Category Archives: Public Health

A Guide to Michigan Adoptees Seeking Court Orders for Original Birth Certificates

This is the feeling I experienced when i finally achieved justice and received my original birth certificate copy (adulterated however) from the state of Michigan in July 2016.

For the past several years, fellow Michigan adoptees who were born after World War II have contacted me seeking help. They want what they are entitled to as a birthright and under core human rights principles of international law: their original birth certificates (OBCs), held in secret, by the state of Michigan.

The number of queries I received from adoptees increased in the last year, since I won a nearly three-decade-old contest with the state to give me my original birth certificate and published my story about that victory on my website.

Because of these requests, I am publishing a short guide that may help some of the thousands of fellow adoptees born in Michigan deprived of their equal rights by Michigan’s discriminatory and harmful adoption laws. To navigate this system, adoptees will need to deal with state courts and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). That agency overseas the state’s public health bureaucracy and has ultimate authority for adoptees’ official vital records—including their original birth documents.

This guide provides practical advice and logistical assistance. You also will need to review the FAQs I have published on my website for my forthcoming book on adoption. Also consult tips published by Bastard Nation’s Shea Grimm (dated but still relevant) on accessing your adoption records. This is not Michigan specific, however.

Click on this image to see adoptee rights lawyer Greg Luce’s illustration of the Michigan “donut hole” that denies thousands of Michigan adoptees access to their birth record. Image courtesy of Greg Luce, https://adopteerightslaw.com/.

Michigan Adoptees Born Between 1945 and 1980

This guide focuses on Michigan adoptees born between May 28, 1945 and September 12, 1980. I was born during this time. According to the state’s website, “For those adoptions that occurred between May 28, 1945 and September 12, 1980, the release of the original birth certificate is contingent upon a court order.” As an adoptee seeking your OBC, that means you are almost certainly going to court, and it will not be easy. More on that shortly.

This 35-year span defined by law was not an accident. These were the boom years for adoption, when single women who became pregnant were pressured by society and many powerful medical, social work, and religious groups to give up millions of infants through the late 1970s. Thus the law intentionally harms the biggest pool of adopted citizens from the state by restricting their right to know who they are and their family ancestry and medical history.

Getting a Court Order: An Uphill Slog through a Hostile Environment

Those born before May 28, 1945 or after September 12, 1980 still face legal barriers. Read this summary of state law, published on the Adoptee Rights Law Center website. Greg Luce, an adoptee rights advocate who runs this website, elegantly describes Michigan’s convoluted system this way: “Michigan has such a confusing and complex system that only lawyers or those invested in such a complicated bureaucratic framework could fully comprehend it. To seek an OBC in Michigan you must 1) apply through an agency or court, which 2) forwards a clearance request form to the state’s “central adoption registry,” which 3) searches the registry and then 3) returns a clearance reply form to the court or agency that 4) is used to inform the adoptee that 5) a birth parent has denied any release of information (and the OBC is therefore unavailable) or that 6) a birth parent agrees to the release of information, upon which 7) the adoptee may obtain a copy of the clearance reply form and may then 7) supply the clearance reply form to the state registrar, which 8) issues a non-certified copy of the original birth certificate to the adoptee. Oh, if you were born between 1945 and 1980, this whole mechanism doesn’t even apply to you. Like other donut hole states, if you fall into that hole you need a court order to get your OBC.”

That is me, Rudy Owens, holding up a copy of my original birth certificate. The words “SEALED” were added to it by state officials–a practice not required by law and further evidence how the state treats adoptees who advocate for equal rights.

Michigan’s Communications to Adoptees Seeking an OBC:

You can read a succinct summary of the process published by the Adoptee Rights Coalition. The state also provides a short summary, which does not address how to navigate court order requests for adoptions that occurred between May 28, 1945 and September 12, 1980.

Key Points for Michigan Adoptees to Consider Before Beginning Court Advocacy for OBCs:

1. Current laws in Michigan, and the way its laws and vital records systems function today, are intended to prevent most Michigan adoptees from getting their original birth documents—forever. Remember that always. I will say that again: Remember that always. The political and legal systems governing adoption laws cause real harm to adoptees and deny them their basic human rights. You must be realistic how this plays out statewide and nationally. The laws vary by state. You cannot afford ignorance of the system or the players who control it. You must educate yourself about this reality. Know your friends and especially your opponents in your effort to achieve equal rights and your OBC.

