Secrecy in Adoption

This past week has been rife with the impact of secrets in adoption. I have played witness and shoulder to a couple of my adoptee friends as they faced the challenges of legally- and personally-held secrets that are barring them from  fully realizing the truth of their life’s narratives. The lengths that some individuals and state governments will go to keep the truth buried and out of reach to the person who needs it the most tugs at my heart–because this is evidence of the suffering endured not only by the adoptee but by those holding on tight to the secrets. Yes, I am actually attempting to view even the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with compassion.

State governments have backed themselves into quite a corner when it comes to secrecy in adoption. Granting adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates means drawing attention to the fact that the documents are altered in the first place. It also means acknowledging that the legal lies generated by state governments are the very foundation on which every adoption is built. These state governments need our help in realizing that admitting a wrong and correcting it is deserving of respect. Until they do so, however,  state governments will continue to quite literally alter the truth and put forth a new, false version of the facts surrounding an adoptee’s birth. And for some reason, many people take no issue with this course of action. Adoptees are expected to accept the fabricated version of their beginnings and the denial of access to their own truths. State governments go unchecked as they create legal fictions of people’s lives. From an ethics standpoint, I am not sure how anyone justifies the fact that the legally recognized birth certificates of adoptees are lies and that there is not even an indication that an adoption took place. Not only are adoptees denied access to their original birth certificates, they are not even afforded the legal right to know they were adopted.  The states of their births are instead fully encouraged by society to keep the truths of their origins a sealed secret.

These secrets sometimes persist in their non-legal adopted lives as well. Many adoptees discover that for some of the people in their lives, keeping secrets is more important than what the adoptee needs to feel whole and secure in their identities. This is, of course, the secret-keeper’s own perception of what he or she wishes the truth could be and the priority often becomes one of protecting this personal need to deny reality. In contrast, the adoptee is almost always in need of those around them–those who claim to care about his or her best interests–to release any long-held secrets like a bird from a cage so that everyone can be free of them. Human nature plays tricks with us there, however. The secrets often become the truth to the person or entity holding them close and their need to continue suffering under the weight of this false sense of reality is supported by society. As such, the adoptee, who is not keeping secrets, ends up suffering as well. It is then reinforced by state governments and some of the people in the adoptees’ lives that adoptees are simply not worth the truth. They are not worth enough to society in general to warrant equal treatment under law or even personal respect.

We all need to ask ourselves why secrecy in adoption is so widely accepted as ethical practice and why society is so unwilling to show compassion to the adoptees who must navigate their own journey of self-discovery with the weight of other people’s secrets holding them down.Watercolor Tree Email Small 132 x 160We dance round in a ring and suppose, But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

~Robert Frost 



3 thoughts on “Secrecy in Adoption

  1. What an excellent essay! I plan to use this piece – with author credit, of course – in my legislative packet for our next attempt at OBC access in my state. It punctuates our state’s shocking practice of falsifying adoptees’ birth certificates – not once but twice – to satisfy proof-of-identity requirements for passports and security purposes.

    The first falsification involves changing the names of those who allegedly “gave birth” to the adoptee. The second falsification is created when Vital Statistics changes the filing date from that of the amended one (after adoption finalization) to that of the original. Bear in mind that the original bears the mother’s name and – at least in my state – she has not yet relinquished custody or rights to her child.

    We all know that an “original” birth certificate was filed a few days after the child’s birth. So how could two birth certificates legally have been ‘filed’ for the same child on the same day? And if an entity like Homeland Security tried to find proof of a child “born to” the adoptive parents as per the designated filing date, there would be none. For example, what if a census was taken between the birth and adoption of a child? The April-collected census indicated no offspring for the couple, yet their February-born son’s/daughter’s “birth certificate” indicates it was filed right after birth.

    Oh, what tangled webs we weave…..

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