The Birth Certificate

Grammy recently came up to visit me for my birthday. During our mother-daughter bonding time, we somehow got to talking about adoption documentation. It occurred to me that I had never shown her Hope’s post-adoption birth certificate.

This document drives me batty.

It drives me batty because it is a lie.

Hope’s post-adoption birth certificate reads as though I gave birth to her and chose not to name her father.

I pulled out the document and showed it to Grammy. She was shocked! She had a ton of questions about why I had a legal document for something that she and I both know never happened.

Yeah, me too, Grammy. Me too.

Grammy just kept exclaiming that the document is a lie. I have never given birth to a child. Frankly to suggest that I did is a painful reminder of how my body has failed me. I have muscled my way to all kinds of life achievements, but that act of carrying a child in my body to term and producing a living, breathing baby…well that will go down as one of my personal failures.

(I don’t ruminate on that as much as I used to, but know that the sting of infertility will always be there.)

But I have a document that says my body did just that. In fact, this legal document that will for the rest of my and my daughter’s days and beyond says that my body did do it and that I did not name a father for the child that I did not birth in the first place. It is a seriously perplexing one-page document characterizing my daughter’s entry into the world.

Seriously there are layers to this thing. Hope had biological parents, both parents were named. That document shows information about both of those parents. There was a legal document that marked her entry into the world. In the document I received after our finalization, it’s like those people never existed. They are erased. Just vanished into the void. As one of my daughter’s biological parents is deceased, this erasure feels especially harsh. It’s like the Bureau of Vital Statistics simply decided to erase him from her story.

It’s crazy enough when this all happens with infant adoption, but when you adopt an older child, they remember their people. It’s not just a psychic or metaphysical thing, Hope lived with her parents. She remembers them; their names, what they looked like, how much she loved them, dinners they made, gifts they gave her, adventures they had, bikes they rode, books they read, places they went…she remembers the life she had with them.

We have a document that suggests that never happened.

It.

Is.

Bizarre.

Because.

It.

Is.

A.

Lie.

I listened patiently as Grammy worked through all of this in her head and outloud. We talked about whether the state thought that this approach to post-adoptive birth certificates was a holdover to the days when you weren’t supposed to talk about adoption or admit adoption. We talked about how it double downed on the shame that those of us who have experienced infertility feel by simply pretending we gave birth. We talked about how far things have come that single motherhood was generally less stigmatizing that admitting your family was created by adoption and how effed up that was. We also talked about how my characterization in the birth certificate made me seem like I *might* be a candidate for the Maury Povich show because I didn’t name my child’s father.

maury

via giphy

Years from now, without an addendum, will some future genealogist wonder if I knew my child’s father or if he was married or if paternity was in question or some other thing that just wasn’t true.

Grammy concluded her vocal processing by folding up the document, handing it back to me and declaring that it’s just wrong.

No kidding.

This is one of those things they don’t tell you about in the adoption process—whether or how the post-adoption birth certificate will characterize how you created your family. They don’t tell you that the document that comes in the mail after finalization may simply be a lie, a legal one, but a lie nonetheless. They don’t tell you that because of privacy laws, this may be the only document that shows up 50 years from now on Ancestry when someone is trying to figure out who Aunt ABM and Cousin Hope are and how do they fit into the family. They don’t tell you that those privacy laws, for some adoptees, mean they will never have access to the original document that accurately documents their birth.

Of course, I have my and Hope’s adoption decree, but as she approaches adulthood, there is hardly any need to refer to that document. But you need access to your birth certificate throughout your lifetime. It’s one of a few documents that proves American citizenship—it states where you were born. It’s just not the same.

As readers know, the fact that Hope will be 18 in about 4 months hade been weighing on me emotionally.. After her birthday, provided her surviving birth parent hasn’t blocked release of the original birth certificate, Hope will legally be able to get that document for the price of some paperwork and $20. At least she doesn’t have to pay more for the OBC than the adoptive birth certificate.

