Gransnet forums


LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 08-Jul-16 17:44:20

My birth certificate is a lie

Author Susan Beale highlights the stigma that adoptees still face in the United States, as authorities persist in witholding information about their birth parents.

Susan Beale

My birth certificate is a lie

Posted on: Fri 08-Jul-16 17:44:20


Lead photo

Susan Beale

My birth certificate is a lie.

It's perfectly legal; it just isn't true.

The true record of my birth is not legal. Until recently, it was a classified document, hidden from the public, including me. Especially me. This was for my protection.

Nearly every other adopted person in the US is in the same boat, tens of millions in all, and most are still barred from knowing their biological and medical histories.

The practice began in the early 20th century, with the commendable goal of protecting adopted babies from the stigma of illegitimacy. Rather than tackling the problem at its source - stigma is wrong – legislators in nearly every U.S. state opted to sweep the babies' origins under the carpet: permanently seal the original records, and issue new birth certificates that listed the adoptive parents. Read mine and you'd assume my mother was in hospital at the hour and time of my birth, when she'd happily tell you she was fifty miles away, eating lunch in a restaurant.

The aim was to airbrush birth parents from the picture; pretend the adopted children were biological.

It suggests that there really is something shameful about my beginnings, something so shameful that the state needs to hide it.

My original birth certificate isn't actually a birth certificate. It's a Non-Certified Copy of Record of Birth Prior to Adoption. It cost me $50, whereas a copy of my legal birth certificate was $2.50. Scribbled across it are the words: 'Corrected to Beale, 8/18/196'. Not 'amended', not 'changed'; 'corrected', as if by some clerical or administrative error I'd accidentally exited the wrong womb.

Today, over forty percent of all births in the US, as in the UK, are to unwed parents; given current trends, they'll soon be a majority. The stigma of illegitimacy is long gone, yet we adult adoptees are stuck with discriminatory laws designed to shield us from its stain. All but two American states still seal original records upon completion of adoption. Six grant adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates, eleven others, including my home state of Massachusetts, permit restricted access.

Legislation in several states has stalled over concerns for the privacy of birth parents, who might have kept the birth of these children secret (usually on the advice of adoption agencies). This line of reasoning infuriates me. In what other circumstance does the state actively assist in perpetuating a lie? Calls for 'balance' between the rights of adoptees, birthparents and adoptive parents ensure a perpetuation of the status quo, which means that that adult adoptee's right to information about their biological and medical histories will continue to be infringed.

To be clear, I love the parents who raised me. I'm happy and proud to be their daughter despite not sharing their DNA. The fact remains that, barring religious conversion, we humans are born only once. For the state to pretend otherwise insults my intelligence; moreover, it suggests that there really is something shameful about my beginnings, something so shameful that the state needs to hide it. It makes me illegitimate.

Susan's book The Good Guy, based on her own personal history, is published by John Murray and available now from Amazon.

By Susan Beale

Twitter: @Ruby_FMitchell

Christinefrance Fri 08-Jul-16 21:45:29

Certainly seems a strange way of dealing with things in this day and age. I think we adoptees are entitled to know if there are any medical issues which could affect us or our children. I'm not sure adopted children have an automatic right to know or contact their birth families think it has to be a decision by both parties.
Really seems that the USA should be moving on with this now.

Nelliemoser Sat 09-Jul-16 11:59:11

The UK changed these rules quite along time ago. You can apply for this when you are 18.
If you have ever watched "long lost family" you will see how so many parents particularly young mothers of illegitmate children long wanted to make contact with their "lost" child.

Wake up USA.

Christinefrance Sat 09-Jul-16 12:18:44

I find the Long lost Family programme nauseating, how can you possibly fall into the arms of someone you have never met before and form an instant bond. I know it helps some people and I am glad for them but I find the whole thing yuk. ( hides under bed )

mrsmopp Sat 09-Jul-16 17:50:57

Christine, your post is rather harsh. Do not judge the emotions and trauma of people you have never met and do not know.
If you gave birth to a much loved child and were then forced against your will to have that child adopted, it would be heartbreaking. The longing and the suffering caused by the situation is very real. It would be on your mind and on your conscience for ever.
You cannot say they have never met if they are mother and child!
The emotions displayed are genuine and heartfelt. Do you think these people are acting? They would be up for an Oscar if they were.