2. No one will help you who works for the MDHSS, the state’s public health agency that controls your birth records. You can ask them for help, but you will not get it. The agency has an adversarial relationship with adoptees. In fact, you must be prepared to fight them, even once you get your court order—if you get one. They may even attempt to delay the release of your original birth certificate once presented with a judge’s ruling. This happened to me. See my FAQs also.

3. The Michigan Central Adoption Registry is a mostly unaccountable bureaucracy of one employee (Connie Stevens; stevensc2@michigan.gov) with no regulatory oversight. Do not contact it. See Luce’s description above regarding its mandate. Its website states it “is accessed by the court or agency; individual adopted persons do not contact the Registry.” This office does not answer phone calls, but may return one. Expect no help, even if you deserve it and need it.

4. The media may not be sympathetic to you, unless you have some emotional and tear-jerking reunion story. Overall, the media has a tepid interest in adoptee rights and in the past has viewed them in a discriminatory way—sometimes portraying them as uppity bastards who are not thankful they were taken in by loving families, etc. See the adoptee rights group Bastard Nation’s essay on this harmful stereotype. You can try to enlist the media, but do not assume the media will be a natural ally in the court of public opinion. That said, you should engage them, and you may find an ally in their ranks. Always try, and try again.

5. Remember, this takes time. You must give yourself anywhere from three months and much longer. You need to file your paperwork, advocate and push a court to set up a date, have your court date, and then submit, hopefully, your court order to Michigan Vital Records for your original birth certificate (OBC). You are running a marathon, not an 800-meter race. Stay focused on the end goal, always.

6. Rely on yourself. This is a personal journey. Most of us will do it alone. Most of us are not wildly rich and cannot afford to hire people to do unpleasant and tedious advocacy work. I encourage you not to seek help from any so-called confidential intermediaries or social workers. (Please avoid a Michigan confidential intermediary named Darryl Royal–he is not a real adoptee rights advocate.) There are some true legal advocates out there who work on cases. I suggest contacting the Adoptee Rights Law Center for possible tips if you really have a strong case needing litigation.

Starting Your Court Order Request:

Adoptees in the donut hole years need to find the court of jurisdiction for adoption records requests. For Wayne County/Detroit, where I was born, it is the Family-Juvenile Division of the Third Judicial Circuit Court of Michigan. Its address and contact information is:
Third Judicial Circuit Court, Family Division
Attention: Post Adoptions
1025 E. Forest Avenue
Detroit, MI 48207-1098
Tel: (313) 224-5261; direct line: (313) 833-0032

Circuit courts likely have jurisdiction for issuing court orders for an adoptee. Find your court of jurisdiction here. This may be the hardest detail to figure out. The Third Judicial Circuit Court covers anyone born in Detroit, and adoptees there number in the thousands because that was home to Crittenton General Hospital, one of the nation’s largest maternity hospitals that facilitated adoptions for more than 30 years.

Download or request the instructions from the court in your jurisdiction, or contact that court for additional information. The instructions from the Family-Juvenile Division of the Third Judicial Circuit Court of Michigan are found online. Make a copy for your records.

Here are the instructions for Wayne County adoptees seeking to set up a court date and to petition a judge. Before you send your request in, make a copy of everything. Send your request certified mail. Make a cover letter listing everything you are sending and be courteous and professional. Show the court and judge that you are a professional and have your case in order. Show them you know the law and your rights.

You will need to send the following:

  • A $20 filing fee (as of 2016)
  • A copy of your photo identification
  • A copy of your adoptive birth certificate.
  • A completed Release of Information Authorization Adult Adoptee (Form FIA 1920). Include in the comments area on this form that you are requesting your original birth certificate (it’s a short box that says “additional comments”—make your pitch about your rights to your record).
  • A completed Request by Adult Adoptee for Identifying Information (Form FIA 1925).
  • A Form PCA 327 Petition For Adoption Information and Order (note, this is not listed in required forms, and this was added as a last-minute requirement before my court date—so it won’t hurt to do it now).
  • If the birth certificate you are requesting is for a deceased, direct descendant, proof of the relationship and death are required (ie: death certificate, birth certificate, etc.).
  • Also, the above forms should be completed with the information regarding the adoptee.
  • Provide a written statement, no longer than a page, making your case why you deserve your birth record. This is your story, so only you can write it. Note, this is not required, but STRONGLY encouraged.

