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Monday, December 17, 2012

Media Stereotypes and Agency Myths About Adoption

Recently, the New York Times published an article entitled "Internet Use in Adoptions Cuts 2 Ways."  The story summarizes a research report just released by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute detailing how the internet is changing the practice of adoption.  While the New York Times piece, like the research, shows that secrecy in adoption is an unrealistic expectation in our interconnected age, it also repeats a persistent myth that continues to thwart the adoption reform movement.

The Times article includes the following assertion: "Social media sites have helped bypass a system that has made it difficult for adoptees and birth parents to connect: state laws that closed birth records to protect the identities of birth mothers."

While sealed record laws have made it difficult for adoptees and original families to connect, the intent of closing birth records, contrary to popular belief, was never to protect birth mothers' identities.  You can read the research of law professor Elizabeth B. Samuels on this subject here.

Samuels' analysis of surrender documents shows that the birth records of adoptees were sealed during the mid-twentieth century not to protect the identity of original parents, but to protect the adoptive family from "unwarranted intrusion" and the adopted child from the "shame of illegitimacy."  The fact that an estimated 40 percent of adoption decrees contain some identifying information, such as the child's original birth name, likewise shows that keeping a birth parent's name a secret from the adopted person was never the statute's intent.

We also now have decades of experience to draw upon from those countries and states that have allowed adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates -- and the data shows clearly that the vast majority of original parents are open to contact from their surrendered offspring.

So why do we so often encounter the blatant mistruth that birth records were sealed "to protect the identity of the birth mother?"  Why all the doomsday scenarios as to "what might happen" should we allow adopted adults access to their own birth records?  While some individuals and groups are simply misinformed, I believe that the Catholic Conference of Bishops and some adoption agencies and attorneys willfully perpetuate these misconceptions because the closed statutes allow them to operate without transparency and accountability.

When there is no transparency, Catholic Charities, other adoption agencies and attorneys are the all-powerful gatekeepers of the truth -- that is just what actually transpired during the relinquishment process.  They maintain the records, and whatever shortcuts, mistruths or ethical violations may have occurred are forever protected.

As the Evan B. Donaldson report points out, adoption is loosely regulated, and it is big business here in America.  In most states, adult adoptees are still unable to access their own legal documents of birth, even though there is no rational reason to maintain such an archaic and unjust system.  This injustice continues, even though England has successfully allowed its adult adoptees access since the year 1975, and the states of Oregon and Alabama have successfully allowed its adult adoptees access for 12 years now.  The states of Kansas and Alaska never sealed birth records from its adult adoptees.

The data from these countries and states also shows that adult adoptee access does not increase abortion rates, nor does it affect the number of adoptions.  How I wish the media would do a little digging of its own on adoption issues!  It is beyond discouraging that major media outlets continue to publish blatant mistruths about adoption and then fail to correct those mistruths publicly, deeming the subject, I suppose, as not important enough.

I, for one, am fed up with powerful lobbies, like State Bar Associations and Conferences of Catholic Bishops, that continue to perpetuate adoption stereotypes and block meaningful adoption reform.
I am likewise fed up with legislators who continue to respond to those lobbies, instead of to facts and research that cannot be disputed.

I am discouraged that some people continue to infer that adult adoptees are "stalkers" intent on destroying their original families or disrespecting their adoptive families.  I am likewise discouraged that those same people often paint original mothers as cowering figures consumed by shame, and who therefore need protective custody for life.

I am a 62-year-old mother of two and grandmother of six, yet I continue to be treated like a child by my state's adoption laws, unable to manage the most personal details of my life without outside assistance.  All of us touched by adoption are unique human beings of equal worth, and as adults we deserve to be treated like the adults we are.

Many adoptees I know are distrustful of authority, and I can certainly see why.  A member of the reform community recently shared a photo by Don Stitt containing these wise words:

Morality:  Doing what is right regardless of what you are told

Obedience:  Doing what you are told regardless of what is right

I sought out my original mother for several reasons -- for medical information, but also for healing and emotional closure.  She and I share a connection, no matter what anyone says, and I knew deep inside myself that what was right for me was to privately seek a reconciliation with her.  If I had done what I had been told by law and by the uninformed, I would be that "obedient" adoptee playing a script that had been provided to me by others.  In acting as I did, I felt that I was responding to a higher morality.

As we all know, authority is not always right.  Unfortunately, in the case of adoption law here in the states, it rarely is.

You might also like:

The Silent Adoptee

An Adoptee's Perspective on Love and Why Truth Matters

Why do State Bar Associations Oppose Adoptee Rights?

The Media and Adoption Issues

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Are Adult Adoptees Worthy of Respect?

Unfortunately, adult adoptees in the United States are still not respected as autonomous human beings capable of making intelligent and appropriate choices.  If they were, how can we possibly explain the fact that in most states, adopted adults are still denied access to their own original birth certificates?

Amanda Woolston over at Declassified Adoptee has written a perceptive post on this issue here.  As she explains, opponents to adoptee rights usually frame their argument around three themes: boundary issues, in which the assumption is that adult adoptees cannot manage boundaries or relationships without supervision; secrecy issues, in which the assumption is the original parents are cowering in shame and must therefore be protected; and social issues, in which the assumption is abortions will go up if adoptees are allowed access to their true birth records.

