Tag Archives: open birth records

Dear TX Senator Donna Campbell

Let’s talk — adoptive mom to adoptive mom.

I understand having fears about adoption and, by extension, fears about making changes in adoption law. Change can be scary. For decades many states have had laws on the books to protect people from the humiliation of unwed pregnancy or the shame of infertility or the stigma of being born to unmarried parents. In response, we have put up walls to hide the shame and stigma and humiliation.

One of those walls is the practice of closing birth records for one group of people who, due to circumstances of birth, to this day do not enjoy a civil right that all other citizens in your state do. It is time to re-evaluate the existence of this wall, as so many of your Texas bipartisan colleagues in the Senate and House  were eager to do at the close of the legislative session last month.

While I do understand having fears, Dr Campbell, I also think we should periodically re-examine and let go of fears that don’t withstand ongoing scrutiny. Let’s take a look at one of the fears that motivated your stance on Texas House Bill 984. Your office said that you’re “concerned with the broad language of the bill, and felt it violated the privacy of those involved in the adoption.”

When you say privacy I wonder if you are confusing it with secrecy,  which takes simple privacy and wraps it in toxic fear and shame. Privacy is chosen, secrecy is often imposed.

Secrecy exists because shame exists. With openness, by unsealing records and providing equal access for all, we can dissolve the shame and  vanquish the need for secrecy. Regarding the privacy issue, accurate birth records should be kept private from the public but not secret from the parties directly involved.

As you may already realize, the Internet and advances in DNA testing have enabled birth mothers and birth fathers and their now-adult children to find each others’ identities by skirting laws that were constructed in that era of shame and secrecy. Psychotherapist Karen Caffrey, who is an adult adoptee with birth family from Texas, says, “Family genetic secrets are very soon going to be a thing of the past.”

So why not change the laws to keep up with the times?

By the sheer numbers of people — adopted or not — who are searching for their biological kin, we can conclude that there is an innate human need to know one’s origins, no matter the story behind it. How else to explain the popularity of Roots, of Who Do You Think You Are, or of  Ancestry.com, which facilitates folks in enjoying the second-most popular hobby in the country?

I wonder, Senator Campbell, if one of your fears comes from an Either/Or mindset that stems from the way we’ve done adoption during our lifetimes, in which for you to fully claim your daughter, you must negate on some level the existence of her other set of parents. But we don’t have to split our children in this way. We can instead embrace a Both/And heartset in which all are acknowledged and valued, no matter if there is contact or not, no matter if you know the identity of your daughter’s birth father or not.

I hear during your questioning at the hearing of a similar bill in 2013 that you may be fearful that the child might want to “go back for financial reasons.” Quite frankly, I do not understand this. You pressed witnesses quite hard to name a valid impetus for the bill. Might I press you to say what makes you think an adult adoptee would  have money as a prime motivator for searching for her biological roots? In all my years of learning about the many facets of adoption, I have not heard one story or seen any statistics on this being the case.

When STAR (Support Texas Adoptee Rights) and its legislative allies manage to bring this issue to the table again during the 2017 legislative session, please consider the 180-degree turnaround that happened 21 years ago for one one of your Ohio counterparts, Senator Brad Norris, also an adoptive parent.

Of his role in sealing Ohio’s birth records in the 1960s, he later said,

“I did not want any and all members of the general public to have access to my children’s birth records . . . We must be honest in recognizing that the 1964 law was created mostly out of concerns felt by adoptive parents.” [source]

Three decades later, the former OH senator testified in support of a bill to equalize access to birth records for adult adoptees. In his testimony, Mr Norris, adoptive dad to Betsie Norris, Executive Director of Adoption Network Cleveland, explained his change of heart and his chagrin at the wall he’d helped erect.

“In doing what I did on this 1960s legislation, I was unable to see the impact this would have on my adopted children when they became adults . . . I now recognize that closing those birth records to adoptees … was a grave mistake . . . there was not sufficient attention given to what happens when the adoptive child grows up and needs to know his or her genetic medical history or when the adult adoptee develops an undeniable yearning to know what his or her roots are.” [source]

For your own sake, Dr Campbell, please open your mind and your heart to this issue that you have previously been closed tight on. You don’t want to be seen as the last one propping up an oppressive wall, do you?

Sincerely,
Lori, mom via adoption

Three things cannot be hidden:
the sun, the moon, and the truth. ~~ Buddha

Ready or Not, Glasnost is Coming to Adoption

Even though the Berlin Wall fell suddenly a quarter-century ago, in hindsight we were not all that surprised. Historically we note that of course people eventually throw off shackles. Of course the human spirit cannot be contained forever. The human spirit is hard-wired to reach for light, to yearn for freedom, to crave openness. And to settle for no less.

