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Hooray Ohio!

Adoption Network Cleveland‘s Executive Director and founder, Betsie Norris, has been working on legislation for all Ohio-born adoptees to gain access to their original birth certificates for years. Ohio has a wacky three tier system that has allowed adoptees born before 1963 and those after September 1996 to get copies of their original birth certificates but all other adoptees were left in the dark. That’s all about to change thanks to the tireless efforts of Betsie and her team of volunteers, which includes Kate Livingston, founder of the Ohio Birth Parent Group.

This is their press release in its entirety:

Governor is Scheduled to Sign Adoptee Rights Bill — Affecting 400,000 Adoptee Records

Columbus, OH – Governor John Kasich is scheduled to sign Substitute Senate Bill 23 into law on Thursday, December 19th in a private event. Once enacted, this new law will allow 400,000 adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.

Adoption Network Cleveland founder and Executive Director Betsie Norris has been working tirelessly on this cause since founding the organization in 1988. This is the sixth bill in 25 years that has attempted to address this issue in Ohio. Norris stated, “We are grateful that Governor John Kasich has decided to act quickly to sign this bill into law. With the stroke of his pen, he is positively impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands Ohio adoptees.”

The bill passed the Ohio House on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 with a vote of 91-2. The bill had passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday, December 4, 2013. Senators Bill Beagle (R) and Dave Burke (R) sponsored the bill. An identical bill was sponsored in the House by Representatives Dorothy Pelanda (R) and Nickie Antonio (D).

The bill allows Ohio’s most disenfranchised adoptees, those adopted between 1964 and 1996 who currently have no direct mechanism to access their original birth certificates, access to this important personal document upon request. It also creates a mechanism for birthparents from that era to have a voice and indicate their preference regarding contact from their adult child. In addition, an amendment to the bill also allows birthparents a one-year window during implementation during which they can request that their name be redacted from the version of the birth certificate given to the adoptee. If they do so, they must provide a detailed medical history. Based on experience in other states, it is anticipated that very few if any birthparents will seek to remove their name.

After a 90-day enactment period, the bill has a one-year waiting period before any records will be released, therefore “opening day” will be in March 2015.

Original birth certificates in Ohio adoptions prior to 1964 are already available to those adult adoptees under current law. In September 1996, Ohio law changed to allow adoptees adopted from that date forward access to their birth certificates upon reaching age 21, or to their adoptive parents when the adoptee reaches age 18, unless the birthparent has asked not to be identified. The current legislation does not affect the laws governing these other time periods.

Equal access to original birth certificates has been a public policy goal of Adoption Network Cleveland since its founding in 1988. The Cleveland Foundation provided grant support to Adoption Network Cleveland for its work on this public policy initiative.

Adoptees and birthparents affected by this new law are available for interviews upon request.

Adoption Network Cleveland, a non-profit organization, provides support, education and advocacy for adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, prospective adoptive parents, foster youth and parents, foster care alumni and professionals. Founded in 1988, Adoption Network Cleveland recognizes adoption as a complex, lifelong and intergenerational journey for all those whose lives are touched by it. www.AdoptionNetwork.org. Adoption Network Cleveland is a member of Greater Cleveland Community Shares. www.communityshares.org.

Open Adoption Records in Ohio

There’s great news coming from Adoption Equity Ohio about their efforts to open Ohio adoption records! Those of you who do not have experience with adoption may not realize that when a child is adopted his or her original birth certificate is sealed and a new one is issued listing the adoptive parents as the birth parents. In most states, adult adoptees do not have access to their original birth certificates.

Ohio Registry Flow ChartOhio has had a strange tiered access law in place, which does allow adoptees born before 1964 and after 1996 to get copies of their original birth certificates but those born in the 32 years in between are out of luck. Well, there is a process for getting their documents but it’s a mess. Check out the helpful info graphic designed by Adoption Equity Ohio (you can click to enlarge it) to understand just how difficult it is for those adopteees to access documents most of us can get just by filling out a form and signing a check.

Adoption Equity Ohio is working to change this and has two companion bills that were introduced in the Ohio House (HB 61) and in the Ohio Senate (SB 23) on Tuesday, February 12, 2013. There are two sponsors in each body – Senator Bill Beagle (R) and
Senator Dave Burke (R) in the Senate, and Representative Dorothy Pelanda (R) and Representative Nickie Antonio (D) in the House. These bills will create the following positive changes:

  • Ohio adoptees adopted 1964 to 1996 access to their Original Birth Certificate upon request at age 18, starting one year from bill passage date.
  • Ohio birthparents to file a Contact Preference Form specifying if and how they would like contact.
  • Ohio birthparents to complete and put on file an updated medical history for the adoptee.

Here are six ways you can help:

  1. Attend the hearing this Wednesday, February 20th in the Ohio Statehouse, Room 121 at 3pm. (I plan to be there!)
  2. Write a letter to the adoption agency where your or your child’s adoption initiated about your support for this bill and why it is important to you. Please include challenges you have faced because of the current laws. Ask them to support the bill.
  3. Write letters to the House and Senate committee members.
  4. Contact your own State Representative and Senator, if you have not yet – or if you have, and they are a co-sponsor, thank them!
  5. Write letters to the editor of your local papers about these bills being introduced and why they are important to you. If you have a relationship with your paper, ask them to cover this issue (you can read the press release Adoption Equity Ohio sent right here) .
  6. Make a financial contribution to help fund their efforts – you can do so by going to going to their website or by mailing a check made out to Adoption Network Cleveland, specifying ROAR! 2013 in the memo line.

If you want up-to-the-minute updates on the bills progress, please consider liking the Adoption Equity Ohio Facebook page!

