Dreading Birthdays III: Descent Into Despair, Restarting The Search

It’s that time of year again… my own personal descent into despair. I’ve written before about adoption depression and birthdays:

I didn’t really start dreading birthdays until I started asking questions about my adoption, questions that were misdirected or answered with (as I later discovered) outright lies. Before that I just had this vague unease that got worse as the calendar crept toward January. I wonder if my birth mother suffers like I do, from what the shrinkwrappers call “seasonal affected disorder” but I believe is simply part of the human experience. One of the most shocking moments during my brief contact with my birth mother was her revelation that depression runs in our family, in fact one of my uncles suffers severely from it. Don’t ask me what that means because it’s all I’ve got. To be given that tidbit and then left in the dark makes me feel like spring will never come. Maybe depression was imprinted on me in the womb. It’s in my blood, an unknown poison.

I don’t tell casual acquaintances about my birthday. People always want to know, put it in their calendar, send you an e-card or invite you to a little office celebration with stale cake. But adoptee birthdays invoke too many well-intentioned questions that are conversational for others and heartbreaking for us, like”Where were you born?” (some of us don’t know) and “Are you celebrating with your family?” (which one?) In short, birthdays are stark reminders of what may be our most traumatic experience: losing our mothers, our blood relatives, our cultures, our heritage. I don’t mind sharing with people who know my adopted status and understand that trauma. What I don’t like is the automatic dismissal of the uninitiated: “Oh, you’re adopted! You must feel so lucky.” And I’ll admit, I’m no fun. When people ask me straight out I give them a straight out answer: that I’m adopted, that my birthday is traumatic, that it brings up a lot of feelings of loss and I don’t really like talking about it. Talk about putting a damper on the party.

I didn’t even write a birthday entry last year, I was so fed up with it. This year feels… different. Still depressed. Still descending into despair, and I’m not going to say there’s hope at the bottom. It’s more of an icy determination.
I’m starting up the search again, trying to find not only my origins but the details of my adoption. So many lies and misdirections, so many half-truths and hunches, I don’t even know what’s real anymore. So I’m laying it all out, trying to discern fact from fiction. By Illinois law I am forbidden from contacting my mother – a total joke, as I have next to nothing about her yet she has my complete contact information due to the Illinois CI program’s screw-up. But I’ll be damned if anybody tries to tell me I’m not allowed to piece together my own past within the confines of the strictures placed upon me.
The holidays were harder for me this year than January is now, which is odd. Maybe it’s the weather. There’s been very little snow and with temps in the 30s it feels more like November. I can handle November. My pansies are still blooming and there’s lettuce in the cold frames in the veggie garden. But there’s always that awful feeling in the back of my mind that the hammer will fall, that November will become December will become January and the world will lock into ice and cold and loneliness.
Among the adoption paperwork (that is, the paperwork my adoptive father deemed acceptable for me to see, as opposed to the papers he lied about/destroyed/concealed) is a yellow sheet of legal paper. It’s a transcript my adoptive father (aka the lawyer who sealed my file) took of a phone call he had with his old college pal (aka the delivery doctor). I feel sick just looking at it. I decided to post this because it’s a little piece of BSE (Baby Scoop Era) history.

(Sorry if Blogger is sucky about embiggen. You can find it full-size here.)
Words jump out at me. “Nov Dec Jan,” reflecting the personal countdown to hell I still experience every year. “Girl very reasonable.” Of course she was, she had no resources or support! “How could it be done in Illinois?” That is the man I once called Father, concealing my origins.
Note carefully what is going on in this transcript (which has been edited by me for my own privacy). My adoptive father was told they had to go with a private adoption, presumably because they’d been rejected by all the agencies they approached. Private adoption was legal in Illinois, but that they couldn’t adopt me there because it was limited to Illinois residents. So they found a loophole by finalizing the adoption in Ohio, their state of residence. My adoptive father was an attorney licensed to practice in Ohio and arranged matters there himself. Because of this, he ended up controlling the process of my adoption as well as the contents of my adoption file, including my original Illinois birth certificate. I am told this would never be allowed today due to conflict of interest. Later, he became the person to whom I had to apply for non-identifying information, according to revised Ohio state law regarding private adoptions. You can imagine how well that went.
The sickest line, to me, is this: ““Have to arrange to have mother take child w/her & physically turn child over to us & take to Ohio.” To my understanding, my mother was forced to walk me out of the hospital (to fulfill laws saying only she could do so) and turn me over to the delivery doctor, who kept me for the first week of my life then turned me over to my adoptive parents. Elsewhere there is a notation about having to hold off on finalizing the adoption because of the waiting period for my mother to change her mind. It’s all so reprehensible: the careful application of law contrary to its supposedly intended purpose of giving a mother the chance to make an informed choice.
My adoption is gray market, legal as far as I know. But no one could look at the above scenario and consider it objective or ethical. This is the heart of the Baby Scoop Era: legal and illegal separation of children and parents. Except it never ended, because the same tactics continue to be employed today. They get you coming and going, both when the child is first adopted and later when the now-adult adoptee attempts to reclaim his or her birthright.
Icy determination and anger; that, to me, will always be January. This year I’m depressed but I’m also refocused. Adoption will not stop me. Depression will not stop me. Discrimination and stereotypes of adoptees will not stop me. Deformer laws, apathetic reporters and disdainful politicians will not stop me.
All adoptees deserve the same equal, unfettered access to their original birth certficates as the non-adopted. Nothing less is acceptable. Nor is our society’s prejudicial treatment of adoptees acceptable. I have had it with people speaking for adult adoptees and first mothers, putting words in our mouths, refusing to listen to our voices even though we are STANDING RIGHT HERE, blogging and tweeting and making ourselves heard.

