Monday, December 08, 2008

Adoption Birth Certificates

So I thought I would start a discussion about what we should do about birth certificates.

I don't mean about the old ones which have been sealed. I think that they should be unsealed. Period. If there are birth parents who don't want to be contacted they should be able to attach a note of some sort so that when and adoptee requests the certificate he or she knows the parents want to be left alone, or only contacted through an agency, or what not. Birth mothers were never promised anonymity -- they had it legislated upon them. The sealing of original birth certificates was initiated to cover up crimes.

Anyway, I don't want to argue about that. You can argue with each other in the comments and as long as you are respectful I won't delete your comments. There are certain topics part of me just can't believe it is necessary to argue for. Of course people should have access to their original birth certificates. Of course gays and lesbians should be allowed to openly serve in the military and get married. Oh, and pharmacists who are opposed to dispensing birth control pills need to find a different job.

A more interesting question, to me, is what we should do about adoption and birth certificates going forward. If I am correct about the state law here (and I really might not be) adult adoptees can decide whether they want their birth certificates altered. That I think is appropriate. They should decide. If they don't want the certificates altered you just have to keep track of two documents: the birth certificate and the court order of adoption (or whatever it is called).

I would extend that right to teens, but I see where we might disagree on the cut-off date.

But what about young children?

You have to show your birth certificate at various points in your life and the people to whom you have to show it don't really need to know that you are adopted. Probably the person at the driver's license bureau doesn't care, but you might be a bit worried that the school would remark on it in ways that might make the children uncomfortable. Or maybe those occassional points in ones life are not so important.

So...what do you think? I can come up with a couple of options:

1) Two certificates (both birth certificates or maybe one should be labeled an "adoption certificate) to be available:
a) Always
b) Always if birth and adoptive parents agree
c) when the adoptee reaches a certain age


2) One birth certificate that has all the names on clearly an amended document.

Now...I have a pile of papers to grade. Discuss among yourselves.


  1. As an adoptive parent, I don't understand what I had to do with my kids' births. I think it's stupid that my name is on their birth certificates instead of those of their birth parents. I think my name should be on an adoption certificate, but I think it has no place on the birth certificate at all. Just MHO.


  2. I have always kept my children's original birth certificates in a very safe place so they will have them when they get older. On the one hand I can see the very real benefits to not issuing a new certificate. On the other hand while children are little there is less explaining that needs to be done to authorities when registering for things where adoption really shouldn't have to be part of the conversation. My middle guy would prefer not to talk about being adopted at the moment. Using his original b. cert when I signed him up for Little League would have required that conversation by bringing in the adoption decree. While as an adult I realize that I am sure his coach knew that this handsome black boy didn't come out of the two white women who were registering him, for some reason, the fact that we didn't have to have the conversation was important to my son.

  3. I hate that my son's birth certificate is not an accurate record of his history. I vote for option 2. Keep the original birth certificate intact, but add an amendment showing the date of adoption completion, new name, and adoptive parent's names. Granted, it could get confusing in cases of disruption and re-adoptions and so forth. But if a kid's history is confusing, then the paperwork should just follow right along. It's offensive how their histories are essentially wiped out as far as the paperwork shows.

    And sealing records. Grr. That's just so wrong on so many levels.

  4. I think that having the original birth certificates available to adoptees does change the debate somewhat, at least for me. I think it comes down to who gets access to what information. That the new birth certificates sometimes seem to border on ridiculous (when there are notable difference in age, country of origin, race, etc.), just doesn't seem as important to me for some reason when I know that the adopted person has a way of finding out the truth. It's only when we operate under the assumption that there can only be *one* birth certificate, that it really gets to me.

  5. I like Option 1a or Option 2.

    There is no excuse for not maintaining the original and I HATE that they still do that. I do worry that my girls won't always want to tell people they are adopted.

    But, here's the thing. They are adopted. Period. Pretending they're not is ultimately disrespectful to their first parents and, I think, to them. I understand it's their story and I do agree to a certain extent that they should choose how and when to disclose, but it's also a part of their identity, just like their gender and their race and everything else. I guess I just hope that my girls accept and figure out how to cope with it as best as possible, rather than trying to avoid the issue.

