The further I wade into adoption land as a self-proclaimed adoptee advocate, the more I see pain, loneliness, frustration. Adoptees from closed adoptions are struggling. There’s a never ending sense of isolation everywhere and it breaks my heart. Jump online if you don’t believe me. There’s an enormous amount of sadness and hopelessness all over the internet.
Adopted through a closed adoption myself, I didn’t grow up experiencing those harmful emotions but I do sympathise with those that do. And I’ve learned why adoptees can suffer so much. There is momentum behind the notion that adoptees suffer from PTSD by being separated from their mothers at birth. Logic has arrived to explain the trauma we struggle with while trying to fit into a family that isn’t genetically ours and a society that doesn’t recognize the complexity of our pain and loss. (Yes, I acknowledge I’m talking in broad generalities for all adoptees here.)
The pain out there is real. People need to understand what it’s like being separated from the person you spent nine months getting ready to meet. That’s trauma, and this is a wonderful lecture explaining it.
Adoptees have every right to find out their biological truth, who their biological parents are or what the circumstances were that led to their creation, and relinquishment. And for millions of us from closed adoptions, we do not have this privilege.
As of this post, only seven states – seven – allow adoptees from closed adoptions to have unrestricted access to their original birth certificates (“OBCs”). Forty-three states, however, do not. So adoptees not born in those seven enlightened states do not have access to their OBCs like non-adoptees do. We do not have that privilege either. Is that equality under the law?
Furthering the issue another step along, if you do not know who your biological family is how are you able to know the genetic diseases and risk factors that might be in your DNA? I am a walking case study of this issue. Wouldn’t it have been nice to know that my maternal uncle and both maternal grandparents died of heart attacks…before I had one?! This is another privilege we do not have.
When I was adopted, everything was confidential and hidden behind closed record policies. Papers were shuffled and locked away forever. And that was that. A baby was relinquished for another family to raise.
In adoption land, there is the triad. Birth parents, adoptive parents and the adoptee. Three legs to a stool. Society, bolstered by states’ laws, had legal mechanisms and mores to protect the legs of this stool. There are laws in place protecting the anonymity of both sets of parents and societal forces and norms keep it that way. To be fair, an adoptee’s anonymity is protected too, but we had better not want to find out anything about our birth or who created us. We are stonewalled by the state or county agency that manages Vital Records, our adoption agencies aren’t typically all that helpful, so therefore a lot of gumption and creativity is required to get answers.
Why I care so much about this is that we are not afforded the same privilege as non-adoptees when it comes to knowing about genetic diseases or deadly risk factors that could be in our DNA. So when adoptees want to inquire about our biological past, we are either denied or guilted into not doing so as I mentioned above. It is totally natural and human to wonder about pretty foundational questions about where we came from and what makes us uniquely us. We are curious beings and want to know who we are. But when we raise the spectre that we want to learn more, society asks us how our adoptive parents would feel. We might hurt their feelings, we’re told. Very difficult decisions to relinquish us were made many years ago, and we would only be ripping off deep emotional scars by contacting our birth parents. Tsk, tsk. You are lucky to have the family you do. And then the adoptive parents, generally speaking, aren’t always terribly open to the idea of us finding our birth family. That conversation is an awkward one to say the least (I know many adoptees who wait until their adoptive parents die before they initiate their search).
There you have it. We retreat back into our corner confused, lonely, and grappling with identity issues. In our own personal ways we process how to handle this and too often, unfortunately, symptoms aren’t great. Alcohol, drugs, anger, despair, hopelessness to name a few. Symptoms of PTSD.
If you are an adoptee, you have every right to find your birth parents. Knowing where you came from and what makes you uniquely you is your right. No one can take that away from you.
It’s time to be bold and do what you need to do! If you want to do a search for your birth family, push forward. You signed nothing. Your lawyers didn’t review anything when you were born. You didn’t agree to live without having the right to get answers to pretty basic questions about what makes you, you. No. You. Did. Not.
Be you. Find you.
Do not let laws get in the way of knowing your biological truth or meeting the people who ultimately created you. There are resources that know how to find hard-to-obtain information.
And together we can create the change we need. The more that adoptees join forces and advocate for our cause, the better. We can write our congressional representatives and demand change. Seven states have opened their records so it can be done.
The latest twist in this entire saga is the arrival of DNA companies like Ancestry and 23andMe. In this author’s humble opinion, they are going to blow the roof off things and the laws inhibiting our ability to find our biological families will become essentially irrelevant. Let’s be honest, they’re doing it already. In fact the DNA company MyHeritage just announced this pro bono family search initiative to help adoptees.
I don’t want another adoptee who doesn’t know they have a ticking time bomb in their chest be denied the critical information they need to take preventative action. I am going to commit time and energy to figure this out!
I’ll say it again. Be you. Find you.
If you get stuck, contact me or my genetic genealogist friend Christina Fitzgibbons at myhoodieproject.com. She is one of a very few highly-skilled genetic genealogists, and I can tell you from personal experience she operates with great empathy for all parties in the triad.