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.