Christinefrance Sat 09-Jul-16 18:08:57

I said this was my view , and not everyone was forced against their will. I just find it hard to comprehend.
I speak as an adopted child who met her birth mother so have some insight . If people are fulfilled by these meetings then I repeat I am glad for them. It is not for me.

loopylou Wed 13-Jul-16 09:54:31

I feel for those adopted children who aren't aware of they're being so; a school friend of mine found out when she was 17 and needed her Birth Certificate for a holiday job. Her parents kept making excuses so she hunted for it when they were out.

The fact that her extended family weren't aunts, uncles, cousins etc completely wrecked her 'family life' and the relationship with her parents took years to repair.

mittenma Wed 13-Jul-16 10:53:56

I strongly believe that what appears to be the U.S. of secrecy concerning adoption is indefensible and damaging. The need to know your past and where you came from is very basic and is hard for non-adopted people to understand. It wasn't until I found out about my own family that I realised that I had, until then, seen myself as arriving fully formed in the world, totally responsible for who I was/am. I had not been able to see that I was, in part, a result of my inherited genes as well as my experience of being brought up by people who, however loving, weren't related to me. From early childhood, I had known that I had been adopted as a tiny baby, but I was unable to apply for my original birth certificate until the arrival of enabling legislation of the Children's Act in 1975. My search for my mother, in particular (my father wasn't named on my birth certificate) was prompted by the fact that I was pregnant with my first child at that time and medical staff were keen to note any family illnesses (or genetic problems) and also by the fact that my adoptive parents had been told to tell me that my mother had died when I was born... a story that, while neatly removing her from the picture, gave me a deep sense of guilt and worry as to whether this might be my fate too!
I am now 68 and will never have the opportunity to meet my birth mother but I do have an album of photos of her as a child, her wedding and I know something of her time in the WAFF. I also have contact with my four half uncles (my grandfathers children from a second marriage after my grandmother died. This has been a hard journey but one that has taught me a lot about myself and how one's sense of self, one's identity, is so important.

WilmaKnickersfit Wed 13-Jul-16 10:59:21

I have mixed feelings about this because if you tell a child they were adopted, then they will think differently about themselves and their family. My friend's husband is adopted and left it until his adoptive parents were dead before looking for his biological parents. His mother was still alive, but didn't want to see him and even later in life, he was affected by this.

However, in this day and age of medical technology it must be almost impossible to hide the fact that someone is adopted. Knowing something about your family's medical history is invaluable and if an adopted person needs some kind of transplant, knowing their biological family could mean the difference between life and death.

I like the idea of telling a young adopted child they were chosen to make them feel special and secure.

GrandmaMoira Wed 13-Jul-16 13:17:22

America is very backward compared with the rest of the Western world in this respect. Adoptees should have the right to have their original birth certificate and search for their birth families if they wish. Also, the majority of birth mothers want to know how their child is.

kentgran Wed 13-Jul-16 19:48:51

My story I could not believe. My older sister felt she had to tell me...I was 76 yrs old! I had had my doubts but having broached the subject and applied for a full birth certificate, yes with adoptive parents as "birth parents" had accepted it. To know that the whole family new and even after "my" parents death was not told. I love my family unconditionally , but have found this a bitter pill. As a S African does anyone one know if I could know more? Obviously parents will have passed away, but family might know. I am surprised at how it has affected me. I feel totally alone.

Christinefrance Thu 14-Jul-16 09:14:37

WilmaKnickersfit children should always be told about their adoption and whilst they are young. To find out in teenage years can be be devastating. I was fortunate to be told from being very young. I think medical details should be disclosed where relevant to the adoptive parents. Whilst I met my birth mother in later life I have no desire to meet anyone else, I am my own person and do not need validating. I have no blood family apart from my children and grandchildren and my adoptive family are long gone. In 1946 when I was adopted my extended adoptive family were totally against the adoption on the grounds of my illegitimacy and would have nothing to do with me. My parents were very brave to deal with this and ensure I did not feel excluded.