December 29, 2008
© Photographer: Raycan | Agency: Dreamstime.com
Adoptees Await More Information
BY MATT WICKENHEISER
Maine Sunday Telegram
When Elizabeth Norcross Miller looks in the mirror she doesn't see
her mother's eyes, her father's cheekbones or her aunt's nose.
She sees only herself.
Norcross Miller, 47, of Newburgh was adopted as an infant. She has
gone through probate court to try to get her original birth
certificate and learn who her biological mother was, but her request
was denied by a judge.
She has no sense of innate belonging, she said, no feeling of
biological connection to anybody.
"If you look into the mirror once or twice a day your entire life and
you have no one you can say I share this DNA with -- that's pretty
lonely," said Norcross Miller.
She's hoping that changes Jan. 1 -- and she's not alone. A new state
law going into effect on that date will allow adults who were placed
for adoption in Maine to see their original birth certificates --
which would name their mothers, and in some cases, their fathers, too.
Norcross Miller is one of 136 adult adoptees who have preregistered
with the Maine Office of Data, Research and Vital Statistics for non-
certified copies of those certificates. When the office opens Friday,
anyone who has preregistered will be able to pick up their documents.
"I'm going to be the first in line, I'm going to arrive there at 4 in
the morning," said Norcross Miller. "I've waited 48 years."Beyond a
sense of connection, adoptees in many cases want to find out about
their biological family's medical history, so they can know whether
they're at risk for any particular condition.
Many Maine adoptees have birth certificates that list only their
adoptive parents' names. A law on the books for more than five
decades mandates that records of adoptions finalized on or after Aug.
8, 1953, are confidential unless a probate judge rules otherwise. In
most cases, judges haven't released the records, according to
organizers of Original Birth Certificates for Maine, the group that
pushed for the legislation.
Opponents included the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which said
that releasing birth records to adoptees would violate the privacy of
mothers who had been promised secrecy -- women who hadn't told their
families they had placed children for adoption might not want that
Nationally, opponents have also argued that birth parents would be
forced into unwanted relationships with grown children placed for
adoption as babies. In other states, opponents have argued that
eliminating the chance for confidentiality might persuade pregnant
single women to choose abortion rather than adoption.
These arguments didn't sway the Maine Legislature. Supporters noted
that secrecy promises were not legally valid, and said the new law
would protect birth parents by giving them the option of specifying
whether they wanted to be contacted.
About three-quarters of the House supported the bill, and two-thirds
of the Senate, according to Bobbi Beavers of South Berwick. A co-
founder of Original Birth Certificates for Maine, Beavers called the
legislation "a human rights bill."
"No one should ever be denied their original identity," said Beavers.
Cathy Robishaw of Falmouth, another group co-founder and an adoptee
herself, said a friend helped her find her birth mother's name in the
mid-1990s. But getting her original birth certificate Friday will be
a "huge deal," and not just because she pushed for the law for four
"I will just feel like everyone else at that point," she
explained. "It will just mean I'm not discriminated against, I'm
treated like an adult."
And, said Robishaw, there's a chance her birth father's name is
listed on the certificate -- though that's not likely. Her birth
mother had died by the time Robishaw got her name.
According to Original Birth Certificates for Maine, the father's name
won't be on the birth certificate in most cases. Genetic testing has
not been possible until relatively recently, and birth fathers were
not always required to be part of the surrendering process, as they
are now, the group explained.
Don Lemieux, director of the Maine Office of Data, Research and Vital
Statistics, said he's not sure how many people will be coming to
their offices at 224 Water St. in Augusta on Friday.
At least 15 people who preregistered confirmed through Original Birth
Certificates for Maine that they will be there, he said, and some
will likely bring friends and family. Beavers said she knows of
people flying in from California and Florida to get the documents.
According to Lemieux, as of January, it will take 24 hours for any
vital records to be processed by his office, including birth
certificates for adoptees. There's a $10 fee for the birth
Three or four people who placed children for adoption have asked his
office not to release the records, said Lemieux, but the law does not
allow that. However, they can make clear whether they want to be
contacted by the person they placed for adoption.
Lemieux encouraged them, and anyone who's placed children for
adoption, to fill out a "contact preference" form. That lets anybody
getting the birth certificate know whether their parents want to be
contacted directly, through an intermediary or not at all. It also
allows them to communicate medical history.
Norcross Miller said she gets the sense that birth parents who have
given up their adopted children are probably feeling threatened by
"It's very important for them to know that -- me included -- we have
no intention of causing any further harm to anyone out there who was
kind enough to give birth to us and set us on our way," she said.
"It's not a question of who's guilty, who's right, who's wrong.
Nobody's judging, saying you're right, wrong or indifferent."
Norcross Miller said she would like the opportunity to meet face-to-
face with her birth mother and would be open to having a relationship
with her, if the feeling is mutual. If not, she at least would want a
medical history and information on any siblings.
The legislation was filed by former state Rep. David Farrington, D-
Gorham, whose wife is an adoptee, and former state Sen. Paula Benoit,
R-Phippsburg, who is an adoptee herself.
Benoit will be at the records office Friday to support other adoptees
getting their certificates, and to obtain her own.
She said the original birth certificate law was the most important
legislation she worked on, and would affect many people.
"For some, it's sort of like being in a witness protection program.
You don't talk about it, we live a life that has been given to us,"
she said. "We always know there is another person there, another
Benoit said she is starting her own nonprofit foundation to help pass
similar laws in other states. Her plan is to educate legislators in
other states about the importance of "original identity." Seven other
states now have laws similar to Maine's.
New Jersey and New York are close to such legislation, and Ohio keeps
revisiting the issue, Benoit said.
"No one should have to live without knowing who they are," said