Leaving Adoptees Behind: My Experience At The Illinois HB 5428 Hearing

From Adoption Reform Illinois:

Illinois HB 5428 has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will be heard in the Senate today, Thursday April 15, 2010. Please contact the Illinois Senate NOW and ask them to oppose. This bill has been touted as restoring the rights of adult adoptees–but equality should be for ALL adoptees. HB 5428 divides adoptees into haves and have-nots leaving some behind. This is discriminatory and unjust.
Talking points when contacting legislators:
* Identity is identity, whether you are adopted or not.
* ALL adoptees, all people, deserve equal treatment under the law.
* The state of Illinois cannot afford to waste money on this expensive and ineffective bill.
Contact info for senators available on our web site:
or the ILGA web site:

As many of you know, I went to Springfield this week to testify against Illinois HB 5428, a bill that claims to support adoptee rights while doing the exact opposite. If you still think compromise legislation is the answer — if you think it’s okay to leave some adoptees behind — please take something away from my experience.
Going to Springfield was not an easy decision. I have two small children, a business to run, and limited finances, but I felt obligated to go not only for myself but on behalf of those unable to make it. So on a gorgeous spring morning I packed up a cooler of caffiene, downloaded my Weird Al Yankovic collection to my iPod, and headed out. (Nothing like Weird Al to keep you entertained on the flat, soporific stretch between Chicago and Bloomington-Normal.)
I brought with me the testimony of many birth mothers, adoptees, and others who, like me, believe that any legislation that leaves some adoptees behind is bad for everyone. A big thank you to those who sent letters, wished me luck, or otherwise supported me personally and the Adoption Reform Illinois coalition I went to represent.
First thing I learned: Parking in Springfield SUCKS.
Second thing: The staff at the Capitol are super-nice. From the security guards who pointed me in the right direction to the elderly gentleman manning the door of the room in which the meeting was held, they helped make my trip just a little smoother.

