Tag Archives: open birth records

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 Those who today patrol outdated walls that oppress people would do well to follow Gorbachev’s lead.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.

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

 Image: morguefile

Q&A: Quest to raise awareness about adoptee rights

Her memoir’s subtitle is An Adoptee’s Quest for her Origins, but in talking with Anne Bauer, I know that the another reason she wrote The Sound of Hope was to “get people to realize how damaging it is to make adoptees feel guilty when they want to know about their origins,” as she said to me in an email.

We have wrapped up the book tour, but we are fortunate to have Anne answering the questions that members of the book club posed to her.

Sound of Hope adoptee memoirAre you still an active champion for the rights of adopted persons, specifically original birth certificates and open records?

Yes! I keep in contact with NJCARE (NJ Coalition for Adoption Reform & Education) which is a grass roots organization that supports honesty in adoption through educational outreach and legislative advocacy. This group keeps many adopted individuals and first-mothers informed about upcoming bills and involve us in letter writing campaigns in support of the bills trying to be passed. The latest bill is the Adoptee Birthright Bill which would allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. This bill was finally passed in NJ last year but Governor Christie (who coincidentally has an adopted sister) conditionally vetoed the Adoptees’ Birthright bill. Right now this bill is in limbo in NJ while thousands of adult adopted individuals wait patiently to obtain their own information.

In 2009, I appeared on a television talk show called “RealTalk.” There was a panel of four people including me, representing the adoptees, a birth mother, a social worker and a lawyer who was advocating keeping records sealed. It was an interesting experience and it felt good to voice my opinion. However, these opportunities to appear on network television are few because the general public doesn’t seem to demand attention to the plight of adult adopted people. This could be the result of many people assuming that all adopted adults can access their own information. Education about the need for adoption reform needs to be publicized to those not within the adoption mosaic. There are too many false assumptions and prejudices still circulating which need to be addressed in order to have legislators approve new laws.

You wrote The Sound of Hope in 2008. You share in your memoir, “The day I realized I has two mothers I was cut in half.” and “The bruises and scratches weren’t visible. They resided inside the heart. These injuries hurt the most and take the longest to heal.” How has your healing journey progressed since the writing your story?

Writing this memoir has been such a tremendous healing experience. So many memories and feelings were brought to the surface as I wrote each chapter of my life. I never realized how much stuff I actually went through at such an early age and saw that I had pushed a lot of my feelings down deep inside. Bringing up these memories actually forced me to face these issues head on. As I recollected my childhood, scenes were brought back to the forefront of my mind and I spent time analyzing possible intentions on the parts of everyone involved. I tried to get into my family member’s shoes and did my best to see the situation from their perspective.

This process was extremely healing because I came to understand that everyone in my family truly loved me. Although they disregarded my feelings over and over, I feel the reason for this was them being so absorbed in their own unresolved problems such as the hidden grief from infertility, stresses of working full-time and having to deal with an alcoholic in the family. When it came to dealing with the fact that they had adopted children, they had no ongoing counseling available to them at the time and they truly didn’t know that it was in the best interest of the child to talk about adoption in a positive light.

Since writing this memoir, I no longer get teary-eyed when I think about how lonely I felt when nobody supported me with my search or the highly emotional day when I first met my first-mother. These two experiences were the hardest for me to face at the time. I find myself now looking back on those memories –even the one about whom I could invite to my own wedding — with a smile on my face, and now consider these past experiences valuable lessons in life for all parties involved.

Do you find that your experience of being an adopted person has impacted your parenting? I think of the passage where you share, “The difficulties lie on the inside, deep beneath the outer layers-where the heart and soul reside.”

I definitely think my experience as an adopted individual has greatly impacted my parenting style. I have made it a point to be completely open and honest in regards to all family matters with my children. I keep the information at the level of their age and their ability to understand the issue, and I make it a point to never gloss over any problems that may be happening within the family. Because they are always in the loop, I never have to worry that they may overhear something that they shouldn’t know about because we do not keep secrets.

I also am an avid genealogist and have involved my children with the research. Documenting the family lines fosters a sense of belonging, and finally being able to obtain my original family history has been a project of ours for the past decade. This is one of the reasons why I am so adamant about obtaining my original birth certificate. There is no accessible paper trail linking me to my biological family, and if a future relative of mine decides to trace the genealogy, they would believe that I was in fact born to my adoptive parents. My future generations should also know their true heritage and be able to accurately trace their own lineage as well.

How did your family members respond to your book, and how supportive were they of you writing it? This must be a peril of writing a memoir: how do you be true to your observations of a person but also aware of their reactions to your observations? It’s an interesting boundary to define.

Everybody in my family knew I was writing and publishing my memoir because I was required to have everyone sign a release form so I could tell their part in my story. Sadly, nobody has mentioned the memoir to me since except my first-mother and my adoptive father. My Dad was not surprised about how he was portrayed and has since apologized profusely to me and my brothers for his treatment of us over the years. I know without a doubt that he never intended to hurt any of us. He has his own demons from his childhood to deal with and these unresolved issues come out in bursts of rage in his daily life. My first-mother told me she was sorry that she never tried to find me sooner and offered that she was willing to go to counseling or whatever it was that I needed in order to heal from the experience. Writing this memoir was healing and since then I have felt whole and complete.

My mother died three years before I published the memoir and I honestly do not think she would have been happy about me broadcasting to the world about family problems. I’m sure my cousin Maggie has read it but no comments have been made. As for Sara, I cannot say whether she has read the memoir. My first-mother has a copy and I am sure she offered it to Sara but there has been no mention about it. As for my brothers, I do not know if they read my memoir. I told them both about it and gave them the information when it was released but neither has acknowledged the subject nor wanted to talk about it since signing the release form. They know it’s there and someday maybe they will be ready to read it.

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That’s a wrap for the book discussion of Anne Bauer’s The Sound of Hope: An Adoptee’s Quest for Her Origins. Should you wish to know more about adoptee rights, being raised in a closed adoption, or any of the other topics mentioned here, read Anne’s book.