open records

The Power of Words … and an Adoptee Rights Petition

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Sometimes my blog posts are inspired by conversations which occur on message boards, and this is one of them.  So, it is very possible that you have read the original conversation where this took place, and if so, then I apologize for the repetition.

This came from an online conversation about a recent “birthmother petition,” where an organization is requesting the signatures of natural mothers to support adoptee-rights.  Now, I believe wholeheartedly in open records, and that EVERYONE has the right to their original birth records, their family history, and the right to make contact with their lost family members if they choose (this means both ways!) … BUT, I also do not believe that it is the right thing to do to objectify a group of people in order to further the rights of a separate group, at the expense of the first.

So, in this conversation about this petition, several natural mothers such as myself stated that we would not be signing it.  Not that we do not support adoptee rights (we wholeheartedly DO! and the women discussing this have spent years of their lives actively working for open records), but because: (1)  being mothers still, we are not “birthmothers;” (2) we find it offensive, dehumanizing, and objectifying to be defined and labelled as “incubators;” and (3) we feel that the organization which sponsored this petition could just as easily have used the term which respects us:  “natural mother.” Even if it used both terms, that at least would show respect for all of us, those natural mothers who respect themselves as being mothers, and those who accept the adoption industry’s statement that we are no longer mothers.

So, this is my response to the person who defended the use of the term “birth mother” in the petition.   I sincerely respect her an an open records advocate, but I do feel that even if she does not feel that her own natural mother is a mother to her, that is her personal choice in her life, but it does not mean that this can be generalized to cover other mothers-of-adoption-loss without our consent.  And I do not give consent to be dehumanized.

” I am sorry to hear, xxxxxx, that your natural mother is nothing more than an incubator to you (yes, this is what she is reduced to if your adoptive mother is awarded the status of being your sole mother, it means that her only relevance/action as a mother in you life was to gestate and push you out), but the word dehumanizes and objectifies women as being nothing more than convenient uteri. Legislators also recognize and understand the term natural mother. They have for ages, as much currently-in-effect state and provincial legislation still uses that term.

”  I disagree with you that it is necessary to use this term with politicians. I have been involved in open records campaigns in 3 provinces, actively writing to politicians, creating websites that promote open records, and sending out bulletins to members of nonprofit organizations I belonged to in order to publicize open records campaigns and get members in involved in open records. I have never yet had to use the term ‘birthmother’ in any of these actions.

”  People have the right to not be objectified. The ‘birth terms’ objectify women. They were invented and defined by the adoption industry, which treated and treats us as livestock anyway:

‘… the tendency growing out of the demand for babies is to regard unmarried mothers as breeding machines…(by people intent) upon securing babies for quick adoptions.’ – Leontine Young, ‘Is Money Our Trouble?’ (paper presented at the Nationa…l Conference of Social Workers, Cleveland, 1953)

”  And, if one reduces a human being to an object, one can then treat them as voiceless, with rights, in need of protecting. The term ‘birthmother’ actually plays into supporting closed records legislation by defining us as having NO continuing love or connection with our lost child, and thus no interest in ‘reunion’ or being ‘found.’ And reunion IS the elephant on the dining room table when it comes to ‘adoptee rights’ and ‘open records.’

”  I have the right not to be defined as an non-mother, an incubator, etc. So do all other MOTHERS who have lost children to adoption. Thus the term natural mother, which recognizes and respects our continuing motherhood, is the one which is not derogatory or denigrating to us. Or you can call us mothers, or mothers of adoption loss. Or mothers separated from a child by adoption.

”  What is a natural mother? I am a mother by the laws of nature. The adoptive mother is the mother who was created by the laws of modern human society, pursuant to laws which began with the first child adoption law, invented in 1851 in Massachusetts. So, natural and socially-created. But the continuing love and blood-bond I have with my child, our sharing of genes, that I created him through the processes of Nature, all count towards me being a mother. (He also calls me Mom and I have adopted him back, but these are moot points). If laws and social-worker-procedures and the adoption industry had not been created to rip us apart, we would still have been together. My love for him never died, my connection with him that is just as strong as my connection and love for my other children. This is NOT saying that adoptive parents are unnatural. It is not a game of ‘Opposites,’ because if you say that this makes adoptive parents ‘unnatural’ then in the ‘Opposites Game’ the term ‘birthmother’ makes them into ‘deathmothers.’