The data disproves all these assumptions, yet they remain prevalent.  To be clear, what adult adoptees are asking for legislatively is the opportunity to secure their true and original birth certificates.  When adoptions are finalized in the United States, the child's original birth certificate is sealed away, and an amended one, listing the adoptive parents as the mother and father, is issued.

This bizarre and outdated practice was initiated during the shame-based era around the mid-twentieth century, and it was never intended to protect the anonymity of original parents -- surrender documents reveal that the intent, rather, was to protect the adopted child from the "shame of illegitimacy," and the adoptive family from "unwarranted interference or intrusion."  The assumption at that time was that the original mother would forget the child and move on with her life, and that the child would forget that she ever had other parents.

Now, many years later, of course, we know better.  The data maintained by those states and countries that have restored adult adoptee access shows that the vast majority of original parents are not paralyzed by shame and are most often happy to hear from their surrendered offspring.  Meanwhile, scores of adoptees search for their original families every year in spite of the legal obstacles because they feel deeply that they are entitled as human beings to know their own personal history.  Whether the adopted adult elects to search or not, she should have the freedom to secure her own birth certificate, just like any other American citizen.  Denying her that right is so discriminatory that it amazes me that it continues to be an accepted practice.

What is the justification for denying the adult adoptee equal rights?  As Amanda points out, it is rooted in a negative view of the adoptee and often the original parents as well.  Some legislators infer that adoptees are "stalkers" who cannot be trusted to respond appropriately, should they use their true birth certificate to search, and should they encounter a negative response.  I  find this viewpoint particularly insulting, since my original mother was one of the few who was not open to a personal meeting.  We had a helpful phone conversation, and that was the end of our contact.  Neither of us was harmed, and we handled our private past -- which we co-own -- like the adults we both are.

Other legislators assume that original parents are so overwhelmed by shame that adult adoptees cannot possibly be allowed to know who they are.  First of all, this scenario ignores the fact that many adoptees find their original families every year -- an estimated 40 percent of them received some identifying information in their adoption decrees.  The idea of guaranteed anonymity for the birth family is truly a myth.

Secondly, this shame-based view treats neither the adult adoptee nor the original parent with any respect.  The assumption is that the adoptee is likely to tread into a place where she is not wanted, and that the original parent will not be able to handle the shock of hearing from her relinquished offspring.  Never mind the fact that legally, courts throughout the United States have always had the right to open adoptee birth records "for good cause." (at the adoptee's time and expense, of course)  Meanwhile, reunion stories in the media have become so commonplace that it boggles the mind to think that any original parent could ever be totally shocked to receive a call or letter.

The assumption that abortions will increase should the adult adoptee be granted access to her true birth record may be the most difficult assumption to refute, even though statistics show that there is no relation between abortion rates and adult adoptee access.  As Amanda points out in her post, adoptees are punished because we cannot figure out as a society how to address women's health issues.  The civil right of the adult adoptee to know her own personal history must take a back seat to the ongoing debates about abortion and women's reproductive choices.

As an adult adoptee, I personally resent being held hostage to this ongoing debate about women's health concerns.  My rights as a human being should not be compromised because of the social views of a minority of citizens.  Human rights are human rights.  Every human being has a right to her own identity and her own genetic make-up.  In what other area of life do we deny a population equal rights to support an ideological argument?

If adoptees and original parents were truly respected, they would be treated like the adults they are -- capable of managing their own personal affairs without agency or state interference.  The argument over adoptee rights, as Amanda points out, would then take on a totally different framework.

Instead of saying or thinking, "Adoptees are likely to have a dreadful effect on an original parent's life," we would say, "Adult adoptees should have the opportunity to have positive relationships with their original families."

Instead of saying, "We must maintain a system of secrecy and lies so that adoption remains a viable option," we would say, "Adult adoptees can often be an asset to their original families, and the truth may very well allow all parties a sense of closure."

Instead of saying, "A woman must be allowed to remain a lifetime secret to her own child," we would say, "This child and every child is worthy of respect and equal treatment under the law, so it is imperative that we address the unjust social policies now in place."

As an adult adoptee, I respect myself.   But unfortunately, my state's laws don't respect me.

 You might also like:

Adoptee Rights and a Woman's Reproductive Choices

Sealed Records Are Wrong. Period.

Why I Oppose Confidential Intermediaries

Pro-life Ideology and Adoptee Rights

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Adult Adoptees Sharing: Sealed Records are Misguided and Unfair

One theme that emerges again and again in adoptee writing is that the process of adoption is not a one-time event.  Many adoptees have written on-line articles this month in honor of National Adoption Awareness Month to share adoption as it is, not as many agencies, right-to-life groups, and adoption attorneys tell us it should be.  There are post-adoption issues that many adoptees must confront in order to feel emotionally and/or physically healthy, and those issues are compounded by a legal system that still obstructs the adoptee's search for his or her own personal history.

Fortunately, in today's internet-connected world, adoptees can find and collaborate with each other, and many individuals and groups are speaking out about the need for adoption reform.  As an adoptee, I am grateful for internet connections and opportunities, as I have often found it difficult to get serious articles about adoption into the mainstream press, even though I have a writing and public relations background.

As many of us have found, the press is generally interested in sound bites and dramatic reunion stories -- not so interested in adoption history and the discrimination that has evolved as a result, particularly for adopted people and relinquishing mothers.

