Although it was over 20 years ago, I still remember the day I stepped through the adoption agency door. I was there for a required counseling session, during which I would receive what is called, in the adoption world, non-identifying information. It is the information an adoptee may request that provides information from the adoptee’s file on birthparents, medical history if given, and other general information, minus any names, or otherwise possible identifying information. I was nervous, excited, and a little anxious, as I sat down in the social workers office in anticipation for what was to come. What would that information pertain? Was it going to be good or bad? What was I about to find out, and was it something I really wanted to know? Finally, I would have all the answers to the questions and things I had wondered all my life, or so I thought.
It wasn’t until I had been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary eye disease, that my genetics and biology suddenly became so very important. I was young. I had my whole life ahead of me. At that time in my life, my early twenties, though curious about my birth family, it had never really crossed my mind to actually find them, much less, inquire on more information about them. Because my adoption was a closed adoption, I had always assumed I would never be able to find my birth family, or even know anything about them. Until this genetic medical issue came up, I had no idea that this non-identifying information was available to me. I had found, as a young preteen, a piece of paper my adoptive parents were given with brief descriptions of my birthparents. That little piece of paper gave me great comfort at the time, and satisfied the curiosity of a young adoptee, but now, with this issue of a hereditary medical condition, I needed more.
As I was sitting in the adoption agency office, where my adoptee story had begun, waiting for more of my story to possibly be revealed it all seemed very surreal. At that time in my life, it was something I had never imagined, or dreamed was even possible. AS the social worker went over my file with me that day, I think I must have sat there in awe of the situation. I heard the descriptions she read. They were similar to the information I had found when I was a child. There was a bit more information, but I don’t believe that I comprehended the reality of it all. The excitement of just being somewhere I never thought I would be, receiving information I thought was unavailable, out of my reach, and something I would never know, was more than my young mind could absorb at the time. I was just simply happy to have whatever they gave me. When the social worker brought up the possibility of a search for my birthmother, and contact if she agreed, well, I think it is safe to say that I went into shock. Whatever information she had just shared in that non-identifying information had just been blown out the window of my mind, and my focus turned to the possibility of reunion, and whatever may happen next in finding my birthmother. It was all a bit overwhelming to say the least.
The agency worker quickly found my birthmother, but contact from her was extremely slow in coming. It was a couple of years later before I received pictures of my birthmother, and was able to meet her, her family, and, eventually, in the years to come, my birthfather and his family as well. I’ve looked at that non-identifying information on numerous occasions over the past 20 years. It wasn’t until just recently that the magnitude of it all hit me. I realized just how much of that information was incorrect, and upon receipt of my original birth certificate, I found even more incorrect information. How did I go all those years not noticing the discrepancies?
I had always just assumed that the information in my file was given to the agency by my birthmother. The height, weight, and occupations of my birthmother, maternal grandparents, and birthfather, were all correctly noted. The ethnicity of my maternal family was correctly noted, however, the ethnicity of my birthfather was only half correct, and would have been something one could have assumed by his last name. My birthmother, one could easily assume, would have been the one to give this information to the agency. Having met my birth family, I find it interesting that of all the information that could have been given as incorrect, it is the hair and eye color of my birth family that is, was, and most obviously incorrect. I have a hard time believing that my birthmother would give the information of occupation, height, weight, and ancestry, correctly and then give incorrect physical descriptions of her parents, the birthfather, and even herself? It doesn’t make sense.
All were described as having black hair and brown eyes, except for my birthmother, who was described as having blond hair and blue eyes. Though my birthmother is blond, she does not have blue eyes, and for the record, they aren’t brown either. AS I’ve met my immediate, maternal and paternal, families, I can say for a fact that there isn’t one black haired brown-eyed person in the bunch, including me.
I have to wonder now. Who, and where did this information come from? How was it obtained, and why was it wrong? If by some chance a description of my birth father, and maternal grandparents was never asked for, or given, why not leave it blank, noting not available? Why fill in a description with incorrect information, and, again, how do they get the description of the birthmother wrong? Couldn’t they just look at her? I just cannot comprehend how it is, of all the possible information they could have right, that it was the occupations of my birth family they had as correct, and yet their physical descriptions were wrong. How does that happen?
I’ve heard stories of birth dates being changed and bogus information put in files of adoptees, though I’m unclear on the reasons for this. It has been proven that unethical adoptions do, and did, take place, and incorrect information could potentially cover up any illegal activities in an adoption. Even given the view of adoption in the closed era, the possible corruption at the time, the partial correct information in my file, I am still a little confused as to what would have been the point of bogus physical descriptions? Although, I suppose it may be entirely possible, I have a hard time believing that the powers that be, or some agency personnel, was thinking they should intentionally put wrong information in my file just in case I someday might want to search, in hopes that this would throw me off course. Were I a black market baby, or my adoption performed by private lawyers, I might be a little more inclined to believe it was part of a corrupt adoption practice. However, that was not the case for me. My adoption was legitimate, no pun intended, as I am one of those illegitimate children from an unwed mother. My adoption was completely legal, and about as uneventful and typical, as any adoption could possibly be.
What, then, was the cause of such poor records management? I’m afraid to speculate. Could it really have been just a lack of attention to details; a careless agency worker just not interested in doing their job right? Could it be that people really believed this information was not important or necessary? Could it really be, just no one cared? Whatever the reason, how, as an adoptee, can I help but feel angry about this. This information may not have been important to anyone at the time, but it was, and is, part of me, and my life. Did I not matter, as a human being, anymore than that?
