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A plea to NY’s lawmakers: Support the adoptee rights bill

The year-old twins who live behind us caught my eye out the kitchen window last week. Already, they are walking, their chubby legs wobbling under the task, each cock-eyed step a victory. Dressed alike in pink dresses and polka-dot sweaters, they offered a delightful distraction to my washing up.

I smiled the whole time I watched them and their doting mom.

We don’t know the family very well — they moved in about 18 months ago, and how surprised we were, come last spring, to see their mother in the yard bouncing two pink bundles. I — among any of us — should have been able to figure it out.

You see, those girls and I share a tight bond. Like me, they are adopted.

Twin girls, from Utah. Their parents gushed with excitement as they shared their story — how they had a call in February 2011, flew West to claim them and had an instant family in no time.

Twins! It’s like winning the lottery for adoptive parents, they told us.

Basil’s hand clutched tightly around my arm in warning as I asked, What do you know about their birth parents? 

Turns out not much. The girls’ mom is in her mid-40s, already has other children and couldn’t afford to keep them, they were told.

I had the sense to stop talking then (honestly, that is a tough call sometimes for me), but I couldn’t help but think how little has changed in the 46 years since my birth mother relinquished me. All these years later and like me, these two tykes have no more information about their beginnings than I do. Will they ever?

Will I?

New York lawmakers are again weighing a law that would give adoptees their original birth certificates. I call on Gov. Cuomo and every member of the Legislature to support the measure. It’s time, once and for all, for Albany to stop hiding behind empty platitudes about privacy.

To each of New York’s senators and assemblymen I say:

Imagine, if, unlike Gov. Cuomo, you didn’t have the good fortune to immediately and undeniably KNOW who you look, think and sound like.

Imagine if you didn’t have a medical history to share with your physicians. Or your children’s physicians.

Imagine how your relationships and interactions would unravel (and I do mean unravel, much of the time), if in your heart you always felt the sting of rejection — despite having loving, supportive adoptive parents and hearing many stories about “privacy” and “best for you.”

Imagine living a version of Dr. Seuss’ “Are You My Mother” — forever scanning names and faces, wondering hoping if maybe, just maybe. …

Imagine having to play detective — and maybe even pay someone — just to learn your ethnicity.

Imagine if in middle age your home state still treated you like a child and made decisions on your behalf about personal information that everyone else has a right to.

Imagine, too, if you were one of the many thousands of birth parents who wonder every day about the children they had to let go of.

Most people can look around themselves and see who they are and where they fit in. They know the hows and whys of their lives, where their talents and thought processes are rooted. No one would ever dream of taking that knowledge away from them.

Adoptees aren’t so lucky. We are second-class citizens — all the way.

By voting to give adoptees our original birth certificates, the State of New York has a chance to shine a bright light on those of us who are kept in the dark about our beginnings. You might even help set in motion a series of changes nationwide that would ultimately allow those sweet twins living behind me to grow up with a full sense of their own identities.

How about it, New York legislators?

Terri S. Vanech

nee Jennifer Elaine Clark

born Feb. 15, 1966

to Patricia Clark

somewhere in Yonkers

(Someone in Albany knows all the rest — I just wish they’d share it with me)

About Terri S. Vanech

Wife, mother, communications specialist, Jazzercise instructor and recently reunited adoptee. I'm living out loud -- and trying to make it all work -- in midlife. Having a sense of humor sure helps.


25 thoughts on “A plea to NY’s lawmakers: Support the adoptee rights bill

  1. Not only lawmakers but the general population should get the facts, the statistics on how opening records has worked out in Oregon and Kansas. The argument about “privacy” is what’s got to be countered. Our opposition doesn’t care about our feelings.


    Posted by potsdamsr | April 16, 2012, 6:53 am
  2. It seems that no matter what adoptees feel is not important. It is only important that antiquated laws are upheld even when they don’t make sense. I am a 73 year old man who only found out that I was adopted 2 years ago. What makes matters even worse (if they could get worse) is that I was adopted in NY, but born in Florida!!! So one state tells me, can’t give you the adoption papers without the original bc and the other tells me can’t give you the bc without the adoption papers. Who are they protecting? My adoptive parents are deceased and my birth parents must also be deceased…..they would be over 100 years old and what are the chances of that. If this bill is passed in NY will it only be for adoptees born there or will it also apply to adoptees who were legally adopted there?

