Thursday, February 21, 2013

When Your Cause Finds You

 "It’s not easy to be an advocate, but sometimes our causes find us, even when we don’t expect them" --Liza Long

I found this quote when I was reading about the impressive mom who wrote about her mentally ill child in an article entitled "I am Adam Lanza's Mother" along with the Nova/Frontline show that followed.  

It's so true what she says about our causes finding us.

I would have never believed it if you asked me 10 years ago that I would be active in adoptee rights.  I thought the Adoptee Rights Coalition had recently lost their collective minds when they asked me (who has never been active in politics) to be on their legislative committee.

But sometimes our causes find us, indeed.

I have had people in my life say to me that I have issues with adoption. 

I have had friends say that they don't want to search for birth family (fearing I would try and convince them).  

Adoptees sometimes feel the need to explain to me why they do or do not have the same need/passion to seek out the past details of their lives or want to engage in relationships with blood relatives.

Listen guys.  It's o.k. if you don't want to search.  It's o.k. if you don't want to order your original birth certificate.  It's o.k. if you don't want to ask your parents for your adoption file.  It's o.k. if you are too scared or busy to seek out answers.  

It's o.k. if you don't want to know.

I get it.

I was there with you at one time.

I too was scared, intimidated, frustrated, angry, indifferent, annoyed, and busy.
  
I was afraid of hurting people's feelings.

I was afraid of confronting authority.


I was afraid to fail.  

I was afraid of being rejected.

I was afraid to upset the apple cart.

But my cause found me.  And now there is no turning back.

Adopted people never stop being adopted. 

If the laws were fair and the records were open and the media didn't twist adoption into something it truly isn't . . . . 

If adoption wasn't a multi-million dollar industry . .. 

If the doctors and medical community really wanted to push the issue of our lack of medical knowledge . . .. 

if the non-adopted really understood what it was like to grow up rootless . . . .

then there wouldn't be a cause to fight for.

But until then, you can find me on my laptop pushing ahead and supporting my fellow adoptees in having what should have been rightfully theirs all along . . .. 

the truth about their lives.

   



  
   

Friday, February 15, 2013

Let's clear up some myths about open records for adoptees

I've been thinking about why it has taken so long for the United States to grasp that adopted citizens should have a right to an accurate copy of their birth certificate.

A struggle for the average citizen to understand adoptee rights comes from the urban legends that circulate like wildfire -- until they are seen as true --when in fact, they are false.

The laws are far behind the realities of information, the internet and the wants and needs of modern original mothers and adult adoptees in domestic adoption.

Adoptees are dying every day without their medical history, and the stories of their lives.  The progress has been slow since Oregon opened birth certificates to all adoptees in 2000. Read about Oregon's law here.

The following myths are alive and well in the minds of the opposition of adoptee access to original birth certificates.

Every adoptee needs to be well-versed in "talking points" when the legislature, family and friends ask valid questions as to why the laws should change.

 

Myth:  Opening birth certificates to adoptees will cause abortion rates to increase

Kansas and Alaska have never sealed birth certificates.  Yes, you heard that right.  NEVER.  And their rates of abortion have been lower than the average for the nation as a whole.  See the research here

Large lobbyists fight against our right to our own copy of our original birth certificates, because they believe this myth and/or want to protect their financial investments in adoption.

It's disconcerting that there is such a psychological tie to seeing an accurate record of your birth and the right to abortion.

If you really think about it, there is not a true tie between the two acts; however, in people's minds due to the urban legends, unfortunately, the two (abortion and open records) are linked in this debate.  See the groups who oppose open records here.

Myth:  Adoptions will decrease if we open the records


England and Wales disproved this in the 1970's. The research in England and Wales shows that adoptions declined at a slower rate once records were opened, than the decline in adoption when records were closed.  There is no doubt adoptions have declined steadily over the years; however, the decline slows down once a state opens records.  There are obviously other factors in why adoptions have decreased:


availability of infants as more mothers are raising their children

cost of adoption and raising of children

Roe v. Wade

women realizing that placing a child for adoption is not generally healthy for their psychological well-being or that of their child.

social services in place to support women raising their children

social stigma against surrendering your child, even though the media glamorizes it  (notice this is the opposite of the Baby Scoop Era when the stigma was being an unmarried mother).


It's not logical to envision the whole adoption industry turning over on its head because a bunch of adult adoptees walk into Vital Stats and order their birth certificates.

The myth of the hiding birth mother and promises of privacy/confidentiality

There are a minority of  first mothers who don't want open records. But the overwhelming majority of first mothers if given a choice (and trust me, they weren't given a choice in closed adoption) want to be known to and by their relinquished child.  Studies have shown this to be true.  See The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler and research at The Donald B. Evan Research Institute.


