When Adopted Parents Control Knowledge

There are too many instances when adopted parents have the ability to control knowledge necessary to adoptees, even after those adoptees become adults. Sometimes the adopted parents are in positions of power: judges, attorneys, influential members of the community. But all adopted parents, just by being present at the time of adoption, have vital information about the adoptee, and sometimes that information is withheld from the person to whom it pertains the most.

Older kids may have verbal memories, but those of us adopted as infants are left with only pre-verbal hints at our origins. Late-Discovery Adoptees, those who don’t learn their status until adulthood, often go through life feeling like they were adopted even though the people around them insist they’re not. The revelation comes as a betrayal, yet also a relief: your adopted family lied, but your instincts were correct. I’m not an LDA but I can understand those feelings.

I was always told, growing up, that I was adopted. That’s one thing my adopted parents did right, although looking back I’m quite surprised they did. I am not a transracial adoptee so it would have been easy to pretend otherwise. I was also told I was born in Chicago (we lived in Ohio). Those two snippets were the only ones my adopted parents offered and, because the subject was never to be discussed, I learned not to ask. Until I got married and discovered my adopted parents’ betrayal.

In obtaining my marriage license I had to do something I had never needed to do before: obtain a copy of my birth certificate. So my fiance and I headed over to the courthouse (we live in Illinois) and I stood in line like the normal people. I had no idea that this would be the day I learned I was not an adoptee, but a bastard. In obtaining my amended (read: legally falsified) birth certificate, I discovered not only was I born in Chicago, but in the very town where I ended up going to college years later. The realization that I’d strolled the sidewalks, shopped with friends, seen Terminator 2 across the street from where my birth mother gave me up twenty years previously was more than I could handle. Talk about Judgement Day. I demanded to know everything my adoptive father knew. He maintained he had no further information. Five years later I received a second betrayal when I found out he was the attorney who sealed my adoption file.

It’s hard to fathom the implications of these unexpected and disturbing discoveries. As the attorney, my adopted father had access to absolutely everything, from my original birth certificate right on down to the rest of my super-secret adoption file. A file, I might add, that is supposedly sealed to protect all parties. But when the adopted parents do the sealing? That pretty much demonstrates that sealed records are only for the adopted parents’ benefit, doesn’ t it?

Here’s the anatomy of a gray market adoption. My birth mother’s consent was taken by an Illinois attorney who was a colleague of the delivery doctor. The delivery doctor was college buddies with my adopted father, which is how the latter found out about me. The adoption was finalized by my adopted father in Ohio, his state of residence. He knew my name, and my mother’s name, and he lied to me about it my whole life. When adult me came along demanding answers, he had already made sure the doors were shut, nailed, and painted over.

Possibly even to the point of interfering with my adult attempts to gain access. Before I petitioned the court, my adoptive father called them “in an effort to be helpful,” he claimed. Bear in mind I was close to thirty years old and had been estranged from him for many years. He had never, ever gone out of his way to answer my questions, and I certainly did not want him barging in on what I felt was a matter between me and the court. Now, he wasn’t famous or anything but he was a reasonably well-known attorney in the area, what I think of as a big fish in a small pond. Likely the people at the court knew of him, if not personally then by reputation. Did that fact, and/or his phone call, have any influence on their decision to deny my petition? This particular court is known for never opening adoption records, possibly because the judge seems highly against it (in yet another example where a single person’s personal opinion may affect records access).

There is no other entity to whom I may go to gain access to my sealed information. Illinois has my original birth certificate but not the adoption file, and my birth mother is the one who’s blocked my access there through filing the denial of contact. (Whether she knows that’s what she’s done is a question only she or the Illinois Confidential Intermediary Program can answer.) I am therefore completely limboed, in two states by two sets of parents. I think as a middle aged woman I ought to be able to get my own birth certificate without having to ask Mom-And-Dad-Who-Disowned-Me or Mom-Who-Relinquished-Me. When I got my kids’ BCs I made a dozen copies and put them in big fat folders marked “FOR (child’s name)”. My kids won’t even have to stand in line to get what is rightfully theirs.

Here are more questions I’d like answered. According to the process in Ohio and most closed-records states, in the case of a private adoption where no agency was involved, an adult adoptee seeking non-identifying info is to ask the attorney who finalized the adoption. Except in my case that would be my adopted father. Why is that allowed? And why doesn’t anyone give a rat’s ass how WRONG is it for adopted parents to have this level of control? We adoptees are at their mercy. If they want to lie they will, and there are no checks and balances to prevent it.

When I read Vanessa’s heartbreaking story on FirstMotherForum.com, I could only shake my head sadly at the brainwashing conducted by the adopted parents on her son. He believes it’s “God’s will” that he was adopted. Truth is, his a-‘rents reneged on an open adoption agreement with his mother and skipped town when he was six. That is going to be one hell of an angry adoptee in a few years. As I remarked on the forum:

Let this be a lesson to all adopted parents: Lying is a ticket to losing your adopted adult (I won’t say child) forever. And this is why records should be unconditionally open to participants. Too many adopted parents have the ability to brainwash adoptees into believing whatever they’re told.

