Seven Reasons for Unconditional Access to Original Birth Certificates

1. Enough with the magical thinking. When infants are adopted in America, they are issued new “birth” certificates and, in most states, their original birth certificates (OBC’s) are sealed. The new “birth” certificates affirm that the child or infant was born to the adoptive parents on a particular date in a particular place. This, of course, is magical thinking transformed into law, thanks to lobbying by adoption agencies (who profited from the adoption) and adoptive parents (who got the babies). Let our laws reflect reality: when infants (or others) are adopted, states should issue adoption certificates, giving the adoptive parents all the rights of a natural parent. Original birth certificates should be preserved and made unconditionally available to adopted people once they turn eighteen. We’re talking legal documents here, people, not My Little Pony.

2. My family came over on the Mayflower. Not likely. But who knows? I can’t get access to my original birth certificate. Do you ever think about tracing your family’s origins? Maybe you’ve done it. You rely on documents like marriage certificates, death certificates, census data, and, of course, birth certificates. Why should adopted people be denied the ability to trace their family’s origins? That’s right — there is no reason. Adopted people should have access to the same genealogical information as everyone else.

3. Cultural continuity counts. And so does cultural history. Access to OBCs means connection to the culture, language, and history of your ancestors. It means you can know enough about who you are to keep your culture’s traditions alive. One of the most egregious violations of cultural integrity in America was the wholesale removal of Native American children from their families for adoption by white families.

4. We’re adults, gosh darn it. Enough with using “adopted child” when referring to adult adoptees, and enough with protecting “adopted children” over the age of eighteen from harsh truths about “where they came from.” We know we came from a woman’s body.

We’re not children. Whatever the truth is, I assure you we can handle it. After all, we’ve handled being adopted, a traumatic experience in anyone’s book.

5. It’s the truth. Lies and pretense hurt people. There are no dark secrets if you don’t keep them in the dark. We’re entitled to know the truth about our own births. In this situation, as in every other, the truth will set us free.

6. Family medical history. This is the reason everyone understands. My mother, and one of my brothers, died from heart attacks at the age of forty-eight. Lucky for me, adoption activist Sandy Musser was able to locate my maternal family in 1992, so I’ve had access to half of my family medical history since I was in my late thirties.

From the maternal half of my family, I inherited asthma and what’s now called “familial hypercholesterolemia,” the sort of high cholesterol that puts people at increased risk for early heart attacks. The other half? I have no clue.

Knowledge of a family predisposition to disease can be life-saving. As the genetics of wellness and disease become more well known, knowledge of family medical history becomes more and more useful for everyone — except for people who don’t have access to their original birth certificates.

7. Rights of the parents. I’m talking here about the first parents, not the adoptive parents. Studies show that mothers who lose children to adoption want to know what happened to those children, and many want reunification. First parents suffer the trauma of adoption, too. Many support open access to original birth certificates. But really, do I care what the first parents want when it comes to OBCs? No, I do not.

When decisions were made about who would raise me and how my identity would be changed, and how much, if any, of the truth I would be told, I was an infant, and not able to participate in those decisions. Denying me access to my original birth certificate is one more way of denying me the right to know the truth and to make informed decisions about my life.

Got your own reasons? Please comment!