In closed adoption, mothers were basically told to go away and leave the family alone.  The social workers weren't concerned about their privacy rights.  In fact,  they were concerned about the privacy of the adoptive family and the adoptee being labeled a "bastard".

I can't imagine there was any discussion with original mothers in closed adoption about whether their child, once an adult, would order his/her birth certificate and how that mother felt about it.

Why?

Because they didn't care how she felt about it.  Her wants and needs were never a factor in any decision.  The adoption agencies/attorneys ruled and you did it their way or else.  They did, however, hear things like this:

"Try and forget you had this child.  You can have other children once your married."
"Don't bring shame on your family by raising this child."
"This child will be better off with married parents."
"Move on with you life."

These social stigmas and the closed records mentality of that time period has taken an inordinate amount of time to catch up with the current realities of our times:   that a majority of current original mothers know their children and want contact with them.


Closed records were never intended to provide original mothers with any form of privacy.  In a landmark case in Tennessee, Doe v. Sundquist, the justices say:


"We conclude that the disclosure of adoption records as provided in 1995 Tenn. Pub. Acts, ch. 523, codified at Tenn.Code Ann. § 36-1-127(c), does not impair the plaintiffs' vested rights in violation of article I, section 20 of the Tennessee Constitution and does not violate the plaintiffs' right to privacy under the Tennessee Constitution.”

Myth:  Sealed records were really sealed

In U.S. history, adopted persons' birth certificates did not start out as sealed prior to the 1930's and most adoptees could access their birth certificates until the 1950s. See brief history here and full history in Wayne Carp's book called Family Matters.

As pointed out, two states in the U.S. were never sealed. 

In addition, all adoption records and birth certificates are seen by somebody:  social workers, judges, attorneys, adoptive parents, Vital Stats employees, and Confidential Intermediaries, not to mention any all parties who ordered a birth certificate before it was actually sealed.  

Birth certificates don't get signed and sealed on anyone's birthday.  They are only sealed after an adoption finalization, which in the state of Ohio, can be six months to many years later, depending on when the child is adopted.  There is always a window of time for somebody to have a copy of that birth certificate.  

There has always been the ability to get a court order and open "sealed" records.  Sealed is a misnomer because somebody always has access to those records.  Unfortunately, it is usually NOT the adopted person who should be rightfully entitled to it.


The Court further states:
 
“There simply has never been an absolute guarantee or even a reasonable expectation by the birth parent or any other party that adoption records were permanently sealed.   In fact, reviewing the history of adoption statutes in this state reveals just the opposite”
 -6th Circuit Court


Equal Rights are not about Reunion

Equal rights are only about equal access to our original birth certificates.  It it not about seeking family members out, although many adoptees do.  

If one citizen can access his original birth certificate and another cannot, that is unethical and wrong and is treating adopted citizens different than the non-adopted.

If we believe in equal rights for all, then that has to include each and every adopted citizen in this country.

 









Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Should open adoption agreements be enforceable?



There is a bill that was drafted by Sen. Lyle Hillyard (R. Utah) - SB155 - that would provide a mechanism to make open adoption agreements enforceable.  

The intent behind the legislation is to initially effect foster-to-adopt families, but I strongly believe that it should also include private domestic infant adoption.  See article here.


Not surprisingly, the NCFA (National Council for Adoption) is against this legislation. They are the number one opposer of adoptee rights, so it’s not a big stretch to see they don’t care about original families having continued contact with their children.


David Hardy, a past president of the Utah Adoption Council, said there is no consensus on the issue among adoptive parents and he goes on to say:


"There's certainly concern we're cheapening the parental relationship if you have an enforceable agreement.”


Cheapening the parental relationship?  I think what he really means is adoptive parents will finally have to be held accountable.  Those who already honor their word will not need to be held accountable.  Only those who later decide they don’t feel like honoring their original agreement, will be subject to the law.


Many women who place their children for adoption agree to do so because they were promised an open adoption.  Adoption agencies routinely use this “promise” to ensure placing mothers that they will have continued contact. 

Many women make their decision because of these promises and later find out that the adoptive parents have unilaterally closed the adoption, by moving, changing phone numbers or otherwise just disappearing into the sunset.  Currently, there is no legal remedy for original families in this situation.


Many adoptive parents honor the original agreement because they know how important it is to their child’s well-being.   

What is the point of a promise if there is no legal remedy to back it up?   

It is no different than custody and visitation orders post-divorce.  You either follow the Order or you are in contempt.  One parent doesn't get to unilaterally decide something against the agreement without being held accountable.  


The problem as I see it is that those in the adoption industry who benefit the most from it are finally being told that their rights are lopsided.  This isn’t just about rights for original families.  These are the rights of the children to see their families.   


