Category Archives: Rudy Owens

On rejections and promoting my memoir and history of American adoption

Rudy Owens after the 2008 Mayor's Marathon in Anchorage. I finished 21st.

I like a challenge, and I am conditioned for succeeding in long races and difficult projects. This is me right after completing the Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage in 2008. I finished in just under 3 hours and 9 minutes, and finished the race 21st overall, in all ages. I do not walk away from momentary setbacks.

Every week, I continue to reach out to agents and publishers to consider my forthcoming memoir, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are: An Adoptee’s Journey through the American Adoption Experience.

Like nearly every writer who has come before me, I have been rejected multiple times. I expect this. It is part of the business and it is a part of nearly everything we do in life. You will not always succeed. You must try and try again. What matters is what you do after you are set back.

In my case, each email reply helps me improve my pitch. Rejection also fires up my spirit of perseverance.

Being adopted and having overcome discriminatory adoption laws, societal stigma, prejudice, and even family conflict is perhaps the best training there is for overcoming the word “no.”

Nothing trains one for confronting adversity like being an adoptee who challenges the system, and then wins. My book is essentially this story, and by winning I mean achieving justice and reclaiming what was taken from me—my history and family origins.

In my case, I labored several years until I found my birth family and received my birth records that Michigan and my adoption agency tried to keep from me. It would take another 27 years later until I won a court case that defeated the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and forced them, by court order, to surrender my original birth certificate they should have, by law, given me in 1989.

So I am totally fine with the rejection. I am tracking those rejections now, because they tell me how to improve. They also give me good critical feedback. Here are just a few of the comments I have received about my book proposal from editors and literary agents since April 2017:

  • “Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough presentation of your work to [OMITTED] . By contrast, your care in preparing your proposal makes the majority of submissions received thoroughly inadequate.”
  • “Thank you for submitting your proposal to [OMITTED]. We found the material to be quite interesting. Unfortunately, it does not fit into our current publishing plans. However, we encourage you to approach us with any future projects you might develop.”
  • “Thank you for your inquiry regarding the publication of “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are: An Adoptee’s Journey Through the American Adoption Experience.” Although the topic sound​s​ interesting, we have decided ​it do​es​ not look suitable for our upcoming publication list as [OMITTED] does not cover the topics within your proposal.”

Of course, there are many more rejection emails to date.

One thing is certain: I will publish this book. Just as Peter O’Toole’s character T.E. Lawrence told Omar Sharif’s Sheik Ali in the epic Lawrence of Arabia, “That is written.”

Bittersweet one-year anniversary of winning court order for my original birth certificate

One year ago today, on June 17, 2016, Michigan 3rd Circuit Court Judge Christopher Dingell signed a court order requiring the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to release a copy of my original birth certificate. This decision came more than 27 years after I had found my birth family and knew the names of all my biological kin.

This is what I wrote on June 17, 2017, the day a court order Michigan to give me my original birth certificate: “That’s me on the phone this morning with the Michigan 3rd Circuit Court making the case why an original birth certificate of an adoptee is not a top secret document that should be held under lock and key by a paternalistic state that treats a class of individuals as lesser citizens simply because they were born illegitimately as adoptees. The judge agreed with my points and the facts of the case. Booyah!”

Judge Dingell agreed with facts of my case. Great. We all like to win and see justice prevail.

However, just getting the trial proved almost as frustrating as getting any record from the fanatically-unhelpful MDHHS. (This is the same department that covered up its failings in the Flint lead and water scandal.)

I had to make repeated calls on a weekly basis to get on the court docket. A court date was cancelled without notification or apology.

When the court date came, by phone, the judge’s line of questioning took a bizarre twist, when his questions showed he had more interest in whether my birth father had some abstract legal standing in the matter, not the immorality and openly discriminatory nature of a law that promoted unequal treatment or the denial of a record that should have been given to me nearly three decades earlier, by law.

In fact, the judge took little personal interest in my story at all. What’s more, his out-of-nowhere questions about my birth father had no bearing on my request, as my birth father was dead and more importantly had no legal standing at all in my case. I had already provided the state legal documents in 1989 that should have forced the state to surrender my birth certificate along with other birth records I received.

I will not even begin to discuss the larger historic issue of how paternity issues have historically harmed birth mothers and illegitimate infants throughout history, in often lethal ways, and how the judge’s questions seemed oblivious of historic reality.

The court victory, though satisfying, was another frustrating and also insulting experience that typifies the systemic and discriminatory practices in most U.S. states against U.S. adoptees seeking their equal rights and documents that are theirs by birthright.

No court case should ever had happened, according to at least one approved written statement the MDHHS shared with me after the hearing–see the state’s explanation to question 19 on this summary of the state’s replies to my emailed questions. No official involved in deciding my request for my birth certificate would speak to me on the record, despite repeated attempts to secure interviews with those handling my case.