Sometimes I feel that i beat this topic to death, and you, dear readers, are likely sick of hearing it. But why ask for my support in a way that treats me as less-than-human, that assumes that I do not have or want a family relationship with my son?   The issue this time is that we, as natural mothers, are being asked to further the interests of another group while ignoring our own interests (e.g. open records for natural parents as well), but we’re being asked as “incubators” do to so.

Meanwhile, please sign this petition, which has been active and on in the internet since 2000:

Mothers for Open Records Everywhere
(MORE)

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A Tool for Adoption Activism: Model Open Records Legislation

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This page contains an example of open records legislation that can be used by open records action groups to propose legislative change. It is non-discriminatory in that it open records to both adoptees and natural parents, and also recognizes that family includes siblings and grandparents who may also wish to search.  It recognizes that — yes, adoptees have rights to know their original identities — but also that recognizes people do request records, at least here in Canada, because it is the only way to be able to find your lost family member unless they have registered with a search registry.  Search and reunion is recognized in these type of open records campaigns, frankly addressed, and hence anti-open-records lobbyists cannot bring up the topic of reunion as a “cheap shot,” using it as scare-mongering.

Both Canadian and U.S. adoption laws are handled on the provincial/state level, and all of these laws are based on the same original law (Massachusetts 1951), legal principles, and social pressures (e.g. records closing to “protect” adoptive families from the natural parents).   In Canada, each piece of existing provincial law has a name and collectively they are usually referred to as the acts and regulations, the laws and regulations, or the statutes of each province (with the exception of the  Quebec civil code).   In the U.S., the compiled laws are known as state codes and each code has a title, chapter, and section.  As examples, here are links to see  Ontario statutes and regulations and the California State Code.

To see the laws or your state or province, google “state code” or “provincial law” for your jurisdiction.

This model legislation provided below is based on B.C.’s current open records legislation (Sections 63 to 67 of British Columbia’s Adoption Act), but eliminating the appalling disclosure and contact veto provisions and instead including a contact preference provision from Alberta’s Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act.

British Columbia was the first province in Canada to open its records, which it did in 1995 with the  Adoption Act (Bill 51).  Alberta obtained open records in 2003 via Section 74 of the  Child Welfare Amendment Act (Bill 9) , which modified the old Child Welfare Act.

This model legislation, below, is also the type of legislation that does not change existing flawed legislation by “nickel-and-diming” it to death.  Instead, it is meant to be passed as a bill to replace old legislation (as was done in B.C.) and any bill would begin with a clause to repeal the old legislation.   Sometimes you need a fresh start.   

In the following example, replace the phrase “Director of Vital Statistics” with the name of the office or official in your state or province who takes care of maintaining all state/provincial birth, death, marriage, and adoption registrations.  Replace the phrase “Vital Statistics Act” with the name of the statute, legislation, code, etc. which authorizes your state or provincial government to collect and maintain this information. 

Sample Open Records Legislation:

Section 1 – Disclosure to adopted person 18 or over:

(1) An adopted person 18 years of age or over may apply to the [Director of Vital Statistics] for copies of the following:

(a)  the original birth registration,
(b) the amended birth registration that was substituted for the adopted person’s original birth registration, and
(c) the adoption order.

(2) When an applicant complies with Section 3, the [Director of Vital Statistics] must give the applicant a copy of the requested records.

Section 2 – Disclosure to natural parent or natural family member when adopted person is 18 or over

(1) If an adopted person is 18 years of age or over, a natural parent named on the adopted person’s original birth registration may apply to the [Director of Vital Statistics] for a copy of one or more of the following:

(a)  the original birth registration,
(b) the amended birth registration that was substituted for the adopted person’s original birth registration, and
(c) the adoption order.

