Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Birth mothers punished before & continue to bear brunt of NYS legislators

Should this onus be on us?

As an unwed 18 year old in the summer of 1962, I became pregnant and with the climate the way it was back then, I was sent away and gave up my baby because as a "single" parent I could not provide for him. Whoever heard of single parent way back when? The innuendos did speak loudly. I was the tramp and my son, the bastard child but nobody knew that because it was a secret. To hide my shame and disgrace [I did not know that I had either], I stayed at an unwed mother's home, gave birth alone, and sent home without my beloved baby. I signed the surrender papers on July 1,1963, when my son was less than 2 months old. For many years, I did not understand why I was treated like a pariah with my first pregnancy. My parents experienced no joy knowing that soon they would become grandparents while still in their 40s because they and society would not accept his birth.

After reading Rickie Solinger's book Wake Up Little Susie did I learn that losing my son to adoption would pay for my sin of having non-marital sex, or in other words, look what I can do without a man and the sanctity of marriage. So our legislators made sure that our punishment would be forever by sealing the adoption records from me, my son, and his adoptive parents. Did I have another choice? Sure, marriage would have been the acceptable choice but it was not an option back then. Foster care – never heard of it. Welfare – never heard of it. So with the adoption & its sealing, so were our fates.

Fast forward to the present. Over the years, both adoptees and/or their birth parents have sought information since the birth & surrender. The agency that I surrendered to painted a picture of my son and his placement in his newly adoptive family. It sounded really good but I still was not content with the aspect of having my own baby be someone else's and me not knowing who, what, where, when and why. There are several states that recently started to issue original birth certificates to adoptees. Kansas & Alaska records were always open. I truly believe that each & everyone would benefit from disclosing the names of parents, medical history, extended family and so forth.

Yet the legislators in NYS are afraid to pass such a bill saying that it has to respect the mothers' promise of confidentiality without which we are told, women would choose to have abortions over surrender. Truth be told in states where records are open, abortions have gone down, adoptions have gone up. It is truly amazing that our elected officials have used the birthmothers as their scapegoat first in instilling that we be punished for our crime and now alternately, records must be sealed to maintain confidentiality. I did not ask for it but was told it was the law. I did not sign any papers where I was promised confidentially. When I tried to have a waiver of confidentiality placed in my file, it was rejected as it violated NYS laws. I was never issued a birth certificate for my son because the agency withheld it from me. That is a real violation of NYS law, depriving the parent of her baby's original birth certificate. Our elected officials should try to remedy some of their past actions by bringing Bill Nos A8410 and S5269 to a vote.

Carole L. Whitehead. NYSAR Board Member for Unsealed Initiative