Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 - The Year I Get My Original Birth Certificate


Today is no ordinary New Year's Day for me. I was adopted in New Jersey. This year, I get to see my original name on my original birth certificate, which until now was illegal for me to possess. 

For the non-adopted, access to my original birth certificate may seem incidental. I am in reunion, I have all the information about my parents, my history, my story. But, I don't need the birth certificate to find my family; I need it to find myself. The birth certificate feels like a treasure map to my original self. The original self that was covered up, locked away and altered to be something more palatable to society. 

But now I will be able to own my name, my origin, my self. 

Truth be told, caring about my birth certificate is a relatively new thing for me. It wasn't until being part of the adoption blogging community that I learned to question the amended birth certificate. I hadn't thought about how it's the only legal document that is a purposeful lie, that the facts of a person's birth are fictionalized. I hadn't thought about how every other person, other than the adopted, has the right to their birth certificate and the information it contains. I hadn't thought about how changing the facts about my birth tells me that who I am is shameful, and tells me lying to protect others is more important than my truth. I started to see it as a social justice issue, one of equal rights. 

My birthmother told me she named me Petra. Power is my birthmother's last name, but she was told she should put a false last name for me and so put in "Petersen," as my last name, so I'm not sure which name is actually on there. 

But while I was told that my name was Petra, I've never seen the official birth certificate. I tried once, just to see what would happen, explaining that I was in reunion and that no one in my family objects to me having access to my birth certificate. I was still denied it. It wasn't a surprise, but the absurdity of the denial stuck with me. 

My name has always been a central part of my reunion story. I was given the name Cathleen by my adoptive parents. What they didn't know is that my birthmother's name is Kathleen. When I met my birthmother I found out my original name - Petra, the feminine of Peter. What she didn't know was that my adoptive father's name was Peter. Their naming of me bound me in a loop of connection between birth and adoption. My names have represented the two parts of who I am: Cathleen, the adoptee who has lived the life I was put into; but also Petra, the first grandchild of the Power and Wozniak families who was sent away and shrouded in secrecy. 

Soon, I will know my original name, and have proof of the existence of my original self. 

(If you want to read more about the adoptee's right to original birth certificates, my fellow adoptees have done amazing writing on the subject: fellow Lost Daughter, Amanda, did a brilliant job laying out the whole amended birth certificate debate in a post on her blog, The Declassified Adoptee. There is a great post written just a couple weeks ago in Dissident Voice by Doris Michol Sippel, and I'm always learning about the adoptee's right to their birth certificate from fellow Lost Daughter and Adoptee Survival Guide editor, Lynn Grubb - her post in her blog No Apologies for Being Me is just one example. There are a ton more, of course, but that's enough to get you started!)

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