    So IMHO, I'd say Option 1a, but I could understand option 2 because it would be easier to manage (one document) and because it would be less glaringly obvious, if an adoptee was sensitive about it.

  6. I'm an adoptee and say that no OBC should be sealed and released to an adult adoptee upon their request. I don't think that they should be altered in any way. Records should be open to adult adoptees with no conditions attached. I'm sorry that a few birth mothers don't want to be found and that some have not told their families about the child. But by the time a child reaches the age of 18 they have had ample time to tell their family. It is not right to rob someone of their identity to help cover up a secret that wants to be kept.

    I'm not an angry adoptee. After a 20 plus year search I have been reunited with siblings and other relatives. My birth parents died during my search. I don't want other adoptees to have to search 20 years or so for their birth relatives. I was fortunate to know my birth mother's name since it was on the adoption decree that was provided to me by my adoptive mother (adoptive father died while I was young). But she had a very common name and was from a large city.

    - Mary

  7. Maggie, I was interested to see your comment because your situation was the first that jumped into my mind when I read Yondalla's question. I definitely believe in accurate records that don't wipe out a child's history. And Amanda is right that adoption is part of who they are, and not something they should be ashamed to share. At the same time, histories can sometimes be complicated. I'm glad that Slugger has a mom who can help him remember and honor all of his families. But I'm not sure that he should need to explain to every little league coach that his first adoption disrupted and then he was adopted again.

    A record showing a child was born to family A and adopted by family B doesn't imply anything beyond that - nothing about the child's age at adoption, or their behaviors, or their birth family's history, or why they were placed for adoption. A record including multiple adoptions does at least hint at those things, and those feel much more personal than just "I was adopted". Not to mention the potential that the child could be judged by those who don't understand how and why these things happen.

    So I guess I have to go with 1a - one complete accurate record, and one simpler record that just lists the birthdate and the legal guardians (parents or otherwise).

    (Maggie, I hope you don't mind my using Slugger as an example. Obviously you know him best and I have confidence that you and he will make the decisions that are right for him about who and what to tell. My comment is more about a hypothetical child with a similar history, who might not be comfortable sharing that level of detail. I wouldn't want to hide their history from them, or from the record books, but I would want them to have some control over when and what they share.)

  8. Anonymous5:36 PM

    I think the original birth certificate should not be amended. Most of the time when kids (or their parents)are supposed to present a birth certificate, it is to provide proof of age, not proof of parentage. These occasions would include school registration, sports registration etc. For a passport application, the birth certificate is used to verify age and parentage/citizenship, so the original birth certificate and the (separate)adoption decree and any readoption paperwork would cover that. As has already been said, my name does not belong on their birth certificates - it is not an accurate representation of their history. Just my two cents.

  9. I believe that the birth certificate is about the birth. I wasn't there. I didn't do that. I might be "momma" now and there could be an amendment to indicate so but that is it. Maybe, if the birth certificate needed to state parentage it could be something like:

    Born to Mary X and John X
    Final Adoption by Stevorama and Toreenie-weinie

    There doesn't need to be some trail of all the disrupted adoptions, IMO. That is personal and private and NOT permanent (besides the emotional trauma).

  10. I think that Amanda is right. I also agree that a birth certificate is just that, a document certifying your birth. The adoption decree could somehow be attached to the official record, but I really don't like having birth families obliterated from a child's history. It just seems so wrong. We were able to get a copy of Ella's original certificate before we finalized and I keep it in a safe deposit box so it will never be lost. She now has no way to get another copy of it.

  11. Mirah Riben6:45 AM

    EXCELLENT post and great comments.

    Many of us have come to refer to so-called "amended" birth certificates for those adopted as what they truly are: FALSIFIED birth certificates. The state falsifies the identity of a citizen, and alters his place and date of birth and states that he is born to his adopters! I know of one case which changed a person's RACE. This is state committed FRAUD and an absurd atrocity. It discriminates against adopted persons treating them differently than all other citizens with regard to access to their own birth certificate.

    And you are absolutely right - it was never at the request of those who lost their children to adoption.

    "If I am correct about the state law here (and I really might not be) adult adoptees can decide whether they want their birth certificates altered."

    I don't know what state you are in but know of NO state that allows a child being adopted to make any decisions. How could they, since many are adopted as infants or don't speak or understand a word of English?

