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Monday, August 14, 2017

When There's Not a Hallmark Ending ... Why OBC Access Still Matters

Another post by Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away from malignant melanoma in April of 2014, eight months after finding her biological sisters. Her original mother passed away in October of 2013. We still do not have her original birth certificate, and I'm not sure that we ever will. The Children's Home Society of New Jersey (in Trenton) from which she was adopted in 1950 will not release her file to us, and our request to the State of New Jersey for her OBC resulted in a letter stating that she was most likely "not adopted from New Jersey" (no file found). The OBC would not tell us anything we do not already know, of course, but it is something Susan fought for the right to have, so if it is out there, we would like it. 

Me, my family, and my dad. Together my dad and I keep this blog going. 
Last week my dad called me to let me know there was a new comment on this blog. Since the blog is still registered under his and my mom's e-mail, which he hasn't changed, he receives all notifications. The comment was on an entry from February of 2015, written by me, about adoption lawyers who oppose adoptee rights. It was based on my discovery of an adoption guidebook from 1988 co-written by an adoptive parent and New York adoption lawyer Stanley Michelman. Michelman died in 2009, according to a New York Times obituary. The obituary is the first entry that results from a Google search of his name. The second entry is a 1977 article about him being charged for arranging for the illegal adoption of four infants (also from the New York Times). I knew little about Michelman when I wrote my blog post in 2015 -- only that his book had astounded and shocked me. One of the comments on the original post, in particular, saddened me deeply:

I am searching for my child that was given up for adoption in 1975. I was lead to believe that the adoption records would be opened at some point in time. Little did I know that Stanley Michelman was representing both myself and the parents that were adopting. I feel for people who can not have children and want to adopt, but is it right to deceive the birth parents?

That comment was from January of 2016, and there were no new comments until my dad called me last week to tell me about this one (from "Anonymous"):

We adopted 2 children through Stanley Michelman in the '80s by private adoption. Our experience and that of the birth mothers was fantastic. We supported both birth mothers throughout their pregnancies. When my older son had questions, the office facilitated contact with the birth mother to see if she was open to contact. She was and we had a relationship for several years until my son was no longer interested. Our younger son's birth mother contacted our lawyer in Texas to initiate contact. It was a disaster. She used him to fill her emotional void and treated him terribly. 
I totallly support a registry where adoptees and birth mothers can sign up to find each other. I don't support an adoptee's or birth mother's right to have private adoptions unsealed. Both are entitled to their privacy. Not all reunions are Hallmark Classics as portrayed on tv. No one has the right to turn someone's life upside down because they feel like they are entitled. 

My dad and I spoke about how this adoptive parent missed the point of legislation allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificates. No one has a right to a relationship, of course, but all of us should have a right to know who we are. But it goes deeper than that. My dad and I talked about how my mom had most likely written something on this very issue, and so I went back and read. I found the response right there on my mom's first post:

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 .... 

... 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.

The anonymous adoptive parent commenting last week said that not all reunions are "Hallmark Classics as portrayed on tv." I know that. My mom's original mother never wanted to meet her and told her to "not cause trouble" because no one knew about her. This was, of course, deeply painful. The only reason my mother met her sisters at all was because she was dying, and I decided that I was going to risk "turning someone's life upside down" by sending a letter my mom had written several years prior but had never sent (to her older sister, who didn't know about her). My mom did not fight for adoptees' rights because she felt everyone was entitled to a Hallmark Classic. She fought for them because it was what is morally right. Registries don't work and hide egregious abuses. Access to original birth certificates for adoptees is just one small step towards a more just system, but it is a step, and I support that. I wish more adoption lawyers and adoptive parents* would too.

**NB: I know MANY wonderful adoptive parents who DO support full rights for their adopted children, but I make this comment because I know there are some that don't, including this anonymous commenter on the blog.


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