That’s where the niceties end. Once the meeting started I began to get that sinking feeling you get when you’re watching the original V and the spaceships show up. You want to scream: “They’re lizards in human skins!” but everyone wants to believe that the kindly Visitors are here to help. Except they’re not, and you’re on the menu.
HB 5428 was the first bill heard, because there were “so many people from out of town and out of state.” Senator A.J. Wilhelmi, Judiciary Committee Chairperson and Senate sponsor of HB 5428, yielded the chair to Senator Don Harmon so he could sit in the hot seat with Sara Feigenholtz and Rep. Terrence Martin of Alaska, who was brought in by the Feigenholtz team as a proponent of the bill.
When you arrive you sign a little slip that says who you are, who you represent, whether you’re pro or con and if you want to submit oral and/or written testimony. Harmon read off the list of these people. Proponents: Terrance Martin, the organization Shiva Siv (sp?), Linda Coon from the Chicagoland Bar Association, Julie Tye of The Cradle (an adoption agency), Melisha Mitchell of the American Adoption Congress (sic), George Rudis of Illinois Dept. of Public Health (who runs the Illinois registry), a representative of DCFS. Opponents: Tom Nolan, Christopher Brown (husband of adoptee Gay Brown), Gay Brown, Mary Lynn Fuller of Illinois Open, Rev. Bob Vanderberg of Concerned Christians America, Mary Dixon of the ACLU, Ralph Rivera of Right To Life, and me for Adoption Reform Illinois sponsored by the Green Ribbon Campaign For Open Records.
Senator Wilhelmi started off by expounding on all the “good” Sara Feigenholtz has done for adoptee rights and what an honor it’s been to work with her. Everyone sees her as a “champion” of adoptee rights, except those of us left behind by her compromises. Then he turned it over to Feigenholtz who talked about “wearing her heart on her sleeve” and “begging for human rights.” She whined about being called a “traitor to the Adoption Reform Movement” but felt that she was striking a balance by honoring the voice of the majority. Small consolation to those in the minority.
For those of you reading, if you don’t already know: I am in that minority. My birth mother has filed the denial of contact. So hearing that it’s okay for people like me to be left out so others can have access does not sit well with me. And I speak as someone who used to believe that intermediaries were the answer, that compromise was necessary and fair, until I got screwed by the process and realized that it’s really all about politics, influence, and making money off adoption records access. All of this became even more clear to me as I sat and listened to the committee meeting.
Feigenholtz pointed out that confidentiality is a myth because adoptive parents can obtain the decree of adoption which states the birth parent names on it. This became quite a contentious point later. She also mentioned that if a child surrendered for adoption is not adopted, the record is never sealed, and that some adoptive parents choose not to seal the file.
What’s ironic is that she was all about the rights of adoptees. The good news is, the legislators are starting to understand why adoptee rights are important. Feigenholtz’s testimony was full of the message we want to get across: why adoptees deserve the same rights as everyone else, why lack of access is discriminatory, etc. The bad news is that HB 5428, like everything else Feigenholtz has introduced, fails to fulfill that. If everyone deserves equal rights, then EVERYONE deserves equal rights, bar none. But Feigenholtz is very good at convincing people that it’s okay for the lizards to eat a few humans if the rest get to survive.
Rep. Martin of Alaska spoke of his experience in an orphanage in Baltimore and his struggle to gain access to his origins. “It’s all about truth,” he said. Julie Tye of the Cradle spoke about how adoptees aren’t trying to “stalk” birth parents. “They don’t do that,” she said. No one mentioned the adoptees left behind by this legislation. Next, Senator Harmon allowed Senator Wilhelmi to choose who got to testify and suggested he pick one person from each of the two opposing camps: those who feel the bill goes too far (e.g. Right to Life, ACLU) and those who feel it doesn’t go far enough (like Adoption Reform Illinois). I thought this was inappropriate because it allowed the sponsors of the bill to choose who got to speak.
Ralph Rivera of the Right To Life movement got his ass handed to him over the matter of purported confidentiality because it had already been established that adoptive parents have access to the birth parent names via the adoption decree. He doesn’t like the retrospective aspect of the legislation although he would be fine if it were prospective, in other words if birth mothers got to choose at the time of relinquishment if they want later contact. Yeah, yet another thing to burden a woman who’s immediately post-partum; a lifetime decision on contact. Ms. Dixon of the ACLU questioned whether adoptive parents actually know the birth parents’ names and pointed out that adoptive parents almost always opt for sealed records. (I bet most of them are never told there is a choice.)
Something Ms. Dixon said is important for every adoptee. She spoke of the legislative intent of sealing records from the general public — and said that the adult adoptee IS INCLUDED in the general public. She didn’t share what she’d been smoking.
Next they called oral testimony from someone who believes the bill doesn’t go far enough. That person was Gay Brown, an adoptee who flew in from New Jersey to testify. She spoke of her need for birth certificate access because of her medical condition in which she needed to be tested for the breast cancer gene. Her insurance wouldn’t cover it because she couldn’t prove anyone in her family has it. She said, “Answers could save my life, and my daughters’.”
With respect to Gay, medical necessity is a red herring that only encourages legislators to opt for conditional legislation. Because if all we need is medical, then it’s easy to condone things like registries and confidential intermediaries, even though they’re expensive and not available to everyone. It’s easy to say, “Okay, we’ll give you the information, but only if it’s redacted.” It’s easy to continue to deny our civil rights to access our original birth certificates.
My biggest disappointment was when Senator Harmon asked Gay, “As Senator John Cullerton [Sara Feigenholtz’s mentor and current Senate President] used to say, do you think this bill is bad, or is it better than we have now?” She said, “Perhaps,” and they swung right into the vote. In other words, the oral testimony that was supposed to reinforce the position that everyone deserves equal rights was basically negated.
The committee voted without reading any of the submitted written testimony, and the measure passed 6-3. Voting for were Don Harmon (“Step in the right direction”), Ira Silverstein (a sponsor), Terry Link (spoke of his experience as an adoptive uncle and favorably toward the concept of adoptee rights), Michael Noland (“the benefit to society outweights the possible detriment to birth parents”), Kwame Raoul, and Edward Maloney. Voting against were Randall Hultgren, Kirk Dillard (“I’m not ready to be on board this bill, but after meeting with my constituents I might change my mind”), and Matt Murphy. There were two abstentions (I believe Dale Righter and William Haine).
The second reading in the Senate is today, April 15th. This thing is being lubricated through the process as quickly as possible because Sara Feigenholtz and her allies know that time allows opposition.
Once again, I find myself not only fighting people who believe adoptees have no rights but also those who believe in adoptee rights but think conditional access is okay and we can go back and fix it later. What if there isn’t a later? Don’t you think they will grandfather in anybody who’s had a disclosure veto filed against them? My rights may be gone for the rest of my lifetime, but I’ll be damned if I sit by and allow it to happen. I encourage those of you in other states to think long and hard before agreeing to compromise. You may never get another chance, and you are selling out your fellow adoptees and possibly yourself in the process.
All people deserve equal, unfettered access to their original birth certificates without having to go through expensive and ineffective intermediaries. As I said, the legislators understand why adoptee rights are important. What they don’t get — because they haven’t had the opportunity to listen to anyone other than the Feigenholtz team — is that rights belong to everyone, without exception.
Post-meeting fun: meeting Sara Feigenholtz and her right-hand gal Melisha Mitchell in person. Melisha says she reads everything people say about adoption reform in Illinois, so let me say a big online howdy and hope you’re enjoying my blog.
Please contact the Illinois Senators TODAY and ask them to vote NO on HB 5428. Ask them to enact legislation that truly honors the civil rights of ALL adoptees. Use Maine as an example. And speaking of Maine, a big shout-out to Paula Benoit who took time out of her busy life to submit written testimony and coach me on speaking to legislators.