Find My Family: Does Reality TV Create Assumptions About Adoption Search?

After I posted about Rose’s situation, I was inundated with replies that she should contact Find My Family. While I know these suggestions were made out of the goodness of people’s hearts, I’m wondering if the existence of shows like this make people think that all you need to do is contact reality TV and they will magically solve your adoption search for you.
My question is partially prompted by the fact that I’ve seen it now. And I’ll admit, Find My Family does show the emotions behind search and reunion–but there are too many things I don’t think it addresses. What about those who can’ t complete their searches? What about those left behind by compromise legislation? What about discrimination against adoptees and birth mothers and fathers? (I should point out that I normally find reality TV distasteful, doubly so when it’s on a topic I find triggering.)
Because the thing is, Rose HAS contacted Find My Family. They elected not to take on her case. Possibly because it’s too hard–they may not want to expend resources on a search they don’t think they can solve (and therefore film the happy ending). Possibly because Rose is already a member of the forum who is doing Find My Family’s legwork (a forum that, again, is not being compensated or even acknowledged as a resource–hello, ABC, I’m talking to you!). Possibly because ABC is concerned about legal liability given the gray/black market nature of Rose’s case. Or possibly because they’ve simply filled up for the year and don’t have room to take on more cases. Who knows? The point is, reality TV like Find My Family is not a panacea. It’s not a magic wand. It’s a resource like any other, and it doesn’t work for everyone. These shows don’t take on every case. They don’t always succeed. What we see is a carefully distilled montage of their best results.
I’m still pondering my original question: Is reality TV good for adoptee rights or a hindrance? Now I’m beginning to wonder if these reunion shows give people the impression that searching is easy. As in, you can have the most impossible search in the world–but along comes Find My Family or The Locator and shazam, miracles! Adoption search is not that simple, logistically or emotionally. Some people luck out and get a match right away. Some people search for decades and never succeed. There is no magic wand, just hard work, determination, the willingness to fight a system that would just as soon see us slink off with our tails between our legs… and heaping helpings of luck and prayer.
I also wonder if reality TV glosses over the fact that reunion, like marriage, is an ongoing process that involves hard work. I would feel more confidence in shows like Find My Family if they were to mention search resources like ISRR and devote some time to what happens after the honeymoon.
What do you think?

