To Mothers (and Fathers) in Hiding or Denial

01/13/2017 10:10 am ET Updated Mar 22, 2017

If you had a child who was placed for adoption, you are what the media calls a “birth mother” or “birth father.” If you have kept this deep dark secret hidden away, please read on.

New Jersey recently became the 19th state to unseal adoptees’ original birth certificate (including Alaska and Kansas where they were never sealed). Adopted citizens in those states now have the ability to know the true facts of their birth that all non-adopted citizens take for granted (albeit with some conditions in many of these states).

Decades after this grass roots fight for adoptee equality began, the antiquated laws are starting to be reversed state by state, and will likely continue as adoption practitioners have recognized that honesty and openness is healthier for families than the lies and secrets adoption was shrouded with in the past.

Openness and honesty is the current way for adoption and it can set us all free.

In the past, those who relinquished their parental rights, voluntarily or involuntarily, were told never to tell anyone – not even their spouse! Many mothers who were pressured by shame in the 40s, 50s, 60s and even into the 70s to place a child for adoption, took seriously the admonitions of clergy and social workers to keep their pregnancy and loss a deep dark secret. Others did it out of their own concerns for their “reputation“, often because they internalized society’s scorn of their “illicit” affairs.

As Peter Franklin of AWOL, (Adoptees Without Liberty), who worked with legislators to achieve the passage of this bill in NJ says, he cries for the 500 NJ adoptees who will receive their birth certificates with the names of their parents of birth blacked out.

“But at least it is no longer the government shutting you out, it is your un-evolved parent and you now know they are alive which for many is hope since for most this really is about reunion.”

And so, to those birth parents who chose to have their names removed, I give you:

Six reasons to set your child free as well freeing yourself of the chains that bind you:

1. You are not alone! There are thousands of parents who were pressured to sign away their rights or had them taken. There are several online support groups, particularly on Facebook. CUB (Concerned United Birthparents) has been helping parents who lost children to adoption since 1979, providing support for parents who wish to search, or want to make themselves available to be found, as well as helping those who have been found.

2. Removing your name from your child’s birth certificate or using a veto in states that have adopted that procedure, sends a very sad message of rejection to a child you chose to bring into the world and not abort. It tells him or her that he or she was not wanted and is still not. It may cause irreparable health harm to your child or grandchildren.

3. Your child will forgive you, no matter what the circumstances that led to your relinquishing your rights. Adoptees have been glad to meet parents who struggled with substance abuse, who were incarcerated, and who relinquished multiple children. They do not judge. It is their legacy and they prefer to know the truth – good, bad or ugly.

More than that, denying your child your name gives you a false sense of protection of your secret, because a very large percentage of adoption searches are completed without the help of the state opening the records and providing the individual with their factual, original birth certificate. (See number 3)

4. You need no longer bear societal shame. Extra-marital sex is no longer shameful. Once upon a time, even married couples such as Lucy and Desi were shown in separate beds on TV. Friends and Seinfeld forever changed the puritanical, Victorian and rarely true view of dating life.

Your adopted child will not judge you nor will anyone else in your life now, not even your children whom you may have lectured about chastity and the importance on waiting for THE ONE. Spouses and children of birth parents more often than not are glad to know they have another family member. Some say it helps explain melancholy that occurred cyclically on anniversaries of the birth or relinquishment.

5. The child you relinquished is likely to find you whether the records in your state have been unsealed or not! Today, there are many avenues open to people who were adopted. DNA is a huge game-changer that is not reliant on lawmakers to play God with people’s genetic and genealogical histories.

The problem for those “in the closet” and not wanting to be found is that DNA testing reveals not simply one’s mother and father but often long lists of cousins and other relatives. The searching adoptee will then go down that list asking questions about a young female relative who might have “disappeared” for a semester.

6. The other avenue adopted persons are pursuing is social media. See this HuffPost with multiple examples of people making quite public what facts they know of their time and place and birth. Again, as with DNA, the adoptee is likely to find sister and brothers of the person they seek or even old friends. Wouldn’t you prefer they come directly to you?

The question boils down to, do you want to allow your child to find you privately and with respect, or to make a public spectacle of your secret?

Adoptees tend to be super sensitive to the privacy issues and the secrets and lies surrounding adoption. They tend, as a whole, to approach their search and reunion with the utmost care, concern and respect. After all, they are treading on thin ice, fearing rejection! They do not ever want to unnecessarily expose, embarrass, or upset the person or persons they seek. Most want nothing more than to see you face-to-face, hear the story of their birth and relinquishment, and often – as is well-presented in the film, Lion, to thank you, the person who gave them life and made such a difficult choice for their benefit. At best, a mutual ongoing familial relationship may develop.

You can run but you likely will not be able to hide forever. In NJ, as in some other states, lawmakers are influenced by the powerful adoption lobby which played a major part in sealing the records to begin with. Many state legislators are made to believe by lobbyists for adoption attorneys and adoption agencies, as well as religious organizations that mothers and fathers who relinquished were “promised” anonymity – which is not true. The adoptee’s birth certificate and entire adoption file is not sealed until an adoption occurs and is finalized. This may happen years after the relinquishment or termination of rights, or it may never happen. If the child is never adopted, the records are never sealed. Thus no one could have possibly been promised anonymity or confidentiality at the time of the relinquishment or termination of parental rights. Furthermore, the original parent(s) is never notified if or when an adoption takes place. One could spend their life believing their child is living a loving well-cared for life with doting adoptive parents, when in fact the child is floating from foster home to foster home.

But in an effort to please all of their constituents, many state lawmakers enact various compromise legislation, ignoring the fact that it is an issue of equal rights for adoptees to have their own proof of birth. To date, less than one percent of original parents have taken advantage of laws that allow them to deny their adopted child’s access to their birth certificate containing the names of their genetic parents. In New Jersey, for instance, birth parents were given 90 days in which to redact their names from their child’s birth certificate.

If you have taken such a measure – as some 500 mother and fathers in NJ did – please know that you can rescind that request at any time and set yourself free of the fear that someone may expose your past on the Internet for all to see!

NJ’s compromise was fought for 34 years and is still debated among members of the adoption community who would, of course, prefer that access to one’s birth certificate is seen as an inalienable right that cannot be compromised without violating the 14th amendment that provides for laws to apply equally to all.

Peter Franklin notes that the NJ redaction compromise has a limited window which is now closed. It reminds us however, that the NJ law, unfortunately:

“…did not set a precedent with redaction. Half of the 19 states with ‘open’ records grant birth parents a way out. ….. With the amount of opposition in NJ (ACLU, the Bar, the Catholic Church, RTL) and a Catholic Governor, it was compromise or likely wait another 5 years and try again; so, yes this bill shifted from a civil right to a utilitarian bill to help the most persons immediately. ….. Even the first anti-slavery laws freed some but not all and I do feel states can go back and improve existing access laws, Hawaii lived with a Contact Intermediary system for years and then passed clean access and I think we will see CT and Mass close their ‘donut’ hole laws [specific dates of birth for whom the law applies] so we will certainly look for ways redaction can be removed [in NJ].”

Additionally, Cathy Swett of NY Adoption Equality, notes that the grass roots activists of NJCARE, who worked on the bill compromised possibly their own un-redacted information to end the Boskey legacy. James Boskey was a law professor and adoptive father who wrote the NJ adoption law allowing adoptive parents to change the date and place of birth on their child’s amended Birth Certificate. This practice is terminated proactively, and all those adopted in NJ have unfettered access.

In the meantime, any parent by birth of an adoptee in NJ who has requested their name be redacted, can reverse that decision and it is hoped that many will consider doing that.

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