Contact Illinois Senate TODAY: Oppose HB 5428, Leaves Some Adoptees Behind

I will be blogging about my experience at the Illinois Senate this week opposing HB 5428, a bill that claims to be about adoptee rights but instead divides us into haves and have-nots. But I wanted to get this advisory out immediately. The Senate will discuss this bill TODAY. Please write ASAP and ask them to oppose this bill.
*** Please distribute freely ***
Dear Adoption Reform Illinois supporters,
HB 5428 has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will be heard in the Senate today, Thursday April 15, 2010. Please contact the Illinois Senate NOW and ask them to oppose. This bill has been touted as restoring the rights of adult adoptees–but equality should be for ALL adoptees. HB 5428 divides adoptees into haves and have-nots leaving some behind. This is discriminatory and unjust.
Talking points when contacting legislators:
* Identity is identity, whether you are adopted or not.
* ALL adoptees, all people, deserve equal treatment under the law.
* The state of Illinois cannot afford to waste money on this expensive and ineffective bill.
Contact info for senators available on our web site:
or the ILGA web site:
Thank you for your help!

Why Adoptee Rights Depend On Stopping Illinois HB 5428

Illinois HB 5428, a bill that severely curtails adoptee rights, is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee. A meeting will be held Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 2:30pm at Capitol 400 in Springfield, Illinois to discuss the bill. From the Adoption Reform Illinois web site:

We welcome anyone who can attend (you do not have to speak). We also welcome written testimony, regardless of whether you are in Illinois. You can send it to Adoption Reform Illinois at info@campaign4openrecords.org. Please include your name, address, phone number and email address. We suggest you limit to one page and include any personal experiences you have either with Illinois in particular or sealed records in general. If we receive your testimony by Monday night we will submit it to the legislators on Tuesday.

Adoption Reform Illinois has some talking points on our web site, as well as our position paper (PDF) which explains why we oppose HB 5428. We also encourage you to call or fax the Senate sponsors and members of the Judiciary Committee to express your opposition to this bill.
Why is it important that we stop Illinois HB 5428?
If HB 5428 is enacted in Illinois, it will impact adoptee rights across the country. Do you really want to be considered a criminal for simply pursuing your own genealogy, even if you don’t contact anyone? Do you want to support a bureaucratic nightmare that exists only to make money at your expense?
What’s so bad about this bill?
First, there is the way IL HB 5428 is being slipped under the radar… It has already been fast-tracked through a House vote of approval, and is currently in the Senate’s Assignments committee.
Next, there is the unprecedented level of bureaucracy this bill creates — because the more bureaucracy, the more opportunities to charge you for your own information. HB 5428 introduces no less than five levels of disclosure veto (mislabeled “preferences”), ranging from “access if your Mommy approves” all the way down to “F*** you.” It goes so far as to mandate modification of vital records, permanently erasing adoptee identities. Adoptees who have already been shafted by disclosure veto remain screwed.
IL HB 5428 puts the very same people who run Illinois’ mismanaged registry and CI program on the council overseeing it.
HB 5428 calls for state money to advertise the program. It’s all about profit at a time when our state can’t even pay its own bills. And it’s all about obscurity at a time when the citizens of Illinois are trying to shine some light on the corrupt politics in this state.
And if that’s not bad enough… IL HB 5428 would make it a CRIME to pursue your own search via non-identifying information (damages plus $10,000 minimum punitive fine).
Isn’t it better that some adoptees have access than none?

If you are an adoptee who has original birth certificate access, find out what laws in your state allow you to do so. Do those laws deny the rights of your fellow adoptees? How does that make you feel? And if you support conditional legislation, either deliberately or because you haven’t really thought about it, ask yourself why. Why is it okay for some adoptees to have access and not others? What makes a person born on this date better than someone born on that one? Why are adoptees in one state more deserving than those in another?

Are you willing to leave people behind? What if you turn out to be one of them?