That's the reason, in my view, that blogging is so popular among adoptees and original mothers who are working for adoption reform.  The internet gives us an outlet for us to share what we have learned and how adoption can be improved as a result.  Of course I'd prefer to place my opinion pieces into the New York Times or the Newark Star Ledger, but on-line, I can produce one piece after another and target them to select audiences, like New Jersey state legislators and adoptive parent groups.

Through the internet, we can contribute something positive even as we're working to find a wider audience for the voices often ignored in adoption articles and discussions, those of adult adoptees and relinquishing mothers.  There is so much wisdom to be gained from the experience of those who have actually lived the life of adoption.

One of the many things that really annoys me about lobbies attempting to maintain the status quo in adoption is how they try to pit one adoptee against another, or adoptees as a group against original mothers.  During legislative hearings, these lobbies often showcase a young adoptee who "is just fine" knowing nothing about her original family.  The implication, of course, is that there is something amiss with those adoptees who are "not fine" knowing nothing, and that sealed records in this day and age are somehow defensible.

The fact is that more than half of all adoptees search, even with obstructive practices like sealed birth records in place.  So obviously, many are not "just fine" with the status quo.  Of course many adoptees have no interest in delving into the past -- my adoptive brother is one of them.  But that fact doesn't alter the basic truth that all adult adoptees are treated differently by law from other citizens -- and that is unacceptable discrimination.

Also, that young adoptee who is "just fine" with knowing nothing today may not be "just fine" with knowing nothing tomorrow, next week, or next year.  I spent all of my formative years trying to convince myself that my adoptee status had nothing whatsoever to do with who I was.  Who wants to be different from everyone else?  As a young adult, I delayed my search because I did not want to upset my adoptive family.

As many adoptees can tell you, life events such as the birth of a child or a serious illness can precipitate a major change in thinking.  In my case, it was a cancer diagnosis that prompted me to act.  In others, it is the birth of a child.  As adoptee Dorothy Sands points out, "As a child, teen and even young adult, a closed adoption system existed.  I did not question the system because it was too big and in the grown-up world."

For Sands, the turning point came when she gave birth to her first child.  "When becoming a parent," she explains, "we enter the world of genetic connectedness" and "we confront adoption in the daily ordinary events."

Today, Sands has found her original family, and she questions the ethics of secrecy in adoption.  The closed adoption system forced her to stuff her emotional baggage "in a dark closet in my mind," she says, and her adoptive parents too were missing "a lot of information that could have helped all of us."

Adoptee Deanna Shrodes, a pastor, writer and public speaker, agrees with Sands' view that adoptee feelings are constantly evolving.  "Once you have your own kids," she says, "it's almost impossible" to ignore the facts about your own adoptee status.

As a young person Shrodes accepted the narrative provided for her -- her original parents were young and unable to care for her, and they made the selfless decision to give her life rather than abort.  Later, Shrodes discovered that she was a "classic baby scoop baby."  The abortion option was not even legal when she was relinquished.  Her looming existence presented a "problem" that had to be solved for the convenience of the mature adults involved.  Her original parents were very young, they had no support and no real choices, and they felt coerced into surrendering.

"My opinions changed about adoption because I got brave for a moment.  And then I got brave for a little bit longer," says Shrodes.  For those who are not adopted, it must be nearly impossible to imagine the bravery that confronting the truth requires.

Most adoptees know that something unpleasant most likely precipitated their relinquishment.  So when they search for their original family, they know that they are opening themselves up for possible disappointment.  In addition, many adoptees fear hurting their adoptive families -- I know I did, because the culture during much of my life was not supportive.

"Loyalty to the adoptive family and hurting people's feelings is one of the biggest reasons adopted people postpone their search," writes adoptee Lynn Grubb.  "Fear is the enemy of all searching and fear of upsetting the adoptive family is very powerful."

Yet many adoptees need to overcome their fear and discover their truth for themselves.  And as adults, they have an absolute right to own their own truth -- why as adults should they be bound any longer to the narratives of others, narratives that were often developed to protect someone else's self-interest, and narratives that in many cases are not even true due to the corruption that a closed system makes possible?

As Shrodes writes, "Maturing means being confident enough to identify real issues and deal with them. To discover my identity and first family whether those in authority wanted me to or not.  To go after my truth and refuse to be denied.  At some point," she adds, "I had to grow up."

You may wonder why so many adult adoptees, who are busy working and raising their families, feel compelled to speak out.  In my own case, I feel that the system of adoption hasn't changed all that much, and I don't want to see another generation of adoptees have to waste time and energy dealing with the same issues we've faced.  Most states in this country continue to seal the adoptees' original birth certificates when legal adoptions are completed, a strange and outdated practice that in my opinion, gets adoption off to a bad start from the get-go.

Yes, the majority of domestic infant adoptions have some degree of openness today, but in most states, those "open" agreements are not legally enforceable.  Adoptees still have to jump through all kinds of hoops to secure the most basic information about themselves.  Many agencies and attorneys continue to sugarcoat adoption issues, and as a result, many adoptive parents remain woefully ignorant about unique adoptee challenges.

As Shrodes writes, "There is so much work to do for adoption to reform and center around the child.  Not the agency.  Not the adoptive parents."

