Legalized Fraud?

My birth certificate bears the words: Certificate of Live Birth, under the two separate, official-looking headers:

State of California

Certification of Vital Records

and

State of California

Department of Public Health

california-sealIt also bears  “The Great Seal of the State of California,” on the left bottom corner, as well as a funky, more modern looking “CDPH” (California Department of Public Health) seal on the bottom right corner.  The paper itself is really official and fancy, too–pretty even–shades of red, white and blue–with a serious blue border with the somber words “Any Alteration or Erasure Voids this Certificate” on the bottom.  When you hold up the certificate to the light, you can see a watermark: “OFFICIAL VITAL RECORD.”logo_CDPH_v.1_color

A birth certificate.  Big deal.  Well, the one I have in my possession is a fraud.  Officially, it’s called an amended birth certificate. And there is actually a legitimate reason for it (although I have a problem with the form of it being the same as an original birth certificate).

Adoption files (usually held by the state department of health or social services and the courts) and original birth certificates of adoptees were sealed to all parties in most states starting in the early 1930’s (open adoption records were the norm prior to this time). Historically, there are a number of reasons cited for the sealing of the records. Basically, birth records were amended and sealed based on ideas of the shame of adoption, the stigma of illegitimacy, and the attempt to hide the adoptive family from the socially scorned birth mother.  I won’t go into the details here because there has been so much written on the subject of anonymity in adoptions and there are so many opinions out there.  If you want to read about it in more depth, you can go here: Bastard Nation; or here: California Open (related specifically to California adoptions); or just Google “sealed adoption records” and you’ll get all kinds of articles and all kinds of opinions on the subject.

I understand the need for privacy when a child is placed for adoption.  The adoptive family needs to bond with the child and eventually tell the story of their family (including the adoption) in their own way.  But the story needs to be told.  Families that don’t tell their adopted children that they were adopted really scare me.   But that’s another blog–not mine.  I always knew I was adopted.  It was a happy story.

Back to sealed records. There is just one argument on the side of sealed records that I don’t like.  It’s not just that I don’t agree with it–it’s that it’s just plain wrong.  And I want to be clear about it so it doesn’t clog up any argument you may want to have with me about sealed records and any so-called right to privacy.  Plain and simple: there is no right to privacy in adoption that extends to a birth parent.  Anonymity may have been promised and may have been desired by a birth parent, but there is nothing in any adoption law or even in the official relinquishment papers signed by the birth parent(s), that guarantees anonymity.  It’s a funny idea  to me–like wanting to be in the witness protection program. I just don’t get it.  You gave birth to a person. A thinking person. 

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said it quite simply when it upheld a Tennessee law granting adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates:

“A birth is simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event — the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born. Such records have myriad purposes, such as furthering the interest of children in knowing the circumstances of their birth.

The judges of the Sixth Circuit Court also wrote: “if there is a federal constitutional right of familial privacy, it does not extend [to birth parents who have relinquished children to adoption]” and cited  a 1981 decision in which the appeals court found that

[T]he Constitution does not encompass a general right to nondisclosure of private information.

Interestingly, the Court went a little further and dealt with the emotion of it all and found that the interest of an adoptee to know who his or her birth parents are is

an interest entitled to a good deal of respect and sympathy.

[106 F.3d 703 (6th Cir. 1997)]

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to overrule the Appeals Court ruling in favor of open records.

Remember that I am talking about information and identity and the documentation that can provide this information.  I am not talking about relationships.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know that I gave up my idea of ever having any kind of relationship with my biological mother.  She refuses even to communicate in any meaningful way, so it’s a non-issue for me.  It has become an issue for others, though, namely Jackson, my biological father, who cannot remember anything about his apparently fleeting relationship with Margaret.  He’d like to communicate with her. But we cannot legislate communication, relationships, or emotions.  So there you have it.