I intend to help her order a copy. Her social worker was kind enough to have a non-official copy included in Hope’s disclosure records. I didn’t appreciate back then what a gift that was, to see what the original looked like, what it said. I do now. So even though we have a copy, I will help Hope order an official copy. What she does with it is her business; I just think it’s important for her to have an accurate document that documents her entry into the world.

As for me, when we make the request, I’ll also be writing letters on simply having an OBC that has a adoption notation to increase the accuracy of this important legal document. I’ll include that my daughter having access to a document that describes her birth should not be withheld from her. She shouldn’t have to Hope anyone else thought to block access to a document about her. Yes, the document is about other people as well, but there should be some transparency there for everyone. It’s only right.

So, yeah, I have a document that reminds me of my body’s failures and advances a lie about my daughter’s birth. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to parent Hope, but some of the stuff that goes on within Adoptionland is just weird.

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About AdoptiveBlackMom

I'm a single Black professional woman living in the DC area. I adopted tween five years ago, and this blog chronicles our journey. Feel free to contact me at adoptiveblackmom@gmail.com, on Facebook at Adoptive Black Mom, and on Twitter @adoptiveblkmom. ©www.AdoptiveBlackMom.com, 2013-2019. All rights reserved. (Don't copy my ish without credit!) View all posts by AdoptiveBlackMom

24 responses to “The Birth Certificate

  • My Perfect Breakdown

    Yes!! The amended birth certificate is beyond strange. And I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around it, and doubt I ever will. I too got a copy of my son’s original birth certificate so he’ll always have it, but it’s still so wrong to basically attempt to erase the truth of his birth.
    Also, I too have a document, signed by a doctor, stating I’ll never be able to carry a baby to term. Needlesstosay, it’s not one of my favourite documents and yet now, I appreciate that it was a necessary step in building my family.

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      Yeah, it’s just a really weird thing. I do believe that it is a holdover from the belief that closed adoption was best in *all* cases.

      No, my documentation on my infertility isn’t something I love either, but I appreciate your larger point that it is a part of our stories. Thanks.

  • TAO

    My OBC says next to the seal:

    “This is an original record from a sealed file and requested by a court order. This is not the legal birth certificate currently on file for this person.”

    I’d imagine a slightly reworded saying will be on OBC’s in states where the law now allows access. Oh, and the BC# number is the same so it links them together, in my case through the court order.

  • Carmela Reichel

    I like having a post adoption birth certificate for my daughter because it takes away any questions from institutions that require it such as schools, passports, etc. My daughter also liked seeing it and has a copy of it because she said it makes her feel like she is part of us. I never interpreted that document as a reminder of infertility and never even thought about it that way at all. I never physically gave birth to a child, but that does not make my daughter less my daughter. Maybe it is different because an original birth certificate does not exist for my daughter. No one knows where she was born. Her bio father is unknown. When she is an adult we will look into this. But, for now the newly issued (well 4 years ago) birth certificate helped her feel part of her new family and gave her a sense of belonging. So, definitely the value of a post adoptive certificate is an individual part of the adoption process.

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      HI! It’s not that I don’t want a birth certificate, I just don’t like the erasure that it represents. I’d rather have one that is amended and factually accurate. The document is important because you need a BC for all the things you mention; I just wish it was factual.

      I think each family and its members may have different responses/reactions to the BC. I find it weird and a bit offensive to me and her birth parents. My daughter sees it as just a piece of paper necessary to do business, and once I got her passport, the need for the BC use diminished dramatically. I am not sure she’s as deep on it as I am at this point in her life. It may end up bothering her or not. It’s important to remember that what folks feel today is just that–what they feel today. It can change and evolve with more awareness, maturity, etc. If the BC helps your daughter feel connected; that is important. The same isn’t true for my daughter, and clearly I have some big feelings about it too.

      Thanks!

