On October 31, 2002, I made the decision that I wanted to contact my birth mother and write her a thank you note. I was fifteen years old, and I had just finished a rather emotional conversation with my mom regarding abortion. The moment she told me my birth mother had never once considered that, and had loved me enough to bring me into this world, I knew I had to thank her. Because my parents had chosen a closed adoption, I wrote about birth mother in my journal, listing my goal as more wishful thinking than anything else.
In September of 2005, my dad took me out for lunch and I realized my wish could become reality. Since I was eighteen, he said, my adoption record was accessible and I could contact my birth mother if I wanted to. Dad told me that they, along with my sisters, would support me no matter what I chose.
Struggles surrounding identity is no stranger to adoptees. Particularly in the teenage years. In fact, adopted children are more apt to suffer from identity and self-esteem crises than non-adopted individuals. This is especially true with closed adoptions, and the lack of information associated. However, rather than expressing their desire to learn more about their biological roots, adoptees may instead harbor feelings of guilt and shame. The fear that their interest would evoke betrayal with the family who raised them. Even in the best case scenarios, where there’s full support, these emotions still surface.
The second after Dad presented the option, nausea replaced my appetite. It didn’t matter that we were at one of my favorite restaurants. Yes, I had dreamt about learning more of my origin, but actually having the option somehow felt like being handed Pandora’s Box. Curiosity surfaced. Temptation taunted. My sense of self shattered into a pile of question marks.
Later that day, my parents dropped me off at work. Tension hovered over us. Inherently, I knew we would never be the same from that moment on – and we weren’t. The words had been spoken. The choice was out there. The choice that officially labeled me as separate from the family.
Separate by blood, that is. Legally, I was their daughter. I had a birth certificate to prove it.
In every adoption, two birth certificates are generated – the original and the amended. The latter is the one that includes the adoptive parents’ names and the adoptee’s chosen name. Once the adoption is finalized, this certificate is handed to the adoptive parents. On the flip side, the original birth certificate contains the birth parents’ information, as well as the adoptee’s birth name, and is sealed along with any and all adoption records for privacy reasons.
While some state laws may vary on this, adoptees generally must wait until they are 18 years of age before they can obtain their adoption records. To do this, they must locate the state and county they were adopted in and then contact the county clerk. The clerk, in turn, can lead adoptees through the official petition process. If the records are still sealed, the adoptee will need to file a petition, and later meet with a judge to explain why they want the records unsealed. However, if the adoptee is of age, the records shouldn’t be too difficult to obtain.
Databases such as “23andMe.com” and “AncentryDNA.com” assist millions of people who opt in to learn about their biological makeup. For just under $100, an at-home DNA kit can be delivered, and within 8 weeks of spitting in a tube and submitting the sample, results can be sent back. All through the magic of the mail. Adult adoptees and regular individuals alike can discover facts about their relatives. To increase the odds and information found, opting in to more than one database is encouraged.
Online resources, known as “adoption reunion registries,” are websites where an adoptee or biological family member can provide information in hopes of finding one another. If both a birth parent and adoptee are searching for each other, they can fill in demographics such as: birth date, birth state and so on. The system will then link them as a match and exchange contact information.
Adoption lawyers, agencies and/or reunion consultants are other helpful resources. Having direct links not only shortens the search, but it also eliminates a lot of stress and confusion. These experts will most likely have the adoption paperwork on file with them, and can help lead adoptees through the official channels. If they have accurate contact information for the birth parents this can speed up response times as well.
The first step I took was small. Because my adoptive parents had the contact information of an adoption reunion consultant, I cracked the lid of Pandora’s Box and fulfilled the wish I made as a fifteen year old. I wrote a thank you note to my birth mom.
Deciding whether or not to reconnect with one’s birth parents is a big decision. It is very much like opening up Pandora’s Box. In the days to come, I will elaborate. For now, though, hopefully the above avenues offer some sense of guidance. They are not the only routes available, so be sure to research and determine what best fits you.
The search is just the beginning. Actually living through the results is an entirely different story.
“4 Tips on Starting an Adoption Search and Reunion.” Adoption Connection, 4 Apr. 2018, adoptionconnection.jfcs.org/4-tips-starting-adoption-search-reunion/#.
“Birth Certificates and Adoptees.” American Adoptions, https://www.americanadoptions.com/blog/birth-certificates-and-adoptees/.
“Closed Adoption: Disadvantages.” American Pregnancy Association, 2 Sept. 2016, americanpregnancy.org/adoption/closed-adoption-disadvantages/.
Croswell, Jonathan. “How to Unseal Closed Adoption Records.” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 13 June 2017, www.livestrong.com/article/68379-unseal-closed-adoption-records/.
“Long-Term Issues For The Adopted Child.” Mental Help James Marcia and Self Identity Comments, www.mentalhelp.net/articles/long-term-issues-for-the-adopted-child/.