A more ethical adoption system will develop when we as a culture start highlighting, not hiding, the voices of adult adoptees and original mothers who have relinquished.  To their credit, more and more adoptive parents are reading adoptee and first mother blogs in their attempts to better parent their children.  But too many, both in the adoption community and the culture at large, would rather believe the industry's claim that an adoptive family is just like any other, and that the existence of sealed records is necessary for adoption to succeed.

Shrodes has compiled an excellent list of important steps to adoption reform, so I'll share a few of her thoughts here as to what the future practice of adoption should include:

(1)  No secrets.  Period.

(2)  Original birth certificates available to all adoptees -- no exceptions.

(3)  Adoption of infants should be a last resort, not a first response.

(4)  When adoption must take place, it should be centered around the needs of the child, not the adults.

(5)   Post adoption issues are real, and they must be recognized and addressed.

(6)   Confidential intermediaries should not exist.  (This recommendation hits home for me, since I have suffered through the indignity of dealing with an agency intermediary.)  As Shrodes says, "Let flesh and blood talk to one another unhindered, please.  Give them their rightful information and let them be."  (Give these people) "space to do whatever they're going to do with you out of the way."

(7)  "Non-identifying information should not even exist.  Adoptees have a right to know the specific details about where they came from, who they came from, their medical history and anything else that pertains to them personally."

As a mature adoptee, I agree with every one of Shrodes' common-sense suggestions.   They spring from a well of experience, as do the thoughts of the many perceptive adoptees blogging at Lost Daughters and on their own sites.

Adoptee voices are getting louder, and that's a good thing for the future of adoption.  Perhaps someday even state legislators will start listening and come to realize that the lobbies that continue to support sealed records are most concerned about their own self-interest and ideologies.  The health of the people actually affected by adoption is the last thing on their minds.

You might also like:

Personal Opinions Regarding Adoption

Reactions to Searching

Becoming a Parent

Why I Oppose Confidential Intermediaries

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wise Words from the Lost Daughters Adoption Blog

There's a lot of perceptive writing going on this month over at the Lost Daughters adoption blog.  Contributors there and on their own blogs have been responding to daily adoption "prompts" to commemorate National Adoption Awareness Month.

Originally a state-based initiative intended to raise awareness about the needs of foster-care children who need permanent homes, National Adoption Awareness Month has strayed far from its intentions in recent years.

Now it is more often used by adoption agencies to market their services than it is to spotlight the needs of foster-care kids.  Unfortunately, the agencies and adoption attorneys in their eagerness to find babies for perspective adoptive couples often reinforce stereotypes about adoption, and the complexities of adoption and the voices of adoptees themselves are almost always overshadowed.

The writers at Lost Daughters, all grown adoptees, would like to change that dynamic.  They are working hard to put the focus back on the adoptee herself, and they are correcting much of the misinformation about adoption that is often spread during the month of November.

All of the posts are informative and perceptive, but three of them have especially resonated with me:  Deanna Shrodes' "Blogging Adoption and Everyday Life," and the posts by WP and Rebecca Hawkes responding to a prompt about the adoption stories they were told by their adoptive parents as children.

Shrodes is a writer, speaker and pastor who has just recently begun to write about adoption.  As she explains in her article, she remained quiet for years for fear of offending certain members of her family and the conservative religious groups in which she was involved.

But like many adoptees, Shrodes paid a price for her silence.  "I played along with a script given to me," she writes, but "staying quiet about my true feelings ... fostered a 45-year-old emotional wound." She was blind-sided by the grief she came to feel about losing her original family.

Eventually, says Shrodes, she came to realize that "silence was a horrible antidote to pain" and that silence was not an acceptable option for her either "as a human being or as a Christian."  As slow as progress has been in the adoption reform movement, I am encouraged about the future of adoption every time another voice like Deanna's joins the growing adoptee chorus.  These voices simply cannot be ignored forever.

Now a passionate supporter of adult adoptee rights, Shrodes has come to realize that Christianity in its more fundamental forms is "unfortunately one of the biggest if not the biggest obstacles to equal rights for adoptees."  Like many of us, Shrodes is working to correct the stereotype that abortion rates are adversely affected by more transparency in adoption.  As she explains, "I am pro-life.  I'm just not pro-secrets."

The corrosive power of lifetime secrets in adoption is a common theme among adoptee voices.  So is the concept of "playing along with the script given to us."  As WP explains in her article responding to a prompt about childhood adoption narratives, "To a large extent, my adoption was presented (to me) within the framework of my parents' desires."  Like WP, many of us were told, as agencies advised, that "your parents were unable to provide a stable home for you" and that "we wanted you very badly."
We were expected by the powers-that-be to be content with such limited information.

As WP so eloquently says, "I'm angry that those in charge thought I should be given so very little" when the real point should be: "It's a hard story, but it's your story and you have a right to know it."

This thought is echoed in Rebecca Hawkes' post about the stories our adoptive parents told us.  "My childhood adoption narrative wasn't so much false," she writes, "as it was incomplete."  Her adoptive parents were (and are) loving and conscientious people, she says, and they believed, because they were told it was so, that she would grow up feeling "as if born to" her adoptive family.

Hawkes, like many of us grown adoptees, had been told very little about her original parents.  They were young and unable to care for her, and she should always understand how very much "she was wanted" and loved by her adoptive parents.

