Congratulations Ohio Adoptees!

In just five days on March 20, the estimated 400,000 people adopted in Ohio between 1964 and 1996 will be able to request and obtain their original birth certificates, and I am even more thrilled now than I was at the end of 2013, when legislation was finally passed to restore this right to us.

I am one of the people who fall into this category of Ohio adoptees, whose right to their real, factual birth certificate was revoked through legislation authored in large part by adoptive parents back in the mid-1960s. You can learn more about how this happened and the long effort to reverse this misguided law here and here.

Personally, I have been luckier than most of my fellow Ohio adoptees because I was able to identify and reunite with my biological parents without having my original birth certificate (OBC), and I was also able to obtain my OBC with the assistance of my birth mother. Even though I already knew my birth name, the names of my birth parents, and the circumstances surrounding my conception, birth, and relinquishment, it was vital to me to see and hold that one piece of paper that documents my entry into this world. Finally, I felt real–created and birthed in the same way that all the non-adopted people I knew were. Continue reading “Congratulations Ohio Adoptees!”

Search, Research, Self, Connection

ROAR2013I used to think of myself as unique in a not-so-good way. I thought of myself as different from everyone else because of not being physically related to anyone. Of course, there were people out there who shared my DNA, I just didn’t know any of them. I saw myself as an anomaly that probably no one could understand.

Over many years of searching, reuniting, and processing the aftermath, I’ve done a lot of research on adoption. Of course, I didn’t think of it as research at the time. I only wanted to satisfy my curiosity, find answers to my many questions.

Along the way, I learned that I wasn’t unique the way I’d previously thought. I wasn’t alone in my condition. Actually, the exact opposite was true–I discovered I was of the Baby Scoop Era, a period of nearly thirty years when 4,000,000 or so babies were relinquished to adoption. I also found out that for no other reason than the year in which I was adopted, I was not entitled to see my own original birth certificate in Ohio.

Current law says that we who were adopted between 1964 and 1996 cannot see our birth records, but those adopted outside of this period can. Of course, I wanted to know why this was the case, so I searched some more and found that adoptee birth certificates were sealed in 1964. Before then, they had been accessible. And in 1996, they were opened again, but not retroactively.

A man named Brad Norris, an attorney from my hometown of Cleveland, had drafted the bill that eventually sealed my original birth certificate. Ironically, Brad was the father of Betsie Norris, who founded Adoption Network Cleveland, the organization that helped me find my own birth mother.

No, I was not unique. Betsie herself was adopted as an infant and went through a similar search to find her birth parents. She looked for the answers to her questions, and decided her calling was to advocate for adoptees and adoption reform.

Last spring, I chose the story of Betsie Norris, her adoptive father, Brad, and their relationship to Ohio’s law concerning adoptee birth certificates as the topic of a biography project for one of my graduate writing classes. A short version of that piece can be read on Lost Daughters. Talking with Betsie about her story has had a profound impact on my life: I see myself now not merely as one unique individual adoptee, but as a member of an entire community of people who must somehow navigate between two families, and sometimes even between two cultures or two countries. When I write about adoption now, I no longer write only for myself, but for the many others like me as well. My identity as an adoptee is not all of me, but at the same time, it is a part of everything I do.

Now Betsie is leading the fight to open records for those of us from Ohio who were adopted between 1964 and 1996. I’m doing what I can to support the passage of House Bill 61 and Senate Bill 23, although it never feels like enough. It’s hard to be out of state at a time like this when I’d like to do more. I am indebted to Betsie and all the others like her who have given so much of their time and energy to fight for my rights.

What’s Going On – March, 2013

These first three months of 2013 have just whizzed by for me.

Priority number one has been finishing my Capstone thesis, which I’m thrilled to say has been signed off on by both of my advisors. Only the oral defense remains. I’m set to graduate with a Master of Arts in Professional Writing on May 15. Now I’ll be turning my attention to submitting individual pieces from my thesis for publication, as well as preparing the full manuscript.

This Saturday, I’ll be reading three poems from my thesis for the Johns Creek Poetry Group. The poems express various aspects of adoptee experience. This group is a local chapter of the Georgia Poetry Society, which publishes an annual anthology of members’ poems for which I’ve recently agreed to serve as assistant editor.

The second issue of Flycatcher went live on January 31, and received a nice write up from New Pages. I had the pleasure of reviewing Ada Limón’s poetry collection, Sharks in the Rivers, for this issue. We are also celebrating the inclusion of three pieces from our first issue in the 2012 Best of the Net Anthology.

Over the next couple of months, I’ll be co-editing an anthology of essays by the contributors of Lost Daughters, which will be released by CQT Media and Publishing in conjunction with the APRC Conference in November.

In April, I’ll be attending the American Adoption Congress International Adoption Conference in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. The push is on in Ohio to pass legislation that would grant all adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates, and I’m proud to be supporting this cause.