    Posted by Ray | April 9, 2012, 8:22 pm
    • I was born in NY but adopted in Ma. Ray, try writing a letter to the clerk of court in NY to open your record. Given your age, they might just do it for you. Call clerk of court in the county you were adopted and ask the proper procedure. It worked for me!

      Posted by LIZ | June 4, 2014, 3:55 pm
  3. I hope everyone commenting here is working towards the passage of the “Unsealed Initiative” bill that’s very slowly making its way through the Assembly in Albany. The effort is being headed by Joyce Bahr who has worked tirelessly, as have others to make unsealed records a reality.

    Posted by Larry Dell | April 8, 2012, 9:28 am
  4. I hope everyone commenting here is working towards the passage of the “Unsealed Initiative” bill that’s very slowly making its way through the Assembly in Albany. The effort is being headed by Joyce Bahr who has worked tirelessly, as have others to move this bill to a vote.

    Posted by artbleat | April 8, 2012, 9:26 am
  5. We need to find people in the adoption triangle/ affected by adoption, that live in Weinsteins and Duanes districts to lobby them.

    Posted by Michael Schoer Brooklyn, NY | April 6, 2012, 4:44 pm
  6. Terri,

    I agree. It’s time to get records open. It’s time to hold our legislators’ feet to the fire and demand action. The opponents of the bill are well known. In NYC Weinstein and Duane are two of the biggest problems. It’s time to confront them and demand they restore of basic human right to know our heritage.

    Posted by artbleat | April 6, 2012, 3:16 pm
  7. Terri,

    Great post. Your story and the story of the twins really touched me because as far as I can determine my story is much like theirs. I was adopted at birth in Brooklyn by a wonderful couple who raised me no differently from any of the other kids I grew up with who were not adopted. But times and mores being what they were back then my adoption was a secret, a secret I only discovered 4 years ago at the age of 59.

    Once I found out I started searching and through NYS non id info discovered I was the 5th child in the family born to a struggling family that couldn’t provide for me. There’s much more to my story that I won’t go into now but as you state we, adoptees are second class citizens robbed of our human right to know our heritage. And the time is now to do something about it. Let’s make it a campaign issue, a litmus test for candidates. If they’re not on board supporting the “unsealed Initiative” bill let them tell us why. Since all the arguments opposing the bill have been disproved and are false they’re going to have a hard time explaining why continuing to deny U.S. citizens their human rights is acceptable.

    Posted by artbleat | April 6, 2012, 3:08 pm
    • I hope this is our year — I’m so tired of leaving medical forms blank, so tired of wondering and wishing and hoping to finally KNOW. And I’m just one of so very many….

      Posted by terrisv15 | April 6, 2012, 5:49 pm
      • Hi Terri,
        I hope this is New York’s year too. You probably know that in New Jersey, our bill finally passed both the Senate and the Assembly, only to be gutted by Gov. Christie’s conditional veto. We think he was pressured by the Catholic Conference of Bishops, who obviously don’t have our best interests at heart. But more and more legislators are getting it — I think we have to focus on the human rights piece rather than the reunion stories. I love Artbleat’s comment above about making adoptee rights a litmus test for candidates and driving the point home again and again that the opposition’s arguments have been thoroughly disproved. It’s exhausting, but necessary. I’m hoping my story will help — my biological mother did not want continuing contact, but that’s not the point. We both should have the opportunity to behave like the adults we are. Unfortunately, Gov. Christie thinks an unworkable confidential intermediary system is a good compromise. Ugh! Keep up the good work.

        Posted by Susan Perry | April 6, 2012, 6:29 pm
  8. Wonderful post! I am an adoptee from Brooklyn and I know more about my dog’s pedigree than I do my own. It’s sad that animals have more rights than a human. I hope the laws change soon and we will have access to our original birth certificates!

