November 06, 2007

Why Open Records Still Matter in Open Adoption

There is a single copy of Puppy's original birth certificate in the fire-safe box in my office. Because both of his first parents continue to be part of his life he also has access to whatever information they will share with him about his origins.

For awhile I thought that was enough. I thought that the openness in our adoption negated his personal need for open records. If Puppy had his first parents in his life in the flesh, why would he need to see their names on a piece of paper? Open records would just give him access to information that he already had, and while I supported open records in principle I was grateful my little guy didn't need them. I thought it was ridiculous that the state sealed those records, but ultimately unimportant.

Then I started thinking about his life as an adult. And I thought about trying to nurture openness in his adoption. And I realized open records were actually very important.

At the most basic level, I believe Puppy has a civil right to the legal record of his birth. Adult Puppy should be able to contact the State of California and receive copies of both of his birth certificates--original and amended. The fact that he cannot is simple discrimination. He shouldn't have to rely on my fire-safe box or on K and R's willingness to share information with him. There is already quite a bit of informal privilege denied adopted persons. But this denial is codified into state law. And, as an adoptive parent, that pisses me off.

I also began to see how sealing records works against those of us advocating for open adoption. They are simply an outdated and unwarranted part of adoption. Closed records arose in most states within my parents' lifetime. (Closed records--available to no one--are distinguished from confidential records, which are available to involved parties but not the general public.) They were premised on the idea that adopted children needed to be protected from the wayward parents who conceived them and the stigma of illegitimacy. First parents needed to hide their shameful secret from prying eyes. Adoptive parents needed to be able to pretend they were a biological family. Sealing birth records provided a legal framework for all these purposes.

Maintaining closed records perpetuates those stigmas and, in doing so, works against open adoption. Closed records play into the fiction that there is something shameful in adoptees' pasts, something which needs to be hidden away for everyone's protection. They reinforce the idea that first parents should disappear into the shadows after relinquishment if they know what's best for them and their child. They suggest to adoptive parents that the only way to be their child's real parent is to see themselves as replacements for the biological parents. Those are baneful ideas in open adoption.

Keeping records closed perpetuates the myth that open adoption is a fringe movement, flirting with the potentially dangerous idea of not cutting adoptees off from their families of origin. Closed records and the system built around them are why so many people ask, "Isn't it confusing?" and "Doesn't it make you nervous?" when they hear about open adoption. Because they've picked up the notion that the only way adoption can really work is to erase one family completely and create another in its place, shrouded in secrecy and anonymity.

So I advocate for open records for two reasons: because adult adoptees are being denied their rights and because I care about open adoption. The openness in Puppy's adoption doesn't change the fact that the State of California still treats him as a second-class citizen. And there are far too many others--including Puppy's first mom, also an adoptee--who have neither the openness nor the access. That is wholly unfair.


Anonymous said...

There are many other reaosns to support open reords:

- First and foremost, the majority of adoption are not open
- It is the rIGHT of everyone to have access to their truth and to all record spertainign to them

The fact is, the records should not be falsified to begin with.

Do you really call your child Puppy?

I'm new to this blog but assume you are protecting his/her confidentialy. But don't you think that's a bit degrading?

Have you seen

Heather said...

Adoptauthor, welcome. I agree that there many reasons to support open records. I was exploring the idea I sometimes hear that open adoption obviates the need to fight for open records. I am also uncomfortable with the current practice of issuing false birth certificates, and have mentioned that at least briefly before.

I explain a little bit about my son's blog nickname in the comments to this post. It is a play on his actual name in Hebrew.

I've not yet seen the website you mentioned; thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Clementine said...

I agree completely that open records matter in open adoption. Thanks for writing this post.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Beautiful post.

Tammy said...

AS usual, you think things through and put them into words so well. I am fortunate to live in a place where open records are the law, even for those adoptions that took place in the closed era.

Open records matter no matter what.

wendryn said...

New to your blog - I came here from Bigger than a Breadbox. My father was adopted and we don't have any information on his birth family at all. That seemed really weird to me. As we're going through foster training, though, the new birth certificate that wipes out the old one seems very strange, too. I agree with you that both records should be available. Thanks for thinking through this!

Anonymous said...

Back again, Heather. Just wanted you to know I linked ya.
-- Gretchen

Anonymous said...

"Adult Puppy should be able to contact the State of California and receive copies of both of his birth certificates--original and amended. The fact that he cannot is simple discrimination. He shouldn't have to rely on my fire-safe box or on K and R's willingness to share information with him."

It is really interesting to read your perspective. Becaue of the openess in our adoption, the fact that Small Sun's adoption records are closed hasn't really hit me too hard either. Viewing it from his adult perspective really brings it home for me. I believe in open adoption records, 100%, but looking at things from my child's adult perspective definitely adds urgency.

Anonymous said...

This was a great piece.

My daughter is 16 and we are in an open adoption. For years I've lived under the mistaken assumption that her first mom had her orginal b.c. She does not, she has the pretty hospital one.

Like you, my child has pretty much all the information she will ever need. There will be no search. But the fact that she is not allowed this piece of paper that documents how she came into the world, not her family like the one she has now, is completely unfair and wrong.

emilyg007 said...

I am just reading your blog for the first time and while I agree with most of the posts I've seen, I disagree with this one. While access to all documents is helpful in open adoptions, and in your adoption, it gives me peace to know that our records are sealed. I have copies of my childrens' OBC's for them when they are older and would like to look for their birth parents, but they were foster children, taken from families who were unhealthy and in some ways, dangerous. Their sealed records protect them until they are old enough to make decisions about their first family for themselves.

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