A couple comments on the original article by adult adoptees raised in closed adoption say that they didn’t want original families medaling into their lives.  I was raised in closed adoption and I would have welcomed an extra adult or two who loved me.   


My daughter is adopted and her original father is like another uncle to her.  I am not threatened in any way by his involvement and I would never cut him out on a whim. Why?  Because it would hurt my child first and foremost and because I absolutely believe it is her right to see him.  Period.



What kind of example are adoptive parents setting for their child when they agree to allow the original family to have contact and then go back on their word?  


If there is truly a danger to the child’s mental or emotional health, you can bring that issue to the Court, mediation or adoption agency. 

However, if it’s just your whim that you don’t feel like dealing with “those people” any more . .. you are dead wrong and I hope and pray that other attorneys who work in the system will have the courage and ethics to follow Mr. Hillyard’s example.










Monday, February 11, 2013

Is it a woman's right to surrender her child?

photo credit: Stu Phillips

I took part in a discussion amongst other adult adopted women. This discussion become very heated when a particular original mother entered the conversation.  This original mother surrendered her child because, in essence, she didn't want to change her lifestyle and be a single parent.  This original mother spoke of all the traveling she has done and blogs about her life as an original mother in open adoption.

I have never visited the blog, but I understand it offends many people, especially adoptees.   Most of my fellow adoptees felt offended by this woman because we were "her child"  at one time.  We were left and we all have a visceral reaction to hearing a mother discuss why she left her child (especially when those reasons appear shallow or selfish).

Aside from that reaction, I asked the group why are women so hard on other women? Does this mother not have a right NOT to parent?  It's not like it is any easy task to be a single mother in America these days.

One answer I received was that the child should have the right to his family of origin. I cannot disagree with that line of thinking. In fact this line of thinking is one of the main reasons my daughter is adopted.

She is a biological family member and we wanted her to stay with her family and the only way to protect her from certain other family members who might not have her best interests at heart, was to protect her legally through adoption.  I always felt from day one our child has a right to her original family and we had a right to keep her with us.

I absolutely believe a child should be entitled to his family and every piece of information that belongs to him (birth certificate, medical history, narrative of his life) if he cannot have his actual family.

But that brings me back to my original question:  Does a women have a right to surrender her child?

I have to say absolutely, yes.

Women are the ones who get pregnant and give birth and we are ones who should be able to decide about our own bodies when pregnant.  Shouldn't the logic also continue after birth?  What if the child is 5 months old and we realize we just can't do it?  What if a woman decides her child deserves better than what she is able to give?

What if a woman is sitting in a YMCA with her child  and believes with every ounce of her being that the child would be better off with someone else?

What if a woman has no family members who she would ever in a million years allow to raise her child? (I have two such friends).

These types of situations happen every day.  Most women decide to keep, raise and love their child.  But some women give parenting a shot and decide that they cannot do it.  Some women know within themselves they are not up to the task and aren't willing to try.  They know they will get a tremendous amount of flack because there is nothing worse than being a "bad mother" in America.

The scarlet letter in America should be a B for Bad Mother.

Women are "bad mothers" for surrendering their child; women are "bad mothers" for keeping their child under circumstances that are less than ideal (i.e. marriage or money). Women are bad mothers for using daycare and for not having a job outside of home.   No matter what you decide, someone will say you are a "bad mother".

Speaking from an adoptee viewpoint, I believe it would have been ideal for me to be raised by my original family.  I believe my orginal mother struggled with her decision, but she made that decision  based on lifestyle choices similar to the original mother that is currently traveling the world.  I don't fault her for that.

If she truly did not want to parent me, then I truly did not want her to. 

Why?  Because nothing is worse that being raised by someone who doesn't want you.  I know so many people who were unwanted by either their original families or their adopted ones.  To be a burden to someone would not be how I would want to grow up . . . .ever.

We cannot legislate women into keeping pregnancies they don't want or keeping children they don't want.

As painful as that reality is for me to admit (being unwanted by one woman and a mother myself), it just is the way it is.







Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ohio Adoptee Rights Bill to be announced this week

Thanks to the hard work of Adoption Equity Ohio a bill should be introduced on Tuesday opening original birth certificates of Ohio adopted citizens born between 1964 and 1996.

Now is the time to start contacting your legislature to ask for co-sponsorship and support. It only takes a few minutes to type up a brief letter informing your representative as to how you stand on political issues.  If you want some guidelines, go to Lost Daughters.


I am brand new to this myself as I was recently asked to be part of the legislative committee for the Adoptee Rights Coaltion  and have only one time before written to my representative on an issue that I felt strongly about.