No one should ever be put in the position of depending upon an biased party for their information. Yet most adoptees, even as adults, are at dependent upon our adopted parents when it comes to the truths of our backgrounds. This is not only unnecessary but cruel. I would go so far to say that it creates a legal impediment to the success of adopted families, by putting adopted parents into the untenable position of being both parents and information-keepers. We need a process that allows unbiased access to records, and the only way to achieve that is to restore records access to participants. That means adult adoptee access to original birth certificates. It also means birth mother/father/relative access to records, and complete transparency throughout the adoption process. Everyone with equal access. Everyone on equal footing.

To parents, adopted or otherwise, we are only the custodians of our childrens’ pasts and we have no right to hinder their knowledge of it once they become adults. If you put your own insecurities first, don’t be surprised when your disgruntled bastards turn the tables. That is the fate of families who attempt to build relationships on lies instead of the truth. And if you are an adoptee who has been ignored, misled, denied or outright lied to… my friends, this candle is for you.


  1. The betrayal you experiences is abominable! I despise liars!

    While the case of an adoptive father also being the attorney who handled the adoption is rare, all adoptive parents know the name of the (birth) mother — the name that is allegedly “protected” by teh records being sealed. So much for the BS of confidentiality!

    They all at one time saw and received adoption finalization papers that at the very least “baby [insert last name] is adopted by and will now be known as —.

    Many of them know “non-identifying” info about us, that is often as untrue as the non-identifying info we get about them.

    Original moms are almost always told that the adopters are “professional” [Catholic/Jewish/YOUR religion] people, while adopters are told that we are unstable, immature etc.

  2. Thank you for writing this peice. You said it so well, and yet without showing the rage (which I know is right under the surface). Your experience is unusual, that your a-father was the attorney involved, but the more adoption stories I read, the more I see the commonalities of adoptee’s diverse experiences. My situation also was unusual. Powerful people involved and also many lies and much shame distributed to me. So much pain over the years and family estrangement also. The frustration takes me to places within myself that I wish I didn’t ever have to know. I’m not even sure if there was an official adoption or powerful people falsified records. The doctor who delivered me was a family friend of my birth mother’s family. He also was a very famous doctor involved with Planned Parenthood and a case that Roe v. Wade was predicated on. It is pretty wild stuff. And I too was born in one state but likely adopted in another, so a lot more bases to cover in trying to get to the true records. My secondary mother hangs up the phone on me when I call. Her biological children refuse to talk to me as well. I found out a lot of information in a backwards sort of way and only want confirmation from them. I never understood it as a kid, though in retrospect a few clues were given out along the way. But too many skeletons and too much for them to lose if they told the truth to me now. I am hoping that there is an OBC for me somewhere in the future. I need that closure.

  3. You have put into words what many people (adopted or not) feel when they learn that their parents have withheld the facts. It’s not a formula for a stable family relationship.

    In my own case, the attorney was truly blind to the names — it was 20 years before your adoption in a state that does things differently (there really are 50 ways to leave your children) and when we discussed it — he, Mom and I — he explained how they received documents with all the particulars blacked out and only the judge saw the actual names. Seems odd but, keep in mind that social workers in the 1950s thought that nuture could erase nature.

    Although I would not be one to suggest we invite the federal government to further invade our lives, I think this is one area in which uniform practice would be a good thing. Only problem is that when we tried it before, it prompted the creation of the National Council for Adoption [Secrecy], funding by the adoption industry, that sought to make secrecy the law of the land.

    Adoptees are truly the last minority being treated as unequal in the USA.

  4. I agree with everything you have said. I cannot control my children’s public records – why should anyone have that power over mine?
    If adoptive parents KNEW from day one that we would someday have access to the truth, it would reduce the tendency to lie and hide the truth.
    Most of all, I’m tired of carrying my birth parents’ guilt and shame. They refuse their permission to release the file or respond to me; it’s time after six decades have passed for them to face the consequences of their decision (ME!) and allow me to have that certificate.

  5. i understand all of these issues…i was born/adopted in the jacked up conservative state of FLORIDA, as well! the lake county courthouse says the attorney never filed my non i.d. with them. and the attorney, (who i will add has been caught with buying babies, but is now dead, so no one will ever know whats REALLY up there!), says that 6 yers of files…including my own, is “missing, and must have been thrown away!” …give me a break!!
    then my amom…although she has been a good mother, and seems to see that my need to know is eating me alive. but wont go get my adoption records out of her safety deposit box and let me have them. then, the story i was told has altered through the years. but when i remind my amother of the ‘last’ story, she tells me ive lost my mind…im crazy…i make stuff up…or that she ‘doesnt know where i come up with this stuff’. so i know that there is more to my story than she is telling me. the town i was born in was a very small town at that time, so she very well could have known my bmother, but is so terrified of losing me, that she doesnt even realize she is pushing me away with the constant lies. i think that she knew my adad was a diabetic, and only wanted kids so she wouldnt be alone when something happened to my dad. ive told her that regardless of who was my “mother”, SHE will always be my “mom”. but still…no truths. i WILL find my birth family, one way or another. i am a “search angel” on the 2nd largest registry/search angel team in the world. so i have no doubt it will all fall into place one day. and then, i wont need my records that she has. besides, she is 77yrs old now, and cannot even remember all of the things she has told me.
    i also have medical issues, that are inherited. but i still, cannot get the state of FLORIDA to give me family medical history! not even my non i.d.!!
    …and thank you for this site!! ive been looking for a place, with people who understand, for a long time!!
    sweetest blessings,
    Terri French Barnes