266Posted in USA Today 5/12/2003 in the Editorial/Opinion area.
- May 12, 2003Posted in USA Today 5/12/2003 in the Editorial/Opinion area.
Please write to the USA Today and let them know how you feel. Now is
the time to get our voices heard. Thank You
Letter to the Editor
7950 Jones Branch Drive
McLean, VA 22108-0605
Or E-mail at Editor@U...
Help adult adoptees find birth parents
By Lorraine Dusky
Give those individuals adopted at birth their original birth
certificates with the names of their birth parents.
Some 30 years ago, I gave up a child for adoption. I was told
her original birth records would be forever sealed and that I should
make a new life for myself.
But try as I might, my life continued to include her. I never
stopped wondering about her; was she like that blonde girl at the
mall who seemed to be her age? You don't have someone in your body
for nine months and forget.
In time, I joined with adult adoptees and birth mothers like
myself to change the laws. Our aim is to give those individuals
adopted at birth their original birth certificates with the names of
their birth parents and, if they can locate them, the option to
contact them. As adults, they are certainly old enough to make this
choice on their own.
We've been at this for three decades, lobbying, testifying,
writing letters, marching and telling our stories in the media.
Somehow our efforts have left the public with the perception that
adoptees have the right to their original birth records. The belief
is fueled by a spate of TV movies and talk shows that feature
reunions between birth parents and their children.
Although we are far from that reality, we are starting to see
some thin cracks in the opposition. Alabama, Delaware, Oregon and
Tennessee have unsealed their records in the past half dozen years,
joining Alaska and Kansas. This year, legislators in Connecticut,
Louisiana, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey and
New York introduced open-records measures. None, however, is likely
The fact is that archaic laws - most from the 1930s and '40s,
when adoption brokers pushed for sealed records - remain firmly in
place in 44 states. These laws deny adopted "children" who have grown
to adulthood their original birth certificates and thus lock away in
some musty basement file the answer to the most primal question: Who
am I? Identity is many things, but surely it begins with the
knowledge of one's own true heritage and birth.
What is standing in the way of further progress? The argument
that is most often heard in state capitals is that the "privacy" of
the birth mother must be protected. More work is needed if we are to
combat several mistaken, outdated notions:
a.. Myth No. 1: Birth mothers want to remain anonymous from
Most birth mothers enthusiastically welcome their children back
into their lives. In Oregon, for instance, birth mothers are able to
file a form indicating whether or not they wish to be contacted. The
number of women asking for no contact now amounts to about one a
month. Adoptees seeking their original birth certificates have
stabilized at about 25 a month, after an initial several thousand
requests when the records were first opened in 2000.
But still the myth - that of the poor, woebegone "unwed mother"
who has never told a soul what happened - persists. It is in her name
that the National Council for Adoption and the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints work to keep records sealed. Why? The secrecy-
seeking woman makes a sympathetic smoke screen and obscures what
these organizations really want, which is to cling to the outdated
system of closed adoptions.
a.. Myth No. 2: We were promised anonymity from our children
by the state.
Not true. We were told it was anonymity or nothing. No matter
how sorry a group we birthmothers were at the time, we are different
now, and we deserve no special treatment, not when the state affords
no such protection to any other group of people.
If we are to be allowed anonymity from our children, how can
the state find the authority to bring paternity suits? How can the
state claim to have a vested interest in giving the special
protections of "privacy" to me - from my own flesh and blood - while
it is trampling the rights of others?
a.. Myth No. 3: Adoptions will go down, and abortions up, if
records are unsealed.
Wrong. In the open-records states of Kansas and Alaska,
adoptions are proportionally higher and abortion rates lower than the
U.S. average. Kansas has significantly lower abortion rates than the
four states surrounding it.
a.. Myth No. 4: Creating registries that match birth parents
and adoptees is better than releasing birth data.
Most states that have registries have tacked on so many
restrictive provisions that the registries have been made largely
ineffective. In addition, a registry is a poor excuse for one's
original birth certificate. Being able to own that piece of paper
surely would seem to be a constitutionally guaranteed right.
Change is coming. A 1994-95 Cornell University survey of
adoptive parents in New York found that 78% favored open records.
Indeed, adoptive parents are among the sponsors of some of the open-
For myself, I went around the law. By going underground, I
found my daughter and her wonderful, welcoming family more than two
decades ago. She might not have her original birth certificate, but
she does have the truth.
Lorraine Dusky is the author of Birthmark, a memoir about
surrendering a child to adoption.