  • SL Heitz

    I really appreciate your posts. You have a really interesting perspective, and I appreciate all the similarities and differences between us. I started reading your blog when I was just starting our family’s foster care journey, picking out an agency and learning everything I could. Our son has been with us for 3 1/2 years, and next week we finally go to court to adopt him. He came to us at 12 months. One of the things I’m really looking forward to is being able to change his name. He will be legally ours and having our last name and actually having his birth certificate will “normalize” things for us. We struggled for years with infertility as well, and while the new birth certificate will be “a lie” speaking biologically, the truth is I am his mom. My husband is his dad. The biomom on his birth certificate is not someone who was ever there for him. She has been AWOL for 2 years with no attempt at contact, and no biodad was ever identified. Maybe our kiddo will want to get in contact with his biomom when he’s older, and that’s fine. My husband (and also his brother) were both adopted as infants, and my husband says quite firmly he has no desire to look into who his bioparents were. His parents are his parents. The family we’ve worked so hard to create is our family, and for us it will be wonderful to have that legally recognized.

    All that said, I can see that Hope’s journey is quite different from our kiddo’s. It sounds like keeping hold of her past will be very valuable to her. The government gives us one way of documenting these things, even though every family who moves through the adoption and foster care system is different.

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      Congrats on pending permanency.

      I’m still Hope’s mom, for me that’s a separate issue from a document that says I gave birth to her when I didn’t. I see the adoption decree as the document that changed Hope’s surname (actually I just added my name to her name–she has 2 surnames since I didn’t want to erase her name). I guess I don’t see the BC as a legal recognition of my family; the decree does and is the document that gives us legal recognition. We love that document. The BC is a birth record that tells a story about my daughter and how she biologically came to be. In our case, all the information was originally there, and Hope actually knows/knew her parents. Post-adoption decree, they were erased. For Hope (not specific to this document) whether they were good parents or parents who were able to meet her needs was inconsequential—they created her.

      It reminds me a bit of the birtherism movement (which I detest for the record) but it is all about the factual accuracy of her birth. I didn’t birth her and her parents are both known.

      Yes!!! It is so individualized. I think every family will think about this differently, and I think each member of the family will have their own perspective as well.

  • InstantMama

    Totally see where you’re coming from on this. I look at our kids’ certs and see a lie too – I had never even been to that state until I went there specifically to meet them! Well after they all were born. And seeing my name on a birth certificate as the one who gave birth, well, seems like I should have more memories of that than simply doing paperwork… I’d have loved to experience giving birth. So ya. Lies.
    That said, I do enjoy the low key option this document gives us. While they’re kids, it is the one piece that is required for new schools and any other legal documentation. And because my kids look like me, it is nice to have the option to let people get to know us first and let my kids be the ones who decide when it is time to tell their story. I mean, I love our story and would tell everyone, but experience has shown that if people get to know us well first, and then find out about our adoption, we continue on with life as normal. If adoption story comes first, life is nothing but a huge jumble of inappropriate questions and people viewing our family as “less than” because we aren’t their “real” parents, and they are our “real” kids. And that pretty much sucks. So since it is a legal lie does that make it ethical for me to just go with it? Hmmm. Am I trying to erase? Absolutely not. I think the older the child, the more offensive this document is. There is a HUGE perspective differential between my oldest (who was 10) and my youngest (who was 3).
    I was handed original birth certificates when I got the kids. What a gift. If I hadn’t been, I was determined to get them before finalization because, as a previous poster mentioned, they don’t look the same after. In fact I’ve heard that in some states it is actually impossible to get the original once the adoption is finalized. So my kiddos have both and I’m super happy about that. I’m glad you have a copy for Hope and hope that it will be easy to get her an original. I find it so fascinating how the exact same situation can elicit such dramatically different feelings and emotions from people. And you are right. We feel what we feel and our opinions are our opinions…and that’s just what it is. They could change later or not. It is what it is and that is perfectly ok.

  • Beth

    It is really weird, when you think about it, that every adoption comes with a mandatory falsified government document. I had a friend who was adopted by her stepfather as a kid, and she thought that the new, falsified birth certificate was something her mother had requested. (As in, “listen to this crazy thing my mom did when stepdad adopted me – she had them make a whole new birth certificate!”)