Can’t we just go back and make it better later?
Legislators don’t revisit legislation like this. If HB 5428 is passed, it will set adoptee rights back decades in Illinois and elsewhere. From my blog entry Think Before You Support Compromise Adoption Reform Bills:
  • Baby steps are not needed to achieve clean original birth certificate access. It’s been done in Maine. It’s been done in Oregon. IT CAN HAPPEN. But you have to work at it, and if your nice clean bill gets lobotomized, you have to take the higher ground, kill it and start again.
  • Look to your left. Look to your right. One of your brethren in adoption is going to be left behind if you compromise. Ask yourself if you actually want to support a bill that means getting your information at the expense of someone else. And remember, that someone else could easily be you.
  • NOT ONE STATE that has enacted compromise legislation has EVER changed it later to clean birth certificate access. Once you have the compromise you are stuck with it. The politicians consider it a done deal and won’t revisit it. You’ll have shot yourself in the foot for nothing.
  • Compromises in one state bleed over onto others. Legislators ask, if it works for this other state, why shouldn’t we do it that way? It makes it harder to enact clean legislation elsewhere.
  • There are politicians and lobbyists who want you to compromise because it’s a way for them to pay lip service to reform while not actually doing anything. In other words, it’s a ploy to get us to be good little bastards and birth mommies and go away. Post-adoption services exist to make money, period. They do not exist to help you. They do not exist to restore your civil rights. Don’t buy into the rhetoric. Demand clean legislation, each and every time.
  • Adoption records access is not about medical history, search and reunion or anything else. It is about identity. It is about the right to be treated equally. Don’t get caught up in the arguments. Take it back to basics and stay focused.
Illinois HB 5428 must be defeated for the good of ALL adoptees, not just those deemed worthy by arbitrary bureaucrats. I’ll be reporting on my trip to Springfield and my experience testifying against this atrocity of a bill.

Illinois HB 5428: Toxic To Adoptee Rights, Makes It A Crime To Search

Please write to these senators and tell them to oppose IL HB 5428. And be sure to sign our Change.org petition!

You can find the bill status for Illinois HB 5428 here and the full text here. I also encourage you to join Adoption Reform Illinois, a coalition of triad members and others seeking to defeat bills like this and introduce clean legislation to Illinois. On our web site you will find contact information for the Senate sponsors and Assignments committee, and our position paper, Why ARI Opposes HB 5428 (pdf).

I haven’t blogged much lately because I’ve been busy fighting IL HB 5428, a new-bill-same-as-the-old-bill which kicks Illinois adoptees when they’re down. This bill, introduced by legislator and token adoptee Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, is utterly toxic, even more so than most compromise legislation. (Please read this if you think compromise legislation is okay and “baby steps are needed” to achieve adoption reform.)
First, there is the way IL HB 5428 is being slipped under the radar. After the defeat the adoption reform community handed the similar IL HB 4623 in 2008, Feigenholtz must have realized she would never be able to pass one of her odious initiatives if anyone knew about it. So this thing has been silent but deadly. It has already been fast-tracked through a House vote of approval, and is currently in the Senate’s Assignments committee.
Next, there is the unprecedented level of bureaucracy this bill creates — because the more bureaucracy, the more opportunities to charge you for your own information. HB 5428 introduces no less than five levels of disclosure veto (mislabeled “preferences”), ranging from “access if your Mommy approves” all the way down to “F*** you.” It goes so far as to mandate modification of vital records, permanently erasing adoptee identities. Adoptees who have already been shafted by disclosure veto remain screwed.
Feigenholtz is touting this to the media as being good for adoptees, while snickering behind our backs with dollar signs in her eyes. DO NOT BELIEVE THE LIES. This bill does NOT grant birth certificate access. It cements profiteering at the expense of adult adoptees.
IL HB 5428 puts the very same people who run Illinois’ mismanaged registry and CI program on the council overseeing it. This makes the Midwest Adoption Center (MAC), the sole-source no-bid entity contracted to perform these services in Illinois, accountable to no one but themselves. This council is filled with entities who profit from access to adoption records. AAC’s representative (Melisha Mitchell aka Allen) is a paid searcher, a conflict of interest. No adoption reform groups are represented.
When it comes to MAC, we are talking about the same people who consider the confidentiality of their policies and procedures more important than protecting the identities of participants. I speak from experience when I say I wouldn’t trust these people to clean up radioactive sewage — which is what HB 5428 is.
The bill is primarily a money grab for MAC and the CI program. HB 5428 calls for state money to advertise the program. It’s all about profit at a time when our state can’t even pay its own bills. And it’s all about obscurity at a time when the citizens of Illinois are trying to shine some light on the corrupt politics in this state.
And if that’s not bad enough…
IL HB 5428 would make it a CRIME to pursue your own search via non-identifying information (damages plus $10,000 minimum punitive fine). From the bill text:

Any person who learns a sought-after relative’s identity, directly or indirectly, through the use of procedures provided in this Section and who improperly discloses information identifying the sought-after relative shall be liable to the sought-after relative for actual damages plus minimum punitive damages of $10,000.