    Posted by Mary from Brooklyn | April 6, 2012, 2:49 pm
    • Hi Mary. I’m a adoptee also. If your able and willing, please look up the organization “unsealed initiatives” in ny. They are trying to get the sealed birth records laws changed in NY state. I’m in Brooklyn also. They need more people to contact lawmakers to get them to see that the current laws are disrcininatory and outdated. Its easy. email, fax and sometimes call them. If I can do it……… My email is wanttofish@optonline.net. if you need info on the group. Thank you very much.

      Posted by Michael Schoer Brooklyn, NY | April 6, 2012, 4:40 pm
    • Wow, Mary. Didn’t think about us versus pets, but now I’m even more frustrated by the whole subject. Let’s hope we can achieve quality with our four-legged friends real soon.

      Posted by terrisv15 | April 6, 2012, 5:48 pm
  9. Great post, Terri! Changing a culture is hard work, but it does appear we may be approaching a turning point. More and more of us are speaking out and networking and I hope that trend will continue. I just got a blog up and running this week. Please check it out at nanadays.blogspot.com and share!

    Posted by Susan Perry | April 6, 2012, 1:14 pm
  10. So well written. You speak the truth. Thank you.

    Posted by rachel | April 6, 2012, 12:30 pm
  11. Absolutly Beautiful. Thanks. I’m Adopted as is my older sister by a year and a half. We supposedly came from the same birth mother. I’m 43 and have recently started to search and have done all the basic things: registries, applied for non-id info, even paid an investigator to search (I think I rushed into that) ect. I’ve also joined an organization called “Unsealed Initiatives” in NY State and have taken part with their guidance lobbying the NY state legislature to pass S1438 /A8910 which will give adoptees in NY their origional birth certificate without restriction. I strongly feel that I’m being discriminated against just for being born. To the NY state lawmakers, UNSEAL “MY” birth records and give me what everyone else can get just by asking. Its been way too long………….

    Posted by Michael Schoer Brooklyn, NY | April 6, 2012, 12:08 pm
  12. Terri,

    I’ve always felt that Frederick Douglass said it best in the first paragraph of his well known book:

    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
    Chapter 1

    I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest- time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time. A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. I was not allowed to make any inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit. The nearest estimate I can give makes me now between twenty-seven and twenty- eight years of age. I come to this, from hearing my master say, some time during 1835, I was about seventeen years old.

    Chris Bischof
    Brooklyn, NY

    Posted by sb32199 | April 6, 2012, 11:50 am
    • Thanks, Chris.

      Posted by terrisv15 | April 6, 2012, 11:57 am
    • Hello Chris Bischof,

      My name is Michael Schoer and I’m in Brooklyn, NY also. I’m an adoptee. That was a nice comparrison post you made. I haven’t met anyone that was adopted from Brooklyn. Not to sound forward but my email is wanttofish@optonline.net. I’m trying to get the lawmakers in Albany support bills to change the sealed birth records laws now. If you curious, I can pass on some info to you about this. The more people affected by adoption voicing our opinion to Albany, maybe they will have to listen.

      Michael Schoer

      Posted by Michael Schoer Brooklyn, NY | April 6, 2012, 12:19 pm
    • This is a deeply meaningful reference. The “restless spirit” of a slave is akin to the underlying sting, as Terri calls it, of an adoptee, I would think. Douglass’s admission that slaves knew as much about their ages as horses knew theirs is an eye-opener. Wow. Terry has written a powerful article/blog, and you are right in step with your quote. Thank you for bringing the Douglass story to our attention.

      It is time that NY legislators come out of hiding and free adoptees from their rank as second-class citizens.

      I’m a birth mother in search of my daughter, 2/22/1966, in Yonkers, NY.

      Posted by Cynthia Crider Doolittle | April 8, 2012, 8:44 am
  13. Excellent, simply excellent. I think we all feel this way.

    Posted by Laura Schwartz | April 6, 2012, 11:38 am

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