Gray Market Adoption: The Twin Who Didn’t Die

This is a guest post from Rose, who is kind enough to share her experiences. I hope there is someone out there who can help with her search. Tis the season, and we could use some miracles…
My name is Rose and I am an adoptee who was reunited with my birth mother in 1988 with whom I had a very close relationship until her passing in February 2001. To honor her life and the memory of my twin that I thought was stillborn I wrote the following story:
Two tiny spermatozoa maneuver their way through the dark passageway in search of the prize when suddenly two large oval shaped masses loom in front of them. Each sperm cell burrows its way into the warm gooey side of its respective prize and becomes one with the egg, fertilizing it and thus beginning the cycle of life anew as it has done since the dawn of creation.
The now fertilized eggs begin the trip back down the same way that the sperm traveled up not too long before. As they travel, toward their new home for the next eight months, the eggs begin to divide becoming multi-celled organisms. They eventually reach the uterus where they burrow into the soft lining and continue to grow and divide.
Six weeks pass and by then the host knows of the presence of the two travelers and she welcomes them, but not all are happy about their arrival. The host is told to get rid of the ‘unwanted mass of cells’ but she refuses to. She does her best to protect the two little travelers but it is difficult. On two separate occasions violent earthquakes rock the cocoon that envelopes the twins. They do not know that is happening, only that what was thought to be safe and secure is not. The twins grow more anxious as each day passes, afraid of what will happen next.
Though on the outside, the next six months pass by without incident, all is not well within as the food supply becomes non-existent. The smaller of the twins grows weaker each passing day and it becomes apparent that it will not survive to see the outside world. The Littlest One, as it is called, musters its remaining strength and telegraphs the message to the one in front that it can no longer hang on. As a bright light appears and surrounds The Littlest One, it telegraphs a final good bye to its companion and is lifted by gentle hands into the loving embrace of the Creator and carried into the light. ‘But, wait,’ The Littlest One asks, ‘What about the one left behind? I can still see her.’ ‘Don’t worry’, says the One with the gentle hands. ‘She will be born very soon. She will not know about you until many moons have passed but she will never forget you because she will carry that knowledge deep within herself that you indeed existed. You will not be forgotten. Fear not little one and rest now, for you are home.’
No one knew whether the Littlest One was a boy or girl nor did they care, except for the remaining one. She mourned the loss of her companion, yearning to once again see his/her face. It was the Creator of all Life who reached down and took the Littlest One home, where He named the child and where He continues to gently rock the little waif in His loving arms, even to this day.
With each anniversary of my mother’s passing, and my birthday, I would think of my twin. In December 2007, all of that changed when I found out information that changed my life for ever. While going through paperwork on Mom’s family tree, I came across what I assumed was Mom’s hospital records from my birth. Curious, I started to read and there it was in black and white: a ‘delivered and a healthy male infant…’ My twin, a brother, had been born alive!
I wish that my story had a happy ending and I could report that I found him and we are living happily ever after, but that is not the case. Unfortunately, my twin is just another statistic in the world of gray market adoption. For reasons that are known only to the doctor who delivered my twin and I, he felt that it was necessary to place my twin with another family. The couple who took him only knew that the birth mother could not care for him and he needed to go to a home that could give him what she could not. What the family did not know was that the fact that the birth mother had not given her consent and in fact did not know that the child had been born alive. She had been told that it was stillborn. The hospital records were altered to look as if Mom had given birth to only one child, me. However, fortunately for me the doctor did not completely alter the records so that the records I held in my hand contained the first clues as to what happened those many years ago.
As a result of the deception on the doctor’s part over fifty years ago, finding my twin is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, a haystack marked the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is not only a closed records state, it’s locked tighter than Fort Knox. In fact, it would be easier to get into Fort Knox than it is trying to find out anything from the powers that be. Pennsylvania, as in many of the other closed adoption records states, feels that the records should be permanently sealed to protect the privacy of the birth mother. In my case, protecting her privacy is a moot point as she is now deceased and she never wanted it protected in the first place. The only person that is being protected is the doctor who perpetrated this crime that has affected three innocent people, not to mention our spouses and children.
Since that December night, I have been on a search for one thing and one thing only: The truth. That is all I want to know, for in knowing the truth, I know that I will be set free and no one can take that away from me.
Rose
ISO twin brother, Pottstown Memorial Hospital, Pottstown, PA, March 17, 1959

