Category Archives: You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are

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. 

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.

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, 2016, 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.