Hawkes' story is very much like my own.  I grew up knowing virtually nothing about my original parents, and it was just assumed that I would have no need for such information.  My parents did just what the agency told them to do -- they provided a loving, stable environment, and the idea was that the original parents just shouldn't matter.

The problem is that they did matter to me, even though I loved my adoptive parents deeply.  My original parents are, after all, a part of me.  For many years, I drove my feelings underground in order to meet cultural expectations and to spare the feelings of my adoptive family, but eventually I felt what I would call a spiritual need to connect with my original mother.  Mine was not a Norman-Rockwell type of reunion.  But it was an exchange that did provide me with a much-needed emotional closure.

As Hawkes so wisely writes in her recent post, "My true adoption narrative was one I needed to write myself."  And that's the point.  All adoptees as adults should have the freedom to come to terms with their own adoption narratives.  No one else should be writing the script for them about their own lives and histories.  Certainly no state or agency should ever be in the business of locking away for life the adoptee's own legal certificate of birth.

What is truly disheartening today is that many agencies and adoption attorneys continue to act as if original parents just shouldn't matter, and as if equal rights for adult adoptees just aren't important.  Such sentiments may be what perspective adoptive parents want to hear, but they are not shared by most adult adoptees.

Secrecy and lies corrode the soul.  Hosts of adoptees and original parents can attest to that truth.  We can only hope that sites like Lost Daughters will continue to attract more and more readers, and that writers like Deanna Shrodes will continue to challenge the conservative church's misguided approach to the practice of adoption.

You might also like:

Maybe "Angry Adoptees" Are Just Well Informed

Adoption and Magical Thinking

Shading the Truth to Ease the Fears of Adoptive Parents

Adoptive Parents and Pro-lifers who Cannot or Will Not See the Realities of Adoption

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What drives the myth of confidentiality in adoption?

In early October, I wrote a blog post detailing how NJ Governor Chris Christie managed to thwart an adoptee rights bill that had been approved by both the State Assembly and the Senate.  In response, a commenter who calls herself MamaGina wrote the following:

woman gives birth
adoption is chosen
pain ensues
the deal is made
privacy promised
records are sealed
life goes on
years roll by
baby becomes adult
enter adoption reform
privacy be damned
do I have this right?

The viewpoint expressed here is one we hear often among adoptee rights opponents.  What amazes me is that MamaGina apparently chose to overlook and/or dismiss some of the most pertinent facts shared within the post.  For example, I shared the Oregon statistics,  which show that fewer than a quarter of one percent of birth mothers have filed "no contact" preferences since an adoptee rights bill enabling adopted adults to secure their own original birth certificates was enacted in 2000.  Would this statistic not indicate that the vast majority of original parents do not live in mortal fear that their offspring might someday find them?

And even more astounding is that the NJ legislation that Gov. Christie opposed provided a one-year window during which those few birth mothers who may not wish to be found could remove their names from the birth document.  This compromise was one that many in the adoption reform movement were unable to support, and I can't blame them.  Legal decisions have determined that no birth parent has ever had a legal right to anonymity from her own child, and I believe that every adopted person has a right to know his or her own birth information with no exceptions.  The fact that opponents to adoptee rights would oppose a bill with such a concession shows me that they are not reasonable people; they are "true believers" who are unable to accept any fact that contradicts their predetermined world view.

Most readers here know that adult adoptee access is not a new and untested concept.  England opened its birth records to adult adoptees in 1975!  The states of Alaska and Kansas never sealed adoptees' birth records.  Alabama reinstated access in 2000, having only sealed records from adoptees in 1991.  New Hampshire's access law took effect in 2005, Maine's in 2009, and Rhode Island's just this year.  Data collected from all these states is reinforcing the findings from Oregon:  most original parents do not desire anonymity, athough they understandably may wish for privacy.  There is a distinct difference between the two concepts.

The myth of birth parent anonymity is just that, a myth.  It is estimated that up to 40 percent of adoption decrees contain some information about the original family.  For example, both my and my brother's adoption papers contain our original birth names.  As those who are familiar with adoption history know, records were sealed to protect the adoptive family from "unwarranted intrusion" and the adopted child from the "shame of illegitimacy."  They were never sealed for the protection of the birth parents.  Similarly, many credible research studies show that adoptee rights bills do not increase abortion rates, nor do they decrease adoption rates.  Yet the opposition continues to insist or imply that they do.  It is this willful ignorance of the facts that is so infuriating.

Here is my reply to MamaGina's comment:


Your viewpoint is based on false assumptions. The first false assumption is that privacy was promised. Several legal decisions have determined that birth parents were never promised privacy -- records were sealed in the mid-twentieth century to protect the interest of adoptive parents. If you're interested in the history of sealed records, I suggest you read the work of law professor Elizabeth Samuels. The second false assumption is that birth parents want anonymity from their own offspring. The data from states that have allowed adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates clearly shows that a tiny minority of birth parents say that they wish to have no contact with their surrendered children, now adults. In Oregon, where adult adoptees have had access to their original birth certificates since 2000, fewer than 1 percent of birth mothers have said they prefer to have no contact, and over 10,000 adoptees have received their birth records. Many, many birth mothers have come forward to say they were never promised anonymity -- rather, it was forced upon them. When birth mothers prefer to have no contact, they can simply say no, just like any other adult. My birth mother, for example, preferred to have no continuing contact, and of course I have honored her request. We did have a letter and phone exchange, however, that provided a great deal of closure for both of us. I think you are confusing privacy and anonymity. Obviously, I have a vested interest in knowing something about my birth parents, because they are part of me. My birth mother and I share a private past, and that past is nobody's business except for our own. Many myths about adoption have been propagated by agencies and attorneys who in their own financial self-interest work primarily to assuage the fears of adoptive parents. They are unfortunately less interested in the welfare of the relinquished child or, for that matter, the welfare of the surrendering parents.