(2) When an applicant complies with Section 3, the [Director of Vital Statistics] must give the applicant a copy of the requested records

(3) Before giving the applicant a copy of the requested record, the [Director of Vital Statistics] must delete the adoptive parents’ identifying information.

(4) Other natural family members (grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, etc.) may also apply upon presentation of the death certificate of the natural parent

Section 3 – Applicant must comply with [Vital Statistics Act]

A person who applies to the [Director of Vital Statistics] under this Part must:

(a) supply any proof of identity required by that director, and
(b) if the application is for a copy of a record, pay the required fee.

Section 4 – Contact Preference

(1) An adopted person, a natural parent or any other person whose personal information may be in orders, certificates or documents may register a contact preference with the [Director of Vital Statistics] that indicates the person’s preferences concerning contact with a person who makes a request under Sections 1 or 2.

(2) The [Director of Vital Statistics] shall advise a person making a request under Sections 1 or 2 of any contact preference registered with respect to the requested information.

Recent Related Blog posts from Other Natural Mothers:

“Unsealed with a K.I.S.S.”
http://musing-mother.blogspot.com/2010/10/unsealed-with-kiss.html

“Hey Wait a Minute…”
http://unsignedmasterpiece.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/hey-wait-a-minute/

“What Does Adoption Reform Activism Look Like?”
http://www.firstmotherforum.com/2010/12/what-does-adoption-reform-activism-look.html

Origins Canada – check it out! :)

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I’m absolutely thrilled to share a very special link with you, the new Origins Canada website:

Origins Canada: Supporting Those Separated by Adoption

http://www.originscanada.org/

Adoption separation: A tragic end for one natural family

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I have a friend, Rowena, who is a natural mother who lost her son to adoption.

Rowena was only 17 when she gave birth to her son Blaise, and in Grace Hospital in Calgary, they only allowed her to see him sparingly for few days after his birth, and then one day the nurses took him away and refused to let her see him ever again. That was the power that hospitals had over us unwed mothers. The professionals around us, often government social workers, we trusted as no-one else showed any care for us. Little did we know of our rights to our babies – the same as the rights of any older or married mother – or that the hospitals’ actions were illegal. Beaten down emotionally and psychologically, and often cast away into exile by our parents and society, we did not know we had any rights at all.

So, in 1967, Rowena’s son was born. And the government social worker that came with the surrender papers made her believe that her only option was to sign, that an unwed mother could not be a mother at all. The growing list of “waiting parents” was more important to the worker than the emotional trauma she was doing by dismembering this one young family. Rowena wanted to keep her baby, and he was taken from her.

Because of the traumatic loss of her son, Rowena never had another child. She yearned for him for what seemed like unending years, thinking of him every single day, and doing what she could to deal with the PTSD and unrelenting grief.

As soon as Alberta set up an adoption reunion registry, Rowena signed up for it. Her name was on that registry for over twenty years as she waited to hopefully find Blaise again. All she had known was that he was supposedly adopted into a “good home” with a stay-at-home mother and a professional father.

Rowena began coming to our monthly Origins Canada support group meetings early this year, and we offered to help her find her son. Thanks to adoption records opening in Alberta (after a hard-fought campaign by people separated by adoption), she was able to apply for and obtain her son’s full adoptive name.

The search began in March 2009, and forty-two years after Rowena lost her son to adoption, he was found again!

The break came when we found Blaise’s adoptive family’s genealogy listed online, including an adoptive sister, “Alice.” We found her in the phonebook, and Rowena phoned her.

Yes, it was the right Alice. Yes, her adoptive brother was Rowena’s son. But, no, Rowena could not contact him as he was a drug-addicted homeless person living on the streets of a city far away. The sister promised to pass on the message to him, if he eventually got a contact number.

Eventually, when Blaise got a temporary cellphone, Rowena and Blaise were finally able to talk on the phone. He told her how his adoptive parents had divorced when he was young, and his adoptive mother was cold and distant. He had little contact with the adoptive father. No, Blaise had not graduated from high school. Yes, he was doing hard drugs, and when Rowena asked what drugs he used, he told her, “Anything I can get my hands on.” Rowena was shocked that her beloved son had been treated this way and was in this state, as she had been forced to surrender him by a system that had told her that these parents were fit and deserved her son more than she did.

