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.
I am going to dissent because, as Shakespeare wrote, “A rose would be as sweet by any other name”
I was so brutalized in early childhood by my parents (and afterwards by my adopters) that by the time I sat on the desk of the presiding judge on 15 August 1950, as he read the final decree of adoption, I barely remembered anything at my five and half years of life. When Hiz Honor reached the section where Lliréva Jean Averill was to ‘henceforth and forever be known as ‘Bonnie Lee xxxxx'”, I screamed in fury at him for daring to take my name, this while hurling every file on his desk to the courtroom floor. (I was summary ejected by the judge, carried out of the courtroom by a burly bailiff. )
My fury was not simply over the names, but about my identity being taken-the identity which tied me to my Magyar grandparents, great grandparents, my 2 beloved aunts, and -most of all-my brother and sister from whom I had been separated forever by my felonious parents’ choice to abandon their two daughters in a dog pound and the state’s complicit approval of their felonies by never holding them accountable for the grave harm they did..
In 1982, after years of battling with the state of adoption (NE) and the US Passport agency I was made to realize that I was not born in the sate which created my amended birth certificate and if I was to be given a passport, I must find the state which held my, as the modern phrase puts it, ‘truth’. That was a daunting task, but I succeeded in finding it and, consequently, receiving my OBC via petition to the OH court showing just cause why it should grant my request.
When I held the document in my hands, it was anticlimactic.. 2 names stared back at me and my original name, but at 37 years of age, they were simply names without faces in non-existant time and space which was beyond my or anyone’s ability to retrieve or to recreate. My mother, by the way, falsified information she provided.
In 2011 when I reconnected with a paternal uncle, I had my first glimpse of faces I was not able to recall (but remembered)-faces of my sibs and my parents. Later that year, thru labor intensive research, I was to discover that my younger sister was given my Magyar grandmother’s name, a name that rightfully should have been mine. Unfortunately she will probably never know her birth name or the significance of it because the state of Nebraska remains steadfast in its stance to keep its population of adoptees in the dark while continuing to deny them access to an OBC. I carry my sister’s memories and her ID OBC and still hope that she will buy a DNA kit so that we can be a sibling match…She is 72 as of July of this year and knows not of her adoptee status. It was not disclosed in the era of our adoption proceedings. I was too old to deceive.
I have been for years advocate of all adoptee rights, and worked towards NYS’ change of heart for the past four years. Needless to say, I was elated when Cuomo signed the historic document which will give most NYS adoptees their truth.*
We adoptees are only 2 % of the global population and need to support all efforts to be granted access to not only OBCs, but to all else that contains our history and that would erase our denial of access to sibs and family.
* Those not born in NYS will not receive an OBC. OBCs reside in the state of birth as mine and my sister do. It is myth to think that states have some agreement that State A can have access to State B’s birth records. Each state has its own regulations and laws concerning adoptees, and only that state determines who may or may not have it. One state’s rights does not obscure another’s.
Cheers to Terri and others who will be storming the bastille come 15 Jan 2020. Congratulations and god speed.
Congratulations to all of you who didn’t give up the fight to know who you are. Enjoy this victory!