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Supporting Adoptees’ Rights Movement

February 6, 2016
Last week I traveled to Dallas to attend two adoption related events. The first was presented by Katie Perkins and Connie Gray of Support Texas Adoptee Rights (STAR). We were able to watch the Texas premier of the documentary “We’re Not Blood” by Jeff.
The documentary followed Jeff’s journey and quest in finding his birth mother and father. He enlisted Pamela Slatyon, a well-known Search Angel from New Jersey. Jeff began his journey by going to New York (where his adoption was finalized) with hopes of obtaining his birth records. Sadly, the court informed him that in order for him to petition the court, Jeff would need the names of his birth parents (which he did not have!). Jeff also enlisted the help of fellow adoptee, actress and activist Zara Phillips.
Since Jeff was born in Miami, he flew there with the hope of obtaining his records there from the attorney who handled the adoption for his adoptive parents. More road blocks ensued and each lead began to take it’s toll on Jeff. He was able to make contact with the attorney who handled the adoption for his birth mother.
After reaching the attorney by telephone, he was informed that all the records were gone from back in the late 1960’s. The lawyer said he had three daughters, (two of whom were adopted) and even he could not help his daughters obtain their original birth certificates.
One last hope Jeff had was to research the law school where his birth father attended. After pouring through many graduation photos of the male students, they could not find someone who looked familiar to Jeff.
In a last ditch effort, Jeff decided to look in the school’s old  yearbooks. Jeff remembered the name “Baby Livingston” was on his adoption records (which Jeff had unfortunately thrown out years earlier when going through his late father’s papers). There was a female student with the last name “Livingston” who attended the school during that time. She was even absent from school the same year Jeff was born (1967). His hopes soared as he believed he finally found his birth mother.
Upon returning to New Jersey, Jeff met with Pamela Slayton at her home office. Together they called the woman by the name “Livingston.” Very nervously, Jeff asked her if they could be related. After a slight pause, she said “No”, but she wished she could have helped him.
Sadly, Jeff was at his wits end and the disappointment in his face and body was clearly visible. The audience in the room watching Jeff’s journey unfold were pulling for him so much to have success in finding his birth family. Sadly, he was unable to fulfill his quest.
Jeff is now hoping the use of DNA matching will give him the answers he wants and deserves. After viewing the documentary, several of the audience members went to a local hangout to eat and discuss the film.  Connie called Jeff to discuss our event but it went to voicemail. We all said hi to Jeff and wished him success on his continued journey.
One thing that really struck me was how much EFFORT and RESOURCES it takes to search for one’s birth family. The travel to the courthouse, the filing fees, the time off of work (especially if you live in another state or country from where you were born) and the EMOTIONAL roller coaster of energy throughout the journey.  These scenarios were all present during Jeff’s search. I for one, and the other members of the audience, felt the weight of his journey and the continued disappointments.
I was very fortunate when I began my search for my birth mother. The laws in Alberta, Canada had changed in the spring of 1995 to allow adoptees born between 1966 and 1985 to have access to their birth records. I don’t know why the laws changed at that time or for those time periods only, but I was fortunate my birth year (1970) fell into that period of open access to original birth records.
My search took less than eight weeks. I cannot imagine searching for years or decades, or maybe never finding my birth family. Sadly, millions of adoptees have the same challenges that Jeff experienced. Granting access for adoptees to obtain access to our Original Birth Certificates (OBC’s) would eliminate all this wasted energy and years.
The argument that Birth/First mothers were promised privacy in writing is NOT true! Birth mothers were not promised anonymity; in fact just the opposite occurred. They were told they would forget they ever had a child and not to bother the adoptive families. Any verbal promises of anonymity were not in writing, nor were they legally enforceable.
 And even if they were promised privacy, adoptees have to suffer through SECRECY in order for birth mothers to keep things private.
Why do the rights of women who grow older in years who relinquish babies weigh more than the rights of adopted babies and children who grow up to be adults? With DNA testing and a plethora of social media sites, privacy is going out the window.
Politicians who continue to thwart open records for adoptees (see #HB 984 or Senator Donna Campbell (R) of Texas) suppress the constitutional 14th amendment right of all Americans to be treated equally. Sadly, close adoption records are still the vast majority in this country. The laws NEED to catch up with the times and technology of today.
The second event I attended in Dallas was the first of four town hall meetings hosted by the Donaldson Adoption Institute. The moderator, April Dinwoodie, hosted a fabulous panel of five professionals who have lived the adoption triad experience in one way or another.
One of the panelists, Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao, is a favorite of mine. I had the honor of meeting her at the American Adoption Congress Conference (AAC.org)  in 2014 in San Francisco. Dr. Pavao gave me some great advice that I was struggling within my on family reunion. She is a wonderful soul and a huge resource and supporter for adoptees’ rights.
I asked the panel what their thoughts were on the practice of prospective adoptive parents creating “Gofundme” pages to raise money to adopt a baby. Dr. Pavao replied that these parents do not think of what the adopted child will think of their crowdfunding campaign when they get older. The information will be out there for these relinquished children to see.
I think she made a very good point.  Will their adopted child see themselves as a “commodity” (as many adult adoptees have come to see ourselves)?  During the group’s meeting before the panel, we revealed what our adoptive parents had to pay to adopt us. One group member cost his parents a high 5-digit amount of money in a bidding war. Another’s family was given money while their young daughter was in foster care. The government of Alberta charged my parents a $25.00 application fee back in 1970 when they applied to adopt.
While I realize that adoption does have costs, the adoption industry has grown into a BILLION dollar a year industry. It’s a supply and demand industry with an estimated five million infertile people or couples in the United States alone.
The adoption industry, in many cases, has become corrupt as well as secretive (even with “open” adoptions which are not legally enforceable). Many babies or children in orphanages around the world hide medical and emotional issues from the prospective adoptive parents who desire to add a child to their lives.
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