The Era Of Sealed Records Continues

It is not some long ago issue. For many adoptees, their personal history, their adoption file and their original birth certificates are withheld from them even today in maybe half these United States. It is true that there has been progress made in some states. I believe New York was the most recent.

So today, I read the heartbreaking account below of yet another adoptee struggling with this, just as my mom did (however, she was denied because her mom was dead and her father’s status could not be determined – thankfully, I received her full file in 2017 from the state of Tennessee – if only she could have had the peace of mind her file would have brought her but she was also dead by the time I was able to obtain it on her behalf as her descendent).

Here’s that other adoptees’ sad tale –

I had to friend request my biological mother again. We were friends before when we first connected, but I unfriended her after writing her a long message unleashing my pent-up anger and hurt over my adoption. Anyway, the state of Florida says that if I want a copy of my original birth certificate, I need this woman to write a note permitting the courts to unseal my records. So, I have to expose myself to more trauma and talk to someone I don’t want to talk to, so I can have the factual account of my birth. I am so tired of laws that hurt adoptees and protect biological parents. It’s bullshit.

One response was this – It’s a human rights violation, considering these people signed away any legal rights they had to us, so they are legal strangers to us. They have as much to do with us as a neighbor, a store clerk or a real estate agent. Yet we are still beholden to them, when laws that separated us, make us ask their permission in the ultimate of hypocrisy.

Another adoptee shares –

I was born in the “blackout” period for Massachusetts adoptees. I think it was from 1974 through 2008. If you were born in that time frame, you need to convince a judge there is a “good reason” to give you your original vital records information. I don’t know what that is but I really don’t want my adoptive parents finding out I’m even poking yet, I’d rather have them on my side first.

And yet another from my own home state – I was adopted in Missouri. I had to have written permission from one of my adoptive parents to get my information. My adoptive dad wrote the letter for me. If he had died before the letter was written, I would not have been able to get any information.

And I agree with this adoptive parent – I have always felt that the Amended Birth Certificate was a lie and an awful thing to do to a child who has every right to that document. Blog writer’s note – For both of my parents, their birth certificates were total fabrications. How can it be a good thing to grow a life upon a lie ?

No adult should have to get any other adult’s permission to obtain their own records.

Someone else writes – I’m confused about how this protects natural parents. It seems like it’s just a difficult-to-impossible side quest to make it less likely that any adoptee will find their natural family, all to benefit adopters who fear reunion, in the guise of “protecting the birth mother’s privacy”.

Exactly !! The stated reason for the secrecy has always been to protect the privacy of the original parents but that rings hollow and it has been abundantly proven that the reason is to protect the adoptive parents from dealing with adoptee/original parent intrusions.

You Don’t Own That Child

Even with one’s biological/genetic children, we don’t own them. We may be the vessel through which they came to Life but that does not give us ownership rights. This is true as well regarding adoptees. An adoptive parent does not own their adopted child. Hence the disturbing nature of today’s story –

The child is sad and missing his birth mother. He has been with his adoptive parents since birth. He wants to be with his birth mom. He wants to know why he’s adopted and is asking questions about his birth mother. One of the comments from the post that is now deleted is actually how some foster and adoptive parents think. “Tell him ‘I got you away from her because I need a child to love. Stop bringing her up. You are not meeting her end of discussion, you belong to me, not her. period’. Lady, you need to fight for what is yours, be strong. How would you feel if this was your husband wanting to visit an ex girlfriend he really liked? This is your family, not theirs, fight for it”.

Comparing one’s adopted child to a cheating husband ? Unbelievable.

Fear is common in adoptive parents. Here’s another adoptee’s experience – My adoptive parents would say “they don’t care about you. They wanted a closed adoption. They didn’t show up for court.” They wouldn’t let me see my adoption papers until I was 25 and actually called the lawyer that handled my adoption for advice. I found out that’s totally not the case. I think my adoptive parents are still scared (since I call my original parents “mom and dad” now). To be honest, I call friend’s parents mom and dad too. And my adoptive parents are scared that I’m going to choose my first family over them. What I really want is for everyone to get along.

From another adoptee – It’s common to want to know. I didn’t understand until I was older. My biological mom was an addict. She lied and made me think she had custody of my 3 brothers and she didn’t. She lost custody of my brothers when my youngest was 3. And I lost contact with them until 2012, when I found one of them on Facebook.

The Adoptee’s Hero’s Journey

I’ve been aware of Joseph Campbell’s concept known as The Hero’s Journey for a long time and have seen it referenced in a variety of situations. As I was reading yet another perspective on this, an insight came to me. An adoptee’s search for their original parents (and if successful, even a reunion) is actually a kind of Hero’s Journey. Duh.

The hero’s journey is one of separation, initiation and return. It is a healing descent into the underworld (the unknown outcome) to recover something missing or lost, to restore a vital balance.

Its theme is that when faced with a kind of death struggle against titanic supernatural forces, the self can be triumphant. The self is reborn into a higher level of consciousness, maintaining access to the lower lever when appropriate. Because this lower level is transcended, a more powerful self can operate upon it in a way that appears magical to those still below.

