My birth certificate bears the words: Certificate of Live Birth, under the two separate, official-looking headers:
State of California
Certification of Vital Records
State of California
Department of Public Health
It 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.”
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.
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!