How Conditional Birth Certificate Access Rewards “Good Adoptees” And Punishes Bad Ones

In her classic book Lost And Found: The Adoption Experience, renowned adoption expert and adoptee BJ Lifton describes how adoptees are classified, by the adoption industry and by society, as Good Adoptees and Bad Adoptees.

“We have seen that adoptees played the Adoption Game in various ways… Some were aware that they were trying to be the Good Adoptee, while it seemed to others, in retrospect, that they were always trying to be the Bad Adoptee… The Good Adoptee was placid, obedient, didn’t ask too many questions, was sensitive to his parents’ need to make believe he wasn’t adopted. The Bad Adoptee was rebellious and constantly acting out at home and in school.”

Here is how she describes the Adoption Game. She quotes author R. D. Laing in his book Knots:

“They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.”

I am an advocate for clean adoptee access laws – laws that restore the rights of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates in the same manner and for the same modest fee as non-adopted adults. The reason I refuse to accept compromises like passive registries, confidential intermediaries, and mandatory counseling is because conditional access is specifically designed to reward Good Adoptees while punishing bad ones.

Here’s how the game works. Good Adoptees aren’t supposed to search for their origins because doing so questions (and threatens) the Great And Powerful Adoption Industry. So the way you weed out Good Adoptees from Bad Adoptees is to find out which ones want to search badly enough to defy that industry – and then punish them when they do.

Adult adoptee access is in its naissance in many states. As a result, adoptees who are early adopters (ha!) of their state’s access procedures pay the price for those who follow. There are no mechanisms to redress this injustice or to go back for those adoptees who had the misfortune of being their state’s beta-testers.

The Bad Adoptees who prove their disloyalty by being too eager for their information get the dregs of access: whatever the adoption industry feels like trying to shoehorn into whatever conditional crap legislation they come up with.

This is a disgusting and evil mindgame that has gone largely ignored in adoption reform circles, just as left-behind adoptees go largely ignored by those who either don’t realize or don’t care about clean access. What boggles my mind is that some people (deformers) are perfectly willing to continue to play this game as long as they get to reap the rewards of being the Good Adoptees.

This insidious industry strategy pits adoptees against one another, and is a cause of the infighting and backstabbing we see in adoption reform. You have one set of people who want to pass legislation that’s almost-but-not-quite-good-enough-we’ll-fix-it-later, and people like me who insist upon holding out for a clean law each and every time, even if it means yanking bills if they become tainted.

As an adoption reformer you typically don’t end up on the clean-law-or-bust side unless you’ve had personal experience with the system in its most broken form. Or, in other words, if you’re a Bad Adoptee. So once again, the adoption industry turns us against one another by pitting conditional-legislation advocates, the Good Adoptees, against the clean-law advocates, the Bad Adoptees. We might as well have team t-shirts.

(You could also say that the same process turns mothers into Bad Birth Mommies and fathers into Bad Baby Daddies – at least those who question the adoption industry or try to assert their rights within it.)

Great And Powerful Adoption Industry, this is Dorothy on speakerphone. I call shenanigans on your bullshit.

See, I’m already labeled as a Bad Adoptee, so I can get away with this. I was an early adopter of Illinois’ conditional access. I paid thousands of dollars and spent over a decade of my life attempting to assert my rights using the legal procedures provided to adoptees in this state. I played by the rules of the game and I lost, my first mother lost, other adoptees and mothers who went through that system lost. Today adoptees can get what I strove for, but I can’t because the system that was in place when I tried prevents me from doing so. I shone a spotlight on the flaws in Illinois’ system by forcing them open their procedures to adoptees born in Illinois but adopted out of state. Mine was the first Illinois Confidential Intermediary case of an adopted-out-of-state Illinois adoptee.

(more on my story here and here)

And I was punished, like other Bad Adoptees in this state and elsewhere, because by asserting my rights I branded myself a troublemaker, a bad seed, a naughty girl trying to buck the system.

This is ancient thinking about the psychology of adoptees which is completely outdated and yet still guides legislative decisions about adoptee access. It’s why adult adoptees are constantly referred to as “adopted children”, even (especially!) in legislative session. If an adoptee speaks out, shut ’em down. If a bastard tries to act like a human being, put them in their place.

When you support conditional legislation, you support this. You aid and abet an industry which doesn’t care one whit for you, and will turn on you as quickly as a rabid dog. And you assist that industry in dehumanizing your fellow adoptees and first mothers/fathers.

(Comments welcome but moderated against spambots and trolls. Bear in mind if all you’re trying to do is convince me why conditional legislation works, don’t bother. After my own personal experience I refuse to support anything less than clean legislation.)


  1. Equality is equality. Equal is equal. You cannot have equality with conditions. Period! You are either treated equally or you are not.

    Laws that enforce rules and hoops only SOME have to jump through are DISCRIMINATORY! Age limits that apply only to SOME are DISCRIMINATORY!

    Some who used to be on the cutting edge of radical and say they won’t accept anything but a “clean” bill, readily accept age limits that apply only to adoptees! Not good! The slaves were not set free as each reached majority!

    BUT…in order to fight this as a civil rights issue we need to get out there – in large numbers – and PRESENT it as a civil and human rights issue. We need to use the gay community as our role models. They are getting what they want because they have broken through their externally imposed SHAME and they stand up for themselves. Adoptees, by and large, as a discriminated against minority are still back licking boots, an’ sayin’ YESSIR!!! Until a critical mass number of adoptees break the shackles of oppression and stop worrying about upsetting those that feed them and speak up for themselves IN LARGE NUMBER…they will continue to be discriminated against. Far too many adopted persons are not even aware that they are treated like second class citizens until they wake up one morning and decide they want to find THEIR family! Then they say, “Oh gee, I didn’t know records were sealed in MY state.”

    If adoptees are not even hearing the message…It aint being made loud enough!!

    Major problem is the insistence on only working this as a state issue! Discrimination and denial of civil rights is a federal offense and should be addressed as such! Falsifying a vital records should be a crime for states, as it is for individuals! If all activists in all states worked together our combined voices would be louder and stronger and even if we don’t succeed on the national level, making national noise will help all states. But no one wants to even try. (LOUD SIGH!)

    And….you still have people being talked into placing children into supposedly “open” adoptions which still begin with a relinquishment of ALL rights, sealed BC and issuance of a false BC! So WHEN the openness promise is broken – it’s a plain old fashioned closed adoption and so-called “enforcement” is nothing more than trying to mediate. Yet not even the most fervent adoptee rights group says one word about proactive sealing of records, just retroactive. Both are sins against humanity! And BOTH need to be addressed.

    I’m getting old and feeling pretty depressed about the whole state of affairs. When I think how long ago Jean Paton started all this and how little forward progress there has been…