Yes, you heard that right. If you’re not adopted, it’s called genealogy. But if you are adopted, under IL HB 5428 you will be penalized if you attempt to search on your own. This is so that all Illinois adoptees and their birth families will be forced through the jaws of the intermediary program’s profit-making machine.
Oh, and at the same time they hold themselves unaccountable for any mistakes they may make while meddling in your business, such as the way they disclosed my identifying information to my birth family without my consent. CIs who make mistakes keep their jobs and are charged a modest penalty which is paid to DCFS, not the injured party:

The Department shall fine any confidential intermediary who improperly discloses confidential information in violation of item (1) or (2) of this subsection (k) an amount up to $2,000 per improper disclosure. This fine does not affect civil liability under item (2) of this subsection (k). The Department shall deposit all fines and penalties collected under this Section into the Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Information Fund.

Here’s a barf bag. I’ll wait while you hurl.
Bastardette has posted part 1 of what is sure to be a rousing series on Sneaky Sara and her machinations. I strongly encourage you to read it, and to write to Illinois senators to put a stop to this toxic bill.

Compromising On Adoptee Access? The Foot You Shoot May Be Your Own

I wrote this as a response to the news that Missouri has enacted a compromise bill for adult adoptee original birth certificate (OBC) access. I really wish people would understand that compromise legislation is a ploy to get us to shut up and go away. You never know if you yourself may be the one vetoed out of your own rights.
If you are thinking of supporting a bill, please understand what these compromises actually mean. Insist upon clean bills, every time, no exceptions.
What I said was:
While I appreciate all the hard work those involved have done to enact this bill [in Missouri], baby steps and compromises are not a fair solution. So-called “disclosure vetoes” such as the one in this new MO law require adoptees to get approval from their birth mothers before they can have their original birth certificates. Disclosure vetoes are sometimes phrased as “contact preferences”, but if it is binding on adoptees and prevents them from accessing their OBCs, it’s a veto.
This is unequal and a blow to the civil rights of adoptees. No one else needs such approval. The fact is that “baby steps” end up stopping at step one. No state that has enacted compromise legislation like this has ever revisited it. The legislators consider it a done deal and don’t want to revisit. Speaking from experience, a system like this does NOT work. The people typically in charge of it are often political allies of those who enact it. In other words, it’s a way to make money off adoptees, again. For example in Illinois the people who run the program are political allies of the legislator who enacted it, and make six figure salaries off babysitting adoptees and their birth families.
Compromise legislation is neither right nor fair. ALL citizens, regardless of adoptive status, deserve the same equal treatment. That means ALL adult adoptees should be able to access their original birth certificates in the same manner, and for the same reasonable fees, as everyone else.
Forgive me but this strikes close to home. I am an adult adoptee who has been denied her original birth certificate because of Illinois’ disclosure veto. I personally could not look at myself in the mirror if I got my OBC via a law that meant the adoptees in front of or behind me were unable to get theirs. We must all stand together and insist upon our civil rights instead of falling for cleverly-worded “solutions”. This is a political gimmick to lure you into thinking you are restoring your rights when you are really shooting yourself (and others) in the foot. Please think about and understand what compromise legislation means. It means you get your information at someone else’s expense. It means you yourself could very easily be the one left behind. You won’t know until you try to access your OBC and discover that you’re one of the “small percentage” that got bit by a veto.
It is perfectly possible to enact clean legislation. Other states like Maine have done it. You have to take the higher ground, insist on clean bills, and kill the bill if it is amended with a disclosure veto. South Dakota just went through that and I admire the South Dakota SEAL group for vowing to kill the bill they worked so hard for if it was compromised.
For every state that enacts a compromise, it makes it that much more difficult to enact clean legislation elsewhere. This is why we have not made more progress in opening records, because people are willing to fall for these compromises. Working together is paramount. Access must be equal, across the board. I have no problem with true contact preferences, those that allow birth families to state their preference while still allowing the adoptee to obtain his/her OBC (versus a binding veto, whatever it might be called). The notion that such preferences must be binding assumes that all adoptees are potential stalkers, which is demeaning and discriminatory. There is a vast difference between search/reunion and the right to one’s identity. The former is a decision that families must make among themselves. The latter should be a basic right of all human beings. Missouri’s bill is a tragedy for those who will be left behind.
One thing I would like to mention is that I do actually have a problem with true contact preferences (those that are not binding on the adoptee). Namely, that is that it is too easy for what begins as a “preference” to become a binding veto. Politicians are confused as to the difference between a contact preference and a disclosure veto. See the recent South Dakota decision on HB 1223 for an example of that. But I would rather see an otherwise clean bill pass with a nonbinding preference than a binding veto.

What Needs Reform In Adoption? Everything!