Adoption Records Secrecy Breeds Mistakes

I doubt few people in the adoption reform community are surprised to hear that Catholic Charities, that bastion of super-secrecy, made a mistake in connecting an adoptee with his biological family.
More than three decades after Ryba and Butler gave up their baby son to Catholic Charities of Trenton, N.J., for adoption, and four years after the agency facilitated their “reunion” with Bloete, genetic testing revealed last year that none of them are related.
Lisa Thibault, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Trenton, acknowledged that the situation is “tragic,” and that a “mistake” was made somewhere. But she said the agency has done all it is legally able to do for them.
I’m sure CC charged a hefty fee for this botched “reunion”. That’s how confidential intermediaries work: You pay, they supposedly search and find. But the problem is, there are no checks and balances to ensure that you get what you paid for.
I’ve written extensively about my own experience with Illinois’ confidential intermediary program (here and here), which remains the only state-sanctioned method by which adult Illinois adoptees may attempt to gain access to their records. The word “confidential” is a euphemism for “hiding in the shadows”. Their policies and procedures are secret; even participants are not allowed to know what is done on their behalf. Which means if mistakes are made, you might never find out about them. In my case, my identifying information was given to my birth mother without my consent… meaning their policies are more confidential than the privacy of participants. What does that tell you about the priorities of such programs? It’s a back-door method of making more money off adoptions. Seal the records, then charge later for access to those very same records. It’s not commonly known by the general public but everybody in the adoption reform community knows how the game is played.
Cases like these are exactly why entire concept of confidential intermediaries needs to be chucked. Why should we trust third parties to act on our behalf when we have no way to verify their actions? Sealing adoption records and falsifying birth certificates only breeds these kinds of mistakes, and provides fertile ground for profiteering. Instead, all birth certificates should bear the truthful information of one’s origins, with adoption certificates verifying the facts of the adoption, and every single adult in this country, adopted or not, should be able to obtain their original, unaltered birth certificate for the same minimal fee. I spent thousands of dollars trying to get my records, just as these people have spent thousands trying to accomplish what Catholic Charities should have done in the first place.
We need to abolish confidential intermediaries in favor of open adoption records.
See also:
And let’s note that reformers in New Jersey have been fighting to open adoption records. There’s a petition here if you want to sign it to help the cause.

Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Was Adopted

Grown In My Heart is doing a monthly Adoption Carnival encouraging everyone to discuss truths in adoption. I think this is a great idea. Here’s my contribution to this month’s topic, Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Was Touched By Adoption.

Be sure to check out what other bloggers are saying about this (the Mr. Linky icon at the bottom of GIMH’s post), there are some really good conversations going on.

  • That being adopted is not a one-time event, but has life-long consequences.
  • That being adopted has had more of an impact on me than I may ever realize.
  • That sealed records, not my origins, make me a bastard.
  • That adoption stereotypes are such common assumptions it’s difficult to even start discussing reform.
  • That no one was going to help educate my adoptive parents about being adoptive parents.
  • That my adoptive parents were going to lie to me about what they knew.
  • That my adoptive father was permitted to act as his own attorney in sealing my file.
  • That being adopted has an impact on future relationships.
  • That, despite being adopted as a newborn, I would still love and miss my birth mother for the rest of my life.
  • That being adopted as a newborn does not make me a tabula rasa.
  • That “your mother gave you up because she loved you” makes NO sense.
  • That my birth mother was likely not advised on all of her options.
  • That my birth mother might have been able to keep me if our society were more supportive of expectant mothers.
  • That trying to get your adoption records is like trying to pull your own teeth with one hand and a pair of rusty scissors.
  • That people who aren’t touched by adoption are going to say, “Why don’t you just get your records from the courthouse?”
  • That my birth mother is a real person, not just some nebulous entity not spoken of in polite conversation.
  • That intermediary programs exist to make money, not to help adoptees or birth relatives.
  • That my birth mother needed more help to open her heart to me than she was going to get from the intermediary program through which we eventually made contact.
  • That contacting my birth mother through an intermediary would result in being locked out of my records permanently (or until the law changes).
  • That “no” upon first contact through an intermediary often means no second chances.
  • That baby selling exists, and is thriving.
  • That agencies and adoption “professionals” often tout profiteering as charity.
  • That those same agencies double-dip by later charging adoptees and birth relatives for the same information they themselves sealed.
  • That the adoption industry is deeply corrupted.
  • That most people don’t care.
  • That made-for-TV movies about adoption would make me cringe.
  • That I would dread my own birthday.
  • That being adopted means I am a second-class citizen and have to worry if I’ll be able to get a driver’s license or passport.
  • That being adopted severs me not only from my family, but from my culture and heritage.
  • That my mother would be too traumatized to ever acknowledge me.
  • That my father and any potential siblings may never know I exist.
  • That being angry about all of this makes me “anti-adoption”, “anti-children”, “pro-abortion”, and an “ungrateful angry adoptee”.
  • That being publicly angry makes me doubly so.
  • That my being adopted would have a continual impact not only on me, but on my children and theirs.

Adoptee Privacy

When it comes to the question of opening adoption records, the biggest concern of politicians, agencies. and courts is usually “the privacy of the birth mother.” Note that this isn’t necessarily the concern of the birth moms themselves. Most birth moms welcome contact with their offspring, but it makes a nice excuse for keeping quasi-legal adoption practices quiet.

I’d like to know why nobody cares about the privacy of the adoptee.