Although writing to your legislature appears intimidating and daunting on the surface, once you get started, you realize it is not that difficult to express your opinions to someone whose job it is to care about citizen concerns.

As an adopted U.S. citizen, this is one of THE biggest issues for my fellow adoptees adopted in the state of Ohio. As you may know, I am an Illinois adoptee who has my own birth certificate.  I have mine . . .and so should every other adoptee in this country.

So please, if you are adopted or you know somebody who is, or if you are just a concerned citizen and believe that each person deserves equal rights, please write to your representative about this issue.

We have a lot of work to do to get other states on board, but we have had recent success in Rhode Island.  Currently, these states have either unrestricted access or mostly unrestricted access to original birth certificates for adoptees:

Alabama, Alaska, Oregon, Kansas, New Hampshire, Maine, Illinois, Rhode Island and Tennessee

 

Hopefully the momentum will continue and eventually everybody will realize that:


secrets and lies in adoption should not be part of any modern adoption institution

but most importantly that, we all deserve

equal treatment under the law.

Find your Representative here:

Monday, February 4, 2013

Having no Medical History is Serious for Adoptees


 The overwhelming majority of the non-adopted have an extensive family medical history that they take for granted.  For example, many of the medical issues are well-known in the family such as Grandma's diabetes and great grandpa's heart condition.  They know their blood brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, etc. and if they don't know personnally, somebody in the family knows the diseases, conditions and illnesses that each family member has or has experienced or has died from.

When a child is placed for adoption, their life is put in danger if a complete medical history is not ascertained by the social workers or attorneys handling the adoption. The right questions need to be asked of both sides of the birth families and documented.

My medical history consisted of this:

 "All family members were in good health as could be ascertained from the record."

HUH?

Later in the file, the social worker admits that my father did not know about my conception, so there was obviously no investigation into my father's medical background.

However, my birth mother lived in one of the agency's maternity homes.  There was plenty of time to gather information about her medical history.  The agency failed to do this for me.

My birth mother was born with a hole in her heart and she had to have an extremely  rare surgery when she was 5 years old.  This information never made it in my file and/or was relayed to my parents.

In fact, no medical information at all was relayed to my parents, putting me (and them) at an extreme disadvantage every time I went to the doctor, hospital, when I carried my son, and even to this day.



I have been fortunate with my health; however ever since the death of Comedian Gilda Radnor in 1989 of ovarian cancer, I have had  a very strong fear of ovarian cancer.  I asked my doctor about getting a CA125 test but he didn't recommend that . . . too many false positives.  I had good reason to fear this disease:

" the single greatest ovarian cancer risk factor is a family history of the disease."

www.cancer.gov


 My doctor and I decided to stay on top my pap smears and I began getting my mammograms at an early age since I did not know if my mother, sister, aunt or grandmother ever had breast or ovarian cancer. 

I have tried to always be on top of any perceived health conditions, but I still worry that there is diabetes, heart and stroke on my father's side.   When I finally got a little bit of health history from my birth mother at age 40, I almost didn't believe it.  I was so used to knowing absolutely nothing about my health history, it didn't feel real to actually hear it.  My doctor was quite shocked to get this information after all these years.

Adoptee Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer.  I found a writing about his condition, that is sometimes hereditary:

Question:


Steve Jobs was adopted and may not have known his family medical history. How important is family history in determining one's risk for pancreatic cancer? Does it have a genetic component?



Anitra Talley :


Few risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer are defined. Family history of the disease is one risk factor.  Approximately ten percent of pancreatic cancer cases are hereditary.  There are family registries and early detection studies for people who have a family history of the disease.  http://live.washingtonpost.com/pancreatic-cancer.html

The family registries and studies won't help Steve (sadly), but they can at least be helpful to his children, along with Steve's medical history (since Steve had later in life received knowledge of both of his birth parents.)

One of my fellow Lost Daughters, Susan Perry, was diagnosed with Melanoma, a very serious skin cancer.  She has this to say:

        " When I had malignant melanoma over 10 years ago, I was a candidate for a medical study at U. of Penn following my surgery. When they found out I had no medical history, they had no interest in including me."

Learning of this incensed me.  Exclusion due to adoption status. Sadly, this is nothing new for many of us, but when we are talking about a life and death situation, it  is so unacceptable and wrong, that this alone should be reason to NEVER have a closed adoption.

All parties of an adoption should know each other's names, addresses and phone numbers so when an adopted child comes down with unexplained symptoms and/or there is a genetic disease in the family, the adoptive family and medical professionals can be prepared and ready to deal with this condition with all the facts and best information.  

I understand this is the best case scenario and it doesn't always pan out this way, but let's not purposely leave a child in a medical abyss like so many adoptees are raised in.

It could literally change the outcome of your child's (or their children's) life span.