Friday, December 5, 2014

Unlock Our Lives

 A few weeks ago, my husband and I were blessed to be at a screening of
"The Good Lie", starring Reese Witherspoon. 
It is the riveting true story of Sudanese refugee children.  
Brave brothers and sisters survived a thousand mile trek across the desert, through three different countries to find refuge in Ethiopia.
 Although the eldest brother was tragically separated from the rest of the family, his siblings never lost hope they would someday be reunited.    
Eventually they were brought to America.
Those who helped them rebuild their lives honored and preserved their names,
their courage, and their journey. 
What struck me the most was the dignity with which the refugees carried themselves, even in the midst of devastating loss.       
Years later, a brother of the lost boy risked his life to go back and search for him. 
Their only hope of finding each other in the crowded refugee camp was by reciting their names out loud, along with the names of their ancestors, which they knew by heart.  
They never forgot who they were and from where they came.   
Alex Haley wrote, in his classic novel, Roots,
“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from.
Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness. ”
There are over 6 million adopted people in the U.S. who aren't offered the dignity of being able to speak or know their own birth name, or the name of even one ancestor. 
Adopted individuals are the only group of American citizens who are denied the
RIGHT of owning their original birth certificate.       

Several states have passed legislation, recommended by the
Child Welfare League of America,
restoring the unconditional right of all adult adoptees to have access to their original birth certificate.  
Kansas and Alaska have NEVER sealed original birth certificates from adult adoptees.  
There are two common myths surrounding adoptee access ~ the myth that abortion rates will rise if adoptees gain access to their birth information,
and that of "birthmother confidentiality". 
The good news is that data shows in states which have passed adoptee access laws, abortion rates have actually declined more than the national average.  
And to address the myth of birthmother confidentiality,   
in the past, just like today, if a mother surrendered her child for adoption,
but for some reason the child was never adopted,
his/her original birth certificate was never sealed or amended.    
These laws were enforced upon mothers and adoptees, specifically to protect the newly formed adoptive family.
They fail adult adoptees, because they deny us and our children, 
the life-giving knowledge of our genealogies and on-going medical histories. 
Foster children "age out" of the system and are emancipated into adulthood,
but archaic sealed record laws treat adult adoptees as perpetual children, or even criminals, simply to obtain even the most basic information about ourselves that every other American citizen takes for granted. 

Research has shown that, as a whole, mutual consent registries and intermediary programs are not successful. 
My first mother, for example, was not allowed to see me after giving birth in 1968,
and was told that she had delivered a boy.  She passed away when she was 32, after having signed up on several registries; but they failed to provide a successful match.
Our first families have no way of knowing our new names, and sometimes even birthdays and birth places are changed during adoption proceedings. 
State adoption codes have evolved from a child-centered service model into a business-based economic model, legalizing fees and marketing strategies designed to increase the number of "available" children, rather than serving those already in need of care.
Who is the true customer in adoption when it is being used as a tool to "build families",
and has grown to an unregulated billion dollar per year industry?   
When unethical practices can be hidden behind a sealed record, we have reduced human-beings into commodities. 
This makes adoptees feel less than human.
 I once spoke to an adoption attorney who asserted that a new name and "amended" birth certificate must be assigned to an adoptee in order to prevent them from being seen as "second class". 
 This gives adoptees the message that our very being is shameful.  
The more I thought about it, the more I realized: it is the act of changing and sealing our identities that actually makes us "second class". 
Whose interest does this serve? 

 Along with many other adopted people, I have realized that I could not fully understand and accept myself until I found and embraced my dual heritage...
by both birth and adoption. 
Every U.S. citizens deserves the dignity of access to their own unfalsified and accurate original birth certificate. 
I pray our lawmakers realize the importance of this issue and restore this human right for millions of adult adoptees and their families.