Are We Still Motivated to Search?

by Barbara Free, M.A., LPCC, LADAC, MAC

     Over the years, since the beginnings of the adoption reform movement, of which O.I. has been a part, there have been some slow but definite shifts in attitudes on the part of triad members, families, and even society at large. Thirty-some years ago, when Operation Identity and the American Adoption Congress were first starting, most people assumed that closed adoptions had always been the law and policy, that agencies were in charge of everything, and rightfully so, and that no one could ever have access to any information concerning birth family, or relinquished offspring. To search for one’s birth family or offspring was considered impossible, illegal, risky, unethical, and probably immoral. Never mind that some states allowed adult adoptees to get their original birth certificates, and even information from their state file. While there are some who still hold these fearful and uninformed views, most people have changed their ideas, at least to the extent of believing adoptees should have access to their birth family’s medical history.
     In those early days, some adult adoptees and birth parents, and even some adoptive parents, decided that perpetual silence and secrecy were not necessary nor healthy. They began to search for their connections in whatever ways they could, through what little information they might have, through city directories, family stories, public records, and through informal networks. Many discovered that non-agency adoptions had always taken place, and that they were sometimes completely legal and straight-forward, sometimes not. Agency adoptions turned out to be the same way: sometimes legal, professionally handled and truly in everyone’s best interests, with no dishonest information, but sometimes unethical, illegal, forced upon birth parents, sometimes amounting to kidnaping, child-selling, large profits, and many, many lies.
     Those searching began to find their families and began to push for legal changes, resulting in confidential intermediary systems in many states, including New Mexico. Some states were, at that time, still in the process of closing access to records, mainly the adoptees’ original birth certificates, a custom which began earlier in the 20th century as birth certificates became important documents for military service and for Social Security enrollment and benefits. Searchers in those days tended to be determined, ready to take on whatever obstacles they encountered, willing to spend time, money, and resources in their quests. Some did, indeed, skirt the law, while others used whatever powers of persuasion they had, perhaps told a few lies about medical conditions or something to get information, and continued to be motivated by whatever pieces of information they obtained. A very few even risked prison to get their information.
     As the adoption reform movement became more organized and recognized, it continued (as it does to this day) to work for legislative changes, sometimes spending years on efforts in a particular state or region. The results of their efforts are such that the tide is slowly turning, toward more legal access, at least for adult adoptees. Laws concerning birth parents’ access tend to lag behind. Society in general still looks with distrust and hostility toward birth parents as “irresponsible, unfeeling, baby-abandoners.”
     The creation of computers that could be had by anyone, and the Internet, have resulted in searches being made easier and quicker a great deal of the time. No longer do many people have to travel to the place of birth to access records or try to locate attorneys, neighbors, extended family, etc., or if they do, they can sometimes do it by phone or e-mail. There is more publicity about search and reunion on television and in newspapers and magazines. This has led to the impression that one can search on one’s own, no group or intermediary needed, quickly and easily, on the Internet, and immediately find all the information one wants, and make connections with birth parents or offspring. This largely erroneous idea has led to frustration and resentment on the part of many who have not been able to find their connections easily, quickly, and cheaply. In earlier times, people were thrilled to learn they could search and were willing to engage an intermediary or whatever it took. Now many seem to think that because they want to find someone, that should not only be legal, but should produce instant results with little effort on their part, and should be free of cost.
     Some are like 8-year-old children, folding their arms, scowling and shouting, “It’s not fair!” It isn’t fair, indeed, but reality is not always fair, nor to our immediate desires. Even having legal access to original birth certificates does not tell a person where birth parents currently live, what their current names are, or if they are emotionally prepared for reunion. Some few birth parents are also shouting, “It’s not fair!”, claiming they were promised permanent anonymity and they’ve spent a lifetime hiding, afraid of being found (out) or of having to deal with the traumas that led to the relinquishment. Other birth parents would like immediate and retroactive changes to open adoption status, which also isn’t going to happen. It will never be “as if nothing happened,” for anyone with adoption connections.
     In the past, those who searched were eager to network, to join groups and work for changes, to assist others and to continue involvement after their own searches were completed. When one searches alone, on the Internet, there is not the personal involvement with others, the support for one’s joy or sorrow, the sometimes spiritual connections made with others face-to-face. Chat rooms and websites are not real rooms, as helpful as they may be in obtaining information. The computer does not hand one a Kleenex! Many adoption support groups have gone out of existence because people think they can just “do it alone” and because many don’t know such groups exist. Further, many drop out as soon as they find their own information.
     Many who would like to find birth family may put more energy into resenting the current system, which may involve intermediaries, fees, time, and paperwork, than the amount of energy they are willing to put forth toward obtaining their information. The truth is, also, that searching and accepting whatever one finds is riskier and more fearful for many than wishing, fantasizing, and hoping for magic. It means giving up those relationships in the head with birth family or offspring, and for many, those relationships in the head have been around a long time, and have provided some degree of comfort. It is not easy to deliberately give those up in exchange for unknown reality.
     There are still many changes in law and policy regarding adoption and search that need to take place, but those changes won’t happen unless many individuals get outside themselves, band together, and commit their energy, time, money, and resources toward bringing about change. Operation Identity, The American Adoption Congress, and other support organizations, are avenues not only of support, but of bringing about those changes. If you’ve dropped out but are still on this mailing list, consider becoming active again. If you’ve just become discouraged, or jaded, dust off your motivation, come back to meetings, and get involved.

Excerpted from the January 2010 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2010 Operation Identity