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.