My record of identity–my amended birth certificate (the only one I have)–is fraught with obvious inaccuracies.  For starters, I think it would be helpful if adopted persons were provided with a document with a different title, such as, Amended Birth Certificate or Certificate of Adoption.  It’s quite confusing to see the words “Certificate of Live Birth” showing “Mother of Child” as my adoptive mother and “Father of Child” as my adoptive father.  “Informant’s Certification” lists my adoptive mother’s name (typewritten in where there is supposed to be a signature) and dashes (—–) in the blank for “Date Signed By Informant.”

Even weirder, for “Place of Birth,” the “City or Town” is listed as Corona; however, the “County” is listed as “San Bernardino.”  The City of Corona is actually located in Riverside County, not San Bernardino County.  But the Chino Institute for Women is actually located in Chino, in the County of San Bernardino (I’m not sure what hospital facilities were used when I was born).  You’d think if my birth parents wanted to “hide” the fact that I was born in prison by changing the city from Chino to Corona, you’d think they’d figure out that they’d need to change the County to Riverside, as well.  In addition, the “Place of Birth – Name of Hospital” and “Street Address” spots are left completely blank.  Like I just appeared into thin air into the arms of my adoptive parents. It’s a fill-in-the-blanks-who-cares-it-does’t-matter nightmare.  Okay, so it’s not a nightmare–it’s just a fraud.  A fake. It makes me feel like a phony.journey

I’m working on my Petition for Authorization to Inspect Adoption and Birth Record Information, which I will file with the Superior Court.  California law provides that I must show good cause and state the reasons that I need to see my own birth record. It’s up to the judge to decide whether my reasons are compelling enough. If my petition is successful, I will be able to view my original sealed birth certificate.  It will remain sealed–not open to public inspection.  I would also gain access to view my adoption :”file,” which contains all of the information and documentation provided by the Department of Social Services to the Court and the Court documents relating to my adoption.  Some counties have simple petition “forms” to complete and file.  The county that I need to file in does not, so I am drafting it from scratch.  There aren’t many useful “samples” out there, so I am struggling to get it just right.  I’ll post a copy when I’m finished with it. After all, it’s public record.

Wish me luck!

29 thoughts on “Legalized Fraud?

  1. Good luck! My fingers are crossed that the judge makes the decision in YOUR best interest.

    I get frustrated that these records are able to be seen by random strangers who work in the courthouses but…you are not allowed to see it. It’s your record!!!

  2. Meg took the words out of my mouth! Can’t believe at some point it was a document on someone’s desk, probably seen by many and now you have to go to such lengths to see it. Our system is warped! It doesn’t seem to take into account those children who want to know!

    • Thanks, Barb! You are so right. When an adoptee becomes an adult, who is being protected by keeping the records sealed? I can guarantee that any adoptee that really wants to know who their biological parents are can find out–sometimes quite easily–information is so easy to come by these days! It’s just stupid!

  3. I do wish you luck, my friend! I was just thinking TODAY that I hoped you would write a new blog entry soon. I am behind you 100%, and know that one day it will happen. XO

  4. Best of luck to you!! I am currently going though the same process in North Dakota. I hired a lawyer to do the petition because I thought I would have a better chance that way – official sounding wording and all . . I guess we’ll see how it goes. From what I hear it really is a crap shoot – some judges are more liberal than others in this regard.

    • Hi Mary! Good luck to you with your petition! Please keep me posted. My husband is a lawyer, although he has no family law experience–but I know several others who might be able to take a peek at what I end up with before I submit it.

  5. Oh Laureen…I think about you so often and how emotionally & physically draining this must be to go thru. I do wish you good luck too and I agree with what everyone else has said.

  6. I think of you so often and pray that your search could end in your finding all the information you want to know. I have always thought of you as a member of our family and I love you. Keep up the good fight. Hugs, Rosalie

  7. Stumbled upon your blog through a FB thread. I hope you are successful. I recently paid the fee to have my record open in MIchigan, for non-identifying information. I had already tracked down and identified my bio mother on my own, through a few years of sleuthing. I had contacted her at that point, and she wanted nothing to do with me. Once I got the info from my file, I discovered that she refused to name the birth father, and as far as I know, there is no record anywhere of that info, only some general information aBOUT him. I know the frustration of your journey, and wish you well

    • Thank you for your kind words, Emily! Sounds like we have similar stories. Have you tried any DNA testing/matching? You may not get a hit right on your father like I did, but you might get some matches that could help you narrow down your search. You may be able to find him!