From the Misplaced Baggage blog (emphasis added):

During my interview with John Safran, he brought up the subject of privacy rights vs. birth searches. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to convey the thoughts I’d expressed in an earlier conversation with a fellow adoptee. Some people seem to focus on the privacy of parents over the need for an adoptee to know, but there’s more to it than that. Many adoptees have to give up their privacy in order to even begin a search. Many of us have to trust complete strangers with information of which we’re usually very protective. We become ripe for exploitation. Then there’s that devastating disappointment when nothing is found.

This is an excellent point that has been all but completely ignored in most discussions of adoption records. The only way for adoptees to gain information is to offer, publicly and at great cost, what little information they have about themselves. As a computer whiz it makes me wonder about identity theft and data mining and all the nasty things that can happen when information gets inside a computer, or otherwise into the wrong hands.

When computer identity theft became an issue, states began enacting laws to protect people by forcing companies to disclose data security breaches (stolen laptops, missing backup tapes, hacker infiltration). But if you are a searcher, you have no such protection. You have no way to know if a third party may have disclosed your information without your consent.

Because it happened to me. During the course of anonymous correspondence with my birth mother through the Illinois Confidential Intermediary program–the only official state-sanctioned way of obtaining information–my identifying information (name, address, phone, email) was “accidentally” left on documents sent to my birth mother. In Illinois, the law has provisions and punishments if a birth mother’s information is released in the course of the CI process, BUT NOT THE ADOPTEE. I don’t even have concrete proof that this happened (since, over a year later, the CI program still has not provided me with “official” notification).

How’s that for turning the tables? In making sure my birth mother’s identity was concealed from me, mine was exposed to her. Now I can be the one looking over my shoulder, wondering if I’m being watched.

Why does the law provide redress for giving out an adoptive family’s or birth relative’s information without consent, but not an adoptee’s?

Adoptees get to expose our private selves to public scrutiny, all for the barest hope of information that may or may not even be correct, much less available or affordable. And if our identities are stolen in the meantime… well, adoptee identities are so fluid anyway, who cares? We are non-people and historically, once you’re classed as a non-person, you don’t count.

This is not to dis birth moms and other relatives, who have at least as hard a time trying to gain information as we adoptees do. But the laws are clearly skewed… not toward birth relatives, and certainly not toward adoptees, but toward adopters, prospective adopters and adoption agencies. Just think what might happen if an adoptive family’s information were erroneously given to a birth mother. It’d be front-page news, with everyone accusing the birth mother of heinous crimes she never committed, fussing over the “poor” adoptive family’s “trauma,” and completely ignoring the fact that there’s an adoptee at the center of the maelstrom. Similarly, if an adoption agency’s files were to be hacked, the poor sod who did it would get the book thrown at him, and if it happened to be a searcher who had reached the end of his rope, all searchers would immediately be accused of hacking, harassment, and stalking (we’re already accused of the last two as it is, just for wanting answers).

If you are searching, whether adoptee or birth relative, I suggest you be careful. Who knows where your information might be going? It’s also known that there are scammers who lurk on search sites, pretending to be long-lost adoptees or birth relatives, so watch out.

Adoptees are denied their own identities, yet have no way of protecting them from misuse by others. It’s an ugly paradox buried in the myths and distortions of adoption. And without full and unfettered access to our records, there is little we can do about it. That’s why adoption records should be open, without exception, to ALL participants in an adoption.

Those Who Cannot Afford Their Adoption Records

Imagine if someone held your birth certificate hostage – and you couldn’t afford to buy it.

That is the position in which many adoptees find themselves. For most people, a birth certificate costs a meager fee to the state. Unless you’re adopted, that is. Then you can expect to pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars, plus your own time and effort.

Let’s note that closed-record adoptees have two birth certificates: the original one, containing birth names, and the amended one – or as some adoptees call it, the falsified lie. Amended birth certificates list the adoptive parents “as if” they are the biological parents of the adoptee. If an adoptee follows the standard procedures and pays the standard fees like anyone else, it’s the amended birth certificate they get; a document that has no basis in reality and does them little good.

I put forth a few questions to the Adoption Database community, and I’d like to solicit the opinions of my blog readers as well:

  • What were you told about the fees to access sealed adoption records?
  • Were the fees more than you could afford?
  • If so, were you offered alternatives – was there any other way made available to you, to access your sealed records?
  • Were you satisfied or dissatisfied with your experience, and why?

