The Realities of Being Adopted

When you’re adopted, you lose certain rights. The right to a real birth certificate. The right to blood relatives. The right to the truth about your entry into the world. The right to your medical history. The system is designed to protect the privacy of the birth parents and the feelings of the adoptive parents, even at the expense of the health of the child.

I realize that adoption laws are in the process of changing, but the fact remains that adult adoptees have to go through extra steps and pay additional expenses to achieve the same rights as those who aren’t adopted. Applying for a passport is just one example. The “proof of citizenship” requirement is a birth certificate filed within one year of birth. But at the time of adoption, these records are sealed and a new certificate is issued in the adoptive parents’ names.  This means that people adopted later in life need to supplement their birth certificate with items such as records from a family Bible or a signed statement from someone witnessing the birth. These things may be impossible to obtain in cases where the adoptive family is no longer in contact with the birth parents and the state is protecting the their privacy. Maybe provisions are made for adoptees, but if so, they aren’t listed on the passport application. Regardless, extra steps have to be taken. Steps that others don’t have to mess with.

It’s not like I have some misguided notion that the world ought to be fair. All I have to do is look at recent local changes in drivers’ licensing to see that it isn’t. Numerous women in Oregon have been forced to pay hundreds, even thousands, of dollars and invest countless hours in creating a paper trail to prove they are who they say they are. Men, who don’t change their names at marriage, have been spared all this. No, life isn’t fair, and I don’t expect it to be. But I still find it annoying, partly because it touches off emotions that are better left buried.

I first saw my adoption certificate at the age of 10 when I needed to show proof of who I was to the school in order play soccer. (God knows there were armies of 5th grade terrorists back in the 70s just looking to wreak havoc on the country.) I questioned my mother about the fact that my birth parents weren’t listed on the document. She told me they weren’t listed on my birth certificate, either—that when a child is adopted, the adoptive parents are added in the place of the birth parents.

The idea stunned me. How could the government change history like that? Didn’t they know that real was real? My mother couldn’t see my point about the facts being altered. “Of course I’m your real mom!” she said, letting me know that her feelings were what mattered, and I had no right to my outrage against the state of Oregon or my utter shock at the idea that the government could tell lies and get away with it. As adults we all know the government adjusts the facts as it sees fit, but when you’re 10 that concept rocks your faith in reality.

Though my adoption occurred when I was five and was technically considered “open”, I rarely got to see my birth mom until I became an adult.  This was because my adoptive mother looked at my ongoing need for my birth mom as evidence that I didn’t love her enough.  The name “mom” was reserved only for my adoptive mother, and I was told that I should call my birth mom “Aunt Dani”. I learned to stop asking about her because it hurt my new mom’s feelings. And in my house, hurting Mom ‘s feelings was the worst sin you could commit.

Not having a real birth certificate, not having access to my blood relatives or even the truth, made me feel like a second-class citizen, cut off from “normal” kids who had baby books and a family history that included their presence. Even as a kid I took pride in being my own unique self, but on some issues you don’t want to be different. You want to feel a connection, a sense of community with the rest of the world.

All this comes up when I run into situations where I need a birth certificate.  It’s not a huge deal, but it reminds me that once again I have to take time away from my real work to fight for things that I shouldn’t have to fight for.  It rams home that fallacy that somehow I’m not the same as everyone else, and that I don’t have the rights that they do.

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6 Responses to The Realities of Being Adopted

  1. Roxie says:

    You’re just the same as me except you have met your bio-mom and can ask about family medical history. Well, if life were simple, anyone could succeed at it.


  2. Katy Skinner says:

    I wish I was brave like you, to talk about childhood stuff on my blog. Does it help to write it out and share it? It seems like it would help. Plus you’re a good writer.


  3. shelli says:

    Lisa – maybe this would be a good subject for you to explore in your writing. I could feel your struggle.


  4. This is a topic non-adoptees, like me, need to hear more about. I had no idea that even birth certificates could be changed–I always thought they were “the whole truth, and nothing but.” I’m astonished. Beautifully written post.


  5. susanls says:

    Jenny and I both have adopted siblings and have seen both their pain and curiousity, and our own. When I was in high school, a long time ago, someone told me my sister must have been illegitimate. Not that it would matter much now but back then it was a big deal. So I asked my mom about it and was actually the first one in the family to get the full story. My sister, the adopted one, didn’t even know it until last Christmas (when she was 55). Such an intriguing subject…..


  6. Barb says:

    I once interviewed a young woman from Cuba. By simply listening to her life, I discovered that all of the rights and freedoms that I have in the U.S. I took for granted. I never imagined another life.

    That’s why it’s so important to tell your story. It opens the door and windows so we can gaze into another world, another pain. The more we know the more we can choose to change.


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