If you would like to know what it’s like to live a day in the stigmatized life of an adult adoptee, I would like to introduce you to my friend Cynthia, or Chynna as she is known. I met her through an adoption support group, where she shared a recent experience that I would like to share with you.
Before we begin, let’s review the difference between an adoptee’s original birth certificate (OBC) and their amended birth certificate (ABC). When an adoptee is born, they have an original birth certificate with their birth mother’s and possibly father’s name. In a sealed-records adoption this document is amended (e.g. legally falsified) when the adoption is finalized (NOT when relinquishment occurs). The adoptive parents’ names are substituted, “as if” having given birth to the adoptee. If an adoptee follows standard procedure to obtain a birth certificate, the amended one is the only one they can get, unless they happen to be from one of the handful of civilized (open records) states.
Chynna recently tried to do something very mundane: obtain a new driver’s license. Yet, because she is adopted, her trip turned into a confrontation with police over the legitimacy of her birth certificate. I quote the following with her permission.
Yesterday, 10-26-2008, I went to my local DMV to finally change my much overdo license to the state in which I was residing, my hometown no less, Miami, Florida.
I brought with me the proper things necessary to legally & easily get a Florida license & finally be legal! I had my previous states license and my microfiche ABC, with proper seal. This is what the State Of Florida sent my parents as my amended ABC and what I have used since I was 18 for all purposes where a birth certificate was needed.
I am there for hours and finally reach the counter. I fill out forms, take the eye test, sign everywhere, etc. I think I am ready for my fabulous license photo so I fix my lip-gloss in a mirror as quick as possible!
I am asked to come back to the counter and do so quickly. One of the DMV people proceeds to question me about my birth certificate. Where I obtained it, they need the original, etc. I am not really stunned as it is typical for an adoptee. I am defensive as I think, “No one else here but, ME, is getting harassed & humiliated in this manner…no one, but ME.”.
I proceed to explain that I am adopted . She is reacting as though this is something she has never heard of and like I have some kind of contagious plague. It was clear that she didn’t believe me. She keeps my ABC even though I requested it back. She asks me to take a seat and she will be right back.
A policeman comes out and once again I am asked up to the counter. All eyes in the place are on me. I make no eye contact, except with the Officer. I reach the counter and pull myself up so I don’t feel so much like a child being scolded as I am only 5′ and the counter was at head level. So here I am if you can picture it, standing on my tiptoes, trying to balance, trying to stay calm in light of my humiliation & anger.
The Officer proceeds to tell me that I need to bring my REAL BC in before they can give me a Florida license. I must admit that I heatedly said, “Are you kidding me? Have you never seen an ABC before? I can’t be the only person in Florida with an ABC.” Now at first I thought he just didn’t want the microfiche copy. I confirmed this was not the case. As it had the seal, the book #, registrar #, etc. I said I could bring my original ABC, which my AP’s finally received later. He said no we need your REAL BC.
I explain to him that I am an adoptee and we ONLY HAVE by law access to our amended or in his layman terms a FAKE BC. Hey, I agree, it IS fake. We go back & forth for 10 minutes or so until he finally says there is nothing he can do. I am asked to leave to allow others to go about their rightful business. I should come back with my REAL BC and they will change out my license.
Their rightful business? Those with identity have rightful business and me without an identity has no rights and therefore no business that they recognize as worthy. Can you imagine the humiliation?
I tell the officer and the DMV staff member and anyone in ear shot that “If I even had the same rights as a dog in this state I would be happy to bring back my REAL BC. My REAL BC with my REAL ID that proves I am a REAL person” and I leave to go to my car feeling totally obliterated.
While at my car the officer approaches me as he can see that I am very upset. He confirms that with immigration here and post 9/11 they are much more skeptical when anything out of the ordinary comes about. So I should feel good right? A policeman is telling me I’m out of the ordinary. Meaning special right?
I go back the next day, on my 2nd day of vacation no less, with my original BC and my adoption decree. I ask for the Policeman as that is what he said I should do so I wouldn’t have to wait in line again. I know it was truly because they thought I was trying to pull some kind of identity fraud. But, I am out of the ordinary remember? I am special. Well, I would like to just be ordinary with identity.
So let’s get this straight. Chynna takes her amended birth certificate–by Florida law, the only one she can obtain–to the DMV, and gets treated like a criminal. Near as I can tell from her description it was indeed a certified copy, as is typically required. In email she also told me that she had problems obtaining her Connecticut driver’s license too, except her husband was there to talk man to man with the DMV dude. I guess it’s easier to humiliate adoptees when they don’t have backup.
I asked Chynna if she was able to obtain her Florida driver’s license. She said:
yes. But I had to bring another ABC and my adoption decree. I truly believe that if I didn’t bring my decree they might not have given me my new license.
The Florida DMV requirements are here. They say:
US CitizensState of Florida law requires identification, proof of birth date, and social security number – if you have been issued one – from all US citizens before a drivers license or state ID card will be issued. As a US citizen you must submit the following:
One of the Following
- Original or certified United States birth certificate
- Valid United States passport
- Certificate of Naturalization
In addition one of the following secondary documents is required:
- Social Security Card
- Parent Consent form of Minor
- Marriage Certificate
- Florida or out of state drivers license, valid or expired
“Adoption decree” is not on this list. Chynna’s previous driver’s license and the ABC should have been enough. She was treated like a second-class citizen simply for being adopted.
How many other adoptees have experienced the stigma of their adopted status? Far more, I suspect, than is generally known. As Chynna says:
To say the least this was incredibly frustrating, exasperating and downright humiliating. It, this dreaded adoption aftermath, continues to make me feel like being adopted was some sort of curse or punishment and it will continue to whollop me when I least expect it.
Yup. This is the wonderful world of being adopted.
I hope you will join me in expressing outrage at the Florida DMV for failing to honor adoptee rights, and consider this a call to action that we should not be treated like second-class citizens.