Rowena and Blaise talked on the phone three times, when he was able to temporarily get a phone. By the second call, he was calling her “Mom,” and hoping to travel out to the coast to visit her and even live with her. He wanted to start a new life. Rowena offered to send him the bus fare for him to come out.

Rowena sent letters and photographs to Blaise through Alice. Unfortunately, Alice and her family opened up Rowena’s mail to Blaise, which hurt Rowena a lot.

In her third and tragically last phone call with Blaise, Rowena was happy to find that he had finally received the photographs and letters.

In early October, a phone call came from Alice. Blaise was in hospital with a serious heart infection, and Alice said that if Rowena wanted to see Blaise she had better hurry out to Edmonton fast. Alice offered to put up Rowena at her place. Rowena bought the tickets to travel the 1300 km trip and packed her bags, but 20 minutes before she left the house, the phone rang. It was Alice, who told Rowena in an angry voice that she “couldn’t have Rowena staying there” and that she would have to stay elsewhere.

Rowena phoned the hospital to find out how her son was doing. The staff there told her that they were not allowed to release any information, other than to people on the visitors list, and she was not on it. The adoptive father was in charge of the list. Even if Rowena had travelled, she would not have been allowed to see her son.

Last week, the final phone call came. Blaise’s adoptive father told Rowena that her son had passed away. When she asked, he stated firmly that, NO, she was not permitted to come to the funeral, as “They had enough people already.”

Thanks to adoption, Rowena never saw her son nor held him in her arms since his birth 42 years ago. Thanks to adoption, she will never have that chance. The adoptive parents had the right to ensure she would never be able to be there in his final days. Rowena is devastated. The hope of reunion with her son, the hope that sustained her for 42 years, has ended.

I write this post in dedication of the love that Rowena and Blaise had for each other, as mother and son. She never forgot her son. I hope that I am not the only one who sees the tragedy here.

If you are a mother considering the surrender of your newborn infant, please realize that you are losing the right to ever see your beloved child again. Even open adoptions may close at any time (they are not legally enforceable), and not only will you not have the right to see your child, but not even the right to know about his or her welfare. That is a right only the adoptive parents have, and even if your child is an adult — as next-of-kin — they have the right to deny all information or contact to others in case of a medical emergency. Adoption loss is a tragedy in so many ways. Please consider if you can live with this loss as well.

In Memory of Blaise
1967-2009
Loved and missed by your natural mother, Rowena,
even since you were born

This is a true  story about a natural mother and her son, and how forced adoption separation led to a heartbreaking tragedy.  Every time a mother and child are forced apart for adoption purposes, it is a tragedy; but for Rowena, the hope of seeing her son again was forever lost.

See Rowena’s article “Reunion Attempt

A precious (adoption-related) photo

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I decided to participate in the  “Adoption Carnival III: Photos of Adoption,” presented by the blogging network “Grown In My Heart,” which encourages bloggers to share blog posts related to adoption.

I thought about what photographs to share, and decided that posting photos of people may be a bit more personal than I would like to be.  So, I took a photo of a print-out of an “e-card” mounted on the wall of my office.  Along with the adoption certificate from when I adopted-back my son, and his original birth registration, this is the most precious adoption-related document I have.

My precious son turned 19 in 1999.  Thanks to Open Records and Freedom of Information legislation in BC (which enabled me to obtain his adoptive name plus the adoption case file, and all birth and court records), I found him in November of 1999, and we reunited in-person in February 2000, one day before his 20th birthday.   That Mothers’ Day, May 2000, he sent me an unexpected e-card that blew me away.   “Here Mom!  A Bunch of Love  Happy Mothers’ Day” it read:

here-mom-a-bunch-of-love
(click here for full-size image)

I was blown away by this card. After twenty years separation, in a closed adoption, I had assumed that perhaps we would be friends, if I was lucky. I knew the bond and love I felt for him, loving him as deeply as I loved my other three children, but I had no idea that he would feel similarly. But he did. Unfortunately, he had to hide his feelings from his then-adoptive parents, and they reacted very negatively (understatement) when he let slip about a year later that he considered me to be his mother, when recounting a story to them about introducing me to one of his friends. They laid down the law that they were his only parents and that he may not consider me to be a mother. In their eyes, i was not a mother to him, only a “birthmother.”

