Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An Adoptees Right to Open Records

One of the things I've not explored very much here in "Bloggville" is my role as an adoptee. I have come to a very comfortable place with this aspect of my life. There were times when I was not so comfortable. I know this is a difficult topic for my parents to read about, but I know it's not something that they are not acutely aware of. It is my hope that my story can be shared for other adoptive parents, adoptees, birth families and other members of the adoption circle to enlighten them about some of the feelings that those of us who are adopted experience and why, when they come to you, asking to search and find those with whom they are genetically connected, you can in some way understand.

The thing I remember most from the years before reuniting with my birth family is my birthday. For years I spent the day wondering if somewhere someone was thinking about me and wondering how I turned out. I spent the day wondering "why". The "why" of it all is what was the driving force for me. Don't let your adoptee fool you into thinking, "It's for the medical history." I can't tell you how many times I've heard that as an "acceptable" reason for wanting to find an adoptee's birth family. I'm willing to bet I used it a million times. It's safe and socially acceptable and no one is going to want an intense conversation about that reason. They will, however, want to spend a lot of time talking you out of your feelings if you say you need to know why. Apparently, our desires to know the circumstances surrounding our birth and subsequent adoption into another family are not legitimate reasons for opening what others consider Pandora's Box. Everyone seems to have a really good reason why having open access to your birth records and birth family is a bad idea. Ironically, the most common reason is to protect the birth mom. Paradoxically, it seems that the adoptees' rights are not an issue -- ever. So, much like abortion, the child's rights seem to have no consideration in the equation. When did age become the determining factor in equality of rights?

I had great adoptive parents who spent time doing all the right things for me to help me become emotionally stable and, as the current terminology would indicate, attached and bonded. There was never any question about their love, commitment or parenting (except maybe in my mind when I was a teenager, but that's really another story that neither side probably wants to re-hash! :-0). But, no matter what they did, there was always something missing. Even when I didn't realize it was missing, it was. There was always the questions rolling around in my mind, "Is that person I just passed on the street my birth mom?", "What if I marry my brother?", "Why did she not want me?", "Who do I look like?", "What time was I born? What did I look like as a baby?"

Visits to the doctor's office were always uncomfortable when the doctor would ask about family history and I had to answer, "I'm adopted. I don't know." WHAT??? So who's to say I'm not entitled to know my medical history? Everyone else is entitled to that basic information, aren't they? Since I was a toddler when I was adopted, I had no photos of me before I was about 20 months old. Stop and think about how you take for granted the photos you have of you when you were a baby -- how you pulled them out at the birth of your child to compare. I had none. The moment that rocked me the most when I was in the midst of my search and when I got my records was when I found someone who had baby pictures of me. I cried because I finally knew that my son looked like me when I was a baby. I remember staring intently at him in the hospital, wondering, desperate to know if we looked alike and thinking how completely unfair it was to not have that piece of who I am available to me -- to be robbed of that.

On the flip side, though, I do not believe in the concept of open adoption. I know I will be argued into the ground by professionals and by families who are currently existing in successful open adoption arrangements. I suspect the person who would not argue with me might be the adoptee who is in the midst of this arrangement. Our family attempted to participate in a fully open adoption of a toddler girl several years ago. It failed miserably for all involved. Our hearts were broken, the child was split between two families and cried constantly and the birth family was unable to let go and transition. I know that birth moms who feel that their lives are not such that they are able to keep their children do so, most of the time, with much angst and heartbreak. I know that were their situations better or different they would be able to parent that child. So then, why do we think that exposure of a child to a lifestyle where it would not be appropriate for their birth family to parent is a positive experience and won't cause some level of confusion in a child? I'm told it "cures" those "why" questions and fills that "hole" I spoke of early, but ... I have to wonder what other "holes" it causes and what other "whys" it causes. Is there not guilt of the adopted child for leaving the birth parent when they are in a situation that is not as optimal as theirs might be? Do the children feel responsible to help them? Do they not feel a bit of anger that the birth family is going ahead and leading their lives without them? I don't know and I'm definitely speculating at this point, having not experienced it. However, I do know that it would not have been a good answer for me. I think it would have definitely caused confusion, additional anger and even disrupted the family life that I had as an adopted child. As an adult, I would not be willing to trade off what I had for the opportunity to be in an open adoption situation. As a now parent, I would not be willing to trade my adopted child's emotional well-being for the promise of a "more emotionally secure child" which is what is promised through open adoption. I really am happy for those who can make open adoptions work, but I think those situations are very few and far between.

My fight for my records, the search by the state for my birth family and the subsequent reunion were not without pain, heartbreak and many tears. I'd be lying to say that it was the Cinderella story every adoptee thinks it will be. However, I wouldn't trade all I went through during that really difficult time for the truth, the information and the closure I have in my life now that I know MY story. I am reconciled to where I came from, where I went and who I am because of it all. And because of that, I can be the person God created me to be without spending time worrying about who I was and what was wrong with me and why I was given away. I can release the anger I felt and be at peace and offer forgiveness.

I do not believe in having closed records. I believe that the choice to obtain this information should be up to the adoptee. In juxtaposition, though, I do not believe in a fully open adoption. I think there is a happy medium. I think probably that happy medium should be determined by the adoptive parents until such time as the adoptee is able to voice their desires to have such information. It's a fine line, I know. I've walked it all my life and now am about to come around, full circle as I adopt my own daughter and begin to navigate the adoption waters from the other side of the fence.

In our adoption, however, I fear access to her birth family might end up being very difficult since she will be from another country. I want her to have the option - when she is ready -- to find her birth family and to know her story. It is not my story when she comes to us, it is hers. It is not my decision to make when the time comes, it is hers. I know I will understand that it has nothing at all to do with me or her father or brother and that it doesn't mean she is unhappy with us. I hope she can find her story and fill her hole. Don't let them fool you, they all have it -- the hole, the part that is missing. It may take years to surface, but, it will. I think it's just an innate part of being human, the need to connect ourselves with our past and our future. The Bible does it -- you know, all the begats. We all need to have the right to know our "begats" in our time and in our own way. It's our story.


Margaret & Tom said...

Wow Maria, what a powerful post. You wrote it beautifully, and I am touched by you letting us share this knowledge that you hold from your experiences. Thank you so much. Margaret

Hilary Marquis said...

You are going to be the one person who truly understands what Ellie will go through some day. What a blessing you will be. You are right, there may be little or no info on her birth family, but make a detailed list of questions to ask the director. It will be valuable someday, and you can say to tried your best.

Jackie said...

This was a thought provoking post...thank you.