Please visit this page to review the FAQs for court order requests and hearings.

Resources for adoptee rights advocates, researchers, and policy-makers

Recommended Resources on U.S. Adoption History, Adoptee Rights, the Role of Kinship in Family Relations, and Research on Adoption as a Public Health and Health Issue:

Adoptees are entitled to their original birth certificates as a human right. Mine was withheld from me for decades, and likely illegally, by the State of Michigan, even after I found my biological kin. (I have intentionally hidden information in this copy.)

Today I published a list of resources to help inform adoptees, the media, and anyone working in adoption policy, health, and public health understand the U.S. adoption system and its impacts on millions of adopted persons and also their families.

Thoughtful historic studies of American adoption and the social engineering experience surrounding adoption in the three decades after World War II can be found in most public libraries and on Amazon.com. My forthcoming memoir focuses on this era. I also provide links for groups that provide accurate information about legal issues surrounding adoption laws, discrimination against adoptees and illegitimately born Americans, and articles on adoptee rights as human rights. These are the best place to get the big picture.

My resources also include respected sources that examine adoption as a public health issue and sociological phenomenon, rooted in historic human prejudice against those who are deemed unwanted and illegitimate. One cannot understand American adoption without first grasping the significance of how illegitimacy functions in human society and how bias and prejudice have shaped and still impact adoption policy and law in the United States.

Follow the links to each page, where I have provided links with summary information. 

Does bias influence how publications choose to tell stories about adoptees and adoption history?

This historic photo of a Crittenton mission from the late 1950s or 1960s shows how expecting mothers who stayed at Crittenton homes and hospitals were given maternal health instructions. Almost all of those mothers gave up their infants for adoption at the encouragement of doctors, social workers, and staff at Crittenton and other maternity homes in the decades after World War II. (Photo courtesy of the National Crittenton Foundation.)

This week I was informed by a Michigan historical publication that its editorial committee rejected my proposed article on the historical significance of my birthplace, Crittenton General Hospital. “While the committee appreciates the article you submitted, it unfortunately does not meet our magazine’s editorial needs and we will be unable to accept it for publication,” the editor wrote. 

This means that an article I proposed to tell the story of thousands of single Michigan mothers who gave up their children for adoption in the decades after World War II in Detroit will not reach a wider audience in Michigan. For that, I am disappointed. 

I respectfully asked for feedback how I did not meet their needs, and did not get a reply. I do not expect a response, and to date have not received one.

[Author’s update, 9/15/2017, 1:05 p.m.: Hours after publishing this article, I received a reply from the publication I had contacted that its editorial committee thought my article was a “personal opinion piece,” which they do not accept in their publications. That reply arrived only after I had provided the publication a courtesy email to let them know I had published this article.]

No publication is obligated to tell any writer why they are rejected. Rejection is the norm in the world of writing and publishing. It also inspires good writers.

However, this outcome, which I have experienced when reaching out to many different publications to engage them on the history and problems in the U.S. adoption system, likely has other issues beyond my storytelling abilities or even the merits of the stories I am trying to tell.

The outcome falls into a trend of editorial bias by people who likely do not recognize how their decisions about covering the story of the U.S. adoption system and its history are influenced by their own subconscious views. My forthcoming book on the U.S. adoption experience investigates how bias influences individuals’ and society’s views about illegitimately born people (bastards like me), including adoptees. I also have published an essay on that topic on my blog.

Is it Bad Writing/Research, Bias, or a ‘Suspect’ Writer/Researcher?

Source: Pannucci, Christopher J., and Edwin G. Wilkins. “Identifying and Avoiding Bias in Research.” Plastic and reconstructive surgery 126.2 (2010): 619–625. PMC. Web. 15 Sept. 2017.