Another adoptee, Renee, gives us this perspective:

"When I found my mother (a very positive, happy reunion), I asked her why she had never looked for me. She answered that the agency had made her promise she wouldn't, and she'd always felt that she had to keep her word. I answered, "Well, it's a good thing I never promised jack-sh*t to anyone, isn't it?!?"

No one's ever been able to produce a document showing any relinquishing mother was promised privacy. Ever. Not one. Because they weren't. It may have been implied to some, but it was never promised, certainly not in any binding way.

Records were sealed to assuage adopter insecurity and for no other reason."

And finally, I'll share this response from Gaye Tannenbaum:

"Based on several DOZEN women I know (including my mother), it actually goes more like this:

woman gives birth
has few options
is told adoption is better for baby
pain ensues - goodbyes are said
is warned not to search
your child is dead to you
she belongs to someone else now
baby is given a new identity
records are sealed
life goes on but memories linger
years roll by
baby becomes adult
I must be patient
will she search for me?
despite people telling her it's wrong to search for me?
despite few clues and doors slammed in her face?
found - reunited - happy tears flow
does the government have the right to keep us apart?
do you have the right to keep us apart?"

Original parents commented too.  Priscilla Sharp asserts that original parents have "the same rights accorded to every other citizen of the United States; that is, to hang up the phone, shut the door, write back and say, 'Please leave me alone.'"  What they do not have, she says, since they have imprinted the child with their own genetic material, "is the right to perpetual anonymity."

A human being has the right to his or her own basic identity.  That fact should not be controversial.  In the realm of adoption, as in all other areas of life, it is time for the government to back off and allow adults to navigate their private business on their own.

For more information, please see:

The Strange History of Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Records

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Adoption Reform and Political Games

Long-time member of the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJCARE) Carol Barbieri recently wrote a powerful op-ed piece for the Newark Star Ledger entitled "Christie's 'compromise' on Adoptees' birthright bill unfair."  I encourage you to read the article and the many comments that follow.  The comments commending the piece are balanced and factual, and they often explain the history of adoption and the discriminatory nature of current adoption law.  The few comments disparaging the article are emotional and dramatic, and no facts are ever presented as supporting evidence.

Welcome to the world of adoption reform in New Jersey!  The comments written in response to Barbieri's op-ed closely mirror deliberations as they occur during public meetings.  Members of the adoption reform community appear with indisputable facts that have been gathered from states that have enacted adoptee rights bills allowing fully-grown adopted people to apply for and secure their original birth certificates just like any other citizen.

The statistics show that (1) abortion rates do not go up in states that have enacted adoptee rights bills, nor do adoption rates go down; (2) birth mothers do not live in dire fear that their offspring might someday find them -- in fact in Oregon, where adult adoptees have had access to their original birth certificates since the year 2000, fewer than a quarter of one percent of birth mothers have filed "no contact" preferences; (3) for those few birth parents who may not want to be found, the bill Gov. Christie rejected provided a one-year window during which those birth mothers could remove their names from the birth document.

This last compromise on the part of adoption reform advocates is particularly difficult for many of us in the adoption community to support.  Birth mothers have never had an absolute or constitutional guarantee to anonymity from their own offspring, and we are loathe to provide them with a legal provision that they have never had.  We believe that every adopted person has a right to know his or her own birth information, and that no adopted person should ever be left behind.  The only reason we reluctantly agreed to this provision is that we felt it would finally -- after more than 30 years of lobbying -- get us to the place we need to be.  After one year, the provision would disappear forever, and every adoptee going forward would have the same rights as every other American citizen to secure his or her own birth document.

Now reasonable people can disagree over whether such a provision should ever be made in the interest of moving the adoption reform movement forward.  Other states have successfully passed "clean" bills (Oregon, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island), and it sickens me that some adoptees will be hurt by a concession to the fears of some legislators.  Many more adoptees will be helped, however, and after that first year, the culture of adoption will thankfully begin to change.  But we realize this compromise is unacceptable to many and hurtful to some, and after making such a huge and difficult concession, we are deeply offended by some of Gov. Christie's remarks, such as "Adoptees want everything" and "Some adoptees won't compromise."

But back to the comments section in response to Barbieri's op-ed piece.  Read through what some of the opponents to adoptee rights have to say.  In most cases, they are repeating myths, the same myths that opponents to adoptee rights bills propagate during every legislative cycle.

The lobbies that have consistently opposed adoptee rights bills include the New Jersey Catholic Conference of Bishops, New Jersey Right to Life, the New Jersey Bar Association, the National Council for Adoption, and NJ-ACLU.  The myths that they put forth in direct opposition to collected facts are (1) Adoptee rights bills will increase abortion rates and decrease adoption rates; (2) Adoptee rights bills will violate a birth mother's right to privacy  (Remember the Oregon statistics?  They are supported by data from every other state that has enacted an adoptee rights bill.); (3) Adoptee rights bills may have "a chilling effect on adoption."

