Dawn Millward didn’t expect anyone to respond when she Tweeted earlier this month asking adoptees to share the names they’d been given at birth, but the replies kept coming.
Kristen. I was Kristen for 9 years before I was adopted and it was changed in 4th grade….”
I was Megan Patricia Doyle for 6 weeks before she was erased😢
I was Michael O’Brien. I had to find my bmom to learn that though, as it was redacted from the documents my aparents were given…
[Unknown] ElAwar. I like to think I was named Husseyn after my grandfather who tried twice to keep me with the family.
I was Alison Gallagher, for approx 1 month.
Baby girl Bauer… It kind of hurt that my mom didn’t name me, but then I thought about the fact she knew she couldn’t keep me, so why name me? Still. 🙄
For 8 days I was Kahlilah Strong.
Maeve Kelly. Then I was erased.
As more than 30 adoptees Tweeted their original names to Dawn, she marveled at the conversation she started. She never expected anyone to respond, she said.
I wasn’t surprised. Those names have power. Each of us adoptees was someone else before becoming who we are now, and those original identities are rarely acknowledged by society.
If anything, I was sure more people would jump in.
After Jan. 15, 2020, a new group of people will be able to.
That’s because this week, New York ended 84 years of state-sanctioned secrecy around adoption, becoming the 10th state to unseal original birth certificates for adoptees 18 and older.
As he signed the measure into law, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “Where you came from informs who you are, and every New Yorker deserves access to the same birth records — it’s a basic human right.”
Wanting to know who we are is a natural part of the human experience. Yet finding that sense of identity is a double challenge for adopted people like me, especially those of us adopted in the middle of the 20th century when it was common to seal adoption records. For us, basic details — our names, ethnicities, birth parents’ names, perhaps even where we were born — are missing. Hidden from us by law.
Although this information was sealed away in the name of “protecting” us and the people who gave us life from being stigmatized, it had a different effect, serving to treat adoptees as second-class citizens.
In recent years, adopted people have worked to “flip the script” and raise awareness about the adoptee experience, but historically adoptees were invisible.
It was meant to be that way. In the wisdom of the day, nurture outranked nature and “children were blank slates.”
But children aren’t blank slates, and they grow up to be adults.
Many of us find we are missing a true sense of self and lacking self-worth as a result of years spent trying to work out how and why we ended up in a kind of witness protection program we didn’t ask to join.
As New York and nine other states including Rhode Island, Maine and Hawaii finally offer adoptees unfettered access to their original birth certificates, that is changing. Being able to know our beginnings will give us context and understanding that we can get no other way.
I’ll be one of the first in line come Jan. 15 to get my original birth certificate from the state of New York. Judging by the celebrations online all week, I won’t be alone by a long shot.
Perhaps we’ll be able to watch Dawn Millward’s adoptee roll call grow by leaps.
My adoption blogs put me in touch with thousands of other adoptees who encouraged me to write a book about my journey to find my birth mother. I appreciate those votes of confidence, but instead of writing about me, I have decided to write a book about you – the adoptees I’ve already met and those I plan to meet the next few months.
In the coming months I’ll be interviewing Baby Scoop era adoptees about their experiences to get to the heart of what it means to be adopted.
The book’s focus
I’ll be speaking with adoptees who have searched and those who choose not to, those in positive reunions with biological family members and those who did not connect or whose reunions have fizzled. We’ll discuss:
Despite the spotlight on adoption these days and the movement to open birth records that is gaining momentum across the country, all too often adoptee voices remain absent from the discussion on adoption.
We are viewed as forever children, with the media and pro-adoption groups often speaking on our behalf as though everyone else will always know what’s best for us.
Or we are portrayed in stereotypes: the people-pleasing adoptee, the selfish adoptee, the angry adoptee … or worse.
The truth is that while we have some shared experiences and insights, each adoptee story is distinctive. Each of us deserves to be heard.
Movements like The Lost Daughters #FliptheScript initiative and adoptee blogs like The Declassified Adoptee have started to shine a light on the subject. Adoptees’ memoirs and anthologies offer poignant individual glimpses at what it means to be us. But more attention is needed if we’re ever to move past the secrets and lies that are the hallmarks of our stories.
The book is all about you
My book will bring together a large cross-section of adoptees whose stories will support, connect and inspire adoptees and the people who love them.
More than 30 people — many of them strangers — have agreed to speak with me in just a few weeks of my making casual requests. Many of them have already shared their journeys with me.
That tells me I’m on to something. I hope you’ll agree.
If you’re a Baby Scoop-era adoptee willing to share your story, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can arrange a time to chat.