The larger issue of research bias is well documented in human-subjects research. That field boasts a staggering list of biases that impact the research outcomes, before, during, and after clinical trials. It also is a well-documented issue in communications.

The open-source scientific publication PLoS noted in a 2009 editorial, “A large and growing literature details the many ways by which research and the subsequent published record can be inappropriately influenced, including publication bias, outcome reporting bias, financial and non-financial, competing interests, sponsors’ control of study data and publication, and restrictions on access to data and materials. But it can be difficult for an editor, reading a submitted manuscript, to disentangle these many influences and to understand whether the work ultimately represents valid science.”

When a writer or researcher is rejected, they have almost no chance of persuading a potential publisher to chance its views. If you push your case, you also are further discounted as too “attached” or “engaged.”

In the world of investigative journalism, you are even considered dangerous, and your own publications may turn against you if you fail to accept outcomes that can squash controversial stories. This is a common experience to anyone who has mattered in the world of journalism. 

The celebrated investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in 1993 that telling stories that some people do not want to read but should be told is often a thankless, even dangerous task.

Author and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Reporters write a story once, and then there’s no response and they stop,” says Hersh. “Somehow the object [is] to keep on pushing. The problem is, what do you do when you make yourself a pain in the ass and you become suspect? Because as everybody knows, for some mysterious reasons, if you have a point of view in a newspaper room you are suspect. Or if you’re a true believer you’re dangerous, you’re political. That’s really crazy. Because it seems to me the only good stories that come out of anything come from people who have a passion about right and wrong, and good and bad. It’s a terrible tragedy. It’s very tough.”

I always turn to Hersh’s quote that I jotted down when I first became a journalist, when I need to remember that telling important stories, including ones that challenge orthodoxy and prejudice, will never be an easy road to travel. That is why I wrote my book about the American adoption experience, knowing it would not be an easy story to tell or to sell.

But anything that matters, really and truly matters, requires overcoming such obstacles. That is how you find personal meaning and how you make positive and meaningful change that may take years to achieve.

 

 

Article on the significance of Detroit’s Crittenton General Hospital

Crittenton General Hospital of Detroit, MIchigan, my birthplace

Last week, I submitted a story to the Michigan Historical Society for consideration in their bi-monthly publication Michigan History Magazine. Their editorial committee agreed to review my piece that examines the history of Crittenton General Hospital and the five Crittenton mission facilities in Detroit. During its decades of operation, the hospital became the primary center for delivering infants to single mothers in Michigan and later for placing those infants for adoption after the mid-1940s.

My article draws from research and writings on the Crittenton organization and historic research surrounding adoption, adoption demographics, adoption secrecy, adoption laws, and adoption advocacy for adoptees, who numbers in the millions.

Opened in 1929 and then closed in 1974, it was one of the nation’s largest and most important maternity hospitals during its decades of operation. It played a major role in caring for single, unmarried mothers. Its historic significance is tied to its role promoting the adoption of thousands of “illegitimate” Michiganders, like me, who who were born out of marriage and placed for adoption from the late 1940s through 1974 because of their status as children conceived out of marriage.

My article accomplishes two goals:

  • It shows why the hospital is important historically: I make public its once primary mission of serving unwed, pregnant woman and their babies that remains hidden from public view. Ongoing efforts to gloss over its true past deny adoptees of their history and legitimacy and continue to support the stigma of single-mother births that prevailed during the time that the Crittenton Hospital operated.
  • It shows why the hospital’s story matters to the history of U.S. adoption and adoptee rights issues: I highlight its historic importance to give adoptees and birth mothers acknowledgement to their role in the history of this country and the treatment of illegitimacy, women, and, yes, bastard children who were not born “legitimately.” It also shows how those who run the hospital’s successor today continue to promote the stigma associated with illegitimacy and adoption by not formally acknowledging Crittenton General’s historic services.

Even if the historical society chooses to pass on this piece, I will bring the hospital’s story to the public through other publications, through my forthcoming memoir, and on my memoir’s web platform. It is simply too important of a story to be forgotten, because the people born there and the mothers who gave birth there still matter when we talk about adoption and human rights for all adoptees.

