Share on Facebook  |  More Articles

Published Sunday October 12th, 2008 at 8:57am

Original Article by Lorraine Dusky

More than three decades ago, when I was a reporter at the former Knickerbocker News,I was nursing a fresh wound: Only months before I started working inAlbany, I had surrendered a child to adoption. And I was bleeding allover the place.

During the day, I took uppers to dull thedepression, and at night when the drugs wore off, I cried. I ate. Iwallowed in my shame and secrecy. I was "making a new life for myself,"just as my case worker said I should.

In time, I crawled out ofthe hole. Life did go on, but it did not go on without the daughter Idid not have. That child is always with you. You stare too long atsomeone her age at the mall. You see a flower that was in bloom whenshe was born. You are invited to a baby shower. You don't have a childin your body for nine months and forget.

Records of birthmothers' preferences kept by states, adoption agencies and adoptionreform groups indicate that the vast majority of us joyfully welcomeour lost children into our lives.

Yet a mother's supposed "rightto privacy" is the smoke screen trotted out in opposition to lettingadults who were adopted as infants have their original birthcertificates. Only six states let adoptees [as of 1/1/09, it will be eight, when Maine opens its records] have them for the asking. New York [where my daughter was adopted] is not among them.

Opponentsof open records insist, in some misguided interpretation of the Bill ofRights, that a secrecy-seeking woman's right to privacy trumps anadopted person's right to know the answer to the most basic ofquestions: Who am I? Identity is many things, but surely it begins withthe knowledge of one's own birth and heritage.

It's not just forpsychological reasons that adoptees seek their origins. Geneticresearch is continually expanding heredity's role in shaping ourwell-being, for genes are turning out to be the biggest window into whowe are. Medical histories from birth mothers taken at the time ofsurrender are by their nature incomplete. All this weakens the argumentfor birth parents' "right to privacy" from their own children, nomatter what we were told, or what the unfortunate circumstances were20, 30 or 40 years ago, or how deep the secret is buried today.

Shortof opening up the records to adoptees, New York and several otherstates have set up registries that match adoptees and birth parentsseeking one another. But overly restrictive provisions, underfundingand understaffing make most registries nearly useless. Since December1983, when New York's registry was set up, more than 18,000 people haveregistered; 680 matches have been made. That's a "success" rate of lessthan 4 percent. But the low number does accomplish what those who pushfor registries rather than open records want to accomplish: Make itnearly impossible for adoptees to learn the truth of their origins.

Manypeople with no connection to adoption instinctively grasp that allindividuals, adopted or not, should have an unfettered right to theknowledge of who they are, and that such knowledge begins with theiroriginal birth certificates. Assemblyman Scott M. Stringer, a ManhattanDemocrat who is sponsoring legislation that would do just that at age18, is one. [Stringer is no longer in the legislature, and today David Koon in the Assembly sponsors our bill.]Many connected to adoption agree, such as Sen. William J. Larkin(R-Orange), an adoptive grandfather who's backing the companion bill inthe Senate. Yet open-records bills have died in committee for the last11 years. [Make that 16.] Unless enlightenment strikes soon, this year will be no different.

Oneway to make open-records legislation palatable appears to be to tack ona provision that allows birth mothers to file a paper asking for nocontact. The adopted individual could still get his original birthcertificate but would be informed his mother doesn't wish to hear fromhim.

Fine. The news might be disheartening, but so be it. Yetsome states that have opened their records have also included languagethat carries an implied penalty for contacting a birth parent who fileda veto, and it's possible that New York will follow suit.

Thebirth parents named on the birth certificate would, of course, have toinform the police that the child has broken the law by, say, phoningher or him. Punished for contacting your birth mother? We are nottalking about stalking, or harassment, for which anyone can get anorder of protection, but simply making "contact," however that is. Howdo birth mothers warrant such special protection? How is this in thestate's vested interest?

The state never promised birth mothersanonymity from our own when we signed the surrender papers. Why now?Some people bury their divorces in the past and pray that their exesnever return to "out" them. But the state doesn't let them file a "nocontact" veto just because they might be embarrassed. Nor are fatherswho are sued for paternity likewise protected.

That being thecase, the state should not penalize adopted individuals who wantanswers that only their birth mothers can give. "No contact" vetoes arethe repugnant remnants of outdated ideology. Adoptees deserve theiroriginal birth certificates as a matter of course. Penalizing them forsimply contacting the person who gave them life is both unreasonableand absurd.

Lorraine Dusky of Sag Harbor is the author of "Birthmark," a 1979 memoir that broke the silence of birth mothers. She and her daughter have been reunited for more than two decades.