So from my perspective, the titanic supernatural forces are the standard adoption narrative. When one comes out of the adoption fog (a belief in the story that separating mothers from their babies is somehow better for the baby than allowing the mother to raise her own child, bonded to her in the womb and wanting only her love), the woke person somehow touched by adoption somewhere in their life (not necessarily an adoptee themselves, as in my case), finds it is no longer possible to go back to the old perspective. It is possible however to go back to or continue to have an appreciation of the family one acquired by adoption, even though it would be unrealistic to expect those person’s acquired as “relatives” due to adoption to understand the new, higher level of understanding one has gained during their own journey.

“A more powerful self can operate upon it in a way that appears magical to those still below,” or even to someone such as myself, who accomplished identifying my own 4 original grandparents in only one year’s time and making new family genetic connections to an aunt and some cousins. Sometimes, I can hardly believe I did this. My own parents lived almost 80 years without accomplishing that for themselves (though my mom gave it a good, hard try). My parents died clueless and knowing what I know now, more’s the pity that they were robbed of the knowledge. I can only hope there is an afterlife and that both of my parents have reunited with their own natural parents there.

For me, a little success and the encouragement to go further from family and friends certainly helped to motivate me to stay on a determined course that did succeed.

You can read more about The Hero’s (or Heroine’s) Journey in this link.

Not Actually Lucky

The perspective “out there” is improving and it isn’t happening by chance but because adoptees are speaking out about the circumstances of their lives.  And though it may not change at the individual life level, I am hopeful it is changing in the larger sense.

I recently read about an adoptive parent who was told – “They are so lucky you adopted them.”

This adoptive mother reflected on that perspective and realized – “They are not lucky! It is not lucky to be orphaned or born to a parent who is unable to parent at that time. It is not lucky to live in an orphanage or foster care, and it is not lucky to be thrust into a home with perfect strangers and try to form parental attachment and bonds with them. There is nothing about coming to the place where you need to be adopted that is a lucky and they are not lucky we adopted them. We are blessed to have them in our family, but if the luck had been on their side there would not have been unfortunate circumstances that kept them from being raised by their birth families in the first place.”

In my mom’s case, her adoptive mother was over the moon happy to have her.  But there were nagging doubts because she had been lied to about the circumstances of my mom’s “need” to be adopted.

She did not “need” to be adopted.  Her original mother WANTED to raise her and tried very hard to keep her but got bested by a master of deception – Georgia Tann.  My adoptive grandmother was told my mom’s parents were married students who weren’t ready to raise their child and were financially unable to provide for her.  That last part was the struggle my original grandmother was trying mightily to address.

My adoptive grandparents did feel blessed to buy two children, the “perfect” family unit of an eldest son and a baby sister.  But at least for my mom (I don’t know the circumstances surrounding my uncle’s adoption) it was all unfortunate circumstances.  No wonder she died firmly believing she had been stolen from her parents.  In effect, she was.

A Permanent Loss

Conflicted feelings when I first learned I was pregnant

I gave birth to my baby and once the infant was born,

I became that child’s mother.

A mere signature on a surrender paper and

the adoption that followed can never undo that.

I had a baby and I gave that baby away
but I am a mother.

~ A Hole in my Heart by Lorraine Dusky

It is a very sad story and worth reading.

A lifetime of regrets, of unintended consequences that are channeled in an activism, so that others do not have to go through the same experience.

I have learned so much about the impacts of adoption on ALL parties to it.  Not one of the triad escapes some effect.  Not the adoptee who never had a say in what happened to them.  Not the original parents who will never be able to know their child in the intimate way most parents do.  Not the adoptive couple who may receive more than they originally bargained for – wounds they can’t see nor understand because they are foreign to any concept of parenting they may have entered in with.

Not Cattle Or Property

The very first fight for open records was in Tennessee in the 1990s, just after my mom was denied access to her own.

Sealed records are similar to a state refusing to recognize the rights of a citizen. Not knowing one’s original name is like “being in a witness protection program the adoptee never asked to be a part of.”

On June 24, 1996, six days before a law to open records was to go into effect in Tennessee, a suit was filed in federal district court in Nashville to block it led by the
televangelist, Pat Robertson. It claimed that openness in adoption would result in a decrease in adoptions and an increase in abortions.

It was feared that women threatened by the prospect that their relinquished children might someday contact them would abort their children rather than place them for adoption.

The suit was filed by Small World Ministries, affiliated with the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), a Washington DC based lobbying organisation funded by adoption agencies who have an interest on behalf of adoptive parents in keeping adoptees and their original families apart. The lawyers argued that opening the records of all adoptees would violate the federal and state constitutional rights of birth parents to privacy.

A judge finally ended the dispute writing, “We note our skepticism that information concerning a birth might be protected from disclosure by the Constitution. A birth is
simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event – the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born.” The judge also praised the Tennessee law – “The statute appears to be a serious attempt to weigh and balance two frequently conflicting interests: the interest of a child adopted at an early age to know who that child’s birth parents were, an interest entitled to a good deal of respect and sympathy, and the interest of birth parents in the protection of the integrity of a sound adoption system.