Instead of alluding to any established fact, Gov. Christie once again repeats the opposition's myths in the language of his "conditional" veto.  He claims, in direct opposition to studies showing that most birth mothers neither asked for nor desired lifetime anonymity from their surrendered child, that "for many birth parents, the protections of anonymity are a significant consideration when choosing adoption."  This statement is patently false -- most birth mothers today insist on some degree of openness, although such agreements are not legally enforceable, and birth mothers of the past simply had no choice.  Anonymity was forced on them; they did not choose it.

Gov. Christie also claims in his veto that "I also strongly empathize with the adopted child, and adoptive parents, who may long to know the identity of the birth parents."  Huh?  The bill that Gov. Christie rejected had nothing to do with adopted children -- it was concerned only with the rights of adopted adults.  One begins to wonder at this point whether the governor even read the bill.  Finally, Gov. Christie says he cannot support the adoptee rights bill as approved by the Assembly and Senate because it may have a "potential chilling effect on adoption."  Now where have we seen that language before?

Instead of simply restoring the right of adult adoptees to know the truth about their own lives, a right that they once enjoyed, Gov. Christie proposed that we create a massive bureaucracy that would require  adult adoptees to employ a state-approved "confidential intermediary" to locate birth parents and secure their approval for any level of contact.  So now Gov. Christie, the spokesman for less government, wants to micro-manage any potential relationship that might occur between two fully-grown adults, even though the vast majority of adults involved do not wish to be yoked to such an intrusive, expensive and ultimately unworkable system.

Here is what Gov. Christie actually did in his "conditional" veto:  He simply resurrected a bill that had been introduced by Assemblywoman Joan Quigley as a last minute "alternative" to the bill that was about to be approved by the Legislature after months of deliberations.  Quigley had refused to meet with adoption reform advocates, and her bill was a direct response to the concerns (acutally "myths") expressed by the powerful Catholic lobbies and the New Jersey Bar Association.

Quigley's alternative reflected the demand of the lobbies that the only acceptable path for adult adoptees to access a copy of their own birth certificate was a confidential intermediary system, a program that is demeaning and disempowering for adult adoptees, who are simply asking for the freedom to manage their own lives.

In his "conditional" veto, Gov. Christie deleted nearly every word of the bill that had been approved 27-10 in the Senate, and 44-26 in the Assembly, and inserted in its place the Quigley bill, which never received any public input at all.  For those who think Christie's action was any kind of compromise, please note that adoption reform advocates were heartbroken, while long-time adoption reform opponents were elated.  A fair compromise?  I don't think so.  And people wonder why we in New Jersey tend to be cynical about politics.

Here are the facts: Adult adoptee access is not a new and untested concept.   England opened its records to adult adoptees in 1975.  The states of Kansas and Alaska never sealed adoptees' birth records.  Alabama reinstated access in 2000, having only sealed records from adoptees in 1991.  Oregon approved an access law in 1998, which took effect in June of 2000.  New Hampshire's access law took effect in 2005 and Maine's in 2009.  Rhode Island's governor signed an access bill into law last summer.

Here's what the collected data tells us:  By 2011 in Oregon, 10,410 adoptees had applied for and received their OBCs.  Eighty-five birth parents requested no contact during that time period, and not one complaint was issued about an adoptee approaching a birth parent against his or her will.  In New Hampshire, 1,315 adoptees received their OBCs from 2005 through 2011, while just 12 birth parents requested no contact.  In the two years after Maine enacted its bill, 848 adoptees received their OBCs, and eight birth parents requested no contact.

By every standard, these "clean" adoptee rights bills are working well.  And yet Gov. Christie has the nerve to continue saying that "adoptees want everything" and "adoptees won't compromise."  New Jersey Assembly and Senate members are to be commended for considering the facts and voting accordingly.  Gov. Christie should be questioned and criticized for his hypocrisy and inconsistency on this issue.  His "conditional" veto was a cynical political maneuver that completely ignored the facts even as it elevated the "myths" that adoption reform opponents continue to spread in their efforts to maintain the status quo.

You might also like:

Gov. Chris Christie, Adoptee Rights and Political Games

Why do State Bar Associations Oppose Adoptee Rights?

ACLU-NJ Misses the Mark on Adoption

Why I Oppose Confidential Intermediaries

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Adoptive Parents and Pro-lifers who Cannot or Will Not See the Realities of Adoption

I give my adoptive parents a free pass for not better understanding the complexities of adoption.  I am 62 years old, and my parents adopted during an era when social workers actually believed the adoptive family was just like any other.  Infants were viewed as "blank slates," and there was little knowledge or understanding then about an adopted child's need to know anything about his or her birth family and origins.

I give myself a free pass for not pushing the issue harder with my adoptive parents.  I loved them, and I could tell they felt threatened by my desire to know my birth history.  Also, as a child and young adult, I didn't have the confidence or the social resources and support that I have now.

I give my original mother a free pass for not wishing to meet with me face-to-face.  Her decision hurt me, but she relinquished during a different time that presented different challenges, and I can understand how she might have used denial as a tool to cope with her experience.

