Editor’s note: Adoptees like me born during the era of closed records are effectively in a kind of witness protection program. We are typically not allowed access to our original birth certificates but instead get amended birth certificates, which list our adoptive names and the names of our adoptive parents. It is against the law to know our true identities, but slowly that is beginning to change.
As DNA testing and social media connect adoptees with their natural families, laws that keep adoptee records sealed from public view have become moot. In recent years nine states have changed their laws to allow adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. Other states are beginning to consider changing their laws, too. New York has taken up adoptee rights reform for years without success, and is doing so again this year. Maybe this year will finally be one that works.
The latest effort, A9959-B / S7631-B, is headed for a vote Tuesday by the Assembly Health Committee. It would provide unrestricted access to long form original birth certificates for all adult adoptees, just like all non-adopted citizens and adults who “age-out” of foster care. So when the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition asked for folks to call and write to lawmakers this weekend, I was happy to help. Here’s the message I sent:
Dear New York legislators:
I’m a 52-year-old New York-born adoptee now living in Connecticut who would like to stop living a lie. You can help me do so.
My amended birth certificate, which remade my identity, is a lie that has shaped my entire life. Spending years not knowing my true identity and ethnicity, family medical history or the circumstances of my birth has had lasting effects on how I view myself and how I interact with others. I often wonder what my life might be if I’d been able to know my true identity from the start. Would I be more confident, feel like I fit in, be able to socialize with ease rather than be someone who second-guesses everything, feels alien and keeps people at a distance rather than risk being rejected?
What would I have accomplished if I had the chance to rechannel the emotional energy I’ve spent all these years on wondering who I am?
I’ve found both sides of my natural family in recent years, despite it being illegal to know them, as a not-so-nice lady in Albany’s vital statistics office took care to remind me some years ago. Still, it’s not enough. The State of New York continues to treat me and others like me as second-class citizens, even as other states have begun to allow adult adoptees access to their records.
Others recognize that in this age of DNA testing and social media it is ridiculous to maintain archaic laws that keep people from knowing who brought them into this world. Why does New York remain in the dark ages? For the love of God, fix the law so it matches today’s reality. There are millions of adoptees like me who have wondered their whole lives who they are and where they fit. Access to our original birth certificates — that same simple piece of paper most everyone else gets to have as a matter of course — represents a validation we’ve been refused far too long.
I can’t change that I’m adopted, but I should be able to live an authentic life, out of the shadows and removed from the ridiculous secrets and lies that are a stubborn hallmark of the adoptee experience.
Here’s something to consider as you weigh the adoptee rights legislation before you:
Not long after finding my natural mother’s family, I was chatting with some of those relatives about my dismay over not having access to my original birth certificate.
“Why? What would you do with it,” one of them wanted to know.
“What do you with yours?” I replied. A long silence followed.
Now lawmakers, I ask you: What do you do with your birth certificate? What does that piece of paper signify to you?
I’m betting it helps frame your identity, grounds you with a certainty about who you are. Shouldn’t that be the case for us all? Won’t you finally please advance the “clean” adoptee rights bill (A9959-B / S7631-B)?
Terri S. Vanech
“I’ve found both sides of my natural family in recent years, despite it being illegal to know them, as a not-so-nice lady in Albany’s vital statistics office took care to remind me some years ago.” Terri S. Vanech , adoptee NYS
I cracked up when I read this line, because a not-so-nice director of the Department of Vital Statistics in the state of Nebraska said essentially the same thing in the mid-1980s when I advised him that I had my OBC (from the state in which I was born) Actually the State threatened me with a lawsuit for violating their adoption laws. I invited them to proceed promising that if they did so I would counter with my own suit for the h arm and hurt the system did to me, and for separating me from my younger sister forever because of their sealed documents-closed adoption. practices.
I advocate for open, completely accessible files, original birth certificates and NO adoptions or fostering. but for now support NYS A9959B because f passed adoptees in New York State will have access (unrestricted) to and a certified copy of their Original Birth Certificate.
Same here. When I petitioned Surrogate Court (1980s) for my sealed adoption files of the court proceedings of my adoption (1956-1957), the court clerk did not give my petition to the judge for 3 months. Each time I asked her what was taking so long, she yelled at me, “It is illegal for you to have these!” I went back again a few weeks later, she again told me no, so I walked right passed her and into the judge’s chamber. She ran in, screaming at me. The judge scolded her for putting me off. That day, he listened to my story, then, opened the files which had been sealed since 1957. I sat waiting in his office for a half hour. His clerk delivered the manila file folder, sealed with a red paper seal over the flap. She briskly walked passed me in a huff. The judge cracked open the file. He handed a short stack to another clerk to copy. That clerk delivered the copies in about 15 minutes. The judge handed me the sealed court papers. Nothing in these papers was news to me. I had had a reunion with my father and extended family for several years at that point. The files confirmed the information my father and adoptive parents had told me. But the negative treatment I received from that court clerk who purposefully withheld my petition for three months made me feel guilty. If it were illegal for me to petition the court for the release of the files, then the judge himself would have told me so. It’s not illegal to petition. It is illegal for any court staff to open the files and give the adopted person files without a judge’s approval.
Now, petitioning the court to release my revoked and sealed OBC – Original Birth Certificate – that is a different issue. I am currently waiting for an answer back from the Director of Vital Statistics in Albany, New York as to what law I am breaking for owning my OBC since 1974. That is when my adoptive mother gave me all of my birth certificates the week I was found by natural blood kin I was never supposed to know.
This is a de-humanizing system which needs to be abolished.
My natural father gave my birth certificate, baptismal certificate, and hospital birth certificate to my adopting parents when he surrendered me to them in surrogate court in 1956. Is this illegal?
De-humanizing indeed. Thank you for sharing your story.
Your arguments are very well stated, really terrific letter.
Fingers crossed for tomorrow!
The more mail the gov gets on this, the better. Powerful ending. It’s not like Gov. Cuomo ever had a moment’s doubt where he came from, or how his connectedness to his family shaped his life.
We should be filling up his mailbox with calls and emails and whatever will get through to him. It’s about time!
Profoundly moving. I wanted to be reading on printed paper with a highlighter. You said things I felt but had never allowed to surface. Thank you. I have been on this journey for awhile; after many years denying my pain. I too, have found my birth families. And I am still left with this longing for my authentic birth certificate. I have wondered if any of these NY legislators who keep failing to pass an adoptee bill; have ever seen the phony birth certificate we have?
Thank you, Dawn. I hope you’ll consider sharing the post.
Adoptees have rights to get family medical history, and the opportunity to thank our birth parents for handing us to others that could take better care of us when they could not.
I will be eternally grateful for the family that gave me the best life anyone deserves.
Now I want to have my real date in my birth certificate, I want it all the way, I want to be myself.
Reblogged this on FORBIDDEN FAMILY and commented:
To this re-blog I will add: why on earth does any state government, any country, continue to revoke, annul, cancel, rescind, then seal the medical record of birth for adoptees? Why is replacing the facts of birth with false-facts of adoption considered to be legal, moral, and just? If YOU would not want this done to YOU, why are YOU accepting this done to adoptees?
Nice one, Terri!