It’s good to be busy!

Adoptee Rights Demonstration Today in Chicago

Adoptee Rights CoalitionThe Adoptee Rights Coalition has organized a demonstration to take place today during the National Conference of State Legislators in Chicago. Specifically, they will be trying to open the legislators’ eyes to the plight of adult adoptees in forty-four states who are not allowed to have a copy of their own original birth certificates.

What is an “original birth certificate?”

Many people who are not intimately affected by adoption do not realize that adopted people have two different birth certificates. Whenever a child is born, a birth certificate is issued to legally record that birth. We all know that, right? At minimum, the birth certificate lists the baby’s name and the name of the child’s mother.

If that baby is later adopted, a new birth certificate is issued which lists the child’s adoptive name, and his adoptive parents’ names as mother and father. The original birth certificate–the one that lists who actually gave birth to the child–is then sealed in a file controlled by the state. In the vast majority of cases, the adopted person cannot legally obtain a copy of his real birth certificate, not even as an adult, not even if he’s dying and his biological relatives might be able to save his life.

Why is this the case?

Groups who oppose allowing adoptees to have their own birth certificates will tell you it’s because birth mothers were promised secrecy and privacy. They’ll tell you that if young, at-risk mothers think their relinquished kids might come looking for them one day, they’ll likely not have their babies at all but abort them instead.

I can’t possibly list here all the reasons these statements are false, but I can tell you that the reading and research I’ve done myself has convinced me they are false. Not only were most birth mothers never promised secrecy, they don’t even want it. Many birth mothers never really even wanted to relinquish their babies in the first place, but were coerced into doing so.

The real reason, in my opinion, for the sealing of original birth certificates was to protect the adoptive family, because adoptive parents, especially back in the day when these laws were created, were very afraid that birth families might come forward after the adoption and try to take their children back. Adoption agencies wanted prospective adoptive parents to feel secure with the process of adoption, because, let’s face it, a lot of cash changes hands when children are adopted. The best way to make adoptive parents feel secure was to guarantee that birth families would never be able to track down their relinquished children. Thus, original birth certificates are legally sealed and altered birth certificates showing the adoptive parents as the legal parents are issued.

What the writers of these laws never considered was that the adopted babies would grow into adopted adults who don’t appreciate having their true identities forever under lock and key.

Why are original birth certificates so important to adoptees?

This issue is important to me because knowing my true family identity is important to me. As a child, I was acutely aware of the differences between me and my adoptive parents. We looked different. We were interested in different activities. We reacted differently to situations. We processed information differently.

In doctor’s offices, I had to write “N/A” on the lines for family medical history, then explain that I was adopted. The first picture of me is as a three-month-old; what happened in my life before that time is a black hole. I felt no connection to my adoptive parents’ family trees; I could not join the conversation of who looked like which cousin or who acted like grandma.

I saw the first person who looked like me when I had my first child at the age of thirty-three. And I realized that he would have the same black hole of missing information about his ancestry and family medical history that I had.

I was lucky to be able to locate my birth mother without having my original birth certificate, because I had some pretty detailed non-identifying information from the agency that handled my adoption (every adoptee is legally entitled to this) and a key piece of identifying information my adoptive parents were accidentally given when they adopted me.  Many adoptees are not as lucky as I was and are not able to figure out who their biological families are without their original birth certificates.

Even after I reunited with my birth mother, I still wanted a copy of my original birth certificate. I wanted that written proof. I wanted to feel like a whole person, like I was really born from another human being just like everyone else rather than picked from a lineup of cribs, which is how I had always pictured my adoption. And my birth mother wanted it too, to prove she wasn’t crazy, that she really did have a baby, that it all wasn’t just some nightmare she had imagined. Together we petitioned the Ohio probate court, and I now have my original birth certificate. But I couldn’t have gotten it without her consent. And she hadn’t even known she could file her consent until I made her aware of that fact.

So, if you have yours, what’s the big deal now?

Before I went through my own birth family reunion, I didn’t understand how big this issue was. I had no idea how many other people like me are out there struggling to come to terms with their own identities, held back by these antiquated laws that serve no one’s best interest. I didn’t know that even though we hear the term “open adoption” a lot today, altered birth certificates are still being issued, and open adoptions often don’t remain open very long after the adoption transaction is finalized. I stand behind the effort to unseal all adoptee original birth certificates because every person deserves to know where they come from. It is not the business of any state to keep family members from knowing each other or to protect those who never asked to be protected.

Most of all, I support the Adoptee Rights Coalition because adoption should be, first and foremost, about the children being adopted and what is in their best interest. It is not acceptable to violate the rights of adopted people in order to protect the rights of either birth or adoptive parents.  We adoptees have the right to know where we come from and to deal with our own family business.

If you’d like to read other opinions on this issue, please see this list of blog posts compiled by a birth mother who also supports open birth records for adoptees.