A law changes, a birth mother worries

In 1998, Oregon voters approved Measure 58, a law that would allow adults who were adopted as children in Oregon to see their original birth certificates. The March 28 letter reprinted here with permission from The Oregonian, was written by a birth mother as a warning to others who have given children up for adoption. She supports the six anonymous birth mothers who challenged Measure 58 in a lawsuit and lost in The Oregon Supreme Court last month. The court delayed implementation of the law until May 2 to allow the plaintiffs to appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Dear Friend,

Your life and well-being are deeply important to me because you are an Oregon woman who believed, as I did, in a state law that once protected your identity. You are an adult who gave birth as a young woman - most likely a teen-ager - and placed a child for adoption. The state of Oregon gave the gift of privacy to you, to the child, and to the adoptive parents.

But the law that for generations allowed women of Oregon to choose adoption with privacy may soon be tossed aside by the state as though it were little more than a temporary suggestion. Soon, for $15, the state may simply hand over your identity to the adult you placed for adoption as an infant 21-plus years ago. In a few days, the very promises we built our lives upon may be up for sale.

The courts are now saying that no such promises were ever made. Yet as young women, we were counseled by doctors, lawyers, and clergymen - professionals who were unquestionably convinced that the law guaranteed us the choice of privacy. We made life decisions based on those assurances. Now we are being left with our trust shattered, our hearts broken, and the threat of our lives being changed forever without our consent.

In the past few months, we have been flooded with overwhelming feelings of disbelief, betrayal and despair unleashed by this unexpected turn of events. We feel alone and isolated, even from each other, by our own need for the very anonymity we were guaranteed.

But we are not alone. There are other birth mothers who feel just as you and I do. Now more than ever, we need to break the isolation and reach out for understanding and support. There are things we can do safely, for ourselves and for each other.

The Oregon legislature has created a no-contact preference form we can attach to the original birth certificate that holds our identities.

This form allows us to request that adult adoptees not contact us, or that they go through the mutual consent registries to negotiate the disclosure of information. It is not a veto, does not prevent the adoptee from obtaining our identities, and still grants the adoptee full choice and power over whether to respect our stated preference. Nonetheless, it is an option for us.

We can also call organizations that support the choice for privacy for all parties in adoption - places such as the National Council for Adoption in Washington, D.C.

We can tell them how we feel and ask for what we need, all without breaking our anonymity. We can find each other, even as we remain private from each other. In doing so, we can help each other to regain our dignity and belief in ourselves.

Most importantly, if you are hurt by the threat or the reality of unwanted contact, you can help others by telling about it.

Those who oppose us have manipulated our reluctance to speak out (while maintaining our anonymity) into making others think we do not exist.

If your life ends up being harmed, there are other legal avenues you can pursue.

Once again, you do not need to break your anonymity to do so.

Not all women who placed children for adoption share our feelings, and we respect their choices. However, we should not suffer in silence any longer. Please reach out and get the help you need.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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