For the first time in recent months, I was able to go to the doctor and provide family medical history to the physician rather than scrawl “adopted, no family history” across the page. If you’re not adopted, you may not understand how important this is, not only as it relates to my medical care, but in terms of understanding who I am.
And if you are adopted and have found your family information, you know what a watershed that moment was for me, how it represented validation and made me feel less “other” in the face of a system that keeps details about my birth and family history sealed even though I have found my natural relatives.
You can likely relate, too, to how I’m feeling about my colonoscopy this week. You see, I learned last year, when I finally met my birth father, that he survived Stage 4 colon cancer. At 51 I am due for a colonoscopy, but without that information I probably would have procrastinated about scheduling one.
Over the years, when I’ve discussed being adopted with acquaintances and mentioned my lack of medical information as a result of New York State’s sealed records laws, I’ve often been told I shouldn’t worry, that doesn’t really matter as long as I eat right, exercise and take care of myself.
Of course clean living is a key component of staying healthy, and we don’t all automatically contract the diseases our relatives have, but family history is critically important. I saw that first-hand this week during my consultation in the gastroenterologist’s office. I had seen this doctor 15 years ago for a different matter, so she had my records from back then, with the blank family history page. Ours was a pretty run-of-the mill discussion until I explained that I hadn’t scheduled the colonoscopy only because it was time to do so. As I spoke about my father’s experience, I watched her sit up straighter in her chair and take extra interest in what I had to say. Knowing my history gave her greater context for the test — and for me as her patient.
I’m hopeful for a clean bill of health later this week, but there are many other adoptees, who as a result of sealed records laws in the states where they were born, aren’t as lucky as I am to have medical details to share with their physicians.
Indeed, in all but nine states, adoptees must play complicated games of Mother May I? or else become reluctant sleuths to learn the most basic truths about themselves. That disconnect is a strange, frustrating irony in this era of TMI, when interest in genealogy is at an all-time high, and DNA testing and social media are connecting adoptees and their natural families daily.
Thanks to tireless work by adoptee rights advocates, however, adoptees could soon have access to their original birth records in many states — including in New York, where I was born; and in Connecticut, where I now live; as well as many other states (see here for a full listing).
Providing access to original birth certificates would mean adoptees like me would finally be able to know the truth about ourselves, understand our place in the world, and have access to potentially live-saving medical information.
With any luck, perhaps I will be among the last group of adoptees who will be treated as second-class citizens.
Isn’t it time we finally did so?