.
My wish as a 61-year-old adoptee, then, is that all adoptive parents in the next generation will come to understand that an adoptee's need to know her roots in no way diminishes her love for her adoptive parents. As adults, we all know that life does not begin at adoption -- we adoptees carry different DNA in our veins, and that DNA has ramifications, sometimes emotionally, always medically. An adoptive family can be just as loving as a biological family, of course, but it is a different kind of family, and we do no one any favors in not recognizing that fact.
Adoptees as adults have rights, and they should be treated just the same as the non-adopted. In my case, not having ready access to my own birth record denied me the opportunity, when I had a health issue, to participate in a clinical trial. Such blatant discrimination is simply not acceptable, and such discrimination, I believe, gives all of adoption a black eye. Adoptive parents, please be assured that I couldn't have loved my adoptive mother and father more, yet a conversation with my original mother provided me with a sense of closure that was very helpful to me. If you have loved your children well, you have nothing to fear from original families, and your children's love for you will be even stronger when you are able to validate their need to know the truth.
We need more of you adoptive parents to join the many adoptees and original parents who are lobbying to reform archaic adoption laws. Because you as adoptive parents finance the adoption industry, your voice tends to carry more weight than ours in the legislative arena. Please join us! Your children are precious, and they deserve to be treated just like all other citizens.
If you live in New Jersey, please join NJCARE, the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education.
You can find out how to help in your state by exploring the website of the American Adoption Congress.
Support the Adoptee Rights Coalition in its advocacy efforts for equal rights, equal access.