The fall of the Berlin wallGlasnost means openness. Mikhail Gorbachev saw its inevitability and decided to get in front of the parade. Those who today patrol outdated walls that oppress people would do well to follow Gorbachev’s lead. Policy-makers who have dedicated themselves to preserving walls built on a foundation of shame and secrecy are well-advised to study history and consider their own legacies.

We in adoption have seen a movement on many fronts toward openness. More and more, adoptive parents welcome and even seek contact with their child’s family of origin, recognizing the benefits contact can bring to the child. Even in cases in which contact is either unsafe or unwise, adoptive moms and dads are parenting with more openness when it comes to acknowledging their child’s story and their child’s unique needs and being able to talk about these issues. Finally, we see state after state passing legislation that opens birth records to all citizens, no matter their circumstances of birth.

I therefore make a bold prediction: glasnost is coming to adoption.The walls that still exist will fall not gradually and softly but in a rush. A shocking, thunderous rush — just like we saw nearly 25 years ago in Europe. Openness in adoption will be here within the decade, and we’ll wonder how we ever tolerated anything less.

So what are these walls in adoption? What structures have been erected as the legacy of fear and shame since the start of the Baby Scoop Era, post WWII? For one, many people think it’s unnatural or “weird” that my children’s birth parents are part of our extended family. Some are shocked we would let into our lives a presumed “crack whore birth mother” or a “scary birth father.” Coming from a place of fear and duality, some believe there should remain a wall between our family and our children’s birth families, lest our children become confused (Jim Gritter, a pioneer in the open adoption movement, says about such confusion: “Is it your experience that to be fully informed is to be confused?”).

But coming from a place of love and wholeness, inviting my children’s birth parents into our lives as respected members of our family seems as natural as keeping in touch with my own parents and just as important in helping my tweens integrate their identities. “Adoption creates a split between a persons’ biology and her biography. Openness is an effective way to help heal that split.” — that’s the premise of the book I’ve written with my daughter’s birth mom, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole.

As I speak at adoption agencies around the country and connect with people who hope to or have become parents via adoption, I see an opening, a softening, an understanding that openness — with or without contact — is as vital to an adopted child in her identity-building as food, shelter and showing up at soccer games are to satisfying the lower levels on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The second and more oppressive wall is the one guarding original birth records from their rightful owners — adult adoptees. By circumstance of birth, my children belong to a class of people whose civil rights are not fully recognized. I can go to my county clerk and get my original birth records and you can go to your county clerk and get your original birth records (unless you were adopted), but adult adoptees in 41 states plus the District of Columbia [see the current count here] face a practically insurmountable wall between them and their own vital records, their very identity.

Why? Why the need for such a wall?

Closed systems rely on fear to sustain them. In adoption, this fear is rooted in shame — the shame of being caught in an unplanned pregnancy; the shame of being infertile; the shame of being a “bastard” born to unmarried parents. Isn’t it time to vanquish shame in adoption?

Let’s examine the parallels between this practice of closing birth records and the Berlin Wall.

  • Walls are not for the benefit of those walled in. They are for the presumed benefit of the Elites and those the Elites deem in need of protection.
  • In a repressive environment, large expenditures are needed to repress, diverting funds that could be spent actually helping people.
  • In a repressive environment there is secrecy, and corruption is therefore difficult to detect. Without the possibility of someone shining light in an environment, corruption and rot can flourish.
  • Repressive systems cause people to find ways around it. When support for the system erodes, black markets are created and people find ways to skirt the wall to get what they feel they should have access to.

Why am I so certain walls will fall in states that don’t already allow unfettered access to original birth certificates to all citizens?

  • It’s human nature to resist resist the tyranny of Elites.
  • Repression is not eternally affordable or sustainable.
  • When any system fails to meet the fundamental needs of its people (such as the right to know one’s identity), civil unrest may follow.

The Internet is a great destabilizer of Elite structure. It facilitates connections, joins voices, and democratizes light-shining into previously well-guarded nooks and crannies.

What may have seemed all right yesterday often looks very different after the fall of a wall. The shooting of would-be defectors by East German border guards was justified by the Elites. But post-openness, those shootings were treated as acts of murder by reunified Germany. How will history judge those who repeatedly act to violate the civil rights of a group of people? How will history remember those who refuse to “tear down this wall”?

Fifty years ago, John F Kennedy said at the Brandenburg Gate, Ich bin ein Berliner. In solidarity with my children and others whose civil rights are violated right here in the 21st century, I invite you to say with me, Ich bin ein Adoptee.

More info: Vital Records, a short film by Jean A. S. Strauss.

To get involved in the demolition of adoption walls, visit the Adoptee Rights Coalition.

~~~~~

Lori Holden in The Huffington PostA version of this article appeared in 2014 on The Huffington Post.

 Image: morguefile