On March 20, 2015, my life was transformed when I gained the legal right to obtain my original birth certificate and to learn about my true origins. This foundational document, which validates one’s humanity and very existence, is a basic human right afforded to most Americans, but amazingly not to all.
In fact, every adoptee in America has an amended birth certificate which removes and replaces our biological parents names with our adoptive parents. The original birth certificate (OBC) is sealed and depending on when and where you were born, can never be released without a court order, which is extremely challenging to obtain even in the most dire of circumstances.
While the specifics are different, the general arc of my story is one that so many adoptees share: I was born in a state during the “closed records era,” a 30+ year window in time when all birth records for every adoptee were sealed, and with it, part of my identity was sealed as well. While I was blessed to grow up in a loving adoptive family, I also had a deep desire to know more about who I was and where I came from. It’s a search that I pursued my entire adult life and ultimately turned into a 25-year quest to obtain my OBC. I first contacted my adoption agency. I then petitioned the court and, like nearly every other adoptee, was denied and told my OBC would only be released if my biological parents had a release on file or if they were dead. So, for the next two-plus decades I put my name on adoption registries, hired private investigators and periodically checked back in with the state. It was dead end after dead end.
This all left me with more questions than answers: Why don’t I have the right to who I am? How could people with no parental rights be in control of my own identity? And why were adoptee records open (pre-1964), and then closed (1964 – 1996), and then open again (post-1996)? While the answers to those questions would make for a much longer story, fortunately for me — and so many other adoptees in Ohio — there was a group of committed advocates working towards change. And after a hard, multi-decade long fight, they finally won, the law changed and 400,000 adoptees were finally given the option to access their original birth certificates.
What happened next was beyond my wildest dreams: I found my entire biological family within two months of applying for my OBC. This altered the trajectory of my life. Over the course of the next 36 months, I traveled across five states and two countries reuniting with more than 20 biological relatives, all of whom embraced me with open arms. At age 45, I also learned that I was at high risk of a deadly cancer that had taken members of my biological family in their early 50’s. Having my family health history, quite literally, has likely extended my life expectancy.
Going through my reunion was simultaneously both the hardest and the most healing experience of my life. It’s also been extremely complex and complicated to navigate with so many twists and turns and emotions along the way. One thing I know for sure is I could not have gone through my own journey without others journeying alongside me: the loving support of family, friends and, most importantly, others that understood and shared the unique life experience of being adopted.
To be clear, I recognize that I chose a path of engagement with my biological family and have had an extraordinarily positive experience in my reunion — and that is not everyone’s desired path nor everyone’s personal story. However, no matter what truth you seek or find, I believe everyone has the right to know where they come from.
Most of all, I believe that we cannot journey this path of adoption alone. We need connection, community and support from other adoptees and allies as we pursue our own unique paths of wholeness and healing. This type of support is needed throughout the lifecycle for those of us that live this adoptive experience, and for those who love us through this experience. Because being adopted doesn’t guarantee you a better life, just a different one.
That’s why we started the Michigan Adoptee Collaborative: to provide adoptees of all ages and stages with the advocacy, education and support they need to find healing and wholeness and live their best lives.
We are so happy you are here. There is much work to be done. Will you join us?