This month’s Grown In My Heart blog carnival asks the question, “What do you think needs reform in adoption?” I could fill whole stadiums with answers to that one, but I think everything that concerns me boils down to one word: TRANSPARENCY, or lack thereof.
Take, for example:
  • Domestic and international adoption scandals: children targeted for adoption, mothers coerced into surrendering, adoptive parents duped into a false sense of security about the adoption process
  • Situations like Haiti, where crises are used to exploit children and families
  • Sealed adoption records, the myth of birth parent “privacy”, the discrimination faced by adult adoptees and their mothers, and the facade of compromise legislation
  • The lure of open adoption, which is rarely enforcable by the birth mother
  • “Crisis pregnancy centers” which are often fronts for adoption mills
  • Misinformation about the long-term effects of adoption, especially for transracial and transcultural adoptees
  • The general public’s lack of understanding about adoption, which is promulgated by the adoption industry so clandestine and questionable practices can continue. Part of this is driven by media bias in adoption reporting, which leads me into…
  • GET ADOPTION OFF TELEVISION. I have to wonder why there isn’t legal protection for minors exploited on television (think Jon & Kate or Balloon Boy). I think about these kids whose adoption stories are being told on TV (e.g. Teen Mom, 16 And Pregnant) before they even have a chance to know for themselves. Can you imagine how devastating that will be for them? It’s one thing to have consenting adults on these shows but something far different when we’re talking about babies and children. And even when it’s consenting adults, the information is almost always skewed. Let’s face it, reality shows and made-for-TV movies are not solid journalism, but most people base their ideas about adoption from them.
If adoption were transparent, if the procedures were scrutinized, I think there would be far less (although not zero) corruption. People will always find a way to game the system, but transparency and repercussions make it harder. Ratifying the Hague Convention would be one step. Restoring original birth certificate access to adult adoptees AND birth mothers would be another. We need more education for prospective adopters. We need independent and transparent regulation of adoption agencies. We need to get rid of private adoptions that too easily fall into the gray-market or black-market category. We need to eliminate pork-barrel legislation that turns original birth certificate access into a windfall for politicians and their well-connected cronies. We need to distinguish between infant adoption and foster-care adoption. We need to support mothers and families. We need to turn adoption from a boutique industry into a system in which kids who need help will get it.
But what we most need to do is take the profit margin out of adoption. If there is no money to be made, profiteering will decrease. I don’t anticipate this will happen anytime soon. Adoption is big business, with the funds and resources to hire lobbyists to maintain the bottom line. What we, as individuals, can do is demand transparency of adoption agencies and practitioners, and of our elected officials. We can also continue making scandals public, so that those who do game the system are caught. And we can educate the general public about adoption, including its flaws and misconceptions.
Adoption should be a last resort. We should strive to support children: with their parents where possible, with extended family where not, via domestic adoption in their country of origin and via international adoption only as a last resort. Yes, that means less adoptable children, but this isn’t about finding a child for everyone who wants one. The adoption industry sets very unrealistic expectations while continuing to sweep necessary reform under the rug. Let’s return adoption to its roots–finding homes for children in need–and do away with the corruption that currently defines it.

Think Before You Support Compromise Adoption Reform Bills

The new legislative session is upon us, and I encourage you to think long and hard before throwing your support behind a bill just because it claims “adoption records access”.

