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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Betsie’s Quest: Origins of an Ohio Adoptee Rights Activist

Betsie Norris has been a force behind numerous attempts to revise Ohio's law concerning adoptees' original birth certificates, including current H.B. 61 and S.B. 23, which will be voted on the coming month. Last year, I interviewed Betsie for a biography project in my graduate writing program at Kennesaw State University. The article posted here is an abbreviated version of the profile I wrote for that class. --Karen Pickell

Betsie Norris
Betsie Norris’s parents, Brad and Lois Norris, were given very little information when they adopted their three children. In 1960, when Betsie was adopted, it was common for adoptions to be closed; adoptive parents and birth parents were told nothing about each other. An adopted child was to be raised as if her adoptive family was her only family. Brad and Lois didn’t know how old their children’s birth parents were or why their children were placed for adoption. They were given no physical descriptions of their kids’ first families nor any family medical history. Brad and Lois told Betsie she was conceived in love and that was all that mattered.

Betsie’s adoptive family was like any other family, with their fair share of joy and heartache. Brad was a successful attorney who was never one to shy away from a cause. Throughout his life, he served on the boards of many different local and national organizations, including that of the agency that handled his children’s adoptions, Children’s Services of Cleveland.

The Norris’s marriage was troubled, and when Betsie was nine, they divorced. Adolescence is difficult for most teenagers and it was especially so for Betsie. On top of dealing with her emotions surrounding the divorce, as an adoptee Betsie struggled with the loss of her birth family, though she wasn’t conscious of it at the time. She realized that her body was maturing and wondered how she would end up looking as an adult—how tall she would be, for instance. She told friends she might search for her birth mother one day. She didn’t discuss her thoughts with her parents, or even with the counselor to whom they sent her to help deal with her family’s issues.
    

Search for Self


During her mid-twenties, after reading the book The Adoption Triangle: The Effect of the Sealed Record on Adoptees, Birth Parents, and Adoptive Parents, Betsie decided to search for her birth mother. Through the stories told by other birth mothers in the book, she gained her first real insight into the depth of feeling these women had for their relinquished children. She realized that not only had her birth mother never forgotten her, she likely wanted to know what had happened to the child she had given up.

Betsie knew that in finding the truth, she might have to face facts that would be difficult to deal with. She knew something had to have been wrong for her birth mother to feel it necessary to give up her child. Still, she needed to know the truth of her origins. Equally important to her was finding out her family medical history. Her experience working as a nurse had made her acutely aware of how much she didn’t know. Her mom and dad were both very supportive. Brad told her that if he were adopted, he was sure that he would also want to search. 

Betsie learned from The Adoption Triangle that she could request non-identifying information about her birth parents from her adoption agency. The one-page report said that her birth mother was sixteen when Betsie was born and that both her birth parents had blond hair, though Betsie was skeptical about their hair color since her own was red.