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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Simple Piece of Paper: Adult Adoptees Access to Original Birth Certificates


Tomorrow, May 7th, marks one month since my mom, Susan Perry, passed away from melanoma. She was diagnosed in July.  This weekend, for Mother's Day, my dad, my sister, and I are going to the beach together for the first time without her.  We know it will be hard.  Our families our joining us Saturday evening, and we'll have breakfast together, at the house, on Sunday.  Sunday is also the day that filmmaker Jean Strauss' documentary "A Simple Piece of Paper" debuts around the country on PBS.  As New Jersey looks forward to secrecy-free adoptions starting in 2017 and Pennsylvania awaits (hopefully) the passage of HB162, an unrestricted access bill, and as we mourn the loss of my mom, an adoptee, I am pleased to share the words of Jean Strauss about the movie and my mom.

My mom roller-blading with my oldest daughter last spring. It is hard to believe she is no longer here. I will continue to honor her memory by speaking out for adoptees' rights, and I am touched that others are doing so in her name as well. #HonorSusanPerry
By Jean Strauss, director of the documentary A Simple Piece of Paper:
Last June, as I was filming testimony of NJ-CARE members during an Assembly hearing, my primary camera failed. I was filming Susan Perry at the time, and I remember thinking – well, New Jersey isn’t going to pass access legislation while Governor Christie is in office, and Susan Perry is one of the most important voices out there so there will be lots more opportunities.

Susan taught us many things. One of them is, we can never foresee the future.

Shortly after her testimony, she was diagnosed with fourth stage melanoma.  She passed away less than a month ago.  If she had access to her own birth information, it’s quite possible she would still be alive.

And somehow, Governor Christie is finding his way to ‘yes.’  So in May of 2014, New Jersey will see the light at the end of its very long tunnel of adoption reform.  Secrecy in adoption will end – and Susan Perry will have played a significant role in that.  While I don’t think she’d be happy that adult adopted citizens will have to wait until 2017 to access their birth certificates, or that redactions were a necessary compromise for the passage, I have to believe she would be thrilled about eliminating the secrecy for future generations.  Her advocacy alongside the NJ-CARE team will save lives and provide both equality and dignity for adopted citizens going forward.

Susan and I both had cancer scares mid summer 2013.  Mine ended up just being a lot of tests and good news.  Susan’s experience was far different.  I just reread the last emails between us.  As she cheered the good news I’d received, I kept prodding her to consider doing a film. She would have been a natural filmmaker with her storytelling gifts, with her laugh, and with her wisdom.  But Susan was very clear about what she intended to do with her time: spend it with her husband, her daughters, her grandchildren – and her two newly found sisters, who arrived bearing love and kindness last fall.

Mid winter, I sent Susan and Ty the very first copy of my new film, A Simple Piece of Paper, about adoptee access in Illinois.  I don’t know if Susan felt well enough to even watch a few frames – but it made me feel good to know she was its first audience, in spirit.

The film now goes out into the ‘ether’, as it premieres in twenty states on PBS this week, and will hopefully air in every state in the Union through the summer and fall (see www.asimplepieceofpaper.com/find-pbs-screenings.php for the schedule).  I wish she were here so we could talk a bit more about about writing with pictures, and the impact films can have.  She had the most important gift of any storyteller: an intense passion coupled with a compassionate mind. I am imaging the films she would have made, stamped with her own special wisdom and wit.  I will always regret that I didn’t capture her testimony last June.  Her words were so powerful.  They will always be powerful…

5 comments:

  1. From an adoptee who lurks but has left the fog and since been twice rejected, this breaks my heart. But also fills me with hope. So thank you.
    You moved me to tears, and that is not easy since that as an adoptee I tend to keep things tight to the vest.
    I am so sorry for your loss, but so amazed and empowered by your work for those of us who can't raise our voices yet.

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  2. Thank you for your comment. It moves me to know that my mom's story is still out there making a difference. I am also sorry for your experience searching ... I was just out tonight with a dear friend of mine who happens to be adopted, and she spoke about how searching for your biological family (she prefers that term rather than original) is really the most vulnerable you will ever feel (we were talking about why it might be that more women than men seem to search, and she speculated that it was perhaps because men, more than women, truly hate feeling that vulnerable ... ). I know that part of why my mom didn't send that letter to her sister sooner was because of this vulnerability. It's also why we both wept (happily) to learn that her sisters had been desperately searching for her! I hope your story has a similar twist, someday. That said, your comment reminds me why the argument for closed records is so ridiculous. Clearly, adoptees' rights are trampled upon when they must share this private, vulnerable aspect of their lives with a court just to get information that belongs to them. Thanks, again, for your comment. I wish you the best.

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  3. I found my mother when I was 50 yrs old and was also rejected. However along the way I found previously unknown relatives who didn't reject me so I have to be pragmatic. My mother wanted to forget that part of her life which was a bad time for her, which I understand. Yes it was hard, after so many years of searching, but the people I have met along the way have made up for that!

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  4. Thank you for making that movie. As a adoptee my sef I do know how other adoptees feel. I to feel every person has the right to know they are adopted and the right to know their birth parents. I myself was very lucky and had a great adopted mother and father and they treated me good and raised me right.I have sent for a true copy of my birth certificate to the state of Illinois as I was born and adopted their.



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  5. Is this available to Illinois residents only ? I need to know if I can use this in Ky ,

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