    I have been part of the adoption community and researching, writing and presenting adoption issues for nearly 40 years and so have given these issues a great deal of thought.

    There are two approaches (which I will be presenting at the National AAC Conference in April in Cleveland) that are needed simultaneously: retroactive and proactive.

    Those adopted in the past need to have access to their original birth certificates with no strings (or notes) attached...just access equal to any other non-adopted citizen. If a mother doesn't want to be found, let HER change HER name, or simply say NO if she is. We do not protect fathers from facing paternity and have sufficient laws regarding harassment and stalking.

    Going forward - we need to stop falsifying birth records. They are the permanent records all of one's ID is based on and adoptees are having trouble getting drivers licenses and passports, often because of the time difference between birth and filing of the certificate.

    As for the issue of how kids feel having to "explain":

    1. Today more a than half the kids in any classroom have different surnames than one or both parents because of divorce, remarriage or simply because their mother didn't take her husband's name. So no "stigma" there.

    2. Every US citizen has a short and long form birth certificate. The short form simply has name, date and place of birth. Nothing more. It is certified and acceptable all over the country for drivers licensing and SS etc...even becoming President! The long form gives parents names and need not be shown.

    3. I further believe, that if it does bother a child and he really prefers to have the same name as his adopted family, and they agree, they should be able to take him to court and have a legal name change done. It is very simple, costs very minimal filing fee and leaves the original birth certificate unchanged. People who have had a legal name change then use the court document to change all their ID as one does after a marriage or divorce that changes one's surname.

    We need to stop laws apply only to adopted persons and their family of origins and treat them as a dangerous class of people or who need special protections. They deserve EQUALITY. Nothing less and nothing more.

    Mirah Riben, author

  12. Bernadette Wright, President Origins-USA7:27 AM

    I like your blog! I would like to share the position of Origins-USA, the only national non-profit organization advocating for an end to sealed and falsified birth certificates. Origins-USA supports legislation that would outlaw the falsification of records, particularly the falsification, and seizure, of birth records. We deplore the falsified record known in government as the "Amended Birth Certificate," which falsely names the adopters as the parents who gave birth to the adopted individual. We believe that birth records and birth certificate registrations, should reflect the truth about parentage, heritage, and identity. No record of a child's birth should be falsified.

    Origins-USA is opposed to any and all changes to legal documentations of a person's birth by any agency or government, including but not limited to changes of name, date, race, and/or place of birth, unless such changes are without being duly noted as updated changes on and to the original birth records or certificate.

    Origins-USA supports legislation which would restore the original and only true birth certificate, and the destruction of the falsified one.

    Origins-USA further advocates that all parties to the birth--mother, father, and the person born--have access to the birth certificate.

    Bernadette Wright, President Origins-USA

  13. Either a birth certificate represents an authentic record of an historical act, or it is utilized to as support for an identity constructed for purposes other than historical documentation of an actual event (for any number of purposes, covering crimes being only one of several.) In the latter case, adopted people end up with a state assigned newly constructed identity.

    I argue truth, no matter what it might entail is better than lies and being left with nothing more than question marks.

    Speaking as a (Queer) Bastard myself, my birth certificate is a state sanctioned lie. A lie that provably has nothing to do with historical fact. It posits a physical impossibility.

    Fabrication of birth certificates such as mine divides people into two classes, those in which the state provides an accurate authentic history of an historical occurrence (birth) and those for whom to whom the state assigns an inaccurate retelling.

    To achieve equality under law for the people directly affected, birth certificates must reflect reality.

    No ifs, ands, butts, or vetoes.

    Adoptees birth certificates should be treated as any other non-adopted person's are. Anything less not only creates a separate class of people enduring unequal treatment under law, it also perpetuates the climate of shame surrounding women's pregnancies, and bastardization by the state.

    Birth certificates should not be fictionalized accounts to be reworded at whim in order to make any given faction feel better.

    They are historical records and should be treated as such.

  14. As an adoptee and an adoptive mother, I feel option 2 is the best choice. Birth certificates are historical documents and when there is a change, an amendment should be made. The certificate should not be altered. I was nowhere near where my children were born (and in some cases have never been to the town yet) yet I am listed as giving birth to said child. Nonsense.