    I was glad that I was able to snag a copy of each of our daughters’ original certificates. I understand people liking having a document that doesn’t announce their adoption history when, say, signing up for soccer. I wish our government used something different as an identity document, for that reason. Having a record that says I gave birth to my daughters, when I really didn’t, is just strange, and if the purpose of records is to keep accurate records of reality, it just doesn’t make sense.

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      Yes, I totally get that there is a need for a document that doesn’t announce your family’s story. For same race adoptive families, we often can move thru with the privilege of not having to disclose.

      Yet still having a document that says something patently not true unsettles my spirit!

  • Caitlin

    I had a friend growing up who showed me her birth certificate (we had them around because the soccer league required them) and I was completely perplexed why her certificate showed her adoptive parents as birth parents. Before age 13, I knew it was wrong and that two people were missing from that form. I wondered how it made my friend feel, but didn’t have the skills to ask.

  • AdoptiveNYMomma

    Totally agree with everything you said. I do have a copy of my kids original birth certificates and show them that one. I only use the “false” one when absolutely necessary. I HATED that they did this and felt it was a huge disrespect to the birth family.

  • Laura

    I didn’t realize until recently how wrong that post-adoption birth certificate is. When it came in the mail I was like “oh, good, I’ll file this with the important papers so he’ll have it for school.” Now I wonder why a bureaucracy felt the need to erase one piece of paper to create another. Why isn’t there an “adoption decree” or some other thing that would qualify as legal documentation that this is my child?

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      I actually have both. We have the court document (adoption decree) that legally makes me Hope’s parent and changes her name. Then we also have the BC. It’s odd.

      As more comments post, I do see the value in having a document (should that be the BC?) that indicates legal status without necessarily disclosing the adoption in the interest of protecting the child’s privacy. I don’t know what such a document might look like, but again, the post-adoption BC just is weird to me.

  • Elf

    This is so weird! I haven’t adopted, but I pulled out my kids’ birth certificates to try to imagine what a post-adoption certificate might look like. There was a date on it listed as the date filed. Does that date change on a post-adoption certificate? Might that exist as a clue for those in the know?

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      My daughter’s filing date is the same as it was originally, a few days after her birth. It may be different in some states though. Interesting potential clue though!

      • InstantMama

        The date of registration is the same on mine as well. The difference is the date by the signature of the person saying it’s real and authentic. They date that for when it is requested. So the originals are dated shortly after my kids went into care, the new ones are dated nearly six months after finalizing. I had forgotten it took so long. But that’s not really a clue because you can ask for a copy at any point and they date it for when it was requested/received. It does say right on the original that it is illegal to copy or counterfeit it. The new one just certifies that it is registered with the state… I am guessing simply a change made to all certs across the board, but maybe not…

  • Ellen Hawley

    Somebody may have already said this (sorry–no time to read all the comments), but I think the birth certificate’s a holdover from the time when adoption was a deep secret that parents kept from their children, so they wanted a birth certificate that cooperated with that lie.

    Craziness.

    • TAO

      Prior to WWII even having a copy of your birth certificate wasn’t something people worried about, it wasn’t needed, few had them. Then it became a requirement for proving citizenship to work for anyone with a contract to build something for the government. Doubtful people even bothered to get a copy of adoption orders either – different world then.

      The amended birth certificate was created so it showed us, once adopted, as legitimate rather than being born illegitimate, or of unknown parentage (foundlings). And yes, that status showed on our birth certificates (mine shows I was illegitimate in the 60’s). They needed to do something because birth certificates were open to public inspection upon request. It wasn’t to prevent us from knowing we were adopted, it was to allow us to be treated like those who were born legitimate. During that era being illegitimate made us unwelcome in certain circles or to work in certain positions. Note our original birth certificates were available to us upon demand back then as well once we reached adulthood.

  • Belladonna Took

    SMH. That’s the only response I have to offer.

  • Judith Land

    My mother has two birth certificates each with a different date of birth and she isn’t sure if either one is real. For that reason, she gets to celebrate her birthday twice each year, or does that make her twice as old?

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