This guest post is by Chemene, an adoptive mother and adoption support group leader.
It was the afternoon of June 20, 2019, and I was making dinner while streaming CSPAN on my iPad. My phone was blowing up with texts giving me play by play updates on what was happening.
My heart was pounding as I waited with anticipation as each Assembly person went up to the microphone to tell their story for or against Assembly Bill S3419/A5494.
It was the day that the New York Adoptee Rights Bill was being heard and voted on in the NYS Assembly. I sat for an hour or two listening, hoping to hear each Assemblymember say they will vote in the affirmative to pass the bill.
One woman in particular comes to my mind. Hon. Pam Hunter shared her personal story of being an adoptee while trying to stop the tears from falling down her face.
She asked everyone present to think of what it would be like if you couldn’t give your child any information on pre-existing conditions or genetic predispositions.
She continued to say that the only way that you, as a parent, could help your child get this information would be if they were very ill and have means to get a lawyer and advocate for them in court. Even then, you are hoping to get it which doesn’t usually happen.
I really wasn’t paying attention to cooking. I was thinking about all the adoptees, young and old, fighting for something that the rest of the world takes for granted.
Then the time came to count the votes, and just like that, Hon. Jeffrion L. Aubry announced BILL PASSED! I jumped and screamed and scared my children! I was so happy! But why? I am an adoptive parent, not an adoptee. Why would this be so important to me?
Let’s go back and I will explain.
Being a support group leader for adoptive and foster parents for the last 13 years, I have learned a lot about the legal processes of placing children.
I have also learned that the community at large doesn’t pay attention to some of the facts to do with placement and do not realize that any child placed for domestic adoption has two birth certificates.
You see, when a child is born the biological parent fills out paperwork to get a birth certificate. When that child is placed for adoption, the birth certificate is changed or amended to read the adoptive parents’ names. So this document is false.
Many people do not know that an adoptee does not have the legal right to the original birth certificate (OBC) ever! Non-adopted people can just walk into the town hall or county clerk with identification and pay a fee for a certified copy of their birth certificate.
We look past this technicality and move on thinking that this amended document will only be used to get the adoptee a passport one day. Then it will go into a safe or folder and collect dust. I personally took it for granted and never gave it a thought.
An adopted person is prevented from knowing their place of birth or hospital or even what time of day they were born. The legal system prevents them from having this simple piece of paper. They are the only class of citizens in the United States that are denied access to their own birth certificate.
Now you might say that the adoptee can simply submit to an Ancestry DNA or 23andMe test and find out some information about their biological family. However not everyone has the means to do so.
Also, it’s not certain that they would or could find the information they are looking for. Why do they have to jump through so many hoops to get information that most people have readily available at any moment.
Open adoption is becoming more popular, and it can help when it comes to getting health or ancestry information in some instances, but what if the adopted person doesn’t have an open adoption?
Recently, it was discussed at one of our support group meetings how sad it is as an adoptive parent to take your child to a doctor’s appointment and, when filling out the health forms, you just skip all the questions related to past genetic history since you have no information to add.
If you think it is frustrating to us as parents, just think of what that child will have to go through. Again we take for granted what we know about our past without issue.
Think of all the times that you go to a doctors’ appointment, bank, clerk or passport agency. You are asked a bunch of questions and never realize just how easy it is for you to answer. That is not the case for an adoptee.
For their entire life they are reminded that they are adopted and do not have ancestral information. As adoptive parents we can’t fix everything, but by advocating for this simple piece of paper it can possibly prevent the constant personal trauma.
Advocates have been fighting this law to bring equality for adoptees in all 50 states. Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy is one of those advocates and she believes “Human beings need to know where they come from so when we know better we do better.”
Annette O’Connell from the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition describes it like having a tree without its roots; you can’t grow if you don’t know where you came from.
Adoptees aren’t the only ones that have voiced an opinion on this bill. The community would be surprised to find out that the majority of first mothers, or birth mothers, don’t ask for anonymity or state that they don’t want contact.
It is actually quite the opposite. As I did my research, I was surprised to find out that approximately 1 out of 1,500 mothers ask for no contact.
The NYS Senate on June 3, 2019 passed this bill, 53-6, and then it passed in the NYS Assembly on June 20, 2019, 140-6. This supermajority should give you an idea of how important this bill is to so many.
On November 14, 2019, it was signed into law. On January 15, 2020, New York State adoptees over the age of 18 were finally allowed to apply to get their OBC. Over 3,600 adoptees applied by January 18th.
As an adoptive parent, I want to have the best for my child and all the adoptive families I support in my group. A few years ago I would have never given this a thought and I would have scrolled past this on social media.
Luckily I stopped to listen and learn. I want all children and adults in this country to have what I personally have –the right to their own history.
As of today there are only 9 other states that have this law and Texas, Maryland, Connecticut and Massachusetts all have pending legislation that could really use the support of adoptive parents to get passed.
Chemene is an adoption support group leader, and the adoptive parent of a boy adopted January 2010 and a biological son born April 2014. Over the past 16 years her journey has taken her through IVF and loss to adoption and family.
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