Pi News –
In the evening, in my childhood room, the questions struck me: Where did I come from? Why was I adopted? Who was my original family? Although my parents informed me about adoption at a young age, adoption was otherwise taboo in our household.
When I plucked up the courage to ask these questions, I got vague answers: In the hospital. Because we wanted you. People who couldn’t hold you back. Since my parents kept the details of my adoption a secret, I desperately wanted to find my birth family. It was an almost cellular urgency that intensified when I became a mother.
Little information was available for adoptees in 1986. Searching was something well-adjusted people didn’t do or even talk about. But when I visited my obstetrician after my twins were born, I found a waiting room magazine with an article headline on the front cover that read, Adoptees Find Birth Parents With ALMA’s Help.
I was intrigued to read about an adopted woman who found her family with the help of the Adoptees Liberation Movement Association (ALMA). After the doctor’s examination, I put the magazine in my purse and brought it home. ALMA supported me through a frustrating, emotional ten years of searching for my birth family until I finally found them.
On October 1, 2023, Florence Fisher, the founder of ALMA, died at the age of 95. An adoptee herself, Fisher and her organization have been a major force in helping many adoptees like me find their origins and pressuring states to open up sealed adoptions. records.
Fisher was the savior and hero of countless adoptions, a woman who would do almost anything to uncover information, including once sneaking into a Roman Catholic adoption agency dressed as a nun.
I have even broken the law by hiding my identity to reveal my history. After finding an index card in my adoptive parent’s basement with my baby footprints and my original birth name, I used that information to sign the letters to my original name and later my birth mother’s name. Trying to get my original birth certificate and medical history, I wasted these forgeries.
For 10 years I cold called people in three states with the same last name from the phone books. I introduced myself as “Christine” from a random company that I won’t reveal here. I did this because I needed a way to find out who was on the other end, without having to tip them off as to why, because my search was a violation of the contract that promised the birth parents anonymity. Also, if I contacted a relative rather than my birth parents, I would be revealing their secret, otherwise the person on the other end would panic and lie. What I did is called false misrepresentation, and like forgery, it’s a federal crime punishable by hefty fines and jail time.
If you are not an adoptive parent, you may wonder why such risky, secret activities are necessary. Like most adoptions in the United States, mine was “closed” – neither birth nor adoptive party is allowed to know the identity of the other. This is especially true for the nearly 4 million domestic adoptions that occurred during the Baby Scoop Era from the end of World War II to the 1970s.
From time to time, non-identifying information such as “mother Catholic” or “father engineer” may be added to the adopter’s file. After the court completes the adoption, the original birth certificate of the adoptee is either destroyed or sealed by court order, and the second amended birth certificate with the surnames of the adopters given On the birth certificate, some states changed the child’s hometown and county to where the adoptive parents lived at the time so that no one but the parents would know about the child’s adoption. The name of the hospital may not be included, especially if it served unwed mothers. It was supposed to protect privacy from all sides.
My adoption certificate from Suffolk County, Massachusetts says I was born in Boston, which is true. (My adoptive parents lived in Pittsburgh.) The certificate also lists the names of my adoptive parents as being originally in Boston, which is not true. As an adoptive parent, I always thought of a birth certificate as a title deed. I belong to adoptive parents. At some point I began to see it for what it was: a bogus legal document.
Most of the 5 million adoptive parents in the United States, even as adults, do not have access to our original birth certificates, medical histories, or any information about our identities. Only 14 states allow adult adoptive parents to petition for unrestricted access to original birth certificates.
I am fortunate to have been born in Massachusetts where the law changed on August 5, 2022 to allow an adult adoptive parent to apply for and receive an original birth certificate. Both of my parents are deceased. Now in my mid-60s and with no medical history, I’m aware of the many ways that mysterious genetics can get to me. I want to know the cause of death of my birth parents for me and my three children. And Massachusetts agreed to provide the original birth certificate with my parents’ names. It should be pretty easy, right?
I called the county where my parents died and asked for a death certificate that listed the cause of death. In each case, the clerk told me I had to prove I was a relative to get such personal medical information. everything is fine I thought because I have my original birth certificate. In addition, my original ID shows my name as Judith Ann Stashinski, my driver’s license and all other identification as Jillian Barnett.
A closed adoption means severing any connection between who the adoptee was before the adoption and who they are after the adoption, so I have no paper trail to prove that I am the daughter of my birth parents. i can’t Even if my birth mother was alive and I went into the county office building with her to verify my identity, I would have to be turned away by two counties, one nursing home, and two funeral directors.
The original birth certificate sent to me by Suffolk County, Massachusetts states, “This is an uncertified copy of a birth record prior to adoption.” At the bottom are the words: “The contents of this birth record are published pursuant to Chapter 46, Section 2B of the Massachusetts General Laws or by court order. This entry has been modified by acceptance. This is not a certified copy of the birth certificate.” In other words, this birth certificate is not valid in any legal sense and cannot be used for legal purposes.
Florence Fisher and ALMA have helped to highlight the injustice of such situations and show that closed adoptions and changing birth records cause psychological harm to adopted children, particularly difficulties in forming emotional attachments and difficulties in self-management. have disseminated clear scientific evidence that shows. – respect. I remember that ALMA was the first to inform me that recent statistics confirmed that 94% of adoptees say they want to search for their birth family. In the United States, that’s 4.7 million people with longings in their hearts, stopped by a government-sanctioned system.
As a child, I have questions about what it would have been like to have early access to information about my birth family—I ask why they gave up on me, my medical history, my ethnic heritage. Let’s say I was given permission to contact them or even talk to them. Suppose my parents were open about my adoption. What if I was allowed to be Judith Ann Stashinski and that authentic self was cherished and nurtured? Let’s just say that all the secrets, and with it the shame and fear, were removed – from all sides. would i be ok
But what about the birth parents’ private lives?
What I know for sure is that when parents have a child they are not ready to raise, they have every right to give that child up for adoption, but they don’t have the right to keep that child close as an adult. Even if the biological parents are promised confidentiality during the adoption, this is not a promise to which the child is a party. Knowing who you are is the most basic of human rights.
So why are we still struggling with these problems caused by closed adoption? Why was Fisher’s life’s work largely undone? according to American Adoption Congress, adoption has become a multi-billion dollar industry that makes huge profits from separating mothers and babies. The AAC says the confidentiality behind most adoptions has less to do with the privacy of the parties and more to do with limiting liability and preserving profits — and that confidentiality is protected by multimillion-dollar lobbying efforts by adoption agencies.
With Fisher’s death, the Adoptee Freedom Movement Association is no longer accepting new members (although it continues to help existing members find information). While there are other organizations fighting for the rights of adoptees, we cannot let Fisher’s dreams, or those of millions of adoptees, die with her. Knowing that adoptive parents do not have basic rights is the first step. It’s important to be open about adoption. Each state controls its own adoption laws. Let’s assume that every adopter—domestic, transnational, everyone—and their loved ones petitioned their state’s representatives for open adoption records.
Florence Fisher is very proud.
Jillian Barnett is a writer whose work explores family, the effects of closed adoption, and transplantation into a rural farming community. He lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York, where he is working on a memoir. Information can be found at www.jillianbarnetwrites.com or on Instagram @jillianbarnetwrites.