The Myth of the Forever Family

My article on adoption disruption and dissolution is up at Brain Child (and of course on newsstands now):

When we adopted our daughter, Madison, six years ago, the judge was clear. Legally, adoption bound our daughter to our family as if she had been born to us. She would have the same rights as our biological son. We owed her the same level of commitment. A few weeks later, Madison’s amended birth certificate would arrive, with my name as her birth mother and my husband’s name as her birth father. All of her original birth records would be locked up, sealed away, inaccessible. At the end of the brief ceremony, the judge banged his gavel and officially pronounced us—in the language of the mainstream adoption community—“a forever family.”

That ceremony lawfully inducted us into the myth that adoptive families are expected to live by. Our families are supposed to be “just like” biological families. That’s why we adoptive parents roll our eyes when celebrity magazines talk about Angelina Jolie’s “adopted children” instead of just calling them her kids and we swear up and down that we are the “real parents.” Some hopeful adoptive parents even wear T-shirts that announce that they are “Paper Pregnant,” as if they feel the need to validate their way of building a family by equating adoption with a fundamental physical experience.

In many ways these adoption myths serve us and our kids well. Children should not face discrimination for how they arrive to a family. They should have inheritance rights. Adoptive parents should never question their obligation to the children they commit to parenting.

But in other ways, adoption myths betray our children by giving lie to their origins. They are not born to us. We do not create them. They arrive to our families with histories that precede their lives with us. Embracing our children means embracing their stories even when they are difficult to hear.

The hard truth is that adoption is not just like giving birth. It is rarely as straightforward. And as much as we would like to think otherwise, not all forever families are forever.

via Brain, Child :: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers.

There was A LOT of great discussion that could not make it into the article, which I am very sorry about. I also talked to families who ended up not feeling comfortable being quoted for the piece but whose experiences informed my process. You can discuss the article here (at the Brain Child discussion blog) and I’ll be checking in there. I’ve also invited the people I interviewed to weigh in but they are busy people so we’ll just have to see.

This was a hard but rewarding piece to write and I just hope that I did justice to the topic.

One more thing — whenever I write about my daughter’s sealed-away birth certificate and the new fake one that she has, the editors stop me and ask me if I’m SURE about that. The editors at Salon even said, “Is that legal?” So many people outside of adoption get that it’s insane, which makes it more bizarre that it’s controversial to people inside adoption.

Some thoughts about edits

typewriter-insideNow that the piece is done and out there, I am thinking about the edits. And about the letters the piece is getting and how some of what I meant to say maybe didn’t get said although I’m mostly happy with it. Well, actually I am absolutely happy with it.
There were a lot of style edits in the piece (they changed all of my “I would” to “I’d”, for example) and those are par for the course because most magazines want their writers to sound like they fit in the rest of the magazine. So Brain Child made me sound smarter, Salon made me sound more casual, and Parenting made me sound like a Parenting robot. I don’t take issue with this — if I wasn’t willing to sound like the magazine I was targeting, I wouldn’t target it. If there comes a time where I don’t get edited that way, I’ll know I’ve hit the big time where it’s expressly my voice they’re wanting. I haven’t hit that yet (I may never) and that’s fine. I’m content right now to it being my voice through their stylistic filters. It certainly doesn’t change what I’m trying to say — it just makes it sound more cohesive when held up against their other articles/essays.

The big changes were adding more information to the piece. Some of this was practical (for example, the addition to “Per US Law” to the line about Madison’s amended birth certificate) and some of it was more in depth (for example, the first meeting with Jessica at the restaurant). The original essay was around 1500 words and this is at least 1000 words more and most of that is background.

The hardest thing to contend with within the edits was the ideas that people have around adoption. The editor (who was incredibly patient and thorough and kind) wanted to know why Jessica chose adoption. I couldn’t tell her that. For one, I would be afraid of misrepresenting Jessica. For two, I think that that part is Jessica’s story to tell. For three, I don’t think there’s anyway to effectively tell it without getting into a whole different essay. It’s a big piece to be missing there and I can see through some of the letters that other additions to the piece confused people or led them to think wrongly about who Jessica is and so I better understand why the editors wanted more about Jessica’s decision.

The big thing, it looks like, is the mention that the family reunion/wedding happened at a country club. It is very very very interesting to me that at least one reader immediately tied that (I think, his letter is confusing) to Jessica’s race. And then someone else assumes that Jessica’s wealthy parents must have bullied her into the adoption. The only thing that anyone can really know from reading the essay and seeing the mention of the country club is that we were at a country club. That’s it. But unfortunately, that doesn’t stop people from making those wrong assumptions. As the writer, I think that placing the event somewhere else would have helped but there you go — we weren’t someplace else. Probably I should have chosen another anecdote to end but I really do have those pictures (snap, snap, snap — three pics of Madison and Jessica in the sandtrap) and they really do sum it up for me. (I wish I could share them on my photo blog but it’s enough that Jessica gave me permission to share so much already.)

This is the challenge in writing memoir — how do I cast the truth in a way to reveal a more personal truth? Inclusion of the country club — while true — may have detracted from the more personal truth. But the irony is that I chose that in part to combat stereotypes about women who make adoption plans. I knew that it would strike people as inconsistent but I hoped that it would do a small part to illustrate the complexity of any adoption story. How many of us have personal stories that are consistent?

What the editor asked directly was, “She was sort of young but still, why adoption?” When Jessica and I discussed this I said, “They want to be able to sum it up so it’s a story they can neatly tell themselves.” I know this because this is just what I wanted to do. I wanted Jessica to have a Reason. It would have been easier for me if Jessica had a clear reason that I could say, “Here is her reason and I deem it good.” (I pretty much say this in the essay.) But I only had Jessica’s word on it. (Only, I say, like it’s the least important piece of it!) This is one of the things we discussed when we talked about the essay.

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