In August, Rebecca Hawkes at Love Is Not a Pie wrote a post entitled "Shrugging Off the Shoulds and Shouldn'ts of an Adopted Life." Growing up, Rebecca absorbed the same cultural messages that I did -- not because my adopted parents weren't loving, well-meaning people, but because the culture of adoption encouraged this type of thinking, both in my parents and in society as a whole.
"Your adoptive family should be enough for you."
"You shouldn't be curious."
"You shouldn't feel connected to your biological relatives."
"You should be loyal to the adoptive family."
"You should always remember that your real parents are the ones who raised you."
For many adoptees -- myself included -- these cultural messages are extremely difficult to dismiss. Even now, at age 62, I sometimes have to remind myself that I'm not being disloyal to my now- deceased adoptive parents when I speak out for honesty and transparency in adoption.
For many years, I felt that my personal history was a taboo subject. As a very young child, I remember asking my a-mother who my "real" mother was. Ouch! Obviously as a little girl, I wasn't up to speed on politically correct adoption language. I'm sure I just wanted to know how and by whom I had arrived on this earth. I don't remember my mother's response, but my father came to me later that evening and said, "You know, that really hurt your mother's feelings when you asked that question because she feels like she's your 'real' mother.
As a youngster, I felt as if I had tread where I wasn't supposed to go. And I didn't go there again for many years. There was always this feeling in me that a search for my roots would be disloyal and wrong in some way, but again, I just wanted some resolution -- to know the circumstances of my birth and my own genealogy. Even today, when I know better intellectually, I sometimes feel as if I still need to apologize for that desire to know my own story.
For a long time, I convinced myself that adoption really wasn't a big issue in my life. I buried my "curiosity" because as an adoptee of my era, this is what I was expected to do. From adolescence on, I struggled with low-level depression, but I didn't connect these sad feelings to adoption. Instead, I just felt deficient and different in some way, although I struggled mightily to appear just like everyone else, and I pushed myself to excel in academics and sports to prove to myself and others how worthy I was. The last thing I wanted to do at that time was to embrace my status as an adoptee and to explore how that status made me feel.
Having my own daughters reinforced the fact that biology plays a key role in our lives and magnified my need and desire to connect with my roots. But again I did nothing -- I continued to feel paralyzed. Those dominant cultural messages were still so deeply embedded in me! For me, what tipped the scales was a life-threatening bout with stage 2 malignant melanoma. While developing a treatment plan, my doctors at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital wanted to know whether I came from an at-risk family, and like so many adoptees, I had to answer, "I don't know." And at that point, I just thought to myself: "You know -- I'm just not going to put up with this second-class treatment any longer."
Then, like so many adoptees who search, I discovered that discrimination against adult adoptees is still rampant and thoroughly entrenched throughout our society. And even though most adoptions facilitated today have some degree of openness, the cultural stigmas about adoption remain very strong in many circles and sadly, in the legislative chambers of nearly every state.
How many times during on-line discussions about adoption articles do we see comments like this?:
"Your 'real' parents are the ones who cared for you."
"You shouldn't go looking for your original family and open that Pandora's box."
"You should be happy your biological mother chose to give you life and leave it at that."
Cultural messages like these are still pervasive, although at least in on-line forums, they tend to be outnumbered by fact and experienced-based comments posted by those who actually live adoption.
What I found at the end of my search was an older woman who was not interested in revisiting the past. She did not wish to meet. But she did provide medical and historical information for me, and I now know her name and something about her. That alone is so empowering, a difficult concept to explain to anyone who has not lived the adoptee life. So I ask all those who oppose granting adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates, "What is the big deal and what is it that you are so afraid of?"
My original mother is an adult; I am an adult. I would have liked to meet. She didn't wish to meet. I'm not going to go where I'm not wanted. End of story. Why did I have to waste so many years wondering who and where she was? Why am I not permitted to know more about my original father, who has long been deceased? Who does all this secrecy benefit, and why must adults abide by such an archaic and dare I say, inhumane, set of rules?
Perhaps I am a slow learner, because it took me many years to figure all of this out -- that the problem with adoption isn't some deficiency in me; it's in a misguided, unethical and inhumane system that says, even though all the evidence proves otherwise, that it is acceptable for children to never know their birth identities.
Amending and sealing an adoptee's birth certificate for life is a practice that cannot be defended by any empirical measure. When adoption is not built on an honest foundation, its participants are bound to suffer, either outwardly or inwardly. And granting adult adoptees unrestricted access to their own original birth certificates should not be a controversial topic -- it should be a no-brainer.
You might also like:
The Silent Adoptee
Adult Adoptee Access -- A Civil Right Long Overdue
Why I Oppose Confidential Intermediaries
Sealed Records Are Wrong. Period.