Today, during these times, I'm no longer distributing free passes when it comes to ignorance about adoption.  We have the data and research to support the fact that secrecy does not serve the best interest of the child.  Think tanks like the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute have published numerous research studies recommending that every state allow adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates, and showing that there is no link between the rates of abortion and more openness in adoption.

However, ignorance about adoption is still widespread, and in many cases, it is fueled by agencies and attorneys who facilitate adoptions, and the lobbying groups that represent them, such as the National Council for Adoption and state bar associations.  Right to Life groups likewise promote ignorance about the complexities of adoption when they present it as a simple win-win solution to the abortion problem.

Should adoption exist as an institution whose primary mission is to serve adults?  Or should it exist as an institution whose primary mission is to serve children?  When those who facilitate adoptions infer that a child's birth history is irrelevant and unimportant, they are clearly defining their message to serve the adults, not the children involved.  And as a result, we get thinking like that of the adoptive mother whose comments were recently cited at the iAdoptee blog site.  Here is what this adoptive mother had to say:

"Honestly, I want NO attachment to the family of origin.  None.  I want to adopt children who are ready to move on."

"If a child has delusions of being reunited (with) a parent from whom she was severed legally, that child does not need me.  They need therapy ..."

"To create a fantasy world for a perspective child, or to accommodate a teenager who has given birth out of wedlock is wrong and counter productive."

And finally -- ..."The US social service system is why people such as myself go abroad."

First of all, I grieve for the Korean child placed with this family.  What chance will she have to develop a positive self-image when her very beginnings are so devalued?  She will never feel free to explore her roots in a family that clearly feels her roots are none of her business.  Worse, she is likely to feel that there is something very wrong about her roots.  And talking about creating a fantasy world, isn't it a fantasy to expect that a child, for the entire duration of her life, will accept the fact that she has only one set of parents when in fact she has two sets?  We know from social science research that such attitudes are in fact harmful to adopted children.  So how on earth was this family ever approved as an appropriate placement?

This kind of ignorance is beyond discouraging, as is the mindset of many members of pro-life organizations.  Last month, I commented on a Huffington Post adoption story and received a response from a pro-lifer that led to a rather depressing exchange.  I'll reprint it for you here:

Adam, please keep writing about the media's portrayal of adoption, and please keep advocating for the right of adult adoptees to secure their own legal documents of birth with no strings attached. We have a long way to go, especially in the legislative arena, and the institution of adoption continues to be tainted by the fact that adult adoptees are still treated like second-class citizens in most of the US.
03:31 PM on 09/14/2012
As an adult adoptee myself, how on earth are adult adoptees being treated like second class citizens? What about the birth parents' right to privacy? Is that unimportant?
11:52 AM on 09/17/2012
Would you not agree that our genes are part of who we are? In my own case, I was denied access to a medical protocol as a cancer patient because I had no ready access to my family health history. Is that not second-class treatment? I eventually found and contacted my birth mother, and she shared medical and family history with me, although she did not wish to have a continuing relationship. I have respected her wishes and her privacy. I think you are confusing privacy and anonymity from your own offspring. A woman's wish to keep secrets should never trump the physical and emotional well-being of the child, now grown-up. Also, statistics from states that have re-instated adult adoptee access to original birth certificates show that very few birth parents elect to have no contact at all. I believe your fears are unfounded.
12:05 PM on 09/17/2012
"A woman's wish to keep secrets should never trump the physical and emotional well-being of the child, now grown-up"

OK, and look how many woman are now aborting rather than giving their babies for adoption due to very real fears about their anonymity.  Anytime a woman is willing to give birth and place that baby for adoption rather than aborting, I think we can and should promise her whatever she wants.  I personally know women who have aborted rather than given birth because of stuff like this.  I think your views are quite selfish.
22 hours ago ( 2:35 PM)
Please take a look at the article at It presents a lot of research that should put your mind at ease. I encourage you to read it with an open mind. I'm not interested in continuing this argument with you personally, but I do encourage you to look at the available studies. My contact with my original mother has hurt nobody, and frankly, whether or not we choose to have a relationship when we are both adults is none of your business.
22 minutes ago (11:45 AM)
Agree to disagree.

Well, at least we ended the exchange in a civil manner, agreeing to disagree!  But honestly, getting some pro-lifers to believe that allowing adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates will not increase the rate of abortions is like trying to move a mountain.  The choice is not as easy as adoption on the one hand, or abortion on the other, and some in the pro-life community recognize that fact.  Referring to a then-recent study, President of LifeNet Services Paul Swope wrote in 1998:  "A pressure to end a pregnancy with an adoption does not save a child from abortion, but may in fact, be a determining factor in a woman choosing to terminate the pregnancy. ... A woman desperately wants a sense of resolution to her crisis, and in her mind adoption leaves the situation the most unresolved ... This study suggests that in pitting adoption against abortion, adoption will be the hands-down loser."

As I've said before, if the pro-life movement is serious about promoting adoption, then it should join the nationwide movement to reform adoption so that it better serves the needs of all the people it touches.  And better serving the needs of the people involved means putting the child's interests first and facing up to the fact that adoption involves losses and complexities that must be addressed.

You might also like:

Adoptee Rights and a Woman's Reproductive Choices

Why do State Bar Associations Oppose Adoptee Rights?

Pro-life Ideology and Adoptee Rights

Gov. Chris Christie, Adoptee Rights, and Political Games