Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NaBloPoMo/NAAM Day 13: My Birth Certificate(s)

I love and admire my adoptive mother. She is a smart, honest, and energetic woman who is a role model for me in many ways. She has nurtured and guided me throughout my life. She is accomplished in many other ways as well. But the one thing she did not do was give birth to me.

So why does the primary legal document of my life say that she did?

In the summer of 1966, my adoptive mother was still unable to conceive a child, though she later had an operation that made it possible for her to do so, resulting in the birth of my brother. On the day of my birth, according to a hand-written note now in my possession, my adoptive parents were visiting my adoptive grandparents, unaware that they were soon to become parents.

And yet there are their names on my official birth certificate.

I remember being confused when I learned about this as a child. My mother's explanation was that this was simply "the way things were" in adoption. For a long time I accepted that explanation and the situation. I accepted it until relatively recently, in fact.

But I don't accept it any more. 

A birth certificate should be just that: a document that accurately records the circumstances of a person's birth.

I have four parents. They are all "real." I will never say that one set of parents is more real than the other. But I do consider one of my two birth certificates to be "real," and it's the one that was sealed when my adoption became finalized approximately a year after my birth. I was never supposed to lay eyes on it, but because I was fortunate enough to have been born in the state of Maine I have been able to obtain a copy of it. I didn't need access to my original birth certificate for reunion purposes, but I sent for the copy anyway. Why? Because it is my birth certificate. Because it is the one that isn't a lie.

I support open records for all adoptees. No exceptions. Adoptees are the only U.S. citizens who are denied (in most states) access to their own birth records. When one class of people is denied something that is a basic right for others, that's discrimination.

Ultimately, I would like to see the end of the practice of issuing revised birth certificates upon adoption. Currently, this bizarre and outdated practice happens in lots of situations in which it seems downright silly. The step-parent adoption of my older daughter by my husband is one example. We all know who her biological father is. What purpose is served by a birth certificate that denies his paternity? But even in other circumstances, can anything really justify the legal rewriting of an individual's personal history? In what other circumstance in our society do we knowingly issue false documents and pretend they are real?

A birth certificate is one things; an adoption decree is a separate, later document. I see no reason why former should be affected by the latter.


  1. I'm glad that you were able to get a copy of your OBC, and yes, all people should have access to them who want them.

  2. "When one class of people is denied something that is a basic right for others, that's discrimination." Powerful statement you made there. I've been an adoption social worker for several years, and my work has been mostly in adoptions from foster care. I understand the value to adoptive families of having documents that legitimize the parent/child relationship; for school purposes, etc. At the same time, I agree with you 100% - heck, even a thousand percent - that all original birth certificates should be completely open to the adoptee. Back in 1917, Minnesota became the first state to make adoption records confidential from the public, and that was done to protect the kid (and the birth parents, I think) from undue public scrutiny. I can see the value in confidentiality. I can see the value in "new documents" in case an adoptee wants to have the option to keep her story confidential form some people. But secrecy is different than confidentiality. Secrecy is where we are now, in most states, and we shouldn't be here.

  3. I very much regret not asking my boys' birth families for a copy of their OBC's when we could. I don't understand at all why this falsification of records still happens. It absolutely is a lie.

  4. Thankfully our son can get his original birth cert. when he's an adult, at least the way the laws are written now. I wish it weren't that way though and I'm pretty sure our agency didn't like it every time I referred to the new cert. as the fake one. It just rubs me the wrong way.

  5. harriet glynn fancottNovember 14, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    The whole birth certificate thing nags a me. We have my son's original and all of the information on it (dad and mom) and it's all is accurate and I know that we are "lucky" to have it (I say "lucky" in quotes because it should be normal). I was a little surprised that we received it and then about a year later, we receive a new one with his new name on it and our names as parents. I see that he/we need this for things like crossing he border etc... And that he doesn't need to have his adoptedness pointed out at every turn if for example he had an "adoption certificate" but I still feel so weird about all of it. I'm starting to have a shift in thinking around adoption where I'm starting to see the whole "don't ask me about adoption" or "new birth certificate" thing as just part of the the whole shame thing..

  6. I liked what TAO said at Andy's post: "What I would like to see is that the long form have two entries - the genetic parents / name; and legal parents / name - then only the legal parents / name would be shown on the short form - no one would know the person was adopted but it would be accurate."

  7. I'm an adoptive mom, and I didn't think about the birth certificate until we had it in our hands. I have to say my husband and I both thought it felt so wrong, such a lie. She was born in a different state that where we live, and I certainly didn't give birth, it was just so odd to see in black & white this lie. We have her original, a copy of the second one where they spelled my name wrong (we had to return it and wait all over), and the third one with the lie that she is our baby. We are raising her, and in a lot of ways, she is our baby. It's really wrong though. Oh, and her original birth certificate doesn't list her father, although we know who he is because we are in an open adoption. Maybe because they aren't married? Maybe someone at the hospital or adoption agency didn't fill out the papers correctly? I don't know. I asked the first father if he signed forms in the hospital, or what he remembered about birth certificate papers. He was sad to learn that he isn't on it. The system needs fixing, no doubt.


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