Crittenton General Hospital: A rare photo and its meaning

One of the unexpected outcomes of the American adoption experience is how the stigma of illegitimacy and out-of-wedlock pregnancy created a virtual cloak of invisibility around the birth of adoptees and their presence in the general population. That shame and stain of illegitimacy lives on in the form of laws that discriminate against adoptees who are denied the human right to their birth records and equal treatment under the law.

Crittenton General Hospital of Detroit is shown on Jan. 24, 1974, in this photo from the Detroit Free Press, two months before its closure. I was born here, as were thousands of other babies who were place for adoption. (Click on the photo to see a larger image.)

I was born at Detroit’s Crittenton General Hospital, one of the nation’s largest maternity hospitals that served unwed mothers and ultimately where thousands of infants were relinquished into the adoption system. The facility opened at Tuxedo and Woodrow Wilson in 1929, at a time when Crittenton homes and hospitals served the needs of “problem girls” and gave them a place to give birth and bond and stay with their children. 

By the late 1940s, the Florence Crittenton Mission, later Florence Crittenton Association of America, had transformed its maternity homes and hospitals into temporary residences for thousands of single moms, who gave up their children at these facilities across the country. The infants today sometimes call themselves Crittenton babies, and I am one of an uncounted group who today still face legal discrimination accessing their birth records.

The photo seen here was taken on Jan. 24, 1974, two months before the hospital closed permanently on March 22, 1974. The building was demolished a year later. It closed due to financial strains, the decline of adoptions, and the gradual economic decay of Detroit.The story in the Detroit Free Press that accompanied this photo that I bought failed to mention the hospital’s historic role serving unwed mothers and then relinquishing those infants to new families.

The story from Jan. 24, 1974, in the Detroit Free Press, makes no mention of the hospital’s pivotal role delivering thousands of infants like me for adoption. (Click on the image to see a larger picture of the text copy.)

I was one of those infants, born about a decade before this picture. This journalistic oversight was not accidental—it fits into a larger pattern of hiding adoption from the public and erasing the story of adoptees from American history.

In 1967, the Crittenton General Hospital opened a new facility in Rochester, Michigan, in the suburbs, and became a general hospital that did not serve single birth moms and their children like all previous Crittenton missions and maternity homes. The two operated under the same names, but only the Rochester facility remains, still bearing the Crittenton name. Nationally, it is a name tied forever to the service of single, pregnant women, and later adoption.

Today, the Crittenton Hospital Medical Center in Rochester also has whitewashed its past and does not acknowledge who it once served, how that hospital helped to hide illegitimacy from the public, and its pivotal role transferring babies from a birth mothers to adoptive parents during the boom adoption years after World War II, through 1975.

The stigma surrounding illegitimacy drove the institution of U.S. adoption in the decades after the war and helped turn it into one of the largest social engineering experiments ever in U.S. history. That stigma is deeply woven into how state laws impact birth parents and adoptees today.

The new hospital in Rochester claims, after many efforts to contact its communications team in 2016, that it has no records of the number of adoptee births at the Crittenton General Hospital in Detroit—its predecessor. The hospital spokesperson did not return multiple calls and repeated emails for interviews and records. The only two documents the hospital shared were photocopies of short institutional histories, which did not outline the hospital’s important historic role as way station for birth mothers and adoptees. The summary documents did not offer a count of patients served or babies delivered by single mothers.

There are no records of the number of adoptee births kept by the National Crittenton Foundation, the mission’s successor group now located in Portland, Oregon. The official repository of all National Florence Crittenton Mission records, at the University of Minnesota Library, also did not have any documents that showed how many babies were born in Crittenton General Hospital in Detroit or in the multiple maternity homes in the city that opened first in 1900.

From a public health standpoint, it is practically scandalous that we still, to this day, have no accurate record of the number of adoptees who were relinquished in the United States. The U.S. Census in its last two counts failed to account for all adoptees in the way it counted adoptees and foster children, which missed entire generations of adults like me. The lack of data ultimately undercounts adoptees, and thus undermines their efforts to restore adoptees’ rights to receive copies of their original birth records in most states, where they are denied access unlike all non-adoptees.