  8. Good luck! I totally agree with you! I am in the process of doing the same thing now with LA County. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! I just met my birth mom and Dad earlier this yr, crazy! Oh and BTW my parents were one of those who NEVER told me I was adopted and if my mom had had her way I would have gone to the grave not knowing, frustrating!

  9. OMG you were born in Chino! That is so interesting to me as I just helped an adopted friend find her mom and she was born in Chino too! Her mom tried to escape with her got caught and sent back. I’m a reunion search angel.

    What do you think of never changing the adopted person’s birth certificate? Just leaving it and your names alone? You’d just use your birth certificate like any other person. The adoptive relationship is documented on the adoption decree actually. Adoptive parents don’t have to request their names be put on the child’s birth certificate. That way the original is not sealed or hidden from anyone and your legal relationship as legal kin to your parents and other relatives remains intact despite your mother and father no longer having parental authority. They loose their rights but you don’t loose yours. You could still walk into the vital records office get your birth record and theirs and those of all your relatives as well – it’s your right. Your relatives could get your birth records as well and those of your kids and what not. You’d still be legal kin within your adoptive family. You could get your adoptive mom and dad and siblings vital records by showing a copy of your adoption decree. Yes its that simple and adopted people would not loose any legal rights by being adopted. You don’t need a different birth certificate than your original. The arguments about adoptive parents not being able to get a passport for the kid with an adoption decree are false not being able to register a kid for school with an adoption decree are false – every government agency and private organization accepts the adoption decree as proof of their parental authority over the child named on the birth certificate. There is no reason to amend a birth certificate even if they change your name on adoption that is done on a name change signed by the judge so its no different than getting married and taking your husband’s last name you don’t change your birth record for that. Here is proof you can get a passport and register in school (every district in the country is identical)

    •APPLY FOR A PASSPORT
    http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/under-16.html
    •REGISTER AT SCHOOL
    http://www.marietta-city.org/Page/725

    The birth certificate is a medical record under HIPPA privacy law because it relates to
    “the individual’s past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition,”

    http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/coveredentities/De-identification/guidance.html#protected

    Example of it being a medical record by a hospital
    http://www.providencehospital.org/patientinfo/medical_records.php

    Don’t ask for the original to be unsealed correct the current on to be medically accurate. It won’t undo the adoption. People are trying it all over the world now. That way you are asking for what other people have which is one medically accurate certificate. Nobody else has two certificates or identities just cause their name changed. Why should you?

  10. Pingback: The CABI: Another Piece of the Puzzle | Adoption: My Truth

  11. Just found your blog- thank you for blogging about the Index. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.
    I knew I was born in the chino prison, and I knew my birth first name & last. With your help I was able to find myself in the index and now I have my birth parents surnames! Amazing!! I’m still considering the petition…if I can’t suss out my birth fathers first name. Luckily his surname not super common, but still this is more complicated than anticipated. Wish me luck 🙂
    And best of luck on your search as well. I can’t believe that it took 3 clicks from reading your blog to learning my birth name. My head is still reeling 🙂 🙂
    Amazing!
    Thank you forever!!

    • OH MY! Another prison baby born in Chino??? Weird that we’re “connected” in that way, but I love you already! Please keep me posted on your search! Hugs!!!!

  12. Let me thank you for the CABI index info! I found my daughter there on the second try, by eliminating my surname. I guess I was being really cagey back in 1969. A few minutes ago I paid over $50 to Vital check to get original BC. Probably a waste of money. In 1995 I located my daughter in Ca after searching for three years with ALMA… No internet. We have had a wonderful relationship since day one.
    So sorry your mother felt differently. Maybe she will have a change of heart. Thanks for sharing your feelings on your blog…big hugs!

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