But, this e-card is very precious to me. It shows that the natural mother-child bond can endure through decades of separation, that my son felt this bond very early in our reunion, and that it will last no matter what. It shows that even then in his eyes I was not his “birthmother,” but that he loved me as, and considered me to be, one of his mothers.

Open Records: Congratulations to Ontario!

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Congratulations to all Ontario residents who have lost family members to adoption: Adoption records opened in your province on June 1st!

But deep sympathy for those who are affected by vetoes that prevent them from obtaining the records that belong to them. Vetoes are based on fear and denial. I am not saying this in a derogatory way at all as I work in the mental health field, but vetoes are invariably filed by people who — instead of filing a veto — should actually see a counsellor, perhaps with family members, to help them deal with the issues that are causing them to feel they need “protecting” from other family members.

Adoptees often file vetoes to “protect” the people who adopted them from feeling “threatened.” A family counsellor could help the adoptive family to get over these feelings and fear and embrace the reunion experience. A registered clinical counsellor or family therapist could enable the adoptive parents to learn that the sales-pitch they were given by the adoption agency, of being “the only parents,” is not only impossible to guarantee, but also in most cases a fabrication (e.g., the original mother did NOT willingly abandon her baby and her motherhood and still feels love for her lost child, mother and child are still connected by a deep blood-bond and genealogy), and is false advertising of a promise that the adoptee has NO obligation to try to fulfill.

Natural parents can enlist the aid of of a family counsellor or marriage counsellor to help them break the news to a husband, wife, or children, that they have another son or daughter out there. This information will NOT destroy a marriage. But we as natural mothers were told that NO man would marry us if he found out about our “shame” (I was even told repeatedly by my mother that no man would marry a non-virgin!). After all, that is why our parents and the pressure of society incarcerated us into maternity “homes” — to hide our pregnancy from society and release us again as “born again virgins.” I know myself how hard it is to tell. My three younger children were only told about their eldest sibling about 5 months into our reunion — it took me that long to get the courage, and I still expected the worst. Our families rejected us when we got pregnant out of wedlock — so of course we expect the same reaction from our present families. But this fear is unfounded.

BUT did you know that natural mothers were NEVER promised confidentiality? The social workers, maternity prisons, and those who had power over us not only knew while they were stripping us of our rights to our child and many of our human rights, that not only did the adoptive parents receive copies of our records including our and our child’s full names, but also that records were NOT sealed upon the surrender of the child but upon the legal adoption court order being granted to the adoptive parents! The purpose of sealed records was NOT to protect us, but to protect the adoptive family *from* us. So do not let anyone lie to you about “birthmother confidentiality.” It is truly a myth.

“Secrecy in adoption probably has its roots in a desire to protect the child from interference from the biological parents and to hide the often illegitimate circumstances of the child’s origins.” – Ministry of Community and Social Services Report by the Committee on Record Disclosure to Adoptees (1976)

I admit, I have heard of one natural mother who was in favour of closed records. But the reason why was that she had also adopted and did not want her adopted children to find out that she was “on par with” their lowly slutty incubators (as she saw their natural parents as being). This is not the type of woman who needs protecting. What she needs is therapy.

So, good for you, Ontario, for opening your records. Next task: to eliminate the veto provisions.

“The legal system ordinarily makes no attempt to write out of existence, by sealing records or other such mechanisms, the various parental figures who walk out of their children’s lives, such as the divorced parent who relinquishes custody. It is only in regulating adoptive family — families formed in the absence of any blood link – that the government feels that it has to seal records as to figuratively destroy the existance of the famiy that is linked by blood.” (Yngvasson, p. 44).

As an addition, as with all my posts, I invite your feedback. If you have an interesting story or point of view regarding vetoes, please comment.

More information: Origins Canada page on Open Records In Ontario