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.

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.

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.

The first time…

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

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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.

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:

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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.

Nature in the Bedroom

I have a cat.  His name is Cat.  He is also lovingly known as the Orange Ball of Terror in tribute to his destructive capabilities.  When I first brought Cat home I lived in an apartment.  He was an indoor cat by necessity, though he tried to escape into the wild whenever possible.  We moved into a house in April & Cat soon began venturing into the backyard.  First he went onto the patio, then into the grass, then into the flowerbeds & now he’s jumping fences.  I’m glad that Cat is enjoying the outdoors.  However, as he spends more time out there, some previously dormant instincts have begun to emerge.

It all started when we installed the dog door.  It took Cat a few days to figure it out, but now he is constantly in and out at night.  A few weeks ago we were awakened in the middle of the night to some very strange Cat noises.  He jumped onto the bed & laid down, as he usually does.  However, he brought a friend with him.  After some screaming & jumping around at the realization that there was something else alive in our bed, we turned the lights on.  There, on the pillow, sat a small mouse.  He looked at us & proceeded to run under the bed to hide.  All the while, Cat sat looking very pleased with himself.  Half an hour later I managed to catch the mouse & release him into the wild.  We began mandatory mouth checks before Cat is allowed into the bedroom at night.

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Later on in the week, we were again awakened by strange noises.  This time the animals were in the kitchen.  Cat and Cassie, the dog, had cornered a mouse.  Neither seemed quite sure what to do with it.  Attempts to capture & release the mouse failed.  He managed to wedge himself into a hole underneath the cabinets.  I went back to bed, assuming that the mouse would fend for himself.  Unfortunately he did not & we had our first mouse death by the next day.

I was awakened last night by Cassie frantically trying to fit her head underneath the treadmill.  I mustered up the courage to investigate & was met by a pair of beady, reptile eyes.  Sure that it was a snake, I did what any rational person would do – screamed, jumped onto the bed & called my significant other (who was in New Mexico) for help. Cassie got tired & abandoned me to go outside. Fortunately the reptile emerged & turned out to be a small frog.  I was able to capture him & release him into the wild.  I shut my door & went back to sleep.  Cat was locked out of the bedroom.

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Cat, being the sensitive creature that he is, was hurt by the fact that I did not appreciate his live gift.  This morning, when I opened my door I was greeted by another gift.  This time, a dead mouse.  Again, Cat sat nearby looking very pleased.  All outdoor, nighttime privileges have been revoked until further notice.  The dog door will remain shut & locked.  There has been way too much nature in the house recently.

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.