    Of course, as someone searching for birth family, I am in support of open access to all records. That is my right ... by birth ... yet I am deprived of it.

  15. I'm not an adoptee, so maybe I'm missing something here, but I'm a bit surprised that all those speaking against falsification seem to be supporting option 2. I agree 100% that altering birth certificates is unacceptable. But if a birth certificate is a certificate of birth, then why amend it at all? What on earth do adoptive parents have to do with a document that says when and where someone was born and to which parents? It seems to me that should be an entirely separate document. The birth certificate should be used for passports, running for president, genealogy, etc. But when you sign your kid up for little league, they aren't really asking about their birth. All they need to know is how old the kid is and who has the legal right to give them permission to play. So why not have a separate document that says just that? Trying to force the two into one document seems to cheapen the first and overly complicate the second.

  16. Well I am an adoptee and future adoptive parent. I love the fact that my birth cert lists my parents. I would like to have a copy of the original now that I am adult, for history sake. seal the original and allow the adult child to request a copy.

  17. Anonymous7:55 AM

    As I said in a previous comment to another post(which I forgot to sign-sorry for that!), in my country new BCs are not issued. What it's done here is ammend the original BC, but not in the way they are "ammended" them in the USA.

    What they do is write in the marging of the BC that the person's name is now Z (as if it were a name change), and I think they also note that the person was adopted by X and Y.

    With respect to changing the name/surname,I should note that:

    A-if the child/teen is adopted by a man, then the child's first surname is replaced by that of the adoptive parent
    B-if adopted by a woman, the second surname is replaced by that of the adoptive mother
    C-if by a couple then both surnames are replaced.
    D-if it is a teen, then he/she gets a say in this; teens get to decide if they want to replace their original surnames or not. I believe this is based on the fact that preteens/teens already have a constructed identity, and it's their right to keep it.

    I should also note that here, original BC are kept in 2 books/registries kept by the government(1 at the national registry, 1 at the state's registry), and what people get are authenticated copies of the BC. Therefore, BC are never deleted/erased, etc; thus the notes in the margins (which are used for many purposes, not just adoption). There is also a registry of adoptions, in which all adoptions must be registered once finalized by a judge. I guess, they are the one's who issue an adoption certificate; but I'm not sure if the Ad-Certificate can be used in sustitution of the BC.

    Also, the last law aprooved regarding children's rights stipulates that it is the adoptees' right to know they are adopted and is the adoptive parent's obligation to let them know. And that every child or teen has the right to know who his/her aprents are. Once they are 15 adoptees can request to see their judicial record regarding their adoption; it also states that once the adoptee is 18 (the legal age here) access to his/her judicial record CANNOT be denied. Also, other people can request it when due to health issues it is necessary to know the adoptee's family of origin, or for a judicial procedure.

    I should also tell you that there are different kinds of adoptions here. What I described happens in what's called "simple adoption", which doesn't cut the legal relationship between the adoptee and the birth family; this means the adoptee maintains his/her rights regarding his/her b-family -and can, for ex.inherit and things like that.

    What is called "legitimizing adoption" is different than "simple adoption", it has different requirements and different legal consequences and is not as common.

    L-adoption can take place is the child/teen is abandoned, an "orphan", a pupil of the state, of parents unknown, or the child of one of the adoptants; it can be done by the partner/spouse of the mother/father of the child. It is only granted if it is in the interests of the child, as it "erases" the legal bond/relationship with the child's previous family. It can only be done once for a child and cannot be disrupted. The new parent(s) are noted in the BC as being the parents but having registered him late (as if it were the b-parent)and no note of the adoption procedure is done in the BC. The adoption procedure is closed to 3rd parties, and the adoptee can have access to it once he/she turns 18.

    I know that they may seem as almost the same, but they are not. And both are necessary here for different reasons.

    Ours is not a perfect system, there's a lot that has to be changed. Right now, parliament is considering a law allowing homosexuals to adopt. Children cannot be adopted by 2 people unless those 2 people are married, and no, marriage has not been granted to homosexuals yet. [A law was passed this year regulating civil unions, which grants people who register as having a civil union the same rights and obligations than a marriage -it's even dissolved by a procedure similar to divorce. I know, it's still not called marriage, but it's one step closer.]

    I hope you find this somehow useful.



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