Here are some of the responses I have received. Natalie says:

You can only access sealed records in NYS with a petition to the court where the adoption was finalized and by showing “good cause” which can mean anything and is up to the judge’s discretion. I had my sealed records opened and paid an attorney $1500 and the guardian ad litem $2100 in 1988. I received only non identifying information but a lot more than the NYS Adoption Information Registry gave me. I thought [the fees] were ridiculous but I had to find out about my sibling, which turned out to be 8 siblings and not one! I thought that I should have gotten identifying information. I also thought that the guardian ad litem didn’t do a very good job as he said he could not locate my birthmother and that she probably moved from the Syracuse, NY area. She actually still lived there until she died in 1991. She remarried and was going by a different name. I think a lot of people in NYS wouldn’t mind paying a fee if that’s all it took to get a copy of sealed records. You have to jump through hoops and hire an attorney, and the process is very complicated. NYS likes to discourage people from asking for their sealed records.

Alicia says:

Being adopted through CHS [Florida], I had to pay a fee for non ID and/or search. I paid $150 for NonID and $400 for search services. [The fees were] most definitely [more than I could afford]. There were no other alternatives. I searched for over ten years before paying the search fee to CHS, because I didn’t see any other choice. [I was] satisfied because I found my family, but very unhappy with the fact that I had to pay the company who sold me in order to be reunited with my birth family, as well as, the lack of control I had in the process. All adult adoptees should be able to receive their original birth certificate from the state for the same fee as any other person requesting their BC. Other information, such as archived files of hard paper information should be available, at a reasonable cost.

An adoptee who prefers to remain anonymous adds:

I’ve already paid $100 to Lutheran Family Services in Cleveland OH, the organization through which I was adopted. Unfortunately, while they cashed my check, they had virtually no information to give me–only that my bmother was an RN and my bfather was an Attorney. That I already knew from my parents. I’m waiting to see how much Geauga County (where I was in foster care for the first two years of my life) will charge once they determine that they CAN give me my non-ID info.

My own experience trying to get records was similarly dissatisfying, as I have already described. Here in Illinois, it costs $15 for a non-adopted birth certificate. The Illinois Adoption Registry is $40, free if you include medical info, and the CI program cost me $700 in fees alone (including a $200 discount from a special subsidy), plus lawyer’s fees, notarizations, postage, and at least a thousand hours’ worth of my time over the course of two years.

In New York, Natalie could have gotten her birth certificate for $30 if she wasn’t adopted. Similarly, Alicia’s Florida birth certificate could have cost $9, and anonymous’ in Ohio, $16.50.

What can we conclude about the costs for adoptees to obtain their birth certificates and other records?

  • Fees to adoptees are significantly higher than the costs for non-adopted birth certificates;
  • Fees are charged even if little or no information is available or provided;
  • Adoptees pay, only to face increasing obstacles in attempting to gain their rightful information;
  • Adoptees have little control over the processes for which they pay;
  • Despite the costs, mistakes are made which go uncorrected.

Alicia is right in pointing out that the same agency that charged her adoptive parents for her infant self, turned right around years later and charged her for the very same information they themselves sealed.

The agencies say they need the money to find the records. I call it double-dipping. If they hadn’t sealed the records in the first place, they wouldn’t have to look in the vault, or the broom closet, or Douglas Adams’ “bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory” which is probably where my own original birth certificate is. Even worse, adoptees sometimes get triple- or quadruple-dipped, like in my own case where the Illinois CI program informed me I would have to pay the fees AGAIN to restart the search for my birth father.

There are plenty of adoptees out there who cannot afford the only means of accessing their records. Although we may not have cash, we are still voting citizens of this country and you better believe we remember it, come election season.

All people, adopted or not, deserve equal – and affordable! – access to their original birth certificates.

Adoption Records And Privacy In The Internet Age

I’m a computer professional by trade, so I’m very familiar with technology. And a recent column by Network World’s Mark Gibbs illustrates why today’s technology makes sealing adoption records pointless.

Gibbs explains how, with a bit of cash, you can find out just about anything about anyone. As an example he uses debt collectors, who have access to databases that describe everything from your Social Security number to your medical records to your most recent neighbors. As more companies cross-reference data, he says, it will become harder and harder to control where that data goes:

Every IT person with experience knows that it [availability of personal data] is not a question of the cat getting out of the bag; the cat and the bag will never even be in the same room.

He further quotes one of his readers:

‘There is no way off the grid… unless you just want to be a hermit and live in a hole somewhere. Computers were released to the world, the Internet tied them together, [now] Pandora’s box is wide open and the data has already hit the rotary oscillator.’

We adoptees are constantly accused of channeling Pandora by daring to ask questions about our origins. Advocates of closed adoption records, primarily adoption professionals and adoptive parents, claim records must be sealed because “birth mothers were promised privacy.”