I wrote a detailed account of my experience on my website, revealing how the state almost certainly broke state law denying my original birth record and enlisted nearly 20 state officials to keep me from having my birth record without any policy rationale or basic human decency. I also alerted more than 20 media outlets about the state’s abuse of power and likely violation of law after I won the court ruling. Only one reporter contacted me, and the newspaper did not write a story.

In the end, the story of an adoptee is essentially the experience of being a bastard–and this came as no shock to me. It is the experience that many adoptees live navigating secretive public health agencies and the courts for many decades of our lives. 

I describe my journey culminating in my court victory in my forthcoming book on my experience seeking justice as a U.S. adoptee. Today, only nine states allow adult U.S. adoptees to access their birth records and, essentially, be treated equally under the law like other Americans in seeking their identity and the most essential identity document humans will own.

 

Keeping track of laws impacting adoptees and the advocacy players

A recent tweet on the status of adoptee records legislation in 2017 in state legislatures was sent out by the Adoptee Rights Law Center, which is tracking laws with an online mapping tool.

Most adoptees do not have time to track the status of legislation at the state level that may impact adult adoptees’ access to their original birth records. Bill tracking is the work of insiders and advocacy groups who dedicate themselves professionally and personally to single or related issues. 

For any adoptee who wishes to know what laws impact their legal and human right to receive copies of their original birth certificate and birth records, they can follow two websites: Adoptee Rights Law and Bastard Nation.

Both are maintained by adoptee rights advocates who share a simple and unswerving commitment that all adoptees have basic human rights and the legal right to their original identity documents, without any barrier or prejudice. Other good resources are available, and please use those too. However, these two sources work hard to keep their information current and in the larger perspective and framework of  full legal and human rights for all U.S. adoptees.

I will also list two other sources (American Adoption Congress, Donaldson Adoption Institute), but I rank these as less useful because of the history and statements of both groups that do not make clear a genuine moral, political, and legal commitment to the full legal rights for all adoptees under the law, particularly in a moral and human-rights based framework. That said, I also encourage people to still follow them to keep up with current news. This also requires using one’s best judgment to understand the filter in which the information is being shared with you—and this is a filter that matters the most.

Adoptee Rights Law Center:

Gregory D. Luce, a Minnesota-based attorney and adoptee rights legal activist, is now publishing a resource he called the “United States of OBC” (OBC being an acronym for original birth certificates). Luce categorizes each state and the District of Columbia by the degree of access: unrestricted, restricted, conditional, extreme fees, adoption registry requirement, date-based restrictions, redaction provisions, disclosure veto/birth parent consent, zombie veto (a veto that extends beyond a birth parent’s death), and pending or not in effect. 

Luce’s OBC access maps provide an excellent way to understand the geographic breakdown of legalized discrimination against adoptees and illegitimately born people in the United States. As you can see when you click on his map page, the Jim Crow-style laws, as I like to call them, are pervasive and, sadly, mostly accepted without much widespread moral outrage. Tools such as the ones Luce and his law center are bringing to public attention help to highlight the national disgrace that is the status of equal rights for millions of adopted Americans. 

Bastard Nation:

Bastard Nation is an adoptee rights advocacy group that has been instrumental in the last two decades in helping to pass legislation in Oregon, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire that restored adult adoptees’ full legal access to their original birth certificates and birth records. The group provides an unequivocal mission statement concerning adoptees’ human and civil rights for access to their original birth records, and it is committed to working with partners nationally who share its mission. The group correctly notes, “The right to know one’s identity is primarily a political issue directly affected by the practice of sealed records adoptions.”

For those interested in “inside ball,” Bastard Nation tracks all state-level legislation on its website. This page may be most useful for adoptees, reporters, researchers, and policy-makers who want to understand the current debates in real-time.

American Adoption Congress (AAC):

Click on the logo to read the AAC’s most recent change concerning its commitment supporting full legal rights for all adoptees. The organization until June 5, 2017, publicly stated its support of legislation that did not promote full equal rights for all adoptees.

The AAC, a group started during the heyday of the Adoption Rights Movement (ARM) in the 1970s, does not share Bastard Nation’s commitment to a legal standard in all states that treats all adoptees equally under the law—a standard that is found widely in most developed nations such as England, France, and Australia. The AAC had, until the beginning of June 2017, openly claimed it would support so-called “compromise legislation” in collaboration with state adoptee advocates that would deny some adoptees equal rights by law. 

The AAC continues to publish a summary of state laws on its legislation page that can be useful. Links to state laws are included in legislative summaries.  The AAC uses these categories to laws governing birth records for adoptees: unrestricted access, access with restrictions, partial access, partial with restrictions, and sealed. There are some useful summaries of the likelihood of legislation in some states based on the national organization’s assessment of the advocacy climate in each state. I have used this site and page for my research.

Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI):

The DAI, formerly called the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, also features a map highlighting the status of adoption laws state by state. The group uses fives categories to describe state adoption laws: access, access with restrictions, partial access with restrictions, partial access, and no access. The group does not provide real-time coverage of state legislative battles, even though that group has been involved in such issues legislatively. (See the group’s most recent spring 2017 newsletter to understand its priorities and issues.) 

The group in May 2017 launched a campaign to assert itself as a de facto leader for adoptee rights. This announcement brought strong and swift rebuttals from the Adoptee Rights Law Center, Bastard Nation, and advocates who have worked with Bastard Nation. You can read comments provided by all parties in Luce’s post from June 5, 2017, “Bastards in the Room,” where he writes, “For all its messaging and all its promise, the Donaldson approach is the same today as it was ten or fifteen years ago: be OK with compromise because such thinking allows for complications and context and nuance and also satisfies the interests of the entire ‘family’ of adoption.” The DAI issued a rebuttal, and then the blog free-for-all began that is well worth a read.

For the record, I published my own article about the DAI’s campaign on May 20, 2017 (“Adoptee Rights Advocates Must Critically View Any Group Lacking ‘Street Cred’“).  I explained why I could not support the DAI’s bid for moral leadership on adoptee rights because it had not demonstrated clear, mission-driven advocacy, particularly compared to the Adoptee Rights Law Center and Bastard Nation. For that reason alone, not to mention its history in legislative settings, I do not support its campaign and encourage others to not support it also.

Contact Me, Please:

If anyone thinks I should provide some additional resources, please let me know and send me an email. I welcome all feedback from researchers, advocates, members of the press, and those who care about issues surrounding illegitimacy, bastardy, legal rights, human rights, and adoptee rights. Thanks. 

 

 

How many infants were relinquished to adoption?

I just published a short essay on the the limited and imprecise data available on the number of U.S. adoptees who were relinquished during the boom years of adoption between 1944 and 1975. The most frequently quoted data cited in most respected sources comes from a 1984 paper published by Penelope Maza for the United States Children Bureau. I have put her data into an easier to read chart.

Number of Adoptees in the United States Adoption Boom Years

Table 1: Penelope Maza published the most frequently cited population data study on the number of U.S. adoptees born in the United States from the 1940s through the 1970s in her paper called ““Adoption Trends: 1944-1975,” in 1984.

On my of goals for my forthcoming memoir, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are, is to show policy-makers, the media, adoptees, the public, and researchers the size of the adoptee population in the country.

It is likely not a coincidence that the data collection on the number of adoptees has always been imprecise. I cannot rule out that the role of secrecy, shame, and stigma attached to this class of human beings mattered in the way they have been improperly counted. This lack of precision likely prevents the public and also public health and other experts from truly understanding the scope this modern social engineering experiment.

As most health and public health experts say, “If you aren’t counted, you don’t count.” This rule applies today because of the imprecise system for counting U.S. adoptees by the U.S. Census Bureau (only started in 2000).

There is also no standard practice for counting adoptees in each state by the states, many of which lack adequate auditing procedures to help lawmakers understand the scope of people impacted by their policy decisions and lawmaking that impact adoptees. Those decisions can continue to deny a class of people equal rights under the law simply because they were, almost certainly, born out of marriage and illegitimate, and placed for adoption.

State of Michigan public health officials I contacted for my book and during my quest for my original birth certificate could not share any data with me on the number of adoptees impacted by their laws. They claimed, “It would not be possible to determine this number.”

This again showed me the simple truth that if you aren’t counted, you don’t count.

 

 

Many U.S. adoptees become expert researchers because of legal discrimination

Photo of Adoptee Records and Research for Book on Adoption in the USA

My vital records and research on my adoption experience now fill a box. For most people, they have a single file, with their original birth certificate. I was denied that by the adoption system and discriminatory laws.

Many adoptees may have a box or several boxes that look like mine. It is my adoption records box. I have taken it everywhere I have moved over the last three decades. 

Unfortunately I had to become an archivist just to know who I was. That is because the state where I was born, Michigan, had laws that denied me my human right to know who I was and where I came from. I was forced to play a game that unfortunately went on for nearly 30 years, without any apology from anyone in state government who did everything they could to prevent me from rightfully knowing my past.

However, I was really good. Records I kept and used were instrumental in my later and final battle with Michigan’s discriminatory public health  system that did all it could to keep my birth certificate from me, even though I knew my birth family and mother for decades. Welcome to my world and the world of tens of thousands of adoptees.

Most people’s vital records files have one document, and that is it. My story has a box. My book tells that story that is contained in papers in that box.