The Power of a Story: Through the Lens of Adoption

Posted by on Feb 10, 2013 in Adoption | 4 comments

Adoptee Rights

Adoption Stories

Story is where we came from. Story is where we’re going.  Story is what connects us and binds us to each other.  – Jeff Goins

Until I was 19, my life’s story did not include my birth.  I am adopted.  My story started when I was three months old, on the day my parents drove to Cleveland to pick me up.  I love listen to their memories of this happy day.  And I love seeing the pictures of me with my new family.

However, growing up adopted meant that what I knew about the first three months of my life was confined to sterile details from a typewritten booklet prepared by adoption agency social workers.  Details like this: normal pregnancy, full term, labor 8 hrs. and easy, delivery low forceps and easy.  Sterile facts don’t tell a story.

Questions with no answers

I have always known I was adopted; I don’t remember being told. When I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of questions.  Then, when I was eight years old my Mom gave birth to my sister.   By then I was old enough to understand how different my story was from my sister’s.  From that point on, I wondered more about the circumstances of my birth and the parents who were responsible for me walking this earth.

Missing chapters of my story

My parents knew few details.  Mom remembered that my first mother had red hair.   Every time I saw a woman with red hair, I looked at her features to see if I looked like her. I had so many questions.  What does she look like? Does she ever think about me?  Why did she give me up for adoption?  Did she go to college?  What did she like to do for fun?  Did she like to read as much as I did?  I believed I would never know the answers to these questions, and it made me sad.

Searching for Answers

When I was 19, I read a newspaper article about adoption that literally changed my life.  A sidebar in that article mentioned that in Ohio, adult adoptees whose adoptions were finalized prior to January 1, 1964 could obtain a copy of their original birth certificate. My adoption was finalized in December, 1963.  I was shocked and ecstatic.  The following week, I made the drive to Columbus to get a copy of those records.

My hands were shaking as I sat in a cold, government office and scanned the papers that held the secrets I longed to know. I had a name when I was born:  Laura.  My redheaded mother had a name, too.  And an address.  She was 20 when I was born.

I had a starting place, but really I just had more facts without a story.  I longed for the story. Before the Internet, vital records were only available in person or by mail.  So, I wrote lots of letters, accompanied by the required fees, requesting searches of vital statistics records.  Slowly but surely, I received marriage and birth records that allowed me to locate her.

Pieces of my story

My birth mother wasn’t ready for contact. She listened to social workers and her parents and has never told husband or her other children about me.  In the midst of raising teenagers, she was not at a place in her life where she was ready for contact with a firstborn child who remained a secret.   However, I was able to start putting together some pieces of my story.  I got answers to some of my questions along with pictures from her sister, my aunt.

Twenty-some years later, I worked up the nerve to make another call to her. I never stopped longing for some type of contact and more answers.  And as I got older, I was much more interested in my medical history. We talked for 90 minutes.  Finally, I was having a conversation with the woman who carried me for nine months and gave me life.

I learned the answers to more of my questions.  And more importantly, I felt an incredible sense of connection with her.  I learned about my three siblings.  She remembered the name she gave me.  And she told me she has never forgotten me – and that she prays for me. The impact of that conversation has deeply touched my life.   With this conversation, some of the emptiness I felt when I wondered about the family I had never known started to be filled.

I have another unknown parent.  Though my mother talked about my father, she did not tell me his name.  Once again, I believed I would never learn his identity.  But I knew I had to try.  I put together all of the facts I had learned from my aunt, my mother and non-identifying information from the adoption agency.  With the help of genealogy tools, newspaper archive records searches, intuition and some luck, I learned the identity of my father in 2012. One more chapter of my story can be written.

Adoption laws

Because I was able to access my adoption file, my search was made easier. I was able to put together many of the pieces that were missing from my life story. All adoptees are not so lucky. Sealed adoption files make searching more difficult.  Sealed files also prevents many adoptees from knowing important pieces of their identity.

It wasn’t always this way.  Prior to the “baby scoop era” original birth certificates of adoptees were not sealed.  Beginning after WWII through the early 1970’s, most states enacted laws that restricted access this important part of an adoptee’s identity.

Currently 10 states allow adoptees access to their original birth certificate.  Ohio has an unfair system that allows access to some adoptees and denies access to others based on the date of the final adoption decree.  I barely fell into the bracket that allows unrestricted access to my original birth certificate.  Younger Ohio adoptees do not currently  have legal access to this important document.

Hope for reform

On February 12, the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives will introduce bills that will allow access to records for all Ohio adoptees.  Passing these bills would give all Ohio adoptees the same right to birth records that non-adoptees enjoy.

I believe these bills are a step in the right direction and I will be actively participating in this effort.  If you feel believe that all access to original birth certificates is a basic human right, I hope you will also support this effort. You can learn more about this issue from Adoption Equity Ohio, a group that has worked tirelessly to gain support for these bills.

My story is messy, but it is mine

I’ll return to Jeff Goins for some words that sum up my belief in the power of an adoptee’s story:

A story is messy and full of confusion, but there is meaning and completeness to it.”

I cannot imagine not knowing what I have learned about who I am and where I came from.  It is not a fairytale with a storybook ending.  It is full of the messiness of life. My story includes two sets of parents.  I am the product of what both sets of parents have given me.  I have always known the legacy my adoptive parents have contributed to my story.  Now the legacy I inherited from my birth parents is part of my story too.