But that’s not true. Birth mothers were told if they searched they would get drawn and quartered. The ones who were promised privacy were the adoptive parents, who were less likely to adopt if they thought birth parents would come banging down the door (one of many adoption stereotypes).

Birth parents cannot have been promised “privacy” because there is not one of us who lives in a vacuum. To use this as the main argument against the restoration of adult adoptee access to original birth certificates–a right that was revoked to cover the more clandestine aspects of the adoption trade–is ludicrous. Sealing birth records does not prevent adoptees and birth families from finding one another. All it does is create unnecessary and emotionally-draining loopholes for those of us who have no other method to obtain the same information others take for granted.

Privacy has never existed; the Internet just makes it more obvious. This is another reason why the sealed adoption records system should be abolished.

Adoption Stereotypes-Bring Your Twelve-Sided Dice!

I’ve talked before about the stereotypes we find in adoption. Today I’m going to lay them out, Dungeons and Dragons style, so we can see what they really reveal.

  • THE PERPETUAL CHILD

    Strength: None
    Intelligence: None
    Charisma: None
    Weapon: None
    Armor: None

    The Perpetual Child is an NPC (non-player character) that anyone can control. You can easily obtain one at any tavern, inn, or local gnome’s lair. They’re worth a fortune to the seller, but their only power is the Spell Of Assuaging Guilt In Adoptive Families.

  • THE CRAZY ADOPTEE

    Strength: 18
    Intelligence: More than expected
    Charisma: None-adoptees are insignificant
    Weapon: Wand Of Searching
    Armor: Shield Of Origin

    The Crazy Adoptee (also called the Searching Adoptee) lurks inside every Perpetual Child, and emerges when the glow from the Warm Fuzzy Orb Of Adoption fades. Any questions about adoption can bring on the transformation, so if you see an adoptee begin to ask about his or her origins, better run ’em out of town before they turn, like werewolves, into Crazy Adoptees!

  • THE STALKER ADOPTEE

    Strength: 18 (+20 in Berserker mode)
    Intelligence: 18 (-5 when dealing with Reputable Adoption Agencies)
    Charisma: None
    Weapon: Vorpal Sword Of Original Birth Certificate Access
    Armor: Elven Chain Mail Of Ingratitude

    Eventually Crazy Adoptees become Stalker Adoptees, haunting the shady dens of late-night news and made-for-TV movies. Obsessed with search, the Stalker Adoptee pursues any avenue to track down and harass blood relatives. They thirst for birth names, and hunger for unconditional records access. The worst ones (“Bastards”) can be found hunkered behind blogs, screaming their misshapen notions at the world.

  • THE STALKER BIRTH RELATIVE

    Strength: None-birth relatives have no power
    Intelligence: Not as much as Kind Social Workers
    Charisma: -1
    Weapon: Crossbow Of Determination
    Armor: Blood Ties

    Like the Stalker Adoptee, the Stalker Birth Relative can be found seeking the dark recesses of reality television and horror movies. Stalker Birth Relatives prey primarily on Loving Adoptive Families, eagerly awaiting a chance to snatch away a Perpetual Child (or at least turn them into Crazy Adoptees).

  • THE BIRTH MOTHER PROMISED “CONFIDENTIALITY”

    Strength: -1
    Intelligence: None (or so the Reputable Adoption Agencies assume)
    Charisma: -1
    Weapon: The Mother-Child Bond
    Armor: Shield of Ablative Motherhood, rusted

    The Birth Mother desires privacy at all costs, and will immediately hide in her shell should a Perpetual Child or Crazy Adoptee appear. At the sight of a Stalker Adoptee she will scream, siren-like: “I was promised confidentiality!” to every legislator and Reputable Adoption Agency within hearing. She has never regretted her decision and has been able to move forward with her life just as the Kind Social Workers promised.

  • THE SLACKER BIRTH FATHER

    Strength: 20
    Intelligence: Neanderthal
    Charisma: 12 (+30 to Birth Mothers)
    Weapon: Broadsword Of Virility
    Armor: A Wink And A Nudge

    All Birth Fathers are Slackers. They abandon Birth Mothers and could care less about the Perpetual Children they sire. None of them ever offered support, and none of them wish to know adoptees, crazy, stalker, or otherwise.

