End Identity Theft Caused by Adoption

Seven to ten million American adoptees’ original birth certificates are sealed after a new one is created. It happened to me. My names, and family, were stolen by adoption fifteen months after my legitimate birth in 1956. I have known the truth since I was eighteen in 1974, but do not have the right to possess my own birth certificate and must present the fake one as proof of my identity.

Making someone else’s child “your own” by adoption causes the State’s Director of Vital Statistics to issue a replacement birth certificate presenting false facts as truth and then seals the actual document – even in open adoption. Adopting parents’ names are swapped in, implying that they actually conceived and birthed the re-named child. The attending physician’s signature that verifies the birth is omitted. The birthdate and place can be changed.

Government-sanctioned fiction gives many adoptive parents permission to deny or lie. They are not legally obligated to be truthful. This horrendous breach of trust bases a “parent”-child relationship neither on respect nor love, but rather on deceptive power and control.

White people cannot lie about adopting a racial child, but the falsified document clearly states that the court-appointed guardians gave birth to a child of a different race.

The acquired children of same-sex adoptive parents will eventually learn that it takes one egg and one sperm, and possibly a gestational surrogate mother, to make a baby. Clearly, it is illogical to name two mothers or two fathers on these birth certificates.

It was once thought that babies are blank slates, that an adopted child would not sense the adoption. We now acknowledge that infants know their mother’s scent and voice and instinctively grieve when she is gone; both mother and baby suffer shock after adoption’s permanent separation. Physical appearance, health, talents and personalities are inherited, but epigenetics reveals that trauma changes gene expression in future generations.

For an older child adopted out of foster care, by a step-parent, or by a grandparent, memories of her family cannot be erased by law. The name she had from birth is changed to a new first, middle, and last name. Grandparents become mom and dad, aunts and uncles are now siblings. Imagine what all of this does to a child’s sense of self.

We must not compromise. Current legislative efforts to “allow” adopted people varying degrees of access to uncertified sealed birth certificates will not restore civil rights. If passed, the released documents will be stamped: “Not For Official Use” or “For Genealogical Purposes Only” or something similar. Many states, including New York, have bills, or already passed laws, requiring natural-parent and adoptive-parent permissions, establish confidential intermediaries, and provide natural-parents to redact their names.

Since 9/11, Homeland Security will not issue passports to adopted persons whose amended birth certificates were filed over one year after birth. The adoption process takes six months or longer and amended birth certificates are created months after finalization of adoption. If adoptees’ birth certificates had not been tampered with, then all adoptees would be able to obtain passports. State and Federal government officials need to fix the problems they made.

True open records will reinstate adoptees’ actual birth certificates to their original purpose: certified verification of physical birth which is a person’s first form of identification. Adopted adults would have choices to change their names back, void their falsified document, replace it with a certified adoption certificate or not, and to opt out of the adoption contract. Many who were physically or sexually abused by their adopters want to dissolve their adoptions, but are bound beyond death to a legal contract they did not sign. Many adoptees want to dissolve the adoption contract simply because they no longer want to be adopted.

Birth and adoption are two separate events that require reality-based documentation. All birth certificates, and adoption certificates, should be unsealed and certified, open only to the persons named on the documents. An adoption should not change a child’s name at birth, nor erase her parents. Guardianship provides a home while preserving the child’s rights to her name and family of origin.

We must repeal the antiquated 1935 New York State Domestic Relations Law that was signed by Governor Herbert Lehman ((Life and Legacy of Herbert H. Lehman, online article, Adapted from Herbert H. Lehman: A Life of Public Service, Duane Tananbaum, No Date)), a wealthy adoptive father (who was a customer of notorious Tennessee baby-broker Georgia Tann, subject of The Baby Thief. ((The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption, Barbara Bisantz Raymond, 108, Union Square Press, 2007))

Before 1935, all New Yorkers had equal rights to their birth certificate. Prior to 1930, all Americans had this right.

Wayne Carp, in his book Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption, ((Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption, Wayne E. Carp, 36-70, Harvard University Press, 1998.)) reveals that in the 1920s, the war against “sinful” unwed mothers was won by moralistic religious zealots who sought to punish women for sexual activity outside marriage, including mothers who were raped. Infants born of “unfortunate circumstances” benefited by sealed birth certificates; these “unlawfully-born” babies were then “reborn” by legitimizing their births through adoption. Elizabeth Samuels states in an article ((“How Adoption in America Grew Secret”, Op-Ed, Elizabeth J. Samuels, Washington Post, October 21, 2001)) that the amended birth certificate was invented to save bastards from stigma and “to protect adoptive families from possible interference or harassment by” natural parents.

The perception of deviant sex outside marriage no longer applies as a reason to remove a mother’s infant at birth to uphold irrational adoption policies. Poor women should not be breeders for the wealthy and their babies should not be commodities.

All adopted persons, whether illegitimate or not, are bound by laws that were enacted at a time when secrecy and shame dominated adoption. We need to end this outdated and uninformed discriminatory segregation.

Illegitimate bastards, half-and full-orphans, foundlings, foster care adoptees, step-parent adoptees, grandparent and other in-family adoptees, and intercountry adoptees: these hostages of government-sanctioned identity theft by adoption must be set free.

For further reading: ((1. “Bait and Switch Foils NYS Adoptee Rights“, Mirah Riben, Huffington Post, June 30, 2015;

2. “Why Were Adoption Birth Records Closed in NY?“, New York Adoption Equality, 2015;

3. New York Adoption Equality Does Not Support the Amended “Adoptee Rights Bill”, June, 2015;

4. The Idea of Adoption: An Inquiry Into The History of Adult Adoptee Access to Birth Records,  Elizabeth J. Samuels, Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey, 53 Rutgers Law Review 367, 2001;

5. An act to amend the public health law, the public welfare law, the judiciary law, the domestic relations law, the inferior criminal courts act of New York City, and the Greater New York charter, in relation to records of birth, Chapter 854, 1779-1790, Laws of New York, Vols. 1-2 1779,1936;

6. 1930: Birth Records of Illegitimates and of Adopted Children, Sheldon L. Howard and Henry B. Hemenway. Read before the Vital Statistics Section of the American Public Health Association, The American Journal Public Health Nations Health, (6): 641-647, June 21, 1931;

7. Georgia Tann Obituary (1950) with combined sources, Find a Grave, 2009 – 2014;

8. The History of Sealed Adoption in the United States, Bastard Nation: The Adoptee Rights Organization, 2012;

9. The History of Adoption, Research Etc., Inc. and Arizona Children’s Home Association, Rita Meiser and Marcie Velen, 2009.))

Joan Mary Wheeler was born and adopted in Buffalo, New York. She is an adoptee rights activist. Since 1975, her articles have been published in newspapers, social work journals and government publications in United States, England, Australia and The Netherlands. She is the author of Forbidden Family: An Adopted Woman’s Struggle for Identity. You can visit her website at Forbidden Family. Read other articles by Joan.