20 Feb My $5 Original Birth Certificate
My original birth certificate cost me five dollars. Arizona – state of my birth and adoption – enacted a law that allows adoptees to obtain their original birth certificate. The law was effective on January 1, 2022.
I sent in the application to receive my original birth certificate on January 2, 2022. The new law benefitted me because I was born prior to June 20, 1968. There is a discriminatory donut hole that keeps people born between June 20, 1968 and September 28, 2021 from getting their original birth certificate.
For me, obtaining my original birth certificate has both resurrected outrage and provided me with a sense of peace. A classic “both/and” for adopted individuals.
In my case, the document did not provide new information. At this point in my life, I have spent well over a thousand dollars and countless hours to discover my family heritage and uncover medical history.
I spent money on fees to confidential intermediaries, DNA tests, genealogy site subscriptions, newspaper archives, and people search companies. My experience is not unusual for adoptees searching for family.
Prior to this new law, I would have spent more money on a lawyer to petition the courts in Arizona for my original birth certificate if any of the lawyers I contacted thought I would have stood a chance. Thankfully, none did.
Apparently, my search could have cost $5 for a birth certificate that took less than two weeks to obtain. The receipt made a point of telling me that this document was for Research Only. Salt meet wound – Ugh.
Information is still withheld from countless other adoptees across the United States. This injustice and disrespect, both to my past self and other adoptees, causes outrage.
Erased Identity & Shame
I was part of the Baby Scoop Era. A period of time between World War II and the early 1970’s when people in the U.S. adopted over 4 million babies. I was one of approximately 2 million babies adopted in the sixties. Essentially, I was transferred from one white, middle-class family to another.
Today, Americans adopt approximately 135,000 children annually. Numbers are much less in other countries. Excluding non-stepparent adoptions, about 59% of adoptions are from the foster care system, 26% from other countries, and 15% voluntarily relinquished American babies.
My first mother was 19 years old and unmarried. My second or adoptive mother was 29 and married. Problem solved. Files closed without much thought about my identity. A lot of thought given to shame.
Even today, original birth certificates are sealed. New birth certificates are issued with adoptive parents’ names listed as if they gave birth to the child. This practice assigns legal responsibility to the appropriate set of parents. This is also done for privacy of the adults in the adoption. Shame disguised as privacy.
Open adoptions help this issue. In domestic adoptions, 60-70% are open. This does not cover the 26% of international adoptions where it is more costly to conduct a search and DNA is not generally a tool that yields family connection.
Both/And: Outrage and Peace
Currently, only 10 states have open files without restrictions. It was a different time in the 1960’s. The stigma around being a pregnant woman without a wedding ring was more intense.
However, now is a different time. We know that medical history is important. We know that understanding your genetic roots is important. If we know better, those with the power to open files should do better.
I feel outraged every time an adopted friend or client says, “If only I would have known my medical history earlier, I wouldn’t have spent years trying to figure out a mysterious illness.” For me, it was a thyroid condition.
Relinquishment is a trauma. It is exhausting and costly to conduct a search to claim family heritage, genetic information, medical history, and identity. Processing adoption loss is a lifetime of personal healing work; reunion or no reunion.
It should not be this hard. I am both grateful to have this last piece of my search completed and angry that it is not easy for every adoptee who wants to obtain their original birth certificate. It should be.
Seeing my original name in print caused me to look up the definition of my first name, Stacey. It means, “one who will rise again.” Reading this definition shifted another puzzle piece into place. This is who I am at my core. I felt a wave throughout my body of rarely felt connection to the girl who gave me life.
So for $5, my search has ended. I wish the same for all of you who are still fighting for new laws, petitioning courts, and waiting for documents that are rightfully yours.
Kate Murphy, LCSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Chamblee, GA, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples over the age of 18 to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often. Personally and professionally she is part of the adoptee and LGBTQ community. Licensed in GA & FL.