Whenever there’s word of a new records access bill, members of the adoption community scramble to support it amid cries of “Write the legislators!” and “Write the newspapers!” But not all bills are created equal. Some are wonderful, shining examples of clean legislation, like Maine, for example. Others are travesties and need to die before they suck the life out of adult adoptee and birth parent rights.
A clean records access bill is one in which adult adoptees (and birth mothers too!) have the same access to original, unaltered birth certificates as people not touched by adoption. Compromises take many forms but may include:
  • A disclosure veto, which allows a birth parent to prevent an adult adoptee’s access to his or her birth certificate. (On the other hand, a contact preference is just that, a preference. It does not legally deny access to the adult adoptee’s birth certificate.)
  • A mandatory intermediary, which requires adult adoptees and birth parents to submit to third-party mediation even if all they want is information and not contact.
  • Sandwich bills, in which adult adoptees born before or after certain dates have access, while others do not.
There are several bills in discussion right now, including New Jersey and Missouri. It’s sad that people have invested effort in these bills because they are so compromised, they will do more harm than good. They’re based on the myths that “baby steps” are necessary to adoption reform, that compromise legislation can be revisited, that nothing else will work in XYZ state, that “almost good enough” is good enough. None of this is true. The best way–the ONLY way–to restore equal rights to adult adoptees and birth mothers is to enact clean legislation from the start.
Here are some truths about compromise legislation:
  • Baby steps are not needed to achieve clean original birth certificate access. It’s been done in Maine. It’s been done in Oregon. IT CAN HAPPEN. But you have to work at it, and if your nice clean bill gets lobotomized, you have to take the higher ground, kill it and start again.
  • Look to your left. Look to your right. One of your brethren in adoption is going to be left behind if you compromise. Ask yourself if you actually want to support a bill that means getting your information at the expense of someone else. And remember, that someone else could easily be you.
  • NOT ONE STATE that has enacted compromise legislation has EVER changed it later to clean birth certificate access. Once you have the compromise you are stuck with it. The politicians consider it a done deal and won’t revisit it. You’ll have shot yourself in the foot for nothing.
  • Compromises in one state bleed over onto others. Legislators ask, if it works for this other state, why shouldn’t we do it that way? It makes it harder to enact clean legislation elsewhere.
  • There are politicians and lobbyists who want you to compromise because it’s a way for them to pay lip service to reform while not actually doing anything. In other words, it’s a ploy to get us to be good little bastards and birth mommies and go away. Post-adoption services exist to make money, period. They do not exist to help you. They do not exist to restore your civil rights. Don’t buy into the rhetoric. Demand clean legislation, each and every time.
  • Adoption records access is not about medical history, search and reunion or anything else. It is about identity. It is about the right to be treated equally. Don’t get caught up in the arguments. Take it back to basics and stay focused.
What to look for in a bad bill:
  • Disclosure vetoes, mandatory intermediaries, sandwiches.
  • Convoluted language or anything that says, “we’ll figure out how to do this later”. If you don’t understand it, it’s probably not clean.
  • Sometimes shell bills are introduced that are replaced at the last minute by compromise bills that no one sees before the committee vote, like the fast one they pulled with Illinois HB 4623 in 2008.
So when you see there’s a new bill up for discussion, for heaven’s sake research it before you rush to support it. Read the bill for yourself. Ask your friends in the adoption community. Find out about the legislative sponsors. Use your head and your common sense. Don’t be a knee-jerk supporter just because it says “records access” on the tin.
For more on compromise legislation:

Birth Mothers Who Want Privacy Should Support Open Adoption Records

I mentioned this previously in my blog post on “Adoption BEWareness Month Part II” as well as on OSoloMama’s blog, and I think it warrants a post of its own. What I said was:

[I]f women don’t want the offspring they gave up for adoption to contact them, then they ought to support open adoption records. Because as it stands in closed records states, the only way for adoptees to obtain info is to contact their birth mothers.

The biggest argument against restoring original birth certificate access to adoptees is that we are all potential stalkers out to harass our birth mothers. Putting aside how ridiculous that is, in reality, most birth mothers desire contact, and most adoptees just want some information. The way sealed records operate, our only choice is to contact our mothers for that information.
I posit that original birth certificate access actually HELPS that small percentage of mothers who desire privacy.
My own is a case in point. When I began searching, it wasn’t with a mind to find my mother. Granted, I had a few hazy daydreams of meeting her over coffee, but my real goal was finding out about myself: how my adoption was arranged, what my birth name is, what my ethnic heritage is, where I fit in a long line of ancestors. And I spent a decade doing everything I possibly could to find out without contacting my birth mother. I did my own research. I asked search angels for help. I hired a private investigator. I tried both the state in which I was born and the state in which I was adopted, and as you all know got shuttled between them like the unwanted ball in a game of hot potato. Tried to use the Illinois Confidential Intermediary system, failed, hired a lawyer, tried again, succeeded for certain definitions of “succeed”, made brief contact with my birth mother, was denied further contact, and wound up exactly where I started… except for a few extra tidbits of vague information, some hefty bills to be paid, and a signed denial of contact form from my birth mother which denies me access to the very records I originally sought.
Score: adoption industry, several kazillion; Triona and her family, zero.
Now, if I had access to my original birth certificate, in the same manner as the non-adopted, I could have spent half an hour and $15 at the courthouse to obtain what took me thousands of dollars, thousands of hours, and a lifetime of pain to attempt to obtain. And I wouldn’t have had to contact my birth mother at all.
Compromise legislation and post-adoption “services”, however kindly (or unkindly) meant, merely pays lip service to records access. They have nothing to do with the privacy of anyone except the adoptive parents, and those agencies and individuals who are attempting to hide the misdeeds of adoptions past. Why else are the Illinois intermediary program’s procedures more confidential than my own private data? Why else are the original birth certificates of adoptees impounded, not upon relinquishment, but upon finalization of the adoption? Why else are adoptive parents often given paperwork that names the birth mother?
Those scant few birth mothers who want privacy should support original birth certificate access. Because the way the system is rigged in closed-records states, the ONLY state-sanctioned way for an adoptee to obtain information is to contact our birth mothers, whether we want to or not.

