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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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.

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.

We must stop blaming the victims

In case you haven’t heard, a Montana teacher was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended & credit for 1 day served, for the rape of a 14 year old student.  In short, Stacey Rambold spent 30 days in jail for the rape of a 14 year old girl.  The State is appealing the sentence as unlawful, but Rambold is free pending that appeal.

The case began in 2008, when Rambold was charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent.  Rambold had originally admitted to one charge of rape, but the case was dismissed and Rambold was to undergo sex-offender treatment.  Charges were re-filed in December 2012 when prosecutors learned that he was kicked out of the treatment program for having unsupervised visits with minors. However, the victim had committed suicide on February 6, 2010. She was almost 17.

Not surprisingly, the judge has been heavily criticized for the light sentence and for commenting that the student was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold, her teacher.  Judge Baugh stated that he believed the girl was a troubled youth after reviewing statements made before her death.  Of course she was troubled before her death, she had been raped by a teacher.  After apologizing for his inappropriate comments, he went on to say that “I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape.… It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.”  Rambold’s attorney argues that his client has already suffered enough, having lost his career & reputation.

What appalls me the most about this case is that those words came from a judge.  Someone who has been elected or appointed to serve their community and uphold justice.  But the ‘blame the victim’ attitude is, unfortunately, all too common.

I was already fired up by Judge Baugh’s statements when I learned that an LSU law student was arrested for rape.  Of course I went to The Advocate’s website to investigate.  According to the article, the victim was at the home of her attacker.  She told him no & he became aggressive, eventually raping her.  He was later recorded apologizing to her.  Now, I know better than to read the comments on a local newspaper’s website, but I couldn’t help myself here.  I’m an LSU Law alum & wanted to see what people are saying.  Here’s a glimpse:

comments

I don’t know if this man is innocent or guilty, but the comments are infuriating!  When are we going to start holding these men accountable?  It does not matter if she was friends with him or met him that night, she had the right to say NO at any time.  It was the duty of her attacker to maintain some self-control & not force himself on an unwilling woman, regardless of whether she was in his apartment or on the street.  But the victim is blamed and will probably undergo as much, if not more, scrutiny than her attacker.  It is the above type of comments & attitude that make it so difficult for victims to speak out.

Five Minute Friday: Last

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One of the greatest ways to hone writing skills is to write! Sounds so simple, but it’s hard for me to find (or make) the time. Five-Minute Fridays by Lisa-Jo Baker makes it a little easier. Every Friday she posts a writing prompt & invites anyone to spend 5 minutes writing on it. You can find full details here. This week’s prompt is: Last.

Go.

For many years I struggled with the idea of being last, the one not chosen, the one not good enough. But last also calls to mind endurance. Lasting friendships, lasting love, lasting dreams. I’ve been the one left behind because something didn’t last, but I’ve always been blessed by things that do endure. I have had a group of friends who have loved me unconditionally for 20 years. I have found a man who supports me in everything I do & makes me confident that his love will last.

Now that I have become to overcome those fears of being last, of being not chosen, I have begun to wonder – what will I leave behind? What of me will last? Maybe that is why I’ve felt a calling to write again after many years of not. I want my words, my thoughts, my feelings, my experiences to endure.

End.