  • THE KIND SOCIAL WORKER

    Strength: 18
    Intelligence: 10
    Charisma: 18 (+20 with Reputable Adoption Agency)
    Weapon: Rogue’s Dagger Of Half-Truths
    Armor: Cloak Of Concealment

    The Kind Social Worker will gladly take that Perpetual Child off your hands. She is smiling, cheerful, and full of wise sayings, like “Most birth mothers forget” and “Children deserve two-parent homes.” Like the eyestalk of a Dalek, the Kind Social Worker has one weakness: she is vulnerable in the face of Pregnant Women Who Educate Themselves About Adoption. But if you give her your Perpetual Child, she’ll disappear in a blink.

  • THE REPUTABLE ADOPTION AGENCY

    Strength: 50
    Intelligence: Less than estimated
    Charisma: 50
    Weapon: Adoption Stereotypes
    Armor: Gauntlets Of Wealth

    The Reputable Adoption Agency has everyone’s best interests at heart. They’re a charity, in case you can’t tell from the gold-painted walls, and they would never do anything so horrible as deal with known baby brokers or offer children whose parental rights were terminated illegally.

  • THE LOVING ADOPTIVE FAMILY

    Strength: Taken by infertility
    Intelligence: Minimal near Kind Social Workers and Reputable Adoption Agencies
    Charisma: See Strength
    Weapon: The Promise Of A Better Life
    Armor: Plate Mail Of Public Opinion

    All adoptive families are Loving, if you missed the brochure. Adoptive parents are screened to make sure they aren’t pedophiles or murderers. They always tell Perpetual Children and Crazy Adoptees the truth about adoption, even when it conflicts with their own desires.

See, isn’t it fun playing the Adoption Game? Let’s keep playing before the Thought Police come to take away our Player’s Handbooks and painted miniatures.

Who Really Benefits From Closed Adoption Records?

[I wrote this as a response to Granny Annie’s blog about her own Illinois CI experience, which I am sorry to say was the same sort of hellish nightmare that I and others have also had. Read her sobering, mind-numbing story “The Cheese Stands Alone”, as well as similar stories in the replies to my own blog.]

Granny Annie, you and I had the same naive assumption that the CI program was actually there to do us some good. I was similarly dazzled by the CI “super powers” of gaining access to court information, especially after the runaround between my state of birth and state of adoption. I thought anything was better than nothing, even if I had to pay extra for it. I was wrong, and it may have cost contact with my mother and any hope of gaining information on my father. I hope you’ll share your experience with our legislators as they discuss HB 4623, the Bohica Bill that intends to keep giving more of the same to Illinois adoptees.

Let me get this straight – Indiana tried to charge Granny Annie for their own CI just to pass information to the Illinois one? Geez, how many more ways can they find to double-dip us? It’s like they know these schemes are never going to hold water so they are bilking it for all it’s worth while the blinders are still on.

As a side note, I understand that Ms. Morrison, whom Granny Annie mentioned as being attorney to MAC when she was a participant in the CI program, is the incoming President of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, which advises lawmakers on legislation like HB 4623. The people making decisions about adoption records are not necessarily objective about adoption themselves.

I want to know why the Illinois CI program considers its own procedures more “confidential” than what they actually do for participants – or adoptees’ very identities, as I was unfortunate enough to discover. Concealing Granny Annie’s CI file upon completion of the case is further evidence of how clandestine these operations are. Adoptees are treated like perpetual children – not only are we not allowed to know, we’re not allowed to know what we’re not allowed to know! For anyone else it would be a comedy routine. For us, it’s become de rigeur.

I’m not sure how much CI programs necessarily “protect” birth mothers, either. I’ve talked with several who have had similarly icky experiences. I think what CI programs and other methods of continuing “sealed and secret” policies do, is give control over adoption records to those who have money, power, and influence – whether they be (frequently) adoptive parents or adoption professionals, but sometimes birth parents and adoptees as well.

Around the same time my identifying information was accidentally disclosed, I heard a rumor that a birth mother was tremendously upset at being contacted via the CI program, and had hired some big law firm to rattle sabres and scare the CI personnel and judges into complicity. Now, I have no idea if this is true or not, but the fact that such a rumor even exists points to the fact that influence is what truly governs access to adoption records in closed-records states.

The only way to circumvent such personal bias is to restore unrestricted access to original birth certificates and files to the parties involved in adoption. Only then will we all be on an even playing field.

Until then, if you’re considering a CI, in Illinois or elsewhere – prepare to be a guinea pig in a gigantic, untested experiment. Granny Annie and I, and the other lab rats who went before you, think you might want to be aware of what’s at the end of that particular maze.

And be sure to write Illinois legislators – you can find contact info here and email addresses on Illinois Open’s page – and tell them to oppose HB 4623!