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In 1974, at age 18, I was shocked into reality when I was found by my natural family. My adoptive mother then angrily dumped my adoption papers and birth certificates on the table; she could no longer hide the secret. One birth certificate stated my adoptive name, the other a name I did not know. My life headed in an unknown direction. While a reunion unfolded, I became an adoptees’ rights advocate.

I learned that closed adoption means natural parents never have contact with the adoptee. Open adoption arrived around 1980, giving natural parents some type of contact. In closed and open adoption, court adoption records and adoptees’ original birth certificates are sealed – closed to adoptees. Amended birth certificates are open to adoptees and adoptive parents but closed to natural parents.

Prior to 1930, all adoptees had civil rights to a certified copy of their birth certificate with an additional adoption decree. After 1930, states began sealing adoptees’ birth certificates, except Kansas and Alaska. At the same time, states began producing amended birth certificates, including Kansas and Alaska. In 1935, New York began sealing and amending adoptees’ birth certificates.

In 43 of 50 states, including New York, adoptees do not have the legal right to obtain even an uncertified copy of their actual birth certificate. Because an amended birth certificate overrides an original one, adoptees are not allowed certified copies even in the states that passed access laws. Our government does not recognize true facts of birth.

Birth certificates are medical records issued by the state Health Department. They are signed by both the attending physician who verifies the birth and the local registrar of vital statistics.

When a child is adopted, the judge sends orders to take back the adoptee’s legal right to her birth certificate by placing the document under seal. Orders are sent to the state’s director of vital statistics to create a new birth certificate by switching the adoptee’s name at birth with the new adopted name and the names of the actual parents with the names of the adopting parents. An amended birth certificate does not contain the physician’s signature.

The director of vital statistics signs the amended birth certificate and embosses the state’s raised seal certifying as true the facts stated on the document. The facts are clearly false. Adoption is legalized perjury.

All of this is to hide illegitimacy and to prevent natural parents from contacting the adoptive parents and the adoptee. But I am not illegitimate. My parents were married. Mom died. Dad relinquished me to a forced, closed adoption. Yet all of my new relatives knew and needlessly prevented me from knowing my natural family.

A group called ALARM (Advocating Legislation for the Adoption Reform Movement) is seeking a federal mandate that would supersede discriminatory state laws.

I would add the need to eliminate the practice of amending birth certificates by going back to truthful adoption certificates. Birth and adoption are two separate events that should be accurately recorded. Both certificates should be certified and open to the person born and adopted, as well as the parents named.

I will continue my activism until the U.S. government releases all adoptees’ birth certificates without restrictions.

Joan Wheeler, born as Doris Sippel, is a social worker and an adoptees’ rights activist living in Buffalo.