Adoption & Original Birth Certificates

Not too long ago, a friend responded to a post I shared on Face Book regarding an adoptee’s right to his/her original birth certificate. This friend cited problems with sharing confidential information, including:

• Birth mother was guaranteed sealed records

• If not sealed forever, she may have had an abortion

• Birth mother has no desire to have contact

• Fear of discovery by subsequent children, husband, extended family • Other avenues exist for a birth mother to contact the child she placed for adoption

• Re-traumatization

Numerous myths and misconceptions persist. Those who do not work in the field of adoption or whose families do not include an adopted child, it is difficult to understand the complexities of being adopted; it is difficult to grasp the complexities of being part of the adoption triad.

Today, agencies in New York State are able to provide adult adoptees with non-identifying information limited to genetic information (birth parents' height, weight, eye and hair color), relationship history (if known/recorded), interests, education and medical information at the time of the baby's birth. This information is but a piece of the puzzle. A birth mother's health information at the time of placement is usually of little value to the adopted person 20, 30, 50 years later and health information is rarely updated through the years. Secrecy and confidentiality were never guaranteed; certainly implied given the social mores of the day, but there was never a legal document guarantying lifelong secrecy. For those women seeking information on a child they placed for adoption, there are no avenues for birth parents to reach out to the child (adult) they placed - birth parents are only entitled to their own medical information, not their child's. Surely, there are women who placed babies in secrecy and shame. Some truly do want to remain secluded and secret. I've talked with them myself. However, in 25 years work in adoption, the vast majority of women I've spoken with who placed babies do want to know how their child has fared - is he/she still alive? happy? angry or ashamed in regard to the adoption or birth mother? These women have a strong longing and desire to know, sometimes to have a relationship, sometimes just to feel the comfort that their choice did not harm their child.

The adopted person is so often at a loss as to understanding his/her own history, life story, and beginnings. Very few, in my experience, are seeking to replace their adoptive families; rather they have an innate, human need and desire to connect with their roots. I understood that feeling more fully when I traveled to Italy last summer and visited the home town of my paternal grandparents. It was quite powerful to be in the place where my roots began.

Adoptees are the only citizens in the US who are not allowed to have their original birth certificates; this is a civil rights issue. Additionally, having access does not mean automatic contact or relationship. Relationships cannot (should not, in my opinion) be legislated. The legislative bill that Hillside supports includes a contact preference clause: a birth parent can say they do not want their child (adult) to receive the original birth certificate with identifying information (mother’s name). This is protection for women whose lives would truly be devastated by that contact.

Regarding the question of abortion rates - in states where legislation has passed giving adoptees access to their original birth certificates (OBC), there is simply no statistical (or anecdotal) correlation between abortion and access to OBC. For one thing, we are talking about children (adults) who are already born! And adoption practice today is open for the most part and considered best practice. Secrecy for adoptions occurring today is by and large a non-issue. Women are choosing adoption because of this openness - they are choosing control and choice, and it is proving to be good for all involved. It is not co-parenting and it is not confusing (except to those not involved in adoption!).

I sincerely appreciate that a friend took the time to express concerns and ask to be educated. With knowledge comes freedom and growth. Some may still disagree, but I hope to impart a better understanding of the issue. My friends at the Donaldson Institute for Adoption created a fabulous paper on the subject: