Any day now, I’ll be given a new birth certificate for my daughter, Clementine. Her first mother and father’s names will be erased — and mine will replace them. The date on her birth certificate will accurately reflect the date on which she was born in February of 2013. Except that I will be listed as the woman who gave birth to her, in the hospital where she was born.
I find it to be bizarre — and insulting as an adoptee myself — that in 2014 this is still our common practice. Something that is a record of a birth, effectively becomes a lie — falsified — after an adoption, and nowhere on the certificate is this fact revealed. Just because I’ve become her mother doesn’t mean I gave birth to her. I was never a patient at that hospital.
Swapping out a birth mother’s name for an adoptive mother’s name on the birth certificate is rooted in this country’s history of secrecy and shame that has surrounded adoption — and I understand the complex reasons in which past generations chose to alter birth certificates. Before the 1980s, most adoptions were considered closed and done anonymously. However, according to a 2012 report in the Washington Times, 95% of adoptions in the U.S. are “open” which means that at a minimum, the birth parents and adoptive parents know one another’s names. Here in 2014, most of us who adopt celebrate and even broadcast the circumstances under which we became parents. We share Facebook pages with our children’s birth parents and have birthday parties that include a combination of biological and adoptive family members. At the very least, a birth certificate should record the truth of an adoptee’s arrival into the world. It doesn’t have to have glitter or flare, it just needs to be honest.
I will likely never get to see my own original birth certificate. In the state of Florida, I do not have legal access as an adoptee. Nonetheless, I found my birth parents — but ironically, they can’t legally obtain my birth certificate either. I sometimes think about how there is a piece of paper sitting in a file, probably in a warehouse somewhere, that is my birth certificate. Hypothetically, somebody — some state official — could look at it if they wanted to. But I can’t. It’s a strange feeling. I didn’t want Clementine to have the same experience, so I snagged a copy of her original birth certificate while she was still technically a foster child. In fact, her adoption was delayed by a few months because the foster agency wanted me to give them my copy of her birth certificate and I wasn’t giving it up. Maybe I put unnecessary meaning into it, but I hoarded it like it was my own.
In today’s day and age, there’s no reason why a birth certificate does not simply include a section for adoptive parents’ names. If a birth mother or father wishes to remain anonymous, their names could simply be redacted and not replaced. Why not just include a box check option on birth certificates that would give birth parents the option of declaring whether or not they want their names revealed, or kept secret until the child turns 18.
Until this happens, I wish I could refuse my daughter’s falsified birth certificate in protest. Short of that, I’m glad that I kept her original (correct) birth certificate. Her birth parents gave her life and gave me the gift of their child — and their names matter.
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