Truth: The Foundation of Every Adoptee’s House
A couple of years ago I read an ABC News story called Graying Adoptees Still Searching for Their Identities that describes the experience of Carol Cook of Blairstown, N.J., who found out at 33 that she was adopted at. At the time the story ran in 2010, New Jersey was one of the states in which it was not possible for adopted adults to get copies of their original birth certificates. At 68, Cook described how an adoptee feels to be denied access to the truth, likening it to a house without a foundation.
On May 9, 2011 the Adoptee’s Birthright Bill was passed in New Jersey but less than two months later, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the bill, which would have allowed adult adoptees to receive copies of their original birth certificates upon request. The adoption community in New Jersey, and across the United States and Canada, continues the work of educating and advocating for adoptees.
Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Evan B Donaldson Adoption Institute said: “Knowing who you are and where you come from, it turns out, is not just a matter of fulfilling curiosity; it’s something that helps human beings develop more fully psychologically to understand and feel better about themselves.”
Those of us who were adopted in closed adoptions were told, either directly or indirectly, that where we came from and who we was not important. Our identity began at the time of adoption and heritage was no longer relevant. Regardless of the messages we were given, we knew there was a void inside of us.
I don’t believe it is possible for an individual to develop a strong sense of identify and self-worth when their heritage is kept secret and a sense of shame shrouds their birth. Certainly in my case, despite growing up with loving adoptive parents, low self-esteem was a factor in choices I made as a young adult that shaped the rest of my life. I’m thankful that the province of Saskatchewan, Canada where I was born established Post-Adoption Services and I was able to find my own truth. I received non-identifying information about my birth family when I was in my early twenties. For 25 years I processed the information, worked through grief, learned to accept the truth, and reunited with some members of my birth family. Yet still, I struggled to be free from the grief of being separated from my family of origin.
As adoptees, we need to know it’s OK, even expected, for us to want to know about our medical history, our ancestry, and the family who’s DNA we share. We must be able to shed the cloak of shame that was thrown over us through no fault of our own. Without the truth, the foundation of our lives will always be shaky. Our grief may be hidden but, rest assured, it is there.