My thoughts on New Jersey’s new adoption law

Yesterday Gov Christie signed a bill into law that, in 2017, will allow adult adoptees copies of their original, unredacted birth certificates. I will not pretend that I know what this means for New Jersey adoptees, as adoptions are governed by state law &, before today, I knew nothing of New Jersey adoption law. What I have gleaned is that adoptees received either redacted or altered birth certificates. “New Jersey sealed the records in 1940 to protect birth parents’ privacy,” says USA Today.

“Under the present law in effect until 2017, the only way to obtain an adopted person’s original birth certificate is through a court order.” In an attempt to protect the privacy of birth parents, the New Jersey law provides that birth parents may indicate, by a filing with the state registrar, their preference concerning contact with the adoptee. They may indicate that they prefer direct contact, contact through some intermediary or no contact. To my knowledge, there is no mechanism to ensure that the birth parent’s wishes are known or respected.

In my home state there are other options available, but all depend upon the mutual desire & consent of the birth parents & adoptees.  An adoptee or birth parent may register with a state adoption registry. If both parties register, thereby showing mutual desire & consent, the adoptee & birth parent are matched. After mandatory counseling, the two are placed in contact.  I am not sure if the New Jersey law provides for counseling.

When I first read the headlines yesterday, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the change in New Jersey law. I was torn. I understand the desire to know your birth parents, your genetic heritage, to look at another person & see your face reflected. I understand the desire for answers, to know the hows & whys that led to an adoption. But I also understand the desire for anonymity, for privacy. I understand the heartbreak that goes into giving up a child. I understand that a birth parent or adoptee may not want to be confronted by their child/parent years later with no warning.  I understand the heartache that adoptive parents endure before being offered their greatest dream – a child. I understand the unconditional love that can be given to an adopted child & the unconditional love that is returned to an adoptee’s parents. I understand that an adoptee can lose the identity of an adoptee and become, merely & miraculously, a child to those that bring her home.

I understand all of these things because I am an adoptee. At one point or another, I have struggled with all that entails for me & for my parents – my adoptive parents who will forever be my parents, regardless of whether I one day meet my birth mother or father.  I’ve also struggled with the questions that come with knowing that, somewhere, there is a woman who carried me & gave birth to me, & a man who may not know that I exist.  I’ve struggled with the questions that arise as you age & begin to face health issues that could be helped by some knowledge of your medical history. Now that we know the importance of a medical history, most agencies require that one be provided, even if it is passed along to the adoptive parents with identifying information redacted.  That information was not collected when I was adopted 33 years ago.  The need for an accurate & complete medical history is what pushes me to believe that this new law is a good thing.

I am lucky to have been placed with a truly amazing family. I know that not every adoptee is so lucky. That is, perhaps, why I was uneasy when I learned of the New Jersey law. What if an adoptee is not as lucky?  What if a birth parent is not what the adoptee expects?  What safe guards are there to ensure that an adoptee approaches a search, not as an escape, but as a person seeking knowledge?  What safe guards are there to ensure that an adoptee is not blindsided by a reality they are not prepared for or by a birth parent that wants nothing to do with them?  What safe guards are there to protect a birth parent who does not want a relationship? It is the lack of safe guards that lead me to think that this new law is not such a good thing.

There is a reason that my birth mother chose to give me life but not raise me. There is a reason that God placed me in the care of my parents.  There is a reason that my birth mother has not sought contact with me. I can only speculate as to what those reasons are.  Maybe that is why, despite a natural curiosity, I have never taken steps to search for her.  But I understand the desire for more information that many adoptees feel, that I have felt at times.  I guess the conclusion that I’ve come to is that I am glad that this law will provide much needed knowledge & closure to New Jersey adoptees, but concerned that the rights of birth parents who have expressed their desire to remain anonymous will be violated.

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Five Minute Friday: Choose

Five Minute Fridays are back!  Today’s prompt is: Choose.  Go.

What does it mean to choose?  How much of who we are is a choice?  How much of what we are was determined before we were born?  I’ve been fascinated by those questions for as long as I can remember.  I am a daughter, a sister, a cousin.  But I am also an artist, a book lover.  I have a fondness for horses.  My grandmother was a librarian & my mother always has a book.  They have no idea where my interest in art came from, except that my birthmother painted.  My father grew up on a farm, though he doesn’t ride much.  My birthfather was in a rodeo.  I don’t know where my desire to write comes from, maybe from a love for books.  There’s something cathartic about choosing to share your thoughts & feelings with the world.

Stop.

New Year – 2014

To  me, New Year’s is a time to reflect back on the past year & determine what changes need to be made in the future.  My first project for 2014 is to set some realistic & achievable goals for myself & my home.  I always seem to stick with my resolutions for a week or so, then life gets in the way & by the end of the year I’m left feeling bad about myself for not ‘accomplishing’ anything.  

