27 Mar Uncovering Your History is Your Right
Uncovering Your History is Your Right
In Georgia, SB64 is a bill that would allow adoptees over 18 years of age access to their original birth certificates. So far, the bill has passed unanimously through the Senate. Hopefully, by the time of your reading it will have passed through the House.
I feel so optimistic about the support the bill has garnered. During the senate hearings, I choked up when the bill’s sponsor, Senator Robertson said, “Just because a child is adopted, that child does not surrender their identity.”
Wow. He gets it, I thought. It is unusual for a bipartisan group to agree on anything these days and yet, they did. Amazing.
Then the bill passed unanimously through the House Judiciary Committee. This Monday, it may reach the floor for the final vote before heading on to the governor.
So to my surprise, I learned that a House Representative with a background in social work is not supporting SB64. I sent my now standard letter of support to this representative and was told that she was not planning to support the bill out of concern for adoptive children, now adults.
In her experience, many adoptive children have disastrous reunion stories; specifically those who were products of rape or incest. She felt it was her job to protect them by denying access to original birth certificates. However, SB64 is for adults, not children. Well meaning, but damaging.
I hope that she will change her mind and remember that central to our social work code of ethics is advocating for social justice and honoring the dignity and respect of all individuals which is what SB64 is all about – equality, privacy, and healing.
Her view is an old one, which is why I am writing about my experience. The drive to protect the adopted child from unpleasant facts about their history long past the time the person is an actual child is not unusual. Family, friends, and professionals are often culturally incompetent in regards to adoption.
Here are some reasons why keeping history from an adopted adult under the guise of protection is damaging:
- Adopted adults are infantilized which is disrespectful and condescending.
- Family and medical history is important.
- Original birth certificates are available to everyone else.
- Making decisions for others out of a desire to protect is disrespectful and a sign of co-dependence within relationships.
- It leads adoptees who choose to search to use DNA and other avenues to find family.
- When family is found through avenues other than a birth certificate, the birth/first parent is rarely contacted first which may blow open a long-held secret about relinquishment causing a challenge to peaceful reunion.
- Prolonged secret-keeping is damaging to mental health and identity development.
- Lies told in the absence of truth when discovered cause betrayal, confusion, and loss.
Right to Your History
Genealogy is a hobby that represents big business. In 2020, it was reported that over 35 million people, mostly Americans, had tested their DNA on genealogy sites. Discovering stories and filling in the history of our families is a universal drive. It’s normal. However, for adopted people there are numerous roadblocks when we have the same drives; emotional and logistical.
On one hand, there is concern that a desire to search for family will hurt our adoptive family. Often, adoptive parents are supportive and just as often they may express displeasure to downright disowning their adopted children who search. Then there is concern that first parents may not want to be found or reject reunion advances.
All these fears can and do happen. Yet still adoptees choose to search and try to form relationships with first family members. It is painful to face rejection from first parents. It is disappointing when you are not interested in the family you find. That said, 78% of reunions last for 8 years or more. Additionally, even in upsetting search and reunions, most people who were adopted say they are glad they know the truth.
Let me say it clearly: Adopted people have a right to know their history. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
It Should be Easier
Logistically, it should be easier too. Open adoption domestically became the norm by the end of the 1990’s so keeping files closed is antiquated. By July 1, 2023, 13 states will have open access to original birth certificates, 21 states have comprimised laws meaning that certain years have access. For example, in Arizona where I was born, people born prior to June 20, 1968 can order their original birth certificate. Essentially, there is no consistency across the United States.
As a result, adoptees turn to DNA to search. It is effective, but we do not really know the long-term consequences of submitting our DNA to these companies. The kits come at a cost financially and from a privacy standpoint. Many spend more money on search engines that are frequently necessary to track down family.
You should not have to acquire the skills of a police detective working a missing persons case to discover your origin story, family tree, and medical history.
As stated above, in many states adoptees can petition the courts to get access to their original birth certificates that name one or both parents. The cost is high and not always successful.
All in all, it is almost impossible to mount a search without spending $100 minimum to several thousand dollars. International adoptees spend even more. This is not possible for all adoptees who wish to search.
Another issue with taking away the simple search option of providing a name or names to an adopted person by way of their birth certificate is that by the time family is found, there is much more information known about the person than you would normally have at the start of a relationship. I believe this makes getting to know each other organically with trust and boundaries in place even more challenging.
Support not Protection
Adoptees are a tough, resilient group of people. If we want to search, we will. If we don’t, we won’t — on our own terms. We do not need protecting, we do need support. Lots of support from family, friends, and professionals who are there to hold space with dignity and respect.
I will leave with a quote from colleague and friend, Jennifer Dyan Ghoston. Jennifer is a same race, domestic adoptee, adopted from foster care at 2 years old who is in reunion with her first family. She is also a retired Chicago City Police detective, memoirist, and host of the podcast Once Upon a Time in Adopteeland. Jennifer was among the first to receive her original birth certificate when Illinois opened access.
“Having my OBC (original birth certificate) means some of the things I have been told were truthful. For me, holding my official record of birth is further proof that I’m as worthy to have it as all those never separated from their family of origin.“
Update: The bill was not passed to the governor’s desk this session. However, SB64 is still alive and will start back in the House rules committee to be scheduled for the House floor next January 2024.
For more information on original birth certificate access:
- Adoptee Rights Law Center
- Bastard Nation
- Once Upon a Time in Adopteeland by Jennifer Dyan Ghoston
- Cue the Sun by Hannah Andrews
Keep in touch, subscribe to The Couch newsletter:
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.