I don’t want to believe agency workers, or agencies, were really that heartless, lacking in compassion, cold, and thinking only of their bottom line. However, it does make a person wonder. How could it not? I believe adoption has a place in the world and can be a good thing under the right circumstances. However, animal breeders, and registries, seem to keep better records than adoption agencies apparently have done over the years. Were I the only adoptee to find such discrepancies in my records, maybe I would be more inclined to excuse the misinformation, and hope this was just human error. I am not, however, the only adoptee to find errors in my information. There are many of us, along with our adoptive parents, and birth families, who trusted these agencies to do the right thing, give correct information, and have all our best interest in mind, only to be disappointed in the end, and given incorrect and misleading information.
Whatever the reasons, there is no plausible excuse for this to have happened. It may not have been a big issue to the agency at the time. It may have even been the norm. It is irreprehensible, and inexcusable. It was my life information, and they had no right to treat it with such indifference. No human should be treated like that, and no one should have to feel the way I, as an adoptee, have been made to feel because of it. It might not have matter to anyone else, but it matters to me. Were a hospital, upon the birth of a baby, to give such incorrect, and negligent information, people would be in an uproar, ready to hire lawyers, and sue. They would hold the hospital responsible and insist on some sort of accountability. Why are adoption agencies not held to the same standards?
As the fight for adoptee rights gains momentum, I now understand why offering non-identifying information, and state run registries are not a viable option as a solution to the problems adoptees face by having their personal information withheld, and sealed by the courts. My non-identifying information was useless to me in the end. What good is incorrect information? Was it just information someone created just to fill in the blanks? If it were not for my genetic medical issue, a search would have never been conducted. I would never have known the information I had been given was wrong. I would have never known the truth: my truth.
After reading the information given to me from my file, meeting my birthmother, and her family, I have to admit that there were times, over the years, when I wondered if she was really my birthmother. After all, the physical descriptions, of my birth family, were so far from what was in my file. Was it, really, entirely out of the question that someone, somewhere, just made a mistake? It isn’t impossible. It has happened before. It might sound a bit irrational, but to my defense, if they could get the descriptions of my birth family wrong, was getting children mixed up really out of the question? It wasn’t until I contacted the man my birthmother named as my birthfather, and a DNA test came back 99.998% that the thought of an error in paperwork, causing a possible mismatch, became a bit less believable.
When it came to my attention that, because I now had my birthparents names, in my state I could request my original birth certificate, I jumped at the chance. I needed that final bit of proof. It was upon receipt of my original birth certificate, which named my birthmother, as, my mother, and had no father noted, that I finally knew, and believed without a doubt, that these were indeed my birthparents, and I had found all the answers to my origins.
Whatever excuses could be made, whatever reasons could be given, the bottom line is that the information in my adoption file was incorrect and could not be trusted as truth. Had I not been diagnosed with a hereditary eye disease, which has caused the loss of my sight, and Had the necessity for a medical history not become a priority, giving me “good cause”, as the courts put it, to open my file and search for my birthmother, I would never have known that the information in my file was wrong.
I was not given a choice in what happened to me when I was born. I had no say in how my case was handled, and correct information retained. As an infant, I could not stand up and defend myself, and my rights. Those, who were supposed to have my best interest in mind, whether intentional or not, handled things poorly, and apparently gave little consideration, or importance, to the information in my file. I could do nothing about it back then, but I am no longer a child. I am an adult now. I have a right to my own personal biological, and genetic, information. I have a right to expect that information to be correct, as well as, hold accountable, those who were responsible for maintaining that information.
If the information provided to adoptees from their files cannot be verified 100% as correct, how can anyone justify allowing adoptees access to their non-identifying information, which may be filled with errors and untruths, as anything more relevant than a means of pacification. If the information in our adoption files have so much potential for error, how can anyone justify denying adoptees access to their original birth certificate, the one record on file anywhere that can be trusted as correct? With the possibility of so much incorrect information in our files, how does anyone expect a state run registry to be able to match up those who want to reunite? Knowing the numerous adoptees with incorrect information in their adoption files, how can anyone trust what the agencies put in our files as correct, or true?
The arguments against giving adoptees access to their original birth certificates are now being based on protecting the right to privacy of birthparents. This is the same argument that was used, based on protecting adoptees rights to privacy while lobbying to close records way back when. I think the only privacy getting protected, or that has ever gotten protected, is that of the agencies. Is this argument of protection of privacy only being used as a means to continue to hide the truth about what really goes on behind the scenes in adoption? Does closed records, and denying adoptees access to their original birth certificate, really have anything to do with protecting the privacy of those involved? Could it really be true that it is nothing more than a means to hide the truth and identity of those involved, thus making it ripe for corruption and misuse?
Adoption was meant as a means to find loving homes for children in need. It should never have been used as a means to hide the truth of an adoptive family’s infertility, a way to hide a birthparent’s problem of an unwanted pregnancy, or child, and especially not as a way to provide the opportunity for some to benefit monetarily from the unfortunate circumstances of others. No person should be allowed to strip away another person’s true, biological origins, be it birthparent, adoptive parent, or agency. No person should need to suffer a life threatening medical condition, or even the loss of their sight, to have a good enough cause to be able to gain access to information pertaining to their origins and genetic medical information. No one should have to wonder, or worry about whether or not that information is correct. It’s time to put an end to sealed adoption records, and give ALL adult adoptees access to the personal and private information contained in their original birth certificate; the same personal and private information all other people have the right to access without question or “good cause”.