Adoption BEwareness Month Part II

It’s that time of year again, when I can’t open a paper or glance at a web site without being innundated by how WONDERFUL adoption is and isn’t it too bad we don’t have more of it.
Sigh.
Forget the rainbows and fluffy animals. Others have mentioned this, and I believe also, that it would be far more effective to spend November analyzing the less savory sides of adoption.
Such as honoring Strange And Mournful Day, when mothers take time to contemplate how the adoption industry robbed them of their children, their dignity, and their self-respect.
Or reviewing how supposedly respected organizations like Catholic Charities can so royally screw up their (expensive) intermediary services that purportedly “help” adoptees and birth relatives reconnect. (90% success rate?! I want to hear how many applications got dropped on the floor a la the Illinois Confidential Intermediary Service. Likewise, I bet CC is also pre screening to insure success before accepting participants–skews the figures nicely.) You’ve got to wonder what CC is trying to conceal, that they’re refusing to help straighten out this appalling situation. Don’t tell me the law doesn’t allow it, that’s a cop-out similar to “I was just following orders”.
What about donor-conceived people who have no access to their medical records? What about cases like the sperm donor who passed on a life-threatening genetic condition? Doesn’t anybody give a damn that we are creating human beings willy-nilly with no regard for their rights as human beings? I don’t mean embryos, I mean the rights of real-live people who are suffering because others want to conceal errors and misdeeds.
How about discussing the strange case of the birth mother so upset at being contacted by the child-now-adult she gave up for adoption that she feels the need to plaster her story all over the place, in some kind of insane attempt to… do what? Garner sympathy? Destroy any hope of open records? Demonstrate how ungrateful we adoptees are, especially those of us who *gasp* search? Because being adopted automatically turns us into crazy stalkers, it’s right there in the Player’s Handbook. Oh, and our heads spin 360 while we projectile vomit, too. But genealogy is A-OK if you’re, say, the First Lady, or anybody else for that matter. Now, gimme back my dice so I can keep playing the D&D version of Adoption Stereotypes. I’ve got a new character to roll:
THE PSYCHO BIRTH MOTHER
Strength: Limitless
Intelligence: Questionable
Charisma: 18 (+30 to News Media)
Weapon: +10 Glaive Of Victimization
Armor: Shield Of Anti-Reflection
When confronted with the Stalker Adoptee, the Birth Mother Promised Confidentiality morphs into the Psycho Birth Mother. Not only has she never regretted her decision, she’s the one being victimized and wants only to maintain her privacy, which is why she touts her story to any News Media she can find. Her siren call is: “Don’t open the records! It’ll destroy women like me!” Ignoring her sister birth mothers, who may actually (horrors!) desire and seek contact with their offspring, she hides in plain sight, turning any adoptees who cross her path back into Perpetual Children. The Psycho Birth Mother refuses to look at herself in a mirror, because deep down she knows what she’s doing is wrong.
As I said on Osolomama’s blog, if women don’t want the offspring they gave up for adoption to contact them, then they ought to support open adoption records. Because as it stands in closed records states, the only way for adoptees to obtain info is to contact their birth mothers. (And no offense intended by my use of that term; I’m using it strictly for search engine purposes. As far as I’m concerned these women are mothers, no adjective.)

Personally, November is very hard for me. For one thing, it’s my daughter’s birthday. She is my eldest and the very first biological relative I ever saw in the flesh. That is so messed up I cannot even begin to tell you. So to have Adoption Awareness Month be the same as the anniversary of her arrival is really difficult. The last thing I need are painful reminders that she and my son are the only biological relatives I may ever know. I am also irate that the whole adoption thing spoils my ability to be able to enjoy her birthday. This month should be all about HER, turning six and getting pink princess presents. She shouldn’t have to have a mother who’s distracted by fighting the ghosts of adoption past, present and future. Adoption affects my kids, too, and they had nothing to do with it!
It’s also that time of thanksgiving, of being grateful… and I am damn sick of being told, as an adoptee, to be grateful. It’s a time of family and since I’ve been disowned from my adoptive family and denied existence by my birth family, that only makes it worse. I could tell you the reason I haven’t blogged much lately is because I’m busy with work and other things. It’s even true. But the other reason is that I am so effing sick of adoption at this time of year that I can’t think straight.

Thank goodness for Doctor Who or I might not make it through this year. I’m planning to enjoy the last episodes of the Tenth Doctor to the fullest, and I don’t need adoption casting a pall over my escapism, thank you very much. In fact, adoption is the reason for it.
Adoption might as well be a rusty knife in my stomach. It’s hard to tell what hurts worse, going in or coming out, but either way it’ll poison you for life.
Yeah, I need a whole month to be reminded of that.

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.