This year, I’ve been doing a little research on how to best achieve my goals & stick to my resolutions.  I also found this great article, courtesy of a friend, that outlines how to set meaningful goals for the New Year.  I think that the biggest trick is making the goal or resolution as specific as possible.  Then you have to set out the steps necessary to achieving the goal & set up a form of accountability.  

I decided to use the LifeHack steps (from the above article), combined with basic goal setting techniques, to help clarify what areas of my life I want to focus on this year.  I can’t expect to achieve everything all at once, making changes takes time.  Too many resolutions is just setting myself up for failure.  Here’s what I came up with.  Note: Anything in quotes is from the LifeHack article, link above.  

“Step 1: Create a list of areas in your life that you care about.”  Mine are friends/family, job, writing, & health.  I know the article says to list 8-12.  I didn’t want to list that many areas because I don’t want to end up feeling overwhelmed by trying to change too much too fast.   You can find my goal/s for the home here, so I didn’t include it here.

“Step 2: Rate 2013 in each area on a scale of 1 to 10.”  This was the hardest part for me – actually sitting down & reviewing what the past year has given me.  Obviously the areas aren’t all 10’s, otherwise I wouldn’t feel the need to work on them during 2014.  Friends/family – 8, Job – 5  Writing – 3, Health – 5.

Step 3 is to determine what you want to change in each area during 2014 & what each area will look like at the end of 2014.  For each goal, I determined why it is important, what the reward will be if I achieve it.

Laying out the necessary steps that must be taken to achieve each goal comes next.  I’m going factor in some form of accountability to ensure that I’m working on each step & moving closer to the end goal.  If I don’t have accountability, I’ll talk myself out of anything.

Books That Touched My Life

An old friend, and fellow English major, recently took a break from grading papers & asked for us to list the ten books that have touched our lives.  I listed my ten on facebook, but wanted to also give a little insight here into how each book has affected me.  Here’s my ten:

1. The Awakening – Kate Chopin:  This insightful look into Creole society at the turn of the century is set in my home state of Louisiana.  It’s my favorite novel ever – I remember being shocked by the ending when I first read this in high school.  Kate Chopin was ahead of her time in her examination of a woman who refuses to give in to the oppressive Victorian social conventions.

2. The Lake of Dead Languages – Carol Goodman:  Carol Goodman weaves a story of past sins colliding with current attempts to move on.  A little mystery & a little gothic horror, this novel took some time to get going.  But once it did, I couldn’t put it down.  It was the atmosphere that moved me more than anything.  Goodman’s word are haunting & elegant, creating a aura of suspense.

3. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn:  This book  showed me the ability of voice to influence what a reader believes to be true & how things aren’t always what they seem.  Gillian Flynn delves into the mind of an unwitting victim, explores what goes on behind the curtain of a perfect marriage, and makes you relate to a sociopath.

4. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier:  I am always amazed that du Maurier could craft an entire novel without revealing the name of the central character.  It’s the lack of name that shows us the lack of identity felt by the second Mrs. de Winter.  This story is a woman’s struggle to assert herself in the shadow of the glamorous and seductive first wife.  And the setting!  Manderley is a character unto itself.

5. On Writing – Stephen King:  Half memoir, half how-to guide.  This made me believe that I could be a writer.  The value of writing advice from one of the bestselling authors of our time cannot be understated.

6. My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Piccoult:  This  is one of the reasons I went to law school.  Jodi Piccoult has the rare ability to make us understand both sides of what is typically a very divisive issue.  From the beginning I felt for these characters & wanted to do something, anything, to ease their pain.  It led me to question how far I would go to save someone I love.

7. Barrabas – Pär Lagerkvist:  The story is all about perspective.  It was my first experience with viewing a story from the perspective of an outsider.  Barrabas was the man whose life was exchanged for that of Jesus.  This is the story of a man who is haunted by the fate of a man he did not know & cannot begin to understand.

8. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte:  I loved the story when I first read this in high school.  It’s a story of power, obsession & love.  As in Rebecca, the setting is a character on its own.  The moor mirrors the darkness of its inhabitants.  The raw passion exhibited by the characters would be out of place anywhere else.

9. Macbeth – Shakespeare:  Shakespeare was meant to be performed & I didn’t truly appreciate Macbeth until I saw it.  Macbeth was one of my favorite things to teach.  At the most basic level, it’s a cautionary tale of the destructive effect of blind ambition & greed.

10. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston:  I’m a southern literature fan.  I first read this in high school and later wrote on it in college.  It’s only after you’ve lived a little that you can truly understand a woman’s struggle to find & assert her own voice.  I saw some of myself in these characters, but also appreciated the freedoms that I have to assert my own independence.

Writing Competitions

After making my first submission last month, I’ve decided to start entering more competitions. Of course that means I’ll have to be writing more, but I need to do that anyway. Next up is a short story to CrazyHorse for their short fiction competition.  I have until Jan 31 to submit & have no ideas!  I’m hoping something will come of my attempts from the various writing prompts I work from.

