Original birth certificate a birthright
by Peggi Sturmfels
May 19, 2010.
Within the next few weeks, legislators in the Assembly
will once again vote on whether many New Jersey residents have the
right to access their origins and be granted the right to have their
original birth certificate.
Sealed by court order when we were adopted as infants and children, we
as adults are told that we still do not have a basic right afforded
all other New Jerseyans. Opponents of S799/A1406 talk of protecting
birth parents and honoring so-called contracts of confidentiality.
But the truth is that no such lawful contract was made. No such
statutory language exists. Many of these birth parents were forced
into agreements at a time of desperation, fear and grief. Many of
these women, some of them unwed, under-aged mothers, signed away their
In those few terrible moments when they were faced with giving away
their children, many did not realize that not only were they handing
over their babies to strangers, they were agreeing to never knowing
whether or not their children were placed in loving homes or left to
languish in foster care. In those remaining minutes of unbearable
stress, they were asked to trust authoritative figures with no
knowledge of their motives or integrity. And in those final steps, as
they left the hospital empty-armed, those same strangers told them to
move on, to forget and time will heal.
Records are sealed upon adoption, not relinquishment. The absurdity of
this practice is that most of the adult adoptees who now search and
find their roots find out that so many of their birth mothers have
been searching for them as well. My sister tells me that when my birth
mother died two years ago, she told her how she always thought of me.
My sister and I have been in contact for four months. Finally found
after a 40-year search, I will get to share my children and
This policy of so-called protection is particularly sad when played
out to the extreme, such as when siblings who are put into the system,
records are not sealed until a finalized adoption takes place.
The case of my daughter and her sister, placed into the system as
teens, shows the idiocy that has been the practice in this state for
more than five decades. Unable to adopt our daughter until after she
reached adulthood because of parental rights termination issues, her
records were sealed when the adoption was finalized. She now has no
access to her original birth certificate. Her sibling placed with
another family and never adopted has access to hers.
Two sisters, raised together until the ages of 13 and 14, have kept
contact into their adulthood. One sister can access her family health
history, one cannot. One can renew her passport, one (since 9/11)
cannot. So the argument that adoption seals the birth records for the
sake of confidentiality for the birth mother is asinine. Many adoptive
parents were given the name of the birth mother by the agency at the
time of placement.
So what's in a piece of paper? Our identity. Our health history, Our
ethnic background. Our heritage. Our legal right to be the same as you.