Adoption: State legislators want to unseal birth certificates for adoptees
Adoptees in some states cannot access their birth certificates despite their need to know biological family medical history and their desire to understand where they came from. But more and more legislators are working to unseal these documents for adoptees.
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"The paper that I've been looking for just to see all our names together in one space has still eluded me, outside of this birth certificate," Spinner said. "It's the only thing where her name is stamped on a document that has my birthdate. That proves it."Skip to next paragraph
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States generally had open birth records until the mid-20th Century when unwed motherhood became more stigmatized, said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a not-for-profit, nonpartisan research and policy center.
Birth certificates often were stamped "illegitimate" and sealing them was thought to protect the baby, the adoptive family from intrusion and was even considered, in some circles, the cleanest break for a "maladjusted" mother to re-enter society and later marry.
Opponents contend birth mothers were promised privacy in perpetuity, which Donaldson Institute research has not been able to substantiate, and research shows both adopted children and the parents who gave them up want contact, Pertman said.
The trend is "toward greater honesty, greater openness," said Pertman, adding it's "way too slow."
In Pennsylvania, an adopted lawmaker has introduced legislation to open birth records there, and Illinois Rep. Ann Williams, an adoptee who was born in the Keystone state, traveled there to testify July 17 in favor of the bill. Williams, a Chicago Democrat whose district neighbors Feigenholtz's, told the committee the Illinois law brought "excitement, joy and fulfillment" to nearly 9,000 adoptees, but for her, it was "bittersweet, as I was not among them."
Dave Reynolds, a 46-year-old health care-plan operator from Deerfield, didn't seek his birth record until he met Feigenholtz, who encouraged him. He just spoke by phone about a month ago to his birth mother, who lives in another state and never told anyone in her family about her son.
"I'd love to meet my birth mom face-to-face. I'd love to give her a hug," Reynolds said. "I'd love to meet my half-brothers. That would be a neat moment. But that's on her timetable. If it never happens, then I'm just so thankful I had a chance to thank her."
The meetings can be just as wrenching and emotional for birth mothers, and many adoptees are reluctant to ask them to come forward and speak publicly. Nor is it always an easy process for the family that reared an adopted child.
Duffy's adoptive mother, who is ill with Alzheimer's, often talked with her daughter about finding her birth family. The process has been hard on her father, but "I'm not going anywhere," Duffy said.
"They were the people that put a Band-Aid on my knee when I scraped it. They're my family," she said. "It's just nice to start to get to know this person who gave so much up for me, who did such a selfless thing for me, giving me birth and bringing me into this world."
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