That fight would last a grueling 3 years. Finally in September 1999, the decision was unanimous in favor of open records. The court found that the law did not violate birth or adoptive parents rights.

States with unrestricted access to the original birth certificate for adoptees age 18 or older are Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Rhode Island.  There are many states including Tennessee that have Access with Restrictions but that do allow adoptees and their lineal descendants to receive the adoption file.  It is thanks to that law, I received my mother’s adoption file.

In my own effort to receive information about my adoptee parents, I’ve bumped up against sealed records in Virginia, Arizona and California.  I would note that my parents, their birth parents and their adoptive parents are all deceased. Shouldn’t I as a descendant finally know where we come from ?

Fortunately, I found other ways – DNA and the matching sites, Ancestry or 23 and Me.

In total, records remain sealed in 21 states – that is almost half of these United States !!  Currently in New York, that fight to open adoption records is making some progress in the legislature. One can hope for the day when all states open their records to adoptees and their lineal descendants.

I Don’t Really Know

Even though both of my parents are adoptees and even though I have one niece and one nephew who were given up for adoption, I was quickly put in my place in a FB group that is intended to be a safe place for adoptees to tell their truth.  Just stop, I was told.  Stop thinking you know how adoptees feel.

To be honest with you – growing up I knew my parents were adopted and it mattered to me only in the sense that I didn’t know my heritage – what country did my genes originate in ?  After I became an adult, my mom shared with me both that she was searching to learn who her parents were and said “as a mother, I would want to know what became of my child” and was devastated when she was told her mother had died a few years before.  End of my mom’s reunion dreams.  As a practical person, she had learned her father was much older than her mother and figured that even though Tennessee couldn’t determine whether he was alive or not, he was probably dead.  She gave up.

Recently I bought a book by Amanda H L Transue-Woolston titled The Declassified Adoptee – Essays of an Adoption Activist.  I’ve only read two essays so far.  In her second essay, she writes about adoptees who never talk about being adopted.  That would be how my dad was.  I never heard him say anything about it.  My mom once told me that when she was searching he warned her that she might be “opening up a can of worms”.  That speaks volumes to me.  I believe he was afraid to know what the truth might be.

Adoption was just a fact of life in my family. Accepted. The way things were. Not a bad thing and not unusual, though I didn’t have any friends growing up whose parents were both adopted.

It is interesting to note – I have been reading A LOT – from all sides of the issue now.  I want to understand it all – how my original grandparents may have felt, how being adopted may have impacted my parents and my sister’s children and how my adoptive grandparents may have felt.

It may be true that because I am the child of adoptees and because I am the aunt of adoptees that I am absolutely impacted by the adoption experience.  I just wanted to make clear today that I also realize I will never truly know how it feels to be one.

In in the words of Transue-Woolston – “There is no one cookie cutter mold that defines what being adopted is or that can be used to exclude other adoptee narratives from ‘counting’.”

Demeaned, Diminished, Dismissed

I signed a petition related to an effort in New York state – even though my issues are with Virginia, Arizona and California. Please consider signing the petition at since changing laws in any state may have the effect of encouraging other states to do so.

It seems that sealed records related to adoption are ETERNAL, even when the adoptees are dead, the adoptive parents are dead and the original parents are dead.

It makes no sense to me that the descendants of adoptees should be denied the honest information related to their parents and those adoptions. I can only believe it is simply laziness on the part of the bureaucracies that would have to hunt down the information. The laws intend to prevent the flood of requests that would follow a Right to Know access. Tennessee experienced that in the 1990s. Eventually, they instituted a fee to cover the costs of the staff and the work involved. I’ve paid such fees (including to the Salvation Army who delivered something meaningful, even though it wasn’t much – it did help).

It’s time to throw open the prisons into which these records have been relegated.

Infertility and Adoption

Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption
by Vanessa McGrady

At this point in my own journey, I know quite a bit about adoptees, their issues and wounds.  I know a bit about birth parents.  I have learned less about the adoptive parent.

Of course, I had four of them – my grandparents – but they weren’t adoptive parents to me, they were my grandparents.  It is interesting though, how now when I think about grandparents, it is the original grandparents that I have come to know, that I think of as “my grandparents”.

The issues related to adoption are complex and diverse.  I’ve seen letters from my mom’s adoptive mother about how happy she was to receive my mom, for her to become her daughter.  I believe it was my dad’s adoptive parents love for him that kept me in the family, instead of being given up for adoption myself.

In the excellent book, The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier, one learns about a lot of the issues.  Nothing I have read yet, touches on the issue of infertility that begins the journey of most adoptive parents, like the book I am reading now – Rock Needs River.  This book covers the issue well.  She also touches on the powerful feelings that an adoptive parent feels towards the child they raise.

I listened to an interview with McGrady today.  Here’s a few takeaways.

“Where do I come from?” and “Where do I belong?”
are questions that confound and comfort us
from the time we are tiny until we take our final breath.

Birth parents are marginalized. The decision not to be a parent.
Feminist parenting – about non-gendered opportunities.
Small aggressions are the things we need to stop.