Submitting my work to competitions, as well as to literary magazines, is the best way to get my work out there & (maybe, hopefully) get some feed-back.  It’s easy to say that I want to be a writer, but that statement isn’t really true unless I’m doing something to make it happen.

Five Minute Friday: Tree

It’s time for another Five Minute Friday! Today’s prompt is: Tree.

Go.

When I was young, my grandparents still lived on the farm where they raised my father & his brothers.  The farm was no longer a business, but my grandfather still maintained his gardens & my grandmother had her flowers.

There were pecan trees around the house, still within the fence, where I remember collecting pecans.  We would spend hours sitting in the kitchen, shelling pecans & talking.  The nuts would be bagged up & distributed among family & friends.  There was never a shortage of fresh pecans in our house.

There were three huge crepe myrtles near the old swing set.  We climbed them daily during the summer & looked for cicada shells in the branches.  We buried our animals underneath the dense magnolia behind the vegetable garden.

Stop.

First Submission

So yesterday I submitted a short story to a competition. It’s titled ‘No Contact’ & is a revision of a story I wrote in a college creative writing class. I’ve been revisiting some old work & stumbled across this one. My professor had noted that the story had great potential.

After giving it a lot of thought, I finally decided to put myself out there a little & open my work up to some professional judgment & criticism. The hardest part was pressing ‘send’ & knowing that the draft had become final. Now there is just a combination of nerves & hope.

Results are announced on Feb 28, after that I’ll either post a link to the published piece (hopefully!) or the whole story (if all else fails) here.

Five Minute Friday: Truth

It’s Friday again, which means it’s time for a Five Minute Friday with Lisa-Jo Baker.  Today’s prompt is: Truth.

Go.

The first question that comes to mind is – what is the truth?  So often we do not examine what is true in our own lives.  I know that my friendships are true, and rare, and precious.  I know that my relationship with an amazing, intelligent & talented man is true.  I know that the love of my family, despite all of my flaws, is true.

The second question becomes one of worth. Once you realize how much of what is good in your life is true – you must confront the question – am I worthy? Am I a true friend? Am I always true to my relationship? Do I provide the same selfless love to my family?

Stop.

Voice

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Stephen King discussed opening lines. My favorite opening line is from Rebecca – “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”  Immediately I wanted to know who the speaker was, what Manderley was & why she couldn’t go back.  So much feeling & promise contained in nine words.  So intimidating to a would-be writer!

He also discusses the importance of a writer’s voice, that way of telling a story that identifies the writer. My struggle has always been: how does one go about finding their voice?  I think that a writer develops her voice only by writing, by finding what she’s comfortable with, what feels right.  And that takes time.  And it takes writing, actually putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  That can be daunting and full of ‘mistakes,’ which makes it difficult for someone like me.  I don’t like to do something unless I can do it well.  I don’t like putting out a product that I’m not completely satisfied with.  Those traits don’t often mix well with creative endeavors that require trial and error.

Temple University psychology professor Robert W. Weisberg has said “You have to immerse yourself in a discipline before you create in that discipline.”  In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Joanne Lipman recounts Weisberg’s findings that “there is no such thing as a born genius. Most creative giants work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs.”  I might hang that quote in my home office.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of another National Novel Writing Month.  At midnight, writers everywhere will begin work on a 50,000 word novel.  You can visit here to find out more about how it works.  I participated last year, but sadly did not get very far.  This year I am determined to get those 50,000 words!

It’s common for authors to write from an outline.  The entire plot is planned out before the first words are written.  This year I am trying to write from an outline, but am struggling to get the outline together.  The hardest part for me to get the story started, to come up with the idea.  Once I have an idea, I can run with it.  It’s all of the little moving parts that overwhelm me – the plot twists, the character traits, the over-arching theme.  What genre do I want to write?  First person or third person?  Impartial or emotional?  So many decisions to make before midnight!

The first time…

Here’s another writing prompt from Writer’s Write.

medium_Writing_Prompt_216

The first time I saw him was September 9, 2011.  It was a Friday night.  A friend gave me tickets to an art opening.  I figured it would be a good excuse to get dressed up & drink wine.  I still remember exactly what I was wearing – a black/white cocktail dress, my grandmothers jet beads & heels.  I had recently reverted to my natural hair color.

I recruited a friend to come with me, not yet comfortable walking into a party alone.  We mingled, we ate, it was nice to be out & about again.  As we were sitting at a table, we were approached by an old friend.  That’s what I love about living in my hometown, always running into old friends or acquaintances.  We caught up for a brief time & drifted away toward other acquaintances.

I was standing at the bar, waiting for another glass of wine.  As my eyes scanned the room, they landed on my old friend.  He was talking to a man that I had never seen.  I noted the dark hair, the well-cut clothes.  He was certainly attractive.  And then he smiled.  I knew that I had to meet him.